Looking for a high-tech addition to your hunting setup?

Thermal imaging scopes are a great way to take things to the next level. They’ve also been getting increasingly popular over the past few years.

Best Thermal Scopes

  1. ATN ThOR 4 640 Thermal Riflescope (Our Top Pick)
  2. Pulsar Core RXQ30V Thermal Riflescope (Best Budget)
  3. Trijicon Teo REAP-IR Mini Thermal Riflescope (Best High End)
  4. Pulsar Trail LRF XQ50 Thermal Riflescope
  5. ATN ThOR 4 384 Thermal Riflescope

Thermal vision is generally overkill for civilian home and personal defense. They are popular, however, for law enforcement and military use.

Among civilians, thermal scopes are most popular for hunting, especially for hunting nocturnal animals. Hog hunting and coyote hunting, for example, are made much easier with thermal optics.

However, they’re also something of an investment, so you want to make sure you get the right one and avoid wasting your money.

Luckily, you have us. We’ve put together a guide to thermal scopes, including our top five picks for the best thermal scopes currently on the market.

Read on to learn more about thermal scopes and get our recommendations below.

What Are Thermal Scopes?

Thermal scopes are scopes that use thermal imaging to create the scope picture. While regular scopes use visible light, thermal scopes use the infrared light spectrum. In layman’s terms, they “see” heat.

This means that heat-producing bodies stand out in a thermal scope’s picture as long as the ambient temperature is different from the body temperature. Since hunting season for most animals is in the colder seasons, you tend to get a nice contrast.

That’s especially true in the night’s colder temperatures, which is where thermal scopes really shine. This is because thermal scopes can be used even in total darkness.

Thermal scopes don’t need cold weather to be effective, though. Most mammals have a body temperature around 100°F and birds tend to have even higher temperatures.

Since few places regularly get that hot, thermal scopes give solid contrast in most places.

What Are The Different Types of Thermal Scopes?

There are two main types of thermal optics, whether we’re talking about thermal monoculars, scopes, cameras, or something else:

Cryogenically Cooled Thermal Optics

Cooled thermal optics have their infrared sensors contained in a unit that cools them to below freezing.

This allows the sensors to cut out excess thermal “noise” for more sensitive and precise readings and higher resolution images.

The downside of this is that these optics cost a lot. They also have more moving parts that wear down over time and contain gas that leaks over time. This limits their usable life.

Uncooled Thermal Optics

Uncooled thermal optics have their infrared sensors contained in a room temperature unit. This type of thermal optic is much more affordable than a cooled optic.

It also tends to last longer since there are fewer moving parts. On the other hand, it doesn’t have nearly the same sensitivity or resolution as cooled optics.

How Does a Thermal Scope Work?

While thermal scopes allow you to shoot in the dark, they work differently from true night vision scopes.

While traditional night vision devices just maximize the small amount of visible light available, thermal vision devices instead read infrared light.

All objects emit infrared energy in the form of a heat signature. Thermal scopes have a special type of objective lens that focuses this energy.

The energy is then read by thermal sensors to create a thermogram based on thousands of individual points across the optic’s field of view.

Thermograms present the information visually in the form of a rainbow picture where the different colors represent different amounts of heat.

The thermogram is then transmitted in the form of electric impulses to a processing unit that sends it to the display for you to view. It may be rendered in a colorful picture like a thermogram, but may also be black and white or green.

The thermal imager repeats this process many times per second. Exactly how many is referred to as the refresh rate. The refresh rate for most thermal devices is about 30 per second.

Because of the thermal sensors, thermal scopes tend to have a limited range. They’re typically best for short or medium range, rather than long-range, use. However, there are more sensitive thermal scopes that can be used at longer ranges.

What Do You Look For In The Best Thermal Scopes?

There are a few important factors to keep in mind when looking for a high-quality thermal scope:

Image Quality

First and foremost, your thermal optic needs to produce clear images. In general, greater sensor resolution and a higher refresh rate ensure more high definition images.

As we’ve already discussed, cryogenically cooled thermal sensors also produce better images.

Durability

At the same time, thermal scopes are expensive, so you’d probably like your investment to last as long as possible.
Uncooled thermal sensors tend to have a longer life.

Either way you go, look for a thermal scope that’s water-resistant. Shock resistance is also a huge benefit.

Battery Life

You also want a thermal scope with long battery life. Most thermal scopes use rechargeable battery packs, but you can’t exactly plug them in to recharge while in the field.

It’s always a good idea to carry a spare battery pack or two while in the field just in case.

Extra Features

Thermal scopes have little computers built in to transmit and convert the thermal signals from the sensors for display.

Many manufacturers take advantage of this to offer additional features in their thermal scopes.

Different reticle options is probably the most popular. Many thermal scopes have multiple reticle patterns and colors for you to choose from.

You can choose something as simple as a crosshair or go with one that provides you with info that you need for ballistic calculations. Many even allow you to choose between reticles that measure in MOA or MRAD.

And speaking of ballistic calculations, some thermal scopes offer features like built-in ballistic calculators, rangefinders, barometers, accelerometers, compasses, and gyroscopes.

Some even have video recording, Bluetooth, and onboard wifi. These features can allow you to connect to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets so you can stream your hunt. Some also have micro SD card slots so you can store your videos.

Best Thermal Scopes Reviewed

Now that you understand the basics on thermal scopes, let’s move on to the actual recommendations.

ATN ThOR 4 640 Thermal Riflescope(Our Top Pick)

Our top pick is the ATN ThOR HD 640 Thermal Riflescope.

It has a 640×480 sensor resolution, which is the industry standard. However, it exceeds the industry standard in terms of all its extra features.

This smart thermal riflescope has a built-in smart rangefinder and ballistic calculator. It has video recording and an SD card slot so you can store what you record.

Recoil activated video makes sure that you never forget to record a shot.

Onboard wifi and Bluetooth allows iOS and Android devices to connect for streaming and transferring videos between devices.

Pros

  • Weather-resistant
  • Black hot, white hot, and color modes
  • 750-yard human detection range
  • Multiple magnification ranges available

Cons

  • Extra features drive up the price

ATN ThOR 4 640 Thermal Riflescope


Pulsar Core RXQ30V Thermal Riflescope (Best Budget)

For something with a more affordable price tag, you can’t go wrong with the Pulsar Core RXQ30V Thermal Riflescope.
It has lower sensor resolution than our top pick at 384×288 but a longer 985-yard detection range.

The base zoom level is 1.6x, but you can use the 2x, 3x, and 4x picture-in-picture digital zoom settings to increase the magnification to 3.2x, 4.8x, or 6.4x magnification for a customized field of view.

Pros

  • Waterproof
  • Green sapphire, black hot, and white hot color palettes
  • One-shot zeroing

Cons

  • Slow to turn on
  • No video output

Buy The Pulsar Core RXQ30V Thermal Riflescope Here


Trijicon Teo REAP-IR Mini Thermal Riflescope (Best High End)

On the other hand, if you have plenty of room in your budget, the Trijicon Teo REAP-IR Mini Thermal Riflescope is the way to go.

It uses 12-micron technology, which means that it has smaller image sensors for a smaller, lighter scope with better durability. It has a 640×480 sensor resolution. Edge detect mode helps make your target stand out while stadiametric ranging determines its distance.

It’s available in four different magnification levels and zooming strengths.

Pros

  • Easy Zeroing
  • Weatherproof
  • Integral Picatinny top rail for accessory mounting

Cons

  • High cost
  • No color setting

Buy The Trijicon Teo REAP-IR Mini Thermal Riflescope Here


Pulsar Trail LRF XQ50 Thermal Riflescope

If you’re looking for a thermal scope suited for long-distance shooting the Pulsar Trail LRF XQ50 Thermal Riflescope is a great choice.

It has an 1800 meter range for excellent target recognition, even at extended ranges.

The built-in laser rangefinder makes long-range shooting even easier.

This scope has both sound and video recording capabilities. Onboard wifi allows you to connect smartphones and tablets for streaming as well as remote control of the optic.

The Display Off function powers down the 640×480 AMOLED display after a period of inactivity without totally powering down the scope. This saves battery power without requiring a full restart.

Pros

  • IPX7 waterproof
  • 4x picture-in-picture digital zoom
  • Includes two 30mm standard rings that work with weaver or Picatinny rails

Cons

  • No color setting

Buy The Pulsar Trail LRF XQ50 Thermal Riflescope Here


ATN ThOR 4 384 Thermal Riflescope

Last up is the ATN ThOR HD 384 Thermal Riflescope. It’s very similar to our top pick, but with lower sensor resolution: 384×288. On the other hand, it’s also available with more powerful magnification options.

Like our top pick, however, it has built-in wifi, Bluetooth, video recording, rangefinding, and ballistic calculating capabilities.

It also has an SD card slot for storing video and recoil activated video recording to ensure you get a recording of each shot.

Both have One Shot Zero to make sighting super easy.

Pros

  • Weather-resistant
  • Black hot, white hot, and color modes
  • 750-yard human detection range
  • Multiple magnification ranges available

Cons

  • Extra features drive up the price
  • Low sensor resolution

Buy The ATN ThOR 4 384 Thermal Riflescope Here


Final Thoughts On Thermal Scopes

You can pick up any of these thermal sights and have a great experience.

Still, they have some significant differences among them that mean they’re not equally well-suited for each person and purpose.

The ATN ThOR 4 line, both the 640 and 384, are great options if you’re looking for an all-around high quality smart thermal scope with lots of bells and whistles.

For something a bit more streamlined and budget-friendly, the Pulsar Core RXQ30V is the way to go.

The Trijicon Teo REAP-IR Mini Thermal Riflescope also doesn’t have all the same extra features as some of our other scope recommendations.

It does, however, offer excellent visual quality and a built-in rangefinder. It’s also super easy to use.

Finally, the Pulsar Trail LRF XQ is an excellent option for long-range shooting.