When it came to the evolutionary ladder, the human predator was cut short on vision. Sure, we get a full-color spectrum but we miss out on the sharpness of many animals and we are even farther from the natural night vision granted to most mammals.
Because of our shortcoming, we have used technology to our advantage for most of human history. It started with fire and in more recent times went to the electric light. While this is helpful and a good flashlight should be a mandatory piece of gear, it has one significant downfall. It makes us very easy to detect.
Our evolutionary strength is our gigantic brains and someone used theirs to develop light amplification technology. Though it is imperfect in some ways, this has been a game-changing technology. It is used by the military, hunters, sailors, fire/rescue, and many other industries that find the need to see in the dark paramount to accomplishing their mission.
As preppers and homesteaders, we have a number of tasks that may come up where this technology is highly valuable. The military calls this a force multiplier. For our world, it has been referred to as an advantage multiplier. In short, it makes us more effective at the tasks we need to accomplish.
I am sure your knowledge and background have already given you some ideas on when and where this could be useful. We will get into that but first, a brief primer on night vision technology is in order.
Night Vision Simplified
Whole articles have been devoted to how night vision technology works so we won’t go that deep here. Just what you need to know. And the first thing you need to know is that not all night vision works the same way.
There are two distinct types of night vision scope, traditional and digital. Traditional night vision is what is used by the military and is often called Gen 1 through Gen 4. The original moniker for this technology was light amplification rather than night vision. It actually works by taking faint amounts of light detected by very sensitive sensors and converting that to electric impulses. These could then be amped up in power proportionally to the intensity of the light and displayed on a cathode screen.
With this traditional technology, the generation is an important consideration. A Gen 1 scope can be fairly affordable and it steps up from there. The latest and greatest can cost as much as a new car. There are a few Gen 2 options that are priced within the range of the consumer but they are at the high end. Most people will end up with Gen 1 which has less range and less detail but is still effective.
The second technology is more like what is used by security systems. Thanks to the decline in size and cost of LED and LCD displays as well as the shrinking of camera size, you can basically get this whole setup in something not much bigger than a traditional scope.
Rather than using light from the visible spectrum, this technology uses light in the near-infrared range. This has one predominant implication: You will have to have a source of infrared light which is usually mounted on board. Without this source of IR light, there will not be enough naturally occurring for your optic to function.
The huge benefit of digital night vision is cost. A reasonably good monocular can be had for around the $100.00 price tag. This is orders of magnitude cheaper than any traditional night vision device.
For a more direct comparison, here are some specifics:
Traditional Night Vision
- Greater Detection Range
- More Detail (especially on higher gen models)
- Does not require additional IR illumination but can use it
- More Expensive
- Limited Lifespan
- Shorter Battery Life
- Night Use Only
Digital Night Vision
- More Affordable
- Very Long Battery Life (on some models)
- Lasts for years
- Can be Used Day or Night
- Shorter Detection Range
- Washed Out Detail
- Requires IR Illumination
For the majority of preppers, homesteaders, and hunters the clear choice is going to be digital purely from a value standpoint. It does not have the coolness factor of the military technology but it is very effective. But what would you do with it? We can look at a few common uses but I am sure that your individual needs will bring out new uses that have never occurred to me.
Night Vision around the Homestead
Night vision is really not a daily use item but it’s surprising how often I reach for one of my optics. They see use several times a week in one of the following capacities. However, this can never be a comprehensive list. You know your needs and there are many clever readers that will find uses that have never occurred to me.
Probably the first use that comes to mind is that of keeping your home and loved ones safe. The predominant use around the world for night vision is tactical operations so it only makes sense that we use it for the same reason. There is vast power in being able to see in the dark without adding artificial light to the situation.
Though I have never had an actual need arise in this area of use, it’s a comfort to know it can. There have been times that I used this to ensure there was nothing amiss but it has never turned out to be the case. Still, I keep the night vision on hand for a time there is an intruder or a worst case scenario of social collapse.
I live in a very rural setting and have a constant issue with threats to my livestock. Usually, this is coyotes, coons, and possums. For this, I keep a rifle with a cheap night vision scope that makes quick work of anything before they get to my valuable chickens or goats. This happens probably every couple of months and has been the best return on my investment.
I also keep a .22 rifle that is suppressed with a similar optic. This is predominantly for rats that are a real pain when you have chickens, especially young ones. I have taken over a dozen rats in a single night with none of my neighbors even being aware. This is a constant problem for the homesteader and one that makes an affordable night vision scope a real value.
I have goats who will occasionally go wild after dark for no reason. I do have a camera in their enclosure but you can’t see every corner or address every situation. A cheap $100.00 night vision monocular makes checking in on them safe and easy. I can scan every animal and every corner of their pen in a few seconds without getting them riled up.
The last thing you need at 3:00 am is a pen full of suddenly awake goats because you hit them with a flashlight. Goats have poor night vision and after a bright light, they are blinded for several minutes and can go wild. This helps to avoid injury to the goats and keeps them settled.
This is one I am still playing with but I believe there are applications. Since digital night vision uses IR light, it can potentially see the difference in reflectivity between a diseased and healthy plant. This has been used with more sensitive devices by many governmental agencies but with a bright enough IR source and a good digital night vision device, you can see a slight difference.
So far, I am still in trial phases but I have been able to see the brighter look of a diseased tomato plant against its healthy neighbors. Should this pan out, you should be able to remove unhealthy heirloom plants before they can infect nearby healthy plants.
Notable Night Vision Brands
There are a number of companies producing night vision devices and this has driven the price down to levels we can now afford. Some are large scale producers and some are off-shore one-off manufacturers. Not all brands are really worth the price you pay. To get the best purchase for your money, these are some brands to consider.
To get the best up front, ATN does some simply amazing things with scopes. They tend to be a little pricy but they are first and foremost a very effective digital night vision scope. To add to that, ATN offers their scopes with Wi-Fi connectivity, video recording, and smart ballistics. You can actually dial in your load and the scope will use an internal rangefinder to put you on target. If you shoot through a normal scope, it takes some getting used to but it’s worth it.
Their products are all rifle optics and they tend to be a little pricy compared to other brands. That said, they are worth every penny.
One of the original producers of night vision has continued its legacy well into the newer technology of digital night vision. They offer a wide selection of optics but their scopes are the most prevalent. They do have video recording and are wirelessly connectable if you want to stream what your scope sees. Quality wise, you can’t get much better.
In addition to digital night vision, they offer some tradition night vision as well, mostly in Gen 2 models. Also in their wheelhouse are monoculars, binoculars, and goggles. Price wise, they are on par with most high-end manufacturers.
Pulsar offers a good selection of products in both the traditional and digital night vision realms. They make scopes with video recording and the rest in digital. In traditional night vision, they mostly make Gen 1+ optics in a variety of formats. The prices are exceptionally fair and their quality is good. They aren’t the most durable but they are very well made.
Monoculars, rifle scopes, and goggles are the main products but they have produced highly successful binoculars in the past.
Sightmark makes a number of optics products from standard rifle scopes through all types of night vision. Their digital scopes are decent and affordable. They offer some traditional night vision as well, usually Gen 1. They have about the cheapest Gen 1 rifle scope on the market it is quite good for the price, especially for those just getting into the hobby.
They offer some good goggles as well and a monocular that is well liked.
Most of Firefield’s products are midrange in quality but function for those who want night vision on a budget. Their scope works well and is much simpler than those by other companies. The main point of note about Firefield is their monocular which can be had for less than $100.00 and works very well!
If you only plan to use your night vision occasionally, these are a great option. You can get them cheap and they will last a reasonable amount of time without issue. They make mostly monoculars and scopes and both are a good by.
I have tried a few Night Owl products and though they aren’t my favorite, they do function well. They make a single scope and a few monoculars and binoculars. All of them work very well for the price. Night owl started out as a security camera company so they know the business and technology well. They just make their products at a lower price point.
On a budget, pick one up. Their products are a little heavier and bulkier but not bad from my limited experience. I wouldn’t hesitate if I didn’t already have other brands.
As a point, I like to keep my life simple and rely on the older, tried and true technologies. However, there are some modern devices that can do things that were never dreamed of until a few decades ago. Night vision is one of those. While I would hesitate to say this is a ‘must own’ technology, once you try it you will see exactly how useful it can be for any task done in the dark.
About McKinley Downing from IOutdoorPursuit.com
Mckinley is an avid shooter & firearms instructor. He shoots, hunts and is a patriot in the sense that he enjoys pissing off gun grabbers and an anti-hunters. He has worked with and around firearms for several years, and enjoys talking to anyone interested in learning more about firearms and their 2nd Amendment rights.