The Bushnell Forge line of binoculars is versatile, durable, and a good value for the price. Their adequate glass gets an optical boost from Bushnell’s excellent water-repelling and contrast-enhancing coatings, and their grippy armor and waterproofing make them a good choice for a wide range of field uses.
Bushnell Forge Specs:
We reviewed the 10×42 and 10×30 models, but the Forge is also available in 15×56 and 8×42 configurations. Specs & Features: roof prism, split-bridge design with center focus wheel and right-barrel locking diopter; Threaded tripod adapter on forward hinge; 3-step eyecup extension; Magnification: 10x; Objective lens diameter: 42mm and 30mm; Weight: 30.4 ounces for the 10×42 version, 13.7 ounces for the 10×30 model; Price: $479.99 for the 10×42, $349.99 for the 10×30
Mid-Price Versatile Hunting Binoculars
Most optics brands don’t want consumers to know that they don’t actually manufacture many of their products. Instead, these brands source their optics from a handful of factories, generally in Asia. This is why so many binoculars, riflescopes, and spotting scopes have very similar or identical specs, features, and appearances: they’re clones.
That’s not to say there’s no differentiation in optics from different brands assembled in the same factory. Smart brands ensure that their suppliers use proprietary glass prescriptions and coatings to maintain brand standards of optical and mechanical quality regardless of the point of origin.
That’s the case with Bushnell, one of the most established brands in the sports-optics industry. Bushnell optics sources most of its products from overseas suppliers, but even lower-end models feature the optical coatings that Bushnell has developed in its decades as a category leader. You’re often not getting coatings of this pedigree in off-brand binoculars produced on the same assembly lines. That’s why Bushnell is known for offering some of the best binoculars for the money.
Bushnell has segmented its binocular product lines to hit various price points from entry (Powerview) to the premium (Forge) range, with the Prime, Engage, and Nitro lines in between those points. The four configurations of the Bushnell Forge vary in price from about $350 for the 10×30 to nearly $600 for the 15×56.
Of all its current binoculars, the Bushnell Forge line features the brightest glass, most durable chassis, and the best expression of the company’s excellent coatings and design. The roof-prism line comes in four different configurations, from the compact 10×30 to 8×42, 10×42, and the big and powerful 15×56. I spent a hunting season with the 10×30 and 10×42 models.
Testing the Bushnell Forge in the Field
I used the 10×30 as my go-to binocular for short-range hunting, starting last fall with archery deer season. In a treestand or stalking whitetails along Montana’s Milk River, I don’t need the magnification provided by a full-sized bino, but the 10-power Bushnell was useful for counting antler points on bucks far across alfalfa fields. More importantly, the compact size fits nicely in a turkey vest or on my run-and-gun archery stalks. Plus, the 30mm size is very easy to use with a single hand, an important consideration for archers whose other hand is often holding a bow or a bugle tube.
The larger, hand-filling 10×42 binocular is a better fit for rifle hunting. I used the Bushnell Forge 10×42 on a variety of mule deer hunts in my neighborhood last fall, and it served adequately as a knock-about binocular during those hunts when I didn’t want the weight of a rangefinding binocular. I appreciate the molded detents on the belly of the tubes, which anchor my thumbs for extended glassing sessions and also allow for a rock-solid grip during one-handed operation.
I mounted the 10×42 binoculars on a tripod a couple times for extended glassing sessions. The threaded tripod adapter on the front of the front hinge is durable and easy to use. Lastly, I appreciate the integrated objective lens caps. They’re removable by unsnapping a tab, but I recommend keeping them attached to the binocular. While they flap annoyingly in the wind, they also do an admirable job of keeping the objective lenses free of moisture and dust.
What the Bushnell Forge Does Best
These are fine all-around hunting binoculars. They do a good job of delivering the main task of a binocular: resolving details and magnifying the image of a distant object. Bushnell’s proprietary exterior lens coating—they call it EXO Barrier—reliably repels water and dust, and the multi-coatings boost contrast and color rendition of objects. You’ll see that this external lens coating has a rose color if you look at the objective lenses; that’s optimized for boosting a wide range of wavelengths in twilight conditions.
Out of sight in the guts of the Bushnell binoculars, the BaK 4 prisms—the little compound-angle mirrors that flip and sharpen the image—are treated with premium phase-correcting and dielectric coatings to cancel stray light and correct any optical aberrations.
The ED (that stands for extra low-dispersion) Prime glass in the objective lenses is good, though it’s not on the same level as premium European glass.
The Forge’s grippy armor is comfortable and tactile, and the 3-position eyecups are smooth, strong, and tapered to fit a wide variety of brows and face sizes.
The best binoculars for hunting are the ones that you always have with you. The Forge is extremely durable and, thanks to the included chest harness, very portable. I also like the coyote-brown styling with black accents. It’s distinctive but also matches a wide variety of field conditions. I also appreciate the premium zippered ballistic nylon case that ships with the Forge; it’s great for storing the binocular and keeping dust off it during extended trips in my pickup.
What the Bushnell Forge Does Worst
I simply don’t like the Forge’s spongy focus. My fingers readily find the oversized focus wheel, which turns from a close focus of about 5 feet to infinity in two full revolutions. But the wheel feels mushy and requires frequent touching up to keep an object in focus.
From a mechanical perspective, that’s my only real complaint. I like the positivity of the 3-position eyecups, and the locking right-barrel diopter is precise and has enough range to allow users with a wide range of visual acuity to get the image tack sharp for their unique prescriptions.
While the ED glass in the Forge is a step above the glass used by many of its peers, it’s a bit dim in the lowest-light conditions, and I detected a faint bit of blurring on the periphery of the image.
How the Binoculars Stack Up Against Competitors
When you look at the Forge as a complete package—it ships with a premium harness and zippered case, it has best-in-class glass and coatings, and it also is covered by Bushnell’s “Ironclad” fully transferable warranty—then it represents a very good value for its price.
It’s priced two to three steps above the entry-level peers, but its impressive performance justifies the investment. It’s a good choice for hunters, hikers, and wildlife watchers who have been frustrated with the murky optics of entry-level binoculars, and maybe have struggled with the flimsy mechanics of those bargain optics. The Forge is a good combination of satisfying optics, durable hardware, and the backing of a venerable and established brand.
Does the Bushnell Forge Accomplish Its Mission?
Bushnell has reconsidered its position in the optics industry. While it still has some super-premium lines in its catalog—the Elite Tactical riflescope is one of the best in the business—it is moving more toward serving a wide range of customers on their journey from beginner to veteran.
The Prime, Engage, and Nitro product lines do a great job of offering abundant value for the accessible price points. You could consider the Forge the highest rung on that aspirational ladder, offering the best optics, coatings, and overall package that should appeal to a hunter, wildlife watcher, or hiker who’s interested in getting a lot of optical horsepower for about a quarter of the price of a premium European brand.
And when you consider Bushnell’s excellent warranty, which doesn’t require a receipt, then it’s hard to go wrong with your investment in any of the Forge binoculars.