More than 40 years ago, when he was a young bear guide in Alaska, Jaret Owens needed a way to protect one of his most precious possessions against the unforgiving Last Frontier environment. So he stitched together a leather pouch to hold his binocular, and attached straps so he could wear it on his chest.
“Guys laughed at me at first,” Owens says. “But once they saw how well it worked, they asked me to make some for them.”
Thus, Alaska Guide Creations and a new product category were born.
Today, bino harnesses have become a standard piece of kit for most hunters. As this field shows, there is an array of models that cater to various styles of hunting and needs. We tested them based on their comfort, degree of protection, ergonomics, extra features, durability, quietness, and overall value.
Alaska Guide Creations Alaska Classic HBS with M.A.X. Pocket
Alaska Guide Creations Alaska Classic HBS with M.A.X. Pocket • Made in USA • $110 Alaska Guide Creations
As the OGs in the bino-harness world, it isn’t surprising that Alaska Guide Creation packs are among the most refined in the category. Everything on the HBS pack can be operated easily with one hand. It comes with useful retaining cords and tethers. The pack fully encases the binocular, sealing it well against the environment. And for truly horrible conditions, AGC offers a $20 waterproof cover that slips over the main compartment.
The top has a couple of elastic sleeves that are ideal for stashing calls and other small items. The side pockets can hold a Kestrel, while the bottom pocket can stow gloves or a headlamp. The pack also enables you to add other pouches and a holster on the strap.
The quality of the construction is very high. The yoke and harness are comfortable for extended periods of wear. And despite the number of pockets, this pack still manages to ride compactly on the user’s body.
Badlands Mag Bino Case
Badlands Mag Bino Case • Made in Vietnam • $140 Badlands
Strong magnets sewn into this pack seal the front flap to the main compartment, eliminating the need for noisy zippers or overlapping layers of material to protect the binocular. The system works quite well as long as the user doesn’t overfill the pack, either by packing a bino that’s too large or by stuffing too many items in the interior pockets. The four interior pockets on this pack, all located on the front flap, can accommodate only a few flat items, like hunting licenses or mouth calls.
This design gives the Mag Bino Case the most sleek and compact profile of the packs tested. The strap system snugs the pack close to the chest, making this one of the better options for bowhunters. In a further nod to archers, a small plastic hook for resting a bow dangles beneath the pack.
The magnetic seals are not foolproof, however. While you’re belly-crawling, if you’re not careful, the flap can open as it drags across vegetation.
Both sides of the pack’s exterior have strong pieces of fabric where you can hang or attach other items.
Eberlestock A2CP Nosegunner
The main compartment on the Nosegunner is one of the roomiest in the test. It easily accommodates anything smaller than a 15×56 binocular.
The front panel acts as a lid that slips over the binocular and locks in place with the help of magnets. It is easy and quiet to deploy with one hand, but the lid has a little trouble closing and sealing correctly on its own, requiring a bit of two-handed jiggling to get everything lined up.
The two side pockets are easy to use with a single hand and can hold items like a folding knife or a ballistic calculator.
The name “Nosegunner” refers to the built-in holster on the back of the pack. Though it is sized for a compact-framed semi-auto, I was able to stuff larger guns—a full-framed 10mm semi with a weapon light and N-framed Smith & Wesson revolvers—in the space as well. While this is
great for traveling in bear country, each loaded gun I tested with the pack tended to slip out when I leaned over and moved around.
FHF Gear Bino Harness Pro-M
This is a smartly designed system with good modularity and a low profile. For hunters in bear country, it’s a huge plus that you can add a bear spray holster on the bottom of the pack that allows you to deploy the spray without removing it from the holster. Two quick-release clips secure the binocular to the harness straps. Small pockets on the outside of the main flap are perfect for holding diaphragm calls. Mesh pouches on either side of the central compartment are logical spots for wind checkers. And bits of MOLLE webbing allow you to attach accessories like a pouch for a Kestrel with ease.
Everything on the pack can be operated with one hand, and the main pouch has good rigidity, so it doesn’t lose its shape. The only downside is that the pack doesn’t seal the binocular against the elements as well as some others. Dust, in particular, can sneak into the sides.
Gearak Bino Pak 2.0
The design of this pack is basic but functional. The main compartment is roomy enough for a full-size rangefinding bino with a 42mm objective, and it has a simple retainer that consists of a small metal clip on an elastic cord. It does a good job of encasing the binocular and can be opened and closed with one hand. There’s a small zippered pocket on the back of the pack, perfect for a hunting license, and mesh pockets on the front that can hold small items like calls. The underside of the lid has an elastic sleeve to store the included microfiber lens cloth or other small items. MOLLE webbing on the bottom of the pack provides other mounting options for accessories too.
The quality of the build isn’t at the same level as other packs in the field, and it isn’t engineered to stand up to hard use. But for the price, it is a heck of a good value.
Marsupial Gear Bino Pack
Marsupial Gear Bino Pack • Made in USA • $90 Marsupial Gear
For hunting open country in the Southwest and other dry, hot climates, this bino pack is one of the best out there. The level of the construction is top-notch—the stitching and the quality of the buckles and hardware are excellent. The double-layered mesh pocket on the backside of the main compartment creates a cooling layer on hot days. And thanks to the fleece-lined interior compartment and magnetic top flap, you can deploy and stow an optic quietly with one hand. The bino itself is secured via a pair of quick-detach straps that hang off D-rings on the harness and thread through the binocular’s strap hardware.
The Marsupial system includes other well-thought-out touches, such as side pouches for wind indicators and loops for attaching pouches for rangefinders, radios, and other items. (The $32 rangefinder pouch, with its reverse-opening lid, is particularly clever.) The open-sided design leaves the upper portion of the binocular exposed, so the rain cover ($20) is a smart investment for more complete protection.
Mystery Ranch Quick Draw Bino Harness
The latch that holds the lid on this pack in place is the most secure in the field. For belly-crawling and busting brush, it offers a welcome level of security. It operates with one hand, though the Cordura fabric makes it the noisiest one we tested. And while it offers good protection for the optic, it doesn’t quite fully seal the bino from the elements. Dual quick-release tethers secure the bino to the harness to keep your optics from tumbling to the ground. The small elastic pockets on either side of the pack are useful, and we really like the optional bear spray holster ($25) that can be attached to the MOLLE webbing on the underside of the main compartment. (You can also mount a holster there for a handgun.) The pack also has a decent-size pocket on the front flap where you can store items like a snack bar, folding knife, hunting license, thin gloves, or other non-bulky items.
Rokman Lockdown Bino Case
For protection from snow, mud, and rain, the Lockdown is tough to beat. The lid folds over the main compartment with an ample amount of overlapping material to ensure that your bino stays clean and dry. And with a little practice, it is easy to open and close one-handed. It also has an external tension cord that you can operate with one hand to tightly seal the lid in place. The interior has a couple of small zippered pockets and pouches, and the mesh panel on the back of the pack acts as another place to stash a pair of thin gloves or other small items. But this system doesn’t have as much storage as most of the other packs here do. It is also a bit noisier than some of the others.
Panels on either side of the case let you attach accessories. This bino pack can also be directly attached to Rokman’s interesting (but frightfully expensive at $1,557 for the full package) modular backpack system.