on all orders over $1000
on all orders over $1000
Talkin’ bout binocular harnesses.
Recently, a buddy of mine got me into the country music artist Corb Lund – an old Canadian cowboy from Alberta. He’s got a song called Cows Around where he explains why it’s always nice to have a few cows. In the middle of the song, somebody yells out, “What kinda cows Corb?” Then he proceeds to answer by naming 22 different kinds of cows. Well, you could about do the same for binocular harnesses now. There are a lot of different brands, and they all do relatively the same thing. Hopefully, this will help wade through the marketing to find the perfect system for you.
I am not sure of the exact history of binocular harnesses, but they’ve been around for a while. When folks in the West figured out that it’s nice to have your binoculars at the ready at any given time, prototypes of all shapes and sizes began to spring up everywhere. Now, it’s strange to see a hunter in the mountains without their binoculars on their chest.
Binocular harnesses can be as simple as the Rick Young Ultra-Light Harness, which is made of just a few pieces of shock cord with clips that attach to your glass, or they can be as complicated as the Alaska Guide Creations version with pockets on the front, back, sides, and top. There’s technically no right or wrong harness, but there are a few features that I find handy for a harness to have.
First and foremost, a binocular harness should protect your glass. The glass you choose to wear on your chest can be one of the most expensive things you take hunting (or own altogether in my case). Most modern binoculars have a good coating of armor to protect them from small drops or being set down on rocks, but obviously, this doesn’t protect the lenses. With a fully-enclosed binocular harness that has some sort of fabric wrapped around plastic or dense foam, you can dramatically increase the life of your glass.
When you have your binoculars in this fully enclosed case, there’s no need to keep your ocular or objective lens caps on. These require two hands to take off and flap around in the wind creating vibration. The objective lenses are set back in the housing of the binoculars enough that they could never be bothered by the bottom of the case.
Sidebar: Don’t ever put anything but your binoculars in the binocular pocket of the harness. I know a guy that found a couple of rocks he thought his girlfriend (now wife) would think were cool, so he grabbed them and threw them in the bottom of his harness. Well, just as you would expect, those rocks took to scratching his objective lenses and made the glass near useless.
Unless you decide that you must have near-instant access to your glass and go with an old-school, strap-style harness that offers no protection at all, you most likely have a few pockets on your binocular harness. To me, this is a must, but it’s easy to get carried away and overload them. Nearly every harness manufacturer offers their own pocket systems that attach via Molle, snaps, or even the dreaded Velcro. Most companies ditched Velcro long ago, but I would suggest you avoid it for hunting purposes.
These pockets vary from brand to brand, and although we all want to look cool and matchy-matchy, often the best system will involve a combo of X harness with X rangefinder pouch and X accessory pouch.
My current setup is a Marsupial Gear No-Mag Enclosed Harness with their accessory pouch on the left and a Stone Glacier rangefinder pouch on the right.
If you run a harness with a bunch of pockets and load it up with 12x binos, your Revic rangefinder, two snickers bars, a radio, a GPS, and your iPhone 14 Pro with an extra battery pack case, then complain to the company you bought the harness from that the straps are digging into your shoulders, well, you’re probably in the wrong on this one.
Those pockets should be used in the most efficient manner possible – items that you will need quick access to on multiple occasions throughout the day and/or items that could save your life should you be separated from your pack. I believe the military calls this “first-line” gear. The items I have decided are vital to keep in my harness are as follows:
- Small Bic lighter
- 1 L plastic bag
- Handheld release or two extra bullets
- Diaphragm calls
- Two most used Allen wrenches
- Tyto scalpel knife with two blades
Now, you may have read that and thought I just contradicted myself, but all those things fit Inside one 4x2x2 pouch on the left side of my harness or in the front zip pocket of my harness, and they only add about 14 ounces total. A few things that may look odd on that list are the plastic bag and water purification tabs. Those are just in case I make the grave mistake of dropping my pack on a long stalk and end up without any water for an extended period of time. With just those two things I can get water out of a seep, wallow, or tank and hopefully make it back to my pack.
The opening mechanism on the harness can be a real make-or-break feature. There are only two ways for it to go: Forward and away from you or backward and toward your chest ( I still haven’t seen any side-opening harnesses, but I guarantee there’s a guy working on one in his garage as I type this.)
Forward-opening harnesses such as the Marsupial Gear, Stone Glacier, Kuiu, and Eberlestock all open roughly the same way. You grab a small tab that sits tight to your chest and pull the front cover out and down toward the bottom of the pack. The way these harnesses close at the top can vary slightly. Some have magnets that snap closed for a secure ride and fairly easy entry, but magnets can mess with the compass of a GPS. Some use a piece of shock cord to hold the front face down, which can get in the way of items you may have in your side pockets. It becomes a matter of preference just like anything else.
Backward-opening harnesses such as the FHF, Sitka, Alaskan Guide Creations, and Vortex all open by pulling a small tab down off a hook and lifting a flap of material back towards your chest. These can be relatively easy to use, but most tend to close themselves as soon as you pull your binoculars out. This means they often require two-handed operation to get your glass back into the harness.
The straps of nearly every harness on the market have the same over-your-shoulders and around-your-chest configuration. Some have wider straps with wicking material on your shoulders to make the harness not dig in if you have a few too many things in it. Some have narrower straps that you won’t notice under a pack but may start to dig into your shoulders over time. This, once again, comes down to personal preference. I don’t mind the wider strap. I feel it makes the harness feel a little more secure.
The bottom line is you will need to find the harness that best suits your needs. If having your glass easily accessible is the most important factor to you, a harness that opens easily with one hand may suit your needs best. If you want the most protection possible, you may want to go with a fully enclosed harness that uses magnets to open and close. There are enough options on the market today to find something that fits nearly all your needs.