2020's Best Thermal Scope Reviews

OUR TOP CHOICE: Pulsar Core RXQ5030V

The Core is built with Pulsar’s ultra-clear glass with an infrared transmitting multi-coating, to ensure that the sensor has everything it needs to produce a clear image. The viewable image is generated in a sapphire tint that’s easy on the eyes, so you can keep your eye to the scope with less eye fatigue.

If you’ve Googled thermal scopes, you know that these puppies can be pretty pricey. What’s not so clear, is why thermal imaging sights are so much more expensive than night vision sights. They both help you see in the dark right?

Right. But that’s not the entire story. 

Here’s why you would choose a thermal scope over a night vision scope:

Thermal scope vs. night vision scope.

Night vision technology works by amplifying available light. Good night vision optics are sensitive enough to pick up starlight and create a bright image in low light situations. This is cool, but it does have some limitations.

2020's Best Thermal Scope Reviews

The most notable limitation of night vision is that it doesn’t work in complete darkness. Since night vision amplifies available light, it needs some light to work, albeit just a little. So, in certain, completely dark environments, night vision won’t generate a clear image.

The second limitation of night vision is camouflage. Even though you can see better in the dark, you’re still using visible light to see, so camouflage will hide things. This means that night vision doesn’t help you spot targets, it just makes the scenery brighter, so they’re not shrouded in darkness.

Enter thermal imaging.

Thermal imaging uses a sensor to detect heat energy, or infrared light. Even in total darkness, things still give off heat signatures. So, thermal imaging sights enable you to see in situations that might be too dark for night vision.

Thermal imaging sights also help you spot targets. Camouflage is designed to hide things when you’re looking at them using visible light. However, there are very few colors that hide heat signatures (if any). So, a deer that might be nearly invisible in daylight stands out like a sore thumb in a thermal sight. It’s very easy to spot targets using a thermal imaging sight.

In terms of shape and construction though, thermal scopes are very similar to night vision scopes. Check out our guide for buying night vision scopes if you want to know what to check on a thermal scope to make sure it’s a good one.

These are the important differences between night vision and thermal imaging. Here’s a more in-depth comparison if you’d like to learn more about it.

Now that you’ve got a better grasp on the benefits of a thermal scope, here’s the thermal imaging sights you should check out this year:

Note: ATN doesn’t manufacture thermal scopes. They specialize in night vision optics. If you’re looking for the best ATN thermal scope, check out our reviews of some of their best night vision scopes.

Editor’s Choice: Pulsar Core RXQ5030V

The Core is built with Pulsar’s ultra-clear glass with an infrared transmitting multi-coating, to ensure that the sensor has everything it needs to produce a clear image. The viewable image is generated in a sapphire tint that’s easy on the eyes, so you can keep your eye to the scope with less eye fatigue.

Top 5 Best Thermal Scopes Reviews

Clip on capability is super handy, especially if you hot swap your scope between different rifles. Given the flexibility of the platform, a clip on thermal scope is the best thermal scope for an AR-15, since it gives you the ability to quickly change out your sighting system. 

If you’re on the market for a clip on thermal scope, the Armasight by FLIR Zeus 336 3-12×50 is the way to go.

If you check the lens quality, you’ll be happy to find that Armasight used a germanium lens in the Zeus that’s fully multi-coated for absolute infrared light transmission. The raw infrared signature is detected using a FLIR thermal camera, which delivers best-in-class thermal detection.

The heat signature is drawn in a 640×512 array, and displayed on a high-resolution LED screen. Additionally, the Zeus offers 6 different color modes to maximize performance in whatever environment you’re in. In short, you’re getting the best of the best when it comes to image quality.

Armasight included their complete reticle package with the Zeus, which offers 6 digitally rendered reticle patterns:

  • 4 dot MOA.
  • Line dot.
  • Cross-center dot.
  • Cross.
  • Crosshair.
  • No reticle.

No matter what type of shooting you’re doing, there’s a reticle for you. Additionally,
the reticle can be displayed in one of 4 colors:

  • Black.
  • White.
  • Red.
  • Cyan.

The magnification ranges from 3x-24x
, and the Zeus sports digital zoom settings of 1x, 2x, 4x, and 8x. The zoom can be very precisely tuned, and the reticle retains its point-of-aim to point-of-impact relationship at all zoom settings. This way, you don’t need to adjust your zero when changing the magnification or zoom.

The Zeus uses 2 CR123A batteries as a power source. Two batteries will net you 4 hours of continuous operation. Keep in mind that these batteries can be tough to find at just any store, so you may need to keep a stockpile of them around.

Since it has so many electronics, the Zeus runs a little heavy. It weighs 1.8 pounds, which is about half a pound heavier than some other thermal scopes in this price range. However, it’s still perfectly manageable for hiking or shooting from an unsupported position, it just might make your shoulder burn a little.

Lastly, the Zeus has a fair amount of video functionality. This scope can record video and export it to an external storage device. Additionally, the Zeus can be set up as a game camera or surveillance device, and controlled via remote control.

All in all, this is definitely the best thermal scope you could clip onto your rifle, especially if you’re looking for amazing performance and versatility.

Armasight is known for their night vision and thermal optics. They build optics in a wide array of price points and feature sets, and use thermal imaging cameras made by FLIR. FLIR is one of the oldest manufacturers in thermal imaging, and also builds thermal cameras for aircraft. The Armasight by FLIR Zeus 640 3-24x75mm is built around a FLIR thermal camera, and sports an impressive features list.

First, Armasight is no stranger to producing ultra-clear lenses that transmit plenty of infrared light to generate a crisp, digital image. Additionally, the Zeus is equipped with a massive 75mm objective lens, which is larger than almost any daytime scope. The Zeus will produce a clean image, no matter what.

Electronic imaging can be a bit dicey, since there’s a lot that can go wrong with digitally rendered images. However, the Zeus is built around a FLIR thermal imaging camera, one of the highest quality thermal imaging cameras available. So the image is reliably clean.

The Zeus offers an impressive selection of reticles. Choose from 6 different reticle options:

  • 4 dot MOA.
  • Line dot.
  • Cross-center dot.
  • Cross.
  • Crosshair.
  • No reticle.

No matter what you’re doing, there’s a reticle for you.

Magnification is no problem with the Zeus, since it’s fitted with a digital zoom that retains the point-of-aim to point-of-impact relationship from 1x to 8x digital zoom.

The Zeus uses two CR123A batteries that will give you up to 4 hours of use. This is good and bad. 4 hours of use is solid, and will get you through even a long slog of a hunting trip. On the other hand, CR123A batteries can’t be bagged at the nearest gas station. Make sure you stock up on batteries before you head out.

As for weight, the Zeus weighs in at 1.8 pounds. It’s not one of the lightest, but it’s the most compact thermal scope that offers this level of performance. So it’s perfect for those who need a thermal scope that won’t snag on their kit.

Lastly, the Zeus offers a hefty list of additional features, mostly related to video editing. The first of these features is video recording that saves video files to an onboard hard drive. The video recording also offers onboard replay, so you can see what you recorded before you get home

Then, the Zeus is also controllable by remote, so you don’t even have to touch the scope to operate it.

Although this isn’t a budget scope, it’s definitely the best thermal scope you can get on the civilian market, and will work for any sort of night shooting you can imagine.

Pulsar is a well-known brand in the world of thermal imaging and night vision. They’re one of the companies that offers their mil-spec hardware to the civilian market, so you get very high-quality optics from Pulsar. 

The Pulsar Trail XQ50 Thermal Rifle Scope is a hunting thermal scope with a host of mil-spec features and durability.

Since Pulsar manufactures a lot of thermal optics, their lenses have specific multi-coatings to maximize infrared light transmission for the best thermal detection. 

This, combined with the high quality sensors Pulsar uses, make it possible for the Trail XQ50 to detect heat signatures up to 1800 meters away. So you’ll never be held back by your optics.

Pulsar manufactures their own thermal imaging sensors. 

However, they’re known for excellent sensor quality, and the Trail XQ50 delivers an uncooled, micro-bolometric matrix at a resolution of 384×288. That’s a lot of technical jargon, and what it means is that the Trail XQ50 generates a very precise heat map, so the image you see on the 640×480 display is detailed and clear.

The Trail XQ50 boasts 13 digital reticle options, so there’s a reticle for any rifle and any shooting context you can come up with. Additionally, it delivers in other areas for improving accuracy. The Trail XQ50 delivers a best-in-class 2.7x-10.8x magnification. This means that you’ll be able to use every bit of the extra long detection range.

Then, since Pulsar knows you probably won’t buy one of these for every rifle you own, the Trail XQ50 can store 3 different rifle profiles, and 5 separate zeros, so you can use the Trail XQ50 on all your favorite guns.

For battery life, the Trail XQ50 uses a rechargeable battery pack that lasts up to 8 hours of continuous use. So, you can literally hunt from dusk to dawn, if that’s what you have to do.

Additionally, the Trail XQ50 has a built-in stadiametric rangefinder, and a proprietary picture-in-picture function so you can get pin point accuracy that’s repeatable from shot to shot.

Getting into extra features, the Trail XQ50 offers video recording and storage on an 8gb onboard hard drive. Once the video is recorded, it can be exported using Pulsar’s Stream Vision app, which connects to any smartphone or tablet.

Given the long heat detection range and high magnification, this is the best thermal scope for long range shooting in this price range. A majority of shooters and hunters will find that the Trail XQ50 provides even more capability than they demand.

Armasight comes up a lot in the thermal scopes conversation because their gear is popular and receives positive reviews. The Armasight by FLIR Predator 336 2-8×25 follows two of Amasight’s strong trends: the FLIR thermal camera, and solid build quality.

First up: lens quality. Armasight equipped the Predator with a germanium lens that’s fully multi-coated with an infrared-transmitting coating. The raw infrared light that reaches the sensor is as pure as possible, and generates a very clean image.

Next: electronic image quality. It’s been said before, but the FLIR camera is built to aircraft standards. The FLIR camera produces 336×256 resolution heat map, that’s displayed on a 640×480 LED display, so you get a great image that you can work with, and will hold up to years of use.

The display can be set to one of 6 color modes to help with target acquisition in different environments, and reduce eye fatigue during long stints behind your scope.

The Predator comes with the same 6 reticle options as the Zeus:

  • 4 dot MOA.
  • Line dot.
  • Cross-center dot.
  • Cross.
  • Crosshair.
  • No reticle.

For further customization and contrast control,
there are 4 reticle color options:

  • Black.
  • White. 
  • Red.
  • Cyan.

Sticking with the topic of visuals,
the Predator has a 2x optical magnification, supplemented by digital zoom settings of 1x, 2x, and 4x

Between these two features, you can really fine tune your magnification. What’s more, the reticle maintains its proportion at different zoom settings, so you never need to adjust your zero for different magnifications.

Moving on to battery life: the Predator is powered by a CR123 battery, which isn’t tremendously common, but offers exceptional battery life. The Predator can operate for up to 3 hours on a single battery. You scope will run at least until you’re too tired to stay up any longer.

For even more battery life, Armasight offers a separate, rechargeable battery pack that extends the operating time to 7 hours.

The Predator isn’t the lightest thermal scope on the market, but it’s close. It weighs in at 1.4 pounds, which is plenty light enough that you won’t struggle to bring it with you on treks into the woods.

For video capabilities, the Predator comes with native video output that can be routed to an external storage device. To make video recording easy, the Predator can be controlled remotely, so you can use it as a trail camera or surveillance device as well.

All things considered, the Predator is the best thermal scope for the money in this price range. Hunters and tactical specialists will find that this scope does everything they need and more without breaking the bank.

To meet the demand for thermal scopes that fit into more moderate price ranges, Pulsar also produces thermal imaging sights with slimmed down feature sets that work exceptionally well for the majority of shooting contexts. 

The Pulsar Core RXQ5030V is Pulsar’s answer for those who want the best affordable thermal scope.

The Core is built with Pulsar’s ultra-clear glass with an infrared transmitting multi-coating, to ensure that the sensor has everything it needs to produce a clear image. The viewable image is generated in a sapphire tint that’s easy on the eyes, so you can keep your eye to the scope with less eye fatigue.

The same thermal imaging technology that’s used in the Trail XQ50 is also used in the Core, so you get a 348×288 thermal signature that’s displayed on a 640×480 screen. This is precise enough for even small game hunting in total darkness.

Additionally, the Core is capable of detecting human-sized heat signatures out to 900 meters, so you’ll have plenty of range to set up and take shots without alerting your target.

To help improve performance in different environments, the Core has three detection settings:

  • Rocks.
  • Forest.
  • Identification.

These help you fine tune the thermal detection for where you are and what you’re searching for.

The Core only offers three reticle patterns. However, this scope is equipped with profiles for 3 different rifles, and 3 different zeroes, so you can use the Core on multiple rifles or with different ammunition in the same rifle.

Pulsar uses a CR123A battery to power the Core, which gives it a long run time, but can also be tricky to find. So you may want to stock up on batteries before your next outing.

The Core is compact, and weighs in at just over a pound. You’ll have no problem toting this scope around in the woods or shooting from unsupported positions.

The features list is slightly shorter than the more expensive Trail XQ50, but it’s still very substantial. The Core has a native 1.6x magnification, and digital zoom that can be set at 2x, 3x, or 4x. The digital zoom retains its point-of-aim to point-of-impact relationship, for better repeat accuracy between shots, even at different zoom settings.

For zeroing, the Core offers a one-shot zeroing function that freeze frames your shot so you can make adjustments with your last shot right in front of you for reference.

All in all, the Core is a great option for hunters who want a slightly more stripped down thermal imaging sight that will still do everything they need in terms of target acquisition and shooting. Given the long detection range, this is definitely the best thermal scope for hog hunting at this price point.


Thermal imaging sights can be super pricey, so it’s best to get one that can hold multiple zeroes so you can use it on multiple rifles. Also, unless you hunt in very dark environments, or need excellent detection capabilities (e.g. hog hunting), you may be better served with a night vision scope.

However, if you have the budget for it, a thermal scope will give you unprecedented nighttime shooting and spotting capabilities.


Those who want a great thermal scope that they can use for any type of shooting should consider the Pulsar Core RXQ5030V.

Those who want a thermal scope for any type of shooting, but value some video recording capabilities should look into the Pulsar Trail XQ50 Thermal Rifle Scope.

Now that you’re savvy to the wonders of thermal imaging, grab a thermal scope at get out there in the dark!

Best Thermal Scope Overall

The Core is built with Pulsar’s ultra-clear glass with an infrared transmitting multi-coating, to ensure that the sensor has everything it needs to produce a clear image. The viewable image is generated in a sapphire tint that’s easy on the eyes, so you can keep your eye to the scope with less eye fatigue.

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