FIELD & STREAM 2005 BEST OF THE BEST AWARDS

This year, seven of our field editors looked through the thousands of new products offered by the outdoor industry, tested hundreds of them, and finally came up with a list of the 22 best. These are Field & Stream's Best of the Best.

Field & Stream Online Editors

[BRACKET "Binoculars"]
BUSHNELL ELITE
In 1987 the Elite binocular (then made under the Bausch & Lomb brand) was the first to break the $1,000 barrier, and it was thought that sales would be very limited, and only to birders. Wrong! When hunters got a look at how good these glasses were, they came up with the money plenty darn quick.

These Elites are new, and at 23 ounces for the 8X model, they are considerably lighter than their illustrious forebears. They are waterproof and incorporate every possible refinement in the way of lens and prism coatings for high light transmission and superior resolution. But what sets them apart for hunters is the Rainguard coating on the exterior lenses, which means they won't fog, and you can use them in a downpour. It is a huge advantage. I've used Elites for years, and these are miles ahead of the originals. $950 for 8x43; $1,000 for 10x43; 800-423-3537; bushnell.com -D.E.P.

LEUPOLD GOLDEN RING
In the past, Leupold has offered hunters several excellent binoculars, but they have all been in the mid-price range and have never competed at the top levels of binoculardom. Well, those days are over. Say hello to the Golden Ring, which is (a) brown; (b) selling in the $1,000 bracket; and (c) superb.

I used a pair on a prairie dog hunt last June and was struck by the fact that they are not as light (weighing 29.5 ounces) as other new glasses that go for similar money. A company rep explained that in creating the Golden Ring, Leupold went for optical quality above all else, and that there are 22 lenses in each instrument (a "glass-rich design," he called it). Why brown? "To be distinctive." Well, if we can learn to live with green binoculars, we can surely adjust to brown.

They are waterproof, optically and mechanically excellent, and backed by Leupold's wonderful service and warranty system. $950 for 8x42; $1,000 for 10x42; 503-526-1400; leupold.com -D.E.P.

ZEISS VICTORY 32 T* FL
Made in 8x32 and 10x32, this new glass is about as small and light (both models weigh 19 ounces) as is possible for a full-size binocular. The weight savings is achieved through the use of a glass-fiber-reinforced polyamide casing. Optically, the Victory is gorgeous, due in part to the objective lenses being made from fluorite glass, which is rarely found in binoculars because of its cost but offers superb optical quality. These binoculars are so bright that they give away nothing to larger, heavier 42mm models.

How good are they? Last May, I took them on a groundhog hunt in Tennessee, and one of my fellow hunters had a much larger, heavier, and very prestigious binocular of which he was very proud and for which he had just paid a lot of money. He asked if he could take a peek through the Zeiss glasses to see how they compared. He took a long, hard look through them and said, "Aaaaaaaaaaahh, s**t." That's how good they are. $1,400; 800-441-3005; zeiss.com/sports -D.E.P.