Since the invention of the laser rangefinder in 1956, applications of this technology have expanded from military and precision engineering use to applications in consumer electronics, particularly in the leisurely pursuits of golf, target shooting and archery, and hunting. One laser rangefinder that stands out from the rest, offering cutting edge technology that’s also simple to use and exceptional value for money is the Nikon Aculon AL11.
Versatile enough to be used on the fairway, on the range and on the trail, the Nikon Aculon AL11 is our Top Pick, offering accuracy, functionality, and user-friendliness at an extremely affordable price.
Coming from a company with a long history of producing the highest quality hunting gear is the Leupold RX-1000i, a laser rangefinder boasting the cutting edge in technology, proprietary features and a superior build quality that make it well worth the not inconsiderate asking price. If you’re serious about hitting your target, then the Leupold RX-1000i should be in your sights.
This laser rangefinder is also one of its most highly regarded, offering incomparable value for money. The Halo XRT6 is a budget laser rangefinder without any bells and whistles while still not compromising on quality.
Laser rangefinders: at home on the range
Optical range-finding equipment originated in the early twentieth century and was first used primarily in the field of photography. The earliest rangefinders used simple trigonometry to calculate the distance to an object and, before the advent of lasers, they employed various means as technology advanced, including ultrasonic sound waves and radar. Laser rangefinders, first developed in 1956 for military use, were popular for several decades in the field of photography until single lens reflex (SLR) cameras rendered them obsolete. Fortunately, the technology stayed on outside of the picture taking field, adopted by engineers and surveyors seeking precise calculations of large spans, and by those who sought a quick and easy way to estimate distances, such as golfers, target shooters and hunters.
As the name suggests, the laser rangefinder uses a laser beam to determine the distance to an object. The most common form of laser rangefinder operates on the ‘time of flight’ principle by sending a laser pulse in a narrow beam towards the object and measuring the time taken by the pulse to be reflected off the target and returned to the sender. This information is conveyed to the user through a screen, usually a liquid crystal (LCD) display, and usually incorporated into the viewing apparatus itself.
Laser rangefinders can be used to measure vast ranges of distance. The most advanced versions are equipped to detect distant objects, with this prioritisation over close objects commonly setting hunting rangefinders apart from their golfing counterparts. Sharpshooters and archers use rangefinders to calculate ballistics (projectile drop and movement) before firing. Due to the high speed of light and because rangefinders are commonly hand-held rather than tripod mounted, laser rangefinders are usually not accurate for sub-millimetre measurements, but are more than adequate to judge the distance to the flag or that pesky sand-trap, the bullseye or that prize-winning buck.
The club or the gun: choosing a rangefinder
There is a huge selection of laser rangefinders available on the market ranging in price from around $50 to well over $2000, so finding the right one can be a daunting task. An Interesting fact we found is most of the consumer-grade rangefinders we compared share the same laser output due to safety regulations, so does it really matter what range finder you choose?
When choosing a laser rangefinder you will likely notice that they fall into two distinct categories: those that are intended for golfers and those that are intended for shooters, archers and hunters. While there may not seem to be much difference between these two types, each has features that are specially designed for its intended purpose. For instance, some rangefinders are specifically designed for close range use and lack options for magnification. Other models are intended for extreme long range use and thus have superior glass optics with multi-layer coatings, large objective lenses and large exit pupils for superior light transmission, and ultra-clear sight pictures. Additionally, they may have other such features such as lighted reticules and multiple targeting and ranging modes.
Many laser rangefinders claim they will read out to 1500 yards, but it is very difficult to get an accurate range in excess of 550 to 600 yards. The maximum yardage listed is usually calculated on a large, highly reflective object like a building under ideal conditions. The real differences are found in the fine details: the best laser rangefinders use high-end optical glass as this allows them to hold focus at extremely long ranges. This is usually paired with highly accurate integrated computer software to account for any variance. In any case, typically in golf par-five holes range from 470 to 600 yards, so golfers can often do with standard-grade laser rangefinders rather than the spend at the higher end of the market. However, in saying that, rangefinders are usually chosen by better players and elite amateurs for their detailed accuracy and can also feature technology that picks out the flag from any trees or bushes behind the green.
Modern laser rangefinders come in one of two basic styles: horizontal or vertical. Horizontal designed units are wide and flat and allow the user a steady two handed grip when ranging targets, not unlike a pair of binoculars. The solid grip provided by this design makes it a good choice for higher magnification and long distance range finders. The downside of this flat design is that these units are generally more bulky when compared to their vertical counterparts. The vertical style is better suited for carry in a pocket or on a belt as they are generally more compact than their horizontal counterparts. The downside of the vertical design is that they can be hard to hold steady and the image can appear to shake and as a result they are generally of a lower magnification than the horizontal design.
As previously mentioned, most laser rangefinders use an LCD screen to display information. Some units feature an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen which is generally considered to offer a clearer view than an LCD screen, especially in low-light conditions. Naturally, as most golf is played in the daytime, this feature will be of most use to the hunter.
Rangefinders commonly come in magnifications of 4x to 8x, with one important factor to be mindful of is the higher the magnification, the harder it will be to hold the image steady. While applications and personal preference will play a big part in the decision of what magnification will be appropriate for your needs, we have found 6x magnification is towards the higher end of what most people can hold steady with a vertical style rangefinder, with the more stable platform of the horizontal design allowing for higher magnifications of 7x or 8x. Also, keep in mind the smaller the target or the longer the distance, the more magnification is required for accurate targeting.
Most but not all laser rangefinders have an adjustable dioptre to help focus the unit to your eyes with some having more range of adjustment than others. If your eyes require a lot of correction, i.e. you wear glasses with a strong prescription, look for models with a high adjustment range. Also, if you plan of using the unit with glasses on check to make sure the model you are interested in has substantial eye relief ‘ the distance from the outer surface of the eyepiece lens to the position where the exit pupil is formed ‘ and/or a foldable or retractable eyepiece suitable for use with glasses.
How we picked
Even with our helpful guide, the hundreds of different laser rangefinder options can make choosing one a daunting task. In our selection of the best of the best, there were several considerations that we looked for in each and every device.
Construction, durability and reliability were perhaps first and foremost in our selection process. While the draws of lightweight construction and materials, and a low price can be big selling points, laser rangefinders can cost upwards of $1000; certainly an investment you won’t want to be making every time of year that calls for brushing the dust off your clubs, rifle or bow. A well-constructed and well maintained rangefinder will last for several years and will measure precisely every time you need it. Build quality, materials and degrees of waterproofing were all important considerations.
Versatility and user friendliness were also essential considerations in our selection. For our purposes a rangefinder is, essentially, a tool to make activity easier to perform. Following on from reliability, a rangefinder that’s frustrating to use or a chore to lug around will probably spend more time in the back of a wardrobe than on the course, range or trail. As such, rangefinders that are easy to use were highly regarded. After all, time spent fiddling with a difficult rangefinder is time you’re not on your game or on the hunt. Rangefinders that were compact and light got pride-of-place in our selection.
Getting more into technicalities, larger, high quality objective lenses with multi-layered coatings mean better viewing with less distortions and higher precision. Multicoated lenses also tend to perform better in lower light conditions. Also, larger objective lenses also make for a wider field of view, especially at higher magnifications.
Our Top Pick: Nikon Aculon AL11
With pedigree synonymous for the highest quality camera optics, the Nikon Aculon AL11 is compact, easy to use, superbly accurate and versatile enough to be used for both golfing and hunting, the Aculon is an absolute steal.
Measuring just 3.6″ x 2.9″ x 1.5″ in size and weighing only 4.8 ounces, the Aculon is extremely compact when compared to other laser rangefinders and comes with a carrying case and strap, making it easy to bring with you on the hunt, at the range or on the course. Using an invisible, eye-safe EN/IEC Class 1M laser, the Aculon’s stated true range measures distances from 6 to 550 yards displayed in one yard/meter increments, but many users report accurate readings up to 650 yards. Lengths of this range are easily possible due to several smart design feature, such as the Aculon’s 6x magnification, which makes distant targets easy to focus on and the 20mm multicoated objective lens, which allows more light across the visible spectrum into the device. Another clever feature is the 16.7mm eye relief and adjustable viewing dioptre. This larger than usual distance makes the Aculon ideal for use for those who wear glasses as the rangefinder can be used without have to take them off. The unit is also water resistant/rainproof to JIS/IEC protection Class 4 (IPX4) ‘ a very handy feature.
One of the Aculon’s biggest draws is its ease of use. Featuring only two buttons ‘ the power button and the ‘mode’, or yard/meter unit selection, one push of the power button to provides an instant distance reading, while if the button is held down the rangefinder gives a continuous measurement for up to 20 seconds as you scroll across the visible area. The LCD display is uncluttered and free of any unnecessary obstructions, displaying only the distance of your target, a target reticule and a four-stage battery meter. To save power, the rangefinder automatically powers down after eight seconds of inactivity. Particularly useful if you’re trying to spot a target through brush, grass or similar obstructions, the Aculon is automatically programmed to display the range of the furthest target among a group of targets measured. Also, when powered down, it defaults to ‘last use’ settings ‘ an often overlooked and undervalued feature. This helps to make the Aculon very energy-efficient, being able to boast approximately 8,000 cycles before a battery change is required. The device’s battery compartment is also easily accessible, located just below the viewing lens.
Offering functionality, portability, ease of use and the versatility to be used for both short and long ranging, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this laser rangefinder is its price. The Aculon presents outstanding value for money and rightly earns its place as our Top Pick.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Although the Aculon is certainly held in high esteem for its functionality and ease of use, it can be argued that it does lack advanced features offered by other more specialised laser rangefinders, such as active brightness control or angle compensation. However, a counterargument could be made that the Aculon’s versatility and, most of all, its price more than makes up for this. Some users struggled with the unit’s 6x magnification, stating that it took a steady hand to range smaller targets at distances more than 300 yards. Another criticism was that the Aculon uses CR2 lithium batteries which are generally more expensive and harder to find than the 9V batteries more commonly used in rangefinders.
Our Step Up Pick: Leupold RX-1000i
Founded in 1907 and a highly regarded name in the field of hunting equipment, the Leupold RX-1000i is a serious laser rangefinder with features and a price to match its high pedigree. The RX-1000i boasts several proprietary technologies that make it an excellent choice for shooters and make it well worth the asking price.
Measuring 3.8′ x 2.8′ x 1.3′ in size and weighing 7.8 ounces, the RX-1000i is extremely compact for such an advanced rangefinder and also comes with a field case neck lanyard to make it exceedingly portable. Built from aluminium as opposed to plastic and fully covered with sturdy rubber grips, the RX-1000i is exceptionally well-built, with several users stating they have dropped their rangefinders from hunting stands or have left them out overnight in the rain without any issues at all. Using a 915nm Class 1 eye-safe infrared laser, the RX-1000i can measure distances from 5 yards out to 1000 yards with 6x magnification through a 22mm multicoated objective lens. This allows for a wide field of view ‘ 320 feet at 1000 yards. This rangefinder boasts an OLED display, offering superior image quality and light transmission up to three times greater than LCD screens. The OLED offers three levels of adjustable brightness which is especially useful in low light and bad weather conditions. Another handy feature is an adjustable focus eyepiece with precision clicks, and a 16mm eye relief with fold-down rubber eyecups for eyeglasses wearers.
The advanced features offered by the RX-1000i is what really sets it apart from other laser rangefinders. This device offers digitally enhanced accuracy, allowing ranges to be measured with accuracy of up to 1/10 of a yard/meter against a variety of backgrounds. Especially useful for archers and shooters, the RX-1000i proudly boasts ‘True Ballistic Range’ technology ‘ an advanced computerised ballistics program which features an integrated inclinometer. Accounting for the true range of a target over and incline or decline, the effect of gravity over a bullet or arrow over a specific range and even with the option to choose the ballistic group of your firearm, the RX-1000i can calculate by what degree you need to adjust your shot depending on distance, incline and your choice of weapon. Changeable reticules provide four different readouts, including the standard line-of-sight ranging mode, minutes of angle of elevation, inches or centimeters to hold over or under your point, and milliradians (1/6400 of a degree in angular measure, the equivalent of 3.6 inches at 100 yards) of elevation ‘ all to assist in aiming which ever style of measurement you might use to hit the bullseye every time, even with archery up to 125 yards.
In addition to all this, the RX-1000i is fast and remarkably easy to use for such an advance piece of equipment. One press of a button is all it takes for a virtually instantaneous range measurements or a continuous scan mode. It also features a ‘last target mode’ that remembers your settings next time you use the device. This rangefinder also uses a CR2 lithium battery and with a seven second automatic shut-off function, can brag a full 10,000 cycles before you need to change out.
In short, the RX-1000i is a superior machine with a price to match, offering what could be considered the final word in rangefinding and aim-adjustment technology. Also offering outstanding build quality, construction and exceptional compactness for such a powerful device, you can certainly consider the RX-1000i excellent value for money.
Our Budget Pick: Halo XRT6
The Halo XRT6 also comes highly recommended. Compact, functional, versatile enough to be used for both golf and shooting, the XRT6 makes an excellent case for an entry-level, no-frills laser rangefinder.
Measuring 4.2′ x 3.0′ x 1.7’and weighing 8 ounces, the XRT6 isn’t quite as compact as our Top or Step Up Picks but it still has plenty to offer in the way of power and functionality. Constructed from sturdy plastic with rubber grips, the XRT6 is weather resistant and comes with a nylon carrying case, lanyard and a lens cloth. Using a Class 1 eye-safe laser, this rangefinder can measure distances up to 600 yards in one yard/meter increments with 6x magnification through a 23mm objective lens. This wide lens and the device’s larger size allows for an exceptionally wide field of view ‘ 366 feet at (a hypothetical) 1000 yards ‘ and has the on-board technology to give accurate measurements on all types of terrain, compensating for inclines and declines.
The XRT6 is extremely easy to use with its simple two button operation not unlike that of our Top Pick, with one button press to take a range measurement and holding the button for 20 seconds of continuous measurement, and the second button to change the unit of measurement. The unit’s LCD display is uncluttered and easy to read, and features a low-battery alert. An automatic shutoff mode deactivates the XRT6 after 20 seconds, saving your battery.
The XRT6 is a well-made, easy to use, versatile laser rangefinder and an absolute bargain to boot.
Our Specialised Picks
Best for the golfer: Bushnell Hybrid
A unique combination of two technologies to make what could be considered the ultimate golfing accessory, the Bushnell Hybrid may be the last golfing gadget you ever need. Measuring 4.3′ x 2.8′ x 2.1′ and weighing 8 ounces, the Hybrid is no heavyweight and will easily fit into any golf bag. Able to measure distances from 5 to 1000 yards in single yard/meter increments with 5x magnification using a 21mm multicoated objective lens, the Hybrid offers a wide field of view ‘ 367 feet at 1000 yards.
Where the ‘hybrid’ aspect comes into mix is that this rangefinder doubles as a GPS unit that comes loaded with more than 30,000 different golf courses from 30 countries and provides instant information on how far you are to your current pin as well as the front and back of the green and can store your game information, such as how long you’re hitting for later review to help improve your game. With automatic course recognition, course information can be updated over the internet using a USB cable that plugs into the Hybrid, which also charges the device meaning no hassles with replacing batteries.
The Hybrid, Golfing tournament legal in the USA, also features a 21mm eye relief, adjustable eyepiece, LCD display and ‘Pinseeker’ ranging mode which gives the distance to the closest object found when multiple objects are detected ‘ a handy feature that will no doubt save time and frustration when trying to work out what club will get you to the green ‘ and comes with a USB charger, cable, a carrying case and strap. It’s easy to see the Hybrid is the rangefinder of choice of PGA professionals.
Best for the archer: Bushnell The Truth
Bow hunters or target archery enthusiasts need look no further than the Bushnell The Truth for the ultimate in specialised rangefinding and target assistance. Measuring just 3.8′ x 2.9′ x 1.4′ and weighing 6.0 ounces, The Truth is extremely compact and easy to carry. Using a 20mm objective lens, this rangefinder can measure distances from 7 to 850 yards in single yard increments with 4x magnification and offers a supreme field of view ‘ 430 feet at 1000 yards.
The Truth features two components that make it so useful for archers: once calibrated for the particular speed of arrows you use, an inbuilt inclinometer and an ‘Angle Range Compensation’ programme accounts for the terrain angle when calculating distance, displaying line of sight distance, degree of elevation, and true distance range from 7 to 199 yards on the unit’s LCD, so you know precisely how to shoot the distance with inclinations up to +/- 90 degrees. ‘ClearShot’ technology, particularly useful to bow hunters, shows the maximum height your arrow will travel, provides instantaneous feedback on shot clearance and therefore makes clipping branches or other obstructions a thing of the past.
Sturdily built and with anti-slip grips, The Truth is rainproof comes with a carrying case and neck strap.
Best for the no-frills hunter: Bushnell Michael Waddell Bone Collector
Old-school hunters looking for a laser rangefinder without the bells and whistles need look no further than the rather creepily named the Bushnell Michael Waddell Bone Collector. Quite compact, measuring 4.0′ x 3.0′ x 1.5′ and weighing 5.3 ounces, the Bone Collector not only looks the part but is well-built to boot. With a 20mm objective lens, the Bone Collector is able to measure distances from 10 to 600 yards in single yard/meter increments with 4x magnification, and a field of view of 320 feet at 1000 yards. With an uncluttered LCD that displays remaining battery power, this rangefinder is extremely easy to use with single button press reading and scanning. The Bone Collector also works extremely well at low-light for a laser rangefinder at the lower end of the price spectrum.
Best for the long range sniper: Carl Zeiss Optical Inc Victory
With a name synonymous with the highest grade optical and camera equipment, the Carl Zeiss Optical Inc Victory is perhaps the ultimate in long range viewing and rangefinding. Comparatively monstrous in comparison, the Victory measures 7.5′ x 5.5′ x 2.6′ and weighs 40.6 ounces. Colossal 56mm multicoated objective lenses provide distance measuring from 10 to 1300 yards at 10x magnification with a field of view of 330 feet at 1000 yards. All four of the Victory’s fluoride glass lenses are achromatic, limiting the effects of chromatic and spherical aberration, giving the highest in accuracy in clarity when viewing, especially in low-light conditions. Extremely robust, built with a solid magnesium housing and sturdy rubber grips, the Victory is nitrogen-filled to eliminate internal condensation and extreme cold and is fully waterproof.
As with our Step Up Pick, the Victory’s easy to use ‘Ballistic Information System’ uses programmable ammunition information and the distance measurement to automatically provide tailor-made shot correction information through the LED.
All of this state-of-the-art, high-end component rangefinding and aim-assisting technology comes at a cost. While not for everyone, those willing to make the investment in the Victory superior quality and power can look forward to years of reliable service.
Best Golf Rangefinder
Measuring 4.1″ x 2.8″ x 1.6″ in size and weighing 6.5 ounces, the VPRO500 would fit quite easily into any golf bag. This rangefinder can measure distances from 5 to 540 yards in single yard/meter increments with 6x magnification with using a multicoated 24mm objective lens. This rangefinder features three modes: a distant object range finder to see through grass and brush, a continuous scan mode and a ‘Pinseeker’ mode. Golfing tournament legal in the USA, the VPRO500 comes with a carry case, lanyard and lens cloth, and presents excellent value for money.
A close contender for our Step Up Pick, an exceptionally well built and marvellously named laser rangefinder for shooters comes in the form of the Nikon Riflehunter 1000. Measuring 4.6′ x 2.9′ x 1.6′ and weighing 6.9 ounces, this rangefinder is fully waterproof and easy portable, coming with a neoprene carrying case ‘ very handy for silent removal for the hunter. With a 21mm multicoated objective lens the Riflehunter 1000 can measure distances from 11 to 1000 yards in increments of 1/10 of a yard/meter with 6x magnification. Not unlike our other higher-end shooting specialised rangefinders, the Riflehunter 1000 features an integrated inclinometer and compensates for various incline or decline shooting angles up to +/- 89 degrees and also offers the choice of nearest or distant target priority modes. Nikon’s high quality lenses offer superior viewing and the brightness of the LED adjusts automatically to light conditions. The Riflehunter 1000 can be considered excellent value for the shooter.
Best Rangefinder for Shooting
A popular and highly regarded shooting and archery dedicated rangefinder comes to us in the Vortex Optics Ranger 1000. This highly compact rangefinder measures just 3.9′ x 3.0′ x and weighs 7.7 ounces, and features an integrated shirt pocket or belt clip for the ultimate in easy carrying. Built tough, it os also fully waterproof and compatible with a tripod adapter for stationary target shooting. Utilising a 22mm multicoated objective lens, the Ranger 1000 can measure distances from 11 to 1000 yards with 6x magnification and offers a field of view of a respectable 315 feet over 1000 yards. With features such as inbuilt inclinometer capable of angle reading up to +/- 60 degrees, line of sight and horizontal component distance modes for angle compensated ranging, and an adjustable dioptre, this is our favorite.
Wrapping it up
Hopefully, through our exhaustive selection process, we’ve made choosing the right laser rangefinder a little less daunting. In our considerations for making our selection of recommended laser rangefinders, construction, features, portability, versatility and quality components were all paramount. In the Nikon Aculon AL11 you will find all of this in a multipurpose rangefinder that also offers unparalleled value for money. In the Leupold RX-1000i you will find a rangefinder that offers exceptional design and features that a shooter or archer couldn’t ask more from. In the Halo XRT6 you will find Amazon’s best-selling rangefinder without frills at a price that’s definitely a hole-in-one.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.