Seeing in the dark gives you a major advantage. But since there are so many night vision options it can be intimidating for beginners. I’ve had my setup for a few years now – here is what I use and how it worked for me.
Night Vision Monocular
The actual night vision tube is the first step. I went with the most popular choice of a 3rd generation PVS 14 monocular. Sure it only works with one eye, but with a little practice you can maneuver quite naturally in darkness. But night vision isn’t magical, it only amplifies ambient light. Therefore the brighter the environment is the better you can see. Fun moon nights will look like day, but pitch black nights can still seem dark without illumination. You definitely don’t want to go cheap. If it only costs a couple hundred dollars it is most likely just a novelty and won’t have any practical function. A quality PVS14 tube will run around $3,000.
PVS14s usually come with a headgear attachment, but these are cheap, loose, and sloppy. I only use mine to give it to others so they don’t adjust my helmet settings. The best way to wear your monocular is with a rigid helmet of some sort. “Bump” helmets with a front mount will work best and keep your PVS14 adjusted. Since head sizes are all different it takes a while to adjust the monocular to be in line with your eye. But at least it pops off easily to pass around as a handheld.
The PVS14 is rated for .223 recoil so mounting it on a rifle to use in conjunction with a night vision compatible optic such as an Aimpoint T2 or Trijicon MRO is possible. However the optics usually limits the PVS14’s field of view even more making it a poor option. So for weapons use it’s highly recommended to have an IR laser. IR lasers work exactly like a visible laser with the exception that the Infrared lasers are only visible through the night vision lenses. In order to zero my laser I mount my PVS14 in behind my optic with a LaRue LT113 mount and simply adjust the laser to match the optic’s point of aim.
As stated earlier the night vision is excellent with ambient light but in absolute darkness or under a tree canopy extra illumination sure helps. For night stalking and inside small buildings you can use the illumination feature on the PVS14. But my Streamlight Sidewinder Compact II is an excellent supplemental choice for short distance use and it also gives you visible, red, and blue light as well. Recently I mounted Ultimate Night Vision’s Infrared LED Light cubes on my UTV that gives me plenty of illumination from 50-100 yards allowing comfortable driving up to 30mph on pitch black nights.
I haven’t found a camera night vision solution yet. I have tried TNVC’s GoPro adapter but it was awkward, dark, and a complete rip off at $400 for a plastic mount with an amber prism lens. I do NOT recommend this and I promptly returned mine.
The above setup has served me well for several years. It is excellent for night maneuvers but of course thermal imagine is better for hunting and detection. Maybe one day we will have merged both technologies to have the best of both worlds.