Although there are major industrial uses for rangefinders such as land surveying and 3D modeling, this discussion on the best rangefinder is about consumer rangefinders most commonly used in hunting, archery, and golf.
Nowadays, most consumer-grade rangefinders are laser rangefinders. A laser rangefinder emits a beam of laser and, since the speed of light is known, calculates the distance of an object by measuring the time it takes the laser to travel to an object and back (after reflection).
A rangefinder can be an extremely useful device. It is not our intention to limit its use to hunting, archery and golf, so we won’t. One can find numerous other uses for it. For example, if your dog ran away from the house, you can whip out the rangefinder and see how far away the dog is, and then you can better decide whether to yell at it or save your breath. For another example, let’s say you’re a huge fan of Taylor Swift and you’re going to one of her concerts, you can use a rangefinder so that you’ll be able to tell your friends the exact distance that separated you from her. You get the idea: a rangefinder can be quite handy.
Rangefinders were developed at about the same time as cameras because they both depend on optics. This is why most rangefinders are made by manufacturers that also make cameras, binoculars, and/or scopes. Of our selections of the best rangefinders below, we are certain that you have heard of at least a couple of these brands.
The Coolshot 20 is Nikon’s most compact laser rangefinder for golf. It measures 3.6”L x 2.9”H x 1.5”D, small enough for even smaller hands to hold securely. The weight is 4.5oz, or the same as an iPhone 6S (it’s probably just a coincidence).
The accurate range is 6 to 550 yards. This rangefinder can be used in golf tournaments as it complies with USGA Local Rule 14-3. It can also be used for archery practice. The top range of 550yd may be enough for bow hunting. However, the Nikon Coolshot 20 operates in First Target Priority mode. It locks onto the first target, which is usually ideal for flagsticks on golf courses. For hunting, a lot of times the game would not be the first target in the woods.
The Nikon Coolshot 20 features 6x magnification so you can easily find everything on the golf course. Use it to practice distance shots, figure out which iron to use, and find the accurate distances to trees, mounds, bunkers, etc. With Nikon optics, you can be sure that the images are bright and clear.
We found the Nikon Coolshot 20 to be as accurate as much more expensive golf rangefinders. It is rainproof and can be used in almost any golfing weather. It comes with a 2-year factory warranty.
Leupold & Stevens, Inc. is an American optical instruments company that makes binoculars, rifle scopes, rangefinders, and spotting scopes.
The Leupold RX-650 is made in China. The build quality is good, so no worries there. It is totally weatherproof and works in the fog. We love the feel of the non-slip rubber on top. It is small at just 3.6” long, and light for a Leupold at 6.3lb.
The Leupold RX-650 is for archery and hunting. It will not pick up small objects like a flagstick from more than 100 yards away so this is not a golf rangefinder. The model number of RX-650 indicates that it is accurate up to 650 yards. However, 650-yard accuracy is for reflective objects. For a deer, the rated accurate range is 575 yards. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use the Leupold RX-650 to spot game at a farther distance – it just won’t be accurate.
The display is a black LCD with up to 6x magnification. It has no target priority. We found that it can be a challenge trying to range game more than 300 yards away. The Leupold RX-650 is best for archery and shorter-range hunters. However, it does not have angle compensation which can be an issue if you hunt on tree stands.
The Leica CRF 1000-R is for hunting and archery. It is Leica’s entry-level model and the best bang for the buck.
There are so many rifle scopes with built-in rangefinder these days that do we really need the Leica CRF 1000-R? Yes, because the rangefinder in most rifle scopes is quite useful. You’d have to spend way over $1000 for a combo scope/rangefinder that is as good as the Leica CRF 1000-R and quality scope.
The Leica CRF 1000-R is made in Portugal. As with all Leicas, it is immaculately built. The optics is AquaDura-coated 7x24mm with integrated diopter compensation up to 600 yards. This rangefinder is accurate up to 1 yard from 10 to 400 yards, up to 2 yards from 400 to 800 yards, and with 0.5% accuracy beyond 800 yards. The field of view at 1000 yards is 125m. The game appears too small at beyond 1000 yards. We found the Leica CRF 1000-R to work best at 1000 yards and below, which is more than enough for most hunters.
The clarity of the LED display is amazing. The automatic brightness adjustment works beautifully every time, which can’t be said for all rangefinder displays. The Leica CRF 1000-R can also be used as a monocular so you can do away with your hunting binoculars.
This rangefinder measures both linear and horizontal distances. For angle compensation, it has a built-in inclinometer. Equivalent horizontal distances can be calculated from 10 to 874 yards. In addition, it has a ballistic program (works up to 600 yards) to help with your aim by taking into account distance, bullet caliber, muzzle velocity, wind and other conditions.
The best rangefinder in our book is the Leica CRF 1000-R (as if it’s not obvious right?). You can totally replace your binoculars by using the Leica CRF 1000-R as a monocular. The accuracy is as advertised and it works in any condition including snow. The clarity of the LED display is the best in the business, ditto the build quality.
However, if you would rather spend much less and still own a rangefinder of a top-pedigree brand, look no further than the Leupold RX-650. This no-frill rangefinder is great for archery practice but for hunting, it is better for those who hunt on level grounds and in shorter ranges.
Our best rangefinder for golf is the Nokia Coolshot 20. You can spend more on a golf rangefinder for additional features but the Nokia Coolshot 20 is as good as it gets in terms of accuracy and finding targets.