For a long time, my favorite binoculars for safaris were my pair compact Steiner 10.5×28 Wildlife Pro’s. One of the main reasons for this was because they were so small and because of their double hinge design, I could easily keep them in my pocket when not in use. In this way I could go on a walking safari and easily take my camera AND my binoculars.
The downside to this was because these binoculars have such small objective lenses (28mm diameter), they let in less light and therefore produce an image that is less bright than an equal quality binocular with larger lenses. To compound the problem, a lot of the time I would be going out on either a game walk or on safari in a vehicle early in the morning or just before sunset when a lot more of Africa’s wildlife is at their most active and you have a better chance of finding it. So in many ways a compact binocular was not ideal as at this time the light is also not at it’s best.
What I needed was an easy way to carry a larger pair of binoculars that would produce brighter images, but still be able to carry and use my camera easily.
Just using the normal strap to hang the binoculars around my neck does work as the binoculars flap about too much and can really get in your way if you are walking through thick bush.
The answer to my problem must surely be to use a binocular harness or binocular suspenders as they are sometimes called which allow you to carry your binoculars on your person without having to hold them in your hands.
I have tried a few binocular harnesses in the past and they work well, except for one thing that annoys me about them:
Because of the way they are designed with their elasticated straps that keep your optics against your body when you are not using them, they have the problem that your binoculars are under tension when you hold them up to your eyes, which is something that I found hard to get used to.
S4 Gear LockDown Optics Deployment System
I was recently asked if I would like to try out a new type of binocular harness that is said to have a whole host of advantages over a standard harness including “Tension Free Glassing” which immediately interested me. Called the “LockDown Optics Deployment System”, they are produced by an American company called S4Gear and below are my findings:
No Tension Whilst Glassing
In general, most traditional binocular harnesses secure your bins to your body using elastic belts, almost in the same ways as trouser suspenders, which is why they are sometimes referred to as binocular suspenders.
The problem with this design is that you have to pull against these elastic cords when looking through the bins. There are times that this bit of tension is a wanted as it can help you maintain a steadier view through them, but for the most part I tend to find it a little frustrating and it also makes it almost impossible to hold your bins in one hand.
Instead of elasticated straps, the S4 Gear LockDown binocular harness has thin elasticated cords that keep your bins in the harness when not using them, but have no tension in them when you bring your optics up to your face, which for me is a big advantage of this design.
The first thing that you notice once you have attached your binoculars to the harness, is just how fixed firmly the binoculars lay against your upper torso, without any discomfort whatsoever. This is very important to me as when I am walking in the bush, there are often times that you have to bend over or climb through some thick undergrowth and if your binoculars are loose they can not only annoy you, but also get hooked up on something.
To really test them, I even tried jogging and they were still held securely against my body, which is so much better than just using the standard neck strap on your optics and even some standard harnesses, where if walk fast they can often move from side to side on your chest.
Another unique feature of the S4 Gear LockDown binocular harness is the cover that folds over and protects your optics. With this system, you no longer have to carry about the rain-guard or eye-piece covers that come with your binoculars as both sets of lenses are protected by the harness. This makes keeping them free from dirt and scratches much easier and it is much quicker to take your optics out of the harness than it is to put on and take off lens covers.
Another advantage is that because a lot of the binocular is protected under the harness hood, they are are much less lightly to get wet in the rain, will get lest dust and dirt on them and have another layer of protection from scratching and bumping etc.
Keeping a Low Profile
There is far less chance of you getting yourself and your optics snagged up in the undergrowth whilst on a bush walk or walking safari as they are kept very close to your chest when not in use.
The other potential advantage of this low profile is that should it rain, you could quite easily pull your rain coat over both yourself and the harness, ensuring that your optics stay perfectly dry.
I can also imagine situations where you may want to hide your optics whilst on holiday to prevent yourself becoming a potential target to thieves.
Keeping the Noise Down
If you are going on a walking safari and hope to get close to many species of animals, it is important that you keep the amount of noise you make to the absolute minimum. Loose fitting clothing and equipment will brush against objects as you walk past them and could potentially frighten away what you are trying to track.
Again the LockDown system will help in this area, not only because your bins are secured near to your torso, but the entire harness is layered in a noise resistant fabric.
Negatives to using the harness?
If you have already read the paragraphs above, you have probably realised by now that I really love the LockDown Optics Deployment System, but as with everything in life nothing is perfect and below are a few things that are also worth thinking about:
Even though removing the harness from your body is very quick, it is not as quick as taking the binoculars from around your neck and passing it to someone else. So if you are planning on sharing your optics on safari (which you really shouldn’t), I would not recommend using this or indeed any harness.
To attach the binoculars to the harness, you have to thread a split ring or zip tie through the loop on your binoculars that is usually used for your neck strap. If these loops are quite small, it will mean that it will take longer to swap between the harness and the standard carry strap because there is a chance that you will have to first remove the zip ties or split rings before threading through the neck strap cord. If however the loops on the bins are large enough as they were on my bins this will not be necessary as you can just keep the split rings attached.
The Safari Guide Verdict
I love the S4Gear LockDown Harness, which is for me easily the best harness for binoculars that I have tested. As well as on safari they would be ideal for many other uses where keeping your bins close to your body and freeing up your hands is an advantage including birding, hunting, hiking, or those into orientating or even mountain bikers.
Cost & Where to Get Them
Check the following links below to get the latest prices of the S4 Gear LockDown Binocular Harness in the US and the UK:
At the time of writing, the S4 Gear LockDown binocular harness was available in two different sizes and in either Black & Gray or Black & Camouflage.
The small LockDown Harness will accept binoculars from 4.5″ to 6″ in length, whilst the larger will take binoculars from 6″ to 7.5″ in length.
Video demonstrating the main advantages and features of the LockDown Optics Deployment System, which as you will see is directed at hunters in particular, but I think it will also show you how the harness can help you on your safari.