A terrific gift for boys, girls and men and women of all ages with an interest in the natural world are a pair of binoculars. Binoculars do come in a range of sizes, prices and qualities, ranging from as low as about €10/£8 and even less expensive in the USA, to extremely expensive models in the thousands of all these currencies.
How to choose the right pair: bigger is NOT better when choosing binoculars, and neither is expensive better either. For the naturalist and general outdoor enthusiast weight is always a consideration. A person planning to walk miles carrying binoculars will not want them heavy, and neither will someone planning to watch birds for several hours.
When buying binoculars you will be confronted with numbers, such as: 7×42, 8×30, 8×50, 10×25, 10×50, etc, etc. The first number refers to the strength of the binoculars, for example “10x” means the lenses will multiply your eyesight by 10 times. So, the better your eyesight is to start with, the better you will see things, since the binoculars multiply your eyesight strength.
The second number refers to the width of the front lenses (outer lenses) of the binoculars. In a 7×42 binoculars the front lenses (the “headlights”) are 42mm wide. In an 8×50 binoculars they are 50mm wide. The reason there are different sizes is because the wider the front lens the greater the amount of light that gets let in. This allows you to see more clearly at greater distances with a very powerful pair of binoculars, such as a 20x strength pair. And it allows you to see better on average in lower light conditions, but the difference can be negligible and other factors, such as lens quality can also have an affect.
For a gift, particularly for someone who doesn’t know exactly what they want their binoculars for, I would suggest a model with a strength of anywhere from 7x to 10x. I would also suggest that the width of the front lenses doesn’t matter, although a pair with 40mm lenses would be about as big as would be comfortable to hold.
You can get good quality binoculars for good prices: the German company Bresser are the biggest optics company in the world and make extremely good quality binoculars for low prices, even under €20 in many cases. I also have to say I am very impressed with the binoculars made by Tasco, an American company many of whose models are coated with rubber armour. Then you have the likes of Steiner of Germany, Olympus, Nikon, Canon, Zeiss, Leica, and Swarovski.
The UK Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) also have their own binoculars of superb quality and at relatively reasonable prices considering the high quality, all of which can be bought from their online shops and further afield. In Ireland these binoculars are available from the BirdWatch Ireland online store, and their official shop located in Kilcoole, here in Wicklow (a shop that can be difficult to find!).