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Great Optics : Critical For A Great Snow Leopard Trip

A snow leopard trip to Ladakh or Mongolia needs powerful optics. Learn how they can make or break your dream vacation, and see our recommendations.

Reading Time: 10 minutes

This article explains why great optics are a key component of a great snow leopard trip. It also explores the various options available, and why Voygr uses the best possible type. We use Swarovski Optik BTX 95 scopes. It is the global standard in high-end spotting scope.

Are you researching a snow leopard trip? When talking to operators, you must ask them how many scopes will be shared between guests. Also check what type of scopes they are. You can use our comparison chart of scopes at the end of this article if you want to see where their scope ranks. If you see no mention of scopes or optics in their marketing material – be wary.

Most snow leopard sightings need some form of optics to enjoy them. Close sightings do happen, but “close” is relative when it comes to snow leopards. 600 meters can be considered a close sighting. There are several sightings over a kilometer away on every trip. These are enjoyable. Great optics, mounted on a good tripod, are the difference between a highly enjoyable trip and a waste of money.

We mount our scopes on Manfrotto tripods with fluid heads so we can look through them all day. We only discuss scopes in this article. Binoculars are a great tool for short periods. Our team is also equipped with Swarovski binoculars. But they generally use them as a secondary tool.

A Low Scope to People Ratio Is Essential For A Good Snow Leopard Trip

You don’t want to be in a situation where you have a snow leopard sighting, but don’t have access to a scope. You will have wasted a lot of money. People travel half way around the world for a snow leopard trip. They spend two days acclimatizing to the altitude in Leh. Or two days traveling from Ulaanbaatar to the Altai mountains. And then they spend a few days with a guide and trackers searching for a snow leopard.

When the moment they have dreamed about for months finally happens, some of them miss the whole thing. Why? The scopes are crap. Or there are too few between too many guests.

We’ve seen this happen all too often, especially on our snow leopard expedition to Ladakh. Ten people sharing one mediocre scope. Loads of disappointment.

Sometimes, guests who are with other tour operators start walking over to where our group is. This is because there’s never a line of people waiting to use our scopes.

We have small groups and try to maintain a minimum ratio of 1 scope to 2 guests. The majority of the time it ends up being 1 scope per guest as a lot of our clients are too busy shooting photos during a sighting to look through a scope. If you’re a photographer, make sure to read our detailed article on planning a snow leopard photo tour. We use double eye-piece Swarovski BTX scopes with a 95mm objective. A 115mm objective was just released. We will definitely be acquiring some of these more powerful variants, too.

A Mongolian tracker at work on a snow leopard trip

A Mongolian snow leopard tracker at work.

When another tour operator’s guests approach our team, hoping to look through our scopes, we’re put in the awkward situation of having to say no.

It’s a hard thing to do. We want everyone to see a snow leopard. But we can’t ask our clients to stop looking at a snow leopard. This is the very objective of a snow leopard trip for which they traveled half way around the world. This is why they hired us. We can’t ask them to give the scope they are using to someone who showed up without this critical piece of gear. It would be as if you hired a taxi to take you to the airport and the taxi driver picked up hitch-hikers who also wanted to go to the airport.

Most clients are actually very gracious when this occurs. They do allow scope-less strangers a quick peek. But it’s a tough thing to navigate. It is hard to peel your eyes away from a scope, knowing that you can’t see the snow leopard clearly without it. Knowing that it may get up and disappear from view while you let someone else take a look. Every moment is precious. This is why great optics are critical for snow leopard trips.
We recently switched campsites to a less trafficked area of the park. So our interactions with other tour operators and their scope-less guests have declined quite a bit. But a half decade of seeing this story played our repeatedly has motivated us to write about it.

By talking about this issue, we hope that these situations can be avoided. An educated consumer is the best type. We urge those that are planning a snow leopard trip to prioritize optics just as they would a tracker.

Classic Snow Leopard Tour To Ladakh

Classic Snow Leopard
Tour To Ladakh

Group departures.
Starting from $4,115.
Private tours available.

Signature Snow Leopard Expedition To Ladakh

Signature Snow Leopard
Expedition To Ladakh

Group departures.
Starting from $5,752.
Private tours available.

Snow Leopard Tour To Mongolia

Snow Leopard Tour To Mongolia

Group departures.
Starting from $5,680.
Private tours available.

Snow Leopard Expedition To Kyrgyzstan

Snow Leopard Expedition To Kyrgyzstan

Group departures.
Starting from $6,880.
Private tours available.

Why We Use Swarovski Optik Scopes On Our Snow Leopard Trips

As snow leopard trip specialists, we’ve committed serious cash to optics. And not just good ones. The very best of the best. We use the largest and most powerful spotting scopes Swarovski makes. And we can’t stop praising them.

Is Swarovski the best? Absolutely. Yes, they do cost an arm and a leg. The Swarovski BTX-95’s we use retail for $5,230. But they are worth every dollar.

On an average day during a snow leopard trip, our spotters spend 8+ hours looking through scopes. They do this for 3 months at a time. If you’ve ever tried to look through a pair of binoculars for 10 minutes, you’ll know what those numbers mean. We’re not weekend warriors comparing numbers on a chart. Finding snow leopards is our livelihood. And Swarovski makes it possible for us to find them.

The Double Eye-piece Swarovski BTX Series Is The Best Scope For A Snow Leopard Trip

The Swarovski BTX (with a 95mm or 115mm objective) is the best scope for a snow leopard trip.

Not only were our trackers more comfortable spending all day using the BTX series, our sighting statistics also saw an improvement. All our top trackers have over two decades of experience. While our junior trackers are quick learners – experience counts for a lot when it comes to tracking snow leopards. By switching to the Swarovski Optik BTX, we had just doubled our sets of experienced eyes.

So that’s our take on why optics are critical to successful snow leopard trip. For our snow leopard expeditions in Ladakh, we try to have at least 4 scopes, if not more, for every group of 8 guests. That’s a minimum ratio of 2 guests per scope. Since we specialize in photo tours, at least half of the guests on any trip are photographers with large telephoto lenses. When a snow leopard is sighted, they do not leave their cameras. This essentially means that the majority of our non photographer guests always end up with their own scope.

For our snow leopard tour in Mongolia and our snow leopard expedition in Kyrgyzstan we have fewer scopes available as it’s hard moving assets between countries. On these we generally guarantee 2 Swarovski BTX 95 scopes, but usually have 3 available.

We continuously upgrade our infrastructure and add more scopes to our inventory. Eventually we aim to guarantee 1 scope per guest.

Our snow leopard trackers have used every type of scope under the sun. From similarly high-end Leica and Zeiss scopes to mid-range Nikons to low-end Vortex scopes. Nothing comes close to the Swarovski in terms of sharpness, clarity, and low-light usage.

And it’s important to note one point here. We’re talking about the Swarovski BTX series. This is the double eye-piece scope. It is this ability to use both the eyes that makes our tracker’s lives easier. No headaches. No tired eyes. Just hours of sheer usability combined with the world’s best optical quality.

Before the double eye-pieced BTX was introduced, we used the ATX series. These angled spotting scopes are powerful. They also allow for higher magnification than the BTX series does. But with a single eye piece, they aren’t built for hours of use. Staring through just one eye for hours on end gets tiring real fast. Our trackers would switch eyes every few minutes, and take short walks every 20 minutes or so to relax their eyes.

But more importantly, they were missing things. Tired eyes lead to fatigue. And a fatigued tracker is ineffective. When Swarovski released the BTX series, we field tested one to see if our trackers liked it. We trust them more than any review online.

It was an instant hit. Our trackers fought over it. The results were so amazing that we upgraded all of our ATX scopes to BTX, foregoing the ability to zoom for the advantages of the double eyepiece. For scenarios where we need more magnification, we put on a Swarovski 1.7x magnification extender.

Comparing the Types of Scopes Used On Snow Leopard Trips

Swarovski is widely considered to be the very best by any serious glass user. We ONLY use Swarovski optics.

1. Swarovski BTX module mounted to a 95 or 115mm objective lens.
This is the absolute king. A binocular style two eye-piece section that leads into a powerful lens objective. It allows for long periods of use without getting tired. We often use them sitting on a small stool with our tripods on their shortest setting. $5,200+

2. Swarovski ATX module mounted to a 95 or 115mm objective lens.
This is the 2nd best. The angled single eye-piece ATX objective is incredibly sharp and the ATX series allows for variable zoom. So you can move in closer or search in a wider view. But just one eye-piece means that it’s not ideal for long stretches of use. You’ll have to keep switching eyes. $5,200+

Swarovski objective lenses under 95mm in size (85, 65, etc) are not recommended for snow leopards. There are quite a few older Swarovski ATX series with 85mm and 65mm lenses in use in Ladakh. These are very sharp lenses, but out of their “comfort zone” when it comes to snow leopard distances. We also do not recommend the Swarovski STX module, which unlike the angled BTX and ATX, is straight. Straight scopes are a tiring set-up to use all day and not suited for a snow leopard trip, even with a 95mm or 115mm lens. They are great for short use periods and areas where you’re scoping on a horizontal plane. Not great for mountains.

Other Brands You May Encounter in the Field on a Snow Leopard Trip

3. Zeiss. A few spotters in Ladakh use Zeiss optics. Most of the pieces in use in Ladakh are 2 or 3 generations old. We haven’t seen any of their top of the line Harpia 95s in use by spotters. These new ones are very good. No double eye piece option. In the $3,000+ range.

4. Vortex/ Vanguard / Bushnell/ Celestron. These brands are low to mid-range. Generally in the sub $1,500 range. Their optics quality is average to mediocre. No double eye-piece. We’ve noticed more Vortex scopes in Ladakh since a dealer opened up in New Delhi. Not recommended for snow leopard trips.

If you have questions about scopes, optics, or simply about planning a snow leopard trip, get in touch. We’re more than happy to answer any questions or to provide recommendations.

Classic Snow Leopard Tour To Ladakh

Classic Snow Leopard
Tour To Ladakh

Group departures.
Starting from $4,115.
Private tours available.

Signature Snow Leopard Expedition To Ladakh

Signature Snow Leopard
Expedition To Ladakh

Group departures.
Starting from $5,752.
Private tours available.

Snow Leopard Tour To Mongolia

Snow Leopard Tour To Mongolia

Group departures.
Starting from $5,680.
Private tours available.

Snow Leopard Expedition To Kyrgyzstan

Snow Leopard Expedition To Kyrgyzstan

Group departures.
Starting from $6,880.
Private tours available.

Why Book With Voygr?

Actually Local. At Every Destination.

We don’t subcontract our tours to “local” companies. We are the local company. At Voygr, our expeditions aren’t planned by “specialists” that have visited a destination once on a familiarization trip, 4 years ago. Our experts live and work in the regions where we take our guests.

Empowering Remote Communities

Our singular mission when starting Voygr almost a decade ago was to put more money into remote communities. Controlling our own operations means that we can own our own infrastructure, hire our own local employees with exclusive contracts and ensure that your dollars actually end up where you’re traveling to instead of lining pockets in NYC or London.

Conservation is Key

Environmental conservation and protecting endangered species are core values. Voygr commits 20% of our annual profits to the High Asia Habitat Fund. In addition, we support several environmental causes. Expeditions with Voygr are not just carbon neutral – they are Carbon Negative.

Read more about Voygr Expeditions to learn about our ethics, how giving back to the communities we travel to is part of our DNA, and what steps we take to actively preserve our planet.

Snow Leopards
1. Hemis National Park : An Icon of Conservation
2. Snow Leopard Photo Tour: Detailed Planning Information
3. Which Snow Leopard Tracking Tour: India, Mongolia or Kyrgyzstan?
4. Snow Leopard Safari or Expedition? What’s In A Name?
5. Snow Leopard Trip Planning: Why Great Optics Are Critical
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