A good value is a good value, whether it's top-of-the-line or a more affordable alternative — no compromise necessary.
Splurge: Released this year, the Nikon Monarch X binoculars allow you to see more color in low-light conditions thanks to a first-of-its-kind "dielectric high-reflective multilayer prism coating." Translation: With these, you'll be able to spot that rare bird at dawn—while others can't. nikon.com, $600.
Save: The Bushnell Legend Ultra-HD actually beat the Nikon Monarch X in several categories: They're 13 percent lighter, and the field of view is wider. From a distance of 3,000 feet, for instance, these binoculars will show a 340-foot-wide swath of landscape; with the Monarch X, you'd see 330 feet. bushnell.com, $300.
Splurge: A new gold standard in noise-canceling, the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones were unveiled in August. Earlier versions had a single microphone in each ear cup to detect sound that made it past the physical barrier. The QuietComfort 15 adds a second microphone outside each earpiece. bose.com, $300.
Save: Remarkably lightweight and compact for noise-canceling headphones, especially ones of this quality, the Panasonic RP-HC101 Slimz filter out 83 percent of the rattle and hum of a typical airplane engine — nearly as much as devices three times this price. panasonic.com, $100.
Splurge: With a weather-resistant magnesium-alloy body, the Pentax K-7 14.6-megapixel DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) has automatic bracketing that combines three exposure levels into one image to extract detail from shadows and light. The K-7 (priced here with an 18–55 mm lens) also records HD video. pentaximaging.com, $1,500.
Save: At 16 ounces, the Nikon D3000 is about half as heavy as the average DSLR — and less than half the price. The sensor on the 10.2-megapixel camera compares your exposure conditions with a database of 30,000 scenarios and adjusts accordingly. The D3000 has a 3.1-inch screen and comes with an 18–55 mm lens. nikon.com, $600.
Splurge: As if an altimeter, a barometer, and a digital compass weren't enough, the top-of-the-line Suunto X10 adventure watch also has a GPS receiver, reducing the risk that you'll ever get lost again. After your hike is over, connect the watch to your PC with its USB cable, and Google Earth will plot your trek. suunto.com, $599.
Save: The do-it-all Highgear Axio Max covers the adventure basics: a digital compass, an altimeter, a barometer, a hydration alarm (it goes off at regular intervals to remind you to drink water), and a thermometer. Best of all, it's water-resistant to 164 feet and has a highly durable resin wristband. highgear.com, $150.
Copyright © 2012 Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc.