Traveling with camera gear can be a complete nightmare. Every extra thing you take with you adds up to extra weight, and, extra space. Things you often don't have enough of.
I was recently faced with exactly this dilemma, while also trying to upgrade my 10 year old, super small, but mostly useless, old tripod.
So, in this post I am going to share the fruits of my long, arduous quest for the best travel tripod. From the top of the line, to the super affordable, I have found the best options out there to help you take amazing pictures on the road!
Three Legged Thing are a "relatively" new brand in the tripod world. They are based in the UK and produce super-high quality tripods that are focused on travel.
I came across them in my recent quest for the best travel tripod. I read all the reviews and blog posts around, and always saw the same companies - Manfrotto, BeFree, Gitzo etc. But I wanted to find the optimal tripod in terms of weight, useable height, and collapsed size. All without giving up any functionality.
I ended up with the Brian tripod from Three Legged Thing because it fit all those criteria. It fits easily in a normal backpack, is close to the best lightweight tripod around and when it is full extended it is 74 inches (188 cm) - so eye level or above for almost anyone. Rare in a travel tripod.
They have also thought about almost everything including
My only beef with this tripod apart from the fact I would have liked it to be even lighter (you can get those, but they are always smaller and don't expand as high) is that it does not have a quick release plate - a minor detail, given you can get alternative heads for it. It is Arca compatible though. And of course it sits on a lovely ball head, so all in all you can't really complain.
Three Legged Thing also produce a huge range of tripods, so if you want something smaller, longer, lighter etc. they are sure to have it.
Gitzo make the absolute cream of the crop when it comes to tripods, and many would claim they are the absolute best travel tripod around. Quite a few travel photographers will be seen on Youtube toting a Gitzo and for good reason. The quality and craftsmanship of their gear is almost second to none. It just comes with a price-tag to match. And, I actually found the specs a little lacking compared to Brian above when I seriously compared them. And for more than double the price, Three Legged had me sold.
Anyway, back to the Gitzo. It is super-lightweight at 3.1 pounds, and extends all the way to 58.5" (158.6 cm) so not quite as high as the Brian, but most people will be ok with it.
Note: If you want a taller one, you will have to compromise on the weight and folded height quite a bit. One model you can check out are the Gitzo GK2545T (max height 65.2")
Where it excels in the specs is the folded length is one of the smallest around at 14 inches (35.6 cm) so will easily fit in any backpack or case.
The Traveler has all the other features you would expect from a travel tripod including:
The Benro Slim is probably the cheapest, smallest and simplest of all the lightweight tripods in this review. That doesn't mean that it's not worth your time, it just lacks a few features and a little bit of maximum height, as well as weight capacity. But it makes for a great travel companion for those wanting to save weight, space and don't need pro camera features.
Weighing in at 2.64lb, it's certainly the lightest I have seen in a while. And I was surprised it was able to extend to 57.1 inches (147cm). Not a towering tripod, but given it collapses to 12.9 inches (32.7cm) it's probably the smallest too.
Otherwise it is quite a simple tripod, with an extending and reversible central column, simple lockable 4 part carbon fiber legs that have multiple angles (as all of them do).
The one small touch it does have is a hook on the end of the column to hang your bag or weight for windy conditions.
The ball head is decent enough, although not quick release. It has a bubble level that gets hidden by the camera when attached, which is a small downside. But the lever release is an easy to use feature. And it has a separate panoramic knob for rotating.
All in all, this would be the best option in terms of size, weight and price, if you want to save on all three! (and don't mind the reduced max height or capacity).
Note: there is an even smaller and cheaper option too, the Benro TSL08CN00.
Manfrotto are one of the absolute go to brands when it comes to tripods and their BeFree series of travel tripods has definitely made a name for them. In researching the best travel tripod to buy, I unfortunately read a few too many complaints about them to consider them in my final selection. However, they are still loved by many, and for good reason.
Their lightweight carbon fiber BeFree is almost ideal in most of the ways you want a travel tripod to be. It's relatively light (but not as light as the Gitzo or 3 Legged above) at 3.59 lb (1.63kg), and can extend to a decent height: 59 inches (159cm), but still short of my final choice Brian.
It almost beats the Gitzo in terms of folded length, at 16.1 inches (40.9cm), which is impressive. It uses the same backward folding, twist lock legs which has become quite the standard in travel tripods, and makes the most sense as it hides the head that way, as you can see below.
However, the Manfrotto is missing some of the features that the more intelligently designed travel tripods seem to have. Such as the ability to remove the central column to get down low - you have to reverse it and hang the camera under the tripod to do that instead.
It also lacks a place to hang your bag or weight in windy conditions, and does not convert to a monopod.
However, the 3 part quick release leg sections mean it is marginally faster to extend than others.
However, given the price of the tripod, some people will be ok with these compromises
Benro's Slim above is one of the simplest and lightest, but if you want some more height or weight capacity, then you can upgrade to their Travel Angel series. It is not the best in class of some of the others, but it has solid specifications in all areas, so is a reasonable travel tripod.
It's maximium height is 66.9 inches / 170 cm, which is still not towering, but more than decent for a travel tripod. This also means it weighs a little more at 4 lb / 1.8kg, a compromise for the height and weight capacity of 22lb. Again, if this is the kind of features you need, then the Brian beats them all, and is lighter and more compact. But Benro makes a competitive tripod for sure.
This models also has all the features you will love such as the ability to turn it into a monopod, and a place to add weight via the underside of the central column.
Generally I don't include Aluminium tripods in this review because they are heavier than the carbon fiber tripod version and that defeats the travel tripod purpose in my humble opinion. However, in this case, the Vanguard is a great low-priced alternative that is also quite light.
Weighing in at 3.3 lb (1.49 kg) it's still respectible and also extends to a decent enough 58.6 inches (148cm) and collapses to a small enough 15 inches (38cm ).
Where this tripod excels is the foldable centre column which can be very handy for weird angles and overtop shots of things on the ground. Not something most of us need a lot, but it can be handy to have the option. It also has retractable spikes in the feet in case you get yourself in some slippery situations, and an adapter if you want to get down low (no need to reverse the center column).
In summary, for the weight and size, as well as the low price, this makes a great entry level option for a traveler with a camera!
One of the biggest things you have to deal with when traveling is weight. So, when looking for a travel tripod I usually look at weight as one of the biggest deciders.
Depending on how big (high) the tripod can go and the material it is made from (carbon fiber is lighter in general) the tripod will vary in weight in the 2.5-4 lb range. It's all a compromise though, as lighter often means more expensive or shorter overall.
Depending on how you shoot, this can be a deal breaker or not a big deal at all. Photographers that rely on the viewfinder will want a tripod that comes up to eye level. So, look for a tripod with a maximum height that matches your eye height (which is a little lower than your actual height, so be careful to remember that).
If you have a live-view or mirrorless camera, then this may be less of a problem. Because you can always tilt the screen to see what is going on. However, it does limit you in terms of maneuverability and overall height in terms of seeing over objects and so forth.
However, it is a travel tripod and you have to compromise on something!
A travel tripod will usually have to fit into your backpack, or your suitcase, so just be sure that it can. This means figuring out what the maximium overall size / length it can be for your situation. For me, it was important that it was as small as possible, without compromising too much on max. height. That is why I settled on the Brian. However, you can get taller, and shorter ones that compromise on other things too.
Most of the tripods in this review are carbon fiber. Some are Aluminium. There is little difference in terms of durability, it is just that carbon fiber is more expensive and lighter.
Where you want to pay attention is in the details like the sleeves to open and close the leg sections, the ball head mechanism and so forth. it is not always easy to know, but if you read the reviews on Amazon, people who have owned them will give you lots of clues about quality and materials.
The cheapest tripods in this review are around the $100 mark. However, they are not the best in terms of build quality, materials and features. Similarly, the most expensive, the Gitzo Traveler is nearly $1000, and for most people not worth the money.
However, if you are just starting out, then something like the Benro Slim is a great option in terms of size, weight and features. Then if you really want to upgrade, you can in the future.
If you want something a little better, the Brian or the Manfrotto or BeFree are better bets.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!