If you are traveling by plane and plan to bring a tripod with you, weight—and especially size—count. Which models fit in your carry-on bag? Here are our favorites.
There are several key questions to keep in mind when choosing the best travel tripod for your needs:
- Size: Will it fit in your carry-on luggage (in other words, does it measure less than 24 inches when collapsed)?
- Weight: Is it light enough for you to be able to bring it with you without fatigue?
- Payload: Can both the tripod and the head handle the weight of your camera plus your heaviest lens?
- Durability: Is it constructed well and made of durable material (and are you willing to compromise on this if cost is a factor)?
- Height: Can a tripod that collapses into a small package also extend tall enough?
- Cost: Can you find the right answers to all of the above and stay within your budget?
- Let's look at some top travel-friendly tripods that are available now from the Adorama Tripod department:
Benro Travel Angel Tripods (right) are full-sized tripods that feature legs that can be inverted and folded back 180 degrees for easy packing and carrying. They can also be converted into a compact monopod without tools. The tripods are available on their own or part of a kit, and you can buy the less expensive aluminum versions or the sturdier, lighter but more expensive carbon fiber ones. Features include a center column hook, so you can hang your camera bag from it to provide more weight and stability when shooting. Benro also offers Travel Flat tripods, also available at Adorama, which fold so they can be stored completely flat, taking up less space in a carry-on bag. Note: Benro tripods are sold without heads, which you will need to buy separately.
Gitzo is one of the premium tripod brands and offers several travel-friendly, carbon-fiber tripods. The model that tops many peoples' lists is the GT1542T (Adorama price: $550, above), a four-leg-section tripod that folds down to under 17 inches but rises to a full height of 58 inches. It weighs just over two pounds but can hold a payload of 15 pounds. It is known for being rigid and has a gravity lock: The higher the load applied vertically to the leg, the stronger the lock. An accessory hook at the base of the center column (which can be inverted for macro work) lets you hang a weight for additional stability. Well-traveled photographers also recommend the GT 1541 Mountaineer ($640 at Adorama), a carbon-fiber tripod that folds down to under 23 inches. Gitzo tripods are sold without heads, which you will need to buy separately.
The Velbon Ultra LUXi-L ($180 at Adorama) folds down to around 15 inches but extends to a generous 63 inches. It can get down to around 7 inches for flower and macro photography. It can handle a load of up to 5 ½ pounds—sufficient for most consumer-level DSLR configurations—and weighs just under 3 pounds. It features a Trunnion Shaft System, so each leg extends the entire inside length of the outer leg casing; this helps keep the tripod so compact when folded. A twist-lock leg system lets you extend and each leg in one movement and lock it in another.
The Giottos Vitruvian lineup of tripods is available in 4- and 5- section versions and more durable but expensive Carbon Fiber or lower-cost aluminum, the Giottos Vitruvian series folds to between 15 and 18 inches (depending on the model) and extends to maximum heights of between 60 and 69 inches. Most are equipped with Arca-style ballheads and can handle payloads of 8-13 pounds. Legs fold 180 degrees to protect the center column (see photo illustration above) and to stow away more easily. Prices at Adorama range from $175-$305, depending on size and material used. Heads are extra.
At an Adorama price of only $90 (including ballhead and carry case) the Slik Sprint Pro II is one of the least expensive travel pods. It compacts down to around 19 inches and grows to 63 inches with the center column fully extended. Its construction include padded aluminum legs, and it weighs about 2 pounds. With a maximum suggested load capacity of 4.5 pounds it isn't the strongest of the bunch, but it can handle a consumer-level DSLR with modest zoom lens, which may be enough for more casual on-the-go photographers in need of a little support.
Another budget-friendly traveler tripod is the $100 Flashpoint TP-100, available exclusively at Adorama. The twist-lock, 4-section legs flip up over the tripod head 180 degrees so it is only 18.5 inches long for storage, but it extends as high as 69 inches. A Flashpoint F3 Ball Head is included. The tripod has an 11-pound load capacity and a hook at the bottom of the center column so you can hang a weight for greater stability. The tripod comes with a case and shoulder strap for easy carrying.
What about tripod heads?
While some of the tripods listed here are sold with some kind of head, some are not, and you need to buy a head in addition to the tripod itself to attach your camera. The good news: any tripod head is compatible with just about any tripod, so you can mix and match brands.
A sturdy ball head, available at the Adorama Tripod Heads department, takes up less room in a carry-on bag than a pan head, which requires more space to accommodate the tilt and pan handles, which stick out. Choose a ball head that can handle the weight of your camera with its longest lens, and then some, just to be safe. The Flashpoint F-9 Compact Tripod Ball Head, at $55, can support up to 40 pounds, which is more than enough for almost any setup unless you're shooting wildlife with a superlong, superfast lens. It also has a quick-release plate so you can detatch your camera in a rush. One of the most clever pan heads I've seen is the $114 Induro PHT2, a 3-way panhead with handles that fold—no tools necessary—making it as compact as a ball head and very well-suited for travel.