Definitive Guide to the 10 Best Travel Tripods in 2018

So you just bought your new pride and joy: a travel camera worthy of capturing your epic adventures. But now you’re shooting and there are moments where you can’t seem to get a good image. Perhaps it’s too dark or maybe too windy; regardless, all of your pictures just look a bit blurry.

Other times, you may see some photographers’ work and think: “Wow! How did they get the milky way in their pictures” or wonder “how did they make those waterfalls look so dreamy?” Well, my friends, it’s no secret: a good travel tripod is eminently the reason.

When it comes to taking high-quality images, a lightweight travel tripod is just as important as the camera itself. When you have a high-quality travel tripod, your photos will be taken to the next level. 

Which is exactly why I put together this definitive guide to the best travel tripods. 

With the help of this guide, you'll know which of the best travel tripods best suits your style, and budget, so you can start shooting like a pro. 

Let's jump in to the best travel tripods. 

Quick Answers: Best Travel Tripods of 2018


 

The Best Travel Tripods of 2018

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION
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Best Overall Travel TripodBest Overall Travel TripodVanguard Alta Pro

  • $$
  • 15.4 lbs capacity
  • 5.4 lbs
  • $$
  • 15.4 lbs capacity
  • 5.4 lbs
Check Best Price
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Best Budget Travel TripodBest Budget Travel TripodZomei Z818

  • $
  • 3.7 lbs
  • $
  • 3.7 lbs
Check Best Price
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Professional Travel TripodProfessional Travel TripodGitzo Traveler Series 1

  • $$$$
  • 22 lbs capacity
  • 2.3 lbs
  • $$$$
  • 22 lbs capacity
  • 2.3 lbs
Check Best Price
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Best Tripod for Under $100Best Tripod for Under $100Joby Gorillapod 5K

  • $
  • 11 lbs capacity
  • 17 oz.
  • $
  • 11 lbs capacity
  • 17 oz.
Check Best Price
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Best Travel Tripod for VideoBest Travel Tripod for VideoBenro Aero 4 Travel Angel

  • $$
  • 8.8 lbs capacity
  • 5.8 lbs
  • $$
  • 8.8 lbs capacity
  • 5.8 lbs
Check Best Price

Vanguard Alta Pro

Best Overall Travel Tripod

vanguard alta pro best travel tripod

 Vanguard Alta Pro is my pick for best travel tripod

Vanguard Alta Pro Specs

  • Load Capacity:15.4 lb
  • Maximum Height: 68.1"
  • Minimum Height: 56" but this is a misleading number
  • Folded Length: 28.1"
  • Weight: 5.4 lbs
  • Leg Sections: 3 - Flip Locks

Though the Vanguard Alta Pro is almost 6 years old by now, it’s still one of the best travel tripods on the market today! Since the release of an updated version - the less than stellar Alta Pro 2 - the price of the Alta Pro has dropped even further as well, making this already budget-friendly travel tripod even more affordable.

The Vanguard Alta Pro uses an innovative system - referred to as MACC (Multi-Angle Central Column) - where the center column can be rotated on its axis up to 180 degrees, allowing for a horizontal and upside down compositions.

With such flexibility, you can position your camera in ways that would normally be awkward, like near to the ground and poking out to the side. The system is fairly intuitive and setting-up should take no longer than any other tripod.

Pros

  • Innovative design that is still useful today
  • Excellent price these days
  • Well equipped to handle most cameras

Cons

  • 15.4 lb load capacity may be a liberal number
  • Will need maintenance
  • Fidgety quick release plate

The legs of the Alta Pro are constructed of 3 sections and can be laid out nearly flat. Combined with the MACC, this ensures that you’ll be able to achieve some pretty crazy and unique angles. The legs use flips locks, which are convenient but will require periodic tightening as they are used.

The Vanguard Alta Pro is a little heavy because it’s made from aluminum. It’s rated to a hold up to 15.4 lbs but many users have commented that this number may be skewed as wobble can still be a problem with oversized DSLRs. Avoid using this tripod at its full extension.

The Vanguard Alta comes equipped with an SBH-100 ball head that is fairly sturdy. The quick release plate is not as smooth as other tripods - like the Manfrotto - but this is a minor gripe. Below the ball head, there is a bubble leveler as well.

Is the Vanguard Alta Pro For You?

Do you want one of the most innovative and praised tripods in recent memory? Want to take advantage of its recent price cuts? Then there is no better time to invest in the Vanguard Alta Pro! This tripod is very capable and has become well-loved over the years; it is certainly the best travel tripod in many people’s minds.

Best Travel Tripod Runner-Up

MeFOTO Roadtrip

mefrotto roadtrip best travel tripod

 My runner up to best travel tripod - Mefrotto Roadtrip

Vanguard Alta Pro Specs

  • Load Capacity: 17.6 lbs
  • Maximum Height: 61.6”
  • Minimum Height: 15.4”
  • Folded Length: 15.4”
  • Weight: 3.6 lbs
  • Leg Sections: 5 - Screw Lock

For those who want a slightly lighter tripod than the Vanguard Alta Pro, the MeFOTO Roadtrip is an excellent alternative. This lightweight travel tripod is very adept and can still handle most photographic situations. It may not be as nifty as the Vanguard but the MeFOTO Roadtrip still has the cuts to get the job done.

Like most tripods, the MeFOTO Roadtrip’s legs can be set to three different positions: wide, standard, and free, the third of which is usually used for folding the legs up for packing.

I find that the second option is usually the most useful as it creates a base that most photographers will find optimal. The first is mostly used for getting the tripod low - though not so low as the Vanguard Alta Pro - to the ground. Changing the position of the legs is simply a matter of pushing and retracting a button.

Pros

  • Quite light and packable.
  • Can still hold larger DSLRs
  • Can be converted into a monopod

Cons

  • Can still suffer from wobble at times
  • Legs are not as durable as others

Of note is the MeFOTO’s ability to be converted into a monopod, which is an increasingly popular feature in modern tripods.

By removing one of the legs, detaching the central column, and then connecting the two together (BOOM!) you have a monopod. This arrangement is great when you want to run and gun and don’t want to worry about carrying around a cumbersome three legged monster.

At 3.6 lbs, the MeFOTO is quite light. It’s rated to hold over 17 lbs of equipment though many photographers do complain that the MeFOTO still suffers from wobble especially when fully extended.

This is most likely a consequence of the tripod’s light weight in addition to the fact that the legs are broken into five sections, which is not ideal.

Is the MeFOTO Roadtrip For You?

Do you want a lightweight tripod that can handle a heavier DSLR a bit better? Do you like the idea of using a monopod? Then the MeFOTO Roadtrip may be the travel tripod for you! This sturdy tripod will give you that extra rigidity for your camera that, even though it’s not quite professional yet, should handle most situations.

Best Travel Tripod for Backpacking

Manfrotto BeFree

manfrotto befree best travel tripod

 Mefrotto Roadtrip is my pick for best travel tripod for backpacking

Vanguard Alta Pro Specs

  • Load Capacity: 8.8 lb
  • Maximum Height: 56.7"
  • Minimum Height: 13.4"
  • Folded Length: 15.75"
  • Weight: 3 lbs
  • Leg Sections: 4 - Flip Lock

If you’re looking for a conventional tripod that is very light and doesn’t sacrifice too much durability, then I suggest the Manfrotto BeFree. This reliable and lightweight tripod is great for wilderness backpacking in addition to demanding professional shoots. It has the usual bells and whistles that a good travel tripod should have and all at a great price.

The Manfrotto BeFree is very straightforward travel tripod that is not overly complex to use.

The legs can be arranged into the usual positions (wide, normal, and free) though the Manfrotto uses a slightly novel latching system to achieve this; it’s unique though in no way inhibabitive.  

The legs are composed of 4 sections and are locked via flip mechanisms. Like the Alta Pro, you’ll have to periodically tighten these locks. The feet of the tripod are made of rubber, which is good for gripping most surfaces. In my personal experiences, I find the feet like to fall off quite often, which easily fixed via replaced parts though still a little irritating.

Pros

  • One of the lightest (aluminum) tripods available
  • Very quick and easy to use
  • Reliable

Cons

  • Probably not suitable for larger DSLRs
  • Can be unstable when fully extended - lack of a hook doesn’t help
  • Feet like to fall off

The BeFree is remarkably light given that’s made of aluminum - ultralight photographers can upgrade to a carbon fiber version, which cuts about a half pound as well. The BeFree is rated to hold nearly 9 lbs, which makes it most ideal for mirrorless shooters.

Full frame DSLR shooters who use this travel tripod notice some wobbling in the frame especially and complain further that the lack of a hook on the central column, which is used to weight the tripod, leaves much to be desired.

For videographers, the Manfrotto BeFree can also be converted into a great travel video tripod via special video head sold separately. This accessory, the Manfrotto 502 Video Head, is very effective and does a great job panning.

Is the Manfrotto BeFree For You?

Do you want a lightweight travel tripod without sacrificing too much stability? Are you still looking for something affordable? Then check out the Manfrotto BeFree Travel Tripod! This tripod is easy-to-use, very packable, and won’t break your back or the bank at all. It has been my go-to for many years and I have no problem saying that it’s one of the best backpacking tripods out there!

Best Budget Travel Tripod

Zomei Z818

zomei z818 best travel tripod

 The Zomei Z818 is definitely one of the best budget travel Tripod

Vanguard Alta Pro Specs

  • Load Capacity: ?
  • Maximum Height: 65"
  • Minimum Height: 22"
  • Folded Length: 18"
  • Weight: 3.7 lbs
  • Leg Sections: 4 - Twist Locks

At around $100, the Zomei Z818 is a screaming deal. With a solid build quality, useful features, and the ability to convert into a monopod, this baby can compete with every comparable tripod out there.

I’m going to cut to chase here and say that the Zomei Z818 is very similar to the MeFOTO Roadtrip - shockingly so actually.

Many of the features found in the MeFOTO are also found in the Zomei like the screws locks, the hook in the center column, and the ability to be converted into a monopod. Even the locking mechanism for the Zomei’s legs is eerily similar in mechanics to the MeFOTO.

The Zomei Z818 is a slightly larger travel tripod than the MeFOTO Roadtrip. The Zomei’s maximum height is about 4 inches greater than the MeFOTO and the minimum height is about 7 inches difference. The Zomei is consequently heavier than the MeFOTO but only just barely.

Pros

  • Cheaper than the competition
  • Reliable
  • Very similar to the MeFOTO Roadtrip

Cons

  • No official load capacity?
  • Suffers from some wobble with heavier loads
  • Can’t be commended for being very original (I guess)

Oddly enough, I couldn’t find any official numbers for the Zomei’s load capacity anywhere on the web. Since it is so similar to the Roadtrip though, I imagine that the load capacity for the Zomei would be around 17 lbs.

I would also guess that it suffers from the same wobble as the MeFOTO does when using a heavier camera but this part I’ve yet to actually test.

Long story short, the Zomei Z818 is a great travel tripod, one that is comparable to the already impressive MeFOTO Roadtrip. The fact that it is $50 cheaper than the MeFOTO is the most alurring factor though. Those in the market for the best budget travel tripod will have to consider the Zomei Z818.

Is the Zomei Z818 For You?

Do you want a great tripod for an amazing price? Did you like what you saw with MeFOTO Roadtrip? Then give the Zomei Z818 a chance! Considering its functionality and low price, this guy takes the award for best budget travel tripod currently on the market.

Professional Travel Tripod

Gitzo Traveler Series 1

gitzo traveler 1 best travel tripod

 Gitzo Traveler Series 1 - The best professional travel tripod

Vanguard Alta Pro Specs

  • Load Capacity: 22 lb
  • Maximum Height: 60.2"
  • Minimum Height: 8.6"
  • Folded Length: 16.7"
  • Weight: 2.3 lbs
  • Leg Sections: 4 - G Lock System

If money isn’t an issue for you, then the Gitzo Traveler Series 1 is the best travel tripod, period. It’s one of the lightest, sturdiest, most intuitive, and most attractive photographic accessories that you can own.

There is no special, groundbreaking technology involved with the Gitzo Traveler Series 1 - it will not blow you away with new or futuristic features. No, the Gitzo does so well because of the quality of its parts and manufacturing. Like the best Italian food that you ever had, it’s all about the ingredients.

The Gitzo Traveler Series 1 is made from high-grade carbon fiber materials, the quality of which the company insists is cut above the competition. Unlike many other tripods in this guide, the Gitzo Traveler is actually quite good-looking, fashionable even, thanks to the stylish finish on the carbon fiber.

Pros

  • The best that money can buy
  • Very light and very sturdy
  • Just all around easy-to-use

Cons

  • Very, very expensive

The legs are made from 4 sections and are locked in place by the company’s own patented “G Lock System.” This system is very efficient and quite inconspicuous, which only adds to the tripod’s already gorgeous appearance.

The Gitzo weighs a paltry 2.3 lbs and is rated to hold 22 lbs. It’s minimum height of 8.6” is one of the lowest on this list not including the GorillaPod.

I’d go further into the Gitzo’s construction but it’d be futile. I can only say that this is simply the best travel tripod that one can buy. You will pay (a lot) for it but, in time, you’ll probably forget about the price. Note that the standard version of this Gitzo doesn’t include a ballhead - if you’re willing to spend the extra cash, you can buy a full set here.

Is the Gitzo Traveler Series 1 For You?

Do you want the absolute best possible travel tripod? Is money no issue? Then go buy the Gitzo Traveler Series 1. With near-perfect engineering and materials, this tripod is, in many photographer’s eyes, not just the best travel tripod but the tripod of them all.

Best Professional Tripod Runner-Up

MeFOTO Globetrotter

mefoto globetrotter best travel tripod

 MeFOTO Globetrotter: A close second for best professional tripod

Vanguard Alta Pro Specs

  • Load Capacity: 26.4 lb
  • Maximum Height: 64.2"
  • Minimum Height: 16.1"
  • Folded Length: 16.5"
  • Weight: 3.7 lb
  • Leg Sections: 5 - Twist Locks

The MeFOTO Globetrotter is the larger, more capable version of the MeFOTO Roadtrip and is meant for professional photographers with heavier equipment. Made of carbon fiber and rated to hold a staggering 26.4 lbs, the MeFOTO Globetrotter can handle just about anything you or mother nature can throw at it.

When considering the MeFOTO Roadtrip vs the Globetrotter, the two function in many similar ways. Both have twist locks on the legs, three different orientations, and use the same button-like mechanism to set the legs.

Due to its carbon fiber construction, the MeFOTO Globetrotter suffers less from the wobble that the Roadtrip reportedly does while still remaining light. The MeFOTO Globetrotter retains the ability to turn into a monopod and, thanks to sturdier build, may even be used as trekking pole if you’re so inclined.  

Pros

  • Light for how sturdy it is
  • Very cheap compared to the competition
  • Can handle heavier loads and more adverse conditions

Cons

  • Still $300+
  • Little heavy for a carbon fiber tripod

The MeFOTO Globetrotter still uses the twist lock system as the Roadtrip. Again, whether or not you like twist locks or not - as opposed to flip - is a matter of preference. Granted, the Globetrotter’s weather sealing seems to be very effective and its joints do not appear to loosen as quickly as the Roadtrip. This travel tripod is built to last.

The most impressive part about the Globetrotter is the price though - at nearly half the cost of several of its competitors, the Globetrotter performs near equally as well.

At 3.7 lbs too it’s still reasonably light but this is where it falls short compared to the competition. Many carbon fiber tripods will come in at less than 3 lbs, which is why you buy the premium material in the first place and, thus, kinda defeats the purpose.

Is the MeFOTO Globetrotter For You?

Do you want a professional-grade tripod for a good price? Mind if it’s a little heavier than other carbon fiber ones? Then head come on down and get yourself a MeFOTO Globetrotter! This upgraded version of the Roadtrip will stand up to whatever you throw at it and won’t cost too much.

Best Tripod for Under $100

Joby Gorillapod 5K

gorillapod 5k best travel tripod

 Gorillapod 5k is one of the best travel tripods under $100

Vanguard Alta Pro Specs

  • Load Capacity: 11 lb
  • Maximum Height: 15.2"
  • Minimum Height: N/A
  • Folded Length: N/A
  • Weight: 17 oz
  • Leg Sections: N/A

The Gorillapod 5K is Joby’s newest addition to its lineup and may be its best yet! The 5K is a streamlined version of their previous Focus edition and expands upon its predecessor’s prowess.

With a very sturdy build, unbeatable lightness, the ability to get into otherwise hard-to-reach places, and great price, the Joby GorillaPod 5k is not only the best tripod for under $100 but also the best ultralight tripod.

Gorillapods have been around for a while. I’m sure that you’ve seen them wrapped around a railing or clinging to some tree at least once in your travels. Over the years, they’ve had a bit of a mixed reputation - though novel in their design, they just couldn’t hold up under harsh conditions or heavier loads; neither could they excel in composition because of their short stature.

Pros

  • Remarkably sturdy
  • Eminently light
  • Very flexible

Cons

  • Maximum sturdiness requires just the right leg setup, which can be tedious
  • Limited to low angle shots
  • Expensive if you’re buying the Joby ballhead too

The Gorillapod Focus and its current iteration, the Gorillapod 5K, have changed that. Built with high end plastics, rubber, machined aluminum, and stainless steel, the Gorillapod 5K is not the cute little tripod that you saw before. This thing can hold a serious amount of weight for its size - 11 lbs - and can support many high-end travel cameras.

The legs of the Gorillapod 5K are their usual flexible selves - being able to wrap many objects for stabilization - though these feel very rigid, perhaps too rigid much for some. You may find it a little tedious to adjust the legs, a process that was already frustrating enough in past models. Tediousness aside, this rigidity is a good thing though as that’s how the Gorillapod is able to hold more weight.

I’ve used the Gorillapod 5K several times while backpacking and feel very happy with it. I was still able to get good shots with my Fujifilm XT2 and certainly didn’t mind the lack of weightiness.

Is the Joby Gorillapod 5k For You?

Do you want the lightest possible tripod that can still handle your heavy equipment? Are you okay with using a tripod that’s only a little over a foot tall? Well then maybe it’s time to give Gorillapods a chance. The Gorillapod 5K is one of the best models ever produced by Joby and is devoid of many of the inherent flaws that has plagued its precursors.

Best Travel Tripod for Video

Benro Aero 4 Travel Angel

benro aero 4 best travel tripod

 Benro Aero 4 is one of the best travel tripods for video

Vanguard Alta Pro Specs

  • Load Capacity: 8.8 lb
  • Maximum Height: 65.2"
  • Minimum Height: 21.9"
  • Folded Length: 21.7"
  • Weight: 5.8 lbs
  • Leg Sections: 3 - Flip Lock

Dedicated travel vloggers will need a specialized tripod to create the highest quality videos. One of the best travel tripods specifically for video right now is the Benro Aero 4. With a well designed video head and a sturdy set of legs underneath it, the Benro Aero 4 is more than capable of helping to create gorgeous videos.

The body of the Benro Aero 4 is designed very similarly to many other tripods in this guide. The legs and central column are made of tough aluminum.

The tripod is quite steady and doesn’t have much jitter too so long as your camera is no more than 9lbs. At almost 6 lbs, the Benro Aero 4 is a bit on the heavy side though not as heavy as some other professional grade cinematography tripods.

Pros

  • Well-performing tripod head
  • Still has the functions of a normal tripod
  • Easy to set up and pack away

Cons

  • Videographers are probably limited to shooting Micro Four Thirds and APS-C
  • Some users report that the screws of the quick release plate are a little wonky
  • Quite heavy

The legs are made from 3 sections and can be locked into fixed positions via a flipping mechanism. The legs can be arranged into the usual angular distances. Note that the widest angle that the Benro Aero 4’s legs can be set-up to is not as wide as other tripods though, thus the relatively high minimum height.

Like many other tripods these days, the Benro can be converted into a monopod as well. Simply remove one of the legs and attach it to the central shaft; easy as that!

The most important part of a good travel video tripod is the head though. The Aero 4’s flat video head is excellently designed and very efficient. Using the built-in handle, which is essential to capturing good video, the head pans very smoothly. There are several other knobs to control resistance further. There’s a quick release plate as well so you can mount your camera and start shooting in a single quick motion.

Is the Benro Aero 4 Travel Angel For You?

Are you a videographer who needs a specialized tripod? Do you use a smaller camera for video? If these sound right to you, then check out the Benro Aero 4! This is one of the best travel video tripods right now thanks to its compact design and superb flat video head.

Best Budget Travel Tripod for DSLRs

3 Legged Thing Punks Corey

3-legged thing punks corey best travel tripod

 Great for DSLR's - The 3-legged is one of the best travel tripods on the market

Vanguard Alta Pro Specs

  • Load Capacity: 30 lbs
  • Maximum Height: 58"
  • Minimum Height: 4"
  • Folded Length:13.7"
  • Weight: 3.4 lb
  • Leg Sections: 5 - Twist Locks

The 3 Legged Thing Punks Corey is a brawler of a tripod that swings way above its weight class. At 3.4 lbs this travel tripod is rated to hold up to 30 lbs, which is a huge number. With a robust design and atypical central column that can be converted into a monopod, the 3 Legged Punks Corey is a real contender for best travel tripod.

The Punks Corey is made from rubber, aluminum, and titanium materials. The legs are composed of 5 sections and are locked via a twisting mechanism. The rubber grip for the twists feel good in your hands and looks pretty cool too with a gator-skin like pattern. The legs can be locked into three positions: 23 degrees, 55 degrees, and 80 degrees.

Pros

  • Very strong
  • Unique central column design
  • Some may really like cosmetics of this tripod

Cons

  • Tripod must still be set up properly to hold 30 lbs
  • Removing central column can take some time
  • Some may really not like cosmetics of this tripod

At its greatest extension, the Punks Corey is 58” high. Note that a tripod will always be more subject to shake as maximum extension is reached.

The Punks Corey’s central column can be removed, which can then be converted into a monopod - in conjunction with one of the legs - or to allow the tripod itself to get as low to the ground as possible. Without the central column, the ball head is rescrewed directly onto the tripod and the minimum height becomes 4”.

To be able to hold such a great weight, the ball head must be strong. The Punks Corey is AirHed Neo ballhead is just that.

Is the 3 Legged Thing Punks Corey For You?

Do you want a beast of a tripod that can handle heavy loads? Want something that is functional as well as convertible? Then look no further than the 3 Legged Thing Punks Corey! It’s better equipped to handle heavy DSLRs and is still able to perform all the usual duties that befit a great travel tripod.

Best Travel Monopod

Manfrotto 290 Carbon Fiber Monopod 

manfrotto 290 monopod best travel tripod

 One of the best travel tripods on the market, the Manfrotto 290 is a great monopod travel tripod

Vanguard Alta Pro Specs

  • Load Capacity: 11 lb
  • Maximum Height: 59.4"
  • Minimum Height: 19.3"
  • Folded Length: N/A
  • Weight:1.1 lb
  • Leg Sections: 4 - Flip Lock

To be honest, this one kinda feels like cheating because this isn’t a tripod at all; it’s purely a monopod - a tool that only uses one leg instead of three. Don’t think that it’s inferior though; in the right hands, the Manfrotto 290 Carbon Fiber Monopod can compete with any tripod. Trekkers can pack it away easily or even use it as a trekking pole, making it one of the best tools for wilderness photographers.  

A few tripods already mentioned in this guide have had the ability to convert into monopods - let’s look at now why monopods are just as convenient as their three-legged compatriots.

With three legs, tripods offer near complete stabilization across two planes - a monopod only covers one. For many photographers, that single plane of stabilization is all that is required for getting good pictures. For those who are more active shooters, like hikers, sports photographers, and wedding photographer, a monopod is perfect.

Pros

  • The lightest tripod/monopod in this guide
  • Very, very sturdy
  • Very packable

Cons

  • Not as much stabilization as a conventional tripod
  • May or may not save your hide
  • Long exposures will be very difficult

The Manfrotto 290 is an exceptional monopod. Built from high-end carbon fiber, it would take a lot to break this thing. Its 4 sections are locked by flipping latches that are equally as reliable.

So strong is the Manfrotto 290 Carbon Fiber Tripod that some photographers may even use it as a trekking pole - there’s even a loop for your wrist.

Note that while the frame is secure, there’s always a chance that it may break should you take a nasty fall. It is, at the end of the day, meant to steady your camera and not save your life. Whether or not you choose to use it as a walking stick or hide it in your bag, the Manfrotto 290 Monopod will integrate seamlessly into your backpacking and camera kit.

Is the Manfrotto 290 Carbon Fiber Monopod For You?

Do you hate the idea of lugging around a tripod? Think you have the steady hand to manage with just one leg? Then give the Manfrotto 290 Carbon Fiber Monopod a shot. It’s a very well-made piece of equipment that monopod enthusiasts will approve of and it’s a great deal.

Why Invest in a Travel Tripod?

photographer with tripod in field

Welcome to the definitive guide to the best travel tripods

To me it’s a no-brainer: why buy an expensive travel camera if you can’t get the most out of it? With a tripod, you can do just this - unlock the full potential of your camera and get the best pictures possible.

With a tripod, you can shoot photos in conditions that would be near impossible if you were simply holding the camera in your hand. Selfies, light trails, long exposures; all of these and more are possible while using a tripod.

A good tripod will create maximum stability for your camera. Granted, some photographers get away with using features like image stabilization and lens stabilization - but these will only get you so far. At a minimum, you should at least have a small, lightweight travel tripod that will allow some sort of rigidity in certain circumstances.

With maximum stabilization comes maximum image quality. Where some novices may struggle in the wind, the dark or when trying to get that artistic composition, you will succeed. With the best possible travel tripod, you will take some of the best photos of your life.

As you dive further into the photographic world, you may even discover whole new ways of taking photos thanks to your travel tripod. Advanced techniques like HDR, focus stacking, and nightscapes will all be available to you thanks to your new travel tripod.

With this guide, you’ll receive lots of tips on what to look for in the best travel tripod and what constitutes a good investment. This guide has a ton of options, but I've made it easy to navigate so you'll easily be able to identify a tripod that best fits your style. 

So, first thing is first... what is your style?

What are you looking for in a travel tripod?

Are you looking for something small and easy? Maybe you are in need of something a little taller and sturdy? 

Let's dive deepeer...

seattle long exposure dawn

With a tripod, you’ll be able to capture darker scenes and effects like light trails. | Photo: Roaming Ralph

 

What to Consider When Buying the Best Travel Tripod

There are many factors to take into consideration when looking for the best travel tripod.

But the good news? It doesn't have to be overwhelming.

The best travel tripods will be sturdy, reliable, flexible, and not weigh too much or be too big at the same time.

Sounds easy, right?

Ha, not always.

Most tripods will only be able to do a few of these things well; to have the perfect tripod would mean spending a lot of money, which many of us broke backpackers don’t have.

You obviously can’t have everything when choosing the best travel tripod so you’ll have to be picky. Maybe you need something light or maybe you need something rock solid. Perhaps you’ll want a tripod that can bend in unheard of ways or perhaps you just want something simple. 

Take into consideration the following points when buying the best travel tripod. Pick and choose which features are most important for you and then go for it!

wadi rum stars

Astrophotography is a style that is pretty much exclusive to users of tripods.

 

Size and Weight

These are perhaps the most important aspects to consider when choosing the best travel tripod as both have far-reaching repercussions. How you pack your tripod and how much of a burden it is are dependent on its size and weight.

Generally speaking, a larger tripod will be more able to handle heavier loads and adverse conditions. With size comes weight though and carrying around those extras pounds will fatigue you after a while.

If you want to cut weight, a smaller tripod will have the benefit of being lighter in addition to being less expensive. With a smaller tripod comes other compromises though: you will not have as much freedom when it comes to composing your shot and stability can sometimes be an issue.

You can have your cake and eat it too but it’ll cost quite a bit of cash. There are several professional-grade travel tripods that are physically large enough to be effective yet still weigh very little at the same time. These will be much more expensive though as they are almost always made of premium materials.

I personally think about these issues all the time and it’s a constant battle between preparedness and minimal weight. I have actually invested in two tripods - a Manfrotto BeFree and Gorillapod 4K - and alternate between the two depending on the shoot.

camera on tripod

Small sizes mean more packability.

 

Material and Durability

As previously mentioned, material will play an important part in weight and price as well as overall durability. To put it simply: more expensive materials will be lighter, stronger, and more expensive while cheaper ones will be heavier, weaker, and less expensive.

Aluminum is the most common alloy used in the construction of tripods. It is a cheap, ubiquitous material that handles the elements well. Even though it’s technically weaker than carbon fiber, it’s still very durable. Most of the best budget travel tripods will be made of aluminum.

Carbon fiber is a stronger composite that is lighter and stronger than aluminum. It is a very reliable material that is used to manufacture all sorts of products that require the utmost durability like cars, safety vests, and even spaceships. Because it is hard to produce though, carbon fiber is markedly more expensive than aluminum.

Unless you are very adamant about cutting weight and are willing to pay the price, aluminum is a perfectly fine material. When used properly - as is the case with all of the tripods on this list - it’s very reliable. I’ve personally taken aluminum tripods into some very hairy situations and they’ve never failed me.   

photographer with tripod during storm

A good tripod will withstand the weather and elements better.

 

Load Capacity

Certain travel tripods can hold certain amounts of weight depending on their size, build, and overall quality. Lighter tripods may be less able to hold heavier weights but, then again, heavier tripods will be a burden on your back.

It is important to have a travel tripod that can properly hold your camera as it will ensure maximum image quality. A tripod that is struggling under the weight of a heavy camera will start to shake and sharpness will be affected. The tripod may even fall over, in which case you have a serious problem - fallen tripods can mean broken cameras.

Most travel tripods can handle a standard DSLR. Only in extreme situations do you need to worry about load capacity i.e. if you’re using a really bulky DSLR with a hefty lens or if you know you’ll be shooting in very windy conditions. In these cases it would be wise to a travel tripod that is rated to carry more.

photographers with huge lenses

Trying handheld shooting with one of these mammoth lenses.

 


Ergonomics and Ease of Use

Tripod technology really has come a long way. I remember using my parent’s old video camera tripod and thinking how rudimentary it was - the range of the leg’s motion was barely 45 degrees, the ball head was fitted with quark, and the metal construction felt like a bleacher seat.

How shocked was I when I bought a modern travel tripod and found out that it could do things like fold up and even be turned upside for extremely low perspective shots!

A good modern tripod will be malleable and have the ability to be set up in numerous configurations. Thanks to a system of adjustable legs and flexible hinges, travel tripod can do just this.

A tripod must be easy to use as well. All of those tricky motions and creative setups will mean nothing if it takes too long to get ready. Thankfully, most travel tripods do not suffer from such shortcomings. Only in special circumstances can a tripod be forgiven for being unwieldy.

Another important point: a tripod needs to be able to packed down to fit in your bag. If it’s too large or too cumbersome, you’re going to have problems traveling with. Thankfully most camera bags have special loop that can accommodate most tripods. Check out our guide on the best camera bags for good examples!

photographer in city of london

Being able to set-up and break down a tripod quickly is crucial especially in busy urban areas.

 

Tripod Head

Finding the best tripod head is just as important as finding the best travel tripod. A tripod head will enable even more customizable compositions and contribute to aspects such as weight, ergonomics, and load capacity.

A good tripod head will have a full 360-degree range of motion. Most modern-day ball heads allow for this. Ball heads will be free floating until locked into place by several clamps. Clamps come in the form of nobs or larger winged screws. Some photographers will prefer one of the other but I find this distinction to be negligible.

Other signs of a good travel tripod head will be features like a quick release plate, panoramic markings, and bubble leveler. Quick release places allow for optimal mounting of a camera and I always prefer having one. Panoramic marking will help guide you and maintain even composition while making panoramas. Finally, a bubble leveler will help make sure that an image is level to the ground.

manfrotto tripod head

An older tripod head.

 

Legs

Legs play an important part in tripod stability. Generally speaking, the more sections that a tripod leg has, the lesser the sturdiness. Try to find a tripod with as few leg sections as possible - around 3-4. Should you find that the legs are often shaking - for whatever reason - try investing in a stone bag, which will weigh down the tripod and limit shakiness.

The length of a tripod leg can be adjusted via a series of locking mechanisms. Most of these mechanisms come in two styles: screw and flip locks. Screws locks require a twisting motion to adjust while flip locks require, as the name implies, a flipping action.

In terms of usability, the difference between screw locks and flip locks is a matter of preference; some photographers find twisting to be a natural motion while others prefer flipping. Really, it’s up to you.

There a couple of disadvantages to take into consideration when choosing between locks. Flip locks will loosen over time and so will require periodic tightening. Twist locks will need to be used appropriately; if you twist the leg too loose, it may fall apart.  

tripod-G226 low angle

A tripod set with a wide base for low angle compositions and for maximum stability. | Photo: Mliu92 (wikicommons)

 

Cost

In the end, cash rules everything around us. How much are you willing to spend on a tripod? You get what you pay for, as they say, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get what you need and for a good price. Weigh all of the aspects highlighting in this section and then figure out what it’ll take to get the best possible travel tripod for you.

camera mounted on tripod

Though the prices can seem unreasonable at times, tripods are well worth the investment.

 

 

Final Thoughts

A tripod should be the first piece of equipment that you buy after purchasing a camera (then a camera backpack - check out the WANDRD PRVKE 31). They are perhaps the most useful tool in a photographer’s arsenal. As such, you must think wisely about what kind of tripod you buy for your travels.  

Each travel tripod will appeal to a certain type of photographer. Mirrorless shooters who want something portable and inexpensive may want to invest in a Manfrotto BeFree. Perhaps you want something a little more suitable for a DSLR? In that case, maybe the MeFOTO Globetrotter is best. There really is a travel tripod for everyone out there.

Figure out your needs and choose a travel tripod accordingly. With this guide, you’ll gain the necessary info to understanding what is best for you. Study it well and then waste no time in finding the best tripod for your travel needs! This is the beginning of your illustrious photographic adventures.

photographer-and-spectators-at-afrika-burn

Need More Inspiration?

 

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