Lightweight Tripods for Travel & Backpacking

I put all of my camera gear through a lot of abuse.  Over the years I’ve done my best to find a compromise between ruggedness, portability, quality, and light weight.

The criteria for choosing a lightweight tripod for backpacking and travel is pretty much the same.

  • It shouldn’t be too heavy, bulky, or fragile.
  • It should be solid enough to stabilize your camera in windy conditions.
  • It should easily fit in your carry-on and backpack.
  • It should meet height requirements and have a good ball head with a quick-release.
  • You’ll also have to be able to afford it!

Does such a tripod exist?  Well, no, but these will get you close.

Here’s a breakdown of five different portable & lightweight tripods with their pros & cons, based on your own needs and requirements.  They’re all capable of holding DSLRs with telephoto lenses.  If you’re interested in cutting your weight down even further, you can check out my lightweight backpacking tips for photographers.


Your basic travel tripod

The cheapest lightweight travel tripod is going to be made of aluminum.  Aluminum is still fairly sturdy; it’s not quite as light as carbon fiber, but it’s much cheaper.

A lightweight & cheap travel tripod by itself isn’t very stable when extended in windy conditions.  The tripod should have a hook in the center for hanging a backpack or something heavy for added stability.

sirui

Sirui T-005KX

My tripod of choice is the Sirui T-005KX with Ball head (Amazon, $119.94).  It’s going to be a little more expensive than some of the cheaper tripods you’ll see, but those other tripods don’t have these features:

  • Light weight. The tripod and ball head weigh 1.9 pounds.
  • Portable when folded up.  It’s less than 12″ long by 3″ wide, yet extends up to 54″.
  • Versatility.  The legs lock at three different angles and the center column can be removed for even lower shots.
  • Stability.  This tripod has done well in windy conditions, and comes with a carabiner to attach weight to the center column.  I also use the carabiner when folded up to attach to a pack.
  • Smooth, robust ball head.  The Arca-style plate is compatible with many other tripods.
  • Foam grips on the legs to keep your hands from freezing.
sirui backpacking

When you don’t travel with other photographers you get small photos. Anyways, here you can see the Sirui clipped to my left shoulder strap and under my left arm. It was a perfect fit and always accessible.

This tripod has survived many backpacking trips with me, including 210 miles on the John Muir Trail.  I’ve exposed it to salty ocean conditions continuously and everything still moves smoothly.  I wouldn’t trust a $50 tripod in those conditions.

If you’re not looking to bust $100, you can take a look at the ZOMEi Z668 (Amazon, $89.99).  This tripod extends to 65″ at its highest, and folds down to 18″ x 5″ – slightly larger than the Sirui T-005KX, but yes it’s cheaper.

The biggest disadvantage of the ZOMEi tripod is that it’s almost two full pounds heavier than the T-005KX at 3.7 pounds.

But what the ZOMEi can do that the Sirui can’t is convert into a full-length monopod.  So there’s that.


For the ultra-portable

Some of you may have no need for a tripod that can extend to 60″.  This can actually have some positive creative implications.  Shooting at a lower level offers a different perspective than what most photographers shoot.  And you can usually find something like a rock or wall to prop it up for more height.

GorillaPod

Photo: joby.com

Many of you have probably heard of the GorillaPod.  There’s no better portable tripod for the money.  Why?  Because the flexible arms have heavy-duty rubber grommets, allowing it to grip to a variety of surfaces.  You can secure it to almost anything.  You won’t find a more versatile portable tripod.

This tripod is always in my pack – even when I don’t want to carry my normal tripod, I’ll have this one available because it’s useful in places I can’t stabilize my other tripod.

The GorillaPod SLR Zoom w/ Ball head (Amazon, $53.45) is capable of holding most DSLRs; the GorillaPod Hybrid will work with smaller mirrorless cameras while the GorillaPod Focus will be needed for larger pro DSLRs with larger lenses.

This tripod is just over 2″ in diameter and 12″ long when folded, and weighs in at just under a pound.  Quick-release plates free you from having to screw the thing on every time you want to use it.

Photo: Amazon.com

Photo: Amazon.com


For deeper pockets

The best backpacking and travel tripods are going to be made out of carbon fiber.

Carbon fiber has the following advantages over aluminum:

  • Lighter for the same dimensions
  • Resists temperature changes better (ever pick up an aluminum tripod in freezing temps?)
  • More durable, withstands more abuse
  • Absorbs vibrations better than aluminum (this point is contentious amongst photographers)
sirui t025X

Sirui T-025X

The highly-reviewed Sirui T-025X (Amazon, $219.00) is an almost identical tripod to the T-005KX above, but it’s made out of carbon fiber.  It is just slightly longer folded and weighs negligibly less than the T-005KX, but you do get a more durable tripod.

I wasn’t willing to spring an extra $100 for a slightly lighter tripod even though it’s made out of a better material.  I’m happy with the results I get from my T-005KX.  But you may have a different opinion.

Another highly-reviewed carbon fiber tripod is the ProMaster XC525C (Amazon, $299.95).  Three things about this tripod:

  • It’s heavier than the T-025X by almost a pound (2.7 pounds total).
  • It’s taller than the T-025X (59″ not including the head).
  • It can convert to a full-size monopod, unlike the T-025X.

So if the 52″ of the T-025X isn’t enough for you, you want monopod convertibility, and you don’t mind the extra pound or $80, this is a great reliable tripod.

What qualities do you look for in a good lightweight travel tripod?

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