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Tripods are easily one of the bulkiest photography accessories. But that extra camera support won’t do you much good if you can’t fit it on the overhead compartment on the plane or hike a few miles with it. If you’re curling up in a fetal position on the edge of a trail from gear-induced fatigue, something is wrong. Travel tripods are a happy medium between ditching the extra support and cutting the hike short because of heavy gear.

The problem? There are hundreds of tripods for traveling to choose from. This makes finding the best travel tripod a tedious task.

That’s why we’ve sorted through some of the top options to find the best travel tripod for each type of photographer. Whether you are on a budget or need a fully tricked-out tripod, you’re bound to find something in our list.

Mariette de Villiers

First things first, when you’re looking for the best travel tripod, you have to make sure it’s still stable.

Here’s a short checklist to keep in mind.

7 Things to Look for When Buying a Travel Tripod

ravel tripods make it possible to capture that long exposure at the end of that long hike — but there’s a catch. The lighter a tripod is, the harder it is to make it a sturdy tripod.

That doesn’t necessarily mean your travel tripod is going to dump your camera in the dirt,. It does mean there are a few features that you should look for.

These features will help the tripod stay put in the wind. Keep in mind though that in the windiest conditions, most travel tripods will have some difficulty.

Counterweight hooks are serious perks. Adding a simple hook to the bottom of the tripod’s center column may not seem like a big deal. In reality, this tiny feature allows travel tripods to perform more like heavy studio tripods. By adding weight to the tripod, such as your camera bag, you add more stability without sacrificing portability. This feature is essential if you are going to shoot in some wind.

Avoid lots of leg sections. Breaking the legs down into more pieces allows your tripod to fit in your carry-on bag – but will make it less stable. Instead of more leg pieces, look for a tripod that reverse folds those legs, but still has a leg section count under five.

How are the legs adjusted? Tripod legs are usually adjusted through either twist locks or lever locks. Twist locks are slimmer, but if you don’t twist them tight enough they could potentially unlock. Flip locks will add more bulk and tend to take longer to set up but stay locked. After using a monopod that kept self-shortening mid-shoot because of twist locks, flip locks are my personal preference.

Versatility matters. Travel-friendly tripods are even more portable when they do double duty. Like that, you don’t have to bring any other accessories along. If you use both a tripod and a monopod, look for a two-in-one that converts to a monopod. If you shoot macro work or low to the ground, look for a versatile height range. You’ll save yourself from bringing a tabletop tripod for those low angles.

Watch the weight. Whenever you buy any type of tripod, pay attention to not one, but two different weights in the specifications. The first is how much weight the tripod can hold. First, make sure that your heaviest camera body, heaviest lens, and heaviest accessories fit within those parameters. The maximum weight can also help you compare tripods. The one with a higher weight capacity is probably going to be sturdier even if you only need half the weight limit.

The second weight to consider is the weight of the tripod itself — because that’s how much you’ll be adding to your hike. Carbon fiber is lightweight and can hold a lot of gear, but it’s also more pricey than aluminum.

How outdoor-friendly is it? If you’re planning on hiking with that tripod, look for other outdoor-friendly features besides the light profile. Retractable feet spikes can help make the tripod a bit sturdier on grass and dirt. And while waterproof-tripods are a bit harder to find, they can survive shooting in the rain or standing in the surf.

How fast can you set it up? Don’t miss the peak moment because you were still fiddling with your tripod. Look for something that includes a quick release plate — or factor in the cost of adding a quick release plate. Also watch for small design changes that lead to faster set-ups. Unfolding each of the three legs takes longer than just unfolding one centre column, for example.

Photo by Alex Andrews

What’s the Best Travel Tripod Then?

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So what are the best travel tripods, using those stability standards? Here are our five favourites at several different price points.

Sirui W-1204 Waterproof Carbon Fiber Tripod

Pros

  • Waterproof
  • High capacity for larger gear
  • Lightweight design
  • Most versatile height range

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Folded length is a few inches longer than some other models

Sirui is one of the few brands offering waterproofed tripods. This makes the W-1204 one of the best options for the hardcore outdoor photographer. The tripod’s sealing system means that if you shoot in the rain or place the legs in shallow water, those twist locks are still going to be working the next time you pull the tripod out. To complete the tripod’s outdoor design, the feet can be rubber or spiked by unscrewing the interchangeable feet.

This Sirui also has the highest weight capacity of any of the tripods on this list. It supports up to 33 pounds of gear while only weighing 3.1 pounds itself. This is thanks to the carbon fiber construction.

A counterweight hook adds even more stability to the tripod. The legs fold around the centre column for a more compact folded measurement.

It stands at 19.3 inches when folded, with only four leg sections. The leg sections are held in place using twist locks to reach a maximum height of 65 inches.

With a minimum height of just 5.7 inches and a leg that can be removed and used as a monopod, the Sirui also gets points for versatility. So what’s the downside? While the Sirui W-1204 is full of travel-friendly features, it retails for around $300 and doesn’t include a ball head. It’s not as crazy as some luxury brands, but higher than the other options that made our best travel tripods list.

MeFOTO RoadTrip Tripod

Pros:

  • Versatile with monopod option
  • Compact but high weight capacity

Cons

  • Five leg sections
  • Carbon fiber option is pricey

The MeFOTO RoadTrip is a tripod that’s as versatile as it is colorful. The RoadTrip serves as both a tripod and monopod with one removable leg. The versatility also extends to the tripod’s height range. It goes from a 15.4-inch minimum to about 61 ounces fully extended. With the legs reverse-folded, the tripod packs away in less than 16 inches of space.

The number of leg sections are a bit on the higher side, however, with five sections using twist locks. The feet are spiked, and the twist locks and Arca quick release plate help get the tripod setup a bit faster.

MeFoto offers two different versions of the RoadTrip — a aluminum option and a carbon fiber edition. The pricer carbon edition option weighs 3.1 pounds and can handle over 17 pounds of gear. The aluminum weighs a half pound more handling the same amount of gear. And for photographers who don’t like their photo gear looking like everyone else’s, the RoadTrip comes in seven different colours.

Manfrotto BeFree Color Aluminum Travel Tripod

Pros:

  • Lever Locks
  • Compact, with counterweight hook

Cons:

  • Low weight capacity
  • Lower height limit

This Manfrotto BeFree Color tripod is one of the few travel tripods that uses level locks instead of the more compact twist type. While the twist-vs-level debate is largely personal preference, I prefer the security of a flip lock. This is why, when it came time to buy my own travel tripod, I opted for the BeFree. Weighing just a smidgen over three pounds, the BeFree Color folds down to just over 16 inches.

The legs on the BeFree can be adjusted to three different angles. Along with the compact fold, this allows the tripod to reach as low as 13.4 inches and as high as 56.7 inches. Like other three-pound travel tripods, the BeFree can be a bit susceptible to wind. This is why I recommend the BeFree Color over the original BeFree. The Color is a seemingly minor update to the original — but it adds that counterweight hook. And clipping my camera bag underneath the tripod negates the slight instability that wind can introduce. With the counterweight, the BeFree Color is plenty sturdy.

The BeFree’s mid-line price point, compact design, versatile height and flip locks made this the best travel tripod for me. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best tripod for every photographer.

The capacity is 8.8 pounds, so it’s not designed for the biggest telephoto lenses. The 56.7-inch height limit will also be a sticking point for tall photographers. But for the price point, the Manfrotto BeFree Color offers solid quality and portability.

Vanguard VEO 2 235AB Aluminum Travel Tripod

Pros:

  • Low angle shots
  • Compact, with a counterweight hook

Cons:

  • No spiked feet
  • No monopod option

Need to get down for macro shots? The Vanguard VEO’s reversing centre column allows you to shoot as low as seven inches from the ground or as tall as 57 inches. The twist-lock legs can also be adjusted at three different angles independently.

Despite the versatility, the Vanguard VEO 2 235AB weighs just over three pounds. It can handle four times its own weight with a 13.2-pound capacity. Folded, the tripod fits in a space less than 16 inches. A counterweight hook helps add more stability to the lightweight tripod.

The VEO is also designed to be set up quickly – Vanguard claims a 15-second set-up with the central column system. The four leg sections are also adjusted quickly because of twist lock legs. With a tripod ball head included, the camera’s position is also easy to adjust. And an Arca quick release plate also adds to the set-up speed.

The Vanguard VEO 235AB is also well-priced for a name-brand travel tripod. It doesn’t include spiked feet (you can get them for a higher price) and doesn’t have the versatility of also using one leg as a monopod. But for the price, the feature list is rather tough to beat.

Benro Slim Aluminum Alloy Tripod

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Extremely lightweight

Cons:

  • Not as compact
  • Lower weight capacity

For a tripod that doesn’t enter three digits yet still comes from a reputable brand, the Benro Slim is a solid option for photographers on a budget. Weighing in at just 2.6 pounds, the tripod certainly fits into the travel category. And a weight hook will help negate some of the negatives of using such a light tripod.

The tripod uses four leg sections with twist locks. Each leg can be set to one of three angles independently for more height options. This allows the tripod to extend from 15.7 inches to about 57 inches.

The centre column can also be reversed for the most height flexibility. The tripod also includes a ball head with a bubble level.

So what’s missing to keep the costs down? The Benro Slim doesn’t fold down as compact as the others on the list without reverse folding legs. This means a faster set-up while taking up about four more inches of space in a bag at around 20 inches folded.

The Slim, like the BeFree, also has one of the lower capacities on the list with an 8.8-pound limit. And the under three-pound weight could mean the tripod isn’t quite as sturdy as some of the pricier options. Still, the price point is hard to find without going into brands like Amazon Basics.

Which Travel Tripod Wins?

The high demand for travel tripods means that there are several excellent options on the market. If you have the cash for it, the Sirui W-1204 hits every mark. It’s waterproof, and has a compact design, versatile height range and high capacity.

While the Sirui may be the best on the list, the 33-pound capacity tripod and somewhat high list price is probably overkill if you’re just using a mirrorless camera and a compact lens.

At lower price points, the Manfrotto BeFree Color or MeFoto GlobeTrotter are excellent choices for many enthusiast travel photographers.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

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Hillary Grigonis

Hillary K. Grigonis is a photojournalist turned lifestyle photographer. When she's not taking pictures, she's writing photography tips and gear reviews. She lives in the Great Lakes state with her husband and two young children.