The Best Tripod for Travel Photography
What to Look For
There are several key aspects to consider when choosing the best travel tripod for your needs:
- Size: Will it fit in your carry-on luggage (less than 24 inches in length)?
- Weight: Is it light enough to carry around all day? Will it add considerable weight to your pack?
- Strength: Can it handle the weight of your camera plus your heaviest lens?
- Durability: Is it well constructed and sturdy?
- Height: Will it extend tall enough and yet fold down to a small package?
- Cost: Are there any compromises due to budget?
Slik Sprint Pro II
Lightweight and budget conscious, the Slik Sprint Pro II is a solid option for someone diving into the travel tripod fray. The aluminum construction provides a sturdy base for all but the most hardy of gusts. The Slik Sprint Pro II fully has a maximum height of 63.6 inches (161.5 cm), which is the tallest tripod in this lineup. The load capacity of this tripod is rated at only 4.5 pounds (2.04 kg). I’ve found it capable of handling larger loads however, especially if the ball head is replaced by one that is more capable (see below).
The biggest disappointment is the ball head that is included with the Slik Sprint Pro II. The tightening lever can be very difficult to turn when fully tightened. On one hand this is assuring in that your ball head is not going to come loose. On the other hand, I’ve had to use an excessive amount of force to release the lever at times. This can all be remedied by purchasing an alternative ball head (like the very capable Joby Ballhead X).
Slik Sprint Mini II
The Slik Sprint Mini II is a smaller version of the Slik Sprint Pro II. It weighs a mere 1.75 pounds (0.79 kg) and takes up practically no space in your pack. Like its bigger brother, the Slik Sprint Mini II suffers from a lackluster ball head, which can be replaced (with the tradeoff of additional weight). The Slik Sprint Mini II is short, extending to a maximum height of 43.3 inches (110 cm), which can be a deal breaker for some.
The MeFoto BackPacker is gaining a lot of popularity in the travel tripod market. The aluminum-constructed tripod is both lightweight (2.6 pounds / 1.2 kg) and rugged, capable of handling loads up to 8.8 pounds (4 kg). It extends to a height of 51.2 inches (130 cm) and folds down to a compact 12.6 inches (32 cm). Leg angles can be adjusted in two positions, allowing greater flexibility for shooting. The capable Arca-Swiss ball head features a bubble level. The MeFoto Backpacker is available in 8 colors and comes with a carry case for protection.
There’s not much negative to say about this fantastic tripod. While it is the heaviest in this lineup by several ounces, its capabilities and price balance out any additional weight.
The Sirui T-025X outclasses the MeFoto BackPacker in practically every level, as it should since it nearly $100 more. The T-025X extends to a maximum height of 54.8 inches (139.1 cm). The included C-10X ball head can handle load capacities up to 13.2 pounds (6 kg), which is a plus if you have a heavy DSLR and longer zoom lenses (in the 70-200 mm range). The carbon fiber T-025X weighs in at 1.8 pounds (0.8 kg), nearly half the weight of the MeFoto Backpacker. The legs can be locked into three separate positions. Both the T-025X and the MeFoto Backpacker and fold down to a compact 12.6 inches (32 cm), although the T-025X has a removable center column which allows it to have a minimum height of 7.2 inches (18.3 cm).
While the Sirui T-025X specs outshine the MeFoto Backpacker, the differences in some areas are slight. It’s up to you whether the T-025X is deserving of the extra $100 price tag.
For an additional cost, the T-1205X offers a few additional spec increases over the T-025X…with a few tradeoffs. The T-1205X has a larger load capacity of 22 pounds (10kg). It also has a minimum height of 5.1 inches (13 cm), nearly 2 inches less than the T-025X. Where the T-1205X falls short of the T-025X is in the maximum height (51.4 inches) and folded length (13.4 inches). The two tripods are constructed from the same quality carbon fiber material and weigh exactly the same.
Oh, and the T-1205X does not come with a ball head, which will add extra cost to your bottom line.
Gitzo GT1544T Traveler
Gitzo is one of the most trusted and popular names in the tripod industry. They make excellent tripods at a premium price. Some photographers are very willing to pay top dollar for Gitzo’s offerings, and rarely with remorse. In fact, I’ve never heard anything bad about a Gitzo tripod.
The GT1544T has a load capacity of 17.6 pounds (8 kg). It extends to 55.9 inches (142 cm) in height and has a minimum height of 8.7 inches (22 cm). The GT1544T folds down to a compact 16.7 inches (42.5 cm) and weighs 2.2 pounds (1 kg).
That said, the price tag on the GT1544T is ludicrous in my opinion. The Sirui T-1205X has the GT1544T beat, spec-wise, in practically every category at nearly one-third of the price…and neither of them offer a ball head.
Here’s a handy comparison chart that allows you to see how the main competitors stack up to each other.
|Slik Sprint II Pro||MeFoto BackPacker||Sirui T-025x||Sirui T-1205x||Gitzo GT1544T|
|Load Capacity||4.5 lb||8.8 lb (4 kg)||13.2 lb (6kg)||22 lb (10 kg)||17.6 lb (8 kg)|
|Max. Height||63.6 in (161.5 cm)||51.2 in (130 cm)||54.8 in (139.1 cm)||51.4 in (130.5 cm)||55.9 in (142 cm)|
|Min. Height||6.7 in (17.7 cm)||16.5 in||7.2 in (18.3 cm)||5.1 in (13 cm)||8.7 in (22 cm)|
|Folded Length||18.5 in (47 cm)||12.6 in (32 cm)||12.6 in (32 cm)||13.4 in (34 cm)||16.7 in (42.5 cm)|
|Weight||2.1 lb||2.6 lb (1.2 kg)||1.8 lb (0.8 kg)||1.8 lb (0.8 kg)||2.2 lb (1 kg)|
|Material||Aluminum||Aluminum||Carbon Fiber||Carbon Fiber||Carbon Fiber|
While they cannot replace a full-size tripod, the small and easily portable tabletop tripods can fit in your camera bag and go just about anywhere. You can use them in places where tripods generally aren’t allowed and they will give you the stability you need to capture the shot.
Pedco UltraPod II
The lightweight and compact Pedco UltraPod II makes it the perfect tabletop tripod for travel. My UltraPod slides into a side compartment in my camera bag and goes everywhere with me. The UltraPod II has fold-out legs with vinyl feet for stability. A velcro strap acts not only as a cinch around the legs for storage, but also allows the UltraPod II to be secured to posts, tree limbs, railing, or other sturdy objects. The UltraPod II weighs a mere 4 ounces (113 grams) and folds down to 7 inches (17.8 cm) long.
The Pedco UltraPod II has a sturdy U-ball head but no quick release plate. I recommend the Neewer Arca-Swiss Mini Quick Release Plate as a reliable and affordable option.
Joby GP3 GorillaPod SLR
Joby’s GorillaPod line up is probably the most popular table top tripod line on the market. The flexible-but-stiff joints allow the legs to be bent and rotated 360º into almost any shape…if you have the time to fiddle with them, that is. GorillaPods come in a variety sizes, so do your research to make sure the one you choose is capable of handle the weight load of your camera and lenses. The GorillaPod SLR (pictured here) can handle loads up to 6.6 pounds (3 kg).
The GorillaPod SLR is fairly heavy at 26.1 ounces (0.7 kg; includes the ball head). While the price may seem a bit steep for a table top tripod, keep in mind that the included BH-1 ball head is worth over $50 alone.
Mobile Phone Tripod Mount
Tripods can be used with more than a traditional camera. Modern smartphone cameras are becoming better and more capable of taking quality photographs. For the smartphone photographer looking to take advantage of using a tripod, this inexpensive tripod mount does the trick.
The mount attaches to the screw at the top of the tripod plate. The phone is held securely in the spring loaded grip. The versatile nature of the grip allows it to hold any smartphone from 2.8 inches (7 cm) to 3.37 inches (8.5 cm), even if it has a cover.