Popularly, the “travel tripod” is one on which the legs fold up around the center column of the tripod, and/or the tripod head. This allows them to fold to more compact dimensions for transporting on adventures beyond the studio walls. B&H’s website refinements can show you these reversible folding tripods with heads and tripod legs, and I have a running list of my favorite travel tripods for all budgets. Of course, you could jump off this page at any of those above links, but stick around if you’d like to dig into the pros and cons of the “travel tripod.”
Sea Story One
Years ago, a photographer friend came to me and asked for a recommendation for a travel tripod because she was preparing for a trip and wanted to travel with a tripod lighter and smaller than her full-sized support. My response was, “Any tripod is a ‘travel tripod’ if you are willing to travel with it.” To this day, I believe that my response annoyed her, but I stand by that statement.
You do not need a tripod with reversing legs for travel.
You do not need a super-lightweight tripod for travel.
You can travel with any tripod as long as you are committed to carrying it around with you for the times you need it. If you want to carry a full-sized tripod around on your vacation, then do it!
Sea Story Two
Years ago I equipped my quiver with a brand-new carbon fiber Benro Travel Angel (the current version is the Benro FTA28AB1 Travel Angel Series 2 Aluminum Tripod with B1 Ball Head)—a very nice, very dependable, and very popular travel tripod—for a multi-country tour of Europe. The Travel Angel is small and light and, to me, seemed to add negligible weight to my weighty camera bag.
The trip was in May and all of Europe was sullied with a late-spring storm, bringing heavy rains and high winds across the region. Clothing and department stores had switched their stock to summer swim wear while cold and wet tourists were coming into the stores looking for winter gear.
The lesson I learned from this trip, and am sharing with you all here, is that, even though the Travel Angel’s load capacity was well below the weight of my gear, due to the heavy winds, many of my nighttime photographs came out with significant blur from camera shake. The travel tripod was a joy and easy to carry but was simply no match for the elements.
Had the weather have been seasonal, I am sure the tripod would have fared just fine.
Evaluating Travel Tripods
Those two stories bring us to a discussion of the pros and cons of travel tripods—something I feel every buyer should be aware of before investing in a lightweight travel tripod.
Pros of travel tripods
Lightweight—Adds little weight to your kit.
Small when folded—The reversing leg feature isn’t just for fun and games. It really allows the tripod to fold small; so small, that it may fit inside your carry-on bag or easily strap on to your camera bag.
Relatively robust—Respectable load capacities on higher-end models that rival that of full-sized tripods.
Sufficient for many—As the sun sets on the age of the heavy DSLR, mirrorless cameras are generally lighter and, therefore, ask less of any support. A travel tripod might be the only tripod you need regardless of whether you are shooting at home or traveling far from your base.
Cons of travel tripods
Less overall stability—As I discovered years ago in Europe, smaller and lighter tripods may not stabilize your gear sufficiently in less-than-ideal environmental conditions.
More sections—The primary trick to get a tripod to collapse into a small package is to have many leg sections and even multi-section center columns. This has a negative effect on stability.
Lighter is not always better—Echoing the lead bullet, a lighter support might be great for toting around, but this is at the expense of overall stability.
Bending over—While travel tripods are not desktop tripods, they often do not extend to the heights reached by a full-sized tripod. Depending on your stature, this may require you to bend over to look through your camera when it is mounted on a fully extended travel tripod. Also, important to note is that any tripod’s stability is compromised when you extend the smallest section to its full length or extend a center column for extra vertical reach.
Setup time—Due to the fact that your travel tripod might have a lot of leg sections that need to be extended, your time to transform the support from collapsed to extended will be longer than that of a 2- or 3-section tripod.
Select Travel Tripods
Feel free to head over to my companion article—Recommended Travel Tripods—for a list of very, very good travel tripods that represent almost every budget.
But, since you are already here, let me briefly profile a few of the stalwarts of the travel-tripod scene.
If you want to carry a travel tripod that will forever prevent you from wondering if you should have gotten a better travel tripod, one of the Gitzo Traveler tripods is your ticket to a restful night of sound sleep and blur-free photographs. The Gitzo Travelers come in multiple sizes, section numbers, and folded and collapsed lengths, but all are fantastic tripods and, for most photographers, can be your only tripod—solid enough for use anywhere, anytime, with most gear.
Peak Design Travel Tripod
For hundreds of years, the tripod has enjoyed evolutionary, not revolutionary, changes. The most recent attempt at a revolutionary upgrade is the Peak Design Travel Tripod that features triangular-shaped leg sections that allow the tripod to fold into a space about the same size as a large water bottle. An integrated tripod head helps keep the overall package light and compact and the 5-section leg flip locks are designed to facilitate simultaneous release—speeding set-up time.
Manfrotto BeFree GT XPRO Travel Tripod
Manfrotto’s top-tier BeFree GT XPRO Travel Tripod contains some innovative features that make it stand out from some of its competition. Chief among these is the ability to reposition the center column laterally so that you can shoot off of the tripod’s central axis—great for shooting in tricky spaces or photographing straight down to capture those ground-level details on your adventures. This 4-section tripod has a robust load capacity, as well.
Benro MeFOTO RoadTrip Travel Tripod
Tripods are usually just… tripods. But, the Benro MeFOTO Road Trip is six different tools in one—a tripod, monopod, boompole, selfie stick, high hat (low tripod), and table-top tripod. For traveling, there is nothing like having all those tools at your disposal in one single unit, and it is no wonder I refer to the MeFOTO Road Trip as the “Swiss Army Knife” of tripods.
Similar to another brand, Sirui’s primary focus as a tripod manufacturer is the travel tripod. A perfect example of the company’s dedication to this genre of three-legged supports is the T-1205 Travel Tripod—a lightweight tripod with an incredible 44-lb payload capacity. The T-1205 is also a bit of a transformer because a removable leg doubles as a monopod and the center column can be reversed for low-angle shooting.
Traveling with Support
A search of B&H shows that approximately a third of our tripods with heads have reverse-folding legs (and 15% of our tripod legs sold without heads). If you are in the market for a “travel tripod” remember my sea stories—any tripod is a travel tripod if you are willing to travel with it, and a lighter one is great to tote around, but it is not always your best friend if the wind is blowing or your gear is heavy!
What are your thoughts and experiences using travel tripods? Do you have questions about travel tripods or would you like some personalized recommendations? Post your questions in the Comments section, below!