The best travel tripods are essential companions for most kinds of photography. They offer stability in a highly portable package that won’t give you a hernia during an all-day hike or city stroll. While they can never replace the stability you get from a full-size tripod, they offer enough to make them incredibly valuable backup options.
There’s no beating a hefty, solid tripod to give your photography a firm footing. Trouble is, they’re heavy and unwieldy, so we tend to leave them at home, where they’re no use whatsoever. At the other end of the scale, flimsy little tripods whose loftiest aspirations are only about waist-height are underachievers and tend to wobble around in the slightest breeze. Thankfully, the best travel tripods stand firm in the middle ground, giving you the best of both worlds.
A neat trick shared by the vast majority of current tripods is that the legs swing fully upwards for stowage. The idea is that you first extend the centre column, then swing the legs up, so that the tripod’s feet end up encircling the head. This reduces the overall carrying length by up to 10cm, or 4 inches in old money. Indeed, many of the best travel tripods shrink down to about 30-40cm, making them small enough to fit inside a camera bag or rucksack, rather than needing to be tethered to the outside.
To give them a useful operating height, despite their small carrying size, most travel tripods feature four or even five telescopic sections per leg. Some go further still, with a two-section extending centre column. This naturally enables a greater maximum operating height.
The drawbacks are that each telescoping joint is an area of potential weakness, reducing rigidity, and the bottom leg sections are likely to be quite thin and spindly. The large number of twist or clip locks for all the sections also demands more time for setting up the tripod and folding it down again.
Even so, all of this is well worth it for the lightweight convenience of your next three-legged friend. Aluminum and carbon fibre versions are often available but, because the travel tripods are quite small, the weight saved by using carbon fibre only tends to be about 200g or so, and they can be much pricier to buy. Whether they offer great value or an incredibly stable shooting platform, here are all of the best travel tripod options you can buy right now.
Best travel tripod 2021 at a glance:
3LT Punks Travis with AirHed Neo BallheadPeak Design Travel TripodBenro Travel Angel FTA28CV1Novo Explora T10 Carbon Fibre ProfessionalGitzo Traveler Series 0 GK0545T-82TQDManfrotto Befree 3-Way Live AdvancedBenro Rhino 05C VX20Manfrotto Befree 2N1 Aluminium TripodManfrotto Element MIIMeFoto GlobeTrotter Carbon C2350Q2TSirui T-005 travel tripod with B-00 ball headVanguard VEO 2 GO 235CB with ball head
The best travel tripods of 2021
From innovative tripod designer 3 Legged Thing, the Punks travel tripod range also includes the diminutive Corey, which folds down to just 35cm and has five leg sections plus a dual-section extending centre column. We prefer the Travis, though, as it has a loftier maximum operating height and with a single-piece centre column and four sections per leg, the thinnest sections are less spindly. Indeed, it has beefy maximum load rating of 18kg.
Typical of modern travel tripods, the legs swing up for stowage, reducing the folded length to 45cm. One of the legs can be unscrewed and used in conjunction with the detachable centre column to act as a monopod, with a maximum height of 171cm. Build quality is excellent throughout, extending to the AirHed Neo ball head which is included in the kit. A carbon fibre version of the tripod is available, going by the name of Billy, but it’s only 220g lighter in weight and considerably pricier to buy.
We’re big fans of the highly capable but expensive aluminum edition of the Peak Design Travel Tripod. It’s pretty pricey, but the carbon fibre version of the kit is considerably more expensive, making it unaffordable for many. In both cases the same overall design is highly innovative. Swing-up legs are commonplace but, in this tripod, they’re specially shaped to wrap around the centre column, cutting out wasted space to enable a sleeker build.
The head is integral to the tripod, which is another space-saver. Again, it’s noticeably different to what you’re probably used to, but gives a full range of movement with quick and easy setup. An optional Universal Head Adapter is available if you’d rather use a different head, with or without the centre column. The centre column itself splits in two for ultra-low-level shooting and contains a neat mobile phone mount that attaches to the head. All but the top section of the five-section legs are removable, for conversion to a table-top tripod. Overall, it’s an amazingly versatile tripod that also delivers excellent performance.
At 1.81kg, not even carbon fibre can stop this lining up alongside the FLM as the heaviest platform here, while the 47.5cm packed length also makes these the longest legs on test. But on the upside, the Travel Angel will raise your SLR higher than the competition, with the four-section legs and centre column extending to a lofty 170cm.
The nine-layer carbon construction results in a 10kg payload rating, and grippy twist-lock leg clamps, a sturdy ball head and a set of spiked feet are great to have. The Travel Angel’s stand-out feature is a removable leg that screws to the centre column to form a monopod.
Novo used to market a handy, compact and lightweight Explora T5 kit but that’s now been discontinued, making the T10 the smallest in the range. As with its stablemates, it’s a smartly turned out carbon fibre affair and there’s no lower-budget aluminum option. The leg sections are pretty chunky, ranging from 18mm to 28mm in diameter, which helps to deliver the hefty maximum load rating.
The maximum operating height of 174cm is also pretty impressive for a travel tripod, and you can shoot from low down as well, thanks to the inclusion of a low angle adapter. Interchangeable rubber feet and metal spikes are also supplied in the kit. Up top, the high-performance ball head features a neat adjustable friction damper, built into the main locking knob, along with two pan release locks, one at the base and the other in the camera platform. As a leveling aid, a bubble level is featured on the camera platform but, unfortunately, it’s obscured during shooting once you’ve inserted the Arca-Swiss type quick-release plate.
Despite the legs only extending to 133cm, this pays off when you’re on the go, as the 36.5cm closed length is the shortest here, and at 1.29kg only the Befree is lighter. Gitzo’s four-section Carbon eXact leg tubes manage to defy their slim diameter and stay amazingly stiff, making the 10kg payload rating entirely credible.
The quality and precision of the other components is just as uncompromising. The bundled ball head features separate pan locking, and its 32mm ball diameter is just about large enough to support a full-frame DSLR.
The vast majority of current travel tripod kits come with a ball head, which makes this Manfrotto something of a rarity, with its more conventional three-way head. It therefore has independent locking handles for both tilt and swivel functions, along with a locking knob for panning. You’d normally expect protruding handles that spoil the streamlined form factor for compact stowage, but they fold in nice and tight, and the legs still swing up so that the feet encircle the head.
Unlike most three-way heads, this one is designed with both photographers and videographers in mind. The head features Manfrotto’s ‘fluid drag system’, which enables smooth control for both panning and tilt movements. The inclusion of three spirit levels helps to keep everything on the level. The tripod itself has four-section legs with flip locks, and a single-section centre column but none of the legs can be removed for use as a monopod. Resistance to flexing and vibration is also pretty impressive, especially for a lightweight aluminum tripod.
Sold as the Rhino Carbon Fiber Zero Series Travel Tripod with VX20 Head in the USA, this is a recent addition to Benro’s high-performance and stylish line-up. The Rhino is actually available in a range of sizes, the chunkier 14C, 24C and 34C (Series 1 to 3 in the USA) having a folded size of around 49cm, stretching to a maximum operating height of around 170cm and with load ratings ranging from 16kg to 20kg. The 05C (Series 0) is a rather more compact and travel-friendly model, folding to just 35cm for stowage, and with a still useful 140cm maximum operating height.
Typical of Benro carbon fibre tripods, it’s impeccably turned out although, unlike some, there’s no cut-price aluminum option. There’s a two-section extending centre column, while the five-section legs have a simple pushbutton mechanism to enable multiple operating angles. One of the legs can be unscrewed and combined with the centre column to form a monopod. The VX20 ‘dual panoramic’ ball head is also a new design and comes complete with two independent panning mechanisms, one at the base and up top on the camera platform, which has an Arca-Swiss type quick-release plate. For such a lightweight tripod, it’s remarkably rigid even at its maximum operating height.
Manfrotto offers a wide selection of Befree travel tripods, in basic and advanced categories. The 2N1 is unique in the line-up, as it’s the only one in which a leg can be removed and used as a monopod, in conjunction with the centre column and ball head, giving a maximum operating height of 156cm. That’s 6cm taller than in regular tripod configuration, extending all of the four leg sections and the one-piece centre column.
The tripod caters to those with a particular preference for clip locks or twist locks, as it’s available with either. However, it’s only available in aluminum, with no carbon fibre option. For a bit on the side, there’s Manfrotto’s ‘Easy Link’ socket, which is useful for attaching accessories like an LED lamp.
Manfrotto aims to spoil you for choice with its Element range of travel tripods, which are available in different sizes and colors. They’re also mostly available in either aluminum or carbon fibre, although the ‘MII’ which replaces the Element Big is so far only available in aluminum.
Fundamental changes from the Big include a reduction from five sections per leg to four, which make the tripod more rigid and quicker to set up. More remarkably, it does this with only 5cm loss in maximum operating height, and barely any greater folded length. A more disappointing change is that you can no longer remove one leg for monopod duty.
Typical of Manfrotto, the ball head works very well and is both quick and easy to operate, although it lacks an adjustable friction damper. The new kits have eye-catching graphics and are available in blue and red options, as well as more traditional black.
Fancy traveling in style? The GlobeTrotter will help you stand out: it’s available in red, green and blue finishes, as well as black or titanium. A 12kg capacity is enough to stand strong under all but the heaviest DSLR setup, yet the tripod tips the scales at just 1.68kg.
The GlobeTrotter’s measurements are just as well-balanced, with its 163cm reach retracting to a modest 42cm. Spiked feet and a capable ball head with adjustable friction enhance versatility. The monopod conversion feature is the same as the Benro’s (see above) – Benro is MeFoto’s parent company, which explains the GlobeTrotter’s top build quality.
Like most modern travel tripods, the Sirui T-005 has legs that swing up vertically for a reduction in stowage size. In this case, the folded length is particularly small, at just 32cm or just over a foot. Unlike most tripods, however, the centre column can’t drop down into the spider, and remains extended at all times.
In fact, it can extend further, thanks to having a dual-section telescopic build, and that’s in addition to the five sections in each leg. Even so, the maximum operating height is a fairly modest 141cm. The centre column can also be detached for low-level shooting down to 8cm, with the ball head mounted directly on the spider.
The bottom leg sections are quite spindly, with a diameter of just 10mm. The tripod is also very light in weight at just 1.1kg, although it has a respectable 5kg maximum load rating and is reasonably rigid even at its maximum extension. All in all, it’s a good ultra-light and compact tripod at an appealing price.
With twist clamps aplenty, this new-generation Vanguard travel tripod has five sections in each leg and a dual-section telescopic centre column. Suffice to say, there’s quite a lot of twisting to be done, if you need to elevate the tripod to its maximum operating height of 143cm. On the plus side, it shrinks down to a compact folded length of just 33cm and, helped by its carbon fibre construction, is refreshingly lightweight at a smidge over one kilogram.
For low-level shooting, the tripod shrinks to 33cm but the kit also includes a low angle adapter which you can swap for the centre column, reducing the minimum height further to 21cm. Although the centre column is detachable, there’s no removable leg for monopod duty. The maximum load rating is a fairly meagre 4kg but the tripod remains fairly rigid even at full stretch, despite the bottom leg sections having a diameter of just 11mm.
What to look for in a travel tripod
Choosing the best travel tripod isn’t just about selecting the smallest and lightest model. Indeed, picking the lightest legs isn’t always the best plan. Marginally heavier alternatives won’t be a noticeable burden, but they can provide much more rigidity and versatility.
Most of these tripods use a carbon fiber construction to save weight, but this ups the price. Some models also have aluminum counterparts. Each includes a compact ball head, but check carefully: a ball that’s too small for a larger DSLR will become a precarious balancing act.
Looking for something a bit bigger and sturdier? These are the best tripods you can buy right now
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