We have been traveling the world for the last three years and sharing our travel photos on Instagram and here on our blog. Over the course of our travels, we have found that a lightweight and compact travel tripod is one of the most important pieces of gear in our travel photography packing list.
You can take great travel photos without a tripod but there are certain scenarios where one is absolutely necessary. For example, if you want to shoot star photos, silky smooth waterfall photos, or cityscapes at night, you’ll need to have a good tripod. And rather than giving creative control to a stranger for your next selfie, traveling with a tripod will ensure that you get the exact framing you want.
A great travel tripod has to check a lot of boxes; it needs to be lightweight, compact, sturdy, and easy to set up. And a well-built tripod should last for years so it’s worth investing in a good one.
But purchasing a travel tripod can be overwhelming. And considering you’ll need to invest at least $100 USD (and probably closer to $300 USD) to get a high-quality tripod, you’ll want to make sure you pick the right one for your camera setup and photography style.
We have compiled a list of our 9 favorite lightweight and portable tripods for you to take on your next world trip. If you’re wondering what’s the best travel tripod for you, read on!
Don’t forget to check out our web story: 9 Lightweight Tripods for Travel Photographers
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase or booking through one of our links we may earn a small commission (don’t worry, it’s at no extra cost to you).
What to Consider When Purchasing a Travel Tripod
Tripod Material: Aluminum vs. Carbon Fiber
If you’re serious about travel photography then you’ll want to invest in a carbon fiber tripod.
Travel tripods are generally made from either aluminum or carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is both lighter and stronger than aluminum, making it the preferred material for all high-end travel tripods. If you’re serious about travel photography then you’ll eventually want to invest in a carbon fiber tripod.
Unfortunately, carbon fiber is also significantly more expensive than aluminum which means you’ll be paying a premium to shave a few ounces off of your tripod. If you’re on a tight budget and don’t mind carrying a little extra weight, an aluminum tripod is perfectly acceptable until you can save up and purchase a carbon fiber version.
We recommend buying a travel tripod that is less than 4 lbs.
Weight is probably the most important factor to consider when searching for a travel tripod. And we recommend buying a travel tripod that is less than 4 lbs. But unless you’re embarking on a multi-day backpacking trip, you probably don’t need to worry about a few extra ounces.
And keep in mind that you’ll likely have to make some sacrifices if you want to shave weight off of your tripod. A lighter tripod will likely have a shorter maximum height and be a bit less sturdy than a heavier tripod.
Tripod Size When Collapsed
Look for a travel tripod that collapses down to 13-20 inches.
The second deciding factor when choosing a travel tripod is how small it will be when folded up. Whether you’re embarking on an international trip or taking your tripod on a weekend camping trip, you’ll want something that can easily fit in your day pack.
Look for a travel tripod that collapses down to 13-20 inches. Anything larger than that and you’re looking at a more traditional tripod. Any smaller and you’re probably going to be making some big sacrifices in terms of stability and versatility.
Tripod Height When In Use
Shorter tripods weigh less, but will sometimes limit your ability to get the exact photo you want.
Maximum height is often overlooked when buying a travel tripod. Many heavier tripods extend to 6 feet or even taller, but as you start looking at lightweight travel tripods you’ll notice that the maximum height starts to shrink.
Shorter tripods weigh less, but will sometimes limit your ability to get the exact photo framing that you want. And a shorter tripod also means you’ll have to stoop to look through the viewfinder.
You should also pay attention to how low the tripod can get to the ground as some photography situations will lend themselves to very low-angle shots.
Heavier tripods are typically more sturdy than lighter tripods. And fewer leg sections and center column sections also means greater tripod stability.
The sturdiness of your tripod is quite important for two reasons.
- When shooting long exposures you don’t want to have even the slightest movement of your camera. A sturdy tripod is the first line of defense against camera shake. The same goes for shooting timelapse videos.
- If a strong gust of wind blows your tripod over, it can potentially destroy thousands of dollars of photography equipment in a matter of seconds.
Unfortunately, there is no quantitative measurement for a tripod’s sturdiness. Heavier tripods are typically more sturdy than lighter tripods. And fewer leg sections and center column sections also mean greater tripod stability.
Number of Leg Sections
More leg sections means your tripod will be more compact, but it also means your tripod will be less sturdy.
Almost all travel tripods have either 4 or 5 leg sections. More leg sections typically mean your tripod will be more compact and have a higher maximum height, but it also means your tripod will be less sturdy.
These days many travel tripods are designed with a 2-section center column. Similar to the tripod’s legs, more sections in the center column mean a more versatile but less sturdy tripod.
Style of Leg Locks
There are advantages and disadvantages to each style of leg lock, but twist locks are dominating the travel tripod market these days.
A tripod’s “leg locks” are the connection mechanisms that hold the sections of each leg together. They allow you to lock the legs in place when the tripod is in use and then unlock it so the tripod can be easily collapsed.
Leg locks come in 2 styles: twist locks and lever locks. Twist locks are more compact and low profile, but it’s not easy to see if they are fully tightened at a glance. Lever locks are bulkier, but when you snap the lever shut you know the leg section is firmly locked in place.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each style of a leg lock, but twist locks are dominating the travel tripod market these days.
Tripod Ball Head
Many tripods include a ball head but there are a few that do not. Keep this in mind when calculating the weight and cost of your new tripod.
Remember that you’ll need to have a ball head in addition to your tripod. This is the piece that screws onto the top of your tripod and allows your camera to easily swivel around and up and down while it’s mounted on the tripod.
Many tripods include a ball head but there are a few (such as the Gitzo Traveler) that do not. In this case, you’ll need to purchase a ball head separately. Keep this in mind when calculating the weight and cost of your new tripod.
9 Lightweight Tripods for Travel, Hiking, Trekking, and Backpacking
In our opinion, the Sirui A1205 is the best value travel tripod on the market.
It is lightweight, sturdy, and compact – everything you could want in a travel tripod! Plus, it is surprisingly affordable for a carbon fiber tripod.
The MeFoto Roadtrip is the most popular entry-level travel tripod on the market.
The MeFoto RoadTrip is the most popular travel tripod on the market and for good reason. It’s designed to have everything you need in a tripod, including a well-built triple-action ball head, while still packing down to just 15.4 inches.
It’s loaded with handy features, including a bubble level on the ball head and a recessed hook on the center column so you can add weight for stability in windy conditions.
It extends to a maximum height of 61.6 inches making it the tallest travel tripod we review here. So if you’re tall and don’t like stooping over every time you use your tripod, then the MeFoto RoadTrip is the best option for you!
All of MeFoto’s tripods come in a variety of bright colors and their RoadTrip tripod even comes in a posh leather edition.
The Manfrotto Befree is an excellent all around travel tripod at an affordable price. It’s a solid combination of tripod weight, sturdiness, and value.
The Manfrotto Befree is an excellent all-around travel tripod at an affordable price. It’s a solid combination of tripod weight, sturdiness, and value. The carbon fiber version of this tripod weighs in at just 2.75 lbs and collapses down to 16.14 inches.
A bit taller and bulkier than the Sirui A1205, while shorter and lighter than the MeFoto Roadtrip, it represents a happy medium between the two.
The Manfrotto Befree typically ships with a 494 Center Ball Head which, along with the tripod, can support a maximum camera weight of 17.64 lbs. It’s a triple-action ball head meaning it has an independent pan and tilts control knobs plus tension control built into the tilt knob.
Surprisingly, there is no spirit level on the ball head so you may want to invest in one for your camera’s hot shoe.
Manfrotto is one of the best tripod manufacturers so you can expect a quality product as well as a 10-year extended warranty and great customer service.
If you want the best travel tripod on the market and don’t mind paying a premium for it, then the Gitzo Traveler Series 0 is for you!
Gitzo is an industry leader when it comes to tripods and their travel lineup is no exception. The Gitzo Traveler Series 0 Carbon Fiber Tripod is extremely compact, lightweight, and beautifully designed. No doubt you’ll love this tripod if you purchase it. But be warned, Gitzo tripods are a premium product that comes with a premium price tag.
Also, you should take note that this tripod doesn’t ship with a ball head. We recommend pairing it with the Gitzo Series 1 Traveler Center Ball Head which adds 0.8 lbs to the overall weight of the setup.
We actually think that Gitzo tripods are a bit overpriced. The Sirui A1205 has almost the technical specifications but costs about one-third of the price. But if you want the best travel tripod on the market and don’t mind paying a premium for it, then the Gitzo Traveler Series 0 is for you!
The Three Legged Thing Leo is perfect for travel photographers who want an exteremly sturdy tripod and don’t mind carrying a little extra weight.
The Leo Carbon Fiber Tripod by Three Legged Thing is another impressive travel tripod. Perhaps the most sturdy travel tripod on the market, it can handle a maximum load of 66 lbs!
This little tripod folds down to just 13.67 inches when not in use. But even in such a small package, the Leo is rather heavy at 3.86 lbs. Keep in mind that it still weighs less than 4 pounds and is sufficiently light for all but the most extreme situations.
The included Airhed SWITCH ball head is incredibly strong, supporting a max weight of 80 lbs, but it’s a bit of a one-trick pony. It’s a single-action ball head meaning it doesn’t have a pan control knob and there is no tension screw. You may want to upgrade the ball head at some point for more fine-tuned control.
The Three Legged Thing Leo is perfect for travel photographers who want an extremely sturdy tripod and don’t mind carrying a little extra weight. It’s a great choice if you have a heavy DSLR camera or plan on using large zoom lenses.
The MeFOTO BackPacker S Aluminum Tripod is a terrific value for travelers who use a smaller fixed-lens camera or smartphone for photography.
The tripods we have reviewed so far are all great choices if you’re traveling with a full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera. But if you’re carrying a smaller fixed-lens travel camera like the Sony RX100 or Canon G1 X then you can use a lighter-duty tripod and save yourself some cash.
The MeFOTO BackPacker S Aluminum Tripod is a perfect match for smaller cameras or cell phone selfies. It’s incredibly affordable but still lightweight (2.54 lbs) and sturdy. It can handle a maximum load of 13.2 lbs so you can still use it with all but the heaviest cameras and lenses.
The leg locks have deep grooves to provide a good grip while you are setting up or taking down your tripod. It has a dual-action ball head so you’ll have independent control over panning and tilt plus a built-in spirit level.
The MeFOTO BackPacker S Aluminum Tripod is a terrific value for travelers who use a smaller fixed-lens camera or smartphone for photography. As with all MeFoto tripods, the BackPacker S comes in lots of fun colors making it both stylish and functional.
The Benro SLIM is one of the lightest full-size travel tripods on the market.
Weighing just 2.2 lbs with the included ball head, the Benro SLIM is one of the lightest full-sized travel tripods on the market. It’s a bit longer than the other tripods we’ve reviewed due to the legs not reversing when the tripod is collapsed, but that also means it’s a bit skinnier when collapsed. It is still small enough to make it plenty portable for a day hike or a weekend trip.
The Benro SLIM has spirit levels on both the tripod shoulder and on the quick release clamp which makes leveling the tripod a breeze. And there’s a weight hook under the center column if you need a little more stability in windy conditions.
The ball head is a bit spartan with just a single knob for controlling pan and tilt, but that’s just the price you pay to have a tripod this light and inexpensive.
The GorillaPod 5K is perfect for unique angles or snapping photos while keeping a low profile.
The GorillaPod 5K is a bit of a different beast in terms of tripods. Each leg is made up of 10 sections so it can be twisted into an endless variety of different shapes.
This flexible tripod can be wrapped around fence posts, tree branches, car mirrors, or any other sturdy object you can find in your vicinity. Making the GorillaPod 5K perfect for unique angles or snapping photos while keeping a low profile.
It’s also sometimes handy to have a second tripod. For example, say you want to shoot a timelapse of a sunset on your iPhone while you’re capturing still images with your DSLR or mirrorless camera.
While we don’t recommend the GorillaPod 5K as your only tripod, it is certainly convenient to have in specific situations.
A brand new travel tripod from Peak Design. Exceptionally compact and lighteight, but not as sturdy as we would like.
Peak Design is renowned for its innovative approach to photography gear. Thousands of photographers swear by their camera straps and clips. You’ll also spot travel photographers all over the world sporting their Everyday Backpack (we have the 30-liter version of this backpack in ash grey).
In March 2020, Peak Design released its much-anticipated travel tripod. The triangular-shaped legs fit together in the center making it extra compact when collapsed, and the redesigned ball head gives you a single adjustment ring that controls all movement.
While the new Peak Design travel tripod is exceptionally light and compact, it is not as sturdy as some of the other best travel tripods on our list. This tripod is best for lightweight cameras (potentially a mirrorless with a small to mid-size lens). Even if you’re under the load limit of 20 lbs, you’ll want to make sure you add some extra weight to the load hanging hook to minimize camera shake.