A travel tripod is an easy way to improve your travel photography. Almost everyone travels with a camera of some sort to capture vacation memories while they travel, whether it be a cell phone, a compact camera, or professional DSLR camera. If you are wanting to capture better travel photos, you may want to consider buying a travel tripod. Adding a travel tripod to your photography gear arsenal can help you take better vacation photos without a lot of effort. Today Laurence, an award-winning professional travel photographer, is going to cover the basics of what a tripod does, how it can improve your photography, and what situations are best suited for a tripod. He’ll also provide recommendations of a range of travel tripods to suit any budget, discuss situations when you should and should not travel with a tripod, and provide practical tips on traveling with a tripod.
What Does a Tripod Do?
A tripod is a piece of photography equipment primarily used to provide a stable and hands-free platform that you can rest your camera on. It’s usually a collapsible product consisting of three legs and a head. The head is the part where you attach your camera. A tripod lets you take photos without having to actually be holding your camera, which can prove useful in wide number of photography situations.
As well as tripods, you will also find monopods on the market. Instead of three legs these have one leg. These serve the same function as a tripod but are generally less stable than a tripod, so overall we would recommend a tripod in most cases. However, they may be the best option for hikers as they many also double as hiking poles or walking sticks.
Why You Might Need a Travel Tripod for your Photos
There are a lot of reasons that you might need a travel tripod for your photography. The main reason is that it will help you take better photos! Here are some more specific reasons below:
Reason 1 – Better photos of yourself
A tripod is an excellent way to get better photos of yourself while you are traveling. Want a better photo of yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower or standing near the rim of the Grand Canyon? Photos taken on a tripod will look much more professional and natural than using a selfie stick, extending your arm as far as you can reach, or relying on strangers. A tripod will let you set your camera up at the right angle and height, frame the shot properly, and take the shot at your leisure. Nearly all the shots of Jess and I traveling together are taken using a tripod and camera.
Reason 2 – Low light situations
Cameras have a much harder time taking photos at night or when you are in a low light situation (e.g., inside a house or museum, cave, dim restaurant, alley). A tripod will let you take better photos when there is not much light available. In these situations, without a tripod, your camera will compensate for the lack of light by reducing the shutter speed and increasing the ISO speed which will likely result in a blurry and/or grainy photo if you are holding your camera.
This is due to two main issues. The slow shutter speed makes it much harder to hold the camera steady, resulting in possibly blurry photos. The higher ISO makes your pictures much grainier – resulting in a much lower quality image. With a tripod, as the camera is not moving, you can set a much longer shutter speed, and use a lower ISO, resulting in much cleaner images.
Reason 3 – Better Composed Shots
If you’re looking to improve your photography in general, a tripod is an excellent way to get started. Setting your camera up on a tripod will make you think more critically about your composition and framing, compared to just pointing and clicking. It will force you to slow down, and become a more patient photographer. Patience is a definite virtue when it comes to photography!
It does take a bit of time and effort to set up even a lightweight travel tripod. Once you’ve got your camera set up, you’ll likely find yourself inspired to wait for the perfect moment in terms of light, or lack of people, rather than just grabbing the shot and moving on. Yes, you might end up with less photos overall, but the shots you do get will end up a lot better as a result!
Reason 4 – Allows for more creativity and more advanced photography options
Beyond the above three reasons, a tripod also opens up a world of creative options, allowing you to take photos that you simply wouldn’t be able to take without one. If you want to improve your photography and have a wider choice of photography styles, then a tripod is a must-have travel accessory.
Examples of these creative options include taking pictures of the stars (astrophotography), long-exposure shots of water, light trails of moving vehicles, and many more. You can even create time-lapse videos with a tripod, something that would be impossible without it!
Well, that was four reasons you need a tripod for your travel photography. Still not convinced? Read this article, giving 11 reasons you need a tripod that might help further convince you!
What to Look For in a Travel Tripod
There are a number of factors to consider when purchasing a tripod. In our opinion these come down to four main areas: budget, weight, stability, and size.
Budget is obviously a personal choice, with tripods available from about thirty dollars up to a thousand dollars and more. We’d suggest that a budget in the region of $100 – $300 would get you an excellent travel tripod that should last you for many years of photography. More expensive tripods tend to be made of more advanced materials such as carbon fibre, and be more lightweight or sturdy as a result. Cheaper tripods are usually made of less expensive materials.
Weight is a serious consideration when it comes to picking a travel tripod. For travel, we’d highly recommend picking a tripod that weighs around 3 lbs total. Note that some tripods are sold without a head, so when picking out a tripod make sure it’s not just the legs. Most travel tripods that we are aware of come as a single unit, but it’s worth checking. A lower weight means the tripod is easier to take with you, and this makes it much more likely that you’ll carry it with you when you travel. A heavy tripod will likely stay at home, which won’t do anyone any good! The lowest weight tripods are usually manufactured out of carbon fibre, which raises the cost compared to materials like aluminum.
Another piece of the travel tripod puzzle is stability, which is also related to the maximum load your tripod can take. If you have a very heavy camera setup, then you will need a much sturdier tripod than if you have a smaller DSLR, mirrorless, or compact camera. The majority of travelers are not traveling with heavy cameras, so the majority of travel tripods should be sturdy enough for most. However those lugging around heavy professional-level DSLR cameras and heavy lenses will want to carefully check the maximum load guidelines before selecting a travel tripod.
Finally, the last thing to think about when comparing travel tripods is size. There are two sizes to think about: 1.) how small the tripod folds up and 2.) how high it extends. We recommend a travel tripod that folds up to under 21 inches for ease of transport and airline carry-on purposes. In terms of height, we recommend a travel tripod that extends to 50 – 60 inches, as otherwise you’ll likely have to bend over to be able to use it which can be uncomfortable. Alternatively, you can look at a much more compact tripod that doesn’t extend, and whilst certainly better than no tripod, these are going to be more limiting in terms of shooting.
Can I Use A Travel Tripod With Any Type of Camera?
You absolutely can use a tripod with any type of camera, and this includes compact cameras, mirrorless cameras, DSLRs, action cameras, and even mobile phones. The vast majority of cameras will have a screw hole in the base, which is the mount point for the tripod. The tripod will have a screw that you can screw into the camera to attach it.
If you are using a mobile phone, GoPro, action camera, or a really basic camera, you will likely need an adapter to be able to mount it to a tripod. For example, for mobile phones you just need a cell phone tripod mount adaptor like this and GoPros need a special adaptor, such as this one.
More advanced tripods, and the majority of tripods that we recommend, come with a quick release mechanism. This is a small plate that you screw onto the base of your camera where the tripod mount hole is. The tripod head will then have an easy way to attach and remove this plate. This saves you screwing and unscrewing your camera onto the tripod every time, which is a lot more convenient.
Can A Tripod Help With Video As Well?
If you plan to make videos as well as take photos, you will likely find a tripod even more useful! A stabilized video looks a lot more professional than a shaky hand-held video, so for really good video results we’d suggest that a tripod is an absolute must.
The tripods we recommend in this post will all work for video, although you should look into a pan-head rather than a ball-head, as this allows for more granular control in each plane of movement, meaning you can smoothly pan your video along one axis without affecting the other axis. For example, you might want to consider the Vanguard 235AP which comes with a pan head rather than a ball head, if video is important to you.
How Much Do Travel Tripods Cost?
Travel tripods vary in price, and you can certainly pick up a travel tripod for under $30, with prices ranging up to $350+. Price depends on the materials used and any special features of the tripod. We’d suggest that budgeting $100 – $300 for a travel tripod will get you an excellent tripod. See our suggestions below for several options which fall within this budget range.
What Travel Tripods Do you Recommend?
There are a number of travel tripods on the market. We use and recommend the Vanguard series of tripods, and for travel especially, we use and recommend the Vanguard VEO & VEO 2 line. These were designed from the ground up for traveling photographers, offering a lightweight and sturdy tripod at an excellent price point.
They’re available in a number of models, including both aluminum and carbon fibre, with prices starting at $99 for the entry-level VEO 204AB aluminium model, and rising to $249.99 for the top of the range VEO 2 265CB carbon fibre model. That is a truly excellent price for a carbon fibre tripod of this calibre! You can read our recent review of the VEO 2 265CB here.
We are, we should point out, a little biased when it comes to Vanguard tripods. I have been a Vanguard Ambassador since 2014, and use their gear on an almost daily basis – everything from their bags through to their higher end Alta Pro tripods.
Of course, we know that Vanguard isn’t the only tripod manufacturer out there, so here are a range of options to consider with their key specifications for comparison purposes. Please note that we have only personally tried and tested the Vanguard tripods.
1. Vanguard VEO 2 204AB: $99 ($79*)
The entry-level Vanguard VEO 2 tripod offers nearly everything you need in a travel tripod. It’s sturdy, light and folds down super small.
Folded Length: 15.75in
Maximum Height: 53.1in
Maximum Load: 8.8lbs
Warranty: 8 years
2. Vanguard VEO 2 265CB: $249 ($199*)
If your gear is a little heavier, say you have a bigger DSLR with a larger lens, you might consider upgrading to a carbon fibre tripod. This is the top of the range VEO 2 tripod, offering a high load capacity but a lightweight construction, thanks to the carbon fibre.
Material: Carbon Fibre
Folded Length: 16.3
Maximum Height: 59in
Maximum Load: 17.6lbs
Warranty: 8 years
Note that Vanguard have a wide range of VEO tripods at different price points and sizes, so we think you are sure to find something to suit. For example, the VEO 2 265 is also available in aluminium at $169, offering very similar specs but at 0.4lbs more weight.
3. Manfrotto BeFree: $179
Manfrotto are one of the most well-known names in tripods, and their travel range is known as BeFree. This particular model folds down to a very small size, with good all round specifications, if a slightly higher price than the similar Vanguard model.
Folded Length: 12.3in
Maximum Height: 56.6in
Maximum Load: 8.8lbs
Warranty: 10 years
4. MeFOTO RoadTrip Air Aluminium: $175
MeFOTO are a relatively new tripod manufacturer, but they have a wide range of tripods to suit every need, in both aluminium and carbon fibre. The Roadtrip Air is their midrange travel tripod. For something a little lighter and less expensive, also take a look at their Backpacker Air, which comes in around $125.
Folded Length: 11.4in
Maximum Height: 61in
Maximum Load: 13.2lb
Warranty: 5 years
5. MeFOTO RoadTrip Classic Carbon Fibre: $349
At the higher end of the MeFOTO Roadtrip range is the classic carbon fibre. It’s a lot more sturdy, so able to carry heavier gear, with the trade-off that even with the carbon fibre, it’s somewhat heavier to carry.
Material: Carbon Fibre
Folded Length: 15.4″
Maximum Height: 61.6″
Maximum Load: 17.6lb
Warranty: 5 years
6. Manfrotto Pixi Mini Tripod: $25
If you can’t see yourself carrying around a full-size tripod, don’t despair. There are a number of other options available, including the super cute Manfrotto Pixi. Obviously you are limited in terms of height adjustment, but if you just want a means of stabilizing your camera in a super light package, this is going to be your best option.
Material: Aluminium / Polymer
Maximum Height: 5.3in
Maximum Load: 2.2lb
Warranty: 5 years
If budget is your absolute key consideration, then you might want to take a look at the AmazonBasics lightweight tripod. It’s certainly an incredible bargain, and is well reviewed on Amazon as well. It has a relatively low maximum load though, so we wouldn’t recommend it for a DSLR camera or particularly heavy equipment. It also doesn’t fold down to a carry-on size. That said, as an entry-level tripod it’s hard to argue with the price, although if you can stretch to it, we think the Vanguard VEO 204AB is a better investment.
Folded Length: 23.8inches
Maximum Height: 60in
Maximum Load: 6.6lbs
Warranty: 1 Year (US)
8. Vanguard VEO AM204 Monopod $29 (*$23)
If you don’t see yourself carrying a tripod around, you might instead consider a monopod. These offer a degree of stabilization for photography and video, and many of them also double up as a walking stick, which is great for hikers. Vanguard do a range of these, with the VEO AM-204 Aluminium being the entry level monopod, and the $75 VEO CM-264 carbon fibre being the top level model. Both also double as a walking stick or hiking pole.
Folded Length: 18.5inches
Maximum Height: 55.1in
Maximum Load: 8.8lbs
Warranty: 8 Years (US)
*Discounted Price for Our Readers in the US! As a Vanguard Ambassador we are able to offer you a unique discount code which will get you 20% off everything in the Vanguard US store. This makes the recommended Vanguard tripods a fantastic bargain! Just use code “FindingTheUniverse” on checkout from the Vanguard US store.
How to Decide Whether or Not to Take a Tripod on a Trip
Regardless of how lightweight the travel tripod you choose is, it’s still an item that you have to take with you. We take our travel tripod almost everywhere we go because our work requires us to get high quality photos, but we appreciate not everyone will want to take it on every trip.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself and consider when deciding if you want to bring along your travel tripod:
What type of trip are you taking?
The method of travel and length of your trip can really make a difference. If you are doing a self-drive road trip for example, we think that bringing along a tripod makes perfect sense as you’re not restricted by a weight limit, and it can just live in the trunk of the car when not in use. On the other hand, if you are flying carry-on only with an airline that has a restrictive carry-on weight policy to do a 2 month backpacking trip, you might want to leave the tripod at home.
Where are you going?
Another factor to consider is the destination. If you’re visiting a destination where you are planning on spending the majority of your time in museums and attractions for example, you might not even be able to use your tripod. Many monuments, museums, and churches don’t allow you to use a tripod, so it would probably not be worth the hassle of carrying it around. However, if you are visiting a destination with nice landscapes or iconic landmarks, you’ll like have a lot more opportunities to use your tripod and it will help you get better photos of the destinations.
Do you see yourself taking the tripod out with you each day?
A final question you might ask yourself is whether you can actually see yourself carrying the tripod with you during the day when you are out traveling. If you are doing a road trip, it can be easy to pull it out of the car as needed. But if you are planning on several days of walking around Paris sightseeing, do you think you’ll carrying it around with you all day? Be honest with yourself!
Practical Tips for Traveling with a Tripod
A tripod is a relatively easy accessory to travel with once you get used to it. Here, we’ve put together some of our top tips to help you travel with, protect, and get the most out of your travel tripod.
- In our experience, a tripod can be taken as a carry-on item on most flights. The United States TSA guidelines state that a tripod can be taken in both carry-on and checked luggage although it of course has to meet the size and weight requirements for the specific airline. However, an airport security inspector may determine that the tripod has to be checked (usually because the inspector considers that it could be used as a weapon) and we’ve had this happen in France before. Always good to check with your airline before flying and have a back-up plan in mind if you are asked to check it once at the airport.
- If you have to decide between checking a tripod or your primary camera equipment due to weight considerations, we’d advise always checking the tripod as it is less likely to get damaged or be targeted for theft than a camera or lenses.
- If you have insurance on your photography equipment, make sure to expand it to include your tripod before your next trip
- For day-to-day use, we’d suggest that you only take the tripod out with you on the days that you are definitely going to be using it, to save yourself from having to carry it all day for no reason. So it is good to plan ahead. Then you’ll know to take your tripod along if you know that you are going to be somewhere where you want a nice photo of yourself or there is an opportunity for astrophotography.
- Many museums, monuments, government buildings, religious buildings, and historical properties prohibit the use of a tripod. Sometimes you can still visit with it in hand or in your backpack, but in most circumstances you will likely be asked to check the tripod or store it in a locker upon entrance. At some locations with high security where there is no storage (e.g, Saint-Chapelle in Paris), you may not be allowed inside if you have a tripod on you or the tripod could be confiscated. So do check ahead before setting out as there are some days you may need to leave the tripod behind or have a fellow traveler hold onto it for you.
- We highly recommend investing in a specialized camera bag to carry your camera equipment and tripod. These are available in a wide range of styles and prices, but the one thing they have in common is that they offer far greater protection for your gear than a normal bag or backpack. Many are specifically designed to accommodate a tripod. We have used and recommend the Vanguard VEO line of bags, as well as the Vanguard Alta Sky line. Find the type of bag that works best for your camera gear, style, and needs.
- Caring for a travel tripod is fairly straightforward. If you use it in dusty or salty conditions, say on a beach, then it’s always worth rinsing it off and drying it properly using fresh water. You may also want to unscrew the joints to remove collected sand and grit. Otherwise, there are no special care considerations you should need to worry about.
- Consider taking along and using a tripod collar for longer lenses. If you have a long, heavy telephoto lens, then you might want to use a tripod collar on the lens. This allows you to mount the lens to the tripod, rather than using the mount point on the camera, which will balance the camera better on the tripod. These are only really necessary on heavy DSLR telephoto lenses though.
- Finally, we also recommend investing in your photography skills, as well as your tripod! Learning how to use your tripod and your camera gear will help you to take much better photos. If you’re interested in improving your overall photography, check out Laurence’s online photography course. Aimed at photographers of any level, and with one-on-one feedback and coaching from Laurence throughout, this course is guaranteed to get you taking better pictures – with and without a tripod!
And that sums up our advice on travel tripods! Do you have any question about traveling with a tripod? Do you already travel with a tripod? Let us know your thoughts and questions in the comments below!
**Disclosure: As noted above, Laurence has been a long-time ambassador for Vanguard which is one of the tripod companies we recommend. However, we sincerely believe these are great products and this article contains only our own honest thoughts and opinions. You can read more in our Ethics Code. **