Tripod makers have it rough. The bigger and heavier you make a tripod, the more stable it’ll be—and stability is the whole point. But if you want photographers to actually take your tripod with them on location, you have to make it lightweight and compact enough to carry around. This contradiction is most pronounced when you’re trying to find the best travel tripod. These tripods have to be even smaller, lighter, and more versatile than your standard set of sticks and ball-head. They have to be small enough that you can easily strap one to the side of a backpack, rugged enough to withstand being banged around in luggage, fast enough to be set up in seconds, versatile enough to let you shoot from multiple angles, and sturdy enough to keep a full-frame camera and lens stable on a busy street or windy cliff face.
Fortunately, there are plenty of great options for every skill level and budget. You just have to know what to look for.
The main difference between a regular tripod and a travel tripod is size and weight. While regular tripods—especially high-end video tripods—are often large and heavy in order to offer as much stability and weight capacity as possible, travel tripods have to balance these core features with the need for portability. The best travel tripod is the one that offers the most rigid and stable construction in a package that folds up small and weighs no more than a large DSLR.
To do this, lightweight tripod makers rely heavily on materials like aluminum (good) and carbon fiber (better), creative designs with thinner legs that fold 180° over the ball head, telescoping legs with as many as 5 sections, and smart extras like sandbag hooks for adding weight while you shoot, reversible center columns, and built-in bubble levels.
The goal is to create a tripod that delivers the best of all worlds: something compact enough that it will fit comfortably in a carry-on bag, light enough that it won’t bog you down on a long hike, and yet stable enough that it’s actually worth bringing along. Here are the key features you should consider when shopping for the best travel tripod, and a few of our top picks.
Size and Weight of a Travel Tripod
As we’ve already mentioned several times at this point, the first and most important features to consider when shopping for a travel tripod are size and weight. The best travel tripod overall will be lightweight, with a respectable weight capacity, an ingenious design that allows it to fold up really small, and a carbon fiber construction for the best possible strength-to-weight ratio.
In terms of raw numbers: a compact travel tripod should weigh no more than 4lbs, it should be able to hold at least 15lbs, and it should fold up to less than 16-inches long for easy packing. Once these boxes are checked, everything else is a bonus. Smaller folded diameter, vari-angle legs, reversible center column, a well-designed ball-head, and easy-to-deploy legs are the secondary features that separate the “good” travel tripods from the “great” ones.
Best travel tripod overall: Peak Design Travel Tripod
Peak Design leveraged smart design to create a smaller, more versatile travel tripod than the competition. Peak Design
The Peak Design Travel Tripod boasts a fresh design that reimagines just how small a travel tripod can be. Thanks to its one-of-a-kind leg design, this camera stand folds down to the diameter of a water bottle, and the unique ball-head mechanism lets you adjust your camera angle with a single hand. Available in carbon fiber or aluminum, you should pick the carbon fiber version if you want to save weight, and the aluminum version if you want to save money.
Skill Level and Budget
Another important consideration is your own skill and interest level. While it’s always tempting to purchase the best-of-the-best camera gear right away, there’s no need for a beginner travel photographer to drop $500+ on a high-end carbon fiber tripod with all the bells and whistles—no matter what the ads try to tell (or sell) you.
If you’re just starting out, look for important core features (lightweight construction, compact foldable design, reasonable weight capacity, and solid build quality) in an affordable aluminum model that will offer you everything you need and won’t cost you a bundle. If you can afford to spend a little more than the budget options, but don’t want to get carried away with Gear Acquisition Syndrome (also known as G.A.S.), a great entry-level tripod is the way to go.
Best entry-level travel tripod: MeFoto Backpacker S
The MeFOTO BackPacker S is one of the smallest and lightest travel tripods on the market, and a great entry-level option for the budget conscious photographer. MeFOTO
MeFOTO’s BackPacker, RoadTripper, and GlobeTrotter tripods are travel-friendly favorites that regularly make roundups like this. The Backpacker is the smallest and lightest of the three, with the aluminum version of the Backpacker S weighing in at just 2.5lbs, folding down to 13.2 inches, and boasting a respectable weight capacity of 12.2lbs. It’s not the most capable on the list, but it’s a great entry-level travel tripod for beginners.
Aluminum vs. Carbon Fiber Tripod
One of the most important decisions you’ll need to make when looking for the best travel tripod is whether to go with aluminum or carbon fiber.
A carbon fiber tripod is the premium choice. Weight for weight it’s both stronger and more rigid than aluminum, which translates into tripods that are both lighter and sturdier. As a result, it’s also a lot more expensive. Aluminum may be heavier and a little more flexible, but it’s a lot cheaper and plenty of photographers rely on it day-in and day-out. Plus, the added weight helps keep your shots stable when you don’t have any way to weigh the tripod down.
Fortunately, many of the most popular travel tripods from the most recognizable brands are available in both aluminum and carbon fiber variants. You get to decide what’s more important: a lighter tripod, or a heavier wallet?
Best travel tripod made of aluminum: Manfrotto Befree Advanced
Lightweight and Stylish
The aluminum Manfrotto Befree Advanced delivers a combination of size, weight, and price point that’s hard to beat. Manfrotto
Manfrotto’s Befree tripods are a popular choice among travel photographers, and it’s easy to see why. The aluminum version weighs in at just 3.6lbs, with a folded length of 15.7 inches and a weight capacity of 17.6lbs, giving it a great balance of price to performance for an aluminum travel tripod. But it’s not just about size and weight. The Befree Advance’s twist-style M-lock leg locks make setting up the tripod a breeze, the included ball head is surprisingly solid, and the leg angle selector offers more options than some competitors at and above this price point.
Best travel tripod made of carbon fiber: Gitzo Traveler Series 1
The Gitzo Traveler Series 1 delivers the uncompromising quality that professionals demand… at a price to match. Gitzo
The Gitzo Traveler Series 1 is the go-to professional tripod for photographers who demand uncompromising build quality. At 3.3lbs and a folded length of 16.73 inches, it’s not the smallest or lightest carbon fiber travel tripod you can buy. But it offers a weight capacity of 22lbs, a max height of 55.5 inches, and a high-quality ball head to match its high-quality sticks.
Weight Capacity of a Travel Tripod
Most travel tripods can handle a maximum load of about 22lbs, with many of the lightest options cutting that number down even further in order to save weight. Fortunately, that’s plenty for most mirrorless cameras or DSLRs with a regular lens attached. However, if you plan to tote around a huge DSLR and lens combo, or maybe even shoot medium format, you’ll want to find a tripod that can handle a lot more weight without flinching.
Keep in mind that there will be a trade-off here, usually in terms of tripod weight. The higher the weight capacity, the thicker and sturdier the lens and ball head will need to be, and the heavier the tripod itself is likely to become. Only you can decide if that’s a worthwhile compromise.
Best heavy-duty travel tripod: 3 Legged Thing Leo 2.0
Versatile and Sturdy
The 3 Legged Thing Leo 2.0 is an extremely versatile carbon fiber tripod with a huge maximum weight capacity of 66lbs. 3 Legged Thing
With a maximum weight capacity of 66lbs, the 3 Legged Thing Leo 2.0 is about the sturdiest travel tripod you can find, and yet it still folds down to under 15-inches and tips the scales at just 4.1lbs. Plus, each leg is detachable, features a 3-position angle lock, and boasts twist locks for quick and easy setup. That makes this one of the most versatile, heavy-duty travel tripods money can buy.
What travel camera gear you can get for under $70
In the world of travel tripods, higher price usually translates into a lighter and smaller product that’s easier to pack. In addition to using cheaper materials, budget tripods usually cut one of two corners, making a travel tripod that is either a little heavier or a little bigger than the more expensive options.
However, if you can live with these trade-offs, and maybe give up a few nice-to-have features, you can find a good quality travel tripod for under $70.
Best cheap travel tripod: Magnus TR-13 Travel Tripod
Versatile and Cheap
The Magnus TR-13 Travel Tripod offers a lot more features than we would normally expect at this price tag. Magnus
The Magnus TR-13 is a surprisingly capable and feature-rich option given its rock-bottom price tag. It weighs just 2.9lbs, can hold up to 13.2lbs, extends to a max height of 62.5 inches, and even features vari-angle legs and a reversible center column. The one downside is the folded length, which comes in at a rather bulky 18.2 inches that may be too large for some bags.
Travel Tripod FAQ:
Does it matter what tripod you use?
Absolutely it does! Extremely cheap tripods don’t deliver the same stability or features that you get from higher-quality options like the ones listed above.
At the very least, a good-quality travel tripod will ensure you can keep your ISO down and capture longer exposures without camera shake, even in windy or otherwise challenging conditions. But beyond this, most high-quality tripods offer multiple leg angles, reversible columns, bubble levels, a huge range of height settings, and much much more. Features like this open up a world of photographic possibilities.
What is the strongest yet lightest tripod material?
Carbon fiber is the strongest and lightest material used in tripods. Weight for weight, carbon fiber is anywhere from 2x to 5x more rigid, and up to 10x stronger depending on the type and orientation of the fiber used. This is obviously a huge plus for photographers who want to travel light without sacrificing tensile strength, but remember: the lighter the tripod, the less stable it will be. So keep an eye out for a carbon fiber travel tripod with weight hooks so that you can hang your bag on your tripod while you shoot and add back any lost stability.
How much does a good tripod cost?
Materials, size, weight, and weight capacity are all going to factor into the final price of a good travel tripod, which makes an “average” hard to pin down. Generally speaking, aluminum travel tripods will be cheaper, starting around $100 for a good-quality tripod, although you can find them for less. Carbon fiber models will be more expensive, starting around $150, with most options coming in above the $200 mark. If you want a high-quality, lightweight, carbon fiber tripod that folds up small and features great weight capacity at the same time, expect to spend $200 or more.
Get out there and start taking photos on the best travel tripod
The list above isn’t meant to be a comprehensive overview of all the best travel tripods on the market. With so many great brands like Gitzo, Benro, Manfrotto, 3 Legged Thing, MeFOTO, and Peak Design putting out solid products, there’s no shortage of great options. Our goal was to point out a few key features you should be looking out for, and call out some of the best travel tripods on the market right now.
Just remember: the best travel tripod is lightweight, compact, and sturdy. If you can find an ideal combination of these three features, at a price point that fits within your budget, then you’re well on your way to buying the right travel tripod for you.