The best tripods for travel in 2017

If you're serious about photography you need a tripod, but if you also want to do a bit of travelling, you need one that's designed for the job.

So travel tripods have a tough job. They need to be small enough to pack, light enough to tote around all day but rigid enough to capture shots of a lifetime, shake-free. To shrink the stowage size, they feature legs that swing upwards, so that the feet encompass the head, slashing about 20cm off the carrying length. Some are only about the size of a drinks bottle when folded down, and all of the tripods on test weigh less than 2kg, complete with a ball head.

Despite their downsized designs, however, most current travel tripods are able to reach respectable maximum operating heights of more than 1.5m, and have hefty load capacities of between 4kg and 15kg. This makes them ideal for anything from a lightweight compact camera to a full-blown DSLR with an attached telephoto lens. A couple of the tripods on test even feature a pivoting centre column, more usually reserved for full-sized tripods.

We've listed these tripods in alphabetical order, so let’s take a closer look to see what each one offers…

Spoiler alert

Getting the right balance between weight, cost and rigidity is tricky, but it’s the Benro GoPlus that does it best. The killer feature is its pivot facility, enabling the centre column to be locked at many incremental angles through a complete 180-degree arc. Even without taking the pivot facility into consideration, the Benro is superbly engineered from aluminium  and magnesium alloy, and it combines a small and lightweight build with rock-solid stability in operation, even at its lofty maximum operating height.

Read on to find out more...

1. Benro GoPlus Travel FGP18A + B0

Robust, versatile and portable, just what you want

Material: Aluminium | Extended height: 165cm | Folded height: 46cm | Weight: 1.95kg | Feet: Pads + spikes | Leg sections: 4 | Max load (legs, head): 10kg, 8kg

Good folded length
Hefty maximum load
Pivoting centre column
In-built monopod

Ticking just about every conceivable box on our wish list, the Benro has a modest folded length and generous operating height, coupled with a hefty maximum load capacity. It’s one of only two tripods in the group to feature a pivoting centre column, the implementation of which is better than in the Kenro tripod, as it enables a range of locking angles in small increments, through a complete 180-degree arc. Bubble levels are fitted to the tripod platform and head, for easy levelling, and interchangeable rubber feet and spikes are supplied, along with a padded soft case. One leg can be unscrewed to use as a standalone monopod.

2. Kenro Karoo Ultimate Travel

Matches the Benro's features but not its finesse

Material: Carbon fibre | Extended height: 168cm | Folded height: 48cm | Weight: 1.95kg | Feet: Retractable spikes | Leg sections: 4 | Max load (legs, head): 10kg, 8kg

Good weight and load capacity
Pivoting centre column
Rubber feet and spikes
Clunkier pivot than the Benro

The Kenro has an identical weight to the Benro outfit, and the same maximum load capacities. A further similarity to the Benro is that you can pivot the Kenro’s centre column for use as a horizontal boom. However, the Kenro’s pivot mechanism is more clunky in its design, and it doesn’t enable you to lock the column at alternative angles apart from vertical or horizontal. Again, the Kenro features an Arca-Swiss compatible quick-release plate in the head, along with independent locking, panning and adjustable friction knobs. The head also features two spirit levels, but there are no levelling aids in the legs. The rubber feet have a twist action with integral retracting spikes.

3. Nest Traveller NT-6294CK

Material: Carbon fibre | Extended height: 166cm | Folded height: 45cm | Weight: 1.85kg | Feet: Pads | Leg sections: 4 | Max load (legs, head): 20kg, 15kg

Carbon construction
Chunky and strong
Good height and folded size
Fiddly quick release plate

The carbon edition of this Nest tripod has the biggest maximum load rating of any legs on test, at 20kg, and the ball head isn’t far behind at 15kg. It’s chunky, strong and remarkably inexpensive for such a well-made carbon kit. The maximum operating height is a respectable 166cm, and the folded carrying length is pretty small at just 45cm. Setting up and folding the tripod are quick and easy: the moving parts and clamps operate with smooth efficiency. The only fiddly facet is that the Arca-Swiss type quick-release plate secures via a lever, which has an adjustable tensioning screw.

4. Novo Explora T10

Tough, sturdy and practical and you get a carry case too

Material: Carbon fibre | Extended height: 174cm | Folded height: 48cm | Weight: 1.8kg | Feet: Pads + spikes | Leg sections: 4 | Max load (legs, head): 15kg, 15kg

Tallest operating height here
Good load rating
In-built removable monopod
No lower-cost aluminium model

The Novo is only manufactured in carbon, so there’s no cut-price aluminium edition. The Explora T10 has the tallest maximum operating height of any tripod in the group, at 174cm. The load rating is beefy too, at 15kg for both the legs and ball head. Attractions include four sections for each leg, with twist-action clamps; three lockable leg angles; and one removeable leg that can be used as a monopod. The tripod is supplied with interchangeable rubber feet and metal spikes, and a smart padded soft case. All movements are smooth, and clamping actions are firm. The additional locking leg angle is a bonus.

5. Vanguard VEO 235AB

Some handy features but let down by its maximum height

Material: Aluminium | Extended height: 147cm | Folded height: 38cm | Weight: 1.5kg | Feet: Retractable spikes | Leg sections: 5 | Max load (legs, head): 6kg, 9kg

Fast setup thanks to rotating column
Low-angle adaptor included
Arca swiss quick release plate
147cm maximum height

The Vanguard weighs in at 1.5kg and measures just 38cm long when folded. However, despite having five sections in each leg, rather than the usual four, it only reaches 147cm at full extension. What really makes the Vanguard stand out is that it’s designed differently to all the other tripods in the group. Instead of the legs swinging up around the centre column when folded, the centre column pivots down. It’s just a shame this mechanism couldn’t be adapted to offer a horizontal boom mode. Plus points include retractable spikes within the rubber feet pads, and a ball head with a separate panning lock.

6. Manfrotto Befree

It's small and light, but that's about all

Material: Aluminium | Extended height: 144cm | Folded height: 41cm | Weight: 1.5kg | Feet: Pads | Leg sections: 4 | Max load (legs, head): 4kg, 4kg

Small size and weight
Quick and easy to set up
Basic head with no separate panning
Only two leg angles

Unlike most competitors, the Manfrotto uses clip rather than twist locks, and with a folded length of 41cm and a weight of 1.5kg, is one of the smaller and lighter tripods here. The Manfrotto head is basic, with a single adjustment knob and no panning lock/release or variable friction damper. There are no spirit or bubble levels, no retractable spikes in the feet, and only two lockable leg angles to choose from. An upside of the relatively basic design is that the Manfrotto is quick and easy to set up, and to fold down again after use. Even so, the clip-style clamps are a bit more time-consuming than the twist clamps used in most competing travel tripods.

7. MeFoto RoadTrip Air

Tiny when folded and perfect for smartphone users

Material: Aluminium | Extended height: 156cm | Folded height: 28cm | Weight: 1.1kg | Feet: Pads | Leg sections: 5 | Max load (legs, head): 6kg, 6kg

Smallest and lightest tripod on test
Smartphone clamp and remote included
Built-in selfie stick
Five section legs make setup slower

The MeFoto Air is the lightest tripod here, at just over 1kg, and folds down the smallest, to a length of just 28cm. Nevertheless, it stretches to a decent maximum operating height of 156cm, thanks to having five sections in each leg, plus an extending centre column. A selfie stick can be created by combining the extending centre section with the supplied smartphone holder. The kit also comes with a Bluetooth remote control you can pair to your smartphone. For using ‘proper’ cameras, the small ball head features an independent panning lock/release and an Arca-Swiss type quick-release plate. Despite its light construction, the MeFoto doesn’t feel flimsy and is reasonably resistant to flexing.

8. Velbon Ultrek UT-53D

Small and neat but lacks the stability of the rest

Material: Aluminium | Extended height: 158cm | Folded height: 30cm | Weight: 1.4kg | Feet: Pads | Leg sections: 6 | Max load (legs, head): 5kg, 3kg

Small when packed
Six-section legs offer good height
Stability can't match heavier rivals
Basic head with no separate panning

The Velbon Ultrek is only a couple of centimetres longer than the tiny MeFoto when folded, yet reaches a respectable maximum height of 158cm. This is thanks, in part, to having no fewer than six leg sections. There are no external clip or twist clamps: instead, an internal mechanism releases and locks each section with progressive twisting of the foot. There’s also a separate twist-action lock for the uppermost section of each leg. Apart from having three spirit levels built in, the head is quite basic, with no panning lock or adjustable friction damper available. Stability is good rather than great, and no match for heavier tripods.