Choosing the best tripod (opens in new tab) for one of the best spotting scopes (opens in new tab) takes work. It can be tempting to go for something lightweight and/or affordable, but before you go for mobility above all else think about stability. It may seem like a necessary evil for using a spotting scope, but only a good tripod can help your observations stand up to wind when out birding, terrestrial viewing or studying the night sky.
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If you need more information before you decide, check out our how to buy the right tripod explainer, but here are the basics.
The rock-solid support of a tripod is crucial when using a spotting scope, but there are various designs on the market. The best choice is a full-sized tripod that reaches head height, with other options including a more compact travel tripod (opens in new tab) and a super-compact tabletop tripod.
Materials and engineering also vary. The priciest material is carbon fiber, which adds incredible strength to a lightweight design. Despite that, most spotting scope owners will go for aluminum, which is both much more affordable and light enough for serious mobility. Think about what height you want your spotting scope to be at; they’re much easier to use at head height -– or thereabouts – though the best travel tripods usually achieve that by using a retractable center column, which can introduce some instability. Also, look for rubber feet and spikes for coping with different surfaces (you’ll typically need physically swap-out one for the other).
Some tripods are sold as legs only while others are sold as a kit with a tripod head included. The best spotting scopes tend to have a pan and tilt head, which will help you lock the pan axis or the tilt axis and move the other independently. They make it easy to make small adjustments to get a subject perfectly into the spotting scope’s field of view. Ditto a slower, but smoother fluid head, which is aimed at video creators. Pistol grip tripod heads are even easier to use. Some users will be happy with ball-head, but while they do make it quicker to get a spotting scope roughly lined up with a subject they can be tricky to use to get your subject precisely in the field of view of a spotting scope.
In this guide, we've included tripods from all the major manufacturers, including Manfrotto, Benro, ProMediaGear, and others. The price you’ll pay will depend on the brand and the quality of the engineering. Tripod kits that comprise a set of legs and a head can range in price from around $15/£10 to about $1,500/£1,250 for a top-of-the-range model. That’s a huge range and each extreme is worth avoiding. Generally speaking the best spotting scope tripods start at about $150/£150, though the use of carbon fiber will bump up the price alarmingly.
We've picked out the tripods we think are the best buys you can make right now for your spotting scope, from budget models to premium choices.
The best spotting scope tripod in 2022
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A flagship member of Manfrotto’s lightweight ‘Befree’ line-up, this lightweight travel tripod pairs very well with a spotting scope. It’s bundled with Manfrotto’s compact Befree 3-way Live Head, a 360º fluid video head that uses a hydraulic damping system primarily to help videographers make the kind of smooth, steady movements that mechanical pan/tilt heads just aren’t built for. It works well for spotting scopes. It ships with a 200PL-PRO quick-release plate (which is compatible with Manfrotto RC2 and Arca-Swiss type head attachments) and boasts a lever leg-locking system and a strong center column that extends the Manfrotto Befree 3-Way Live Advanced’s height fly 19cm/7.4”.
The Benro GoPlus Travel FGP18A doesn’t come with a head, which may be a plus because most bundled heads with tripods tend to be ball-heads, which not all spotting scope users like. With your head of choice in situ, the Benro GoPlus Travel FGP18A is as versatile as they come, with bubble levels for easy leveling, interchangeable rubber feet, and spikes – as well as a padded soft case. Two rather unusual features on a travel-friendly tripod are its pivoting center column (which gives locking angles through 180º) and the chance to use one leg as a monopod; neither is much use with spotting scopes, but if you’re after one tripod to rule them all then it might work well for other kinds of photography. However, it’s the Benro GoPlus Travel FGP18A’s ability to hold steady up to 10kg/22lbs that makes it ideal for larger spotting scopes.
An entry-level aluminum tripod with a built-in fluid pan and tilt head that moves through 360º, the Svbony SA402 is an ideal partner for a spotting scope. Its all-in-one design will only suit those that plan to pair it with a spotting scope near-permanently, though elsewhere it’s got a lot going for it for outdoor use. Weighing a mere 2.2kg/4.85lbs, it comes with a nice shoulder bag complete with an adjustable shoulder strap. It gets to 164cm/64.5” thanks to an extendable center column and felt sturdy enough with a spotting scope mounted on top with a three-pronged spreader between the first and second stage adding extra stabilization. In our test we noticed some slight droop on the tilt axis, but nothing serious.
One of the best carbon fiber tripods (opens in new tab), the ProMediaGear TR344L will be overkill for a spotting scope, but if you want one tripod to rule them all then it’s definitely worth considering.
Enormous when fully extended, reaching a mighty 180cm/70.7”, it supports 27kg/60lbs. Super quick and super-smooth to set up, this super-light tripod has twist locks on its four-section legs that can be operated using just one hand. There’s a hook underneath the mount that that cab used to hang a spotting scope bag while in the box are some spikes for the feet to replace the default rubber feet. The ultimate in grab-and-go, the ProMediaGear TR344L comes without a head, but ProMediaGear also sells its BH1 ball head for precise control.
If you’re schlepping a big spotting scope around then you’re not going to want to also be carrying a heavy tripod. But you’ll sure need one that can reliably support your scope, particularly at high magnifications. Cue the 3 Legged Thing Jay with AirHed Cine, a pricey and impressive carbon fiber tripod that weighs an astonishingly low 1.41kg/3.1lbs yet can support a whopping 14kg/30.8lbs. That’s going to be overkill for most spotting scopes, but if you’re a videographer after a tripod capable of holding a lot of gear in various scenarios then the 3 Legged Thing Jay with AirHed Cine makes a good all-round choice. There’s no center column here – something that almost always introduces stability – and its absence means that its maximum height is only 111.2cm/43.8”. That may be a deal-breaker for some, but if you’re most interested in stability then the 3 Legged Thing Legends Jay’s leveling base will also appeal. However, pride of place goes to the bundled AirHed Cine, a compact and controllable fixed drag head that comes with a screw-on handle for precision movements.
The SmallRig AD-01 3751 tripod insult the strongest tripod around, but if you’re packing a relatively lightweight spotting scope then its affordability, ease of use, and precision movements makes it a good choice. It may weigh just 2.86g/6.3lbs and come with a shoulder bag, but it’s got a lot of girth; this is not the easiest tripod to travel with. Nor is it manufactured with the finest quality materials; it looks a little flimsy. However, its three-section double-shaft leg design and three-pronged spreader between the first and second stages add some extra stabilization. Crucially it comes with a fluid two-way ball head (complete with leveling bowl base) and a detachable pan handle that makes precision movements possible. Compatible with DJI RS 2 and Manfrotto quick-release plates, there’s even a hidden magnetic hex key to make it easy to attach to the bottom of a sitting scope while out in the field.
Given the outdoorsy nature of spotting scopes, it’s tempting to use a travel tripod, but their reliance on an extendable center column so often makes them unstable. Not so the Manfrotto Befree Advanced Twist, whose center column adds an extra 23cm/9” while retaining stability. That’s largely thanks to a twisting lock at its base – hence the name – though we also loved its M-lock four-section legs. The included ball head is excellent, though it’s one area that may need upgrading if you’re after more precision.
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