You will probably see a lot of posts about the “best travel tripod” if you were like me and you were struggling to make a decision as to which to choose. Some articles were more informative than others. What I gleaned from what I read was that what was the “best travel tripod” for one photographer, was not the “best” for another. Here is my choice for the best travel tripod, the Gitzo GT0532 Mountaineer Tripod . It met my needs for support and stability, while at the same time remaining light enough to pack for all our adventures.
1. Carbon Fiber
I knew I wanted a carbon fiber tripod. Why? Well, I’m not getting any younger, and I already carry a hefty load of photography equipment with me wherever I go. I wanted something light, and to get the best strength to weight ratio, I needed carbon fiber. There are a lot more choices these days than there used to be, from Really Right Stuff to Gitzo to Three Legged Thing. I am a huge fan of Really Right Stuff products. If money is no concern, I would head their way. Everything I have purchased from them is beautifully machined and works like a dream. But they are pricey, and I wasn’t willing to spend $1000 on a tripod.
2. Easy to Open Locks
Next, I knew I wanted locks that were easy to open and close. I already owned a Gitzo monopod and loved the locking system. The twist locks were so easy to open and close quickly, and I didn’t struggle with legs sliding or locks sticking when trying to set up.
Weight was also a consideration. The tripod had to be able to support the maximum weight of gear I intended to use. I went back to the specs for all my equipment and added up the weight, including my heaviest camera and my heaviest lens. The heaviest lens I own is the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 coming in at 950g (2.1 pounds), and my primary camera body was the Canon 5D Mark II at 810g (1.8 pounds). My longest lens was the Canon 200mm f/2.8 at 765g (1.7 pounds). So I was looking at a maximum weight of around 4 pounds. Since purchase of the tripod, my heaviest camera body is now the Canon 1v at 945g (2.1 pounds). It’s always a good idea to leave some wiggle room when you think about weight. You never know if you’ll get a great deal on a new piece of gear!
Finally, cost was a consideration. I didn’t want to go cheap (given that my last adventure in tripod land cost me $445 in repairs to my lens), but I didn’t want to spend a fortune. I wanted to stay under $500. I am not shooting as a primary occupation, but I don’t like to skimp on gear.
My Choice: Gitzo Mountaineer GT 0532
I chose the Gitzo GT0532 Mountaineer Tripod as it met each of my requirements. First, it’s carbon fiber, weighing in at 1.07kg (2.35 pounds). It’s sturdy enough for my anticipated use, yet light enough to tote around on our travels. It folds down to 53cm (20.9 inches). It’s not small enough to fit inside my Think Tank Airport AirStream, but none of the tripods which met my other needs would fit inside the carrier. Its maximum height (with the center column up) is 132cm (52.0 inches). I am 5′ 5″ tall, so that was reasonable for me. If you are a tall person, you should consider something with a higher maximum height. The maximum height with the center column down, for maximum stability, is 108cm (42.5 inches).
Second, the locks were easy to open and close. With the latest reincarnation of the Gitzo tripods, they improved the locks, calling them the “G lock Ultra.” I noticed that they were a bit smoother, but that difference was not terribly noticeable. The new design is said to minimize the dust and grit entering the locks. Time will tell on that.
Third, the redesigned Gitzo tripods had Gitzo’s “Carbon eXact” tubing, stiffer than its predecessor, the Carbon 6X tubes. Gitzo tells us that the new tubing is stiffer, and the numbers show that the new “0” series Gitzo models support the weight that the former “1” series supported. The Gitzo GT 0532 supports 8kg (17.6 pounds).
Finally, cost. The GT 0532 at the time of this writing comes in at $585 on Amazon and B & H Photo. When I purchased it in October of last year, there was a $150 rebate on tripods over $450. Then, the cost was $499.90, so after the rebate of $150, the net cost to me was roughly $350. I would watch for rebates. I’ve been looking at tripods for years, and they appear to run them in either the spring and/or the fall of each year.
All of these reasons are why I found the Gitzo Mountaineer GT 0532 to be the best travel tripod for me.
You can also set the tripod at ground level, but I never use that feature and it was not a factor for me.
Why didn’t I pick the Traveler series from Gitzo? The Traveler series does fold down smaller, because the legs fold upward, back against the ballhead, but for that reason, there will be a tradeoff on stability. If the Traveler folded down small enough to fit my Airport Airstream, I might have considered it, but none of them did. Also, none of the Traveler tripods had the new developments from Gitzo like the Carbon eXact tubing, so there really was no benefit from going that route.
This tripod won’t meet everyone’s needs. The best recommendation I can make is to analyze how you use a tripod, the amount of gear you need to support, the weight you can tolerate carrying, the size of your camera bag or suitcase, and what you are willing to spend. Given the cost of repairing our very expensive gear, although not glamorous, spending a bit more on a tripod will be worth your investment in the long run.
I stitched some neoprene leg covers for my tripod. Check it out here.
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