Ever get back from a photo trip or amazing location and find some of your best shots ruined with camera shake?
But trying to carry a “good” heavy tripod sucks, so you go without.
Don’t make the same mistakes I have and ruin those incredible moments.
Find the right tripod for your hiking and landscape photography so you can end camera shake, save pack weight, and bring home more of those once in a lifetime dream shots.
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What The Pros Use
So you’re unsure about the right tripod and head for your hiking and photography?
In the end there is no right or wrong answer, you need to decide what features you need and what you’re willing to sacrifice to get there.
Here are some wise words from the best landscape and backpacking photographers about their preferred tripods and why they chose what they have.
Nick Page is a professional, award winning landscape photographer with a passion for travel and education.
I use Really Right stuff Tripods. They are spendy but worth every penny. I have two, but the smaller Really Right Stuff TVC 24 tripod legs with my RRS BH40 ball head is much lighter and serves as my hiking and travel tripod.
With tripods I have found that you either buy nice, or you buy twice. After getting burned with 600 dollar investments, I finally had enough and picked up a Really Right Stuff, and have been a huge fan ever since.
Erin Babnik is an internationally recognized landscape and wilderness photographer, educator, writer, and speaker harnessing a strong sense of adventure and deeply emotive images.
Erin has spent years on assignment photographing almost every ecosystem imaginable with a wealth of knowledge to share.
I do a lot of hiking and spend a lot of time in harsh desert and mountain environments. After many years of replacing tripods that failed in the field, I finally invested in items that have been going strong for at least five years now.
My tripod head is the Kirk BH-1 ball head, and I have it paired with the Really Right Stuff TVC-23 tripod legs and Series 2 Quick Column. All of my plates and L-Brackets are also from Kirk Enterprise Solutions.
These strike the right balance between weight and durability. I keep it all secured to my backpack inside of a tripod bag from F-Stop gear, which allows me to scramble over and through nearly anything without worries about losing or damaging my tripod.
Gavin Hardcastle is the founder of the popular blog and YouTube channel, Fototripper, and is an award winning professional landscape photographer.
He also runs a series of online courses, international landscape photography workshops, and has a passion for education and astrophotography.
I have a different philosophy to other landscape photography professionals when it comes to tripods. I never use high end tripods because I routinely destroy them during stupid and risky adventures.
I keep my tripods under $700 because that seems to be the price point for decent quality that’s ultimately replaceable within a year or two.
Right now I’m rocking the CTC Centenial Tripod and the Highline Ball Head which retails for less than $400 USD. I also use a Three Legged Thing ‘Brian’ Tripod for alpine hikes that require super light weight.
Brett Wood is a highly acclaimed landscape and seascape photographer well known for his work throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Brett has a true love and passion for the natural world and teaches aspiring photographers how to capture it from their own perspective.
My tripod of choice is the Sirui R3213 Pro Series tripod legs paired with the Sirui K40X ball head.
I’ve found it to be a really strong, stable and robust system with a very high build quality that easily stands up to the extreme elements in some of the remote and rugged environments throughout Australia and NZ.
Adam Williams is a respected Australian landscape photographer with a well deserved collection of AIPP awards and international recognition for his incredibly surreal landscape photographs.
Adam is also a highly skilled educator and certified Photoshop expert who continues to teach thousands of landscape photographers his unique approach to post processing with his Easy Way Photography courses.
I’ve really tried to find a balance between something really sturdy but not too heavy that it becomes a problem.
I’m currently shooting with the Sirui R-4213X Pro tripod legs which are super strong, and I’ve matched that with my Manfrotto 468MG ball head to give me everything I need.
Best Hiking Tripods
Whether you’re out in nature for a day trip, multi day hike or doing a long distance thru hike, your tripod choice depends on your photography style and pack weight.
So let’s take a look at some of the best light weight hiking tripods for landscape photographers so you can come home with more exceptional photographs instead of killing your back.
1. Really Right Stuff TVC-24 Mk2 Tripod Legs
Best in class, light weight tripod for hiking, travel and landscape photography with no compromises.
- Load Capacity: 40 lb / 18 kg
- Max Height: 49.4″ / 125 cm
- Min Height: 3.4″ / 8.6 cm
- Folded Size: 19.1″ / 48.6 cm
- Weight: 3.3 lb / 1.5 kg
- Material: Carbon Fiber
- Locks: Twist Locks
- Feet: Rubber
- Price: $1,000 USD
This tripod is extremely light, feature packed and boasts a range of add on accessories from Really Right Stuff which make it one of the best in class hiking and travel tripods on the market.
It has a great height range and load capacity rating in a very light combo. It’s also one of the smallest tripods packed down to fit into or onto your hiking pack.
It includes a bubble level in the base and can be customized with an additional column, leveling and feet accessories as extras.
The only con is that this tripod does not come with spiked feet as standard and is a little more expensive.
2. Sirui W-2204 Tripod Legs
An all terrain, compact tripod for photographers that travels light and comfortably does it all.
- Load Capacity: 39.7 lb / 18 kg
- Max Height: 70.9″ / 180.1 cm
- Min Height: 6.1″ / 15.5 cm
- Folded Size: 20.5″ / 52.1 cm
- Weight: 3.7 lb / 1.7 kg
- Material: Carbon Fiber
- Locks: Twist Locks
- Feet: Spiked & Rubber
- Price: $400 USD
A very light hiking tripod which also folds down to be reasonably compact without sacrificing height when in use.
One leg can also convert to a monopod which may be used as a hiking pole and a built in level makes set up easier and faster.
The removable centre column can make it lighter, and the waterproof legs are ideal around fresh or salt water.
It won’t get extremely low to the ground and also suffers from a shorter maximum height if you remove the larger column to save weight.
3. Gitzo GIGT1555T Traveler Series Tripod Legs
The best ultra light landscape tripod for traveling or on the trail where you need to count every gram but still come home with incredible photos.
- Load Capacity: 22 lb / 10 kg
- Max Height: 54.3″ / 137.9 cm
- Min Height: 7.9″ / 20 cm
- Folded Size: 14″ / 35.6 cm
- Weight: 2.3 lb / 1 kg
- Material: Carbon Fiber
- Locks: Twist Locks
- Feet: Rubber
- Price: $700 USD
The lightest and most portable landscape photography tripod which still has a good min and max height range.
Ideal for carrying longer distances with fantastic weight and small folded down size so you can keep in a side pocket or inside your pack when hiking.
This tripod won’t support larger DSLRs or big lenses with its limited load capacity and does not have a built in level. Also only comes with rubber feet.
4. Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 Tripod Legs
Affordable, general purpose tripod with a nearly unmatched height range for very versatile compositions.
- Load Capacity: 19.8 lb / 9 kg
- Max Height: 66.9″ / 169.9 cm
- Min Height: 3.5″ / 8.9 cm
- Folded Size: 24″ / 61 cm
- Weight: 4.5 lb / 2 kg
- Material: Carbon Fiber
- Locks: Flip Locks
- Feet: Rubber
- Price: $350 USD
Affordable, general purpose landscape photography tripod with extremely low and very tall height range.
The unique 90° centre column feature also allows for some creative compositions and for macro photos and videos.
It is heavier than the other options we’ve listed legs but this can work in your favor for stability and it isn’t too much to ask for day hikes or shorter trips.
This tripod also only comes with rubber feet and does not have a built in level.
Best Tripod Heads
Tripod legs are only half the battle, now you need to pick a capable, lightweight and strong tripod head than can handle your camera and still fit in your hiking pack.
These are some of the most popular tripod heads picked by landscape photographers and backpackers alike.
1. Sirui K-20x Ball Head
This light and strong ball head has dual levels and a slim profile. The best of everything in one.
- Load Capacity: 55 lb / 24.9 kg
- Release Plate: Arca-Compatible
- Height: 3.9″ / 9.9 cm
- Weight: 0.9 lb / 0.4 kg
- Price: $120 USD
A fantastic and affordable ball head that manages to squeeze a surprising load bearing capacity into a relatively slimline and light package.
Two bubble levels make it easy to frame your scene in either portrait or landscape orientation and separate pan and tilt knobs. Degree markings along the pan axis also make panoramas a little easier.
One thing to note is the release plate on the Sirui head uses a screw knob for tightening so isn’t as fast or easy as a latch to take your camera on and off.
2. Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ball Head
A compact ball head for the space and weight conscious landscape photographer.
- Load Capacity: 18 lb / 8.2 kg
- Release Plate: Arca-Compatible
- Height: 3″ / 7.6 cm
- Weight: 1.1 lb / 0.5 kg
- Price: $420 USD
A pro level ball head designed as a portable, mid sized package. The shorter height and light weight make this ideal for regular travelers.
The clever lever for the quick release plate makes this one of the easiest Arca compatible systems to use and removes the bulky knob from under the camera.
Pan control with degree makings makes this ball head very versatile and easily accommodates landscapes with the included bubble level on top in plain sight.
All these features come with a higher price range, and the smaller size limits the total load capacity if you’ve got a bigger kit.
3. Manfrotto 405 3-Way Geared Pan & Tilt Head
Superior level of control for fine adjustments to get picture perfect compositions.
- Load Capacity: 16.5 lb / 7.5 kg
- Release Plate: Manfrotto RC4
- Height: 6.3″ / 16 cm
- Weight: 3.53 lb / 1.6 kg
- Price: $500 USD
The Manfrotto 405 geared head is ideal for very fine control in macro, landscape, astro and panorama photography and is more compact than other pan tilt heads.
Turning each snap-lock knob allows the corresponding movement to be rapidly adjusted, removing the slow speed limitations found on other geared heads.
This is a larger and heavier head with an average load capacity rating, so be careful not to overload smaller tripod legs with a big camera on top of this weight.
The Manfrotto RC4 quick release plates snap into position much easier than Arca alternatives, but support is limited to the Manfrotto range.
Why Tripods Matter for Landscape Photography
A tripod is not a complicated piece of equipment, so it’s hard to measure the cost, features and benefits before you invest in yet more gear.
Most landscape photographers and hikers start out with a cheap tripod, dedicating their budget and time on the perfect camera and lens with their dream shot in mind.
This is a rookie mistake.
Your tripod’s job is to hold, position and stabilize your precious camera and lens. It also helps set the foundation of your photographic vision .
The wrong tripod may ruin your images with vibrations and blur, or result in smashed and broken equipment. An extremely expensive and frustrating experience.
The right tripod will make your landscape photography easy, safe and efficient so you can focus on the shot in front of the lens instead of what’s under it.
Let’s break down the common features of a landscape photographer’s tripod to find out what you need to suit your style, so you can make a wiser investment and come home with better images on your next adventure.
Tripod Feet vs Spikes
When we’re hiking through different environments we set our tripods into a variety of terrain including dirt, mud, water, sand, gravel, rocks, grass and snow.
But did you know we actually have a choice between two different tripod feet to get a more stable setup?
Rubber tripod feet are the standard on most tripods and are an all-purpose option.
Made of rubber, these feet have a larger surface area contacting the ground so will reduce vibrations up into the legs and camera.
They are also fantastic for tough surfaces such as rock, boardwalks and hard earth.
Less common are metal tripod spikes which either replace or extend past the rubber feet on your tripod and are pushed into the ground for more stability.
Metal tripod spikes will provide a sturdier set up in softer surfaces like mud, sand and snow but may transfer vibrations up and into the camera on harder surfaces.
Spiked feet are popular to use in high wind environments or around moving water where you need extra reassurance your tripod isn’t going to topple over.
Legs, Locks & Latches
We as landscape photographers have a personal preference when it comes to tripod legs and how these affect the speed, safety and stability of setting up our shot.
The primary purpose of your tripod is to set a stable mounting point for your camera in often unstable and difficult environments.
This becomes impossible without the ability to adjust the angle and length of each tripod leg independently.
Most tripod legs are telescopic which means they retract into themselves when packed down to save space and weight – great for fitting into our packs.
As a result your tripod may have fewer or more leg sections which will affect how tall and short your tripod can be set up, as well as how thin the lower leg sections might be.
A tripod with more sections for each leg can usually be extended higher, but may also introduce more vibrations and instability due to the narrower bottom legs.
Alternatively your tripod may have fewer leg sections which will give better strength and stability at the cost of a smaller maximum height.
In the end there’s a compromise to be made based on what you need most.
There’s also a decision to be made about how your tripod legs are adjusted.
Wing nuts are an older, simpler locking mechanism often found on cheaper tripods.
These locks have the ability to be tightened down really well, but they are also slow to use and can easily get caught when pulling it in or out of your pack.
Flip Locks or Latches
Latches are probably one of the two most common choices on a good tripod.
Flip locks are very easy to use even with large gloves on, and they are very quick to lock and unlock with pretensioned open and close positions.
Latches do require occasional maintenance to ensure the lock is not loosening with heavy use which can be difficult if you’re on a hike without the right tool.
These types of locks are also susceptible to getting debris, salt and sand in the mechanism or being damaged from use in the elements over time.
These are my personal favourite.
Similar to the older wing nuts, a twist lock can be tightened down or loosened as much or as little as you need to get a very safe and strong hold or for very small adjustments.
Twist locks do not require any maintenance and will usually last a very long time since the mechanism is enclosed and protected from the environment.
However, twist locks can be slower to operate since there is more hand movement required and they can freeze up in very cold environments so may not be ideal if you spent a lot of time around ice or snow.
Height & Vibrations
Tripod height is common sense but can be restrictive at both the maximum and minimum heights in the real world.
A taller or higher tripod is obviously an advantage in many situations and can make a big difference to your range of compositions, ease of use and getting a clear shot above foliage in the wilderness.
Being taller requires more leg sections or longer tripod legs which will result in a heavier tripod to carry up the next hill, a big concern if your trips are longer distance.
Longer and thinner leg sections will carry more vibrations up into your camera when using your tripod in taller configurations. This can be a major disadvantage to using your tripod at it’s advertised maximum height if you’re photographing around high winds or moving water.
On the opposite end many tripods also have a minimum setup height allowing you to get extremely low to the ground for a unique perspective while still maintaining a nice solid base.
This can be fantastic in lots of situations, particularly if you enjoy shooting super wide angle, macro or astrophotography.
Having a stable base for your camera is critical, but we also need to be aware of how to level our tripods for better safety and accurate horizons.
There are many leveling tools in a photographer’s kit including spirit levels in the tripod legs, head, and in camera levelers.
In camera and tripod head levels can be second rate and next to useless if you find yourself shooting panoramas to capture the grand vistas we’ve explored.
If the tripod base itself isn’t level, swiveling on a straight axis is almost impossible. We come back with tilted horizons, a heap more work in post production and a whole lot of wasted time on setup and adjustments.
Ideally you’ll have a spirit level (or multiple) built into the base of your tripod so you can get a level foundation right from the start for an easier time shooting.
An alternative is an inexpensive leveling plate – basically a spirit level mounted on a flat plate that is sandwiched between the tripod head and the tripod base to give the same function.
From there we can then refer to our ball head and in camera leveling tools without dramatic compensations needed for regular photography and panoramas.
Weight & Materials
Having the biggest, strongest and most stable tripod in the world won’t help you if it’s too heavy to take with you when you need it.
Weight is a big factor to consider for landscape photography – you may be hiking miles for that shot, traveling all over the world or spending multiple days to get to a location.
With less weight you can travel further, get there faster and have more time to plan and experiment with your photography.
So what should you look for?
Aluminium (or aluminum) is a very common material that is cheaper to produce but also extremely durable.
An aluminium tripod will last a lifetime and can take a beating, but can be more susceptible to vibrations at its maximum height due to the properties of the material.
If you want something that will last forever, you’ve got a tight budget, or you’re a bit wild at heart look for an aluminium tripod.
Carbon fiber is a much more expensive material but makes up for that is vastly lighter weight and the ability to dampen vibrations extremely well.
Carbon fiber tripods are very durable but they won’t stand up to the same abuse as their aluminium brothers. For example if you drop or knock your tripod over with a heavy load, a hard landing may break a carbon fiber leg more easily.
At the end of the day you need to decide what’s more important for your type of photography and the hiking you do.
If you need a tripod that won’t break your back and still performs, the extra expense on carbon fiber will definitely be worth it.
Stability Hooks & Centre Columns
What is the hook on your tripod for? It’s for winning.
Centre columns come in different lengths to increase the maximum height you can push your camera up, but may also affect how low your tripod can go.
A stability hook can be found on most tripods and is located at the bottom of this centre column.
It’s designed for you to hang your photography bag or other weight from the base of your tripod to increase stability, decrease vibrations, and is probably the most useful yet underutilized feature on any tripod.
When we’re hiking we often have larger packs and may be carrying a smaller tripod, making it difficult to get your bag onto the stability hook between the tripod legs.
An alternative is to pack a small loop of cordage or elastic that you can fit over the hook and tread down on with your foot to get the same benefit with no extra weight.
This small hook can turn your lower end or mid range tripod into a brick-house of stability within seconds to give you everything you need your tripod to do.
Whatever you do, make sure your tripod has a hook and start using it!
Tripod Heads, Plates & Mounting
There are lots of different tripod heads available for landscape photographers and each has its own benefits.
Sharing a standard 3/8″ screw thread, most tripod legs and heads can be easily swapped out regardless of manufacturer or brand so you can mix and match both to best suit your needs.
There are three common tripod heads favored by the majority of landscape photographers.
Tilt & Pan Heads
Pan and tilt photography heads are common to both beginner and specialist photographers which allow independent rotation horizontally and vertically.
Pan and tilt heads are incredibly useful in most types of photography and are also favored by videographers due to the finer control over each axis of rotation.
These are very useful for landscape and panorama photography and are fairly easy and straight forward to operate.
However, these heads can be cumbersome to pack into a hiking pack due to the long arms and heavier weight, and they take some extra time to set up and adjust when you’re using them.
Geared Tilt & Pan Heads
Similar to the more basic pan and tilt head, a geared head allows you to control each axis of rotation independently.
Where a geared head gets its name is with the built in gear system for each control lever which provides incredibly precise control over each axis.
The outstanding level of control in geared heads comes into its own for panoramas, timelapse, astrophotography and macro photography.
Geared heads are often much heavier than other tripod heads due to the built in gear system, and can therefore also be much slower to operate.
Ball heads allow you to adjust your camera freely in any direction with much more fluidity and much faster than most other tripod heads.
Using a ball and socket style joint gives 360° horizontal movement and rotation combined with up to 90° of tilt. The friction on a ball head can normally be adjusted to make it firmer or looser for faster or more precise adjustments.
Ball heads are extremely popular due to their flexibility, range of motion, quick adjustment and smaller compact size.
They are not as useful for panorama photography unless the ball head has a separate panning ring at the base to allow independent panning rotation.
Quick Release Systems
Once you’ve decided on the type of tripod head to suit your style of photography, the other option you may have is between quick release systems.
A quick release plate simply allows you to permanently attach a plate to the base of your camera instead of directly to your tripod. This plate can then slide, clip or lock into your tripod head to easily attach and detach to make packing up and setting up much faster.
The most common and widely adopted Arca-Swiss mount is used by a large number of tripod manufacturers and also in a wide range of tripod accessories.
An alternative would be a manufacturer specific quick release system such as those used by Manfrotto which also work well but will give you less flexibility to upgrade or change in the future without reinvesting in new plates and mounts.
An L plate is an L shaped mount that attaches directly to your camera, replacing the quick release plate for your tripod head.
The plate runs along the base and 90° up one side of your camera to center your lens equally from the plate in both horizontal and vertical orientation.
What this means is that you can spin your camera between landscape and portrait orientation and the lens and framing of your shot will remain in place so you don’t need to make any adjustments to your camera position or tripod head.
This is a fantastic and highly under-appreciated piece of equipment for your kit, and will make both landscape and panorama photography MUCH easier.
What’s Your Pick?
Now it’s your turn to figure out what you need in a good hiking tripod.
There’s no wrong choice 🙂
We’re all on our own adventure so find what tripod suits you so you can spend more time enjoying wilderness photography with a lighter pack and killer shots.
See you out there!
Resources & Notes