Reviews of The Best Tripods For Your Spotting Scope
The high magnification of a spotting scope is prone to vibrational instability, which is why most spotting scopes are used with a three pronged stand called a tripod. A tripod provides a stable base on which you attach the scope, and enjoy smooth, focused visuals even at magnifications of 60x and beyond.
The catch is that you can’t just use any odd tripod (many scopes come bundled with cheap tripods) to this end – the choice has to be considered in the light of the intended application, the spotting scope to be used, and the height of the individual and so on. This is made that much harder because the market is flooded with tripods of all shapes and sizes!
It isn’t unsurprising to feel a bit lost as a rookie – but if you are in this dilemma, I’ve written this guide on finding the best tripod for spotting scopes to lend you a hand.
Best Tripod Comparisons
Swarovski Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod
Vortex Optics SKY-1 Skyline Tripod
Bushnell Titanium Tripod
Carbon fiber legs / aluminum alloy head and column
2 Year Warranty / 8 Year Warranty Extension through Online Registering
Vortex Summit SS-P Tripod
3 year limited warranty
Parts of a Tripod
I’ve already defined the function of a tripod at the outset, now for what this accessory consists of:
Types of Tripods
These are the smallest kind, having a height of no more than 18” and lacking telescoping legs – instead, the meager height adjustment they do offer (if at all) is achieved by means of an extendable central column. Table top tripods meant for shooters often have micro-adjustment knobs for compensating windage and elevation.
While these tripods are a good choice for use in prone / sitting positions, they lack the strength to stabilize long-range optic utilities.
These are taller than table top tripods, and are meant to be used while sitting on a chair. They are favored by hunters and hikers because of the balance they strike between portability and height, and go great with scopes with an objective of 70mm or less.
These allow an average sized individual to use their spotting scope whilst they are standing. With the legs fully extended, they can attain a height of around 60 or more inches, and if you extend the central column fully, this can go up to 70” – in general though, the latter is not recommended since it can adversely affect stability.
While these are suited for extra-long range scopes with 80mm or greater objective lens diameters, it should be noted that not every product will cut it – simply put, quality plays an important role in determining the suitability of a full sized tripod.
Carbon fiber or Metal body?
Many high end tripod models will give you the option to choose between aluminum and carbon fiber for the leg set.
There are a number of advantages to picking fiber over metal – firstly, the former has superior strength-to-weight ratio, so you can get a tripod that’s able to handle serious loading at a much smaller weight: this is important for spotters who have to hike / climb to their destination.
Secondly, carbon fiber has better vibration damping capability as opposed to aluminum – those who have ridden a carbon fiber bike will attest to how much better it is at not making them feel the tiny bumps on the road as compared to an aluminum model! Similarly, a carbon fiber tripod will eliminate vibrations that could potentially disturb the focus of your spotting scope at higher magnifications.
Thirdly, carbon fiber tripods don’t suffer from corrosion when exposed to salt water / salt air: obviously, better quality aluminum fiber tripods will also take serious elemental punishment before biting the dust, but they will eventually do so, whereas carbon fiber ones will hold out practically indefinitely.
The only flipside to choosing a fiber tripod is that a decent model (i.e. one that is compact, lightweight and sturdy) will set you back by quite a bit of money. However, the price difference is quickly decreasing between fiber and metal products as more and more manufacturers start going for the former.
One thing to note: in spite of the added bulk and proneness to corrosion, there is one solid reason for choosing aluminum: once planted on the ground, it will not budge due to bumps and jerks because of its weight, which can be beneficial when you’re using a spotting scope in a crowded / windy area where a CF tripod’s light weight may be a liability.
Ease of adjustment
You will have to move your spotting scope around on the head quite a bit during your observation sessions. To this end, it is important that you get a tripod head with a very fluid pan / tilt / rotate mechanism. In fact, if you’re going to be observing rapidly moving subjects, I’ll recommend getting a tripod with a fluid head, which uses a hydraulic damping system to provide steady and uniform motion.
Obviously, a strong and easy engagement / disengagement mechanism for this adjustment system is also important: there should be no play after you have positioned your scope the way you want it, and don’t require any more motion. Furthermore, the positioning controls should be accessible without forcing you to look away from the scope.
A word on complementary tripods
To enhance the value of their offerings, several spotting scope manufacturers have started to include free table top tripods with their spotting scopes. While this is a fine gesture, it isn’t very useful from a practical perspective.
These tripods are made of aluminum – but not the kind which is known for its rigidity. As such, they are only good for use in controlled environments e.g. shooting ranges, and even then, you will be risking dropping your scope from the impact created by firing a high velocity / recoil round.
In short, no serious professional / hobbyist will use them for stabilizing their scope because of their flimsy, unreliable nature.
Top Rated Spotting Scope Tripod Reviews
Swarovski Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod
- Load capacity: ~12 lbs
- Head Type: DH-101 (proprietary)
- Folded Length:19.7 in.
- Maximum Height (w/o column extended): 66.9 in.
Sporting a lightweight yet rugged carbon fiber construction, the Swarovski CF is the best lightweight tripod for spotting scopes whose users are constantly on the move.
The proprietary DH 101 head uses a clamping system that provides 85% better grip as compared to the older FH 101, so you don’t have to worry about accidental damage to your scope due to a drop even if it is huge.
The head’s Fast Mount System lets you attach / detach your scope quickly; you can adjust both vertical and horizontal axes with a single movement. Once you’ve got the scope positioned, a five tooth locking mechanism keeps it from displacing out of position due to accidental movement, resulting in optimum stability.
The lightweight carbon fiber legs weigh only 3.1 lbs. on their own, and can be folded down to a mere 19.7 inches – perfect for birding, hunting and digiscoping applications requiring frequent relocation. The legs have rubberized feet with retractable spikes to provide stability on any viable terrain – an integrated leveler helps you in positioning the legs correctly.
Going by user feedback, this tripod works exactly as advertised: it is ergonomic, lightweight, compact and durable. As you may have guessed, this makes it very expensive, so only consider it if you’re either serious about your hobby/profession, or have a lot of cash to burn.
The tripod comes with an ‘extensive’ warranty from the manufacturer guaranteeing ‘100% quality’ of the product when you get it – upon doing some digging though, for tripod products, this amounts to 1 year coverage against defects in workmanship / materials, subject to normal use: a bit disappointing for a product this expensive.
Given the praise it has received from users though, I wouldn’t be too worried about ending up with a broken product.
Vortex Optics SKY-1 Skyline Tripod Kit (Micro-Fluid Head), Black
- Load capacity: 11 lbs
- Head Type: Pan
- Folded Length:26 in.
- Maximum Height (w/o column extended): 67.92 in.
Made from anodized aluminum, and sporting a classing pan head with a micro-fluid adjustment system, the SKY-1 Skyline Tripod Kit from Vortex Optics is a reasonably priced, solidly performing tripod that measures up to just about any scoping application.
The micro fluid head allows for smooth, precise adjustment in all orientations, and incorporates a quick-release plate for fast attachment and removal of the spotting scope. The adjustment knobs have been placed strategically to provide optimum accessibility without distracting you from observation. Once you’re done positioning, these knobs can be securely tightened to prevent stray movement.
The anodized aluminum legs can be angled flexibly to allow positioning on uneven terrain (the rubber feet help too). Furthermore, since the center column’s lower part is removable, you can bring the legs down very low to yield maximum stability – ideal for using a scope in prone positions e.g. sniping / hunting / competition shooting.
The aluminum build is sturdy enough to withstand strong gusts of wind without deviating from your specified position, but it does come with the disadvantage of being bulky – this can be a problem for those who have to carry their gear to the site on their own. Furthermore, in spite of being anodized, the metallic structure will eventually succumb to rust – how long this takes depends on how well you treat it.
The manufacturer has provided their signature VIP warranty with this product i.e. if the tripod suffers from damage / defects etc. at any point in its life, Vortex will fix it for free without any questions asked. The warranty is fully transferable on subsequent purchases.
Bushnell Titanium Tripod
- Load capacity: ~4-8 lbs
- Head Type: Pan
- Folded Length:23.6 in.
- Maximum Height (w/o column extended): 63 in.
Those in need of a super affordable, reasonably lightweight and durable full sized tripod for bird watching should consider the Bushnell Titanium Tripod.
Featuring a titanium construction that provides a nice balance between durability and portability (not to mention superior corrosion resistance as compared to aluminum), the tripod is sturdy enough to hold its own in unstable conditions, while also being easy enough to carry around for extended periods of time – great for wildlife observers.
The three-position leg angle adjustment allows you to set it up really low for maximum stability (useful for prone shooting applications). The legs can be maximally extended to about 63 inches – which is a bit less than what most other brands offer, but still workable enough in its own right.
The 3-way pan head is pretty standard fare, allowing you to aim easily and fasten the head securely to it, without any risk of annoying wobbles. However, as reported by several users, the head is not designed for holding heavier spotting scopes i.e. those with an objective diameter larger than 60mm – depending on your exact model, you may not experience trouble up to 80mm, but there will be an inherent risk of the scope tipping over to one side due to the single Allen head screw holding it vertical.
Another thing you may find odd about this tripod is its somewhat unusual way of attaching the scope to the head: you have to turn it around until it is securely fixed – the time this takes could lead to missing out on a crucial view.
These criticisms aside, in terms of core performance and reliability, you’ll be hard pushed to find a better full sized tripod that stays light on the wallet the way this one does. The scope comes with a 1 year warranty, which is actually quite generous for its affordable price.
Manfrotto MKBFRA4-BH BeFree Compact Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod Black
- Load capacity: 8.8 lbs
- Head Type: Ball
- Folded Length:15.75 in.
- Maximum Height (w/o column extended): 48.4 in.
Sporting a hybrid carbon fiber / aluminum build, the Manfrotto BeFree Compact Carbon Fiber is an affordable compact tripod for holding mid-tier spotting scopes.
The carbon fiber legs are independently spreadable, and have two-position leg angle stops, yielding a healthy degree of freedom in setting the tripod up in awkward positions. You can only achieve a maximum height of 48.4” (without extending the column), a perfectly reasonable value for the intended sitting usage.
The lower height makes this product super compact when folded – the legs go around the head, to make it span just 15.75” – a form factor that allows it to be easily be carried around in a travel bag. This is further helped by the minimal 3.4 lbs. weight of the tripod.
The aluminum ball head however, leaves a lot to be desired: it does not allow for stable positioning of the scope, and may even cause the large scopes to flip over. In fact, you’d be better off keeping the carbon fiber legs and replacing the head with an aftermarket model – at this price, even the carbon fiber legs alone are a bargain.
While the tripod generally works great for travel photography, nature watching, and hunting trips – it does suffer from slight instability on a windy day due to its light weight – however, this is an issue common to almost every lightweight product, and can be remedied by attaching some weight to the structure.
There have been a few complaints pertaining to manufacturing defects about it, but these seem anomalous given the vast amount of positive feedback it has received. Nonetheless, the tripod comes with a 2 year warranty for dealing with these issues, which can be lengthened up to 8 years by registering your purchase with the manufacturer online.
Vortex Summit SS-P Tripod Kit, Black ST-5
- Load capacity: 5 lbs
- Head Type: Pan
- Folded Length:14 in.
- Maximum Height (w/o column extended): 54.5 in.
Those in need of an ultra-portable, low-profile spotting scope tripod on a budget should give the Vortex Summit SS-P a look.
The included 3-way pan/tilt head is surprisingly useful for the price – allowing you to engage / disengage the positioning controls with just a single handle, and the plate angle adjustment with a single knob. Furthermore, a quick release plate allows for rapid attachment and removal of the spotting scope.
The aluminum legs can stretch up to 54.5” inches (ideal for sitting applications), and go down to as low as 6.3” once you remove the lower part of the central column (helpful for range shooters / hunters operating in the prone position). When not in use, the tripod can be folded to a minimal 14 inches for easy transportation.
One would be concerned about stability of this 2 lbs. tripod in a windy environment, but the manufacturer has dealt with this by introducing a ballast hook on the bottom of the central column, to which you can attach weights to stabilize it further.
Unfortunately, this tripod does not come with the Vortex VIP warranty found on their higher priced products – nonetheless the 3 year limited warranty does indicate a degree of trust in their product, given its low cost.
What We Liked
- Very cheap.
- Strong, yet surprisingly lightweight and compact aluminum structure.
- Included pan head is both stable and easy to use.
- Flexible leg adjustment.
- Ballast hook allows for stability enhancement.
- 3 year limited warranty.
What We Didn't
- Unstable in windy conditions, without additional weights.
Having gone through the guide, as well as the spotting scope tripod recommendations I have supplemented it with, one point ought to be abundantly clear to you: there’s no such thing as a single best tripod for spotting scopes that fits everyone’s needs.
Spotting scopes are used for a wide variety of applications – windy, humid, cramped, prone, sitting, standing, bumpy are just some ways of describing situations spotting scope users may find themselves in. By extension, the tripod has to be chosen based on the anticipated applications, environments and usage positions.
With that said, I’d recommend the Vortex Summit SS-P Tripod Kit for use with medium weight spotting scopes in sitting / prone positions because of its strong yet lightweight build, fully functional pan head, flexible leg positioning, affordable price and generous warranty.
For traditional stand-up usage with heavyweight (i.e. 80mm + objective size) scopes, the best value is offered by the Vortex SKY-1 Skyline Tripod Kit – although its aluminum build is a bit difficult to carry around, it offers rock solid stability in all situations and the pan head has been designed with fluidity and ergonomics in mind. Add to that an affordable price tag and an unlimited no-questions-asked warranty, and you’ve got a near perfect tripod for standup use.