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Archive 2009 · Backpacking tripod
Ariel Bravy
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Backpacking tripod

So I'm considering revamping my gear setup for traveling, hiking, and backpacking and am looking at different tripod setups and would love to hear your opinions on suitable alternatives to my existing Gitzo 1257. The maximum load I'm gonna put on it will be a 5DII, 70-200 f4 IS, RRS L-plate, 1.4x TC which weighs in a 1.9kg or 2.4 lb without a ballhead.

The Gitzo G1257 I currently have weighs 3.1 lb, stands at 54.1", and folds up to 26".

I'd like a lighter tripod strapped to the side of my pack, and weight is probably one of the biggest things I'd like to cut back on, but not at the cost of stability. I'd also like to shave off at least 5 inches in folded length. The standing height is right about perfect for me w/ a 1-series body and a BH-40, maybe an inch shorter than perfect. With a 5D, I'll be having to stoop. I also prefer 3 section tripods in general, but am willing to compromise and go with a 4-section tripod for lightweight excursions. I'll probably keep my 1257 for regular duty loads with a 1-series and 70-200 2.8 and so this'll be a second set of legs.

Here's the different options I've looked at:

Gitzo 0541: 1.4 lb lighter (woohoo!), 7.6" shorter standing, 7.1" shorter folded up. I'm curious about its sturdiness, particularly in the wind. Also, the fact that it's only 4 feet tall seems a little odd, but I'm willing to compromise since it's such a nice weight savings. For hiking I may remove the center column, and for travel I can use the center column to raise the camera up if need be.

Gitzo 0531: 1.5 lb lighter (yay!), 1 foot shorter standing, 5.1" shorter folded up. Similar to the 0541, but 3 section legs, 0.1 lb lighter, short enough folded up, and ridiculously short when shooting... (I'm gonna have to try setting up my current tripod at these heights when backpacking this weekend and see if I'm comfortable stooping down a foot and shooting so low.)

Gitzo 1541T: 1 lb lighter, 9.6" shorter when standing, 9.9" shorter folded. Half a pound heavier than the 0-series legs, shorter than the 0541 but taller than the 0531 when shooting, way shorter than the minimum I would need folded up. In fact, just barely long enough that it'll still be held in place by the straps on my pack.

Gitzo 1541: 0.6 lb lighter, 0.2" taller standing, 4.7" shorter folded up. Starting to lose the weight savings I was liking relative to the other tripods, but still some there. I like that it's a smidge taller standing and shorter folded relative to my current 1257, but still not a big fan of the 4 section legs. I would really like to save more than 0.6 lb.

Gitzo 1531: 0.6 lb lighter, 1.3" shorter standing, 1.6" shorter folded. Some weight savings, a touch shorter when shooting, and not much savings in folded height. It's still gonna stick up above the top of my pack at this height which may be a dealbreaker. (I don't want it hitting trees when I walk under them or lean my pack against them.)

So yeah, looking through those options, the 0541 looks like a great lightweight set of legs. The 0531 looks nice too, but it's an entire foot lower than my current setup. Assuming these legs are strong enough to hold up the setup I'd like to shoot with, I'll probably go with one of these.

Now if they're not solid enough, let's see... the 1541 and 1531 are only a 0.6 lb savings. The 1541T may work as long as I'm willing to lose almost 10" in height. I like the weight savings relative to the non-traveler style legs.

So yeah, that's my thought process on that one.

For those of you who also do backpacking and travel photography, what has your experience been with lightweight tripods?

Got any opinions on heads? The Markins Q3 seems to be a popular choice. RRS also just released their BH-30 which looks promising as well.

Dec 25, 2009 at 10:40 AM
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Backpacking tripod

If you're not willing to compromise stability-- stop looking at the 0-series right now. What sort of shooting are you using the tripod for? Long exposures? Moderate-- difficult!-- 1/30th to 1/3rd second exposures?

I've spent a LOT of time on this particular problem, because my main professional niche right now involves editorial feature photography for lightweight travel to developing countries, adventure-sports activities, and a slow-burn war zone.

I think those 0-series tripods are awesomely tiny, and wonderful (I bought the Benro o-series, 4-leg travel angel... for purposes OTHER than $$: size, weight, compared to Gitzo and Feisol alternatives), but you can't expect the same sort of stability as tripods with thicker legs.

Of the tripods you listed, I would spring for the 1541t. But you should also consider the Feisol 3441s (it has nice, thick legs, but still folds down relatively small and light; one strike against it is Feisol doesn't have anti-rotation lock legs sections). My experience with the Benro has been fantastic. Plenty of others will disagree, though most of their complaints are baseless; it is true that Benro lacks the long record of Gitzo (though check out that Gitzo failure thread... no company is immune from problems) and at least some of their ballheads have poor designs when it comes to longevity/quality. Still, you'd probably want to look at the 1-series, 4-leg section Travel Angel.

Could you get away with a 0-series Gitzo or Benro? Sure. But expect to compromise a bit on stability.

Ballheads: Q3t seems to get a lot of praise heaped on it; my experience using one (I don't own it) is that it is fantastic. The BH-40 is probably overkill for what you're using. I keep meaning to check out the photoclam heads, particularly their very small 30/33 models.

Dec 25, 2009 at 11:11 AM
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Backpacking tripod

For what it's worth I use a Hakuba Carbon Fiber HG-504MX - Tripod with a BH-25. That might be more light weight and less stable than what you're looking for, but it works well enough for me. I had to go to four legs to get the max 'folded' height I wanted to keep it from rising above my pack. It is stable enough for me. The included three corner pouch that comes with it for rocks or other weights to help stabilize it is helpful. The lever on the BH 25 is a pain, but the head is adequate to stabilize my DsIII and 28-70 2.8.

I'm just offering this up as a non Gitzo alternative.

Good luck,


Dec 25, 2009 at 02:17 PM
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Backpacking tripod

Merry Christmas!

I have three of the Gitzo CF (0-1-2) four section series - do a lot of solo long day hiking, backcountry skiing & overnite backpacking in Colorado/Utah/Arizona. I use the zero (0541) series much more often of the three with a cheap Gitzo zero ballhead that most photographers would hate. When choosing between photo equipment weight and cold gear to keep from actually freezing or water in the desert - it's not a tough choice.

In the concept of keeping weight as low as possible the "Zero's" are just wonderful. I have never missed a shot due to a tripod - as other challenges in photography - one must be creative in using what you have & how to set up - without complaining about equipment. I do carry a adjustable loop bungee that can be strung from the center post clip and step-on or rock weight if needed.

Ariel - BTW - I always enjoy your posts and photo's.


Edited on Dec 25, 2009 at 09:46 PM · View previous versions

Dec 25, 2009 at 04:19 PM
Lars Johnsson
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Backpacking tripod

Out of the tripods you listed, I would go for the 1541. If a small size is more important than stability you could go for the 1541T. The 0-series are not stable enough (IMO) I have the 1541 and the Q3 as my travel tripod. And I'm very pleased with that combo. But I'm sure the new BH-30 will be good also.

Dec 25, 2009 at 04:33 PM
Ariel Bravy
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Backpacking tripod

Thank you all so much for your input thus far.

Mark, that's a GREAT idea with the bungee! Feels better than hanging a 40 lb. pack under a tiny tripod.

How stable have you guys found the 0541 and the 1541T to be with a non-1-series body and a lighter lens like a 70-200 f4?

I'm okay with it not being completely and utterly rock steady, but it should still be usable.

Dec 25, 2009 at 11:04 PM

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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Backpacking tripod

Ariel, I do a lot of trekking with my gear and I got a Feisol 3442 with a Q3 ballhead. Very light, folds down to 19" and is very stable for my setup ( Usually hike with the following system: 5D, 17-40, 24-105, 70-200 f4 ). Easily handles that equipment. Never had any kind of stability issues with the 5D and 70-200 f4 lens. I've shot in exposed terrain at 12,000' with blowing wind/rain and stability has not been an issue. Before forking over twice the money on a Gitzo, I would look over the Feisol lineup and see if something there fits the bill.

Dec 26, 2009 at 12:13 AM
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Backpacking tripod

It's less an issue of weight than it is focal length/lens length wrt to stability.

Dec 26, 2009 at 12:52 AM
Ariel Bravy
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Backpacking tripod

Thanks for the tip on the Feisol 3442, chez. Looks promising.

Dec 26, 2009 at 03:57 AM
Smiert Spionam
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Backpacking tripod

I've gone through this, too, and I'd agree with Lars & Russ -- getting into a series 1 class of legs is a big help. I've owned a Gitzo series 0, and while I cajoled as much performance out of it as possible, it was essentially an oversized table tripod. Anything over 100mm or so is a dicey operation with those legs at anything below 1/60s. A 1541 (my current small tripod) is much more stable.

The Feisols also get a lot of good reports -- their use of larger tubes on compact designs makes them especially appealing for travel.

The Q3 is a good choice. The BH-40 is just a bit heavier (2.6 ounces when wearing the same clamp), and the BH-30 does indeed look tempting. I'd like to try one out.

When weight and bulk are really at a premium, I carry a Leica table tripod and a BH-25. It's more stable than any of the above setups.

Dec 26, 2009 at 03:56 PM
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Backpacking tripod

I really wonder if the new 2 series traveler (GT2540T)would be the right choice. It would not drop that much weight, but it would certainly be more compact.

On another note, I am perfectly happy with my 1541T. It can handle my 1dsmk2 with a 24-105 or 70-300 DO no problem.

Dec 27, 2009 at 01:22 AM
PV Hiker
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · Backpacking tripod

I have the Gitzo 1540.

I took the center out and put the Kirk replacement base # FP-100N http://www.kirkphoto.com/Model_FP-100N.html

I can also hang weight to the ground to make it better.

I put the RRS BH-40 on top. Now they have the BH-30 that I would consider IF I did not use the RRS multi-row pano bracket. Gotta have the BH-40.

This is taken backpacking.

Dec 27, 2009 at 05:50 AM

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