The 9 Best Spotting Scope Tripods

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A good spotting scope is your ticket to a close-up, detailed picture of wildlife, stars, targets, or whatever you’re trying to zoom in on. But without a tripod to keep your scope stable, those expensive optics will shake so much as to be effectively useless. While you can go handheld with binoculars, a spotting scope gives superior magnification, provided you bring along a steady base.

While you really need a tripod to effectively use your spotting scope, few companies bundle the two together. If you’re planning to buy a spotting scope, you should also make sure you have a tripod, or buy them together. You may already own a tripod if you dabble in photography or stargazing, and you should be able to use it with your spotting scope. (Our picks include several photography-oriented tripods.)

There are also tripods designed specifically to pair with a spotting scope for hunting or target shooting, and you may want to consider buying a tripod that caters specifically to your primary pursuit. No matter what you choose, it will definitely be better than no tripod at all.

The Best Spotting Scope Tripods

The Expert

What to Consider When Picking a Spotting Scope Tripod

If you’re new to spotting scopes, you may not understand the challenges that come up when using one in the field. Even with a perfect setup, spotting scopes are much harder to use than binoculars, especially for new users. Spotting scopes are only helpful if you can keep them stable, so a tripod is a must. In fact, you want the best one you can afford: A better-built, more stable tripod will make it less frustrating to zoom in and out and adjust your focus.

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There are also, frankly, a lot of bad options among the cheapest tripods. They may look the same, but cheap tripods often have slop in their joints that permit movement while adjusting the scope which can result in losing sight of your target. That’s a big problem.

Height

If you want the option to use your spotting scope while standing, you’ll want to make sure you’re looking at tripods that at least expand to your height if not a little above. Many tripods have a shorter maximum height than you might assume: If you buy one without checking its max height, you may find that you have to hunch over to see through your scope (or get creative with where and how you set the tripod up).

Using a spotter from a seated, kneeling, or half-kneeling position works great, so it may not be a critical factor, but if you like to glass standing, look for a tripod with a maximum height no less than about 8 inches shorter than your height.

Weight

Hunters will want to pay particular attention to the overall weight of their gear. The spotting scope itself usually weighs at least a few pounds, and your tripod will only add to that. In backcountry hunting situations where you need to carry everything you need on your back, you may want to sacrifice some functionality to ensure it’s lightweight. Most tripods will weigh between one and 10 pounds, depending on the type.

If you’re mostly using your scope at home-think stargazing-or close to a vehicle, a heavier model will add natural stability. But if I’m going to be carrying a tripod on my back for days at a time, I try to make sure it’s 4 pounds or less or I’ll end up just leaving it at home or at camp.

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Size & Portability

Weight isn’t the only factor for backcountry carry. Cheaper tripods tend to be bulky, which can make them challenging to strap to or fit inside your pack. More expensive, well-designed tripods tend to have smartly engineered folding mechanisms that transform a large tripod into something tight and stowable.

For my hunting expeditions, I look for a tripod that’s not much more than 21 inches long and roughly 5 inches in diameter folded up. Consider how you plan to transport your tripod and measure your pack’s internal or external dimensions if necessary to figure out if there’s a maximum length or width you need to keep in mind while shopping.

As with weight, you can safely ignore these measurements if you don’t plan to transport the tripod far or frequently.

Leg Lock-Out Mechanisms

The legs of a tripod usually lock and unlock to extend and retract, using either a twisting lock mechanism or some kind of clamp. Twist-locking tripods can be simple and fast or annoying and tedious. Cheaper twist-locks can require multiple turns for each lock on each leg which often adds up to 5-10 seconds of twisting on as many as 12 twist-locks, which slows you down in the field.

I prefer a clamping lock mechanism on the legs because it’s a binary-on or off-and quick to deploy. On many legs with clamp locks, gravity is enough for the legs to extend so they can be very quickly to deploy and lock out.

Tripod Head Mechanisms

Tripod heads have a different type of locking mechanism, which locks and unlocks so you can reposition your scope in different angles. Photographers will likely look for a tripod head with separate locks for different axes so you can adjust one variable at a time. (For example, you can lock down horizontal rotation, while tilting your camera up and down to adjust framing.)

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When using a spotting scope for hunting, I prefer a ball head that lets you freely move your scope (or rifle), then lock it in with one action when you find the right spot. Spotting game in the field can be a very slow, relaxed operation… right until it isn’t. In those moments, you don’t want to be fiddling with 3 different knobs just to get a steady picture of your quarry.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>