S&S Archery has been known for some time as the best source for backcountry ultralight tripods and heads at the best possible price.We carry a few tripods that we think work really well in the backcountry when considering weight, build quality, durability, and price.
Why is a having a good tripod important?
First of all durability and build quality are essential in the backcountry. Any piece of equipment prone to failure is not worth carrying. There is nothing worse than hauling you and your gear to the top of a mountain, only to find out that 1 piece of gear is bad, rendering 2 or 3 other pieces deadweight. A spotting scope, pan head, camera, and binoculars (if you are not glassing with binos from a tripod, you NEED to be!) are all useless without a tripod. Don't make the mistake of getting a tripod to mount all that expensive (and heavy) gear on if you can't count on it to perform.
624, 522, 525, 634
What makes a tripod “Good”?
A good backcountry tripod should have the following characteristics in order of importance:
The whole purpose behind a tripod is to provide a stable platform by which to glass and or shoot. Don't lose sight of the most important feature when trying to cut costs.
It seems like I am never glassing from the same exact spot twice. And different positions require me to adjust and deploy the tripod differently every time. Make sure your tripod is adjustable to allow you many different positions yet still giving you a stable platform to glass from.
If your tripod breaks, you are now carrying a lot of weight in glass for no reason. Get a durable, well-made tripod. Carbon fiber legs generally point to a quality tripod, although not always.
Your tripod should not be more than about 2 lbs. Obviously the heavier the tripod, the more stable it should be. We like carbon tripods for weight vs strength but remember the law of diminishing returns here. Even a standing height tripod should provide a stable platform and still be around 2 lbs.
Twist Lock Legs
Why Twist lock over Lever Lock legs? Twist lock legs will not catch on branches, pack straps, etc. and are easy to remove from your pack side pocket. Lever locks need to be adjusted/tightened occasionally, and twist locks do not. The more weight you put on a twist lock, the tighter it gets.
Quick to deploy
When on the move, I am constantly setting up my tripod to get a closer look at an animal. Being able to quickly deploy your tripod is crucial, especially if you are wanting to get pictures or video through your scope.
Less than $300
We have four tripods that meet all these specifications for under $300. I don't know why you would need to spend more.
For taller hunters or for anyone who wants to do any standing behind the tripod, you can't beat the 634 Pro CF in performance, weight or price. This tripod stands a full 63” extended yet only weight a few ounces over 2 lbs. The long legs don't compress down as well as the other tripods but are very stable fully extended.
The ultimate lightweight tripod, you won't find a lighter, more durable tripod for the hunter who does the majority of his or her glassing from the sitting position. Max height is 48” extended, but plenty of leg length to make this a very adjustable tripod. This is our lightest weight tripod at just under 29 oz.
We have been using the Promaster XC525C for a few years now and is definitely our favorite all around tripod. While it's not the lightest tripod we carry, it is probably the most feature rich. Excellent build quality, 3 position leg locks, and a ball head included. The ball head weighs 12oz, a little heavy but good quality if that's what you are looking for. We recommend using one of our pan heads. The XC525C also has a detachable leg that can be used as a monopod or walking stick. See Steve's review here.
The newest tripod we carry is the Slik CF-522. The new Slik has “Rapid Flip Mech” leg locks, a great upgrade to the typical Slik leg locks. Is close to the same height as the Promaster XC525c yet at 29 oz weighs the same as the much lighter Slik 624 Pro CF. This tripod also comes with a small ball head and flashlight in the center column. Both are functional, but we recommend running the tripod without either. The last leg extension is rather thin, so full height glassing may not be as stable as the XC525c. Having the new leg locks is reason enough to have this tripod. (this tripod comes with a 1/4" thread, but S&S is including a 3/8" to 1/4" thread adapter with purchase)
624, 522, 525, 634
634, 525, 522, 624
634, 525, 522, 624
Depending on your setup, a pan head can make or break your glassing experience. We only have 3 requirements for our pan heads.
Smooth, not sticky. Esp for those micro movements when glassing at long range.
For only $49 we love this head for all but large 80mm or larger scopes. Lightweight and very smooth it's perfect for a small video camera or for binos on your tripod. We recommend the Field Optics Bino Adapter, it fits perfectly on the Promaster 6160 with no need for an adapter plate.
One of our long time favorite heads, the Vanguard PH111v2 is no longer available. I'm not crying about it. I was not a fan. Yes, the weight and the price tag was right, but honestly, it was sticky at times. The only time I was happy with it was when the temps fell below 32 degrees, then it was super smooth.
Whats in my bag?
Since all my glassing is done from the side of a hill, I love the lightweight Slik Pro CF 624 with the Benro S2. The price is right, and the performance can't be beaten. A reliable, smooth as silk setup under 3 lbs, all for about $300? You bet. -Rob