The Best Hunting Tripods for Glassing and Shooting

Gear We Use
The Best Hunting Tripods for Glassing and Shooting
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Most folks who hunt open country will have the epiphany someday: You aren’t really seeing without a tripod. You may be looking through your binoculars while they’re supported by your knees or shoulder tension, but at any sort of range you’ll skim right over a lot of semi-hidden animals as your lenses fluctuate with your breathing.

That epiphany will someday be followed by another one: a quality tripod makes a huge difference too. Sticky pan and tilt in the head, flimsy leg locks, a light frame that wobbles in the wind—not all optical supports are created equal. Just like with rifles, bows, and optics, you generally get what you pay for. An investment in your equipment pays dividends in your comfort and enjoyment of hunting.

What We Look for in a Good Tripod

There are many offerings on the market these days, so it can often be tough to parse the right tripod fit for your hunting style and budget. Here are the major factors we consider:

  1. Weight
  2. Stability
  3. Adjustability
  4. Smooth pan and tilt

The Tripods We Use

What Makes a Good Tripod for Glassing and Shooting

You likely have a tripod laying around the house from an old camera kit or other purpose. Those will function, but it’s pretty hard to beat a three-leg built with only hunting and shooting in mind. For wilderness purposes, engineers consider wind, uneven terrain, heavy optics, rifle recoil, weight, and several other factors that camera shooters often don’t deal with. Here’s what we consider when choosing a tripod.

1. Weight

These first two items increase in direct proportion to each other: More weight generally equals more stability. Less weight hurts your back less but reduces stability in wind or with heavy optics. It’s the inherent battle in choosing a tripod, and the trick in finding one to perfectly suit your needs. Go too heavy and you’ll want to cast it aside halfway up the mountain; too light and you won’t have a clear sight window.

2. Stability

Again, weight creates stability, but it’s not the only factor. Materials make a difference too—aluminum has a lot more rigidity than plastic, for example. Likewise, the design and construction of the leg pivot points can either lock in firmly or squirm around under the weight of an 85-milimeter spotting scope. The security of the leg lock mechanisms will also affect the overall stability of your rig, especially if you like to lean on the tripod a bit to keep the wind from moving it. You can’t get away with pushing half your body weight onto a light, cheap tripod. You can with a really good one.

3. Adjustability

Many tripods only allow the legs to fold out to one specific angle. That’s fine on a hardwood floor, but may not serve you well when your body is folded into broken rimrock and you’re trying to glass for several hours. The ability to set the legs at various angles and raise the centerpost can allow you to glass comfortably without holding your body in awkward positions. Likewise, the mechanism for extending the legs can factor into personal preference for one tripod over another. Lever locks may be more secure, but twist locks are likely easier and faster. Above all, you want a tripod rig that feels cognitive and natural or you’re not going to use it as often as you should.

4. Pan and Tilt Smoothness

This refers to the head rather than the tripod itself. When you’re scanning a landscape for game, you want your glass to be able to swing naturally with your eyes. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with most cheap tripods. With simple plastic heads, you’ll often notice a catch in the swing. High-end plastic heads get rid of that problem in large part, but if you really want a silky-smooth pan and tilt, you can’t beat a fluid head meant for videography. Those are going to be heavier, but the glassing experience will be much more enjoyable.

Field notes from the MeatEater Crew

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