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The Fine Art of Carrying a Tripod

One of the best ways to improve your outdoor photography is to use a tripod, but I often hear complaints about having to carry one, especially for any distance. I urge you to get comfortable with your own tripod and discover what works best for carrying it, but as the helpful guy that I am, here are some options you might want to consider.

The Hand Carry
This is the easy and obvious way to carry a tripod, and for short distances or for easy access, it's definitely the way to go. You'll want to transition to something else after a while or at least switch hands, but for short distance, you can't beat the obvious.

The Shoulder Carry
It works for soldiers carrying a rifle so why not give it a try for your tripod? You can switch shoulders if your arm gets tired, or give one of the other methods here a try.

The Hand Carry
The Hand Carry
The Shoulder Carry
The Shoulder Carry

The Tripod Bag
This is a way to great way to turn your tripod into a fashion accessory, but as a practical way to carry a tripod, its overkill in my opinion. Sometimes people use a tripod bag thinking that they are protecting what's inside, but in most circumstances you just don't need it. If your tripod is fragile enough to be in jeopardy while being carried, it likely won't stand up to regular use either. Stacked with a lot of other luggage in the back of a 10-passenger van, you may be glad your tripod is in a bag, but leave the bag behind when you take your tripod out on the trail.

The Tripod Strap
Several companies make shoulder straps specifically designed for carrying tripods. Most have padded area in the middle and an adjustable loop on each end. You place one loop around each end of the tripod and you can carry it on your shoulder just as if it were in a bag but without all the extra weight.

You can sling a tripod bag or strap over one shoulder, or hang it across your chest from the opposite shoulder. Whatever seems most comfortable.

The Tripod Bag
The Tripod Bag
The Tripod Strap
The Tripod Strap

The Backpack Tie-Down
A lot of camera backpacks have straps and tie-downs to lash your tripod in place so you don't have to hold it yourself. This may be a good option for extended hiking but does make it a bit more work to get set up when you get to where you are going to, and a bit more to put things away afterwards. I rarely choose this option since I want to easily stop to take pictures along the way.

Your tripod may be taller than your pack too. I've found that many tripods are tall enough when collapsed that they stick up way above my head, sometimes catching on low-hanging branches. Experiment with your own tripod and pack to see how best to attach it if you want to go this route.

The Swashbuckler
Much like carrying a broad sword in its scabbard on your belt, if you are wearing a backpack you can carry your tripod by sticking one leg under the hip belt. This one may well take some work to get things situated in a way that is comfortable. If the tripod hangs too far forward, it will hit the front of your leg as you walk. If it hangs too far back, you'll have a similar problem on the back of your leg. But if you can work out a way to hang it by your side, it can be quite effective and comfortable.

The Backpack Tie-Down
The Backpack Tie-Down
The Swashbuckler
The Swashbuckler

The Shoulder Perch
Yes, I know this looks a bit odd, but it has proven to be among my favorite methods over the years. To give it a try yourself, spread all three legs out and set the tripod on your shoulder with one leg in front, one down your back, and one on your side next to your arm. Then pull the legs in towards your body until you have a comfortable fit. I can get mine to sit there without me needing to hold it at all, keeping my hands free as I hike. This can work even better with a backpack on since the shoulder strap will help prevent the tripod from slipping off.

The Radio Antenna
This method looks even stranger than the last one and should be considered only for a change of pace. One tripod leg goes over each shoulder with the third leg down your back. The tripod head will stick up behind your head. You can generally only make this work if you are not wearing a backpack. If you pass anyone on the trail, quickly switch to a different method of carrying your tripod so people don't stare at you funny. This actually can be surprisingly comfortable, and imagining that you are helping with the search for extra-terrestrial life can put an extra spring in your step. Tin-foil hat not included.

The Shoulder Perch
The Shoulder Perch
The Radio Antenna
The Radio Antenna

To paraphrase an old saying, a tripod in the hand is worth two in the car. So get used to carrying yours. It doesn't really matter how you carry it, just do it. Your pictures will thank you.

If you have a favorite method that I don't list here, let me know so I can give it a try too.

Update 8/13/2006 - Among readers of Earthbound Light, the initials JW must be quite popular since two unrelated JW's wrote to let me know about additional ways of carrying a tripod. JW Number 1 notes that the Shoulder Perch and Radio Antenna methods really only work with tripods that lack a center column, something I would agree with. But then I prefer to go sans center column anyway so that I can splay the tripod legs out all the way for ground level shooting. He goes on to add two other methods for those that like living on the edge:

1. The SOC (Significant Other Carry) — "Here Honey, carry this thing a little way for me, OK?" Seems to work best early in a relationship. I've been married 42 years, so I don't even try.
2. The BDC (Big Dog Carry) — I mean, they pull sleds full of provisions, so why not one little light-weight carbon-fiber tripod. A strong leash is recommended, especially in deer country, or you might see your best friend (not to mention your dog) heading off into the next county.

Involving your spouse or significant other in your hobby is indeed generally a good idea, but be careful not to confuse this first new method with the second or risk suffering the consequences. I'm just saying.

JW Number 2 reminded me of a method I have used myself but neglected to mention. By extending all or some of the tripod legs, you can turn your tripod into a pretty decent hiking stick. Especially when trying to cross an unsteady log bridge over a mountain creek, this can be a great idea.

Reader BC mentions (no, not another JW) a method that can get somewhat tiring over any significant distance but works great when you are working an area and need to get from point A to point B:

How about the classic shotgun carry? For short distances, with camera attached, you can't beat cradling the combo in the crook of your left arm with left hand gripping the legs. (right arm for lefties) The whole assembly can easily be maneuvered around obstacles while the other arm is free for balance and support in awkward terrain.

Reader RT comes up with an ingenious one I had never even thought of:

Lots of people own those foldable camping chairs and if you have one, you'll notice that the bag for the chair comes in is the perfect size to fit most tripods and most bags come with a shoulder strap for the bag too! I've made my bag a permanent tripod bag and it works great...and since I already owned the bag, it's essentially free!


Date posted: August 6, 2006 (updated August 13, 2006)

 

Copyright © 2006 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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A Few Thoughts on Tripod Bags
 

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