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Tripod Leg Wraps and Padding Solutions

Tripods aren't very soft. No surprise there of course. After all, the main purpose in having a tripod is to hold your camera steady, so people likely wouldn't be very happy if theirs were to bend or something. But if you tried carrying one very far, your shoulders probably wished they were at least padded or something. Some tripods come with a form of leg padding, but Gitzos and many others do not. If you want to add some padding to yours, here are a few ways to tackle this problem.

The time-honored method of padding tripod legs has been to go to the hardware store and buy some closed-cell foam pipe insulation. This stuff is made in several diameters to fit various sized pipes. It's slit down its length so you can get it around a pipe or tripod leg. All you have to do is cut it to length with a pair of scissors and tape it up with duct tape. Problem solved, and cheaply — but not really all that elegantly. You have to wrap the tape rather tightly or the insulation pieces will ride up on the legs, getting in the way of them collapsing all the way and blocking the leg angle adjustments where each leg joins to the top of the tripod. And there's just no good way to do this very neatly, although I have seen some tripods done this way that weren't too bad.

Tripod padding solutions: pipe insulation, Tri-Pads, handlebar tape and other helpful itemsThe first commercial tripod leg pad solution I am aware of is Anne Laird's Tri-Pads®. I first learned about these so long ago that I've forgotten exactly when, and they're still being made today. Essentially, they attempt to solve the elegance aspect by covering the pipe insulation by custom nylon waterproof pieces that Velcro® in place. At their heart though, they are still pipe insulation. Glued to the inside of each section are small pieces of a rubber material similar to that used to prevent carpets from sliding on wooden or tile floors. These help somewhat to keep the pieces from riding up on the legs, but only somewhat. Periodically, you'll find you need to take the nylon cover pieces off, reposition everything where it's supposed to be, and put everything back together again. Eventually, I found mine slipped around every bit as much as the basic do-it-yourself pipe insulation method so I gave up on them.

There is another commercial solution available from Op/Tech. They use low tack tape to hold the pipe insulation pieces in place and cover the assembly over with stretch Cordura leggings that slide up over each leg somewhat like socks I suppose. I'm not sure how well these wear over time, but they do make a neater looking result when first put on since they dispense with the seams where the Tri-Pads nylon coverings wraps overtop of themselves and Velcro together. If you're a Nikon shooter, Nikonians offers a versions of the Op/Tech leg wraps imprinted with the Nikonians logo. I know several people who own a set of these, but I never have myself.

Instead, for the past few years I've gone to a completely different solution: bicycle handlebar tape. I made a trip to a nearby bicycle store and returned home with two sets of synthetic cork handlebar tape. Two sets are necessary since, while a bicycle has two handlebars, a tripod naturally has three legs. What I found though is that one tape can be made to exactly cover one leg of my Gitzo G1325. I really don't know how it works out that way, but it did.

If you want to give this a try, start wrapping at the bottom of each outer leg segment, overlapping successive turns by about one-third. Wrapping from this direction will result in the uncovered part of each turn being on the lower edge. If you wrapped top to bottom instead you would end up with the uncovered edge at the top of each turn, yielding a rougher surface as you slide your hands down the legs. As you wrap, stretch the material to ensure a smooth, snug fit. The resulting tripod legs wrapped with bicycle handlebar tapeIf everything goes as planned, you should end up at the top of the leg section just as you run out of tape. If you don't, unwind the tape and adjust your wrapping technique to either overlap each turn more or less, or stretch the tape to a different amount to compensate. Once you've perfected your technique, wrap one final time and secure the top end with electrical or other tape. If done well, the resulting wrap shouldn't be able to slip at all and should last a long time. This method will give you less padding than any of the pipe insulation solutions, but also less bulk.

Way back before carbon fiber tripods hit the scene, most people I knew were using ones made from aluminum. If you are still using an aluminum tripod, you may have noticed that not only is it hard on your shoulders like a carbon fiber one is, it can also get quite cold to the touch during winter. Wrapping or padding your tripod legs will take care of this problem too. All of the options discussed here provide both padding and insulation. So whether you have one problem to solve or two, some form of tripod leg wraps may be just what you need. Which method you choose is of course up to you, and remember that there's no harm in trying one for a while and switching to a different one if you change your mind down the road.

Date posted: May 7, 2006


Copyright © 2006 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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