There is no way around it: carrying a tripod as you hike into the wilderness is a major inconvenience. However, if you leave your tripod in the car and take your chances with just balancing your camera on the nearest rock or tree stump, you run the risk of missing some of the breathtaking low-light shots that characterize some of nature’s best photographs.
Clearly, there are times when a tripod is necessary to capture the shot you want. And while carrying a tripod while on a hike is never going to be the most awesome thing in the world, we have put together a list of tools and techniques that can help make it as painless as possible.
This is the best technique if you find yourself needing to tote your tripod without the assistance of any accessories.
The cradle carry is similar to the technique used by hunters when carrying their shotgun. You may choose to tuck the end of your tripod under your armpit or in the crook of your elbow, with the tripod extending across your body and resting on your opposite wrist.
The advantages of using this technique are that it keeps your arms out in front of you, which can be beneficial if you need to catch yourself in the event of a fall. It also makes it easy to quickly transition your tripod into a walking stick if you need some assistance scaling treacherous terrain.
Over the Shoulder
This is another technique for when you find yourself without accessories. Simply secure the base of the tripod in the palm of your hand (or if your tripod is long, grip the tripod about a foot above the base) and rest the tripod over your shoulder.
It is best to use this technique on level, forgiving terrain, as it will be difficult to catch yourself from a fall without dropping your tripod. However, you can really cover some ground when using this technique, as it is commonly used by soldiers on the march.
If you know that you will be taking your tripod on a hike, you will likely look into some accessories to make the trek a little easier. To this effect, one of the most basic tripod accessories photographers can use when going on a hike is tripod straps.
While there are several different designs and concepts, the basic idea behind tripod straps is to attach to either end of the tripod to create a sling that fits easily over your shoulder so that you can carry your tripod like a satchel.
Although the concept is simple, not all tripod straps are created equal. You want to get one with a wide, flat base so that it does not cut into your shoulder or shift and create shoulder abrasions during your hike.
A photography backpack is another popular accessory for carrying a tripod. If you will be traversing some particularly treacherous terrain and want to keep your hands and body as unencumbered as possible, this is likely the best way to go.
There is a wide range of photography backpacks that have built-in attachments specifically for carrying tripods. When selecting a backpack style, it is important to consider the length of your tripod, as longer tripods will need more attachment points to keep secure and will likely not be compatible with simple pockets or pouches.
Another factor to consider is the overall weight of your tripod. While many backpacks have tripod attachments on the side of the bag, if you have a particularly heavy tripod, you will want to consider a model that attaches the tripod down the middle of the back of the bag or along the top or bottom so that weight is more evenly distributed.
If you have an expensive tripod or simply want to avoid damaging your tripod in any way during the hike, then a specialized tripod bag is probably the way to go.
A tripod bag looks similar to the bags used for carrying pool cues. It is a stand-alone bag specifically for the tripod and comes with a handle for carrying and a strap for toting the bag over the shoulder.
The key to choosing a tripod bag is finding your ideal balance between size, cost, and protection. The most affordable tripod bags are little more than a tripod-size duffle bag, offering little in the way of padding or protection.
More expensive tripod bags feature a padded interior and hard shell protective case. However, the added protection does make the bag a bit heavier, and every ounce counts when going on challenging hikes.
Although traveling with a tripod or toting a tripod on a hike is no one’s favorite thing to do, there will be times when it is necessary to capture the stunning low-light shots that are so common to the best nature photographs.
Therefore, when taking your tripod along on a hike, the cradle carry and over-the-shoulder carry are a couple of simple techniques for when you do not have an accessory, while tripod straps, photography backpacks, and specialized tripod bags are some of the best equipment to make carrying your tripod easier.