Three Points of the Compass has been looking at mini-tripod options. It could be argued that I shouldn’t even be carrying one as so infrequently used. Only a couple of years ago I would have agreed, but one change in my gear has altered that perception. While I used to carry a dedicated camera on trail, these days I am now relying on my phone to capture images. While I could once have propped my camera up on a rock, my pack or my beenie, this is seldom achievable with a phone. A mini-tripod is required.
Three Points of the Compass is now using a 46g Quad Lock rear case with my Samsung S20+ phone. I carry a 20g Quad Lock Tripod adapter to use with this when on trail. This enables a phone to be positioned in either landscape or portrait mode and attaches to any standard camera mount. Almost all little selfie sticks, hand held vlogging mounts and mini selfie tripods fitted with camera mounts will only hold a phone in landscape mode, though I do show one below that has a switchable landscape/portrait feature.
The phone is locked in place with the tripod mount and not simply gripped as with many spring loaded phone clamps so cannot slip out. The plastic tripod adapter is 100mm tall and 25mm wide with a standard 1/4″ tripod thread on the base so can be used on just about any standard tripod. This new set up now positions my phone 80mm higher on a tripod. All I require for the Quad Lock adapter is a small tripod with a 1/4″-20 camera mount. Phone or camera tripods for use on trail need to be tough yet light, small but of practical dimensions, simple but adaptable. It is just about impossible to meet all of these requirements. Some options are explored here.
I have tried various small tripods over the years though for a while I got by with just a monopod. From 2012 until 2015 it was my Leki Sierra trekking pole and then, briefly, a camera mount in the top of one of my Pacer Poles. I also used a 12g Stickpic for part of one hiking season, until I lost the locking nut and gave that up as a bad job, refusing to pay $13 shipping on a $1 replacement item. I returned to using a small tripod of one make or another.
To be honest, I always find them a bit of a pain to retrieve from wherever it is stored on my person or pack, set-up, programme camera, wander off, wander back, look at the rubbish image and repeat the process ad infinitum, then stow it all away. I just want to hike! Anything that can make it handier, simpler and lighter wins in my book.
There are any number of cheap and light tripods available on eBay and Amazon. Despite being advertised as ‘lightweight’ many are in reality quite hefty pieces of kit. The Chinese made ProChosen Compact Flexible Mini Tabletop Tripod is one of the smallest options and at 44g is also one of the lightest. It is typical of what to expect. Unfortunately, cheapness comes out in the finished product. The flexibility of the legs is poor and beyond barely splaying, it is not possible to do much else with them. They will not wrap around a branch for example. There is a 1/4″-20 camera mount. The little pocket clip is a feature unique to this tripod compared to the others looked at here. However it is not a feature I particularly require. This little tripod will not hold much weight, and the narrow platform around 100mm high topples easily. The little rubber ball feet will prevent scratching of a surface, not something I am wildly concerned about when on trail, but if I only used this tripod around the house, perhaps of more importance then. This should be a more serious contender than it is, but look elsewhere, there are far better options.
The Joby GorillaPod flexible tripods are well known. There has been gradual development and expansion of the range over the years. A slight problem is that new old stock remains on sale from third party dealers and it can be a little confusing as to exactly what product is being offered or will be sent. It doesn’t help that many sellers include incorrect images of alternative products in their adverts.
I used one of the original GorillaPods for a few years but it gradually fell to pieces on me and I had to eventually give up on it in 2018, replacing it with the next generation. Joby have since released a number of additional small tripod solutions for the new generation of vloggers but many of the GorillaPod tripods of really useful and practical height are pretty heavy affairs. Though doubtful, I was intrigued enough by the light weight of their 40g GorillaPod Magnetic mini to purchase one to compare against my GorillaPod 325 (below). This is the smallest of their tripods and I am not at all sure I should have bothered buying it. It is small, providing a usable platform height of just 75mm that will support up to 325g. Terminal feet on each leg are both grippy and magnetic and will hold a camera to the side of my fridge door. It is right on the edge of its magnetic capability with my 247g Olumpus TG-4 ‘tough‘ camera and will not support my phone’s weight on the additional extension of the Quadlock adaptor. Frankly, it isn’t of much use to me in an urban setting with a camera, or on trail with a phone. All the magnetic feet do is increase the weight and there is no lighter variant of this tripod without magnetic feet.
The 63mm long legs with their flexible rotating ABS sockets will barely wrap around my finger so nothing beyond the thinnest of branches can be used as a phone support on a hike, though it will wrap around the end of a trekking pole if used as a selfie stick. Those short legs will not splay far and while it is a wobbly and unstable platform that is created, it is better than the ProChosen Compact tripod above due to the greater stiffness of the legs and the lower profile.
Tripod legs are of insufficient height to adjust to most rough and angular rock supports and the 1/4″-20 mount barely pokes above short ground vegetation. This low height is slightly mitigated if using the Quad Lock adapter which raises a phone up a little.
The next size up from the GorillaPod Magnetic Mini is the GorillaPod Starter Kit. That tripod comes with phone clamp that I really do not like or require, though it does have a 1/4″-20 camera mount beneath it.
Larger than the GorillaPod Mini and only slightly larger than the GorillaPod Starter Kit is the 52g GorillaPod 325. This is the next generation to the original GorillaPod. The tripod that I have is the version without magnetic feet so is around 10g lighter than the exact same tripod with magnetic feet- the GorillaPod 325 Magnetic, distinguishable by it’s red feet. In common with most, but not all, of the smaller GorillaPod tripods, the GorillaPod 325 has a 1/4″-20 camera mount. GorillaPods are made in China but don’t let that influence your decision. Millions of these tripods have been sold and they have a loyal following.
This tripod now has a reinforced ballhead with 90° tilt. While this facility enables both landscape and portrait shooting, my Quad Lock phone case will also do this but could be useful if I ever go back to carrying a dedicated camera on trail. A clue to it’s weight bearing capacity is in the name- 325g. The same capacity as all of the smaller ‘flexible leg’ GorillaPods. The completely adjustable legs give this tripod the most adaptability when standing a phone or camera on uneven surfaces while still obtaining a stable platform that won’t topple expensive electronics into a stream as soon as the back is turned.
There is a problem with a GorillaPod however. They break. The very feature that makes them so useful- the flexible legs, is also it’s weakness. Invariably one or more of the sockets eventually breaks and legs start coming adrift. It happened on my original tripod and I am not alone amongst users to experience this. This failure doesn’t happen short-term. You can get many months, if not years, out of one of these tripods. But eventually the plastic in the leg ball/socket pivots is stressed sufficiently for one to fail, followed by another. It is a question as to whether such long term fragility is acceptable or not. For myself, who doesn’t actually use a tripod excessively, I’ll continue to risk it. Others might not feel that way.
Joby produce one of the lightest and smallest tripod options there is. This is the 25g Joby Micro Tripod. I have used this extensively over many years, left permanently attached to the base of a camera or with the Joby GripTight ONE Mount for use with a phoneThe tripod and GripTight fold into a thin neat package. The phone clamp screws on to the tripod’s 1/4″-20 camera ballhead mount with 36 degrees of movement. I have frequently been unimpressed with this set-up as the 20mm high platform is low in ground vegetation and a camera lens got obscured. That said, the tripod folds so small that I continue to use it with a camera as it is just so convenient to leave it attached and quickly unwind the legs if standing the camera on a wall or rock. The legs are zinc alloy and advertised as capable of loads up to 250g however they are capable of greater than Joby’s caution. It is also just a little more suited to use with my phone these days as I now use the Quad Lock adapter that lifts the phone up 80mm higher than the GripTight held a phone. The tripod is so low that stability is good despite the modest length of the legs. I have knackered the slot screw a bit by tightening with a too-small-coin, but that was my fault. Other than that there is little to go wrong with this tough little tripod.
It appears that Joby is no longer making this handy little Micro stand, which is a pity as it is extremely compact. The GripTight ONE phone clamp and Micro tripod are still available as a combination but it looks as though that is new old stock.
The 49g German made Novoflex Micropod Tripod is a well made item. Available from Speed Graphic in the UK, every aspect of it’s manufacture and appearance shouts quality even if it is now a little dated in design. I have the Microstativ version that has a detachable type 19 ballhead with lockable revolving (tracking) base. I used this table top tripod while backpacking and travelling for a number of years combined with my heavy Canon G9 and then my Sony RX100. Both of those cameras were well within the capabilities of this metal construct tripod that can handle far larger SLR cameras, flashlights and camcorders. It remains in superb condition and probably has decades of life in it. I still use it for indoors photography as it is a stable, wide and low platform, while the rubber feet prevent damage to a polished table surface.
The basic Novoflex tripod, with three legs, weighs 49g. Adding the Novoflex Ball 19 increases this to 142g, so you can see why I seldom carried the ballhead. If I had been taking smooth tracking panoramic video I might have required it. But I don’t. For stills photography on trail the ballhead is not required. The three tripod legs can be slotted into holes in the bottom to make a handle that can be gripped in the hand, or repositioned into the three splayed holes to form a low profile and stable platform 75mm high. It is the detachable legs that were always my concern on trail. Each has a small O-ring inserted into a groove in the leg to make a good firm push-fit when installed but I always worried over losing one of the legs on trail. Four (or five) individual detachable parts to a tripod was always too much for me and I felt one part would eventually go missing. I never did lose any element of the tripod but they remained a concern.
I do wonder if bamboo chopstick legs could be whittled to use with the 19g camera mount instead of the three metal leg supports supplied, or even use three titanium tent stakes that are carried when backpacking. Now that would make a lightweight tripod option that I’ll leave for others to attempt. I was tempted to try the Novoflex BasicBall model that offers increased adaptability to the leg support positions however that still has detachable legs plus it is an expensive item to purchase on a whim.
The mini tripod that I have carried and used most on trail is almost certainly the little US made UltraPod from Pedco. This tripod has been around for years and appears largely unaltered in that time. There are larger versions of this small tripod but the weight also increases dramatically.
The tripod is made from a polycarbonate resin, has a ball and socket camera mount and, most usefully, a velcro wrap so that it can fixed around thin trees, branches or the end of the trekking pole. I confess that it is rare that I come across a handy support at a height and aspect with the right diameter that I can use. The amount of movement of the ballhead is as follows:
- Pan adjustment: 360 degrees
- Tilt adjustment: +/- 90 degrees
- Angular adjustment: +/- 20 degrees
Not all UltraPod tripods are created equal however. The black version is called the UltraPod I and weighs 51g. Orange, yellow and blue versions are called the UltraPod Mini and weigh 47g. This weight difference is down to slight design differences in the legs and feet, and a slightly more robust socket head on the black version. Platform height of the Ultrapod I is 112mm, platform height of the Ultrapod Mini is only slightly lower at 104mm.
This is a carefully thought out tripod where design has deliberately sought to reduce weight. There are holes in the polycarbonate legs. Much of the ballhead is made of plastic too though the 1/4″-20 camera mount is metal. Even the washer on the platform is made of cork. Weight can be reduced further by removing the soft feet and cutting the velcro strap thinner as it is a little overkill at 20mm wide. The rubber feet do provide a little grip on sloping slippery surfaces. Removing the velcro straps entirely drops weights to 47g (I) and 39g (Mini). There is a slightly larger UltraPod II, that weighs 119g.
The three legs on the Ultrapod I are all the same length but one leg is longer than the other two on the Ultrapod Mini. If the camera attached to the latter is particularly heavy or has a heavy lens, it can be orientated in such a manner that the longer leg goes to the front and increases stability.
The Quad Lock adapter cannot be left in place attached to the rear of a phone. It is awkward in that position and is uncomfortable if held in selfie mode in the hand. Nor does it lend itself to being permanently attached to a tripod head. It is all a little awkward when not actually in use as a phone/adapter/tripod trio. It nests most comfortably and securely with the UltraPod as the velcro strap holds it in place.
When I removed the soft silver/grey feet you can see on the blue tripod, and trimmed the velcro, this dropped the weight just a little to 41g.
As mentioned above, the ‘wish list’ when selecting a mini tripod for use on trail is never going to be answered in full. It is a question as to which features are most desirable. For me, I seldom actually use a tripod, so reduced weight and bulk are always going to be my priorities. Or even whether to actually carry a tripod.
The (now reduced in weight) 41g UltraPod Mini or 52g GorillaPod 325 would be my choices for use with a phone, though the tiny 25g Joby Micro Tripod has been really useful combined with my cameras in the past and I shall continue to leave one permanently attached to the camera if used on trail. For something larger and more stable, I do wonder if I could rattle up some adaptation with tent stakes as legs to fit the 19g Novoflex camera mount. As it is however, the Novoflex continues to be used for tabletop photography at home.