Gear Guy

What's the best camera tripod for backpacking?

Where can I find a good digital-camera tripod that's lightweight enough for backpacking? Crystal Tacoma, Washington

Nothing special about a tripod for digital cameras—any decent tripod for a film camera will do the trick. The question is: How light, and how expensive?

Myself, I'm a big fan of Bogen tripods, which are well-made and well-designed. Case in point: The Bogen/Manfrotto (they sell under both names) Compact Digi Tripod with a ball-tilt head. It is a cute, cute, cute little tripod that can hold up to 5.5 pounds (it's designed for compact digital and film cameras) and collapses down to about 13 inches, while extending to nearly four feet. Its 2.2-pound weight's not bad, either. The list price is $127 (www.bogenimaging.us), but as is so often the case in the mysterious world of camera pricing, street price is usually $40 to $50 less.

Gitzo, a French tripod maker, makes a heavier-duty tripod with carbon fiber, enabling it to support up to ten pounds if that's what you need. It's called the Mountaineer Carbon Fiber Tripod (www.gitzo.com), and weighs about 2.75 pounds. Alas, it's pricey—$450 at most camera retailers. And you have to buy a head for the thing, which will add another $65 to $100, depending on the model. One nice tripod, though!

If you want to shoot ground-level close-ups of flowers and the like, another good choice is the Benbo Mini Trekker ($75). It has a center column that pivots downward, allowing you to support the camera literally at ground level. It doesn't, however, extend that high for other shots (only 28 inches). Or, try a Benbo Monopod ($35). Often a single leg of support provides all the steadiness you need, and at 21 ounces it's a lightweight option.

Finally, there's this: The UltraClamp mounting bracket ($24; www.rei.com). It's a camera support that clamps to just about anything—car windows, trekking poles, you name it. Not as convenient as a tripod, but its compact size and half-pound weight certainly makes it worth a look.

For more reviews of the year's best cameras and accessories, check out Outside's 2004 Buyer's Guide.

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