Flying With Tripods

Also, REI app, upcoming lectures and new sponsor

This week’s question is a good one about traveling with a tripod. Upon seeing the inquiry, my first thought was, “Bravo for asking the right question!” Usually what I hear is, “Should I bring a tripod?” And of course the answer is yes! If the photo is worth making, it’s worth using a tripod for.

Before we get into that …

First, if you haven’t seen it already, I recommend checking out the free REI National Park Guide & Maps app, available for both iOS and Android. Not all the parks are represented, but the nifty part is that it includes crowd-provided information — i.e., like-minded travelers offering park tips, such as hidden trails, “secret” spots and more.

Second, I’d like to pass along information about two public lectures I have scheduled for the week of Ansel Adams’ birthday. On February 23, I’ll be returning to the B&H Event Space to speak about:

Both events are free to attend, but space is limited, so register today!

Incidentally, this is the first time I’m working with Formatt Hitech. But I know their product—their specialty is very high-quality neutral density filters, which, in my opinion, are must-have gear for a national park photo trip.


This Week’s Question

Salt Creek and the Panamint Range, Death Valley National Park

Salt Creek and the Panamint Range, Death Valley National Park

Q.  How do you fly with a tripod? Do you use a special case? These days most airlines charge for bags, or for a second bag, so I don’t want to pay extra just to have a tripod on a trip. Scott, New York City

A. I’ve used a special case in the past, but no longer do. As you mentioned, in most instances a second checked bag (or a first) incurs a fee. And that fee applies to both legs of a trip, thereby doubling the cost.

Also, a second bag just gives something extra to keep track of while traveling, something extra to wait for at baggage claim, something extra that can get “erroneously rerouted,” etc.

There are many ways to deal with this, including taking the tripod onto the plane as part of your carry-on allowance. I don’t like to do that though, because I never know when a TSA agent or flight attendant won’t agree with the strategy.

So I always include my tripod with my checked baggage. Here’s my method:

When I fly for photography trip, I use a military-style duffel bag to pack everything except my cameras, lenses and rechargeable batteries (both of which are in my carried-on backpack). Everything I need fits in the duffel—tent, sleeping bag, towel, toiletries, outdoor supplies (including a camping knife), second pair of shoes, clothes and my tripod.

When I pack the duffel bag, my fully collapsed tripod is in the center, surrounded by the soft items (sleeping bag, clothes, etc.) that can protect it from the inevitable tosses, bumps and drops. Also, before packing, I remove the ball head, wrap it in a jacket or sweatshirt, and put it in the duffel separately. (I made a simple graphic to illustrate a top-down view of how I might pack the bag.)

If you need more protection than that to feel comfortable, many good cases are available. Here’s the selection that B&H offers, with choices that range from $100 to $450.

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