Packing Your Tripod In Carry-On Baggage

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19/06/2009 – Packing Your Tripod In Carry-On Baggage

As new fees become increasingly common place for travellers more photographers are seeking to reduce their checked baggage.   This reduction in checked baggage is increasingly including the need to carry a tripod on-board flights as part of travelling photographers cabin baggage.

While nearly every airline and country allows for tripods to be transported as carry-on baggage (technically it is not allowed in Italy, but rarely if ever enforced), a photographer’s tripod must not increase the dimensions of carry-on baggage.  As the majority of airlines around the world have a maximum carry-on size restriction of 45-linear inches (114.3 centimeters) packing a tripod can be challenging.

In discussing carry-on baggage options with hundreds of photographers over the past few months it appears that many are dead-set on travelling with the biggest and heaviest tripod they can find. I understand that need for a heavy tripod, I have a large and substantial tripod in my closet for specific uses, but when seeking to get all my equipment, clothing, accessories and a tripod into carry-on only baggage some concessions must be made.

I can’t tell any photographer what their personal needs are. Photography has so many variables that choosing a tripod and other equipment will always be a personal choice based on experience and in-depth knowledge of a photog’s gear, abilities and expertise. What I can offer is some advice on how to pack a tripod for travelling.

When selecting a tripod for travel, consider what you are most likely to get on the plane with. Do you fly with half-a-dozen ‘smaller lenses’ (14f2.8 to 70-200f2.8) or a few longer lenses as well (300f2.8+). What is your primary use of a tripod, longer exposures or simply lens stability?  Do you need to shoot from a fully extended tripod or can you gain stability by lowering the tripod?

A very common theme I have noticed in speaking with photographers regarding selecting a tripod for travel is the desire to have an expensive tripod then skimping on the ball-head. A huge factor in the stability of your camera gear mounted on a tripod depends on the ball-heads ability to hold your gear.  Don’t skimp out on your ball-head!

To make packing easier make sure you purchase a tripod with a removable center column. A tripod with a center column that can be disassembled into two-pieces is ideal for packing.

When exploring your tripod options measure the height of the tripod-legs fully collapsed rather than the height of the tripod lens in addition to the inserted center column.

…so…you’ve chosen your tripod and now you’re ready to pack it. What is the most effective method of getting it in your carry on? It’s actually quite simple

Option 1) Remove the ball head, collapse the tripod to its minimum height and strap it to the outside of your bag, provided its combined size does not exceed the maximum carry-on size restrictions of the airline you’re flying with.

Option 2) Remove the ball head, remove the center column and pack the tripod inside your carry-on baggage.

I always place gaffers tape over the ball-head bolt at the top of the center column to protect the bolt-threads.

That’s it, simple as can be.  Assess your needs and unless you’re packing your 600f4 for a Safari, leave the two-ton tripod at home and seek out a compact, durable, carbon fiber tripod to save your back and shoulders from the weight and protect your wallet from extra baggage fees.

Below are two photos of my Flashpoint F-1128 Carbon Fiber Tripod. My F-1128 tripod is most commonly found attached to the side of my Mountainsmith Borealis AT or inside my Gura Gear Kiboko, as detailed in these two photos.

Happy Flying!



  1. Interesting topic. What are your thoughts about traveling with a monopod as opposed to a tripod? I recently returned from my third trip to South Africa and regretted not taking at least a monopod for stability. I was afraid that TSA would have a problem carrying on the monopod. What are your thoughts?

  2. I have flown with monopods countless times and never encountered a problem. I make sure my monopods either have Nikon stickers on them or Canon shoulder pads to clearly define the item as photographic equipment. It makes the item obvious in conjunction with camera gear.

    Happy Flying!


  3. I will be flying to the Galapagos in a few months and was wondering if you are still able to carry a carbon fiber monopod in your carry-on bag?

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