The best spotting scope tripods for long-distance shooting

Give your scope the foundation it deserves.

Best Value

Vortex Optics Highcountry II Tripod Kit

Vortex Optics High Country II

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Best Overall

Manfrotto MT190XPRO3 3 Section Aluminum Tripod

Manfrotto MT190XPRO3

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Editor’s Choice

Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber

Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber

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Consistently placing accurate shots on targets beyond 500 yards requires determination, discipline, teamwork, solid training, and of course, the proper equipment — including spotting scope tripods. Anyone who’s attended an NRA F-class match has likely seen a bewildering array of high-speed low-drag gear ranging from Gucci rifles in exotic calibers to eye-wateringly clear (and expensive!) optics, portable weather stations, ballistic calculators, and more from vendors eager to sell you its latest products. Some of this equipment is necessary, others yield diminishing returns; however, one product that is frequently left out of the spotlight is the mundane, yet essential, spotting scope tripod.

Like any other activity, a solid foundation is essential — be that an understanding of ballistic fundamentals or, in this case, the stability of the spotting scope. Whether for competition or more serious work, the spotter controls the engagement and directs the shooter with corrections for distance and wind. To do this, the spotting scope needs to be rock steady so that the spotter can (1) locate, identify, and, if necessary, range targets, (2) estimate wind at the target location, and (3) communicate corrections to the shooter based on bullet trace and point of impact. Mounting a $3,000 spotting scope atop a $50 photography tripod simply will not do.

To that end, we put together a guide to the best spotting scope tripods on the market. Take a gander and see which spotting scope tripod fits your needs best.

Methodology

In this article, we recommend the best spotting scope tripods for use in long-range (beyond 500 yards) precision rifle shooting. Our selections are based on experience with comparable equipment at Gunsite Academy’s Long Range Precision Rifle course and extensive research including reviews of manufacturer specifications, professional publications, product videos, and other sources. 

Our research started with identifying the key characteristics essential to the performance of a quality tripod, namely stability, adjustability, payload capacity, weight, and head options. These characteristics are discussed in detail later in this article in the section “What to consider when buying a spotting scope tripod.”

Our research team then searched for tripods on e-commerce websites including Amazon, Cabela’s, OpticsPlanet, Brownells, Midway, B&H Photography and many more, with a focus on selecting those products that offer an optimal balance between design characteristics. The most promising tripod designs were then selected for in-depth research via consumer and independent third-party print and video reviews, as well as discussions within the Task & Purpose community of recreational shooters, hunters, photographers, and military personnel.

The final research step leveraged all of the data, results, and commentary to develop specific questions for each of the manufacturers. The answers provided by the manufacturers gave us a better understanding of each tripod’s performance in terms of wear and intended use and helped us develop our final set of recommendations.

It is of the utmost importance to those of us at Task & Purpose to ensure that you, our readers, know our commitment to fair and open product reviews and recommendations so that you can trust us to provide you with unbiased, balanced information.

Best Value

Vortex Optics Highcountry II Tripod Kit

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Best Overall

Manfrotto MT190XPRO3 3 Section Aluminum Tripod

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Editor’s Choice

Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber

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Best Four-Section

Sirui W-2204 Waterproof Carbon Fiber Tripod

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Best Lightweight

Vortex Optics Ridgeview Carbon Tripod Kit

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Best Budget

SLIK Pro 700 DX Tripod

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Our verdict on spotting scope tripods

A quality tripod is an essential accessory for a spotting scope. Our top three picks, the Vortex Optics High Country II, the Vortex Optics Ridgeview Carbon, and the Manfrotto MT190XPRO3 represent the best value, light weight, and best overall selections, respectively. If you’re shopping on a budget and weight isn’t a major factor, the SLIK Pro 700 DX is also a good choice.

What to consider when buying spotting scope tripods

Key features of a spotting scope tripod

While a tripod may seem to be a relatively simple piece of equipment at first glance, there are several factors to consider when selecting one for use with a spotting scope.

Stability

Three points determine a plane, so you might expect that all tripods should be equally stable; however, this is not the case. The quality of the locking mechanisms employed on the legs, as well as the types of materials used in the legs themselves, can significantly affect both overall stability and vibration resistance. This can be mitigated somewhat by suspending a weight from the central column, but this solution is more of a patch than a feature. Ultimately, stability is the most important design characteristic to consider when purchasing a tripod, as it will directly impact the ability to make precise observations through the scope.

Adjustability

You should carefully consider the full range of use cases for a tripod prior to purchase. Will you operate the tripod only from a standing position in the open? While prone next to a rifleman under concealment? In uneven terrain? In water or sand? Tripods with a wide range of adjustability can fluidly transition between multiple use cases with ease. For example, the Manfrotto MT190XPRO3 has four different leg angle settings (25, 46, 66, and 88 degrees) so that the tripod can be deployed in configurations ranging from 63 inches tall to just 3.5 inches off the ground. 

Payload capacity

Even with a truly massive objective lens, spotting scopes rarely exceed 10 pounds in weight; however, if you plan to use your tripod for digital photography, the weight of the camera body and the lens — which exerts a cantilevered load on the tripod — must also be considered. As a general rule, and allowing for a substantial safety margin, a tripod with a load rating of 20 pounds or more should be adequate for all spotting scope applications. 

Alternatively, tripods with sufficient payload capacity can also be used to support a rifle in the field with the appropriate attachment hardware, providing outstanding stability for the shooter. For this use case, the minimum load rating should be north of 30 pounds to account for both the weight of the rifle and recoil when firing. 

Weight

If you will be carrying the tripod over any significant distance, weight can become a significant concern; however, sacrificing stability, adjustability, and payload capacity to save a few ounces is a poor trade-off. Excluding the weight of the head assembly (included in some of the tripods listed above), all of the tripods we’ve recommended except the SLIK Pro 700 DX weigh less than five pounds, with some carbon fiber models weighing as little as three pounds.

While it may be tempting to automatically equate weight savings with exotic materials such as titanium and carbon fiber, a well-designed tripod manufactured from aluminum can still provide great performance with minimal weight. 

Manufacturers may also choose to use the high stiffness of carbon fiber to increase payload capacity rather than to reduce weight. The Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 weighs the same as its aluminum counterpart but is able to support a 33 percent heavier load. In contrast, the Vortex Optics Ridgeview — the lightest tripod on our list — weighs less than three pounds (without head) but is still capable of supporting a respectable 22-pound load. 

Head design

The head serves as the interface between the tripod and the spotting scope (or whatever other equipment you intend to mount atop the tripod). While there are many types of heads available depending on the intended application, only two are suitable for use with a spotting scope: a pan and tilt head or a geared head.

Pan and tilt heads

The pan and tilt head is relatively inexpensive, lightweight, simple to operate, and suitable for a variety of applications. It consists of a mounting plate for the scope which can be independently moved through both the pan (yaw) and tilt (pitch) axes. Some pan and tilt heads also allow the scope to rotate through the roll axis as well, although these are less common. The orientation of the scope is controlled via a twist-lock device on each axis. Higher-quality heads will also include a graduated scale on each axis of rotation, as well as a single spirit level.

Geared heads

The addition of gears increases both precision and cost over the simple pan and tilt head. Geared heads almost always include scales for each axis so that the scope can be quickly re-indexed to a previously identified target with separate controls for gross and fine adjustments. Geared heads are the best tripod heads for spotting scopes used in precision shooting applications, especially if target distance must be estimated using the scope’s reticle.

Spotting scope tripod pricing 

Expect to pay around $200 for a tripod that is suitable for use with a spotting scope. Tripods in this price range will be manufactured using aluminum alloys and may or may not come with a head depending on the manufacturer.

For carbon fiber tripods, expect to pay upwards of $400; however, be sure to read the full product specifications if you’re searching for a lightweight tripod, as some carbon fiber models weigh just as much as aluminum tripods but have a higher payload capacity.

Tips and tricks

Ultra-fine adjustments

Very fine changes to the position of a spotting scope can be made quickly by applying a small twisting force with one’s hands against the legs of the tripod. This technique is most useful when reorienting the scope on the point of impact to decrease the time required to provide a wind correction to the shooter.

FAQs about spotting scope tripods

Q: Will any tripod work with a spotting scope?

A: Yes, although an adapter may be required to mate the scope to the top attachment of the tripod based on the thread pitch of the stud. We recommend purchasing a quick-release locking plate of a type compatible with the top attachment of the tripod. 

Q: Can you hold a spotting scope?

A: No. Even though spotting scopes are variable power, the minimum magnification level is generally above 10x which is far too high to hold steady without external support.

Q: How do spotting scopes attach to tripods?

A: While it’s generally possible to screw the spotting scope directly to the top attachment stud of a tripod, the preferred method is to use a quick-release locking plate. The plate consists of two parts, one which is permanently mounted to the tripod and the other to the base of the scope.

Q: Can you use binoculars as a spotting scope?

A: No. Most binoculars have a smaller objective lens and considerably less magnification than a spotting scope and lack a reticle. The purpose of binoculars is to scan for potential targets, then use the spotting scope to zoom in on the target of interest.

Q: Are spotting scope mounts universal?

A: No. You should check and make sure that the stud size and thread pitch between your spotting scope and tripod match. If you intend to purchase a quick-release locking plate, it should be of the type that is supported by your tripod’s manufacturer.

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Scott Drumm

Contributing Writer

Scott Drumm served in the Navy at the Office of Naval Reactors / NAVSEA 08 where he was responsible for the design and maintenance of nuclear propulsion systems in use throughout the fleet. Scott is an alumni of Gunsite Academy and enjoys tactical pistol, rifle, and shotgun training as well as precision long-range rifle shooting.  He resides in the mountains of northwest Montana and when not writing or busy with his day job, spends time backpacking and hiking the many trails of Glacier National Park.