on all orders over $1000
on all orders over $1000
The answer to this question will narrow down the field greatly. If you are a backpack hunter, you’re likely carrying small-to-minimal optics (8-12-power binoculars and a small spotting scope). If you hunt out of your truck, you might be packing a BTX or a set of Kowa Highlanders along with a set of 15-power binoculars. It would make sense, then, to match your tripod setup to your optics setup.
Your tripod head is the key factor in selecting the best hunting tripod setup.
Backcountry mule deer, elk, coues deer, bear, and blacktail hunters generally try to minimize weight, as going in heavy makes for very heavy return trips. The lighter your kit, the farther you can go. We can rule out large fluid heads and most pan heads on the market for this type of situation. Sorry, strong guys.
A backpacker wants to be able to deploy his tripod quickly and easily, and not deal with either large plates or bulky heads. To be as effective as possible, a small, minimal head like our Micro Pan Head (7.5 oz) is a great option for the toothbrush-cutter crowd. Although it works well for any hunter, it works best with spotters of less than 65 mm objective lens size.
Another great lightweight option is the Outdoorsmans Pistol Grip Head which weighs just 9.8 ounces. This head excels when used with binoculars, but is generally not recommended for spotting scopes. Some folks use it for both, but for fine aiming, it’s better to have some type of pan head with a locking pan and tilt.
The Slik tripod includes a lightweight ball head that makes for a great portable combo.
For any spotter larger than 65mm, it is ideal to use a fluid tripod head. Fluid heads offer resistance, which keeps optics from tipping forward or back and allows for very smooth tilt. These heads are typically larger and bulkier, which makes them less-than-ideal for hunting out of a backpack. However, if you’re hunting from a vehicle or a base camp, a good fluid head is definitely worth having.
One major benefit of using a large fluid head is the ability to also use binoculars. You get the same fluid motion, and adapting your binoculars is extremely simple. The Outdoorsmans Fluid Head can accept both Arca and Outdoorsmans plates, meaning that you can quickly swap between binoculars and a spotting scope or rifle rest attachment.
We also offer some solid lower-cost heads. Our favorites are the Manfrotto XPro Fluid Tripod Head, 700RC2 Fluid Tripod Head, and the MVH502 Fluid Head.* The drawbacks of these heads, as with any lower-priced item, are durability, weight, and compatibility with Outdoorsmans and Arca-Swiss plates.
Between these two ends of the tripod head spectrum lie several great mid-size options. We’re partial to the Outdoorsmans Pan Head, as it is the most popular and well-rounded head we offer.
This head was made to meet all of the demands of the western hunter; it’s lightweight for its medium size, provides smooth, locking pan and tilt, and has withstood the most brutal conditions and accidents to ever befall a tripod head.
The Outdoorsmans Pan Head weighs 10.5 oz and works well with spotting scopes of up to 95 mm objective lens size. It can technically go bigger, but we’d suggest a fluid head for a BTX 115 or a Zeiss Harpia.
The Jim White 2.0 head is another interesting tripod head in this category, as it bears a resemblance to the Outdoorsmans Pan Head, but offers a few unique features. Constructed from a combination of polycarbonate and aluminum, the JW2.0 incorporates adjustable drag for the tilt function as well as native compatibility with Arca-Swiss plates.
At the shop, we have recently been fascinated by the Sirui VA-5 Head. This Chinese-manufactured head is around the same size as our Pan Head and offers fluid pan and tilt with stepless tilt drag adjustment.
This head comes with a proprietary plate, but it is also compatible with Arca-Swiss plates. At just over 20 oz, it’s no weight weenie, but at $164.90, it’s worth a look for folks who run a large pair of binoculars or binoculars and a medium-sized spotting scope. The price is more than agreeable for what you get.
As with our other product-focused guides, the best suggestion we can make is to run what’s comfortable for you and allows you to glass as effectively as possible. If you are a backpacker who likes a Fluid Head but you’re worried about weight, our friend Colton Bagnoli would tell you to “just get stronger.”
We carry all of these tripod heads at our store, so if you’re in the area, feel free to stop by and test them all out before making a decision.
All of these tripod heads are compatible with the Outdoorsmans Tripod System.*Due to recent events, the Jim White 2.0 and some Manfrotto tripod heads are back-ordered. To stay current on restock dates, sales, and new products, subscribe to our email newsletter.