As a hunter with a photography background, I can attest to the difference high-quality glass can make in the field. Seasoned outdoorsmen will invest a thousand dollars or more in a single pair of binoculars or a spotting scope to gain a better view of game. Long range and small-bore (non-hunting) shooters can relate.
Thing is, unless you stabilize the image, the optic is just extra weight (~2-5-pounds). While most binoculars are hand-stabilized, the majority of spotting scopes require a support system such as a tripod — especially with wind or strong mirage.
Oh, but the weight and size of a tripod! The balance between weight, maximum load, size, durability, and price has always been a struggle.
The compact tripod that came with my current spotting scope didn’t cut it this past season, so I turned to Vortex Optics for a solution. Their recently released (2017) High Country Tripod Kit strikes a balance of features designed to accommodate the needs of weight-sensitive hunters, shooters, photographers, and wildlife-watchers alike, making my choice an easy one.
Out of the box, the High Country is a compact 21-inches tall by 3.8-incles wide and tips the scales at a scant 2.2-pounds. A simple zippered nylon (un-padded) carrying case with strap accompanies the tripod, as does an Allen key to adjust the tripod’s head.
With a nice matte black finish across nearly all aspects of the tripod, it’s also visually stealthy. From an auditory perspective, there are no floppy parts to create unwanted clanking sounds.
The tripod’s center column also features a rubber gasket around the bottom, which prevents the legs from banging the column or each other.
The High Country Tripod comes equipped with a nice, all-metal, ball head assembly. The two-piece clamp with thumbscrew allows for very quick adjustments throughout a wide range of positions and secures even heavy optics (up to five pounds) without needing to wrench-down on the thumb screw.
The Vortex ball head also features excellent, extremely smooth panning of the head. The panning ring provides good resistance to keep you from over-shooting your subject when you pan to keep up with its movements.
There is a very slight amount of wiggle at the panning ring, but not enough to cause performance issues. Worth noting: the panning feature cannot be locked in place.
Connecting your optic to the ball head is fairly standard with the provided High Country Tripod Quick Release Plate (above, top). Simply screw the plate into your optic, and then slide the plate (with optic) into the plate platform.
A spring-loaded pin (below) secures the plate to the head and the rubberized tension knob sets the plate in place. To remove the optic, simply release the tension on the plate and depress the button on the side of the plate platform while sliding the plate out.
Additional plates are available for $14.99 each, allowing users to easily swap different optics on and off of a single tripod without the hassle of moving a plate between optics. And Vortex also offers the Binocular Tripod Adapter and Uni-Dapter for those that employ a tripod with their binoculars.
The tripod’s center column allows for 7.75-inches of height adjustment. The center column’s collar (below) allows for adjustable tension.
If you’re using a 4-pound spotting scope you’ll want more tension than if you’re using a 1-pound set of binoculars. Once at the desired height, use the thumbscrew (above) to lock the center column in place.
The bottom end of the center column sports a spring-loaded hook from which to hang a counterweight. Adding additional weight under the center column (above) can help further stabilize a tripod in windy or mirage conditions and uneven terrain. Should the hook not suit your needs, it can be removed.
Underneath the ball head is a bull’s eye spirit level. It is highly visible with a nice, small bubble.
The High Country Tripod’s telescoping, non-rotating legs have four sections apiece and are very lightweight. Flip up the Quick Lock polymer clamps (above) with a single finger to extend or retract leg sections, then flip them back down to secure legs in position.
With everything collapsed, beginning leg length is approximately sixteen inches from foot to hinge. The second and third sections provide an additional 9-inches of length each, while the fourth section extends 9.5-inches. Overall, the High Country can extend from 19.5-inches to 53-inches tall.
Each leg is capped with a lightly textured, rounded rubber foot. These feet aren’t the kind to fall off and they most certainly help keep the legs from slipping.
The coated metal leg hinges feature three rock-solid angle settings. Simply slide the leg release pin (above) to the position of your choice. Each position keeps the legs from further movement outwards, but does not lock them in place.
Its light weight and compact profile are largely noticeable benefits of the High Country. The three-angle position, extendable legs helped stabilize my optics, allowing me to take advantage of better vantage points. The ball head locks-up with little torque on the thumbscrew and panning is extremely smooth and controllable.
Vortex Optics’ High Country Tripod Kit is compact, lightweight and tough enough to handle rugged outdoor endeavors. Whether you prefer to mount binoculars, spotting scope, or camera, this tripod and its quick release plate system will stabilize all while helping shed an extra pound or two off your pack. The ball head provides a very wide range of positions, clamps your optic securely in place, and also pans very smoothly. Additional features such as counterweight hook, multi-angle leg positions, rubber feet, and bubble level help make the High Country Tripod Kit a great mate for any optic up to five pounds.
Specifications: Vortex High Country Tripod Kit
Price as reviewed: $109.99 MSRP ($79.99 via Brownells)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Design: * * * *
The High Country tripod has an excellent balance of features, size, and weight. It covers all the major bases and gives you extras like leg angle positions and quick release optics mount.
Quality: * * * *
Vortex Optics uses high-quality metal components in the High Country; all of which are coated very nicely. The ball head with smooth, controllable panning and quick release optics mount system performs very well. The tripod does utilize several plastic parts.
Packability: * * * * *
This tripod weighs a mere 2.2-pounds and is only 21-inches when fully collapsed, making it an easy addition to your pack. The quick release optics mount system allows for easy optics/tripod connection or separation.
Overall: * * * * *
Compact, lightweight, and able to easily stabilize optics up to five pounds, Vortex Optics’ High Country Tripod Kit is a great choice for anyone looking to save some weight and a few dollars without sacrificing quality and features.
We can all boast life lessons that have taught us certain principles. For me, the optics lesson happened years ago. Ed Sweet, the host of Kid Outdoors, and I would take a lot of kids bear hunting. I’d write articles about the hunts and he’d film them for his show. On one of our first hunts we saw 10 bears in two afternoons. Only once did I spot the bear before anyone else. That’s because my partners had good glass. I had an average pair of binoculars and have realized over the years that I had been missing a lot of game. I started a quest to learn more.
Unfortunately, the old saying “you get what you pay for” is never so true as it is in the optics world. When you buy a set, get the best that you can afford and you’ll never be sorry. I’ve heard a lot of people cuss bad optics, but I’ve never seen anyone regret buying good ones.
I thought I knew most of the optic companies out there and had tested products for at least half of them, but then I attended my first SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor and Trade) Show years ago. Wow, was I shocked. I bet there were 50 to 75 optic companies on display.
So, who’s the best? What makes one better than another? They all look clear and crisp in the store, don’t they? So how can you tell which one to buy, and why spend $2,000 on a pair of binoculars when you can buy a pair for $99? Why would you buy a spotting scope instead of just using your binoculars or the scope on your rifle? Well, let’s try to get our sights around these questions.
I teach a lot of glassing for big-game seminars, have been sponsored by a lot of optic companies over the years and I still don’t claim to know it all, but here are some of the things I have learned.
On an 8×42, the 8 signifies the power or magnification. The second number, 42, is the objective size. You preferably want your objective size to be four times the power. If it is less than four times, it won’t let in enough light for low-light conditions like dawn or dusk. The problem is, the higher the objective, the heavier the weight. Therein lies our dilemma.
If you’re a sedentary hunter, buy a 10×50, but if you’re hiking all day, buy a 10×42. I used to recommend 8×42. My thinking was that when you’re huffing and puffing up a mountain and throw up anything larger than an 8x, you wouldn’t be stable enough to focus. Years ago, however, I realized how much game I was missing, so I now carry a 10x.
Basically, there are three main options: compact, semicompact and full size. You need to determine your application. Where I live, we often scramble up and down mountains all day; this is why I carry a semicompact version. A full-sized binocular would be too heavy, and I know that I would never carry them. On the other hand, if you live in Texas and hunt out of a blind, then by all means get the larger set.
Now the tough choice: What brand should you buy? There are several good choices on the market. I’m sponsored by Leica and they have top-notch optics. Leupold and Bushnell also offer models that meet different budgets, and both offer decent warranties as well.
Years ago, everyone used leather straps to carry their binoculars. After a hard day of scrambling up and down it would feel like my neck had been dislocated by all the bouncing around. This is when I discovered Butler Creek elastic straps. They fit like a bra – not that I’ve ever worn a bra – and hold the binoculars against my chest. A lot of people make straps that are similar, but back in the day Butler Creek owned the market.
Now let’s cover spotting scopes. Why buy a spotting scope? Why not just use your binoculars? Because you’ll miss a ton of game. What size should you buy? Because of weight, I choose to carry a 35x, which is sufficient for me here in Idaho. If you’re sheep hunting in Alaska, you may want a 60x. You will need to determine where and how you hunt before making your decision.
When I glass, I do what is known as “zoning” – no, not fall asleep. I’ll climb to the top of a high ridge and set up. I start viewing towards one end of the mountain and glass across horizontally, then drop down 50 yards and go back. I will do this until I get to the visual bottom. Try to avoid randomly looking around. Have a system or you’ll miss game and never even know it.
Animals feed in and out of cover, so wait a few minutes and repeat glassing. If you glass an area long enough, you’ll grow accustomed to odd-shaped rocks and stumps, and notice when something new appears that wasn’t there before. As the sun moves, shadows may cause things to look different throughout the day too.
One good thing about using a spotting scope is if you see something, you can back away from the optic and let your partner look through. How many times have you seen an elk across a mountain and it’s taken five minutes for your buddy to see it too? Problem solved!
Which is best? A straight or a 45-degree angled optic? Over the years I’ve started favoring an angled neck. To me it’s a little more user friendly and causes less muscle stress throughout the day.
At the end of a hard day of glassing your eyes are going to be strained. You’ll go to bed feeling like you’re seasick or worse, hallucinating. I know everyone is on a budget, but as an old buddy used to say, “On this purchase, don’t leave any change in your pocket.”
Let’s move onto scopes. For fast shots you’ll want a 3x to 9x. They use smaller powers so they can pick up game fast. For hunting out West, you’ll want more magnification for the longer shots you’ll take.
I love the idea of a scope cover because the last time I hunted deer in Nebraska during a blizzard, I found a deer, threw up my rifle, looked through the scope and it was full of snow. Needless to say, I missed. I’ve tested numerous scope covers over the years and every single one has managed to get hung up on a limb and disappeared. This also goes for the covers on my binoculars. Maybe it is just me.
Some people will tell you to spend more on the scope than you do your rifle. This is somewhat true, I feel. I have a stainless-steel Remington 700 .338 Winchester Magnum. The scope is a Leupold VXIII 4.5x to 14x, so it’s half again as expensive as the rifle. This must mean that I somewhat agree with this concept.
It goes without saying, baby them! I don’t strap my rifle on my four-wheeler and go bouncing around. I baby my scope and consequently it stays on tight. It is also not a good idea to leave optics in the blistering sun either.
To properly clean them, Hamilton Boykin at Leica told me to hold them upside down, blow off any loose dust and then pour water on the lens to rinse off. Then with a soft, wet lens rag, wipe them clean in swooping motions. Don’t wipe in a circular motion or you will grind in sand particulates. Spitting on the lenses and wiping them off with your dusty shirt tail doesn’t cut it either.
Try a good optic once and you’ll never go back. ASJ