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.