Wildlife Watching Supplies tripod leg wraps

Tripods are among the largest pieces of photographic equipment you are likely to carry in the field. A large modern tripod may not weigh as much as a super telephoto lens, but it takes the same space or more. You may carry it in the field attached outside a backpack or roller case. However, if you need to move it some distance while shooting, you will quickly realise how poorly it is optimised for carrying. Almost all tripods have no built-in padding, and many have a number of projecting handles, knobs, bolts and sharp edges that make its carrying more uncomfortable than any other piece of equipment. Some people find that they can carry an open tripod a short distance by putting a leg in front of a shoulder and the two other legs on oneĀ“s back. Probably, most photographers close the legs (with or without collapsing them) and place the tripod legs on one shoulder, holding the tripod balanced with one arm. The latter may be the only sensible way to carry a tripod that has a central column. Either way, the friction of the legs against the shoulder bones is an experience one does not look forward too.

Savvy photographers avoid this problem by adding a padding to the largest segment of the legs. Commercial products as well as home-made solutions are available. The latter consist of plastic foam sleeves (designed for insulating hot water pipes) kept in place by an elastic "sock" sleeving and/or tape. Cork or rubber tape used to pad bicycle hand-bars, tennis racquets and other sports implements may also be used.

Commercial tripod leg wraps are also available, although from just a few sources. The quality of these accessories is variable, especially with regards to durability. Foam padding kept in place by an elastic netting around its outer surface does not look very reliable to me, because this material can easily stretch out of place, and probably is not very resistant to abrasion. A sewn cloth sleeve enclosing the padding on both sides seems more durable. I use tripod leg wraps made by Wildlife Watching Supplies on two Gitzo tripods.

These leg wraps are made to order, and you are required to specify the length and circumference of the tripod legs, as well as the tripod model (probably, as a way to avoid mistakes on your part). The wraps are reversible. Mine are Advantage Leaf on one side and standard camouflage pattern on the other.

In Gitzo tripods, the portion of the legs closest to the head mount is fitted into a metal sleeve of higher diameter. You can choose either to include this portion in the length that you want covered by the padding, on to leave it exposed. I opted to cover it in one of my tripods, and to leave it exposed in the other. Both solutions work, although covering it probably makes better sense (like in the above example).

The rubber padding is sufficiently thick and stiff to prevent pain while carrying a tripod with a heavy lens mounted (but take care to lock the tripod head tightly, or the lens may swing and hit you on the head). The cloth sleeve is thick and durable (it is the same cloth used to make hides and outdoor clothing), and the wraps are kept closed around the legs by velcro strips running along the entire length of the wrap. For this reason, the wraps cannot be used on tripods with a central stabilizer. If you plan to use this type of wrap, check that your tripod, when closed, has a space of at least 1 cm between the legs and the central column (you can get away with small protuberances, like the rim of the cap that attaches a hook at the bottom of the column in Gitzo tripods).

These leg wraps are well made and fully functional, but not entirely without problems. One of these is that they may slide up and down the tripod legs, especially if the length of the wraps is less than the length of the leg segments. Thus, you better choose wraps long enough to cover the whole leg segment. Another problem is that the wraps, even when mounted as tight as possible, rotate easily around the legs. You must remember to get a good hold with your hand around a leg, or it may wiggle out of your grasp. It should be possible to attach a length of adhesive-backed velcro lengthwise on the leg segment (perhaps on the leg side facing the centre of the tripod) and sew a corresponding length along a side of the wrap (where the velcro strip used to keep the wrap closed is already located). However, this strip will be visible if you reverse the wraps or temporarily use the tripod without them. Thus, there is no easy, problem-free solution. Even with these drawbacks, the leg wraps have increased substantially the portability of my tripods, as well as their aesthetic appearance (at least in my opinion). I keep the wraps on at all times, also when working indoors.

Wildlife Watching Supplies also make loose tubular cloth sleeves in a variety of camouflage patterns, long enough to be pulled down and cover fully extended legs, as well as a cover for the tripod mount and lens and camera covers. This company also markets an elastic tubular sleeve (not padded) that can be used on other equipment. If you wish, you can camouflage your entire camera and tripod, except of course for the front of the lens.