The MeFoto Backpacker Air is an innovative travel tripod designed to pack down small. I myself own this tripod and have used it extensively for both everyday use, and on hiking trips. I’ve even used it while backpacking through the Grand Canyon! As a landscape photographer that uses small lightweight mirrorless gear in rugged terrain, this is my review of the MeFoto Backpacker Air.
MeFoto Backpacker Air Specifications
- Weight: 2 lb / .9 kg
- Material: aluminum
- Maximum load: 8.8 lb / 4 kg
- Minimum height: 11.2 in / 28.4 cm
- Maximum height: 59.5 in / 151.1 cm
- Maximum height (column retracted): 37.4 in / 95 cm
- Maximum height (column expanded): 59.5 in / 151.1 cm
- Folded length: 10.4 in / 26.5 cm
- Leg sections: 5
- Leg lock type: hyperlock
- Head mount: fixed
- Head type: ballhead
- Base mount diameter: 24mm
The MeFoto Backpacker Air, like most ultra-compact travel tripods, is made out of aluminum. Most of its other features are a little different from a standard tripod, designed to make it pack down smaller and setup quicker than the competition. We’ll give a quick run-down of the features here, with a critique of each feature later in the article.
First off, the Backpacker Air features legs and a center column are telescoping with a twist to lock and unlock. The center column, with the ballhead attached, will completely detach from the legs to be a “selfie stick”. The center column is designed to be in the extended position when the tripod is closed, with the legs folding completely over when packing down.
The ballhead is Arca-Swiss style with a small quick release plate. With a maximum load of 8.8 lb, this will be best used with mirrorless camera systems or smaller dSLRs.
MeFoto offers the Backpacker Air in 7 colors.
What I Like!
The MeFoto Backpacker Air with a Sony a6000 camera body and Sony 55-210mm lens attached.
Size & Weight
The MeFoto Backpacker Air is designed to be ultra-lightweight and pack down small, and it definitely delivers on it too! Weighing in at 2 lb / .9 kg (including the legs and the ballhead), this is substantially lighter than any carbon fiber tripod on the the market. While it does weigh about 5 ounces more than its most direct competition (the Slik Sprint Mini II tripod), the Backpacker Air packs down to a noticeably shorter length.
In my own experience, I’ve found that when carrying this tripod in my backpack, I hardly notice that it is there. Even when carrying in hand, it’s light weight and size make it easy to carry and maneuver through difficult terrain. When I took the Backpacker Air on a backpacking trip for 3 nights in the Grand Canyon, it was a true pleasure. Having lugged a 5 pound tripod on other backpacking trips, the Backpacker Air was a nearly unnoticeable load in comparison. Its 10.4 in / 26.5 cm folded length made it exceptionally easy to fit in my fully loaded pack.
Of course, the caveat of having a lightweight tripod is loss of stability and increase in vibrations. This is definitely a legitimate concern with tripod, and extra care should be taken when shooting long exposures (like adding counter-weight).
Arca-Swiss Quick-Release System
Having used other quick-release systems, I must say that I really am a fan of the Arca-Swiss style. The quick-release plate provided with the MeFoto Backpacker Air is a nice, small size that complements both the small size of the tripod, and my small mirrorless camera. Definitely a better fit than the beefy Manfrotto quick-release plates that add bulk to a small morrorless body.
The clamp itself works well, having a nice snug fit on the quick release plate and a knob that turns easily.
If you already use an Arca-Swiss system for different tripod, adding a MeFoto travel tripod to your arsenal will allow you to quickly switch tripods with changing quick-release plates.
The one problem I had with the MeFoto quick-release plate was that it did come loose one morning while shooting sunrise, and caused me to miss a couple shots while dealing with the issue. However, if I make a point to tighten the bolt on the quick-release plate at the start of the day, it holds firm.
In comparison to the Slik Sprint quick-release system, the MeFoto is much more reliable. The bolt on the Slik quick release is soft and hard to tighten, resulting in a plate that constantly comes loose. While I had the one problem with the MeFoto plate coming loose, it is overall a very secure system.
As advertised, the Backpacker Air sets up fast. It takes a little getting used to, but the legs use a “hyperlock” system in which the ends twist to unlock, allowing the telescoping leg segment to be pulled out to the desired length. While I’ve always liked lever style leg locks, the hyperlock system and its twist, pull and twist method does save time versus flipping a bunch levers or turning knobs. Overall, the hyperlock system is revolutionary in both increasing setup speed as well as reducing weight by eliminating material.
However, there are a couple disadvantages to the hyperlock system, which are covered below.
It’s also super easy to “flip” the center column upside down, allowing the camera to get extremely close to the ground. This is always a great feature to have in a tripod.
What I Dislike!
Telescoping Center Column
To fully extend the center column, the Backpacker Air features a hyperlock twist and pull system that allows the center column to be raised to it’s full height via a telescoping rod. Of course, center columns are notorious for increasing instability and vibrations, and the telescoping center column amplifies these problems. In fact, from my experience, the fully extended center column is nearly unusable for exposures longer than one second. You may be able to coax a sharp exposure at 1/6 or 1/2 second if you take a bunch of shots and hope one makes it out sharp.
This problem with the center column does make the maximum height of the tripod at 59.5 in / 151.1 cm a little misleading, although the maximum height with column retracted is represented in the official specs as 37.4 in / 95 cm. Versus its most direct competition, this makes the usable height of the Backpacker Air about 5 inches shorter than the Slik Spring Mini II.
The telescoping center column is a feature that allows the center-column to be completely removed and used separately as a selfie-stick, which is a nice extra feature, but not altogether necessary for my purposes.
Hyperlock Problems Mid-Shot
While the hyperlock system is great for speed and efficiency at the time setup, it can create problems mid-shot. First off, if the photographer doesn’t manage to twist the leg end far enough to fully lock it, you may setup the tripod only to have one of the legs drop out. Of course, the leg will only fully lock if twisted by the knob on the end, so it’s not very easy to adjust with the tripod sitting on the ground. This is a frustrating and time-eating scenario that happens rather frequently. Even when I try to take an extra moment to try and fully twist the leg to the locking position before placing the tripod, it still tends to happen. A lever lock style tripod leg (like on the Slik Sprint series) won’t have this problem unless the photographer forgets to close a lever altogether.
A lever lock system also makes it easier to make height adjustments while the tripod is placed. While height adjustments can be made on the legs while the tripod is placed, it is not all that easy to secure the knob without completely picking up the tripod.
The Bottom Line
Overall, I’ve had a positive experience with the MeFoto Backpacker Air tripod. While it definitely has some drawbacks, I love the fact that it is ultra-lightweight and makes a great compliment to my small, lightweight mirrorless gear. I can carry this tripod miles and miles into the wilderness and barely even know it’s there, and then pull it out when I really need it. This fact makes it indispensable as I am more likely to get a unique shot if I’m willing to carry my gear further into the wilderness.
However, I still keep a larger, heavier tripod around for certain scenarios. For instance, if I’m shooting a place that has high railings or other tall obstructions, the Backpacker Air is simply too short to be usable. In extremely windy conditions, a heavier tripod is also more likely to reduce vibrations and remain stable. In places like rocky streambeds and other uneven terrain, the hyperlock system of the Backpacker Air is often much more tedious and potentially frustrating. For my own purposes, I would say that I am able to use the MeFoto Backpacker Air about 80% of the time I shoot on a tripod, and use a larger tripod the other 20%.
Although I wouldn’t call necessarily call it a bargain, this tripod is priced within the budget of almost any photographer out there.
Just remember the drawbacks of the Backpacker Air before investing in it as your go-to tripod. It’s great for landscape photographers that carry their gear great distances and look for the lightest gear possible. Photographers with large cameras in need of a beefy tripod will need to look elsewhere.
Best Use for this tripod: Landscape Photography in Remote Locations
Please feel free to leave your own thoughts or questions in the comments section at the bottom of this page!
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