No matter how state-of-the-art your equipment is, you can’t make the most of its features when you don’t have the right accessories. Surveying instruments, in particular, cannot work optimally without high-quality compatible accessories, just like tripods.
Surveying tripods are indispensable pieces of equipment in any land surveyor’s toolkit. Designed to support laser levels, theodolites, transits, and other surveying instruments, they serve as stable platforms for accurate measuring and leveling.
If you’re looking for the best surveying tripod on the market, it can be overwhelming to choose just one—what with the various tripod brands, styles, and features out there. So we’ve rounded up a list of the things you need to consider before buying a tripod for surveying.
Working in harsh outdoor conditions call for durable equipment. That’s why most surveying tripods are built to be durable enough to withstand the toughest field conditions.
But as with all other products, not all surveying tripods are similar. Since they’re made of different materials, they come with different features as well.
Choosing the right tripod material can no doubt make or break your project. So take a look at the common materials used for making tripods:
Wood is a popular material for traditional surveying tripods. Known for its temperature resistance, wood will neither contract nor expand when exposed to extreme temperature changes—unlike other materials. That makes wooden tripods extremely stable, especially when working in extreme weather conditions.
Keep in mind that wood surveying tripods are usually heavy, so they aren’t the most portable tripods. They are, however, super durable, so they’re a perfect choice for any job site. Just be sure to choose a wood surveying tripod that’s coated with a protective plastic or paint finish for water and wear resistance.
The most affordable and lightweight kind of surveying tripod, it’s no surprise that aluminum surveying tripods are the most popular choice among land surveyors. Since they’re inexpensive and extremely portable, aluminum tripods are ideal for frequently changing setups and quicker assemblies. What’s more, they aren’t affected by humidity, which means they’re rust-resistant and wear-resistant too.
The downside of aluminum surveying tripods is that they aren’t completely temperature-resistant, so they may slightly expand or shrink from prolonged exposure to extreme temperature changes. For setups that last for a short period, aluminum surveying tripods are enough to get the leveling job done.
Another popular choice of tripod material, fiberglass surveying tripods marry aluminum’s lightweight feature with wood’s temperature resistance. This kind of tripod is well-known for its ability to withstand harsh outdoor elements, making it ideal for prolonged use outdoors.
Among all fiberglass tripods, you can find composite surveying tripods by Dutch Hill to be the best choice. They’re made of a fiber-reinforced composite material and touted as stronger than their regular fiberglass counterparts.
Carbon fiber might not be as popular as other tripod materials, but it’s still a great choice for mounting surveying instruments. Because of their lightweight yet durable construction, carbon fiber surveying tripods can last for years of outdoor use, and they’re easy to bring anywhere.
A word of caution though: carbon fiber surveying tripods tend to shatter more easily in extremely cold conditions. But while they’re less durable and a bit more expensive than aluminum, they’re some of the most lightweight tripods available today.
Any land surveyor knows full well how strenuous it is to carry heavy equipment all day long. Even worse, construction and surveying projects typically require professionals to move from one job site to another.
If you don’t want to lug around a heavy load throughout the day, you might want to factor in weight when choosing a tripod. Aluminum is, by far, one of the most lightweight kinds of surveying tripods. While it doesn’t offer the temperature resistance of wood and fiberglass, it’s the best portable choice for most setups that last for less than an hour.
Some of NEDO’s aluminum surveying tripods, for instance, weigh a little over 8 pounds—which is as easy to carry as a healthy newborn baby.
Land surveyors have to be prepared for any unexpected obstacles on job sites—whether it’s a sudden change in weather or uneven, rocky terrain. That said, you need to be equipped with a stable tripod for surveying.
Wooden tripods are popular for their stability, particularly during temperature changes. Even when the weather gets too hot or cold, these tripods retain their shape and size—providing your equipment with consistently stable and level platforms.
Apart from its material, other factors that contribute to a tripod’s stability are its parts and accessories, including its feet, hinge pins, lock or clamp, steel points or shoes, and head. Some surveying equipment manufacturers also offer slip guards and tripod stabilizers with O rings, allowing tripods to stand firmly on concrete or smooth indoor flooring and preventing them from slipping.
NEDO Surveying makes stable tripods out of the finest European hardwood, protected with high-tech plastic coating—which is more moisture-resistant than lacquer. These tripods feature brass pins, which secure the tripod’s hinges, and aluminum feet with replaceable steel points for extra stability.
As was previously mentioned, surveying tripods have to be lightweight so that you can easily carry them wherever the job takes place. Of course, you don’t have to sacrifice durability when you choose to have a lightweight tripod. Aluminum tripods made by well-established surveying equipment brands are designed to be both lightweight and sturdy enough for outdoor use.
But aside from the tripod’s lightweight aluminum material, you might want to consider its size and folded length.
Most surveying tripods are designed to have adjustable heights. Simply extend them to your desired height, lock them in place, and start setting up your equipment. Once you’re done using them, you can fold them down and carry or store them away.
Usually, tripods can retract to around half their lengths. Some 63-inch high tripods, for instance, can fold down to just about 36-inch long—perfect for easy storage and transport.
Besides that, you might want to consider getting a tripod for surveying with an included bag and/or shoulder strap. Dutch Hill’s aluminum surveying tripods come complete with polyweb carrying straps. So once you fold them up, you can simply hold their straps and bring them wherever you need to.
What’s great about surveying tripods is that they can extend to a comfortable eye level or to a height where your instruments can work optimally. The problem with this, however, is that not all tripods have secure clamps to lock the extended legs in place.
When you’re buying a tripod for surveying, you should also look for the kind of clamp it has. Here are some of the common kinds of tripod clamps:
This type of tripod clamp comes with a screw at the center or on the side. After adjusting the tripod to your preferred height, you can tighten the clamp’s screws by hand until you reach a sufficiently secure tightness.
Compared to other kinds of clamps, a tripod with a screw clamp can take longer to set up. But the main advantage of this clamp is that it eliminates the risk of being accidentally unlocked. That makes it perfect for mounting total stations, GPS equipment, robotics, and other heavy surveying instruments.
As the name suggests, a quick-release clamp allows for fairly quick setups. Once the tripod’s legs are extended, simply flip the lever, and it’ll securely lock the tripod in place.
The downside of a quick-release clamp is that it poses a slight risk of accidentally dismounting surveying instruments. If you unintentionally dislodge the lever or something catches the lever, it can unlatch the clamp, causing your equipment to fall down.
So when you do decide to get a tripod with this kind of clamp, you should check whether the clamp features a bolt—it lets you adjust the tightness of the clamp’s lock.
Northwest Instrument’s contractor-grade tripods make use of this kind of clamp, so they’re easy to set up and store away. Plus, they’re ideal for frequently changing setups.
Or if you already have a surveying tripod without this kind of clamp, you can find various quick clamps out there that offer universal compatibility.
Can’t decide between a screw clamp and a quick-release clamp? Have the best of both worlds with a combination clamp. A tripod with this type of clamp comes with a quick-release clamp as well as a screw clamp, which can be used simultaneously or separately.
6. Thread Size
Not sure about the compatibility of your surveying instrument and a certain tripod? When in doubt (or when there’s no available information on the manufacturer’s website), check the tripod’s thread size first.
Across the land surveying equipment market, the universal thread size is 5/8 x 11. So if the tripod you’re eyeing comes with this standard thread size, chances are it’s compatible with your instrument.
Here on Engineer Warehouse, most, if not all, tripods for surveying feature the standardized 5/8 x 11 thread size. In case your surveying instrument doesn’t have a universal thread, you can always find compatible tripod mounts and adapters to convert its thread size.
7. Tripod Head
If you’re an experienced land surveyor, you’re probably already familiar with tripod heads or, at the very least, have seen one. It’s a part of the tripod on which a surveying instrument rests and mounts. It connects the surveying instrument to the tripod for a stable and level setup.
There are only a few kinds of tripod heads on the market: dome, flat, and threaded base. While they slightly differ in shape and appearance, they all perform similarly. Choosing among these three is all a matter of preference.
A tripod head with a threaded base typically comes standard with a universal 5/8 x 11 thread. Dome tripod heads feature circular bases, and they’re ideal for use with lasers and other precision instruments. Flat tripod heads are the most popular choice of heads for tripods as they are compatible with virtually any surveying equipment.
Almost all surveying tripods are designed with telescoping legs and optimal extended heights. For common surveying and leveling tasks, you can easily find a tripod that can extend to your preferred height.
There are times, however, that you need a little additional length for your tripod. For instance, if you’re working with heavy construction equipment, you may have to elevate your machine control laser to an extra high level.
While most tripod legs have a telescoping feature, you might want to consider getting a tripod with an elevating column.
NEDO Surveying elevating tripods don’t only have telescoping legs—they also come with toothed columns or shafts. These columns can give the tripods’ heights, as well as your mounted surveying equipment, an extra boost. Plus, they come with rack elements, which secure the columns’ heights in place, and graduations in inches and millimeters for accurate height adjustments.
As with all purchasing decisions, you have to factor in your budget when choosing a tripod for surveying. Yes, portability, durability, and other tripod features are important considerations. But you don’t have to break the bank just to get all of these essential tripod features.
If you’ve ever browsed through surveying tripod collections online, you might have come across tripods that are worth over $1,000. These tripods are most likely built to be extremely heavy-duty for mounting machine control instruments. Indeed, you’ll get what you’ll be paying for with these tripods. But you might not need the extra features that set them apart, and their unnecessary features might not be worth the extra cost.
Here on Engineer Warehouse, you can easily find tripods at huge discounts. The current prices of Northwest Instrument contractor’s tripods are below $100. But make no mistake—while they do come at a low price point, they don’t compromise on quality. Since they’re made of aluminum, they’re inexpensive and lightweight but are extremely durable too. You’ll definitely be getting the best bang for your buck with these top-of-the-line aluminum tripods.
Again, as with most buying decisions, another thing you have to consider (apart from the cost) is the brand. While there are tons of sturdy tripods from lesser-known brands on the market, you can surely get your money’s worth when you invest in a tripod made by a trusted brand.
We’ve mentioned a few brands in the previous sections, like Northwest Instrument, Dutch Hill, and NEDO Surveying. But if you aren’t too sure about these trusted surveying equipment manufacturers, you can always find other good ones out there.
And you don’t have to search elsewhere.After scouring online, we’ve rounded up the best surveying tripods for the money, based on reviews, ratings, features, and prices. On our website, you’ll not only find products made by the best surveying equipment brands—you can also check out our list of the top 10 best surveying tripods to help you make an informed purchasing decision. With these tripods, you can surely find the right affordable one for your needs.