Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Carrying my tripod - strap and Cley Spy Mulepack

I have an aluminium Manfrotto tripod I inherited it from my father-in-law who died in 1999, so it must be getting on for 20 years old. I have changed the head on it for a more recent fluid video head (701RC2), but otherwise it still does a good job both for my bird watching telescope and for photography. The head takes a quick release plate (200PL) so it is easy to switch between the telescope and a camera.

The tripod is quite heavy (3.1kg including the head) so carrying it has always been a bit of an issue. A long time ago, I bought a carrying strap from the Manfrotto stall at the Bird Fair. I think it is part number MN3044 - described as a "heavy duty, long carrying strap", but it is no longer available and superceded by at least a couple of generations of newer designs. This strap has a screw fitting at one end, which goes into a threaded hole where the legs join, and a D-ring at the other end which allows you to make a loop which fits over the bottom of the folded legs.

Tripod with strap attached

This works very well for carrying just the tripod, but with the telescope mounted, it will not stay upright and the only way it works is to have the tripod in the downwards direction with the 'scope at the bottom. I have carried it like this for many birding trips and it is OK, but it is not ideal. The main problem is that, in this position, it does not stay on my shoulder and I am for ever hitching it back into place. The strap did originally have a rubber pad on it, presumably to help it stay in place. But I found it too flexible and it tended to bunch up uncomfortably - so I took it off (and have subsequently lost it!).
The tripod alone (left) can readily be carried more or less upright, but with the telescope mounted, it won't stay in place when upright and is most easily carried with the 'scope hanging downwards (right).
As I reported in my last post, up until last year, I carried quite a bit of photographic gear in a rucksack style camera bag. I decided that this wasn't working well because of the time it took to get stuff out - which often led to missed opportunities. This year I have been carrying the camera with the Canon 100-400mm lens mounted and ready to go - carried on a shoulder sling. So, rather than carry a rucksack photo bag, I decided I would try a rucksack-style tripod carrier.

After some research online and checking out forum posts, reviews, etc., I decided on the Mulepack from Cley Spy. I particularly liked this design because it acts both as a small conventional rucksack as well as a tripod carrier and the reviews suggested it was comfortable and durable.
Attaching the Mulepack to the tripod: There are two straps which go around the centre column either side of the block where the legs join and two large, broad Velcro straps which go round the legs. Finally, there are a couple of straps that go around the base of the first leg extension and fit into quick-release buckles at the bottom corners of the Mulepack.
In use, the tripod attached to the Mulepack, can be carried like a rucksack and the broad padded straps make it comfortable, even for quite long treks.
The large triangular section to which the legs attach makes a bag which can be accessed via a diagonal zip. I find that my waterproofs, folded flat, fit very conveniently in here.
The large, flat carrying area, accessed via a diagonal zip on the back.
There is another pair of smaller containers (shown on the photos above) which are detachable via a couple of buckles and Velcro. I find these useful for carrying small accessories like a spare camera battery, 1.4x extender and extension tubes. All up, the Mulepack, my waterproofs and with these accessories in the pockets, weigh in at 1.4Kg. Add the 3.1Kg of the tripod and 2Kg of telescope for a total of 6.5Kg - which is a lot less than my photo-gear rucksack weighs!

To use the tripod, you just take it off your back and extend the legs as necessary. It is used with the Mulepack in place and this does not interfere with extending the legs or centre column at all. You can even take the centre column out (e.g. to use in a hide clamp) without disturbing the Mulepack. The centre column simply slips out of the loops made by the two straps. When putting it back, you just have to be careful to get it back through these two loops. It is also quite feasble to carry the tripod with the legs extended at least by one step. It is even possible to carry it fully extended, but I find that the legs do tend to hit the ground, so it is only good for short distances.
Tripod in use, fully extended with the Mulepack attached.
One problem Cley Spey warn of is that the main triangular section of the Mulepack can act like a sail and catch the wind - increasing the chance that the tripod will fall over in a strong gust. This is the purpose of the quick release buckles at the bottom corners. These can be undone allowing the triangular section to flap freely in the wind and lessen the sail effect. The other drawback I have found is that, if gear like my waterproofs, is stored in this triangular section then the tripod legs won't fold very close together. This makes it a bit more bulky, to go in the boot of the car for example, and when fully extended, makes it a bit less convenient to carry over your shoulder.
Current field gear - camera on shoulder sling and telescope on the tripod carried rucksack-style  in the Mulepack.