Travel Tripod Review: 3 Legged Thing

Cell phone selfies aside, many people also want to take actual pictures of something other than their chins when they travel. Sometimes travel photography requires using a tripod. The perfect travel tripod should be lightweight, compact, multi-functional and sturdy. We hauled around a heavy and bulky tripod for years before we got our hands on a carbon fiber 3 Legged Thing tripod. After more than nine months of use on the road in South America–over the Andes, to the Galapagos Islands, through the deserts of Peru and into the Amazon–here’s what we think of our 3 Legged Thing.

Three Legged Thing carbon fiber tripod on beach in Peru

Eric and our Evolution 3 Brian tripod from 3 Legged Thing on the beach in Northern Peru.

What is a 3 Legged Thing?

When we started doing our research about carbon fiber travel tripods with a ball head, we looked into the usual suspects. The Gitzo Traveler is awesome, but at US$1,099 it’s way too expensive for many. The Manfrotto BeFree (US$350) was a possibility, but the ball head that comes with this model seemed a little too wimpy to support a DSLR with a heavy telephoto like my amazing Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens (Buy on Amazon) which weighs nearly 4 lbs. The Benro Travel Angel tripods (US$440) aren’t compact enough.

In the end it came down to two models that seemed pretty similar based on their specs: the MeFOTO Globetrotter (US$399) and the 3 Legged Thing Evolution 3 Brian (US$399, Buy on Amazon – note that this is the newer updated model, Albert).

Why did we wind up choosing the 3 Legged Thing? One word: ATTITUDE.

Three Legged Thing, the travel tripods with ‘tude

The British company that makes 3 Legged Thing tripods wanted to “bring more personality to the tripod market.” That started with the company’s name (3LT for short) and it extends to the names of their individual tripod models.

Three Legged Thing 3LT Brian

Unboxing our Brian tripod.

Instead of giving their tripod models a series of mind-numbing numbers for names, they named their original models after famous guitarists. “Who’s going to go into a store and remember a series of numbers?” a 3 Legged Thing spokesperson said to us. Plus, guitarists are cool. We have a Brian, named after Queen lead guitarist (and astrophysicist ??!??!) Brian May. We love Queen!

The company has since introduced new tripod models named after pioneers like Albert Einstein (the Albert replaced our Brian) and Leonardo Di Vinci and they’re about to introduce brand new models in their Punks line of less expensive aluminum tripods.

Just as attitude filled are the names of the replaceable feet for the tripod. Called “footwear,” these feet are sold as accessories for the tripod to be used in a variety of conditions. The standard rubber feet that come with the tripod are called Boots. Pointy metal feet are called Heels and they are perfect for rock and concrete. Longer, javellen-like feet are called Stilettos. And when you need extra grip you’re going to want to put on the Claws.

Three Legged Thing tripod footwear

Cool accessories for our Evolution 3 Brian tripod from 3 Legged Thing. As the company says, “you can’t beat decent footwear.”

Three Legged Thing tripods with attitude

 

Even the packaging has attitude. The 3 Legged Thing boxes are slathered with ramblings, like the cleverness to the right. The main shipping box was also sealed with tape that said “Punks Never mind the Ballheads” in a typeface that, to our minds, riffed on the ransom-note typeface used on the cover of the Sex Pistols album “Never Mind the Bullocks”.

Using the Three Legged Thing Tripos in a canopy Tower in the Amazon

Eric up for daybreak with his Brian on a canopy-top observation tower in the Amazon in Southern Peru.

Why we really love our 3 Legged Thing travel tripod

Okay, cheeky British “taking the piss” attitude may be the first plus about 3 Legged Thing tripods, but a clever name and some cool tape isn’t going to help your travel tripod perform better.  Here are a few more pluses (and a few minuses) about our 3 Legged Thing travel tripod.

  • It’s made of carbon fiber so it’s VERY light – just 4 lbs. 1oz. (1.8 kg).
  • It’s also VERY compact. The legs fold back on themselves and it folds down to a mere 15.75″ (40 cm) which easily fits into luggage or a day pack and it’s also easy to carry attached to a camera bag. 
Three Legged Thing carbon fiber Brian evolution 3 tripod

We have some beef with the carrying case (top image), but we love the compactness of our 3 Legged Thing tripod (bottom image).

  • Its adjustability makes it really versatile. Each leg has five sections. The center column has three sections and it can be removed completely or turned upside-down for a very low camera angle. Each leg can lock in at three different angles (23°, 55° and 80°). What does all this mean? The height of the tripod can vary from a ridiculously low 4.5″ (12 cm)  to a maximum of  72.5″ (1.85 meters).  
  • It has a load capacity of 66 lbs. (30 kg) at the standard 23° leg angle which can securely support my heaviest camera body and lens combination which weighs nearly 6 lbs. (2.7 kg)

Three Legged Thing carbon fiber Brian evolution 3 tripod

  • The Airhed 3 Ball Head is practically a work of art (above). It’s a solid yet lightweight head that is easily adjustable and has an easy to use locking knob and 360° panning capability. It has a small built-in bubble level, but, unfortunately, this can easily be covered by the camera when mounted on the head, but there is a second bubble level built into the center column support. As for the mounting plate, it uses the popular Arca Swiss/Peak Design compatible Release Plates. 
  • Sometimes you don’t need a whole tripod but you want a little extra stability. Then there are times when a tripod is just too awkward to use or even prohibited. In about 20 seconds you can transform the Brian tripod into a monopod. Just screw off one of the legs, unscrew the ballhead from the center column and screw it onto the leg that you just removed. Voila! 

3LT Brian tripod details

  • Because 3 Legged Thing tripods are not made of aluminum, like our last tripod was, we don’t have to worry so much about damage after the tripod gets wet. If an aluminum tripod is exposed to seawater, for example, you have to clean and dry it immediately or the metal gets pitted. Our carbon fiber 3 Legged Thing just needs to be wiped off after you’re done shooting. We’ve also used our Brian tripod in sandy and gritty conditions and the legs and leg locks rinse easily without any lingering crunch. 
img_0732

Eric and our 3 Legged Thing tripod at the annual re-building of the only surviving Incan bridge in Peru.

There are a few minuses…

  • The leg and column locks are secure and easy to use. However, several times we have been surprised that the center column was not locked down causing the camera to turn freely.
  • The tripod is stable and well made, but like any light-weight tripod there is a trade-off to stability which can be evident in windy conditions. However, the center column comes with a ballast hook and carabiner which allows you to easily attach a weight, like the tripod bag filled with a few rock, to increase stability in windy conditions.
  • There are a lot of little parts that can come loose and regularly need tightening. For example, the leg and column locks are topped by a screw-in sleeves that are constantly coming loose. Not a big deal and it doesn’t impact functionality, but…
  • The included carry case could be sturdier and slightly roomier. It’s so form fitted that the tripod doesn’t slide in easily. I also like to carry a few accessories with the tripod like my cable release, so its lack of a usable zippered pocket is frustrating. The beige canvas case is also not nearly as durable as the tripod. It would be nice if it were made from a more durable nylon. And why is the case white??!?!

Bottom Line: the 3LT Brian is a light-weight, versatile and easy to use travel tripod. It’s not groundbreaking, since it incorporates nearly all the same features shared by all of the quality carbon fiber travel tripods, but it is extremely well made with nice design and plenty of attitude. 

Three Legged Thing tripod in Peru

Eric and our 3 Legged Thing tripod in Northern Peru.

 

3 Legged Thing thing gave us a Brian tripod to use and review during our Trans-Americas Journey.

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Where We’ve Been: October 2016 Road Trip Driving Route in Brazil

We spent October 2016 driving over 1,500 miles (2,414 km) in Central Brazil. We started off deep in the Northern Pantanal and ended in Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park north of Brasilia, Brazil’s capital. Here’s our road trip driving route for September 2016 in Brazil. Come along on our Brazil road trip and see what we saw through the windshield of our truck in the drive-lapse video at the end of this post.

October 2016 Road Trip Driving Route – Brazil


 

Our road trip driving route for the month of October began In Porto Jofre at the end of the wildlife-filled Transpantaneira Highway in Brazil’s vast Pantanal region in Mato Grosso state. In the Pantanal we visited Hotel Pantanal Norte, Araras Ecolodge and Pousada do Rio Mutum searching for (and finding) some of the Pantanal’s famed wildlife including jaguars. Following our time in the Pantanal, we drove north to Cuiabá, the state capital. From there we visited Bom Jardim in Nobres to snorkel in its crystal clear, spring-fed rivers followed by a visit to Chapada dos Guimarães National Park with landscapes that some compare to the US Southwest.

From there we headed west toward Brazil’s modernist capital, Brasilia, stopping in the beautiful colonial towns of Goiás and Pirenópolis along the way. In Brasilia, we drove along the city’s Monumental Axis road which is lined with examples of the distinct modernist architecture of famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer (pictured below and see 12:38 in our drive-lapse video at the end of this post).

Oscar Niemeyer's modernist archtecture -Brazilia, Brazil

From Brasilia we headed north to Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park where we ended the month.

See what we saw out there on the road in the drive-lapse video, below, made by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard.

 

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Traveling the Infamous BR-319 Road Across the Amazon – Manaus to Porto Velho, Brazil

Deep mud. Giant potholes. Rickety wooden bridges. And all in the middle of nowhere. The BR-319, which connects Porto Vehlo to Manaus in the Amazon in northern Brazil, is one of the most infamous roads in the world. While technically a numbered highway, the BR-319 is known as 540 miles (870 km) of travel torture (or driving adventure, depending on your POV). But recently, some of the most hazardous aspects of the road have been improved. Has the BR-319 lost its bite?

BR-319 Manaus to Porto Velho, Brazil

A smooth section of the BR-319, an infamous road linking the Amazonian city of Manaus with the rest of Brazil.

Driving Brazil’s infamous BR-319 road

The BR-319 was built in by the Brazilian military in 1973 and inaugurated in 1976  to link Manaus to the rest of Brazil. However, it was never paved and almost instant neglect meant that extreme weather and persistent jungle vegetation quickly did their worst. In the rainy season the road is often an impassable mess of deep clay pools. Then there are the 40-year-old wooden bridges–rickety,  narrow and best navigated with extreme care and very, very good karma.

A quick search on YouTube offers many entertaining glimpses of the considerable challenges on this infamous highway across the Amazon. Even the two million people living in Manaus don’t really consider their city in the middle of the Amazon jungle to be truly connected to the rest of the country by road. They prefer to fly.

Improvements to the BR-319

Reluctant to beat up our truck on the BR-319 by driving  this torture test round trip, we left our truck in Porto Velho and flew to Manaus. When we got to the city we heard about new regular bus service along the BR-319 from Manaus to Porto Velho (and vice versa), so that’s how we made our return trip. We figured if full-size buses can do the road then the worst sections and barely passable bridges must have been improved.

Bus BR-319 from Manaus to Porto Velho

She may not look like much to you, but this “executive” bus was actually pretty plush and far more comfortable and new than we expected on the BR-319.

Sure, the road is still rough, and bumpy, and mostly made of potholes, and likely a total mess in the rain, and the ferry you have to take over a small river inspires something less than confidence, and the bridges are still made out of wood but, overall, the road was nowhere near as bad as we’d been lead to believe.

Ferry across The Amazon BR-319 Manaus

The bus journey over the infamous BR-319 road out of Manaus begins with a ferry ride over the Amazon River. In front of us is the famous “meeting of the waters” where the dark water of the Rio Negro and the milky-looking water of the Rio Solimões meet but don’t mingle for miles.

The most dramatic moments of the journey happen right out of Manaus when passengers get off the bus and onto a ferry, followed by the empty bus, to cross the Amazon River. The BR-319 is paved (poorly) for about an hour out of Manaus then it’s all dirt (and one short DIY looking ferry) until a couple of hours before reaching Porto Velho when crappy pavement resumes. All of the bad bridges seem to have been fixed up to accommodate full-size buses and we even saw a grader. With no rain in sight, our one-way journey was a relative breeze at just 22 hours.

There’s been talk about improving and paving the entire BR-319 for years. After talking to locals in Manaus, it’s our belief that that will never happen. It’s generally understood that powerful shipping interests in Manaus will never stand for an improvement in the road since that would bite into their profitable monopoly on moving goods to and from Manaus. The city is a free-trade-zone and home to hundreds of factories which means there’s big money in moving goods which now happens exclusively by river. Environmentalists also prefer that the road stay rough to keep the area wild.

So, for now, at least in the dry season, the BR-319 can be taken off the list of the world’s most infamous roads.

Arriving in Porto Velho BR=319 from Manaus. Madiera River

Arriving in Porto Velho on the Madiera River after 22 hours on a bus driving the infamous B-R319 road from Manaus.

How to travel the BR-319 by bus

Multiple bus companies send buses over the BR-319 between Manaus and Porto Velho daily. We booked with the Aruana bus company and paid R/229 each (about US$72). We got a ticket with a reserved seat. You will need to show your passport when booking and again when boarding.

The buses have a toilet at the back so sitting as close to the front of the bus is advised. The toilets get nasty by the end of the journey. Some buses also supply water on board, but don’t count on it.

Our bus had inside storage space overhead that was similar to that found on small airplanes (ie, not very big). The main luggage area under our bus was lined with a grippy material to reduce bouncing and sliding. We were also given big plastic bags to put our luggage in to keep the dust off.  We got a claim ticket for each of our bags and the luggage compartment was locked.

We stopped a few times during the journey for quick (mediocre and cheap) food and (basic and dirty) bathroom breaks. Overall, the bus was comfortable and reasonably clean, though the A/C was VERY cold. Bring layers.

Sadly, this journey is done mostly in the dark which means passengers don’t get much opportunity to see the pristine jungle or look for wildlife.

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Top Hotels in the Coffee Triangle – Colombia

South of Medellin farmers found the perfect conditions for growing some of the world’s best coffee. Colombian coffee from this area is so good and the coffee culture so intact that UNESCO inscribed the region as the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia. More commonly called the Coffee Triangle, this area has become popular with travelers because of the laid back people, beautiful landscapes and (of course) the coffee. Here are our top hotels in the Coffee Triangle of Colombia including hotels in Manizales, Pereira and Quimbabya.

Top Hotels in the Coffee Triangle of Colombia

Hacienda Buenavista near Quimbaya

When this five room boutique hotel opened in 2014 it ushered in a whole new level of accommodation in the coffee triangle: exclusive, romantic, stylish, modern, gourmet, adults-only. Find out more in our complete review of Hacienda Buenavista.

Hacienda Buenavista - Coffee triangle, Colombia

 

Sazagua Hotel & Spa near Pereira

The small city of Pereira isn’t a tourist destination in and of itself (it’s more of a business hub), but Pereira is on the way from Medellin to the heart of the coffee region. The Sazagua, named after a chief of the Quimbaya people who used to live here, is on the outskirts of town where things are still rural and peaceful. The stately elegant hotel, which also offers a pool and a spa, makes a great break in your journey. Brass bathroom fixtures and original tile floors give the rooms a homey feel. Book room number one (pictured below) for even more space and an indoor hammock. The hotel restaurant is so good that people stop by just to eat or to have business meetings over a good meal. Bilingual waiters, a peaceful garden setting and a wide-ranging menu including homemade soups and salads (the Cesar salad was excellent with home-made dressing), pork, fish and lots of beef (the steak au poivre was succulent with a truly peppery sauce) keep everyone happy.

Sazagua Hotel & Spa near Pereira

 

Hacienda Venecia near Manizales

This working coffee farm offers a range of rooms including shared dorms with the use of a kitchen and private rooms in a restored traditional building called the Main House which dates back more than 100 years. Antique furniture, creaking original wood floors and breezy patios make it easy to relax and live like a coffee baron for a few days. There are no keys and no TVs. A good guided coffee tour, which explains coffee growing and processing, is offered and the owners also have a stable of paso fino horses and rides around the plantation can be arranged for experienced riders. Hiking and bird watching are also offered and there’s a pool. Guests returning from activities are greeted with fresh juice and the kitchen turns out delicious traditional meals. An innovative bamboo gazebo, designed by a local architect, is a great place to relax as the resident peacocks stroll the grounds.

Hacienda Venecia near Manizales

 

Finca Villa Nora near Quimbaya

This family run country hotel dovetails perfectly with the culture of Colombia’s coffee country. The two story house was built more than 120 years ago and it retains its traditional paint job, wide wrap around veranda and original wood and tile floors. It was loving restored and modernized as a seven room hotel a couple of decades ago and all rooms have private bathrooms and antiques from the original house. The place is perfectly built to catch the breezes and make the most of the bucolic agricultural land and Andes views that surround it. There’s a pool and a sprawling garden favored by all sorts of bird, a free coffee plantation tour is offered and excellent estate-grown coffee and gourmet traditional meals are served.

Finca Villa Nora near Quimbaya

 

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