Leupold Carbon Fiber Tripods

Leupold’s new carbon fiber tripods are strong, lightweight, and versatile. The new head units are outstanding.

Tripods can serve many purposes for hunters. They provide a stable platform for glassing for game. Tripods can be used as an extremely stable shooting platform, and they can also be used in a pinch as a hasty brace for shooting. Weight is usually a concern when hunting, so anything you bring with you must be worth the weight. This is where carbon fiber has much to offer.

Back in 2018, I reviewed a Leupold carbon fiber tripod for GunsAmerica. Having tested it in the field for glassing and as a shooting platform, I found it had a lot of utility. It was strong and light enough to not be a burden. The one place it was lacking was in the head unit – the part that lets you attach your optic or rifle and adjust up, down, left, and right. It was adequate, but certainly not optimal. In fact, after a few uses, I threw that head unit away and put another one on there.

Fast forward to today and Leupold has upgraded its carbon fiber tripod lineup. There are three models to choose from: the Alpine, the Pro Guide, and the Mark 5. This review is of the Pro Guide CF-436 model.

The Leupold Pro Guide easily handles heavy rifles and can be adjusted to steep angles up or down.

Head First

As mentioned above, the head unit on my old Leupold CF tripod was inadequate. The controls on the old units were not convenient, not very compact, and they just didn’t function all that well. The Pro Guide head unit is outstanding. It has a large, knurled main friction knob that is easy to use even with gloves. It also uses an Arca-Swiss plate attachment mechanism. If you are not familiar with Arca-Swiss it is a basic dovetail interface, but it is very strong. The photography world has been using these for a long time. More recently, the precision competition shooting community has adopted the design. Some Arca-Swiss head units have a throw lever to attach/detach your optic. The Pro Guide has a knurled knob. There are advantages to both designs. While the throw levers are faster, they don’t all fit out-of-spec plates (which exist!). The knob design fits anything, even if it is a tad slower. This might not seem like much, but for competition shooters the throw lever usually gets the nod. For the rest of us, the knob is better because it always works. The Arca-Swiss dovetail also has a bubble level on it, but I never use it.

The Leupold Pro Guide carbon fiber tripod has an Arca-Swiss mount interface (A). The leg angle locks (B) allow the leg angles to be quickly adjusted.

Moving down the head unit, the Pro Guide has a large anodized ball that provides ample gripping surface to give the unit so much strength. One of the really smart things in the design is the Drag Adjustment Knob. Think of this as a course tension adjustment. It sets the tension range of what the main lock knob adjustment will use. This is a great feature.

The next knob is the Panning Base Lock. It does what it sounds like it does, i.e., locks down the panning function or makes it easier or harder to pan. The action is very smooth. On the bottom of the mounting plate are three grub screws that keep the head unit from unscrewing when panning. Not all head units have this feature, or if they do it’s one screw and often they don’t work well. This setup works. Also on the bottom is a threaded hole for attaching a counterweight to stabilize the tripod if necessary.

The large Main Lock Knob (A) frees and locks the ball to allow pan and tilt. The Drag Adjustment Knob (B) dictates the range of freedom that the main knob can adjust. The Pan Lock knob (C) controls the panning of the head unit.

It’s Got Legs

The Pro Guide has four leg sections with a twist lock design. I prefer this lock mechanism over the lever type. These twist locks have big knobby rubber covers, so they are easy to use in any weather with or without gloves. They are also silent, which can’t always be said of the lever lock designs. The angle of the legs is highly adjustable, with settings at 85, 55, or 23 degrees. The Leg Angle Locks work better than those on other tripods I’ve used. You can pull them all the way out and they click into position. This allows maximum leg angle extension for prone shooting. They also click into the other positions by simply pressing toward the center line.

The feet have large rubber pads, or they may be swapped out for the included spear feet.

The Pro Guide model shrinks down to a compact 20.5 inches.

Hunting Use

Not everybody hunts with a tripod. I’m sure some of this is tradition, and some is because carbon fiber wasn’t always around. If you ever hunt hogs or coyotes at night, you will want a tripod for your rifle. In the dark you will quickly find what you like and dislike about your tripod.

The night coyote hunting I’ve done has taught me what matters to me in a hunting tripod. First, there’s stability. If it’s not stable then what’s the point? By stability I mean that when you put your rifle on it you are 100% confident you can walk away, scan your surroundings, set up your caller – whatever – without ever worrying about the head unit drooping and your rifle doing a nose dive. Stability also refers to how steady your image remains when you are on your thermal riflescope (or IR or whatever). The Pro Guide shows very well on stability. I’ve left a heavy 15-pound rifle on this tripod overnight and the rifle never moved. That’s with the gun at an angle to test the grip strength of the head unit. The Pro Guide also pans super smoothly, so I’d give it an “A” in stability. I’m sure the larger Mark 5 feels more stable, but it’s also about three pounds heavier. Which is better depends on your application.

Prone shooting is quite comfortable with the Pro Guide tripod. At the range, I used a rear bag on this setup and printed sub-MOA groups at 200 with three different rifles.

Next, the plate attachment has to be easy to use in the dark. My standard is I need to be able to attach my rifle in 5-10 seconds with my eyes closed or in complete darkness. Arca-Swiss is the way to go on plate attachment. It’s easier to use in the dark than the Picatinny style.

Up next is stealth. If your tripod makes noise when setting it up then it is just going to frustrate you and your hunting buddies. As mentioned above, the legs extend silently (assuming you don’t slam them to full extension like a gorilla).

Now that you have quietly mounted your rifle on your tripod in the dark you will want to start looking around. The utility of the Main Lock Knob, the Drag Adjustment Knob, and the Panning Base Lock Knob all come into play here. These features on the Pro Guide are smooth “like budda.” You really have to feel this to understand it fully, but simply put this shooting platform is silky smooth.

Finally, portability is a consideration. The Pro Guide weighs less than four pounds and folds down to 20.5 inches (without center extension). It is very portable.

My new best friend, the Leupold Pro Guide carbon fiber tripod.

Non-Hunting Use

Photography and videography are probably the two most common uses I personally have for tripods. The Pro Guide is well suited for these functions. Lightweight and stable, the Pro Guide can handle any camera a consumer or prosumer has in his arsenal.

The detachable extension stem makes glassing much easier whether sitting or standing.

The next most common use I have for a tripod is to support a spotting scope at the range. Again, the Pro Guide is more than capable of this application. With all the gear I typically haul from my vehicle to the firing line, the lightweight carbon fiber helps keep the weight down a bit. Admittedly, the Pro Guide is a bit overkill for this type of use, but I won’t ever have to buy a new one and I will never regret having it.

Competitions of different types utilize tripods. I’ve shot PRS (Precision Rifle Series) style matches before and having a good tripod (or several) is critical. The Pro Guide can support 40 pounds, which is well outside what is needed from even the largest PRS rifles. When shooting on a squad in competition we often share gear such as tripods. Because everyone is using everyone else’s gear you can tell really fast what works and what’s intuitive. Though I haven’t used the Pro Guide in competition yet, it’s easy to see it would be one of the preferred tripods on any stage.

The Pro Guide tripod from Leupold works well for competitive shooting or for taking cheesy selfies for a gear review.

Hits

The new head unit is superb. The controls are well thought out and strong, yet easy to use.

Great strength-to-weight ratio. This thing is a strong and stable platform and weighs less than four pounds. It will handle a big rifle or large spotting scope with ease, and it won’t break your back.

The twist lock legs and the angle pivot locks are solid and easy to use.

Versatility: shoot prone, seated, kneeling, or standing. Use it at the range, in competition, or hunting.

Arca-Swiss dovetail attachment.

Leupold lifetime warranty.

Misses

The price is out of reach for many. This is the first place people go with most things, and with carbon fiber anything that is certainly the case. But I’m a buy once, cry once kind of guy. The Pro Guide is not the most expensive carbon fiber out there, nor the cheapest. It offers a lot of value for its price, though it may be out of range for a lot of folks.

My only real gripe is the shiny chrome bolt heads – why?! This is a hunting tripod. Shiny anything doesn’t belong on any of your gear. I just don’t understand this. Why not just Cerakote the bolt heads, or at a minimum bead blast the sheen off of them?

Pro Guide CF-436 Specs

MSRP                    $599

Weight                 62 ounces without center column extension, 67.2 ounces with extension*

Load Capacity    40 pounds

Plate Type           Arca-Swiss

Leg Lock Type    Twist Lock

Folded Length   20.5 inches without extension*

Max Height         54 inches without extension, 66.5 inches with extension*

Min Height          5.5 inches without extension*

*note: these measurements were taken directly by me; those on the Leupold website are different

Bonus material! Leupold also sent over these binocular adapters. Both are Arca-Swiss and both are beautifully machined aircraft-grade aluminum. The Quick Stem on (left and center) is $89.99, mounts to your binocular’s threaded hole, and has a quick detach feature. The Field Clamp (right) fits binoculars that lack a threaded mount.

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About the author: Steve Gaspar has been writing for gun and hunting publications for over 20 years. He is an avid hunter, staunch 2A supporter, and occasional 3-gun competitor. His favorite outdoor activities are calling predators and shooting suppressed rifles.

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  • Kane November 1, 2022, 10:24 am

    Cool tripod

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