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If you are an outdoorsy person or an aspiring astronomer, a telescope is a must-have. There are tons of high-end stationery telescopes on the market, but what if you want to stargaze on your camping trip? Thanks to technological advancements, there are portable telescopes that are superbly compact yet offer high-quality magnification. So which is the best travel telescope to get for the most magical travel experiences?
We rounded up a list of the best-rated portable telescopes to help you make the choice from the endless options available on the market. Some of the features we considered in our review include focal length and ratio, aperture, eyepiece diameter, mount, and weight among others. The features determine the efficiency and convenience of the telescope. For instance, weight and mount will affect the telescope’s portability and ease of handling while the aperture affects the quality of images you’ll be viewing.
"This telescope from the world-famous brand that is a lightweight and portable pick for terrestrial and celestial viewing when traveling.4.5-pound weight.Preassembled tripod with adjustable height.Comes with a backpack."
"A portable telescope for those in search for better capabilities, this model offers crisp clear images and can be used to explore the deep sky and outer space.Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope.4.4-pound weight.Lifetime warranty."
"A compact and basic option for beginners and/or kids, this telescope comes at a very affordable price, yet sports a lifetime warranty and is overall easy to use.Lightweight and short optical tube.Comes with multiple accessories.Backpack included in the purchase."
"Another compact and portable option, this telescope features an adjustable tabletop tripod that is easy to use and offer crystal clear images.4.4-pound weight.Comes with two Kellner eyepieces and Barlow lens.Lifetime warranty."
"This compact refractor telescope comes with an aluminum case for portability and would be a good choice for astrophotography and excellent viewing.Dual-speed Crayford-type focuser.4.3-pound weight.Compatible with most mounts."
"Another spotting scope that comes with a rotating tripod mount and a 1.25 in eyepiece mount that allows you to use astronomical eyepieces.Allows photographing.Waterproof and fogproof design.Lifetime warranty."
Celestron is a world-famous brand known for high-end telescopes. They also have a line of portable scopes and this 80 mm (3 in) is one of the best models for terrestrial and celestial viewing when traveling. With it, you can view the moon, planets, deep-sky objects, and star clusters.
The scope is extremely portable as its entire set weighs only 4.5 pounds. Setting it up is also very straightforward. Within a few minutes, you’ll have assembled it together with all the accessories.
The telescope comes with a full-size aluminum photographic tripod which is pretty sturdy. The tripod has a smooth and easy movement which allows you to track stellar objects easily, plus it allows you to customize the scope’s height or easily place it on raised surfaces.
Also featured are two eyepieces; 10 mm and 20 mm. They offer different magnifications so you can view your target objects clearly. The most exciting thing about this scope is its erect image diagonal that allows right-side-up viewing which is perfect for terrestrial viewing.
Even more, the scope features a permanent red dot finderscope that helps you to center an object on your eyepiece quickly for easier viewing. The scope further distinguishes itself with extra accessories like the smartphone adapter that allows you to connect your smartphone to its eyepiece so you can capture brilliant images of the planets and the moon.
As if that’s enough, the scope comes with a backpack custom made to fit its entire set including all the accessories. This makes it even more portable.
With a 2-year warranty, this telescope stands out as one of the best compact travel telescopes on the market. Its aperture is large enough to attract a lot of light for the best image quality.
This is one the best premium and upgrade pick for astronomy enthusiasts. It is not your typical entry-level scope as it has far better capabilities. Despite its compact build, you can use it to explore the deep sky and outer space.
The telescope is incredibly small and lightweight coming in at 4.4 pounds only. It utilizes the catadioptric scheme and with its perfect optical capabilities, you can view the moon and planets with their satellites.
Further, the scope has fully multi-coated optics and a 90 mm (3.54 in) aperture that gathers an optimum amount of light to allow you to observe dim objects and stars in the night sky. The further limits of the solar system will also be discernible, but you won’t get the details.
The scope comes with two eyepieces that offer average magnification and a diagonal mirror that you can use to observe terrestrial landscapes. Also included in the set is an aluminum tripod that has an accessory tray. It has a super-durable and sturdy build and you can adjust its legs to increase its height.
Moreover, the telescope features a red-dot finder scope that helps you easily center objects for easier viewing in the sky.
In sum, with a lifetime warranty backing, this is amongst the very few portable telescopes with advanced features. Its superior features like a powerful magnification and great focal length ratio make it a perfect upgrade option.
Looking to learn astronomy basics and maybe pick it up as a hobby? This refractor scope by Levenhuk is your best chance of becoming an avid space investigator. It is a fantastic entry-level choice, perfect for kids and beginners. With it, you can observe the planets, moon as well as the brightest objects in deep space.
The telescope is super-easy to install hence perfect for kids and entry-level users. Like all the other Levenhuk telescopes, this scope’s optics are fully multi-coated to provide you with crisp clear images without any aberrations.
Plus, it has myriad accessories including a diagonal mirror, Barlow lens, and two eyepieces which yield its 135x magnification. Additionally, the scope features an optical tube that is ultra-lightweight and compact. In fact, it is half the size of most refractor tubes. It is installed on an alt-azimuth mount which is very convenient as it never requires any preparatory adjustments.
The scope also comes with an adjustable aluminum tripod and a backpack that can accommodate all its components. With the backpack, even a kid can carry the scope around comfortably.
Overall, it is hard to beat the Levenhuk 50 as an entry-level portable telescope. It has a super-durable build which is backed by a lifetime warranty and top-notch features for unparalleled image quality.
What we liked:
Can be used for both terrestrial and planetary observations
This is another compact yet powerful refractor telescope ideal for both celestial and terrestrial viewing. It is packed with features and accessories that will let you enjoy the night sky in all your outdoor escapades effortlessly.
With the alt-az mount, the scope is such a breeze to set up. It also comes with a tabletop tripod that has adjustable legs. It has super-fine motor controls for both vertical and horizontal movement.
With a fully coated achromatic 70 mm (2.75 in) objective lens and 400 mm (15.7 in) focal length, you can trust this scope to give you crisp clear images without any aberrations. Additionally, it comes with two Kellner eyepieces and Barlow lens which are a sure guarantee for real-time images.
The Barska telescope is a beautifully compact and wide angles scope perfect for the astronomer on the go. It weighs a mere 4.4 pounds and comes with a carrying case for ease of portability.
Also featured is a 5 by 24 finderscope that will help you to center objects quickly for viewing.
Overall, this is one of the best travel telescopes for astronomy out there owing to its first-rate features and multiple accessories. The lifetime warranty even makes the deal sweeter.
What we liked:
Compact and lightweight build
Easy to set up
Fully coated lens
Great for both celestial and terrestrial viewing
Crystal clear images, both near and far
What could be better:
Some users find the tripod a bit small
The eyepieces may be underpowered for advanced users
The Evostar is another satisfying compact refractor telescope to use. It is a prime choice for amateur astronomers looking to invest in an advanced instrument they can use for astrophotography and excellent viewing.
The telescope is incredibly lightweight coming in at 4.3 pounds. Plus, it has a short tube system as its tube measures a mere 42cm (16.5 in) and weighs 4.3 pounds. Its removable dew shield and durable aluminum case make it a perfect get-up-and-go telescope.
The scope’s best selling point is its ability to view and image under dark far-flung skies. Its doublet refractors will give you planetary and deep-space phenomenon views that are contrast-rich.
Apart from the 72 mm (2.83 in) apochromatic refractor, the scope owes its capabilities to its 420 mm (16.5 in) focal length and dual-speed 2-inch Crayford-type focuser. The focuser offers both fine and coarse focusing.
Essentially, the scope is incredibly easy to set up. It is compatible with a couple of mounts including the sky adventurer mount and the VIxenVersa Go mount.
The bottom line is, this is the ‘It’ telescope for a traveling astronomer who wants a clear view of dark skies. Its price point is easy on the pocket and its 2-year warranty makes it a sweeter deal.
Here is another fantastic choice for both astronomical and terrestrial use from the giant telescope brand Celestron. The C90Mak is not only one of the best portable scopes but also an exception all-around optical instrument highly preferred by advanced scope users.
The telescope utilizes the Maksutov optical design which is known to be the most portable design with a wide range of applications. It is also very straightforward to set and use.
The C90 Mak distinguishes itself with excellent optics including a 90 mm (3.54 in) aperture and a 1250 mm (49 in) focal length. You can trust it to deliver razor-sharp images over a wide field. The full-features spotting scope is fully-multicoated and together with the high-quality 32mm eyepiece offer you the best quality views.
Even more, the scope features an Erect image system that allows you to view celestial objects at a 90-degree angle as well as correct the orientation of images to view terrestrial objects.
The scope is slightly heavier than all the other options on this list but 5 pounds won’t break your back. Plus it comes with a convenient backpack that packs all its components making it easier to carry around.
All considered this is one of the best versatile scopes that money can buy. It is designed to perform well in different viewing situations without making you break a sweat and it offers a 20mm eye relief which is a rarity in most compact telescope models.
The lifetime warranty should give you the buyer’s confidence to purchase this scope.
What we liked:
Easy to use
Best portable design
20mm eye relief
Razor-sharp images over a wide field
Designed to be used in various viewing situations
What could be better:
It is slightly heavier than others within its range
Other features: Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) glass; dual focus mechanism; waterproof and fogproof; 22–67x zoom eyepiece; 1.25 in eyepiece mount for astronomical eyepieces; dual focus; T-adapter ring included; 20mm eye relief
Once again, Celestron has outdone itself with this next generation top-performing regal F-ED spotting scope. It has been painstakingly designed to ensure you have a wonderful experience in the great outdoors.
The Regal M2 has been optimized to produce sharp and crisp clear images both at night and during the day. It has a 100 mm (3.9 in) aperture that allows the optimum amount of light to enter for the best image quality.
It also has a couple of advanced features found in high-end and pricier scopes like the extra-low dispersion glass. It is slightly heavier than other models on this list, but its magnesium alloy body does a great job at cutting its overall weight.
Also featured is an upgraded dual focuser that allows you to bring your subjects into focus 2 times faster than the standard focuser. What’s more, the scope is nitrogen purged to prevent fogging and it has a waterproof build so you can use it in any kind of weather.
Another distinguishing feature of the Regal is its photographing abilities. All you have to do is attach your camera to it using a T-ring and the T-adapter it comes with for the most phenomenal images.
In sum, the Regal is a perfect companion for any outdoorsy person as it can be used for bird watching, long-distance viewing, observing nature, and occasional astronomical viewing. Its 20mm (0.79 in) eye relief and lifetime warranty make it one hell of a worthy buy.
What we liked:
Waterproof and fogproof
Great optics – 100 mm Aperture and ED dispersion glass
20 mm eye relief
Dual focus mechanism
What could be better:
A bit heavier than other compact telescope models
Things to Сonsider
Before you go shopping for a portable telescope, you better arm yourself with some useful information if you don’t want to regret your choices. Other than a bunch of brands and models, there is a lot more to consider when choosing a travel telescope. This section has all the essential knowledge you need including features to consider when choosing a portable scope and the difference between a spotting and traveling scope.
Features to consider when choosing a travel telescope
These are the features you must be keen on to make the best buy.
Weight and portability
This is a very crucial consideration especially if you are an avid traveler or backpacker. You don’t want a telescope that will weight you down or add extra weight to your luggage. You have to find a scope that balances weight and quality perfectly. The Levenhuk Skyline PLUS 90 MAK is a prime example of a premium quality scope that is super-lightweight and easy to manage.
Be sure to check that the scope comes with a carrying case or bag that can easily fit all its components for easy portability.
There are three main types of scopes; reflector, refractor, and compound scopes. Reflector scopes use mirrors to gather and focus light onto the eyepiece. The Newtonian is the most common reflector scope. Refractor scopes use lenses to gather and focus light onto the eyepiece. Most of them use at least two lenses or even more and they allow you to gaze into the heavens.
The combination scopes use both mirrors and lenses and the most popular styles are the Maksutov-Cassegrain like the Celestron C90 Mak Spotting Scope on this list and the Schmidt-Cassegrain.
This is the diameter of the lens or mirror in your scope. The bigger the aperture the better as it will allow a maximum amount of light to enter the eye-piece to give you the best quality images. A great aperture for a compact scope should be more than 50 mm (about 2 inches) and if you can afford go for bigger ones of about 100 mm (3.9 inches).
All telescopes can magnify objects in the sky and the land. The eyepiece quality and focal length affect the magnification of a scope. Contrary to popular opinion a high magnification is useless if you can get clear images. So, you need to get a model that perfectly balances magnification and top-performing optics like the Celestron Regal M2 100ED Spotting Scope.
Most telescopes use two main lenses; eyepiece lens and objective lens. Lenses are essential as they gather more light than your eye could and focus it to make far objects appear magnified, clearer, and brighter. The objective lens is larger than the eyepiece lens.
Go for a model with larger lenses as the larger the lens the more light a telescope can gather. This will give you the brightest and clearest images.
Focal length and ratio
This is another basic feature. It is the total distance between your telescope’s focal point and the mirror or lens. With a bigger focal length and ratio, objects will appear much bigger than they would with a small length.
If you can get a scope with a large aperture and focal length you, will get the best image qualities though the aperture is more essential compared to focal length.
The mount is usually ignored by many but it does affect the overall experience of using the telescope. There are two popular types of the mount; equatorial and alt-azimuth. The equatorial mount is the most expensive but the handiest when it comes to navigating stars as it is designed to rotate the sky.
The alt-azimuth mount of the other hand is designed to move left and right and up and down. It is more compact in its build and way affordable but you will have to keep adjusting it when tracking the sky.
Finders are crucial accessories that should not be overlooked. Any astronomy enthusiasts should have a finder as a top priority because it helps in pointing the telescope at particular small and faint objects in the sky.
There are three kinds of finders; the peep sight which is the most basic and great for beginners, the reflect sight, and one that mimics a miniature scope. The reflect sight projects a small red laser towards the sky to help you find objects while the one like the miniature telescope uses crosshairs to find the faintest objects in the sky.
These are equally essential components of a telescope like all the others discussed above. When choosing an eyepiece, look through it to ensure it is comfortable. A low-quality eyepiece will force you to squint every time as you wouldn’t be able to see your subjects clearly.
Telescope vs spotting scope
There are a few differences between a telescope and a spotting scope and they outweigh each other in various ways. If you intend to do a lot of terrestrial viewing and just some basic astronomical viewing then go for a spotting scope. Spotting scopes use lenses to gather and focus light and they are less expensive, easier to use, more portable, and perfect for low-light viewing. They are also the best for short-range viewing of moving objects like birds and other animals.
Telescopes on the other hand use either mirrors or lenses or both to gather and focus light. They gather a lot of light and have a high magnification power which means they are perfect for viewing distant objects both on land and in the sky. They are longer in their build, thus don’t pack as easy as spotting scopes but some compact models are easy to tote around.
Any telescope with a large aperture and long focal length is perfect for viewing planets and the galaxies. The Maksutov-Cassegrain telescopes are the most recommendable telescopes for planet viewing as they offer razor-sharp images as they have longer focal lengths. Plus they are more affordable.
Most portable telescopes come with a carrying case or bag that perfectly fits all the components for easy portability.
With all the tips on this guide, you shouldn’t have any challenges choosing the best telescopes for your travel escapades. With the best travel telescope, you will be able to enjoy the night sky and unlock the finest details of the celestial and terrestrial objects that many people will never see. If you feel the brands and models are overwhelming you can simply choose to go with any of the top-rated products on our list and you will never regret your decision.
Our best overall choice, Celestron Travel Portable Scope 80 is one of the best all-around scopes on the market. It is incredibly lightweight and compact and has multiple superb features including a Skyportal app. The upgrade pick, Levenhuk Skyline PLUS 90 MAK is the best portable telescope you can get for deep sky and galaxy viewing. It has premium features including an equatorial mount and a finderscope.
Third, on our list is the Levenhuk Skyline Travel 50 which is the ultimate choice for kids and beginners. Its lightweight build and extra features like the 2x optical finder and Barlow lens make it one of the best travel telescopes on the market.