Astronomy travel is exciting, offering urban astronomers the chance to leave polluted city skies behind and journey to distant, unadulterated dark-sky locations.
However, for a successful astronomy holiday, you’ll need a lightweight, compact, and portable travel telescope that can be unpacked and set up within minutes.
It’s not a good idea to lug around bulky pieces of equipment that require intense sessions just to set them up and get started.
If you’re planning to travel far, you’ll not only need a “grab and go” scope, but you also need an option you can take on a flight, either in the baggage hold or as hand luggage.
While portability is certainly a priority factor when considering the best travel scope, you shouldn’t get so obsessed with the weight and size that you forget the critical component of any scope, namely its performance.
In addition to having a lightweight and compact scope, the best travel telescope should still also provide exquisite views of the night sky.
You don’t want to go through the effort of moving your scope only to find it offers mediocre views.
Fortunately, you don’t have to deal with any of that because we’ve compiled a list of some of the best portable travel scopes that would make good travel companions.
Table of Contents
The Best Travel Telescope For The Money
#1 Zhumell Z100 - EDITOR'S CHOICE
If you’re on a tight budget that doesn’t extend into the triple-digit range, the Zhumell Z100 would be a perfect pick for first-timers.
You get far more “scope” for your money with this option.
And that’s not all!
It’s also lightweight and perfectly suited to grab-and-go observation and travel.
What about performance?
It doesn’t skimp on that either. While it lacks a collimation feature, it’s still a decent purchase, offering a lot of value for the price.
But, there must be a compromise for such a low price, right?
Stay with us to learn more about the Zhumell Z100.
Features and Benefits
The Zhumell is decidedly a portable option as it’s conveniently compact and lightweight.
It qualifies as a grab and go choice as it breaks down to the tube and base, making it easier to take it with you to remote parties or camping trips. You simply need to stick the base and the tube on the backseat of your car, and you’re ready to go.
Following your arrival at your observing destination, the Zhumell can be put up in a matter of seconds. It’s easy to use, and beginners shouldn’t have any problem setting up the scope.
The Zhumell’s build quality is yet another feature we think suits the scope for travel purposes. The streamlined and straightforward mechanical design is durable, allowing this Dobsonian reflector to endure the inconveniences and wear and tear from use and travel.
The Zhumell Z100 is one of those rare models that won’t discourage beginners from astronomy.
This option is intended for sky-viewing but might not be a particularly great option for terrestrial observation.
The optics are good in general, with the only limitation being the small 100mm aperture. It doesn’t handle extreme power well, but still, it offers superb deep sky observation.
Don’t get me wrong, the Zhumell isn’t a powerhouse in any way, but its deep-sky performance is the best in its price range.
You can achieve a more than adequate viewing capability of the moon, planetary features, and the Cassini Division.
The images are also detailed and ultra-sharp, and the things you’ll see on this scope for the first time will amaze you.
For under 100 bucks, the Zhumell comes with a 4″ parabolic mirror instead of a traditional spherical mirror.
It’s a fast telescope, and the use of a parabolic mirror eliminates the chromatic aberration that would otherwise become apparent. So, with this option, it’s easy to see images in their true colors and states.
Unfortunately, the f/4 focal ratio isn’t ideal for beginners as it requires precise collimation, and the smallest misalignment causes the fuzzing of images.
Also, the primary mirror isn’t adjustable, so it doesn’t allow collimation. So, you’ve to be extra careful and sensitive about the optics.
The good thing is the scope holds collimation pretty well over time, but the lack of adjustment mildly concerns me at the least.
The Z100 comes in a pretty utilitarian tabletop Dobsonian mount.
It’s sturdy and simple to use too. It can move up and down, left, right, and center, which is as straightforward as telescope mounts get.
There’s nothing much more to say here, but you’ll certainly be satisfied with this pick, provided you’ve a table to rest the scope on.
Zhummel is versatile too and will accommodate most of the tripods in the market.
#2 Celestron 21035 TravelScope - Best Entry-Level Option
The Celestron TravelScope 70 is an entry-level scope for beginners or those on-the-go.
As its name suggests, the Travelcope is specifically designed as a portable scope, ideal for both terrestrial and celestial viewing.
We love it because it comes with all the necessary gear to start observing the night sky or see grouping from hundreds of yards away. More importantly, it’s not a wallet buster.
Unfortunately, the TravelScope’s optical performance has some limitations due to the short focal length, so professional use is out of the question.
It’s a great option, though, for beginners and intermediates, or even a seasoned astronomer looking for recreational use with recreational quality while sticking to a budget.
But, is it the right scope for you?
Features and Benefits
Lightweight and portable
Portability is key for a travel scope, and this option doesn’t disappoint.
The Celestron is a great portable scope when you don’t want to lug around a heavy piece of kit.
For a birdwatcher like me who is constantly on the move to locate birds, I find the Celestron the perfect scope.
Stargazers who like to travel outside areas with light pollution will also love how easy the scope folds and packs into its bag without taking it apart.
The scope is also lightweight, and even with the tripod included, it weighs a mere 3.3 pounds, so it offers a truly portable setup, ideal for those on the go. Whether biking, hiking, driving, or flying, the TravleScope is built for easy manageability.
The TravelScope, riding high under the mighty Celestron brand, has a lot to live up to. However, since it comes in under $100, expectations shouldn’t be set too high.
The TravelScope has a 70mm, f/5.7 achromatic refractor, and due to its short focal ratio it displays chromatic aberration on bright objects.
For bright colors, expect some false coloration, which might limit the observation for professional use or photography, but might suffice for the amateur and intermediate birder.
However, the scope is excellent for daytime use, especially when you need it for terrestrial viewing activities like an archery spotting rifle or archery groupings and observing wildlife activity from a distance.
For astronomy use, the TravelScope is not a far-ranging astronomy telescope. While it’s perfectly okay for general wide-field scanning of the sky and occasional views of the moon, the weak 70mm aperture isn’t remarkable at high magnifications.
As a night time scope, though, expect a reasonable performance; not the best in its class, but at least reasonable for casual astronomy.
For instance, while it’s possible to make out for Saturn or Jupiter, don’t expect full clarity and details such as the rings or ridges on the planet.
The TravelScope is super sturdy and doesn’t suffer from balance problems.
While it lacks slow-motion controls, it’s steady and doesn’t vibrate or wobble.
The images are clear and not distractingly shaky, as we have seen on other budget telescopes.
Overall, the Celestron TravelScope is a decent piece of kit, and while it may not appeal to professionals, it has everything beginners and intermediates would need for their scope.
#3 Orion SkyScanner 100mm - Best for Color Accuracy
The Orion SkyScanner 100 is a compact Newtonian reflector scope and one of the true “grab n’ go” scopes on the market.
Besides portability, the other main appeal with the Skyscanner is the parabolic primary mirror, which eliminates chromatic aberration at any magnification and delivers sharp and crisp images.
But, is the scope the right option for you?
Features and Benefits
There’s a lot to love about the Orion, but the compact size and lightweight design are a huge appeal for traveling astronomers.
The Orion comes with a conveniently compact design, which easily breaks down to the tube and base.
Packing this scope is a cinch, and for me, I love that I can simply stash it on my car’s backseat or trunk with minimal effort.
It’s a lightweight tool and with all the components it weighs only 6.5 pounds, so I can easily move it to different locations with the least effort.
The scope also arrives fully assembled, and the only assembly required is attaching the finder, which takes less than a minute.
There’s no benefit of having a compact scope if it lacks good optics.
Fortunately, the Orion aces on both fronts.
The Orion’s performance is fantastic, especially for the price.
As with the Zhumell, this option is a great performer for terrestrial objects such as deep space objects and lunar & planetary observation.
With stock eyepieces and a 3x Barlow lens, it’s easy to explore quite a lot with the Orion, including globular clusters and planets, including their features.
The included eyepieces allow you to search for the Milky Way, and explore the moon, open clusters, and almost the entire Messier Catalog.
If you choose to use a different eyepiece, such as a 25 mm Plossl, it’s also possible to fit the entirety of the Andromeda Galaxy and other nebular objects in the field of view.
The Orion SkyScanner offers excellent value with its parabolic primary mirror.
It’s quite a surprise, especially at this price point, since it’s standard to see most scopes with spherical mirrors.
However, for a scope with fast focal specs such as the Skyscanner, the parabolic mirror is significant as it eliminates spherical aberration on bright objects.
With the scope, images come out crisp and clear, and the visual quality is nothing short of amazing.
The only concern we had with the scope is the lack of collimation.
You see, traditionally, Newtonian reflector scopes offer a way to adjust the primary mirror to get the optics aligned.
However, this option lacks this provision as it is collimated at the factory and fixed in place. This can present problems if the scope gets knocked out of collimation during use or shipping.
While the scope tends to hold on to the collimation, we would have hoped to see the flexibility of being able to adjust and align the scope and the mirror.
#4 Meade Lightbridge Mini 114 - Best Value Option
Meade Lightbridge Minis are some of the best scopes under $200.
Contrary to many instruments on the cheaper side, which come with complicated and wobbly designs, the Lightbridge Minis are sturdy, easy to use, and offer amazing performance.
We particularly like the Mini 114 for its overall value and features.
Sure, it is a tad more expensive than our previously reviewed items, but it seems to tick all the boxes as the best telescope for travel.
Performance-wise, I would recommend this option for serious astronomical use.
Features and Benefits
Weight and size
As its name suggests, the Lightbridge Mini is the absolute minimalist telescope I would suggest for traveling.
It’s only a few pounds in weight and inches taller than our top pick, the Zhumell Z100, so a great pick for those on the move.
Packing the scope is as easy as it gets, and you’ll love how trouble free it is to get it into your car’s backseat or trunk.
Assembly is also easy, and unpacking it doesn’t require any elbow grease.
The Mini 114’s optical performance is decent and good enough for professional use.
First, the lens is collimatable, so it easily adjusts the primary mirror to get the optics aligned without much hassle.
Second, the Mini 114’s parabolic primary mirror eliminates any form of chromatic aberration to the images in their true form and color.
The mirror, combined with the large aperture’s light-gathering abilities, will show a wealth of detail on the moon, planets, and thousands of interesting deep-sky objects.
Even at high magnifications of 200x, the optics are still good enough. However, at magnifications above 100x, you may find it a little bit difficult to track the mount at hand.
On the other hand, expect some coma aberration on low magnification due to the ultra-fast f/3.9 focal ratio.
Overall, this scope’s optical performance is impressive and will allow you to view a gamut of celestial bodies with great clarity.
The Mini 114 attaches to a sturdy mount through a Vixen-style dovetail, so it’s possible to install it to another mount or tripod.
The mounting system is easy to use. More crucially, it’s sturdy and will balance the scope in place for better views.
#5 CSSEA 70mm Telescope - Best for Kids
There are numerous ways to get your kids to learn while they play.
The CSSEA presents such an opportunity for you and your little one.
You can offer the scope as a gift to educate them to explore the world, life, and nature.
Features and Benefits
As with all our previously reviewed items, the CSSEA fits the bill of a travel-friendly telescope.
It’s available in a lightweight and compact design, living up to an authentic “grab n go” tag.
Additionally, the scope comes with a backpack specifically designed to hold the scope, along with a tripod and all other accessories that come with your purchase.
Aside from offering a convenient way to carry the scope, the bag keeps everything in place and very secure. It’s great to have, especially when you’re traveling to places where you might end up hiking.
As with the Celestron TravelScope, this refractor scope excels at daytime observation.
By this, I mean it’s a great option for wildlife viewing, scenery, and sky objects.
For this reason, it makes up for a great educational instrument for the little ones by allowing them to get early contact with connected sciences-from astronomy to biology and physics to math.
It also works well with observation and might be a great pick for kids who want to learn more about animals.
The scope’s optical specifications, including a 70mm lens and a f/5.1 focal length, have awesome light-gathering capabilities and are perfect for casual nighttime observations of the moon.
Images of the moon and planetary objects are crisp and clear, especially with increased brightness.
One of the important accessories on this scope is the adjustable tripod.
Besides balancing the scope, it offers an easy way to steady the scope when poring over the surface of the moon.
It has different rotational settings and can be adjusted vertically and horizontally, while the height can be set anywhere from 19.6 to 42 inches.
It’s easy to point it anywhere in the sky you might need to, and it can get taller or shorter, depending on the height needs of your kid.
Best Travel Scopes Buying Guide
Generally, the best travel scopes should be lightweight, compact, and easy to transport.
But there’re also other specific features and considerations to think about.
Let’s open our minds to what it means to have a portable telescope.
Size and weight
The size and weight are among the essential factors when deciding how suitable a telescope is for travel.
Smaller and lightweight scopes are easier to carry and won’t interfere much with your travel luggage.
However, a more compact size may also limit the aperture’s size, as larger apertures are also heavier.
Ideally, a good travel scope should be under five pounds, and if you plan to fly with the scope, check to see if it fits within the flying limitations.
Assembly is not critical for most scopes as they’re not subjected to travel a lot.
But for travel scopes, the assembly and disassembly matter a lot as they affect the overall ease of use.
Keep in mind, though, that a telescope has many parts, and each component is vital and delicate. So, it’s a good idea that you have working information about the scope you’re purchasing.
You must also ensure that your scope’s assembly doesn’t require any specialized tools. Rather, all the necessary equipment must be easy to assemble along with the device itself.
Unfortunately, when traveling, you can’t always predict the type of weather conditions you’ll be using your scope in.
So, you need to know that, whatever the weather, your scope will offer the best performance and remain safe.
We always recommend you choose a scope that is both waterproof and fog proof.
Go for a closed tube refractor, purged with nitrogen, which prevents fog buildup and is watertight.
Which scopes are the most outdoor resistant?
Refractor telescopes are generally more suitable for travel and outdoor use.
Their sealed tube design means there’s a lower chance of foreign bodies getting in, and with only two lenses, there’s less to get knocked out of place.
While reflector scopes offer a larger aperture in a more compact design, their open tube design makes them unsuitable for outdoor environments. For instance, when used in dusty conditions the reflector mirrors tend to get clogged with debris and need regular cleaning. They’re not waterproof either, so they might not be ideal for the rain showers.
If you still need a larger aperture and element resistance performance, you can find a compromise with a compound telescope.
These scopes use both mirrors and lenses, but in a sealed design perfect for the harsh outdoors.
They offer a larger aperture for better optic performance, but they tend to be more expensive than many simple reflectors.
If you intend to use your travel telescope for more than just stargazing, but also wildlife, bird-watching, and other terrestrial viewings, we suggest you choose a versatile scope.
Generally, refractors are more versatile and can make your trip very rewarding, both day and night.
However, if you need a scope for just celestial viewing, a reflector might be a better choice. A reflector with a larger aperture offers more light-gathering capabilities for better views.
If you plan to use your telescope for astrophotography, consider whether it can use a focal bracket for attaching a camera. Many refractor scopes can accommodate a DSLR as a long telephoto lens, which is perfect for distant deep space objects or bird watching.
Get a finder scope
The change in location during travel makes it difficult to keep track of the celestial objects’ many different locations.
Here, a finderscope can help pinpoint the object you want to study.
A finderscope has a larger field of view to access the telescope’s manual setting in the preferred direction.
Traveling is a great hurdle in the safekeeping of these delicate devices, which is why a travel bag is necessary.
Most often, brands accessorize their travel scope with a travel bag, along with other essentials such as tripods, mounts, and base support.
However, if you feel the telescope bag doesn’t offer enough safety and support, you can get a separate bag, but ensure it’s padded enough to protect the lens and mirrors from shattering.
Also, pick a bag with separate compartments and a pocket for all the accessories so you can pack the entire device in a single pouch.
Apart from the travel bag, two other essential accessories you should look out for in a travel telescope are:
A tripod stand offers a basic structure between the scope and ground and creates a steady base to keep your scope safe and sound.
Most tripods for travel scope are collapsible and can easily be stored in a bag.
The base support enhances the overall stability and sturdiness of a scope.
Its main function is to level the ground to create a solid base for the tripod stand holding the scope.
Wrap Up: Our Choice
All the options on our list will appeal to travel astronomers in different ways, but we really liked the Zhumell Z100.
We chose to include it as our top pick because it’s not only portable, but also has superior optical performance, especially for the price.
Sure, it lacks a collimation feature, but that’s not sufficient to make us look another way.
It has a large aperture—the largest on the list—so its light-gathering capabilities are on point.
Combine that with the parabolic mirror, and you get a scope that delivers clear and crisp images, devoid of chromatic aberration.