5 Best Travel Telescopes in 2020 [Portable & Durable]

Are you an avid stargazer or a beginner considering taking a closer peek into the skies? Going away on vacation offers a wonderful opportunity to relax and try your hand at astronomy. You are probably thinking – with the myriad of things I need to pack, how can I possibly take along a telescope too?

It is a lot easier than you may imagine. Many very affordable, high-quality telescopes are lightweight, compact, and easy to transport.

We have reviewed 5 telescopes for you, giving a summary of the essential features. This will help you make an informed decision, and get your eye on the sky sooner than you think.

We Recommend

Best travel telescope

Orion AstroView
Refractor Telescope

Best budget option

SkyWatcher
Maksutov-Cassegrain

Best for car travel

Orion SkyQuest
Dobsonian Telescope

Concerns about travelling with a telescope

Being a sensitive gadget, traveling with a telescope, does require planning. If you are driving, you will have boot space and possibly space on the back seat. This will allow for a larger, heavier scope.

  • If you are camping out or hiking with all your essentials in a backpack, you need a smaller and lighter telescope. You have seriously limited luggage space and you don’t want to be too exhausted at the end of the hike to look at the stars.
  • Telescopes with a large range of accessories are great for a home where you have dedicated storage space. When traveling, you don’t want to worry about extra bits and pieces that can go missing.
  • Ease of set-up is a must. We reviewed models that stand on a tabletop. They are super easy to use. Simply point-and-view and you are a stargazer.

Like most travel-friendly gadgets, you may have to forsake some features for the perk of portability. In the case of telescopes, it is usually the size of the aperture or lens. Portable scopes have smaller lenses and offer more limited views. In our search for the best travel telescope, we focused on crisp, clear views vs. portability to give you the best of both. 

Also read5 Best Telescopes for Viewing Planets in 2020 [Saturn, Mars, Jupiter, etc.]

Is telescope resistant to different weather conditions?

Intrepid travelers are quite comfortable braving storms, icy winds, and searing heat. Others, like my family and I, prefer the comfort of a lodge or holiday home! Wherever you are heading, your telescope will have to brave the weather with you.

Telescopes designed for travel often have refractors’ tubes filled with an inert gas like Nitrogen. The gas creates a natural barrier that prevents a build-up of moisture inside the tube and stops fogging. Some devices have extra seals to prevent moisture from seeping inside. Water protection does not mean that the scope can take a dunking. Keep it away from the swimming pool, fish pond, seaside waves, or scenic waterfalls.

For rugged conditions, telescopes with rubber armoring are a win. This prevents damage from abrasions, scratches, or bashes if accidentally dropped or knocked when moving. The armoring also helps to retain the set-up or collimation of the scope, so you don’t have to go through the process again.

We found a few telescopes that come with a handy, sturdy carry case. Unfortunately, most do not. Invest in a strong, waterproof bag, preferably with soft internal padding. The better protected your telescope is, the longer it will last.

Also read5 Best Star Trackers for DSLR in 2020 [Buyer’s Guide]

Don’t forget a mount or tripod

As a beginner, you are probably super excited about your new telescope and ready to start viewing the Moon. However, you don’t want a nasty surprise. Not all telescopes come with a tripod or mount.

The first prize is a telescope that has a table mount. These are ideal for travel, portability, and ease-of-use. You don’t need to worry about mounts or tripods. Simply stand on a table, point and view. Many telescopes with table mounts also offer the option of attaching them to a separate tripod. This is ideal for use at home when you don’t have to move or disassemble your scope. You then have the best of both worlds – portability for travel and a permanent set-up for home use.

If the telescope comes with a tripod, make sure that it is lightweight and folds up. You don’t want to double your weight or carry an impossible long tripod onto a plane. Altazimuth tripods tend to be cheaper, easier to use, and extremely portable. They also offer horizontal and vertical movement allowing you to follow objects as the Earth rotates.

Equatorial mountings, or EQs, are not portable at all. So, avoid these. EQs are usually set-up permanently in your observation area where they remain untouched. AZ’s or altitude-azimuth mountings, are simpler but are less portable than tabletops. 

Also read5 Best Tripods for Binoculars (Astronomy) in 2020

How to choose the right portable telescope?

Here are some key points to consider when choosing the best portable telescope.

Weight – Whether you are traveling by car, plane, or on foot, packing light is key. The telescopes we reviewed range from 6 lbs to 36 lbs. The lighter models are ideal for camping and hiking. Heavier models are best suited for a car trip. If you are flying, ensure that you do not exceed the carry-on weight allowed.

Size – With limited luggage space, size is vital. Most portable telescopes are designed to be compact. Some even have removable tubes, reducing the overall size.

Aperture – As with most travel gadgets, you may have to forsake some high-end technology. The models we reviewed offer great sky views with apertures ranging from 90mm to 200mm.

Mounting – Tabletop mounted telescopes win hands down as they require no additional mounting devices. If you need a tripod, choose a model that is lightweight and folds up.

Ease of set-up – Spending hours aligning your telescope is not something you want to do on vacation. Point-and-view models are simple, fun, and get you stargazing in no time.

Accessories – Extra accessories are great if you are in one place. Traveling with loads of extra gadgets is probably not a great idea.

Best travel telescopes

1. Orion 10022 StarMax 90mm TableTop Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope

This telescope has a compact design that is ideal for traveling. Weighing only 6.5 lbs, it is light enough to pack up and go. 

It is perfect for an amateur astronomer and offers a great price to value ratio.

The scope features a 90mm aperture and a 1250mm focal length. It comes with two eyepieces of 25mm and 10mm. The telescope has a secure heavy-duty base

Simply stand on a table and you are set. If you prefer to use a tripod, it will easily attach to a field tripod with a 3/8″ or 1/4″-20 threaded post. Also included in the package is an EZ finder II reflex sight and a 90-degree mirror diagonal.

We used this telescope to see powerful images of the Moon and the brighter planets like Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars. It was also great to view brighter deep sky objects like nebulas and globular clusters.

Check the price of Orion StarMax 90mm Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope here

What we liked

  • Lightweight for transporting
  • Great price to value ratio
  • Includes two 1.25” lenses
  • Easily table set-up
  • Secure heavy-duty base

What we didn’t like

  • No carry case included
  • No tripod included

Magnification: 50x and 125x
Lens: 90mm (3.5”)
Field of view: 1°
Weight: 6.5 lbs
Dimensions: 19.5 x 10.5 x 10.5 inches

2. Meade Instruments LightBridge Mini 114 Telescope

This was the cheapest of the 5 telescopes we reviewed. We really enjoyed the removable optical tube, which made it extremely easy to transport

Weighing in at only 10.8 lbs, it is no trouble to pack into a case and place on the back seat while traveling.

The Lightbridge Mini features a 114mm aperture. It comes with two eyepieces, a 26mm, which offers 17x magnification, and a 9mm, which offers 50x magnification. 

It has a sturdy 360-degree swivel mount for easy standing on a table. You do not need tools for assembly, a great perk for us non-technical types.

This is the perfect starter telescope. It has a simple point-and-look design that soon had us viewing incredible sights of the Moon and brighter planets. We also enjoyed observing star clusters and nebulas. The Red Dot Viewfinder helps to aim the telescope and the included Autostar Suite Astronomy planetarium DVD has over 10,000 celestial objects to tempt you.

Check the price of Meade Instruments LightBridge Mini 114 Telescope here

What we liked

  • Sleek, compact design
  • Lightweight for travel
  • Removable optical tube
  • Includes 2 eyepieces
  • 360-degree swivel mount

What we didn’t like

  • Less sophisticated for experts
  • Not easy to attach a tripod

Magnification: 17x and 50x
Lens: 114mm (4.5”)
Field of view: 2.9°
Weight: 10.8 lbs
Dimensions: 12.2 x 12.2 x 24 inches

3. Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

The telescope is a more expensive model, ideal for a serious amateur astronomer looking for a lifetime investment

Weighing in at 29.3 lbs, it is better suited for packing into a car, rather than into a carry backpack. 

Despite its weight, we found it to be extremely easy to set-up. It has a very stable Dobsonian base, which keeps the optical tube well balanced. 

This design allows you to simply move the telescope left and right, up and down. It is ideal for beginners and doesn’t require complicated aligning. 

Simply point-and-look and you are enjoying amazing sights of the night sky. The 8” aperture lets you view close-ups of the Moon and planets. It also offers great views of the fainter nebulas and star clusters.

Included in the box is a 2″ Crayford focuser that holds 1.25″ and 2″ eyepieces. There is also an EZ Finder II reflex sight and a 25mm Sirius Plössl eyepiece.

Check the price of Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope here

What we liked

  • Wide aperture
  • Easy set-up Dobsonian base
  • Great close up detail
  • 2″ Crayford focuser
  • EZ Finder II reflex sight

What we didn’t like

  • Heavier than others

Magnification: 48x
Lens: 203mm (8”)
Field of view: 1.0°
Weight: 29.3 lbs
Dimensions: 50.2 x 17.5 x 15.5 inches (package)

4. SkyWatcher S11510 Maksutov-Cassegrain 102mm

The next telescope we reviewed was the SkyWatcher S11510. We loved the compact and lightweight design, perfect for taking along on a family evening picnic or a weekend trip.

The scope features a 102mm aperture with a 1300mm focal length. It is capable of producing great images both inside the solar system and out. 

The system gives high contrast views, allowing us to see mountains and craters on the Moon and even surface details of Mars.

Included in the set are two 1.25 inch eyepieces. The first is a 25mm Plössl providing 52x. The second is a 10mm Plössl providing 130x for close-up views. The Red Dot Finder makes it quick and easy to point the telescope to the object you want to view.

This is a well-priced choice for a beginner or a family wanting to explore the night skies as a hobby.

Check the price of SkyWatcher Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope here

What we liked

  • Compact design
  • Well priced for value
  • Lightweight for transporting
  • 2 Plössl eyepieces
  • Sharp, high contrast images

What we didn’t like

  • No carry case

Magnification: 52x and 130x
Lens: 102mm (4”)
Field of view: 0.96°
Weight: 9.8 lbs
Dimensions: 22 x 10 x 11 inches

5. Orion 9005 AstroView 120ST Equatorial Refractor Telescope

For the serious amateur astronomer, this scope will thrill you. It is quite pricey compared to others we reviewed, but offers a lifetime of stargazing.

The scope features a 120mm aperture and a 600mm focal length. It is heavy at 36.3 lbs, but we placed it on the back seat of the car with no trouble. 

It comes with a sturdy adjustable tripod. It also has an equatorial mount for slow motion celestial tracking – a perk once you become an expert.

The package includes two Sirius Plossl 1.25″ eyepieces, 25mm and 10mm. Also included is a 6×30 finder scope, a smooth 2″ rack & pinion focuser, a 90-degree mirror star diagonal and fabulous Starry Night astronomy software.

This is an exceptional telescope that gave us breathtaking views of star clusters, deep-sky objects, and galaxies. If you want to invest a little more, we suggest this as a top choice.

Check the price of Orion AstroView 120ST Equatorial Refractor Telescope here

What we liked

  • 120mm aperture for great views
  • Sturdy adjustable-height tripod
  • Equatorial mount for slow-motion tracking
  • 2 Sirius Plössl eyepieces
  • Finder scope and pinion focuser

What we didn’t like

  • Higher price
  • Requires more than entry-level skills

Magnification: 24x and 60x
Lens: 120mm (4.7”)
Field of view: 2.1°
Weight: 36.3 lbs
Dimensions: 37.8 x 16.8 x 11.8 inches (Package)

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