If you’re interested in learning about astronomy, you may think that you need to have a backyard that is free of light pollution to enjoy the hobby. While the ideal scenario would be to have a telescope placed in a static location, where you can enjoy the celestial sights from your backyard, this is not always possible.
Many of us live in towns and cities where street lights, other homes, or even passing cars would make it difficult to use a telescope. Fortunately, there is a solution.
Although there are many expensive, stationary types of telescopes that can be used from home, there are other portable and lighter models that are easy to use while traveling.
Many of these types of telescopes have a compact size, yet can still offer high quality magnification. So, whether you’re an outdoor lover who wants to discover the night sky from your favorite spots or lack the conditions at home to use a telescope, here, we’ll take a look at the best travel telescopes on the market today.
Best Travel Telescope
Celestron 21035 TravelScope
As the name suggests, the Celestron 21035 has been specifically designed as a portable telescope. It has a f/5.7 70mm achromatic refractor that only offers sharp images at 40x, but this should be sufficient for most traveling use.
The lens does lack the quality of more expensive refractors, but this is reflected in the price tag. Since many people are loathed to spend a fortune on a scope that could be easily damaged when out and about, there will be some compromises when you’re buying at this price point.
The scope does have a plastic dew shield to protect your equipment from dew accumulation. It is also supplied with two eyepieces, SkyX software, a padded backpack, and an aluminum tripod, so you have everything you need when you’re out and about.
The included eyepieces provide 40x, and 20x magnification, but can be supplemented with additional pieces if you want to expand the range of this scope. The included Sky X software is also a handy tool if you want to learn more about the stars and planets with a 10,000 object database, 75 enhanced images, and printable sky maps.
All of these items perfectly fit in the backpack, with a weight of just 3.3 pounds. So, you won’t feel encumbered as you hike to find the perfect spot for sky gazing.
Some people argue that this scope has a cheap look due to some of the parts being plastic, but it is a resistant telescope that can withstand regular use.
Although the tripod is a little lightweight for less than perfect surfaces and the finder is a little fragile, as a package, the Celestron 21035 is a fantastic option if you’re looking for a travel telescope.
The Celestron Travelscope offers the best choice currently on the market. It’s super cheap, but it’s still good enough to get a clear view of the night sky.
Orion 10013 GoScope
The GoScope is an 80mm tabletop refractor telescope that makes a great way for beginners to start exploring the stars. Although it has a very simple design that looks like a decoration or toy, this is actually a powerful tool that can focus light with up to 80 percent efficiency.
This scope is equipped with two eyepieces; a 20 mm and a 10 mm, which provide total magnification of 35x. Although the eyepieces have been designed with beginners in mind, the scope does offer a great field of view with its 80 mm aperture.
This will be more than sufficient to see the finer details of Saturn’s Ring, Jupiter’s moons, or the craters on the Moon. Since this is a small telescope, the GoScope is better suited to view bright sky objects, but on a clear night, you will still be able to see sky objects such as star clusters.
All of the optical elements for this scope are fully coated to ensure more efficient light focus. It also features an Altazimuth dovetail mount, to further increase precision when tracking planetary objects.
This mount also features an additional tripod slot, which means that although it is considered a tabletop scope, it doesn’t necessarily need to sit on a table to operate it. This tripod slot is compatible with most camera tripods, so you may not need to buy additional equipment.
This is a great scope for planetary and celestial viewing with an EZ Finder II scope and air spaced doublet optics. With a weight of just 5.7 pounds, this is a great scope for use at home or when traveling.
This Tabletop refractor could be a perfect addition to your back garden if you want something fun to play with.
Another Celestron model that makes our list of the best travel telescopes is the PowerSeeker. This is a remarkably easy to set up scope that requires no tools. You simply attach the tube to preassembled tripod and mount. This means that you can be using your scope in just a few minutes of getting to your viewing spot.
This is a Newtonian scope that provides a longer focal length with a far shorter tube. This means that you can easily carry your scope and tripod in your car and still have lots of room for cameras or even a midnight picnic.
Everything needed to get started is supplied. The kit includes a 3x Barlow lens and two eyepieces for different magnification and a copy of Starry Night software that has a database of more than 10,000 celestial objects. There is also a lightweight, aluminum tripod with equatorial mount that allows for slow motion control to better track the stars.
This scope features a 127 mm aperture, which is one of the largest you will find on starter scopes. This is ideal for beginners or intermediate astronomers as it allows for close up detail of the Moon, star clusters, brighter planets, and nebulae. This aperture is supported with good quality optics that are fully coated for additional brightness and clarity.
However, the potential drawback is that at this price point, you can’t get everything. In this case, the Celestron 127EQ PowerSeeker uses a spherical mirror instead of a parabolic mirror, which does make optical aberrations more common. However, this scope does have an erect image diagonal, which does counteract this somewhat.
Additionally, you will need to collimate or realign the mirrors of this scope, which can take a little practice and confidence. This can be a little scary for beginners, and you will find limited information supplied by Celestron with this scope, so you will need to do some research to get the hang of it.
The Powerseeker series offers a cheap yet easy to use option for those looking for something easy to put up.
Celestron Regal M2 100ED
The Regal M2 100ED is the next generation of Regal F-ED spotting scopes, but it is light and portable enough to make it a candidate as one of the best travel telescopes. This scope can be used day or night to enjoy sharp images, whether you want to stargaze at night or bird watch during the day.
This scope has all of the advanced features that are usually limited to more expensive scopes, such as ED (Extra Low Dispersion) glass. The Regal M2 has a magnesium alloy body that decreases the overall weight of the scope by as much as 14 percent compared to the previous models. There is also an upgraded dual focus mechanism to help you bring your subject into focus faster.
The M2 is fully waterproofed and has been nitrogen purged to prevent the scope from fogging. It is also supplied with a carrying case, so you can take it anywhere. The included T-Adapter also makes it easy to attach your camera to capture any great images you find.
In addition to the ED lenses that provide increased resolution and accurate color reproduction, the M2 has proprietary XLT coatings on the lenses to maximize light transmission to further increase the resolution and brighten the images.
The kit also includes a 22-67x zoom eyepiece that provides adjustable magnification for general viewing or detailed close viewing as needed. However, since this scope has a 1.25 inch standard mount, you can also add more eyepieces if you want to further expand the magnification.
The twist up eyecup ensures correct positioning whether you view with or without wearing glasses, while the sliding sunshade has a sighting line to not only keep moisture off the lens, but also reduce stray light.
If you’re looking for a high grade spotting scope that can easily be used for astronomy on a whim, then the Regal is worth checking out.
Celestron NexStar 4SE
The NexStar 4SE shares the heritage of its sibling, the C90, which is basically a scaled up version. This scope has a fast spherical primary mirror with an aluminized “spot” that serves as a secondary mirror on the corrector. Despite this small secondary mirror, this scope does offer great optics and a long focal length, so it is well suited for planetary, lunar, or double star gazing.
This scope has an auto orientation feature that allows you to view the image right side up rather than an inverted view on typical Cassegrains. The NexStar 4SE has a single 1.25 inch or 25 mm single Plossi eyepiece. This is great for low power, but you may want to add a 32 mm Plossi for a wide field of view. Further high power or medium power eyepieces will allow you to get the most from your 4SE.
The NexStar 4SE is a little small, and with its 102 mm focal length, it is better suited to planetary astronomy, so you will be limited to looking at the brightest deep sky objects. You will also get access to the NexStar catalog, which contains 40,000 objects.
However, with the small aperture of the 4SE, you’re not likely to explore all of these objects, but it will help you to become more familiar with the night sky and develop your interest in the hobby.
The 4SE has a fairly steady mount, and the scope does have a Vixen dovetail creating the flexibility to use other mounts. The small buttons of the hand controller can be a little fiddly, and you will need to set the time and date each time you use the scope, and you will need to put fresh batteries in to prevent it from cutting out and needing to be reset. Since the mount requires eight AA batteries, you will need to have confidence that they have enough juice.
For new astronomers, the Celestron NexStar is the best around if you’re looking to easily find new DSOs.
Travel Telescope Buying Guide
The Common Types of Travel Telescopes
As you’ve discovered with our pick of the best travel scopes, there are several types that include the most popluar:
This is the most common type of travel scope, and many people consider this a standard form of telescope. As its name suggests, refractor scopes gather the ambient light and focus it on the eyepiece. This type of scope can offer high quality images, but they are more susceptible to chromatic aberration.
This type of scope takes its name from its inventor Sir Isaac Newton. This is typically the most affordable type of scope as it uses parabolic mirrors. Newtonian scopes tend to be the most portable, and there are no chromatic aberration issues. However, you need to be prepared for calibrating the scope, which can be a little daunting for astronomy beginners.
Commonly known as SCTs, this type of scope tends to be the most compact, using mirrors at each end to fold the optical path for a compact, portable design. This type of scope tends to be in the mid price range, but the image quality may not be as good as other scopes.
Common Telescope Terms Explained
What does aperture mean?
The aperture is the diameter of the optical component of the scope, and the level of light captured is directly related to the aperture size. So, the aperture affects the clarity directly.
However, if you want to travel with your scope, you will need to take the aperture size into account. Although a larger aperture means better images, but this also increases the size and weight of the telescope. You will need to balance aperture and scope size, but generally, 6 inches will offer solid clarity and a compact design.
Can you explain magnification?
Many people consider magnification to be the most important aspect of a telescope, but this is not the case. Although magnification is vital, the magnification capabilities will be based on the eyepiece.
So, you can easily change the magnification level simply by changing the eyepiece for a more powerful one. Additionally, if you have a small aperture, having high magnification will leave you with blurred images.
Which eyepiece should I choose?
As we’ve touched on above, eyepieces are a crucial component for the magnification of your scope. Every scope produces a small image in the barrel for the eyepiece, and your eyepiece acts a magnifying glass to see this image up close. Shorter focal length eyepieces allow you to get greater detail in your image.
So, you can compensate for a lower magnification scope with a shorter focus eyepiece. Most scopes are supplied with one or two eyepieces, but you can supplement this with additional ones to extend the range of your scope.
How do I decide on an astronomy mount?
The mount can be crucial for your overall astronomy experience. There are two types of mount; altazimuth and equatorial. Altazimuth mounts are considered a standard mount, allowing you to move your scope left, right, up, and down, but it will not automatically track.
However, this type of mount tends to be more compact and affordable. Equatorial mounts are designed to follow the sky’s rotation. Although this type of mount tends to be more expensive, it can make it far easier to follow the map when you’re navigating the stars.
How can I tell if a telescope is built well?
Another essential consideration for your new travel scope is the build quality. While it may be tempting to opt for the most rugged model that can cope with being taken out in your car or carried in your backpack, this will add to the weight, which can make it far more difficult to carry and set up.
So, there is a balance between the durability and weight. Fortunately, there some smaller, cheaper scopes that can not only be great for stargazing but are light and portable enough to take to any viewing spot.
Buying a telescope can be a daunting process, particularly if you’re new to the hobby. However, when you also add portability into the equation, it can be even more confusing. Fortunately, there are some fantastic models on the market, as we’ve detailed here. There are travel telescopes at all price points, so you can choose one to suit your preferences and budget.
Before you make a final purchase decision, be sure to shop around. Don’t just consider your first choice, as if you look at more options, you may find a scope with similar features for a better price. If you’re not sure, then check out my list of the best overall telescopes if you need more advice.
You may need to make some compromises, finding a balance between budget and features to get the features you’re looking for without breaking the bank.
While it may be tempting to ignore the price tag and go for a top of the line telescope, it is better to start with an inexpensive, good beginner model. You can always add accessories or upgrade your scope to a more advanced model once you’re sure that you will continue with the hobby.
It is also worth considering that you’re likely to be taking your telescope out and about, so you don’t want to spend a small fortune, only to find that you drop it as you’re hiking to find the perfect viewing spot. Fortunately, there are scopes at a decent price point that are supplied with carry cases or backpacks that ensure that your scope and all your accessories will be safe and secure when you’re out and about.