Have you ever been to an exotic, tropical island and wished you had a telescope to stargaze with on the beach? Or perhaps you’ve gone aurora-watching in the far northern remote wilderness and would like to take a quick peek at the moon. Maybe you’re visiting relatives and would like to give them a taste of the astronomy hobby. Or better still, perhaps you’re planning an astronomy-oriented trip to the Atacama Desert of Chile or the Australian outback. Regardless of where you’re going, if you’d like to bring a telescope to travel with, here are our picks for the best portable travel telescopes.
1A). Cheapest Recommended Travel Telescope: Sky-Watcher Heritage 100P
The Sky-Watcher Heritage 100P is a small telescope, but it still packs an impressive 4” (100mm) of aperture into a tiny package. This telescope easily fits in a small rucksack and features a parabolic primary mirror (though not subject to quite as rigorous quality control standards as higher-priced optics), with the 400mm focal length enabling a vast field of view with wide-angle 1.25” eyepieces. If you’re a beginner to the hobby, the pair of eyepieces and included Barlow lens are more than enough to get started.
While a tabletop telescope by design, the Heritage 100P features ¼ 20 threads at the bottom of its base to attach to a standard photo tripod. However, you’ll need a fairly robust tripod which would likely cost more than the 100P itself does new.
1B). Cheapest Recommended Travel Telescope: Zhumell Z100
Like the Heritage 100P, the Zhumell Z100 is a 4” (100mm) f/4 tabletop Dobsonian, making the tube a mere 16” long and the entire scope weighing a mere 6.2 pounds (2.81 kg). It easily fits into a backpack or stows away in luggage, which makes it the best companion for traveling and camping.
2) £175-£250 – Sky-Watcher Heritage 130P Tabletop Dobsonian
3A) £250-325 – Sky-Watcher Heritage 150P Tabletop Dobsonian
3B) £250-325 – Sky-Watcher Heritage 90P Virtuoso Mak
4A) £325-425 – Sky-Watcher Virtuoso GTi 150P Tabletop Dobsonian
4B) Celestron Astro Fi 127
A 120mm Maksutov-Cassegrain, the Astro Fi 127 comes equipped with a fully motorised GoTo mount. The integration of technology is seamless; one can effortlessly set up and control the telescope through their smartphone or tablet using Celestron’s free SkyPortal app. While you can’t aim the Astro Fi manually, it will automatically find and track any object from the SkyPortal app’s database (third party apps like SkySafari are also compatible). While not as capable as a 6” reflector like the Virtuoso/Heritage 150P, the Astro Fi 127 puts up excellent lunar, planetary, and double star views without the need for collimation.
- 120mm Maksutov-Cassegrain optics give excellent lunar, planetary, double-star views
- Full-sized tripod and GoTo mounting
- WiFi-operated mount is easy to set up and use
5A) £425-550 – Sky-Watcher 127 mm Skymax AZ-GTi Mak GoTo
5B) Sky-Watcher 127 mm Skymax Virtuoso GTi Mak GoTo
The Virtuoso GTi/127mm SkyMax kit shares the optics, accessories, and design features of the SkyMax 127/AZ-GTi but utilises the tabletop Virtuoso GTi mount instead. Like the AZ-GTi, you get the benefits of WiFi-operated GoTo, the FreedomFind encoders, and automatic tracking once the mount is aligned on the sky. However, you’re able to use the Virtuoso GTi both as a tabletop mount or atop a compatible ⅜” tripod stud.
- Tabletop mount shares features of AZ-GTi but is more versatile, while still compatible with ⅜” tripod studs
- Sharp 120mm Maksutov-Cassegrain optics
- Extremely convenient to set up/use
Celestron NexStar 6SE
The Celestron NexStar 6SE isn’t cheap, but it’s quite capable for viewing almost any target and can do astrophotography, too.
Unlike the smaller NexStar SE models and many of the other GoTo tripod-mounted instruments Celestron sells, the NexStar 6SE actually has enough aperture for the scope’s GoTo technology to be a useful utility rather than an inconvenient hindrance, and Celestron’s 6” SCTs seem to boast some of the best optics of their already high-quality SCTs, with StarBright XLT full multi-coatings and water-white corrector lens glass. The 6SE can accept many of the various SCT accessories that Celestron and Meade offer, including a 2” star diagonal, an f/6.3 focal reducer, a T-adapter, and more. You can also use the scope for deep-sky astrophotography with a focal reducer or Starizona HyperStar provided you switch the OTA onto an equatorial mount, and the stock mount works great for planetary or lunar astrophotography.
Being a Schmidt-Cassegrain, the 6SE is incredibly compact, with the optical tube only 16” long and weighing 10 pounds/4.53 kg. The entire telescope, with the tripod, weighs only 28.8 pounds/13 kg.
As for downsides? The NexStar 6SE comes with a single eyepiece – a 25mm Plossl giving 60x – so keep in mind that you’ll want some money left for more eyepieces. The scope also needs a dew shield, and the f/10 focal ratio means the field of view is rather limited compared to most Dobsonians of similar aperture. And such an expensive telescope can be a little scary to travel with due to the risk of theft or damage.
Celestron sells a carrying case for use with the 6SE, which we would highly recommend buying if you plan on flying with it, or you can put something together yourself out of any good pluck-foam case. The tripod can be checked in luggage, and the scope and mount can be carried on in their case.