The Better Tripod Shoulder Pad

      My homemade tripod leg pads worked fine until I added a 500mm lens to my collection. With the super telephoto attached, the heavier load was no longer the least bit comfortable on my collar bone. In fact, it was downright painful. I had seen a shoulder pad item online (Birds As Art web site link - Shoulder Saver Tripod Pad) but it appeared to be unnecessarily large for the purpose. It also seemed to be hanging in the way when not in use. Quite frankly, it looks just like the spongy rubber seat pads you find in a hunting/sporting supply that you can put on a bench, stool or other hard seat to cushion your rump when camping or hunting.

      True to my nature, I decided to try making a better one for myself. I came up with a design for a smaller pad that stays on the tripod leg, but can easily be slipped off if desired. It forms around the leg to put padding next to your neck, as well as on the collar bone, and it can be turned either for the right or left shoulder. You can slip it up or down on the tripod leg to best suit your balance point. It's smaller, doesn't get in the way, and is very comfortable. Making one requires only a piece of material, a piece of foam and some sewing ability.

     Mine is constructed from a scrap piece of dense gray foam, part of the leftover shipping padding around a computer hard drive I bought some time back (I frequently save such bits and pieces of this sort of foam for my projects whenever I find it in product packaging or shipping boxes). The foam piece I used was 8 inches square and one inch thick. An 8x10 or 10x10 would do nicely as well, but you probably would not want to make one larger than that. Thicker foam may or may not work well, depending on the foam density (softness). My foam was firm, but not hard. Had it been thicker, it would not have formed around the leg very well. Spongier foam could be from 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick and still work okay if its soft enough. If it's more than 1-1/2 inches thick, I recommend sewing the covering as if the foam is only 1-1/2 inches thick and then compressing the foam when you stuff it into the cover.

Look at the photos on the right and below, and refer to this diagram as you follow along with these construction steps.

      STEP ONE: I used a piece of material about 10x26 inches to begin with. Yours may be different depending on the dimensions of your foam piece.
     STEP TWO: I folded it in half to make it 10x13, with the outside pattern (front of the material) on the inside (wrong side out).
     STEP THREE: Then I stitched along the two long sides. That left one end folded over and the other end open.
     STEP FOUR: I then turned this "pocket" I'd made right side out and stuffed the foam piece inside until it hit bottom on the folded end.
     STEP FIVE: Next I sealed the foam inside the "pocket" by stitching it snuggly along the open edge next to the foam. On the open end of the flap I turned the edges inside about a quarter inch and stitched across the end to hem and close the remaining open end. This gave me a cloth covered foam pad with a cloth flap on one end.
      STEP SIX: Next, the end of the flap is sewn to the foam covering about 1/3 to 2/5 of the way from the far end of the foam. This forms a loop or tube that will slip over the tripod leg. At this point it will probably be too loose-fitting on the leg, but remember that you must account for the leg locks, since the pad must slip over them as well. The foam padding will compress as you slip the pad over the leg locks, and then expand again to fit more snuggly over the leg tubing.
     STEP SEVEN: Now you need to adjust the size of the loop to just slip over the leg locks while the foam is being compressed as you slip it on. To do this, slip the pad onto a tripod leg so it is centered over one of the leg locks where the fit will be tightest. Pinch up the fabric of the flap so the foam is a little compressed and hold this while you test the fit, sliding it back and forth over the leg lock. When you think you have it fairly snug, pin the fold together and then stitch all the way across the flap to create a tab the width of the pinned area as shown in this photo. Now test the fit again. If you need to make it a little tighter still, then repeat step seven and sew another stitch beside the first stitch, perhaps a quarter inch or so over from the first stitch. You can do this as many times as necessary, taking up more and more material into the tab until the pad will just manage to slip over the leg locks. When done properly, the foam will compress just enough to get the pad over the leg lock and then spring out once it's past the leg lock to fit snuggly to the leg tubing.

      Optionally, you could add some elastic to the flap to give it additional "snugging power" to tighten against the tripod leg, though I didn't need to do this. The rubber grips on my tripod legs have a pebbly textured surface which provides enough friction to grip the pad covering and keep it from slipping down from its own weight, yet it is easily adjusted by hand to position it as needed. When the legs are collapsed together to carry over the shoulder, they tend to squeeze the cloth flap and hold it in place while walking, even though you might shift the tripod on your shoulder from time to time. The photo at left shows how the padding around the leg fits to your neck for extra comfort. This pad certainly feels better than the original leg pads when I have the big lens and gimbal head on the tripod. It really does make a difference.


      If you carry your heavy super-telephoto lens on a tripod with no center column, here is another pad and a much safer and more comfortable techinque.

     You might want to also look at this information on other camera supports, including basic beanbags, the Butterfly Beanbag, and the Flying Saucer Ball Head.