5 Best Portable Telescopes for Stargazing on the Go

5 Best Portable Telescopes for Stargazing on the Go

Are you looking for the best portable telescope that you can take on camping trips and hikes in the country? Our expert team has researched and tested the top models on the market to bring you the ultimate guide. Discover the perfect telescope for your stargazing adventures today!

If you’re a budding astronomer or just a beginner, you want a nice compact and lightweight telescope that you can just pop in your backpack as you head off for a hike or on an overnight camping trip. For this reason, our team has looked at the different features of a range of portable telescopes to pick the top 5 for you to consider.

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Factors We Considered When Selecting The Top 5 Travel Telescopes

With our research and testing, we mainly focused on smaller and more compact telescopes that were as lightweight as possible and that could be assembled fairly quickly and easily. While these might not have all the features that experts would expect, they are ideal for beginners and those who just want to explore the night skies on a more intimate level.

The telescopes we’ve selected are perfect for taking on hiking or camping trips and some are perfect for children to set up and use. Of course, when you’re out stargazing, you want a handy and foldable sturdy tripod that can fold up easily to make it more convenient to carry in a backpack.

We also considered the ease of use because we felt that this was important for amateur astronomers.

Planets in the galaxy

How Do You Select The Best Portable Telescope?

When it comes to choosing the best portable telescope for what you require and your level of experience in using a telescope, there are various factors that you want to consider.

Aperture

The aperture is the diameter measurement of the lens or the mm objective lens diameter. This is measured in millimeters and can vary greatly for popular portable telescopes.  The greater the aperture is, the more powerful the telescope will be and the better you’re going to be able to see stars and planets in the sky. For example, a telescope with a large aperture will allow you to see objects that are further away with greater clarity.

Ideally, you want to choose a telescope that has an aperture between 50 to 130 millimeters. Those with larger apertures may not be quite as portable or compact. Our list does include a telescope with a larger aperture and this one is considerably heavier than the others but may suit more advanced stargazers.

The Weight Of The Telescope And The Tripod

The weight of the portable telescope you choose will have a bearing on how you will be able to carry it. If you’re just going hiking and will be carrying a backpack, you want one as lightweight as possible.

However, on a camping trip where you’ll be taking your car or even traveling in an RV to a camping spot, a slightly heavier telescope will work just as well and give you the benefit of being slightly more powerful.

The reason that telescopes with a higher aperture are heavier is that they have a larger and heavier mirror or lens.

When it comes to mounts or tripods, it’s best to select one that is made from aluminium because it will be far lighter than those made from stainless steel.

Saturn with its rings

The Focal Length Of The Telescope

The focal length of the telescope is basically the distance between the entry mirror and the lens that you place your eye on. This has a distinct bearing on the types of images that you’re going to be able to see clearly. 

While travel telescopes are likely to have a shorter focal length due to their compact design, their aperture might not be powerful enough for you to see deep space images like nebulas and galaxies clearly even when visiting dark sky sites.

Most travel telescopes will have a refractor lens which means that the focal length is equal to the size or length of the tube. However, there are compact telescopes that have a long focal length. The most common ones of these are Schmidt Cassegrain and Maksutov Cassegrain telescopes. We do have a couple of those on our list of top fives.

Whether The Telescope Needs Mirror Alignment Maintenance

Some telescopes need mirror re-alignment, often on an annual basis. This can take around half an hour and is not ideal if you just want to get your telescope out and start exploring once you arrive at a dark sky site.

This mirror re-alignment is referred to as collimation and if you move your telescope around often, it may need to be done more than once a year. While there are types of telescopes that don’t need collimation, such as Maksutov Cassegrain or refractors, there are others that do, including the Dobsonian telescope, Newtonians (a reflector telescope) and Schmidt Cassegrain.

Focal Ratio For Astrophotography

If you want to use your telescope to take high quality images with either a camera or your smartphone, you need to be aware of the telescope’s focal ratio. The focal ratio refers to the speed, with a low focal ratio meaning that the telescope is fast enough to take good photos.

An ideal focal ratio for astrophotography is one that is under F/6. You can work out the focal ratio of any telescope by dividing the focal length by the aperture.

the moon and its craters

Top 5 Best Portable Telescopes

Here’s a comprehensive rundown of the top 5 best telescopes that our team has selected. These come in a range of different prices and aperture sizes which gives you a choice of how powerful a telescope you want and how large your budget is.

#1 – Celestron Travel Scope

Best Travel Telescope For Beginners

Celestron travelscope

Basic Telescope Features:

  • Aperture – 70mm
  • Focus Type – Manual
  • Focal Length – 400 mm
  • Focal ratio – f/5
  • Type – Refractor
  • Magnification – 20x & 40x
  • Limiting Magnitude – 11.7
  • Assembled Weight – 4.2 pounds
  • Maximum Useful Magnification – 165 x magnification
  • Accessories – Tripod, 20mm + 10mm eyepieces, backpack

This compact and lightweight refractor telescope is an excellent choice for beginners and amateur astronomers. It is extremely easy to set up. It comes with its own backpack that holds both the telescope, eyepieces and the fully adjustable tripod. 

The Celestron travel scope comes with two eyepieces – 20mm and 10mm. This allows you to view both celestial bodies at night and also land-based objects such as birds during the day.

With this refractor telescope, you also get access to an app featuring educational software that you can download on your smartphone to learn more about the objects that you’re viewing in the night sky and across the solar system.

Here’s a video that shows you how easy this Celestron compact telescope is to use:

ProsCons
Compact and lightweightTripod can be a little unsteady when fully extended
Quality glass opticsAdjusting the finderscope can take a little practice
Roomy backpack for transport
Good value 

#2 – Maksutov Cassegrain Sarblue Mak60 Compact Portable Telescope

Best Portable Telescope For Kids

Sarblue Mak60 Compact Portable Telescope

Basic Telescope Features:

  • Aperture – 60mm
  • Focus Type – Manual
  • Focal Length – 750 mm
  • Focal ratio – f/12.5
  • Type – Maksutov-Cassegrain
  • Magnification – 37.5x
  • Assembled Weight – 2.47 pounds
  • Accessories – Smartphone adapter, tabletop tripod

This is another lightweight and compact travel telescope that is ideal for kids and beginners like a lot of the other telescopes on our list. As it’s a Maksutov-Cassegrain type of telescope, it has a much longer focal length than a refractor-type telescope. 

This means that you’re going to get clearer images when looking at celestial objects. It can also be used for terrestrial viewing during the day.

The included tripod is not adjustable and is only suitable for tabletop use. However, you can mount the telescope on a better tripod if you have one or want to invest in one.

Another feature of this telescope is that it has a detachable lid to reveal the internal structure. This is great for kids to learn how a telescope actually works. Just don’t let little fingers anywhere near the mirrors. The included eyepiece is 20mm and this gives you a magnification of 37.5x.

ProsCons
Lightweight and compactOnly includes a tabletop tripod
Easy to useDoes not include a backpack
Great educational toolDoesn’t have a finderscope, only two triangular bumps on the scope
Provides crystal clear images of the moon and Jupiter
Easy to focus
Has a phone mount for easy viewing

#3 – Sky Watcher EvoStar 72 APO Portable Telescope

Best Grab And Go Telescope 

evostar 72

Basic Telescope Features:

  • Aperture – 72 mm
  • Focus Type – Manual
  • Focal Length – 420 mm
  • Type – Refractor
  • Focal ratio – f/5.8
  • Limiting Magnitude – 11.7
  • Magnification – 142x
  • Assembled Weight – 4.3 pounds
  • Accessories – 2 tube mounting rings, dovetail mounting plate, case

This quality portable refractor telescope has all the features that a more experienced stargazer might be looking for. While it’s compact in size and lightweight it can still produce excellent images with its finest quality glass lenses. It’s a great backpacking telescope because it only weighs 4.3 pounds.

The lenses have a Metallic High-Transmission Coating (MHTC) to produce sharp images with minimal aberrations. Essentially, this will produce a brighter and clearer image.

The telescope also features a 10:1 dual-speed Crayford-style focuser to make focusing extremely quick and easy.

Here’s an interesting video from Sky-Watcher USA that talks about the Evostar series of refractor telescopes. (The video takes a little while to get going, so be patient):

ProsCons
Compact and lightweightDoes not come with an eyepiece, diagonal or finderscope
Produces crisp images with high quality opticsThe screw on lens cap can be a bit fiddly to put back on
Very easy to focusDoes not come with a tripod
Gives you a velvety black background when looking at the night sky
Excellent for wide-field astrophotography

#4 – Celestron NexStar 130SLT Computerized Telescope

Best Value High-Power Portable Telescope

Celestron nexstar 5

Basic Telescope Features:

  • Aperture – 130 mm aperture
  • Focus Type – Manual
  • Focal Length – 650 mm
  • Focal ratio – f/5
  • Type – Newtonian Reflector
  • Limiting Magnitude – 13.1
  • Magnification power – 26x, 72x
  • High Theoretical Magnification – 307x
  • Assembled Weight – 18 pounds
  • Accessories – Finderscope, 2 eyepieces, steel tripod

When you compare this portable Newtonian telescope to the SkyWatcher EvoStar, you’ll realize that it’s exceptional value for what you get. Although this unit is considerably heavier, it does include 2 eyepieces (25mm & 9mm), a finderscope and a full-height tripod as well as the optical tube. That means it’s ready to go straight out of the box.

Another benefit of this powerful telescope is that it has excellent magnification with a 130mm aperture. This means that you will be able to see brighter deep-sky objects as well as star clusters and galaxies such as the Andromeda galaxy in dark sky locations. 

Our team was also really impressed with the computerized mount that can find celestial objects for you and even tracks them as they move through the night sky. The SLT in the name stands for Star Location Telescope.

You just plug in the handheld control unit or pop it into the bracket on the tripod. Then, you key in the object you want to find and the telescope starts to move on its own to find whatever it is you’re looking for. The control unit will also give you suggestions of the best celestial objects to search for depending on your location.

Celestron also has its own mobile app that you can download onto your smartphone or tablet to

search for objects in the night sky using one of these reflector telescopes and learn all about them. This makes it an ideal telescope for both beginners and intermediate astronomers to discover more about planets, galaxies, star clusters and constellations.

Here’s an interesting product overview of this telescope with instructions on how to set it up and align it:

ProsCons
Will find celestial objects for youNot as lightweight as other models
Provides crystal-clear imagesYou need to input correct GPS coordinates for the precise location of celestial objects
Comes with eyepieces & a tripodThe motorized tracking mount uses batteries and these will need to be replaced often
Easy to focus

#5 – Celestron NexStar Evolution 6 Telescope

Best High-Powered Portable Telescope

Celestron Nexstar Evolution 6 Portable Telescope

Basic Telescope Features:

  • Aperture – 150 mm
  • Focus Type – Manual
  • Focal Length – 1500 mm
  • Focal ratio – f/10
  • Type – Schmidt-Cassegrain
  • Limiting Magnitude – 13.4
  • Magnification – 38x, 115x
  • High Useful Magnification – 354x
  • Assembled Weight – 36 pounds
  • Accessories – 2 accessory trays, USB charge port, tripod, 2  eyepieces (40mm & 13mm) hand controller

This is the most expensive portable telescope on our list but it features the Schmidt Cassegrain lenses that give you a much longer focal length than the refractor lenses. This unit also features the same computerized mount as well as its own built-in lithium-ion phosphate battery that will give you 10 hours of viewing on a single charge.

There’s even a USB port so that you can charge other optical devices you might have on hand. Plus, the telescope has a power management system, much like your smartphone, and goes into power-saving mode when the battery levels are low.

The tracking accuracy of this computerized telescope is quite impressive as it tracks celestial objects around the night sky. When you attach a DSLR camera to this telescope, you can easily capture larger deep sky objects like the Orion Nebula, star clusters and galaxies beyond our own. 

To top it off, the Celestron Evolution telescope comes with a StarPointer red dot finderscope, two Plossl eyepieces, a star diagonal and an AC adaptor to charge the battery

Here’s a video that explains how the telescope works:

ProsCons
Impressive focal lengthHeavier than other models
In-built batteryMore expensive than other models
USB charging port
Computerized tracking & hand control
Includes a full-height tripod
Wifi to connect your smartphone

Budget-Friendly Portable Telescopes

If your budget is limited or you don’t want to spend a lot to discover whether astronomy and stargazing is something that you want to foster in your kids, then our team has chosen a selection of 3 portable telescopes that are priced under $100.

#1 – Celestron PowerSeeker 50AZ Portable Telescope

celestron powerseeker 2

Basic Telescope Features:

  • Aperture – 50 mm
  • Focus Type – Manual
  • Focal Length – 600 mm
  • Focal ratio – f/12
  • Type – Refractor
  • Limiting Magnitude – 11
  • Magnification – 30x, 50x, 150x
  • High Theoretical Magnification – 118x
  • Assembled Weight – 5 pounds
  • Accessories – 3 eyepieces, 3 x Barlow lens, 1.5x erecting eyepiece, 5×24 finderscope, full height tripod and accessory tray

The Celestron Powerseeker is the perfect entry-level refractor telescope. It’s easy to use but still powerful enough to see a wide range of celestial and terrestrial objects including planets and the Moon’s craters. It’s definitely one of the most portable telescopes.

For a budget telescope, you also get quite a lot of accessories that even more expensive telescopes don’t include. In fact, you get a total of 4 eyepieces plus a 3x Barlow lens which lets you triple the power of each one. The includes eyepieces are 4mm, 12mm, 20mm and a 1.5x erecting eyepiece. 

Also included with the telescope is a full-height tripod with its own accessory tray and a 5×24 finderscope. And, as is the case with all Celestron telescopes, you get the Starry Night Astronomy Software so that you and your kids can learn lots of cool things while you’re out stargazing.

As an added advantage, this telescope can also be used to view terrestrial objects during the day, so it’s handy for birdwatching and spotting wild animals while you’re out camping.

Here’s a video that introduces the features of this telescope:

ProsCons
Compact and lightweight designThe tripod is not overly sturdy
Comes with lots of accessories
Easy to set up and use

#2 – Orion Observer 70mm II AZ Portable Telescope

Orion Observer 70mm Portable Telescope

Basic Telescope Features:

  • Aperture – 70 mm
  • Focus Type – Manual
  • Focal Length – 700 mm
  • Focal ratio – f/10
  • Type – Refractor
  • Limiting Magnitude – 11.9
  • Magnification – 70x, 28x
  • High Useful Magnification – 140x
  • Assembled Weight – 7.4 pounds
  • Accessories – 2 eyepieces, aluminum tripod, accessory tray, red dot finderscope, 90-degree star diagonal, MoonMap 260

This is another very good portable telescope suitable for beginners. This telescope can give you some excellent images of the moon, Jupiter, Saturn and the Orion Nebula. 

With this telescope, you also get a decent array of accessories including 2 eyepieces (25mm & 10mm), an accessory tray and an aluminum tripod. Also included is a red dot finderscope which makes it easy to align the telescope with the deep sky objects you want to see.

Here’s a video from Orion that explains all the features of this telescope:

ProsCons
Lightweight & compactThe tripod is a little unstable
Easy to setup and use
Great value
Excellent for beginners
Easy focusing
Also good for terrestrial viewing

#3 – Maxlapter 70mm Portable Telescope

Maxlapter 70mm Portable Telescope

Basic Telescope Features:

  • Aperture – 70 mm
  • Focus Type – Manual
  • Focal Length – 400 mm
  • Focal ratio – f/5.7
  • Type – Refractor
  • Magnification – 16x, 24x, 48x, 67x, 100x, 201x
  • Assembled Weight – 5.44 pounds
  • Accessories – Aluminum tripod. Smartphone adapter, 2 eyepieces, 2 Barlow lenses, 5×24 finderscope, moon filter, backpack

This is another basic travel telescope that is perfect for beginners. It comes with a load of accessories including one 25 mm eyepiece and one 10 mm eyepiece, 2 Barlow lenses (1.5x & 3x), a smartphone adapter, a 5×24 finderscope and a backpack to carry it in as well as an aluminum tripod.

The multi-coated lens gives you a clearer image of the moon and its craters. 

Here’s a video that shows the features of this telescope:

ProsCons
Good basic telescope for beginners and childrenPhone holder has limited weight capacity
Good value for a starter telescopeThe tripod is not overly sturdy
Easy to useBackpack is not sturdy

Accessories You Might Want To Consider For Your Portable Telescope

Depending on which model of telescope you buy, it will most likely come with a range of accessories such as eyepieces, a tripod and perhaps a carry bag. While this is enough for absolute beginners, as you become more adept at stargazing, you might like to consider other accessories.

These could include a Barlow lens that multiplies the magnification of each eyepiece that you have, filters like a Moon filter that makes bright objects easier to see and, of course, a nice protective carry bag and some eyepiece cases. Eventually, you might even consider an equatorial mount for your telescope so that you can track objects over a long period of time.

To learn more interesting facts about stargazing, you might want to have a look at this article:

​Can You See Mars With A Telescope? Our Easy Guide

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of telescope is best for viewing planets?

You’ll find that all of the telescopes on our list will allow you to view planets, especially those made by Celestron, Sky-Watcher and Orion.

Are cheap telescopes worth it?

For beginners or novices, even cheap telescopes will allow you to see an amazing array of deep sky objects. Cheaper telescopes are good as starters and you can always upgrade as you discover that you have a passion for stargazing.

What telescope can see Saturn rings clearly?

Surprisingly, even a telescope with the smallest aperture will allow you to see the rings of Saturn. However, those with more powerful apertures will allow you to see the rings more distinctly.

In Summary

Buying your first portable telescope can be a bit daunting if you’re not exactly sure what to look for. That’s why our team has researched and tested lots of different portable telescopes in order to give you a top list that you can choose from.

Of course, the one you select will depend on your budget and how advanced you are as a stargazer. Whichever one you choose, you’re sure to have many enjoyable nights staring at the night sky and finding exciting deep sky objects to observe.