Astronomy travel can be a wonderful thing, offering practical astronomers the chance to leave light pollution behind and journey to distant, dark-sky locations.
For a successful astronomy holiday you’ll need a compact, lightweight and portable telescope that you can unpack and set up in minutes. It’s no good lugging around heavy pieces of equipment that require intense sessions just to set up and get going.
Not only will your astronomy trip require a suitable ‘grab and go’ telescope, but if you’re planning on travelling far you’ll also need a telescope that you can take on a flight either in the baggage hold or as hand luggage.
While current travel restrictions may have put astronomy holidays on hold, you can still get planning for a future stargazing break and decide what telescope you’re going to take with you.
As well as a lightweight and compact telescope you’ll want an instrument that can provide exquisite views of the night sky. You don’t want to go through the effort of transporting your compact refractor across an entire continent, only to find it offers mediocre views.
We’ve put together a list of some of the best portable, quality telescopes that would make good astronomy travelling companions. See the link below each selection for a full review of that telescope.
And, if astronomy holidaying is really your thing, read our recommendations for what to bring on an astronomy camping trip or our simple guide to astronomy travel.
Remember to keep an eye on travel restrictions in your own country, and also those of your planned destination.
If you’re looking for a different kind of telescope, read our guide to the best telescope for viewing the planets, or the best telescope for beginners.
All prices correct at time of writing.
Sky-Watcher Heritage 100P Tabletop Dobsonian
As the name suggests, the Heritage 100P Tabletop is a telescope that’s been designed to sit on top of something else: a garden table or any other flat, medium-height surface will suffice. It comes packaged with two 1.25-inch eyepieces (25mm and 10mm), a 2x Barlow lens and a red-dot finder.
Installation is easy: attach the finder, pop in an eyepiece, and you can be viewing the heavens in moments. Despite its small size it still gave decent views of a range of celestial wonders. We found it was easy to store and bring out quickly whenever the clouds cleared.
Read our full Heritage 100P Tabletop Dobsonian review.
Sky-Watcher Evostar 72ED DS-Pro refractor telescope
The Evostar 72ED DS-Pro is a satisfying, lightweight scope to use. The optical tube weighs just 1,955g and at 42cm long it’s a short tube system. The the dew shield is also removable, all of which adds up to a great get-up-and-go-anywhere telescope, perfect for viewing and imaging under far-flung dark skies. The 72ED DS-Pro is also an ideal companion to Sky-Watcher’s Star Adventurer travel mount. Indeed, we used it to take images with our Star Adventurer, and found the whole system quick and easy to set up, a great incentive to invest in the telescope.
Thanks to reader Robert Miller for recommending this telescope. Robert said: “It is light, easy to pack and has a very nice coarse/fine focusser. It performs superbly on a Vixen VersaGo mount and its resolution seems limited only by aperture and weather. Great views of star fields and globulars. And the price was easy on my budget.”
Read our full Sky-Watcher Evostar 72ED review.
William Optics Zenithstar 61 apo refractor
In terms of portability it’s difficult to imagine how you could improve on this 61mm aperture refractor’s design. In its most compact form it measures 23cm long by 14cm wide. It’s also light at 1.7kg but retains a solid, well-built feel. The front has a retractable dew shield that extends the overall length by a further 7cm.
Realistically, the ZS61 produces lovely views of larger deep-sky objects and the Moon but if you’re after detailed views of the planets, or splitting tight double stars, this isn’t the scope for you. If you want an ultra-portable instrument that can provide good contrast, colour-corrected views of extended objects, it’s perfect.
Read our full ZenithStar 61 ED review.
Altair 60 EDF Doublet Refractor Telescope
The Altair 60 EDF doublet refractor is a lightweight tube assembly that weighs 1.5kg and almost fits in the palm of your hand. It’s ideal for a multitude of purposes, including as a travel scope and for wide-field imaging.
It’s suppled as an optical tube only, giving you the flexibility to use your own star diagonal and eyepieces for visual observations, as we did for the review. Also in the box is an extendable dew shield. The view was pin sharp across 85% of the view, with only slight distortion at the edges and little sign of colour fringing, showing that the lens design was doing its job.
Read our full Altair 60 EDF Doublet review.
Vixen A62SS Refractor Telescope
This scope is supplied in a soft, protective carrying case that is small enough to comply with aircraft carry-on luggage regulations, yet leaves plenty of room for a star diagonal and a set of eyepieces. An eyepiece extension tube is included and this holds a secret for casual photographers in the form of a male T-thread.
The inside of the optical tube is fully baffled and painted in a matt black coating. Its robust, single-speed Crayford focuser can be rotated through 360° to help with framing and there is a lock to secure the focus tube once it is in the desired position. The Vixen A62SS refractor is an excellent travelling companion and we would recommend it to any astronomer looking for a portable telescope for observing rather than astrophotography.
Read our full Vixen A62SS refractor review.
Orion Starblast 62 Compact Telescope
The Orion StarBlast compact travel refractor is marketed as a great scope to take on trips away, but should also appeal as a very suitable beginners’ instrument. It possesses a 2.5-inch, four-element crown and flint glass objective, a focal length of 520mm, along with an extendable dew shield.
Also included are a Crayford focuser, 20mm and 4mm eyepieces, a 45° erect-view diagonal, a Vixen-style dovetail mounting block and a hard carry case. In keeping with its likely use, we tested the StarBlast on both a small equatorial mount and a sturdy photographic tripod. In the latter configuration we really did appreciate the joys of a truly lightweight and simple setup.
Read our full Orion Starblast 62 review.
Altair Astro Starwave ASCENT 70 ED refractor
The ASCENT 70 ED refractor is a cost-effective travel option for amateur astronomers. We were interested to see what it could do both as a visual system and as an imaging scope. It’s a 2.75-inch, 420mm focal length telescope just 300mm long; 380mm with the dew shield extended.
The back of the focuser unscrews to reveal a M54x0.75 female thread – with the right adaptor, you could attach a camera and use this scope as a telephoto lens for astrophotography. What impressed us most about the Starwave 70 ED was how light it is – just 2kg. The scope is supplied in a soft, well-padded case with several compartments for accessories.
Read our full ASCENT 70 ED review.
RVO Horizon 72ED refractor
The lightweight and compact design of the RVO Horizon 72ED makes for a great travel scope. Stowed and collapsed with dew shield and focuser retracted, it is only 34cm long. The optical tube weighs 2.68kg, making it light enough to hold in your hand and easy to remove from the tube rings to adjust position.
The 72ED is also sold in a £947 imaging package aimed at deep-sky astrophotographers, which includes a 1.0x rotatable field flattener and a finder/guidescope.
The 72ED’s colour correction is spot on and, even when we pushed the magnification, we found views of deep-sky objects were superb. This is a cracking instrument for both wide-field observing and imaging, delivering both on the lightweight necessities and the powerful performance of a quality travel telescope.
Read our full RVO Horizon 72ED review.
Starwave Travel 70 EDT-R apo
Weighing just under 1.8kg and being only 33cm in length with the dew shield retracted, this scope is great for astronomy trips and is supplied with a soft travel case. Easy and quick to set up, it’s ideal for astronomy on the go. As an imaging instrument, the scope plus reducer proved very capable and the wide field of view offered makes it ideal for photographing extended deep-sky objects, such as the Pleiades cluster in Taurus or Rosette Nebula in Monoceros.
Sheer ease of use made this scope a pleasure to observe and image with. It’s easy to see how it could become a must-have companion for holidays and star parties, or just to observe or photograph special events without the hassle of transporting and setting up heavier equipment.
Read our full Starwave Travel 70 EDT-R review.
Vixen FL55SS fluorite apo refractor
The Vixen FL55SS’s tube measures just 282mm and weighs 1.5kg It’s a compact, lightweight refractor that offers premium features in a portable package. The FL55SS is a dual-purpose telescope suitable for visual astronomy, or with the addition of a dedicated lens kit, for fast, wide-field astrophotography.
It uses fluorite, which has optical properties that make it very desirable as light can pass through it with minimal dispersion, unlike glass. In practice this means that the overall view is sharper, as all the colours of light entering the telescope are focused to a single point, rather than being dispersed into a fuzzier appearance.
Read our full Vixen FL55SS review.
Tecnosky AG70 Astrographic Refractor
With an optical system designed to eliminate two of the major issues that can spoil a photograph – colour problems and star shape issues – the AG70 removes the need for the likes of coma correctors and relieves the associated headache of achieving optimal spacing that tends to come with them. Setting up the telescope for use involved little more than removing it from the box and putting it on a mount.
The supplied tube rings and dovetail offer a little movement to help with balancing, and the scope is light and compact. It should sit comfortably on portable travel mounts. Sheer simplicity of use made the little astrograph a pleasure to operate, as once the camera was focused we were able to just get on with the job of taking photographs.
Read our full Tecnosky AG70 review.
Altair Starwave 70 EDQ-R quad apo imaging refractor
Once we’d unpacked the 70 EDQ-R, the first thing we noticed about the telescope is how light it is: with a Canon EOS 70D DSLR camera attached it weighed just 2.1kg. This really does make it a grab-and-go telescope for even the smallest of mounts.
Even with a smaller aperture, the change in CMOS cameras over the last few years means images of all sorts of objects are achievable with this telescope. That makes it an ideal travel scope and a good option to take with you on longer trips instead of a set of camera lenses.
Read our full Altair Starwave 70 EDQ-R review.
William Optics GTF 102 five element astrograph
The GTF 102 is supplied with a high-quality soft padded case. It is very substantial and protects the telescope in transit very well indeed. With both carry handles and a shoulder strap, transporting the scope is easy.
We were very pleasantly surprised by the shape of stars across the field of view and right into the corners. The two-element internal field flattener was certainly doing its job and so too was the triplet lens, as chromatic aberration was also well controlled.
Read our full William Optics GTF 102 review.
What did we miss?
If you feel your own telescope is perfect for astronomy travel and should be on our list, let us know! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine’s Staff Writer.