The Best Portable Telescopes
No matter who you are you probably enjoy star-gazing and when armed with a telescope, we can experience the beauty of the planets and galaxies up close! It is an exciting feeling, indeed, to feel as if you can reach out and touch the stars.
Having a portable, grab-and-go telescope can intensify that feeling even more. Some days you want to watch the moon and planets, like Jupiter or Venus, out in the backyard. Other times you want to travel to the mountains, to the deserts, or at the park, to explore the glorious beauty of the solar system and the deep sky. However, you don’t want to lug around a heavy telescope or one with many parts that could break or get lost in transit. Portable telescope that is grab-and-go is the solution for such cases.
A portable telescope can complement your bulky 10-inch Orion or 14-inch STC or could serve well as your only telescope. Also, if you are an entry-level astronomer, a “grab and go” telescope strikes the right balance for a starter.
In this guide, we review the best travel telescopes for the money.
Best portable telescope under $100
In this price range, the telescopes you find are limited by what you can see and their build quality. These telescopes are not the most-rigid, plus you are not guaranteed to see amazing views but even so, they have an advantage when you are looking for a cheap telescope – one that you can carry around and not worry about damaging. Telescopes below this price range are fun as a toy for kids or younger, beginner hobbyists.
For the best travel telescope under $100, we recommend the Celestron DX Refractor. We also wrote here about another Celestron 70mm Travel Scope. They are more or less identical and both would serve the same purpose.
As a beginner astronomer, this telescope comes equipped with all the necessary accessories you need to begin. It is portable and equipped with a complete starter kit. The compact-sized refractor is well-suited for basic stargazing and terrestrial viewing.
The Celestron travel scope uses a 70mm achromatic refractor lens. Compared to the 50mm model, this aperture size has a higher light-gathering ability – by up to 36% when compared with the 50mm lens systems.
Combined with fully coated lenses, the 70mm travel scope delivers high-resolution views. As pointed out, don’t expect outstanding clarity compared to pricey telescopes.
On a clear night sky, you can gaze at a meteorite shower and if you are lucky, you could even spot space shuttles. The moon is as close as it can get with striking details. Also, you can see Jupiter cloud belts, Saturn’s rings, Venus and Mars.
Inside the package, you also get two Plossl eyepieces – a 20mm eyepiece and a 10mm one.
Design and mechanics
Although the 70mm travel scope is lightweight, the frame isn’t cheap as you would expect. The OTA is carbon fiber construction, a lightweight material.
When assembled, this little pet weighs only 3.3 pounds and the lightweight frame fits into a well-padded backpack for easy transportation.
The 70 DX uses a manual Alt-Azimuth mount fixed on a tripod. Although non-computerized, the mount has precise tracking capabilities. The aluminum tripod can be adjusted but it is not incredibly stable. For this reason, focusing or panning does not feel smooth.
Another feature that will delight you is the Smartphone holder. This Smartphone holder is paired with a remote Bluetooth release function. When connected, you can capture photographs on your Smartphone using the Bluetooth function. Even so, you will have to fiddle with the Camera holder before you can align everything but it works well.
It takes minutes to assemble the telescope and you won’t need any tools.
- Moon filter
- Smartphone holder
- 2x Barlow lens
- Bluetooth shutter release
- Access to astronomy software
|Large aperture for under $100|
Easy to set up
Clear, bright views
Suited for Beginners
|Lacks GOTO capability tracking|
Not suitable for the veteran astronomer
Best portable telescope under $200
The Meade Infinity 90 is a solid entry-level telescope to start with as a beginner astronomer. Any beginner astronomer will love it. Although it’s not computerized, it is an affordable grab-and-go telescope.
An aperture of 3.5-inches brings in optimal light to reveal clear, close up views of both lunar and planetary objects.
90mm on the objective lens, paired with a fast focal length (f/6.7) is ideal for lunar and planetary observing. Also, it is capable of viewing faint deep space objects.
This telescope is a doublet achromatic refractor with anti-reflection fully coated optics. Views seen through this optical tube are bright and rich with high contrast. Although you may notice some Chromatic aberration under particular conditions, it is not widespread.
The Infinity 90 also shines at framing pinpoint stars. When using a 30x magnification, you can see amazing views of the moon. You can spot the moons and gas bands around Jupiter. You can expect to see the Pleiades, the Orion Nebula, the Ring Nebula, and Double Cluster in Perseus. Also, you can expect to see faint details of Crab Nebula.
Unlike most models, Infinity 90 comes with three superior 1.25” Plossl eyepieces – 26mm, 9mm and 6.3mm focal lengths. Also included is a 2x Barlow lens to enhance magnification of celestial objects. The eyepieces provide a decent field of view and eye relief.
A retractable dew shield alleviates buildup of moisture falling on the objective lens which can happen during night observations. Also, it helps block stray peripheral light for brighter, high-contrast views. Even so, images could have a richer contrast if the interior of the dew shield component was dark instead of shiny..
The 90-degree erect prism lets you correct images both horizontally and vertically. Because the image erect is not reversed, you can use this telescope for terrestrial viewing.
Design and mechanics
The Infinity 90 is a well-built telescope. Both its interior and exterior exudes superior construction. A long optical tube integrated with an Alt-azimuth mount on a tripod makes up the main construction. The optical tube plus the focuser are all metal.
On size, it is one of the largest telescopes you can find in this price range, yet a grab-and-go style. For easier storage and transportation, you can dismantle it and its optical tube is removable. When assembled, the telescope weighs only 13 pounds. That means you will have no difficult time packing it when you want to travel away from the city.
Tracking with the Infinity 90 is manual. It is not integrated with electronics. It uses a manual Alt-azimuth mount with slow-motion control handles and an altitude lock. Although you track the subject manually, it is easy and precise.
The alt-az mount has an awkward design and it takes practice to get used to it.
The alt-azimuth mount rests on a sturdy stainless steel tripod. It is not the most rigid tripod. Its height is adjustable, and it has a vixen-style accessory tray. This tray can hold all kinds of accessories: flashlights, filters, keys, etc.
Like models in this series, the Infinity 90 uses a Vixen Dovetail rail. This mounting block combines with many other go-to mounts in the market.
Rack and pinion focuser
A single-speed, 1.25” rack and pinion focuser establishes smooth focusing. When focusing, it covers a wide distance. It has a screw to hold it secure, and it is all metal.
The Infinity 90 is one of the simplest telescopes to assemble.
- 90-degree erect prism
- 3-Plossl eyepieces
- 2x Barlow lens system (1.25”)
- A reliable red dot finder
- 1.25” single-speed focuser (rack and pinion)
Elegant, compact design
Portable and lightweight
Decent aperture size
Simple to assemble
Suitable for daytime terrestrial viewing
Comes with 3 eyepieces
AutoStar Suite Astronomer Software
Noisy when tracking
No carry case/backpack
No camera adapter
Best portable telescope under $400
Another best travel telescope to add to your list is the Orion 10149 Starblast. It is a premium, small aperture telescope, hovering a little under $400. If you are looking for a telescope for casual astronomy use and spotting, this one is a keeper.
The Starblast 62 is a Petzval design refractor with a flattener/reducer. A Petzval optical design uses a 4-element lens system for detailed, flat field views. The APO objective lens fitted on this optical tube has a small aperture size – 62mm (2.5 inches).
Multi-coated glass combined with a field flatter delivers high resolution, wide flat views. The views have minimal chromatic aberration. Still, it is less corrected for imaging compared to some real ED doublets or triplets. It is still good for experimenting with Astrophotography although you will be limited.
Its focal ratio of f/8.4 is ideal for flat wide views when framing nebulous and galactic structures. This focal length (520 mm) falls in the medium range of short and long focal lengths.
Although some telescopes produce detailed views, this refractor still delivers some pleasant views. You get neat, sharp optics – whether at low or high magnifications.
Lunar details are well-magnified with vivid contrast and resolution. For instance, the moon craters are visible with fine clarity, as are the rings around Saturn and Jupiter’s gas bands. Also, it can frame faint deep sky objects like the Perseus double star, spot gaseous nebulae like the Orion Nebula, open star clusters like the Pleiades (M45), and Galaxies like the M81 and M82. There is so much you can explore with the Orion 62.
On buying, you get two 1.25” plossl eyepieces, a 4mm vs. 20mm focal length. While the 20mm eyepiece is comfortable to use, the 4mm glass may be a struggle.
Build quality and mechanics
The Starblast 62 is stylish to look at, and has a tough build quality. The robust construction is all-metal matched with a polished black finish. On the inside, it is lined with a deep matte finish for optimal light absorption. Being a robust telescope, it requires minimal maintenance. It should serve you for years as long as you don’t mishandle it.
With the dew cap retracted, its optical tube measures 12 inches in length. It is a light telescope, weighing only 3.1 pounds. In other words, this telescope falls in the league of most portable telescopes in the market. The petite size makes it easy to lift and track objects on the go. You could spot a comet or a shooting star. Your chances of missing it with the Starblast 62 are slim as you are not limited in movement.
Storing and transporting the Orion 62 is convenient because you get a hard carrying case. This tough case is made of aluminum and is foam-lined but is not the most portable. You may want to pack the components into a smaller casing for convenience as this one may be too bulky.
Single-speed Crayford focuser
The Starblast 62 uses a single-speed focuser (1.25-inches Crayford-style) focuser which feels smooth even when tuning at high magnifications. While a dual-speed focuser seems to be a preferred choice among many astronomers it is still easy to fine-focus with this single-speed focuser.
Vixen Style Mounting Adapter
It does not come with a mount or a tripod but many exist that can go with it. It is paired with a narrow Vixen-style dovetail mounting block which is compatible with ¼-20 inch threaded sockets.
In the same way it is easy to move, assembling it is a simple job.
- Carrying case
- 45-degree erect image diagonal
- Sliding dew shield
- Camera adapter
- Two 1.25” Plossl eyepieces (dust caps included)
- ¼-20 tripod adapter
Lightweight and compact
Solid and smooth focusing
No collimation required
Wide-field of view
Sturdy carrying case
Elegant fit and finish
|Bulky carrying case|
Best portable telescope under $1000
The NexStar 8SE is a tad over $1000, but, if you are looking at this price range then it’s worthwhile to splurge here and get the best in this range. You will love the light-gathering power of this telescope, the easy setup and its portability. If you absolutely cannot go over budget, you can read our review on the NexStar 5SE here.
One feature that makes the Nexstar 8SE desirable is the large aperture. Compared to the 6-inch model, this one gathers 77% more light! It is a catadioptric telescope, which uses a combination of mirrors and lenses to achieve optimal light transmission.
To increase reflectivity, the NexStar 8SE uses Starbright XLT coatings on its primary and secondary mirrors. It achieves anti-reflection characteristics by using a fully coated corrector and because it is a Schmidt-Cassegrain optical design, it shows minimal chromatic aberration.
Like with most telescopes, you get a pair of eyepieces. This catadioptric is paired with only one 1.25” Plossl eyepiece that has a focal length of 25mm.
Design and mechanics
The 8SE looks like a sophisticated telescope at first glance, and it is, but it is also easy and fun to play with.
Compared to the 4SE or 6SE, this model is bulkier but it is movable. The optical tube can be disassembled for easier storage. The dovetail bracket on which the telescope rests on has a quick release knob that lets you detach its 17 inch optical tube.
The fork mount is designed with cast aluminum material. When you assemble the telescope, the weight adds up to 24 pounds.
You can control all functions of the NexStar using the removable hand controller. The hand controller has so much to offer, including access to a catalogue of 40,000 objects and menu descriptions and the ability to align stars or objects with your telescope. The hand controller features a backlit LCD window. This display makes it comfortable to read the system’s information and text.
Using the Goto tracking function, you can automatically locate and track the faintest objects.
Star Pointer Finderscope
It is equipped with a Star Pointer Finderscope to help you pinpoint objects in the sky with ease using the red dot finder. The Star Pointer comes with various controls. Like brightness control, a dovetail mounting bracket, and alignment control.
Alt-AZ EQ Wedged mount
The C8 uses a heavy-duty Alt-Az mount integrated with an EQ wedge component. The EQ wedge has two alignment modes (North and South). In reality, you can track using the default Alt-Azimuth mode. Alternatively, you can switch to the polar alignment mode using the built-in EQ wedge.
Coupled with the EQ wedge mount is a sturdy tripod. This tripod does not have the most solid mechanics but at least it is stable. Also, it comes pre-assembled.
Simple to assemble
Although it looks like a sophisticated machine, assembling it is one simple job.
- 25mm eyepiece (1-¼”)
- Star diagonal (1-¼”)
- Star pointer Finderscope
- Adjustable steel tripod
- Computerized hand control
- Astronomy Software (The Skylevel)
- Remote control
|StarBright LXT Coatings|
Easy to use
Lightweight and portable
Computerized hand controller
Polar alignment tracking
GOTO tracking capability
Utility light control
Short battery life
Not suitable for astrophotography