Tripods and ballheads are an important piece of the gear puzzle that leads to all kinds of creative approaches when photographing the landscape. Often times we hear and read about the false dichotomy between gear/craft and the creative side of photography. Really, solid craft and the supporting gear allow the creative juices to flow. With a sturdy tripod, you can accomplish long exposures, focus stacking to extend depth of field, exposure blending, panoramic stitches, perspective blending and combinations of these techniques. Not impossible, but certainly much more difficult to accomplish without a tripod. So, it's an essential tool, at least for my approach to photographing the landscape. And for lightweight, sturdy tripods and ballheads, no small investment. And then there's the Art Wolfe factor...If it makes sense for Art...then....

 Talking composition and camera gear for a minute or two with Art Wolfe, Iceland 2015

Talking composition and camera gear for a minute or two with Art Wolfe, Iceland 2015

I've used Gitzo tripods and Kirk ballheads over the years and both have been good to me. I'm sponsored by neither so this is not a paid endorsement. Most of the information below will relate to maintaining and repairing Gitzo carbon fiber tripods with twist locks to expand/contract and lock the legs. In 15 years of use I've never had any maintenance or repair issues with the Kirk ballhead, other than some over tightening in the field which I could chalk up to user error.

As always, your mileage may vary so consult your manufacturer before cleaning and maintaining  your tripod and ballhead!

Here are  few tips, tricks and tools I've picked up along the way to clean and maintain my tripod after photographing in harsh environments and also a few things to keep in mind for spare parts, tools, and field repair. 

 Bolts which serve as hinges and attach the tripod legs to the base. Very easy to loosen while driving on washboard roads. I carry at least one spare in the field repair kit. 

Bolts which serve as hinges and attach the tripod legs to the base. Very easy to loosen while driving on washboard roads. I carry at least one spare in the field repair kit. 

Let's start with doing some basic maintenance after a photography trip. I'm often taking gear into sandy, dusty environments and am not gentle on my equipment. I bought it to use it, especially the tripod. And one of the areas that needs occasional cleaning would be the twist locks that tighten down the tripod legs. Very easy to get sand in there and make the locking and unlocking difficult. For this task, I've used and old toothbrush to remove sand and dirt from the threads and also a rag to wipe down the threads. You'll then have to decide if you want to use any type of lubricant on the threads to keep then moving smoothly and help keep dirt out. For this, I've been using Phil Waterproof Grease for Ball and Roller Bearings (found on Amazon). It's also helpful to extend your tripod legs if they've been submerged and let them dry out. Be sure and check the tripod legs for dirt or residue and you can wipe then down with a damp rag also. As a side note, in the field, try not to bury the twist lock in the sand or dirt. In other words, extend the bottom leg all the way out first, not the middle or top leg out first which would result in the bottom twist lock getting immersed in something that might not help its operation in the field. 

 Apply to the threads on the twist locks

Apply to the threads on the twist locks

 Twist locks on the Gitzo tripod leg. Cleaning these and apply some Phil Waterproof Grease. 

Twist locks on the Gitzo tripod leg. Cleaning these and apply some Phil Waterproof Grease. 

There has been a time or two when spare parts might be needed for your tripod so here's a few ideas to consider. One is to consider bringing some spare feet for your tripod in case one ore more becomes loose and you lose one. These are small, lightweight and easy to store in your tripod repair kit. Another spare part to think about are the bolts that hold the tripod leg at the joint, to the tripod base. These sometimes become loose on washboard roads and if you lose one of these screws, then you might lose the use of your tripod. So, another small and lightweight spare part to carry in your repair kit would be a couple of these screws. Another consideration is to use some non-permanent loc tite on your tripod feet to help them stay secure. Easy to find on Amazon or your local hardware store. And you can find spare parts for Gitzo on gitzospares.com. I've ordered from them multiple times and been happy with their service. 

 Tripod feet shown with bolt that connects legs and base.

Tripod feet shown with bolt that connects legs and base.

 Thread Locker Blue, #242 applied to the  tripod feet threads  is non permanent but prevents them from getting loose and disappearing in the field. 

Thread Locker Blue, #242 applied to the tripod feet threads is non permanent but prevents them from getting loose and disappearing in the field. 

Then, there are a few items to think about in terms of tools to do some field repair. Make sure you have multiple allen head wrenches  and star key wrenches to accommodate your tripod's screws/bolts in the event you need to tighten them.  I carry a sets of wrenches in various sizes on workshops and have done quite a bit of tightening to loose screws over the years. Also makes sense to carry some duct tape or wide electrical tape to salvage some type to catastrophic break to a tripod leg. That's never happened to me but I'm pretty surprised about that just given the boulders and moving rivers and all sorts of difficult terrain I've wedged my tripod into. And I bring some adjustable pliers in case some type of locking mechanism on a tripod or ballhead gets over tightened. This has been used more than a few times and has saved the day. An unusual item that's in my bag is a pair of rubber gripped mechanics gloves to help loosen large circular filter or loosen something on the tripod or ballhead. You might be able to forgo the weight of a wrench with a pair of mechanics gloves with rubber grips. 

 Basic, and mostly lightweight field repair kit

Basic, and mostly lightweight field repair kit

Hopefully this will give you a few ideas for how to clean and maintain your tripod and help you prepare for a field repair down the road. 

Cheers!