Best Travel Drones in 2020 | In-Depth Backpackers Review
Updated: Jun 14
Looking for the best travel drone to film your next adventure? In this blog, we review our Top 7 Travel Drones of 2020 including the DJI Spark, DJI Mavic Mini, RYZE Tello, and more. We are experienced travelers and know the value that our drone has brought to footage of our own backpacking and hiking trips. Picture quality, affordability, flight time, weight, and battery life are reviewed for each drone in this blog post to make your decision easy for which travel drone is best for you.
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What to look for in a travel drone
Purchasing a drone is a big decision. If you are an outdoor enthusiast like us, then you likely know that money doesn’t grow on trees! We weighed all the options when purchasing our travel drone and want to make sure you have all the info you need as a fellow adventurer to make your investment worthwhile. When looking for a drone that fits your adventure style, it is important to weigh various factors. Things to think about include the size and weight, flight time, range, photo and video quality, stabilization, carrying case, controller type, and of course price.
Size and weight
The overall size of your drone is super important when traveling. Anyone who has been on a hiking trip or long backpacking adventure knows that every little ounce counts when you’re carrying it on your back. Think about how much extra weight you are willing to carry in your pack in order to get the shots you want. That will influence which type of drone suits you best.
The amount of time your drone will stay in the air until you have to land it is important to think about depending on where you are going to use it. If you only want to capture 5 minutes of every trip, then one of the cheaper travel drones listed may be good for you. If you want 15 minutes of footage from various points throughout the day, then you may need to invest in a little higher quality option
The flight range is the distance you can fly your drone before you lose connection with it from your controller. The further this is the more variety of angles and perspectives you will be able to get. For us, we don’t need the distance to be too much further than 2km since we are not expert drone photographers anyways and mainly want to capture the immediate scene around us. For more experienced flyers, you may want to splurge for a longer range.
Photo and video quality
The quality of your photos is important, especially if you want your aerial pictures to come out clean in various lighting conditions. Anything below 12 megapixels may look grainy compared to what you are used to shooting on your modern-day smartphone.
A gimbal was one of the more important factors when we were considering our drone due to the fact that we wanted to shoot the majority of our scenes outdoors (where there is usually wind). If you go with a drone that doesn’t have a gimbal, then any wind at all is going to make for shaky footage. If you only want to fly in windless conditions or are not worried about stable footage, then one of the cheaper drones below would be fine for you!
This is, of course, one of the main factors when considering buying any product. However, if you are making an investment in a drone, make sure you are always keeping in mind the end result that you want your footage to look like. It’s important to not make price the only factor in this situation as if you buy the cheapest option but then don’t ever use it because it’s not producing the quality you want for your travel videos, then it won’t be worthwhile for you.
Another important factor for travelers is the carrying case. As you will likely be backpacking or storing your drone in a bag, it’s important that it fits and also won’t get damaged. Check if the drone you want comes with a proper travel case or not!
Finally, controller type was a big factor for us when deciding on a travel drone. We wanted one that could be controlled by a phone or remote control so we had the option not to bring the bulky remote if it was going to weigh down our pack. Surprisingly, not all drones can be controlled by phone only.
Top 7 Travel Drones of 2019 Reviewed
We’ve broken down the top 7 travel drones of 2019 using the factors of weight, flight time, range, photo and video quality, stabilization, carrying case, controller type, and price so you can decide for yourself which one fits your adventure style best. Read more details on each drone below.
Best affordable travel drone for cinematic footage
The DJI Spark is the best bang for your buck if you are looking to get cinematic footage at a reasonably affordable price for a drone. The fact that it can be controlled with only your phone and is easily stored makes it for a top low-budget travel drone that includes stable footage with a built-in gimbal. Although the footage is only 1080p, that is still full HD and unless you are going to be doing post-production video editing that requires a lot of zooming in, then 1080p is perfect for what you need. Check out our video near the bottom of this article to see how well the footage comes out if the 1080p HD footage is good for what you’re looking for!
Phone-only control option
Lightweight and quiet in the air
Sturdy and easy to fly
Comes with a great carrying case that fits well in a backpack
1080p video max
Does not fold like the newest DJI models
Since it was launched in 2017, it's possible DJI will discontinue the model as new drones come out in 2020. It would be a shame though in our opinion!
Best value foldable mini drone
Similar to the Spark, the DJI Mavic Mini is great for cinematic footage at a compact size. The difference here is that the Mavic Mini can fold even smaller than the Spark, however, that means that it is a bit less sturdy to the moving parts. It also cannot be controlled by only your phone, making it bulkier to store in your backpack when you have to bring both the drone and remote together. It is newer than the Spark though and has 2.7K video capability if you are a higher-level video editor and are in desire of that. Gearbest.com also offers a discounted version of the Mavic Mini.
Longest flight time for small drones
Can only be controlled with remote
A little more expensive than DJI Spark
No carrying case included
Best drone for GoPro compatibility
This drone is intriguing for backpackers due to the fact that you use your own GoPro as the camera. If you are ok with storing a bit more weight on your trip and don’t want to invest in another camera outside of your GoPro, then this could be a good option for you. However, keep in mind it is very large to carry around on hikes and camping trips.
Uses the GoPro as its camera (which many outdoor enthusiasts already have)
Gets great cinematic shots with wide-angle GoPro lens and gimbal
Backpack for carrying included
Only works with GoPro cameras
Heavy and large
Needs its own full backpack for carrying
Best mini drone for professionals
The Mavic Air is an engineering feat like we have not seen yet in the drone industry. In terms of size, foldability, cinematic footage, and professional features, this drone is unmatched for travelers and backpackers. The only downside is that it is extremely expensive. If you’ve had drones before or want to splurge and go for the top mini drone out there, then choose the Mavic Air. It is a next-level drone.
4K ultra-HD video
Great flight time
Can only be controlled with remote
No carrying case included
Best travel drone for professional photography and videos
This is the cream of the crop for travelers when it comes to the Mavic series drones. Being 900 grams and a lot larger than the other DJI drones listed, it provides the most cinematic footage possible. However, the size and weight can be cumbersome if you are storing it on your back for more than a couple of hours at a time. If you’ve got the money and experience flying drones, this could be a good option for you. If you want the Mavic quality, but at a lower price, DJI offers a refurbished version of the Mavic Pro.
4K ultra-HD video
30+ minutes of flight time
8km range for remote
Can only be controlled with remote
No carrying case included
Best cheap travel drone with a camera
The Ryze Tello drone changed the game when it first came out. Being so small and easy to use, it made for a great entry point for many hikers and backpackers. It’s an awesome starter drone if you’re not worried about getting cinematic footage and just want to try flying for the first time. There are a few downsides though in that the 720p footage will look grainy compared to what your eyes are used to now on smartphones and other drone footage. Also, because it is so small and does not include a gimbal, if there is any wind then your footage will look shaky and grainy. And there is almost always a little wind when you’re outdoors.
Easy to fly and can be controlled by phone only
Light and small
Best ultra-cheap drone for beginners
This is the best cheap option available on the market today if you are looking to get just aerial pictures at close range on your outdoor adventures. Selfie pictures on a mountain top are easy with this drone. Similar to the Ryze Tello though, if there is any wind your video footage will be almost unwatchable. Also, since the battery life is so short you can really only get a few minutes of video or pictures before you have to land. However, if you are a beginner and just want to get some pics from the air to start, it is a good option!
Easy to fly
Good for selfies
Only 720p video
Only 1mp camera
Very short battery life
CONCLUSION: OUR FAVORITE TRAVEL DRONE OF 2020 IS...
In our opinion, the DJI Spark is still the best travel drone in 2020. As you can see in the chart above, the DJI spark is the best option for a mid-range price if you are looking at it from a backpacker's perspective like us who want to control the drone from our phone.
We wanted something that would not break the bank, but would also provide the cinematic shots we wanted and still fit in our backpack alongside our camping and hiking gear if needed.
The Sparks closest competitor is the DJI Mavic Mini and although the mini shoots in higher quality (2.7K), the fact that you can only fly it with a remote control was a turn-off for us.
The nice thing about the Spark is that you can fly it directly from your phone so there is no need to carry a heavy and space-eating remote control with you on your adventures. We also like the fact that it doesn’t fold, since it makes for a more durable drone that won’t get damaged if it gets juggled around in our backpack on a trip.
We aren’t professional drone photographers, which is why we steered away from the GoPro Karma and the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. Although they may produce more professional footage, they were just too expensive and bulky for the kind of shots we were looking for.
Since we wanted to get shots of hiking and outdoor adventures, we knew we also didn’t want a drone that would have shaky footage in the wind, which is why we opted away from the DJI Ryze Tello and JJRC H47 Elfie. Both were good cheap options that we considered but ultimately didn’t go with due to the less-than-HD picture quality and lack of gimbal stabilization.
Our personal experience with the DJI Spark
We bought the DJI spark in hopes that it would give us stable and cinematic aerial shots of the remote outdoor adventure locations that we love so much. And it has not disappointed one bit!
It is the perfect drone for traveling because of its durability, small packing size, and quality video and picture shots. For example, when we went on a 2-day camping trip to Sombrio Beach on Vancouver Island, we wanted to get shots of the amazing waterfalls on the secret trails that we knew were awaiting us. If we had only used our GoPro, we could just see the top of the falls.
With the DJI Spark, we just tossed it in our backpack along with our camping gear, brought it with us on the hike and stopped three times to pull it out and fly outwards away from us. We only needed one click on our phone thanks to the DJI App that can do self-flying modes.
We had enough battery to do three different filmings and then at the end of the trip, we had some epic shots that captured our whole experience way better than just our GoPro and Canon camera would have.
We’ve taken our DJI Spark on many of our outdoor adventures already. Take a look at our video below for some of our favorite shots so far.
Drone backpacking and travel tips
If traveling internationally, always read the country-specific drone laws a couple of months before traveling there to see if special permits are needed, etc. UAV Coach is a great website that has all the up-to-date drone laws for each US state and each country as well.
Download the AIRMAPS App. Here, you will find a global map of places that you can and can’t fly (ie. no-fly zones, local airports, helicopter areas, city regulations, etc.). You can also plan and record your flights in this app:
If you are flying in an airplane and taking your drone on your trip, make sure your battery is less than halfway charged, keep your drone in your carry-on without the battery attached, and check the airline policies around drones before your flight.
If you’re going for a hike or multi-day camping trip with your drone, consider bringing an extra battery or two to ensure you have enough battery life to get the shots you need. You may also want to consider a mobile charging station.
Finally, if your drone doesn’t come with a travel case, we strongly recommend getting one. Here’s a drone travel case option that would fit many of the small drones reviewed above. Gearbest has many other carrying cases as well as discount pricing.
There are a few other great travel drone comparison articles out there as well. If you are interested in comparing more via real travel blogs, check out Jetsetter, The Broke Backpacker, or Divergent Travelers.
We hope this guide helped you in understanding your options for the top travel drones out there! If you travel with a drone currently and have other fav's or if you want us to review another drone for you, comment below.