This article covers the bipods and tripods the top 170+ precision rifle shooters in the country are running. It’s based on a recent survey I conducted of the top 125 shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and top 50 shooters in the National Rifle League (NRL), which are points-race leagues based on the biggest long-range, field-based rifle matches across the country. These results are from a wide sample of the most elite marksmen and experts in the field. (View other “What The Pros Use” articles)
I’ve been surveying the top precision rifle competitors in country for several years, but I only asked about their bipod in 2014 – because for the longest time there were really only two these guys were using: a Harris Bipod or an Atlas Bipod. In 2014, Harris bipods were preferred 3 to 1 over the Atlas. But over the last few years, several new models have come on the market, so this year’s data was much more interesting!
A bipod is a foundational piece of gear for a precision rifle, and they don’t just help for prone shots. Some bipod designs are packed with features that help you get steady from a variety of positions and barricades. Like other rifle components, a bipod started off as a basic piece of gear with a straight-forward, but narrow, application. However, experienced shooters and creative entrepreneurs have caused it to evolve into a multi-purpose tool that can be leveraged for the shooter’s benefit in a variety of scenarios.
Here’s a look at the rifle bipods the top ranked precision riflemen chose to run:
The various colors on the chart represent the league and rank of the shooters. For example, black indicates shooters who finished in the top 10 in the PRS, dark blue is those who finished 11-25 in the PRS, and the lighter the blue, the further out they finished in PRS Open Division season standings. The green colors represents the top shooters in the NRL, where the darkest green is the top 10, medium green is 11-25, and light green are 26th to 50th. The legend on the chart itemizes the league and ranks each color represents, but basically the darker the color, the higher up the shooters placed.
The Harris bipod and Atlas bipod are still the most popular among this group, combining to represent 83% of these top shooters. But there are several others on the list, and I’ll quickly give a summary of each brand and highlight some of the unique features that are compelling for the precision rifle shooter.
The Harris Bipod was the top choice of the pros again this year, being the choice for 45% of these shooters. The original patent for the Harris bipod was filed in 1965, and it’s remained largely unchanged over the past few decades. It has been the gold standard to which every other bipod design is compared.
There are several compelling features that make the Harris bipod a top choice:
- It deploys very, very quickly. You can flip the legs down from a folded position into their 90°, ready-to-use position in less than 2 seconds with one hand, or flip them back up with the same ease. This is the biggest selling point for going with a Harris over the Atlas. When you’re on the clock at a competition and stress is high, you won’t find yourself fumbling around with buttons to push or trying to get both legs at the correct angle. It is a very simple design that just works.
- The Harris bipod is very durable, because of its simple/robust design and high-quality materials. This is the biggest difference between a $20 Amazon-knockoff brand bipod and the $100 Harris bipod. Most of the parts are an aluminum alloy, but Harris uses steel on the critical connections or parts that might wear. This combo keeps it lightweight at just 8 ounces, but also ensures it is very durable. Military units have relied on the Harris bipod for years with heavy use in some of the harshest environments in the world. That’s not to say that it’s unheard of to see a broken Harris, but it’s rare.
- The spring-loaded legs and simple push-button release make height adjustments quick and easy with one hand.
Most shooters run the Harris HBRMS 6-9” Swivel Bipod with Leg Notches, with the HBLMS 9-13” model being the next most popular. In my measurements the HBLMS adjusts from 8-12”, not 9-13”. I’ve noticed a couple shooters might even keep one of the longer 12-25” or 13.5-27” Harris bipods in their pack, and swap out to it on a stage that requires a sitting or kneeling shot.
The Harris HBRMS is their shortest bipod with legs that extend 6 to 9 inches. Harris refers to it as their “benchrest” model. PRS matches are clearly not shot from a bench, but many shots are taken from prone positions and the height range of this bipod is ideal for most prone scenarios. If a shooter running a 6-9” bipod needs more height, they’ll typically just throw down their pack and put the bipod on top of that.
The M in the model name indicates the bipod has notched legs. The notches provide a few preset height reference points to make it easier to adjust both legs to the same height, or to make slight adjustments without overcorrecting.
The S in the model name indicates the bipod can swivel, which allows you to tilt the rifle from side to side. This makes it easy to get the rifle perfectly level on uneven terrain without fiddling with the leg heights. Even a small amount of rifle cant can result in a miss at long-range, and this feature can help a shooter effectively manage that on uneven terrain.
Harris seems to have a similar outlook to Jewell triggers: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” So their design has remained largely unchanged since it was first released. While the basic design is outstanding, Harris certainly isn’t winning any awards for innovation, which I predict will likely cause them to slowly be eclipsed by other brands – like Jewell. If you want it to do something it wasn’t originally designed to do 20+ years ago, the only way to make that happen is through innovation driven by third parties. The good news is since Harris has been the gold standard for so long, there are a ton of aftermarket accessories available to customize it a variety of ways.
Here are a few of the most popular after-market customizations for the Harris bipod that you’d see at precision rifle competitions:
- Swivel Tension Lever – Virtually all of these guys run an aftermarket swivel tension lever like the KMW Pod-Loc. These allow you to quickly adjust the amount of tension it takes to tilt the bipod side-to-side (only applicable on the swivel models). The stock Harris swivel models have a fixed amount of tension that isn’t adjustable in the field, but these aftermarket levers and knobs allow you to reach up and torque down the swivel with one hand from behind the rifle. These handles are easy to install (watch video), and make it easier to operate the bipod swivel and ensure your rifle is cant-free before sending a round down range.
- Quick Detach Connection – The swivel-stud attachment that comes from the factory leaves something to be desired in terms of how easy/quick the bipod is to attach or remove, and even durability. Many shooters replace it with a quick-detach mount for a picatinny rail (like the Harris mount by American Defense), or an arca-swiss adapter (like the Harris mount by MPA) that allows the bipod to attach to a 1.5” dovetail cut like how an RRS tripod would connect to the rifle.
- Bipod Feet – Some guys like the factory rubber feet from Harris, but others prefer spikes or even the ability to change out feet quickly if needed. The Hawk Hill Talon Bipod Replacement Feet for the Harris Bipod are very popular, and will help you get a solid rest on a variety of surfaces. Harris feet are attached with a roll pin, which is a real pain in the butt to remove to change out the feet. The Harris Bipod Leg Adapters from Primary Adaptive Solution Systems allows you to use swappable Atlas bipod feet on the Harris, which you can change out in less than one minute and provides the ultimate adaptability to the situation.
The street price on a factory Harris HBRMS bipod is usually around $100, but that may be misleading. If you include a KMW Pod-Loc for $25 and the ADM Quick-Detach mount for $75, which is similar to what most of these guys are running, you’re up to $200. If you replace the feet, that adds another $60 and if you go the swappable feet route you’d add another $45. So the all-in street price for the customized Harris bipod like most of these guys are running is around $200-300. While the DIY customizations can be a hassle, it does lower the entry price, and allows you to upgrade the bipod over time, which can help guys on a tight budget. I wish Harris or some third-party would offer pre-configured Harris bipods with these popular after-market accessories installed, because there seems to be a market for it (hint, hint).
Atlas bipods have almost doubled in popularity among these top rifle shooters over the past few years, with 38% of these shooters choosing them (up from 22% in 2014).
Atlas bipods offer a lot of innovative design features. They’re a huge departure from the Harris bipod. Some shooters even claim they’re even more durable than the factory Harris, especially at the connection point.
Here are a few of the compelling features of the Atlas bipod:
- Legs can be deployed at a few angles: straight down (90°), or 45° forward or back. This provides a height adjustment from 4.75-9”, which is huge compared to other bipods.
- Provides 15° of pan and 15° of tilt/swivel
- Legs can be stowed forwards or backwards
- Notched legs (similar to Harris)
- Many great options for connection (from the very popular ADM QD picatinny mount to AI spigot mounts and others, all of which seem to be more durable than a sling stud)
- Feet can be easily swapped out in less than 1 minute for other feet or leg extensions. Extensions are available from various companies from 3” to 6” to 17.5”, meaning one bipod covers a ridiculous range.
Now it’s not all rosy, and some shooters see a few drawbacks when it comes to the Atlas bipod:
- Legs are slower to deploy and require some fine-motor skills and coordination to press a button and swing a leg – one at a time. This may sound knit-picky, but it can be a problem under stress.
- Legs often get cocked to the side because of the panning feature. Some wish they could disable that feature because it just seems to cause one leg to be further forward than the other, which could affect how the rifle recoils and hurt accuracy. Unfortunately, the tension knob that controls panning also controls tilt/swivel – so if you tighten it down, it makes it hard to adjust your rifle cant. Adjusting the tension also isn’t as easy as a Harris with a Pod-Loc lever. The company clearly listens to their customers, because they’ve come out with a new model (BT65-LW17) that doesn’t pan (so the legs won’t get cocked to the side), and uses the KMW Pod-Loc to adjust the swivel tension.
- Legs rotate or “walk” forward when you load the bipod. Again, the company listened to feedback and they fixed that feature on the Atlas PSR BT46-LW17 bipod, which prevents the legs from spinning. The Atlas V8 (version 8) still has this issue.
There are a ton of configurations available, which can make it a bit confusing to know which one to purchase. The most popular model among this crowd is the Atlas PSR BT46-LW17 bipod, which is also sometimes referred to as version 10. The version 8 Atlas bipod is still for sale, but the PSR model offers a few improvements. There is a tall version of the bipod available, but most of these shooters seem to prefer the shorter version. The Atlas BT65-LW17 Gen. 2 CAL Bipod is another great option that offers many of the same features as the PSR, except it has the CAL (Cant And Loc) feature with the KMW Pod-Loc and the panning feature is removed.
While you can find models of Atlas bipods retailing in the low $200’s, that price usually doesn’t include a mount. The most popular model among this crowd, the Atlas PSR BT46-LW17 bipod, has a street price of $320, and the Atlas BT65-LW17 Gen. 2 CAL Bipod is $300. That’s may be a shockingly high price for some people, but it comes ready-to-go and is very adaptable.
The MDT Ckye-Pod bipod is a brand new design. 10% of these top shooters were using a Ckye-Pod, although the design appears to only have been released in limited batches until this month. It might have been used by more, if it was more widely available through this past season.
The Ckye-Pod allows the legs to be locked into multiple angles, like the Atlas, but it not only does that forward and backwards, but applies that same concept in another direction, with 5 positions for how wide the feet are apart. This provides a ridiculous amount of adjustment, from 4.5” to 15.5”! That allows it to be used from a low prone position all the way up to a comfortable seated position.
It’s tough to explain in words, so here’s a short, 1 minute video to see it in action:
Here are a few other features that seem compelling about the Ckye-Pod:
- One-handed adjustable legs
- Comes standard with spiked/claw feet, but accepts Atlas-style feet, which means they’re easily swappable
- Separate knobs to adjust the tension for pan and cant independently, a smart improvement over the Atlas design
- Built-in barricade stop
- Push-button quick release mount available for picatinny or arca-swiss
The Ckye-Pod seems to have it all, but one obvious downside is the price. They’re selling for $500 for the picatinny model, and $550 for the version with an arca-swiss mount – so they’re definitely on the pricey side. That’s 60% higher than an Atlas or a heavily customized Harris bipod, so it will be interesting to see if these can get as wide of popularity as those other brands at that steep price.
The Evolution Bipod, or EvoPod, by Modular Evolution, was used by 5% of these top shooters. The guys at Modular Evolution have an interesting idea for this bipod: “The EvolutionBipod replaces, shooting sticks, multiple bipods and heavy tripod adapters. Featuring lightweight modular accessories that all work with the main bipod hub! We are excited to offer futuristic solutions for modern-day hunters and shooters!” In the photo below, you can see the full bipod, as well as the a disassembled version of the “bipod hub.”
The Evolution Bipod is available in a few heights: 7-10”, 8-11”, or 10-14”. I’d expect the shortest legs to be popular among this group of rifle competitors. This bipod has similar features to the Atlas, in that the legs can be set to 45 or 90° angles, which allows it to get down to a height of just 4”.
Here are a few other highlights of the Evolution Bipod:
- Receptacles on the bottom of legs accept QD spikes and allow stacking of legs for flexibility of length and other accessories
- Lightweight, removable, non-rotating, carbon fiber legs
- Spring-loaded, extendable legs
- ADM quick-detach lever for picatinny rails
- 20° swivel with lever lock
- Bottom of “bipod hub” is extensible, allowing you to attach a picatinny rail, flush cup for slings, barricade stop, tripod adapter, etc.
The Evolution Bipod seems very similar to the Atlas design overall, but seems to offer a few compelling features or improvements. The 7-10” version of the Evolution Bipod is selling for $330.
Other bipods used by 1 or 2 of these top shooters included the Warne Skyline Precision Bipod, Accutac bipod, and Elite Iron Revolution bipod. I’d suggest checking those out, especially the Elite Iron design, which is a complete departure from traditional bipod design. I remember seeing it demoed at SHOT Show a couple of years ago, and it’s wild how it works. And if you thought these other designs were expensive, the Revolution bipod from Elite Iron is priced from $635 – $735! Wowza!
One last design I’d like to mention that was just released at SHOT Show 2019, is the Thunder Beast bipod. Thunder Beast makes the most popular suppressors among these top shooters, and they recently came out with a bipod design that caught my attention. It seems like all of these bipod designs either provide the flexibility of the Atlas design, with a push button leg adjustment for multiple angles … or the Harris, which is a quick deploy, but only allows the legs to be at 90°. You have to make a trade-off: speed or flexibility. Obviously in the precision rifle competition world, you want both … but the crowd is just about split between the speedy Harris leg deployment and the other designs that offer more adjustability. Well, Thunder Beast came out with a design that appears to do both. The legs are deployable WITHOUT the push of a button, meaning you can quickly sweep the legs down like a Harris. However, the legs can be adjusted to 45° after you’ve deployed to 90°. So you seem to get the best of both worlds. The guys at TBAC apparently have been perfecting this design for 2 years. Those guys are fanatical about precision rifle shooting in field conditions, so I bet it’s a capable product. I’d be shocked if you didn’t see some of these showing up at matches in the near future. Watch the video below or visit TBAC to learn more.
Now let’s talk about rifle tripods. The idea of mounting a precision rifle to a tripod has really taken off over the past few years, and it’s surprising how steady and accurate you can be kneeling or even standing behind one. Masterpiece Arms really pushed this concept forward when they added an integral arca-swiss dovetail cut to their chassis, which allowed you to mount it directly to a tripod. So I thought it’d be interesting to ask these top shooters what brand of tripod they used. Here’s what they said:
92% of the top shooters said they owned a tripod they use with their rifle. Only 13 of the 172 shooters surveyed said they don’t even own a tripod, but that did include one of the top 10 shooters in the PRS – so it’s not as foundational of a piece of gear as something like a bipod.
Clearly one brand dominates the precision rifle world when it comes to tripods, and that’s Really Right Stuff (RRS). 59% of the shooters who owned a tripod, use a RRS tripod. They are some of the best made, but also most-expensive tripods. RRS is a premium brand of tripods in the photography world, but they are also committed overtly committed to shooting sports. They even have a division of their company called SOAR (Sport Optic And Rifle), which is headed up by Michael Haenel, who’s experience includes being an instructor at the US Army Sniper School – so they know something about rifles and precision. They’ve been able to leverage their expertise from years of feedback, research, and development in the photography world, and are also constantly soliciting feedback from shooters.
While some chassis, like those made by MPA or XLR, now feature integral dovetail cuts that allow them to mount directly to a RRS tripod, there are a wide variety of adapters made by RRS and others that allow you to mount a chassis or stock to a tripod. And this isn’t just something that is good in the competition world. Over the past few years hunting, I’ve taken more animals from my rifle mounted to tripod than any other position. It works really, really well anytime you need a steady rest from a position higher than prone, and there are some relatively lightweight models on the market.
RRS is one of the most sturdy and easy to use designs available. I’ve literally seen a rep from RRS swing with his full weight on a rifle that was attached to one of their tripods. RRS tripods are ridiculously strong. Last year, they released a new tripod and ballhead, which I featured in an article as one of the coolest things I came across at SHOT Show 2018.
The TFCT-24L tripod with Anvil-30 ballhead shown above sells for $1365, so clearly RRS is one of the more expensive products on the market.
The second most popular brand was Leofoto, which represented 18% of these shooters. These tripods are a little more budget-friendly, with some models starting as low as $300, but most in the $500-600 range. They have many of the same features as those offered by RRS, like carbon fiber legs, arca-swiss ballhead, etc.
Feisol was the next most popular tripod, with 10% of the shooters. Feisol is another more budget-friendly tripod, similar to Leofoto, with many of their models running around $500-600.
Manfrotto is a very popular brand name in the photography world, and there were 5% of these shooters running a Manfrotto tripod. The Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 055 Aluminium 3-Section Tripod is a great choice for under $200 for the base tripod, and then you could add an arca-swiss tripod head from Leofoto or others and have a very capable setup.
All of those tripods, except RRS, were designed with photography in mind, not shooting sports. But there were a few other brands used by 1-3 of these top shooters that were designed specifically for rifle shooting, and I’d like to point those out.
Crux Ordnance makes a military-grade tripod kit that is easily recognizable. Its unique design allows easy and smooth operation even with the heaviest gear set up. Separate locking adjustment mechanisms allow friction adjustment without instability. Riflescopes and spotting scopes can be adjusted smoothly with one hand and a balanced position maintained without tightening. The Crux Ordnance tripod kit starts around $1360, but ranges up to $2500 depending on the configuration.
Patriot Valley Arms offers the COMP-40 Tripod, which is ideal for these types of rifle competitions. The COMP-40 tripod runs $500, which includes the SC-44 Panning Ball Head. That’s a value when it comes to a capable, easy-to-use rifle tripod that can support 20+ pounds.
Other tripods used by one or two of these top shooters included Benro tripods, Gitzo tripods (of which the mountaineer models are very lightweight and handle weight well), Slik tripods, and Bushnell Tactical Rifle tripods.
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