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A Review of the Outdoorsmans Micro Pan Head and PH-170 NightHawk

As any backcountry hunter (or hiker) is aware, you pay more for less when it comes to ultra lightweight backcountry gear. Shaving even an ounce in weight can cost you by removing an almost equal weight from your wallet. It is no different when you start looking at ultra lightweight pan heads for glassing. A pan and tilt head like these lightweight pan heads are a must when it comes to glassing. A ballhead can work in a pinch, but you can more effectively grid an area with a precision pan/tilt head.

We’ve pitted two of the best on the market against each other to help you decide which of these ultra-lightweight pan heads will suit your needs the best. 

Outdoorsmans Micro Pan Head

Any serious backcountry or western hunter has likely heard of Outdoorsmans. Founded in 1982, they are based out of Fountain Hills, AZ. They specialize in bringing you quality made gear built for the backcountry – whether that is equipment made by Outdoorsmans such as pan heads or tripods, or equipment such as optics or other essential backpacking gear where they are a stocking reseller. 

Outdoorsmans offers several options for tripod heads for optics. These options include the Outdoorsmans Fluid Head, Pan Head, Micro Pan Head and their Pistol Grip Head, as well as a few made by well known brands such as Manfrotto and Sirui. We will be focusing on their Micro Pan Head for this head-to-head ultra-lightweight pan head comparison.

Wiser Precision PH-170 NightHawk Ultralight Pan Head

Until a recent Hunt Backcountry Podcast, I was unaware of the company Wiser Precision. Shane Wise, Owner of Wiser Precision, specializes in making products for long range shooters and backcountry hunting. Also based out of the US (Washington), Wiser Precision is a rising up-and-comer in the outdoor industry after getting a foothold a few years ago.

Wiser Precision is probably a little more known for their Quick-StiX trekking pole adapters (used to quickly turn your trekking poles into a pair of shooting sticks). However, they recently expanded their Quick-StiX system by releasing an ultralight pan head in the summer of 2021. Enter the PH-170 NightHawk into the ultra-lightweight pan head market.

Overall Size - Ultimate Lightweight Pan Head

Both of these lightweight pan heads are extremely compact in size and ultra portable. The tallest of the two pan heads is the Outdoorsmans Micro Pan Head at 3.75 inches. The PH-170 NightHawk on the other hand is only 3 inches tall. The PH-170 is the widest and longest of the two heads at 3 inches and 7 inches respectively vs 2.25 inches and 5.5 inches for the Outdoorsmans. However if using the included extra locking knob in place of the longer carbon fiber handle, the overall length of the PH-170 can be reduced to less than 1.5 inches. The Outdoorsmans Micro Pan Head doesn’t come with or offer a replacement knob to shorten the overall length of the pan head. Reference the Technical Specifications Table below for comparison between the two lightweight pan heads.

Weight Matters

Equipment weight is a premium to the backcountry hunter. There are many options to reduce the weight for much of the equipment you will need on a backcountry hunt. However, lighter and stronger materials, additional precision machining, and smaller purchasing groups willing to fork over hard earned cash results in a large disparity in price between a piece of equipment that gets the job done and one that gets the job done without weighing you down.  Think of supply versus demand.

Both of these ultra-lightweight pan heads are at the top of their class in the weight category. As shipped, the Outdoorsmans Micro Pan Head weighs in at 7.5 oz (published) while the Wiser Precision PH-170 NightHawk comes in at a mere 6.5 oz (published). By removing the handle and replacing it with a regular locking knob, which is also included with the head, the PH-170 NightHawk’s weight can be further reduced to only 4.9 oz! Using an available scale I have at home, the PH-170 came out more in line with its published weight vs. the overweight Outdoorsmans head. See table below for measured weights.

The pan heads are both made of anodized aluminum and stainless steel. The handle on the Outdoorsmans Micro Pan Head is made of aluminum which has been hollowed out for additional weight savings. It is then covered by a firm, dense foam. The handle on the PH-170 NightHawk on the other hand is longer and made of carbon fiber. It too has a foam covering over a portion of the handle, albeit a bit shorter and a less firm and dense. For comparison, the foam handle portion on the Outdoorsmans head is about 3.5 inches whereas the PH-170 foam portion is only 2.75 inches. 

Optical Stability/Load Capabilities

Load capabilities for these heads is tough to compare. They can both handle pretty much any binocular or spotter you throw at them. Outdoorsmans recommends using the Micro Pan Head with spotters up to 65mm in objective size to aid in reducing vibration. However, they do have a published load rating of 3 lbs 9 oz.

On the other hand, the Wiser Precision PH-170 NightHawk does not have a published load capacity. In one of their published videos they mention that everyone would be happy using up to a 65mm spotting scope, but it could adequately handle even larger optics. 

I have used both of these pan heads with much smaller optics such as my Vortex 10×42 Razor HD binos and Vortex 11-33x50mm spotter. Both are equally capable for my needs.

Panning and Tilting Smoothness

Both of the lightweight pan heads offer extremely smooth panning and tilting abilities.  Especially considering neither is dampened by a fluid chamber like you’d see in a traditional fluid head type tripod head. I consider them equal in the smoothness column. The Outdoorsmans Micro Pan Head however moves a little more freely in both directions than the PH-170 NightHawk.

Due to the sealed axises the PH-170 NightHawk has a little bit of built in dampening. Sealing the pivots helps to keep dirt, moisture and other contaminants from getting in and hindering the smoothness of the pan or tilt functions. Because of this, it takes a little extra pressure to get the PH-170 NightHawk to move in either direction.  However it also helps it come to a stop more smoothly. While I see benefits to both approaches, I’d give a slight edge to the Wiser Precision model. The dampening does help reduce jerkiness and will help keep dirt and other contaminants out of the system.

The Outdoorsmans and Wiser Precision heads offer an indexible pan-locking knob on the side, and a longer rear tilt locking handle. The Outdoorsmans head uses a more traditional, pull out/spring-loaded knob.  The PH-170 requires you to loosen the locking knob to push the head of the bolt out of the keyed position of the pan head body.

Optic Attachment Options

The Outdoorsmans Micro Pan Head utilizes a proprietary attachment plate to interface between the lightweight pan head and your optics. It is dimensionally smaller in size (width) than the quick attach plate required for the PH-170 NightHawk. The adapter plate is small in length and width, but the height is about 0.5 inches tall. A neat feature about the Outdoorsmans head and quick attach plate is a built in stop to prevent your plate/optics from sliding out the front of the pan head if it isn’t locked down tight enough. This feature has saved my optics more than once!  However, note that it will only keep it from falling out in one direction. 

Alternatively, the Wiser Precision PH-170 NightHawk uses a more common Arca-Swiss type base and plate. The base can be opened wide enough to sit the Arca-Swiss accessory plate down into the base, instead of requiring it to be slide in from the front or back. The PH-170 comes with the Arca-Swiss accessory plate when you purchase the pan head. You are also able to remove the Arca-Swiss base from the PH-170 and install any other base/plate system that uses a 1/4-20 fastener to attach it from the top if you are standardized on another system.

In my opinion, a slight edge goes to the PH-170 NightHawk with the Arca-Swiss style adapter plate. The more popular style plate has its advantages in allowing you to keep the plate attached to your optic, camera, etc. and easily swap it between other compatible Arca-Swiss style heads.

Tripod Attachment

Both the Outdoorsmans Micro Pan Head and the Wiser Precision PH-170 NightHawk feature a 3/8-16 threaded female stud to mount to most standard tripod legs. The PH-170 also comes with a 3/8″-16 stainless stud if you need it to adapt to your tripod system.

The base of the Outdoorsmans Micro Pan Head features a dove-tail cut and notches at both ends to mimic their 1/4-20 adapter plates. This feature allows the Outdoorsmans Micro Pan Head to integrate seamlessly into any of their other quick release adapters.

These lightweight pan head bases are much smaller than your typical ball head or fluid head. As such, the pan heads will appear a little out of place on most tripods. This is the case on a smaller tripod such as the Slik 624 Pro CF that I’m running this year. Other tripods such as the Manfrotto Befree style have a smaller attachment point on the center column so it’s not so much of an issue on those particular legs. Due to the carbon fiber tilt handle sitting much lower than the one on the Outdoorsmans Micro, I have noticed less vertical tilt range with the PH-170 NightHawk. Therefore, if you are used to operating your pan head with the handle out in front of your optics, you will have reduced downward tilt. You can easily flip the optic around to combat this downfall, but it is worth mentioning.

Final Thoughts

After owning both lightweight pan heads I can honestly say that either one are more than capable to fulfilling the serious backcountry hunter’s needs. Both are extremely well built, made of excellent materials, and are rock-solid. Which one is best for you will really depend on your intended use, where you’ll be hunting, and which of the features are more important to you. 

If you are a serious ounce counter, and weight and size are utmost important, gravitate to the PH-170. Replacing the tilt handle presents an almost 35% weight savings plus reduces the overall length significantly. If you are looking for un-impeded panning/tilting and integrating it with their other quick attachment accessories, the Outdoorsmans might be for you. Alternatively, one might gravitate to the PH-170 due to the more standardized Arca-Swiss style quick attachment plate vs. the proprietary version offered by Outdoorsmans.

Technical Specification Comparison

FeatureOutdoorsmans Micro Pan HeadWiser Precision PH-170 Nighthawk
Base Weight *7.5 oz (8.45 oz actual)6.1 oz (6.05 oz actual)
Light Weight Configuration *N/A4.9 oz (4.9 oz actual)
Overall Height3.75"3.0"
Overall Width2.25"3.0"
Overall Length - Base Configuration5.5"7.0"
Overall Length - Shortest ConfigurationN/A1.5"
Attachment PlateProprietaryArca-Swiss
Accessories IncludedNoneArca-Swiss Plate, Extra Locking Knob, 3/8"-16 Stainless Threaded Stud
Price **$362.99$299.99

* Listed weight does not include optics mounting plate; published weight listed first followed by actual weight from uncalibrated scale

** Price as of 10/3/2022

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