It’s drone season! It’s gorgeous out there and the world is full of beautiful scenes that need recording with a drone that buzzes through the air like a cloud of angry bees. Whether you’re an aspiring aerial photographer or a thrill-seeking life-caster, there have never been more options on the market for excellent quadcopters. Two of the best drones are so flexible you can fold them up and fit them in a backpack. We’re here to help you figure out which one might be for you.
Folding drones have been around for a few years now, but only recently have they started to rival their bigger, bulkier, non-folding relatives when it comes to stability, speed, and cool features. The promise has always been that folding drones will usher in a new era of ultra-portable flying cameras for everyone. But the real game-changing moment happened when two companies joined the niche market: DJI and GoPro.
The DJI Mavic Pro ($1,000) and the GoPro Karma ($1,100) are the best folding drones for any serious pilot. They’re not cheap, but they offer a similar feature set to popular quadcopters like the DJI Phantom 4 and the Yuneec Typhoon 4K. (The Yuneec Typhoon H and its six folding rotors is another great option, but it absolutely will not fit in a backpack.) There are pros and cons to both the Mavic Pro and the Karma. However, when you pit the two against each other in a ruthless battle, a clear winner emerges.
The obvious point of having a folding drone is that you can easily take it on adventures. Then, when you’re on a remote trail or a distant beach and want to grab some quick footage of that stunning sunset, you pull the drone out of your bag and get it aloft before the perfect moment has passed. Imagining this kind of scenario, you’ll realize that there are two components to any drone’s portability: how easy it is to carry around and how easy it is to get in the air quickly.
Between the DJI and the GoPro folding drone models, there’s a very clear winner here: the Mavic Pro. (Spoiler: the Mavic Pro’s dominance will become a trend throughout this post.) The Mavic Pro folds down to a tight compact block that’s roughly the size of a hearty Italian sandwich and the weight of a thick novel. The propellers also feature a clever design that lets them fold up too, so that you don’t have to install them and uninstall them every time you move locations. Consequently it takes just 86 seconds to get the Mavic Pro ready to be in the air.
The Karma’s portability is basically the opposite and took us 180 seconds to be flight ready. Completely folded, it’s as big as an average-sized snapping turtle and almost as heavy. (An average-sized snapping turtle is this big.) Meanwhile, the propellers need to be installed every time you take the drone out of smaller bags—the official Karma bag can handle props—and doing the job correctly requires a little tool to tighten each one. The drone is not so much compact, as it is uniquely shaped to fit into a backpack. Nevertheless, it’s not the best for trekking.