A minimalist approach is the best way to carry your tripod. If you're just starting out, this may not be something you consider. After lugging your gear around for a few years, little details become important.
A Simple Decision Can Make a Big Difference
A few years ago, my friend Denise wanted to do more night photography. We ventured out to Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom last night to get a little practice. Right off the bat, it was apparent that we had very different strategies for approaching an evening of night photography.
Denise was prepared. She had her tripod in a tripod carry bag and then another bag for her Nikon D800 with two lenses. I took a minimalist approach using only one lens on my Nikon D800 mounted on the ballhead of my tripod, which I carried using a simple tripod strap.
Why do these differences matter? I like to think of it as the number of steps you have to take to get a shot.
Distractions Are The Enemy
The first step we encountered was having to stop by the bag search along with forty million other tourists so the Disney Security folks could inspect Denise's two bags. When I'm alone using the tripod strap, I just walk inside and bypass the bag inspection. No bags, no waiting.
We found our first location and setup to take some shots. That meant she took her tripod out of one bag and a camera out of the other bag. I unclipped a quick release strap. When that shot was done, everything reversed. She put her tripod back in its bag and camera back in another one. I clicked the quick release strap.
While we were shooting, she also had to keep an eye on those bags. There are plenty of other folks around Disney and they really aren't watching where they're going, so they'll step on or trip over those bags on the ground. Just moving her tripod from one spot to another meant moving the bags around, too. More steps.
After a night of going from one scene to another, she was sick of that damn bag. She started carrying her tripod in one hand and the bags in the other – fully loaded down.
Why a Tripod Strap is the Best Way to Carry Your Tripod
I use an OP/TECH USA Tripod Strap (Amazon affiliate link). It's pretty simple. There are quick release clamps for the top by the ballhead and the bottom legs. I never need to release the top quick release, just the bottom ones on the legs.
The strap itself is very comfortable and has a wide pad with some stretch in it to expand the load. There's no need to take my gear apart when it's time to move. I just collapse the legs and attach the quick release to the bottom. It's very secure. I've never had any problem with the strap giving out.
Although it could be tempting to sling your tripod over your back like a rifle, I prefer carrying it under my arm and next to my body, with the camera on the ballhead right in front of me. I like to keep an eye on my camera and I also find that the weight distribution works better slung under instead of behind my back.
It's much easier to swing the tripod out of the way of folks passing near you under your arm. Another advantage I hope you don't need is to help you stop a fall. It's only happened to me once, but I lost my footing and was able to avoid smashing my face by quickly putting the tripod out in front of me. Had it been behind my back, it would have been of no help.
You Only Need The Strap
I've used the OP/TECH UA Tripod Strap for years. It's one of the best gear decisions I've ever made. It works with my tripods that are different sizes and lengths, since the strap is easily adjustable.
The purchases you will regret the most are the ones that get in the way of your photography. It may seem like a minor thing, but why let something annoy you when you're out for an enjoyable time?
Think about the purpose and it makes sense. You don't need a bag to protect your tripod. It's just there to carry it. So why bother with the bag in the first place? All you need is the strap, so buy what you need.