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You have enough to worry about when you’re on the road, the last thing you should be fretting over is how to store and carry all your stuff. Whether you’re a touring musician, savvy traveler or just need something for your daily commute, a reliable backpack should be an essential part of your everyday carry — and your packing plan.
For Phantogram’s Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, the key to a stress-free trip starts with a little prep work when you pack. The duo, who just realized their new single, “Mister Impossible,” is on the road through the fall, playing small theaters and festival sets at Life Is Beautiful, Hopscotch Music Festival and others. According to Carter, packing can be a chore, so it’s important to streamline what you bring with you, and what you’re using to carry everything in.
“Don’t pack too many clothes, except for socks and underwear,” he says, offering a few tips. “Often, you’ll end up wearing the same clothes that you like the most, more than not.”
While you’ll need a duffel bag for longer trips, a good backpack is a must, carrying your daily essentials and pinching in as a carry-all for overnight stays. The key to a good backpack: “Multiple compartments to store essential things,” says Carter. Also, he adds, “You’ll want to look for sturdy, strong material that will protect your fragile stuff.”
Barthel has a more straight-forward tip for picking a good backpack, joking that she always goes for “the ugliest bag, so no one wants to steal it.”
Aside from a backpack and a change of clothes, the two say there are a few other must-haves for tour. “I bring my two pups Leroy the Good Boy and Hot Carl,” Barthel says.
“I always make sure to bring recording equipment and extra instruments so I can be creative and write songs and make beats on the road,” Carter says. “[Also], good music playlists and audiobooks,” he continues. “I like to download books for my Kindle because bringing too many or buying physical copies just stacks up. Games, like a deck of cards, some of those velcro pad ball games, or a soccer ball are also a good way to just relax and have fun.”
The two say they’re excited to the hit road again, for their first tour since 2017, and to debut some new tunes from their as-yet-unannounced follow-up to 2016’s, “Three.”
“It’s so much fun to play to different audiences with a new visual set and some new tunes and different set lists,” Carter says. “The best part is just getting away with my best friends (yes, believe it or not, we all get along really well) and seeing the world. It keeps you in check with the reality that the world is a big place.”
1. Troubadour Aero Backpack
Troubadour’s Aero Backpack is not only a good pick for touring musicians musicians, but it’s the best travel pack we’ve found yet.
The Aero stands out because of its unique design. It has a single tube-shaped pocket large enough to hold clothes, headphones, a dopp kit, camera, microphone, and audio interface. Its top zippered pocket provides quick access to a passport, wallet, or other essentials you’ll need to keep safe while you travel.
One of our favorite features is the backpacks side pocket, which was large enough to hold a 13-inch laptop and 12.9-inch iPad Pro simultaneously. Keeping your laptop in a dedicated compartment makes it easier to grab. This laptop sleeve could also be used to hold a physical tour itinerary or other useful documents so they don’t get crinkled.
If you’re about to hit the road, and want the carrying capacity of a duffel bag in backpack form, Troubadour’s Aero is our top pick.
2. Monos Metro Backpack
Monos’ Metro Backpack is a classic style bag designed for commuters but perfect for musicians on the go.
It has a dedicated laptop pocket, and a segmented main pocket big enough to hold a full Springtime outfit — including shoes — without bulging. If you’re carrying equipment, you’ll appreciate the laptop’s mesh pockets, which allow you to see what you’ve packed instead of rooting around for the right cable or charger.
Monos is known for its premium luggage, so the Metro Backpack was designed with mobility in mind. It has a strap on the back that allows you to slide it on top of your luggage’s handle, which makes it easier to transport. While it’s not as modular as the Brevite Jumper (we’ll get to that a little later), Monos offers a separate folio kit that attaches to the front of the backpack. It’s a $55 upgrade, but well worth it in our experience.
If you want a backpack you can take to the office on weekdays, and gigs on the weekend, Monos’ Metro is the one to get.
3. Brevite Jumper
Brevite’s Jumper was designed for photographers, but its modular inside pocket makes it an excellent choice for musicians traveling with a lot of gear.
Its main compartment is pretty small, with enough room to hold a laptop, some documents, and key accessories like a charger. There’s an auxiliary pocket on top that could conceivably hold a pair of socks, T-Shirt, and underwear, but not much else. This is definitely a laptop for people who like to pack light.
Its standout feature, though, is the front-zippered compartment, which contains Velcro dividers that let you divide the space into separate sections. This means you can conform the backpack’s biggest space to the exact equipment you’re carrying at the time. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got an XLR microphone and interface, or a tuner, guitar strings, a capo, and some cables. The Brevite Jumper will accommodate your current load-out without question.
4. Thule Covert DSLR Rolltop Backpack
If you’ve got expensive gear on you (like a camera or DAW), you’ll want a bag designed to organize and protect your stuff. This roll top bag is designed for a DSLR camera, but the origami-inspired divider system works just as well for hard drives, microphones, tuners and other small equipment. The divider is also removable if you just want a large, open, padded space, great for people like Greg Erwin, the drummer for LA-based indie rockers, Saint Motel, who’s a fan of Thule backpacks.
A zip-out divider separates top and bottom compartments, and there are a ton of additional pockets too. The water-resistant material holds up to dings and drops too.
5. Osprey Packs Farpoint Trek 55 Men’s Backpack
Osprey’s line of Farpoint backpacks blur the line between technical bags and travel luggage, making them ideal for musicians on the road.
This Trek 55 backpack wins points for its “Light Wire” internal frame, which helps the bag keep its shape — and keep its contents organized. The Light Wire frame also distributes the weight more evenly, transferring it to the hip-belt, and taking pressure off your shoulders. Also: the back panel is ventilated so you won’t get that dreaded back sweat from carrying the bag around all day.
What we like: the bag features a ton of pockets, all double secured with straps and zippers. The front panel opens up like a duffel bag, making for easy packing and unpacking (you don’t have to reach your hand all the way down to pull something from the bottom of the bag). Removable straps let you tie down everything from a sleeping bag to tripods to (portable) mic stands. An included “air cover” slips on easily over the bag to protect it from the elements.
The best part: all Osprey products featured the brand’s lifetime guarantee, so don’t worry about really breaking this backpack in.