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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.”
Before you hit the road, here are seven musician-approved backpacks to pick up for your next trip.
1. Filson Roll Top Backpack
Chris Stapleton teamed up with Filson earlier this year on a custom amp cover, made from the Seattle brand’s signature rugged twill. The same industrial-strength material is used for this Roll Top Backpack, which features a ton of room for your gear in a clean and simple design.
What we like: the fold-over design means nothing spills out, with a snap-closure adding extra security. A large front pocket is great for chargers and accessories, while an interior compartment holds a laptop or tablet with use. A side-zip opening lets you reach into your bag without having to unroll the top.
The durable cotton twill is combined with a water-repellent Tin Cloth that helps protect your stuff from the elements. Pick up a decent bar of wax to re-coat the bag as needed. The leather trim is sourced from North America and tanned in the USA. The straps are also padded and lined with wool for soft, comfortable all-day wear. Purchase: $495 on Filson.com.
2. 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. Purchase: $219.95 on Amazon.com.
3. Volcom Mod Tech Dry Bag
Killer Mike and the Run the Jewels crew are big fans of Volcom bags these days, though the Cali-based brand has been synonymous with music for years, having sponsored the “Volcom Stage” on the Warped Tour for the better part of a decade.
This Mod Tech Dry Bag is made from a unique wetsuit material that keeps your essentials dry, while sealing in bad smells for stink-free travel. On the road without access to laundry? Keep your dirty clothes in the bag until you hit up a laundromat (or mom’s house).
The bag also works well for your gear, merch and gadgets, with a large opening for your main essentials and multiple security pockets for things like chargers, your wallet, sunglasses and phone. Use the included “towel straps” for your blanket, skateboard or equipment. Sized for carry-on or to fit easily by your feet in the car or van, the bag measures 18 x 14 x 6 inches. Purchase: $120 on Volcom.com.
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. Purchase: $158.95 on Amazon.com.
5. DSPTCH Ballistic Nylon Ruckpack
Third Eye Blind’s Alex Kopp might not be able to fit his keyboard in this backpack, but everything else finds a place in this lightweight carry-on from SF-based, DSPTCH. The musician and songwriter (who’s worked on stuff with young artists like Jake Miller and Austin Mahone, in addition to 3EB), is a fan of this water-repellant and “abrasion-resistant” bag.
Based on a traditional military rucksack design, the DSPTCH Ruckpack is constructed with 1680D ballistic nylon and military-spec webbing. In other words: it’ll hold up to wear and tear and the demands of life on the road.
This backpack features a separate laptop compartment, a ton of pockets, as well as a convenient panel-loading design that allows you to quickly access the main compartment. Each bag also features a rigid HDPE (high-density polyethylene) and aluminum back support to reduce fatigue. Purchase: $240 on DSPTCH.com.
6. State Bags Bennett XL Backpack
In 2017, Chance the Rapper teamed up with accessories brand, State, to donate more than 35,000 backpacks to school kids in underserved Chicago communities. Two years later, we still love State bags for their versatility — and the company’s continued mission to give back.
This Bennett XL Backpack is great for DJs, artists and students alike, with enough room for a 17-inch laptop, cables and say, a mini synthesizer too. The side pocket is great for a water bottle, but we like it for battery packs and hard drives too.
For every State bag purchased, the company says they’ll, “support American children and families in need” through bag drops and “special projects with partner charities and schools.” State is also a a Benefit Corporation, recognized by the state of New York as a company that has a material, positive impact on society. Purchase: $165 on StateBags.com.
7. Pelican S115 Elite Sport Backpack
The ultimate bag if you’re looking for protection and security, this Pelican Elite Backpack delivers a ton of space in a water-tight, crush-proof case.
The top-loading backpack gives you fast and easy access to your stuff, while a padded interior keeps things secure. Side pockets hold everything from chargers to cables, while included straps let you tie down a tripod or gimbal to the bag.
The rigid front plate won’t collapse, and the front laptop compartment is o-ring gasket-sealed and vacuum-locked. You could (accidentally) drop it in water to a depth of one meter for 30 minutes without any damage.
At almost nine pounds, this is the heaviest option on our list, but the thick, padded straps should help distribute the weight so you’re not bogged down.
Pelican is known for their tough and rugged accessories, built to withstand the harsh conditions of travel and the great outdoors. The same manufacturing that goes into making their heavy-duty Pelican cases is on full display with this bag. Purchase: $219.95 on Amazon.com.