There are a lot of different things you should bring with you when going on a camping trip, but one thing that many people forget is their musical instrument. When it comes to playing music in the great outdoors, there are some instruments that just won’t work well at all because they need electricity or special equipment or are too big and heavy! (sorry tuba players). You also need to think about what instrument you do take will not be damaged or cannot cope with changes of temperature or humidity.
The best musical instruments are listed below! Music really brings people together whether you are singing around the campfire to a ukulele or teaching the kids a few tunes on a tin whistle it is sure to offer you hours of fun and entertainment too. Have a look at what we’ve been strumming and blowing!
What’s the best musical instrument to travel with?
Which instruments are robust enough, portable and still have the flexibility to make nice music when you’re camping?
Have a look at what we’ve been strumming and blowing!
Travel guitars to tin whistles – the search for a camping instrument
I have been dabbling with various instruments for a long time, I do love the feeling I get when my fingers make a tune appear. It can be halting and messy, but it still feels a little bit like sorcery.I gave up lots of instruments as a child – the viola (played for a couple of weeks), the piano (a couple of months), the recorder (maybe a year). As an adult, I tried the violin, the classical guitar and actually stuck with the clarinet for nearly 10 years until it started to loosen a tooth.
Now I have a digital piano and am teaching myself VERY informally, guitar and ukulele as well as love to have a good sing. I miss it when I’m away camping or campervanning, so I wanted to find something I could take with me to learn, play and jam with others while travelling.
- Small enough to carry and store
- Not susceptible to getting bashed or to changes in temperature
- A real instrument with a bit of versatility. Which is why I immediately decided against anything like an ocarina, a jaw harp or a two-string strumstick.
The travel instrument shortlist
Now this is a nice idea. There are some super small travel guitars around. Very versatile because you can play folk, rock, classical or jazz. One thing to look out for is the tuning as some smaller guitars need to be tuned differently as they are such short scale, this can be a pain if you want to play along with others.
Tanglewood have been around for many years, a UK based company who make some great sounding guitars, this travel guitar is made from mahogany which gives it a rich, louder tone than most spruce guitars meaning although it is small it is mighty! These guitars usually arrive pretty well set up out of the box so stay in tune well and are easy on the fingers!
If space is really limited these guitar sticks I call them are great! Although you wont hear them much without a speaker they are fab for practicing while away without disturbing others around you, they are still full size scale length so normal tuning too. They also do left handed, nylon string and bass versions too which is great. We have a few small amps recommended below but you could opt for this very simple plug in solution that would work with headphones.
Is it a guitar? Is it a ukulele? Well it is a mixture really, six strings like a guitar but the size of a ukulele it is fab for guitar players wanting something compact like a uke without the hassle of learning a whole new set of chords. It is short scale so you do have to tune it to "A" (A/D/G/C/E/A) which is not a problem unless you plan to be jamming with anyone else and don't want to bother having to think about key differences. A great sound and Yamaha quality, nylon strings and comes with a carry bag too!
If your thinking of something abit more special the Martin's Little guitar range is stunning, this LX1E features a solid spruce top which sings a rich smooth song from day 1 and only gets better as the wood matures, it is similar to the one you will have seen Ed Sheeran using allot (although it doesn't look quiet as small against him!) It is an ideal travelling companion and I personally would pay the extra for the pickup so you can use it plugged in should you find an open mic night while on your travels. A true thing of beauty which comes with a custom sized carry case too thankfully.
Add effects and make amazing music
And wow! The IK Multimedia iRig lets you attach to your phone or iPad and use apps like Garageband for all kinds of sounds and effects. Using this, you can leave the amp at home until you’re good enough for others to hear!
Avoid unknown brands unless they have amazing customer reviews and opt for a decent make like the ones I’ve shortlisted here. It does pay to spend a little more because the sound quality will make learning and practising much more fun not to mention the ease to play nothing worse than a guitar that goes out of tune every 10 minutes.
Lots of other options at Gear4Music too, by the way.
Very portable, very campfire-style. Again, you do have to like the sound. Did you know it is pretty much impossible to sound terrible too! It plays a perfect scale, you need one for each key and as long as the person you play along with are playing in the same key you will sound fab! Great for kids to play along too a must have in your musical pack up. A good place to start is one in the key of C, D or G. Hohner have done mouth organs fo r decades so offer great quality at a great price.
Like anything you get what you pay for, instruments this is VERY true, there are many plastic almost toy version of harmonicas DO NOT buy these as they do not hold their tune and will likely not be in tune to anything else you play along with.
If you are looking for one for simply messing about and not too fussed the thunder ones are pretty good and good value.
Cheap, very portable, available in different keys, hard to damage. But, to be honest, I don’t really like the noise.
There are some amazing players who can make it an interesting instrument, but for me, it’s not a solo thing.
I loved my clarinet and originally chose it because it was such a small case to carry around when the instrument was dismantled. However, they don’t like changes in temperature. And I wouldn’t buy a cheap clarinet with the idea of it not mattering what happened to it. Way too screechy!
So, have a look at Yamaha’s plastic-bodied Venova instead. I’ve tried one and it’s not bad at all. It still wouldn’t be my choice, though, because a real clarinet is so much nicer sounding.
I wouldn’t bother with xaphoons, pocket saxes and the like. They’re limited and difficult to play well. I’ve tried them all.
And my perfect musical instrument for camping is…
So, having ruled out instruments that were especially hard to learn (violin, mini harp, flute and trumpet, for instance), let’s get to the final criterion on the wishlist – silence.
When you’re learning an instrument, you don’t want the embarrassment of playing in front of others. And I’m pretty sure other campers don’t want to hear tuneless screeches from a tent. So, I wanted an instrument no-one could hear. The answer is….
The RISA electric ukulele – I know, I know…a ukulele. I laughed at the very idea at the start of my search, put off by all that jokey, happy strumming music.
But then I started to research and found people like Samantha Muir playing classical and fabulous fingerstyle music, and the Quiet American playing beautiful old folk. Think of it as a four-string guitar and no genre of music is out of bounds.
The RISA is an exciting-looking instrument too – no-one would even guess it was a ukulele. It has no headstock and is made (in Germany) from one solid piece of wood. Without an amp, it’s quiet so that you can practise without disturbing anyone.
It’s small enough to fit in a backpack, not so expensive that I’ll worry about it and it’s almost impossible to make it sound horrible. It’s fun to play, gives me lots of options for style and I think I might even stick with it!
With a portable amp (the Roland MicroCube was my choice for its size, battery option and effects), it can be ‘acoustic’, thrash metal, prog rock and anything in between. I also have a teeny Marshall amp that can even attach to your belt. You can plug in headphones to hear yourself in guitar mode.
You could look for an amp you can also use a mic with and has effects built in, these sound fantastic are portable battery charged although not as small as above if you can fit it I would go for it!
And, of course, an acoustic ukulele is a great option too, providing you don’t upset the neighbours!
A baritone is my choice because it sounds just like a guitar, so very versatile and not at all plinky! A good bold, warm tone too.
If your looking for a ukulele to start out on that is a soprano size (the standard uke size) this Tanglewood Tiare is superb, a great price with some stunning details it will hold its tuning well, sounds lovely and is made from good parts so will last you ages. PLEASE PLEASE do not buy the cheap cheap ukes as they do not stay in tune and fall apart after a few uses, they do make good firewood or plant pots though if you do make the mistake.
Something a little different is the Kala Clear Composite uke, if you are worried about the effect temperature and humity may have on your beloved wooden uke at home it may be worth considering this as an option, they do not sound as "warm" as wooden but still have a great tone and water resistant.
Useful Accessories for Ukulele
An absolute must! It is so annoying to snap a string on the first day of your trip so make sure you have spares, aquila are known as the best ukulele strings and not pricey. Good strings can transform the sound of an instrument. Make sure you order the correct size for the ukulele you have.
Clip on tuner
You will need to tune your uke everytime you pick it up, temperature change etc will make sure of this for you. Again you get what you pay for and tuners are no different pay a little more for s decent one and you wont be getting annoyed with it picking up surrounding sounds. You will need to make sure it is chromatic so will tune any note and a clip on one makes life so much easier I leave mine on the headstock so I don't loose it. Snark is a good one to go for at a good price.
Simple but a nice to have, can help give a soft tone and saves the little ones fingers if they are playing along.
More Instrument Ideas
More Instrument Ideas
A MIDI controller and your iPad or phone is a great idea for making music when travelling.
A tiny keyboard, an app and you’re away. The advantages are that, with a good app, you can actually sound like every other instrument on this list.
Had I not found the PERFECT instrument, this is probably what I’d have chosen, though I wasn’t keen on having only a few keys after playing a full-size piano.
Small, cheap and fun this thumb piano comes with a case and a songbook and won't be too noisy for your neighbours.
This wooden percussion set is lovely and means anyone joining you around the campfire even the ones with no musical bones can join in the fun. This set has most of what you will need and all in a handy bag.
I love the sound of a cajon, can get a little noist though and not really practical carrying a big wooden box around with you, try this handy travel one which comes with a carry bag too a great fix for any drummer to have with them on a camping trip.
I love the sound of these drums, easy to learn a peaceful tune on and not a huge size. Comes with a carry case, music score and a decent price. Have a listen to one here.
Whoever thought you could consider taking a didgeridoo on a camping trip! Well here there is one, it has an internal baffle directs air through a zigzag channel, turning it into an impressive drone note with harmonic overtones that enables the traditional Australian didgeridoo sound to be heard.
Many kids are learning this at school these days instead of recorder, I think it could be because it is not as painful to listen to when learning (parents sigh of relief) Once you get used to playing this it can be a really nice instrument to play and sounds lovely, this one comes with a bag, stand and music book and will fit into your pocket. Please do not mistake this to the kazoo, it is way more sophisticated and we can all live better in a world where there are less kazoos.
Melodicas can be so much fun and very portable, ideally for someone who can play a little but you can pick it up fairly easily with a bit of practice.
These are our top instruments for camping and travelling, whichever suits you best please make sure you are alway considerate of others around you especially if you are just starting out.