7 Best Portable Drum Kits – Compact Sets Ideal for Travel
Most drum kits are big and a chore to move around. As drummers, we are constantly fitting our drums into cars like luggage, then getting to the gig and realizing that we are cramped for space. We are also playing at different venues constantly and having to repeat the set up and pack up process.
What would make this process easier? A portable drum kit!
Many drum companies sell kits specifically designed for the purpose of easy portability. As a gigging drummer, it has made my life much easier to have a small kit that I use for gigs where I need to bring my own kit.
7 Best Compact Drum Sets - My Favorite Portable Kits
In this article, I’ll talk about some of the best portable drum kits on the market and help you find a suitable option.
Table of Contents
- 7 Best Compact Drum Sets - My Favorite Portable Kits
- Things to Consider When Buying a Portable Drum Kit
The Ludwig Breakbeats is a kit that was designed with the help of the drummer Questlove. His band, The Roots, perform throughout New York. Gigging in a cramped city was the idea behind this kit.
The kit comes as a 4-piece shell pack. A 14” snare, 10’ mounted tom, 13” floor tom and 16’ kick drum. These shell sizes help give the feel of a full-sized kit, yet are very compact.
The kick drum has a riser to connect to it. The riser lifts the kick drum up so that the beater hits the centre of the drum head. This allows the kick to produce the best tone.
The kit comes with Remo Pinstripe drum heads. It works and sounds great in a wide array of tuning options. From high pitched bebop and pop to rock. However, this kit is not the best option for metal players. So, if that’s the genre you play the most, this kit might not be what you’re looking for.
It’s not an exaggeration when I say that I have seen at least one of these kits at every single Jazz Festival that I have attended. They are a favorite of jazz drummers. The mahogany shells give the drums a vintage sound that fits well within that style of music. However, the kit is not limited to jazz only.
The rack tom is 12” and the floor tom is 14”. These sizes are larger than the usual compact kit. The bigger toms allow for deeper tuning, which is good for genres like rock and metal.
There is often a debate over the 18” kick drum. It tends to sound very boomy if not filled with anything inside it. And if you do put something inside to muffle the boom, it loses its volume. If you’re not a fan of a boomy kick drum, this kit might not be for you.
The kit comes with stock 1 ply drum heads which work well for jazz. They resonate a lot. So if you get this kit for other styles of music, I’d suggest swapping out the 1 ply heads with 2 ply heads.
Because the Gretsch Catalina Club Jazz kit is so popular, Gretsch has a wide selection of colors to choose from - which is always a bonus when looking to buy a kit!
Pearl is one of the giant companies of drum manufacturing. Their kits come with an expected high quality and the Midtown is no different. The Midtown was first released in 2016 as Pearl’s approach to a compact kit.
The poplar shells give the kit a lively tone. The rack tom is 10” and the floor tom is 13”. These toms only sound really good when tuned medium to high. I struggled to get a decent sound from a low tuning when I used one of these kits. However, the 16” kick drum is more than capable of giving a low and tight thump.
The 13” snare drum of this kit did not impress me. It was light and sounded cheap. The only decent sound I got was when I tuned it as high as I possibly could. Which means it’s not versatile.
Pearl designed specific drum bags for the Midtown kit. Two bags to carry over your shoulder that the whole kit fits into. Fitting a whole kit into two bags is definitely a huge draw card when looking for a portable drum kit.
The kit has two color options: black and cherry sparkle red. Not much to choose from but they both would look incredibly aesthetic on a stage!
It’s obviously not a surprise when I say this, but this kit is small. Very small. So small that it may not be effective in certain situations, yet very effective in others. The Tama Club-Jam Flyer is Tama’s take on a seriously compact kit.
The snare drum is 10”. The size of a hi tom on a standard kit. The toms of this kit are 8” and 10”. Though the most surprising is the kick drum, which is 14”. Imagine taking your kick drum pedal and using it against a standard snare drum. That’s what this tiny kick drum feels like.
Because of the small sizes, the kit only has the options of high tunings. This would work for pop, jazz, reggae and electro gigs, but wouldn’t cut it in a rock setup. The kick drum, especially, is just too small to make an impact on a stage. Your band mates generally want to feel it when you play a kick drum. They won’t with this one.
This kit will fit into the tiniest cramped spaces you can think of. The snare comes with a mount option, so you don’t even need a snare stand.
In summary, the Tama Club-JAM Flyer would work well with pop and experimental styles of music. It would also be a great kit for junior players.
DW kits tend to be extremely pricey. Their Design series of kits are catered to a more affordable market, while maintaining the high design quality that they’re known for. The Frequent Flyer is the compact version of a Design Series kit.
This kit actually has standard drum sizes. A 14” snare drum, 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom and 20” kick drum. But all the drums have shallow depths, which is what makes the kit compact.
The standard sizes allow the kit a wide array of tuning options. It sounds good when tuned low for rock or metal and it sounds good when tuned high for pop and R&B.
The snare drum is the biggest positive to this kit. Compact kit snare drums usually aren’t great. But the Frequent Flyer doesn’t follow that trend. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad DW snare drum. This Frequent Flyer snare is no different.
The solid hardware tends to make the kit heavy. So, although this kit is small, it is still a bit heavy. Keep that in mind when deciding what you need it for. It’s also not the cheapest portable drum kit. In the compact drum set market, the DW Frequent Flyer is one of the higher priced options.
Cocktail drum kits originated in the 1940s. They stack drums almost on top of each other to create portability and the drummer typically stands up when playing them. A strange sounding concept for a modern drummer! You don’t see many cocktail kits nowadays. But the Tama Cocktail Jam definitely deserves to make this list of the best portable drum kits.
Firstly, you can stand while playing this kit, but you’ll find that most drummers don’t. You can just sit on a throne like a normal kit and be perfectly comfortable. This kit will either look really unique and funky on stage, or it will look really odd, depending on your preferences.
The drums are all extremely shallow. The toms and bass drum also don’t have resonant heads. This causes the drums to sound short and snappy with no sustain. Similar to timbales. The kick drum points up instead of out. This means the sound projects up instead of out. This could cause potential problems in a gigging setup.
The kit comes with a pedal that has been uniquely designed for the upward facing kick drum. You can’t use a standard kick pedal. Luckily, the pedal that comes with the kit is sturdy and manageable.
The sounds that the kit produces won’t work well with heavy styles like rock or metal. The kit also won’t work well with jazz since the drums don’t resonate. This limits the kit to genres such as reggae and pop.
The Sonor Safari kit has been around for a while. Sonor recently relaunched the Safari kit through the AQ2 series. Improving on it in all areas. The AQ2 Safari is made from maple wood, which already tells you that this kit is high quality.
The maple wood makes the drums project further, which means they are louder than the average compact kit which is made from poplar wood. This will be a huge positive for when you take this kit to a gig. You won’t have to hit too hard to get an effective sound. And your sound engineer will become your best friend for that.
The heavy-duty hardware makes this kit quite heavy, but it also makes it extremely sturdy. The 16” kick drum won’t be moving around too much as long as you’re playing on a carpeted surface. The kick drum comes with a riser that is thick and doesn’t cater to all pedals due to the thickness. So be sure to check that out before deciding to get this kit.
The 10” rack tom and 13” floor tom allow for a wide range of tuning. Meaning the AQ2 Safari kit will be good for most styles of music. Because of the maple shells and heavy-duty hardware, this kit is higher priced than many other compact kits.
Things to Consider When Buying a Portable Drum Kit
Most compact kits that I featured here are just shell packs. That means they’re not a regular kit complete with cymbals. Many don’t come with hardware either. Some of these kits do come with snare stands and cymbal stands. So, look out for that when buying one.
Number of Drums
Most compact kits come with a 4-piece set up. There will be one rack tom and one floor tom. And then a snare drum and kick drum. It is possible to add on toms if you need, but you’ll have to buy those separately and mount them with extra hardware.
Stock drum heads that come with a kit are usually not the best quality ones. So, when you buy a kit, aim to replace the heads with higher quality heads. You’ll get a better sound and more tuning options.
The size of the drums mainly determine the tuning range. The smaller the kit, the higher it will sound. The bigger the kit, the lower it will sound. Keep that in mind when you know what style of music you will play with the kit.
Compact drum kits make the gigging process so much easier for drummers. Most of them are affordable and and yet manage to produce (at least close to) the high quality sound that you would expect from a full-sized kit.
One of the best investments I’ve made in my drumming journey was buying a compact kit. It has been played in clubs, pubs, restaurants, schools and even on a lake once. If you play a lot of gigs, then you should definitely think about getting one for yourself!