Best Portable Drum Sets – For Quick and Easy Transportation

If you’re a drummer, you’ll be familiar with the problem of getting your instrument back and forth between gigs, recording studios and rehearsal rooms. Drum kits are fantastic instruments with one major downside: they’re a pain to transport.

Even at home, a full size drum kit can be problematic if you’re short on space.

drum kit in plaza

Not only are drums bulky, they’re heavy to lug about. They take a lot of time to dismantle – your typical drum kit will contain anywhere from four to a dozen pieces of kit – these can include shells, cymbals and foot pedals. That’s a lot of messing about taking things apart and setting things up again.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. Advancements in technology mean that drum kits are becoming more transportable, light and compact. The portable drum set or ‘travel’ drum set has become a viable alternative to full size drum sets and sound almost as good.

At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Portable Drum Sets Available

PREVIEW PRODUCT FEATURES

Sonor Drums SSE 12 SAFARI C1 BGS 4-Piece Drum Set with Black Galaxy Sparkle Finish

Sonor AQ2 Safari
  • Acoustic drum set
  • 7-ply all maple shell construction
  • 16″ inch bass drum
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Gretsch Catalina Club 4pc Drum Kit Piano Black

Gretsch Catalina Club Street
  • Acoustic drum set
  • Fantastic looks
  • 14″ inch bass drum
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Ludwig Breakbeats By Questlove 4-piece Shell Pack with Snare Drum - Wine Red

Ludwig Breakbeats by Questlove
  • Acoustic drum set
  • Designed by The Roots drummer
  • 14″ inch bass drum
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Pearl Midtown MDT764P/C701 4 Piece Drum Shell Pack, Black Gold Sparkle

Pearl Midtown
  • Acoustic drum set
  • Optional two gig bag set for quick transportation
  • 16″ inch bass drum
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ROLAND Electronic Drum Set (TD-1DMK)

Roland TD-1DMK Electronic Drum Kit
  • Electronic drum set
  • Punches way above its weight
  • Collapses easily
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Alesis DM6 Nitro Kit | Eight-Piece Compact Beginner Electronic Drum Set with 8' Snare, 8' Toms, & 12' Cymbals

Alesis Nitro Electronic Drum Kit
  • Electronic drum set
  • Recognised brand
  • Great value
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PAXCESS Electronic Drum Set, Roll Up Drum Practice Pad Midi Drum Kit with Headphone Jack Built-in Speaker Drum Pedals Drum Sticks 10 Hours Playtime, Great Holiday Birthday Gift for Kids

PAXCESS Electronic Drum Set
  • Tabletop electronic drum set
  • Folds away neatly
  • Insane colors!
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Alesis CompactKit 4 | Portable 4-Pad Tabletop Electronic Drum Kit with Drumsticks

Alesis CompactKit
  • Tabletop electronic drum set
  • 50 play-along songs built in
  • percussion and effect voices
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Traps Drums A400 Portable Acoustic Drum Set

Traps Drums A400 Portable Acoustic Drum Set
  • Practice drum set
  • Rack mounting system
  • Awesome practice set
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DW Drum Workshop CPPADTS5 Go Anywhere Pad Set with Stand

DW Drum Workshop
  • Practice drum set
  • Portable 5-piece pad set
  • Easy setup
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Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.​

In this article, we’ll cover all the essentials about buying one of these kits; we’ll look at the different types of drum set, what to look for when purchasing one, different models to consider and we’ll recommend a few for you to check out.

Ready to dive in? Great.

Before we start, here’s a quick overview of what we cover in the article. Feel free to jump to a section, or read the whole thing from top to bottom.

What is a Portable Drum Kit?

A portable drum kit is, as you probably guessed, a portable version of a full size kit. They come in varying degrees of size, collapsibility and sound. You can spend as little as a couple of hundred dollars all the way into the thousands of dollars.

What are the Benefits to Owning One?

Transportability

If you’re one of the lucky few that has a tour bus shipping your drum kit around for you, go you! You’re in the minority. For most of us mere mortals it’s up to us to shift our gear. When you think about it, it’s quite unfair. For the other members of the band – guitar, keyboard, bass, vocals, etc – their gear can be carried easily enough. Sure, guitar amps are kind of a pain to move about, but nowhere near as big a deal as a full size drum kit. The portable kits we’re going to look at in this article are designed for transporting and built for convenience.

Weight

Portable drum kits weight considerably less than full size kits. Remember full size kits are designed with quality in mind, not size or weight. Materials used for shells such as mahogany are chosen for tone, not for ease of carting about. A good set of portable drums will be designed to be as lightweight as humanly possible without compromising on tone or rigidity when fully expanded.

Sound

The portable drums we’re going to look at have varying degrees of tonal quality. While it’s tempting to dismiss compact drums as the poorer sibling of the full size kit, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how good some of these sound. Portable acoustic drums such as the Sonor Safari (we’ll look at further down the page) or any of the Roland TD-1DMK electronic drum kit sound comparable with larger, more expensive models.

Foldability

A full kit with a dozen pieces takes up a lot of room – unless you have a dedicated space, finding all that space can be a difficult task in the average home. Electric drums are perfect for these types of homes; like an ironing board, the drum set can fold away, put into a cupboard until the next time it’s allowed out. With electric drums you also have the option to ‘plug in’ via headphones to spare your neighbours or loved ones having to hear your latest drum improvisation.

Value

We all like saving money. Portable drum kits are often way cheaper than full sets. Also, these compact kits can double up as sets you give your kids to play with, due to their diminutive size. You may literally wince at the thought of your 8 year old getting to bash away at your drum set, but you’ve heard the saying about killing two birds with one stone?! Say your 8 year old wants to try out drumming. Instead of buying a full size adult kit you have no room for (and your 8 year old can’t play), you buy them a cool little acoustic portable number that they can play and you take with you on gigs. Beginner adult drummers, just starting out, may not have the disposable income to buy a full size kit either. You may find some travel drum kits are smaller and cheaper to suit a wide range of budgets.

Practice

As well as regularly gigging or jamming with friends, practice is the key to improving in my opinion. The big issue with drums is they’re so incredibly loud. Electronic sets have headphone sockets so you plug in and play at any hour of the day and not bother anyone. That’s super convenient if you like in an apartment block or have finnecky neighbours.

What Types of Travel Drum Kit Are There?

Ok, we’ve looked at the benefits. In terms of type of portable drums, there are mainly two: acoustic and electronic. There are some leftfield types that I’ve included as well, but mostly it’s a toss up between acoustic and electronic. So let’s look at each in turn:

Portable Acoustic Drum Sets

Acoustic drum kits have been played by the majority of rock, pop and jazz since modern music began. Think Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts, John Bonham, Keith Moon. They play (or played) acoustic kits.

The word acoustic means they make noise naturally and don’t need amplification to be heard. Of course when The Rolling Stones fills Madison Square Gardens, Charlie Watts’ drums will be mic’d up, but often drum kits are so loud they don’t need microphones at all.

So how can one of these drum sets be portable? Simple…they’re smaller. Acoustic sets like full sets are by nature bulky, but there are a number of portable drum sets available that lend themselves to transportation or travel thanks to their smaller size.

What Size Are Portable Acoustic Drum Sets?

The way to measure a kit is by the size of the drums. Obviously, the smaller the better. Portable drum kits start at 14” inch (the bass drum) and go up to 18” inches. Anything bigger than that and your looking at a full size set.

Shell-less Acoustic Drum Kits

In the same category we also have what are called ‘Shell-less’ drums. These are odd looking drums that are missing the ‘shell’ (i.e. the drum bit of a drum!) They look more like electronic drums but they aren’t – they’re acoustic i.e. you need to mic them up to get any decent amount of volume from them. Shell-less acoustic drums increases the portability of the drum kit as they can be folded down. These can be stored practically anywhere.

Advantages of Acoustic Drum Sets

It’s only fair to look at the plus points for acoustic drum sets now.

  • Analogue vs Digital sound. Depending on the sound you’re going for, but if you’re going for the classic drum sound electronic drums are a pale imitation of a real drum kit (i.e. an acoustic set).
  • While acoustic drums often need micing, for many occasions you’re fine to just play that without microphones. Electronic drums always need to be plugged into an amp or PA of some description.
  • You can play off-grid with acoustic sets, whereas electronic drums need electricity to work. If you’re in a subway, playing in a park (or in the middle of a power cut) there’s only one drum set you’re going to hear…the acoustic one!

Portable Electronic Drum Sets

The other main type of portable drum set are the electronic drums. Made popular in the 1980’s by new wave and pop music (think disco), then in dance and electronica music in the 1990’s to the present day, electronic drums are responsible for creating some of the best beats of the last 30 years. Many purist drummers turn their noses up at electronic drums, opting for acoustic sets, but electronic drums have their place.

Can You Play Jazz on Electronic Drums?

Certain genres of music – such as Jazz – sound a bit iffy with electronic drums. Sure, if you’re playing some 1970’s jazz funk in the style of Herbie Hancock using electronic drums is absolutely fine. But the ride cymbal, the backbone of most jazz, struggles to be played using an electronic drum. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are some big advantages to buying electronic drums that an acoustic set can’t really compete with.

Advantages of Electronic Drum Sets

Putting aside price and manufacturer (we’ll come to those later) the benefits of electronic drums as opposed to acoustic are:

  • Much smaller in size compared to acoustic drums. They’re Ideal if you live in a small space. You just fold them and stick in a cupboard out the way.
  • Acoustic drums don’t have this luxury. Even fully collapsed, the acoustic set is still fairly big.
  • Easy to collapse – on some of the better models, it’s incredible easy to collapse them. Acoustic sets are a lot trickier.
  • Simple to transport – put them in the back of your car, neatly folded. Acoustic sets can be a pain to travel with, even when they’re dismantled.
  • On-board computers – Programmable, often with build in training routines. Acoustic drums…eat your heart out!
  • Option to play quietly – so you can play them without bothering your neighbour. Acoustic sets are loud as hell, even when played ‘quietly’.

Tabletop Electronic Drums

Tabletop electronic drums are drum sets ‘without the legs’. You put them on a table, desk, even your lap, and pay away with them. In my opinion they’re little more than a kids toy. Highly portable though (would fit in a rucksack) but not the option for any serious about their drumming.

Portable Practice Drums

A pilot friend of mine who works on long haul gets to spend a lot of time staying in fancy hotels in place like the Caribbean (lucky him). Amazing as that sounds, he and other pilots get a bit bored when the only thing to do is lounge around the pool or drink. Many pilots, I’m reliably informed, take instruments with them to while away the hours and practice – it helps them unwind. There are a couple of options we’ll look at that are designed just for this.

The Cajon

The Cajon is a Peruvian drum that you sit on and tap out a rhythm on. Wildly popular in the open mics and informal jam scene (in the UK at least) these little drums are incredibly versatile. You can beat out a rhythm on one to almost any music and it will sound ok. Perfectly packable and easy to transport, they’re pretty good to have around. As great as these instruments are though, none of them really substitutes a drum set.

Ok, now it’s time to dive into product reviews and consider which are the best buys.

Best Portable Drum Set – Product Roundup and Mini-Reviews

While there are many, many drum kits we could consider for this category, the four main contenders for best portable acoustic drum set is the Ludwig Breakbeats by Questlove, the Sonor Safari, the Pearl Midtown and Gretsch’s Catalina Club. All four are built for gigging in tight spaces such as bars, coffee shops, subways and pokey apartments. Let’s take a look…

Best Acoustic Drum Sets

Sonor AQ2 Safari

Sonor Drums SSE 12 SAFARI C1 BGS 4-Piece Drum Set with Black Galaxy Sparkle Finish

German drum maker Sonor’s AQ2 line of drums offers five standard configurations that are all made from 7-ply all maple shell construction. The minimalistic yet functional design is classy and sturdy and benefits from small, compact shells. The smallest kit in the range best suited for portability is the Martini drum set (with a 14” inch bass drum). The next size up is the Sonor Safari (16” inch), the Bop (18” inch) and the Fusion (20”inch). While the Martini is the smallest, I recommend the slight larger Safari with the 16” inch bass drum (the 16” inch is ideal for portable drums – not too big, not too small). Also with the slightly bigger drum you get a better low frequency (i.e. a bassier bass drum).

Pros:
– Maple shells sound warm, resonant and bassy.
– ‘Smart-Mount’ tom mounting system offers optimal sustain with minimal hardware.
– Available in five different colours.

Cons:
– Cymbals aren’t included
– Kick pedal isn’t included

Shell Pack Size is Bass drum 16X15, Toms 13X12 & 10X7, Snare 13X6

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Gretsch Catalina Club Street

Gretsch Catalina Club 4pc Drum Kit Piano Black

Gretsch, an iconic American drum brand manufactured in Ridgeland, South Carolina, make fantastic looking drums. The Catalina Club is another tour de force from them. The 4-piece configuration is built around a 14″ inch bass drum that gives a warm and punchy vintage tone, perfect for just about any style of music. Coming in 5 tones, Blue Satin Flame, Gloss Crimson Burst, Piano Black and two shades of Satin, their size make them relatively easy to transport.

Pros:
– Mahogany shells have a strong low end, offering a warm, rich tone.
– Bass drum opens up, giving the option of a deeper sound.
– There’s a cymbal arm on the bass drum, keeping the kit compact.

Cons:
– The positioning of the cymbal can feel a bit odd.
– Only available in two sparkle finishes.

Shell Pack Size: Bass drum 14X18, Toms 10X6 & 13X11, Snare 13X5

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Ludwig Breakbeats by Questlove

Ludwig Breakbeats By Questlove 4-piece Shell Pack with Snare Drum - Wine Red

The Ludwig Breakbeat by Questlove is another great little portable kit that’s designed for the gigging drummer in tight spaces: coffeehouses, subways, that corner in your apartment. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is an American percussionist and producer, known mostly as drummer and joint frontman in The Roots. This 4-piece kit was designed to be “break-able” for a gritty, raw downbeat. The kit is positioned on a riser for optimum reach and it’s compact 14×16″ bass drum, 7×10″ tom, and 13×13″ floor tom creates a set up for sculpting grooves in tight spaces. Coming in three dope colours, White Sparkle, Black Sparkle, and Red Sparkle, this is definitely one to consider. Good value too.

Pros:
– Extremely lightweight.
– There’s a cymbal arm on the bass drum, keeping the kit compact.
– Soft cases are included.

Cons:
– Shells are basswood, which is of lower quality than mahogany or maple.
– There’s no kick pedal, stool, hardware or cymbals included.

Shell Pack Size: Bass drum 16X14, Toms 7X10 and 13X13 Toms, steel snare 14X5

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Pearl Midtown

Pearl Midtown MDT764P/C701 4 Piece Drum Shell Pack, Black Gold Sparkle

Pearl’s ultra-portable Midtown Kit is another contender for best lightweight, movable drum kit and superb for the gigging drummer. You get the choice of two covered finishes, 6 Ply (7.5mm) poplar shells and a matching 13×5.5 wood snare drum. These kits come with Pearl’s OptiLoc Suspension System for easy set up, and coated front Remo heads. It comes with an optional two gig bag set that works great for transporting your kit to the next gig.

Pros:
– Poplar shells bring out higher frequencies as well as low ones, and offer a resonance similar to birch or mahogany.
– Very budget friendly.
– Includes a drum riser which makes the bass drum sounds more round and ensures that it is capable with a lot of bass drum pedals.

Cons:
– Only available in two finishes.
– It’s a bit quieter than some other compact kits.

Shell Pack Size: 16×14 Bass Drum, 10×7 Tom, 13×12 Floor Tom, and 13×5.5 Snare Drum

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Best Electronic Drum Sets

While acoustic drums are mostly superior to electronic in sound, it does depend greatly on the style of music you’re playing. For hip hop and electronic music you’ll find electronic drums might work better. Electronic drums are certainly more transportable.

When it comes to electronic drums we’ve narrowed it down to a couple of options (note, all electronic drums are to a large extent portable, and through research we’ve found that kits branded as portable are often really poorly designed racks).

Roland TD-1DMK Electronic Drum Kit

ROLAND Electronic Drum Set (TD-1DMK)

Not marketed as a portable rack, the 17 series by Roland is still a highly portable and lightweight piece of equipment. The 17 series also comes with the new sounds from Roland’s premium rack TD50, but at a budget price. Pads can be hit and miss with electronic drums – it’s good to see Roland ship this kit with a full set of mesh pads. This kit comes with on-board coaching functions for tracking your progress, even letting your record your beats.

The price may be prohibitive for many players, and that’s definitely a draw back. With Roland you know your going to get good quality.

Pros:
– Mesh heads enable a good stick bounce.
– There are training functions included to help you to learn.
– A large variety of sounds are included.

Cons:
– Although it’s marketed as a ‘beginner’ kit, the price tag is quite high.
– The bass drum and hi hat pedals lack the resistance of acoustic kits’ pedals.
– There are limits to the volume controls.

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Alesis Nitro Electronic Drum Kit

Alesis DM6 Nitro Kit | Eight-Piece Compact Beginner Electronic Drum Set with 8' Snare, 8' Toms, & 12' Cymbals

For a budget electronic drum kit it’s worth checking out the Alesis Nitro. As a full size set, it’s on the large side but it’s an digital drum set so it’s fairly easy to collapse and move. It comes with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from an electric kit (on board computer, headphone input, etc) but at a budget price for the beginner.

When everything is packed away it weighs no more than 40.2lbs so it’s super light. The snare pads have dual zones to more closely replicate acoustic playing and comes with a training module for beginners. Not a bad option if you’re on the fence about whether electronic is for you.

Pros:
– Mesh heads enable a good stick bounce.
– Records your performance so that you can listen back.
– Comes with sticks, a drum key and a power supply.

Cons:
– There’s no option to half open the hi hat.
– The mounting rack might feel a bit low to taller drummers.

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Best Tabletop Electronic Drum Sets

Tabletop portable drum sets are another alternative, especially if your a bit short on cash. They’re even more portable, much less expensive than any of those other kits and they’re not bad practicing tools for the aspiring new player.

PAXCESS Electronic Drum Set

PAXCESS Electronic Drum Set, Roll Up Drum Practice Pad Midi Drum Kit with Headphone Jack Built-in Speaker Drum Pedals Drum Sticks 10 Hours Playtime, Great Holiday Birthday Gift for Kids

Desk or table top sets, as the name suggest, need to sit on a top (or your lap) – they basically have no legs. Quite fun for tapping out a rhythm while you’re on the beach or at the airport. This one comes with a built in speaker.

Pros:
– The drum sounds are realistic and highly responsive.
– Includes 8 demo songs that you can play along with.
– Comes with a rechargeable battery.

Cons:
– Although it’s great for establishing ideas, it’s less suited to a serious performance.
– You might want to replace the included sticks.

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Alesis CompactKit

Alesis CompactKit 4 | Portable 4-Pad Tabletop Electronic Drum Kit with Drumsticks

Another similar model, this time from Alesis, has a few more things going on – percussion and effect voices to make some Yello sounding tracks and 50 play-along songs built in.

Pros:
– Pads are very responsive to differences in velocity.
– Can be powered by batteries or through an AC adapter.
– Contains 265 percussion voices.

Cons:
– The sound quality isn’t of a high enough level for recording using these.
– The ‘teaching mode’ can feel a bit fast to some people.

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Best Practice Drum Kits

Practice drum kits are a popular option for people too busy to take along a full set.

Traps Drums A400 Portable Acoustic Drum Set

Traps Drums A400 Portable Acoustic Drum Set

A shell-less drum set that’s more or less the size of a table top when folded down and can be easily stored in any room and packed along the back seat of a car – if necessary each of the drum pieces can be removed and placed in canvas bags for extra protection. The very sturdy frame prevents any wobbling or loose drums and can be configured for left or right handed players easily. No cymbals included though, which is a shame.

This set often gets included in lists of portable drums on the internet, but really it’s portable practice set, not kit you’re going to play at your next gig. Very clever folding design and super lightweight.

Pros:
– ABS snare drum enables high tension tuning.
– A400 rack mounting system is as sturdy as it is portable.
– Extremely light weight and small.

Cons:
– Cymbals aren’t included.
– Small toms might not suit rockier drummers.

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DW Drum Workshop

DW Drum Workshop CPPADTS5 Go Anywhere Pad Set with Stand

Resembling a cross between a bird feeder and a radio antennae, the DW drum workshop is a versatile practice aid that folds to a compact size. A 5-piece pad set, it allows for ultra-quiet practice and is super easy to set up compared to many of the others we’ve looked at so far.

Pros:
– All on one stand: extremely easy to set up.
– Very quiet.
– The pads have a natural rebound.

Cons:
– Although it’s great for practice, this kit isn’t suited to performance.
– There’s no bass drum.

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The Last Beat

We’ve covered a lot in this article and I hope you’ve gotten something out of it. If you’re adamant you want an acoustic set (I don’t blame you) any of these models will do the trick – however the Sonor range are well built German kits that are reasonably priced. If you’re into your gritty, urban beats – the kind of drumming you hear in hip hop band The Roots – then the Ludwig Breakbeats by Questlove is a no-brainer, it’s very reasonably priced too.

If electronic drums are more your bag, it’s worth forking out a bit more for the Roland TD-1DMK Electronic Drum Kit (actually, any of the 17 series will do you). They’re a market leader in digital drums, so you’re in safe hands.

Now it’s over to you. Whether that’s in the subway, small gig, park, street festival or in your spare room – enjoy your new portable drums! Have fun and let us know how you get on.

Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.

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