Taking a Musical Instrument When Camping

As far as camping activities go, there’s very little to beat an occasional singsong around the campfire. Songs that a family or a group knows can cement people together and create memories that carry on for a lifetime.

But if there are just going to be a few of you, the voices might not make enough sound. That’s when taking an instrument on a camping trip can be a good idea. It’s also a perfect way to fill empty moments when you’re reflecting, and if you’re creative then a camping trip can be an ideal place to write some songs. Having an instrument along can help the process.


When thinking of an instrument to take along on a camping trip you have to take a few factors into account. Portability is the most important one. The instrument needs to be lightweight, easy to carry, and can’t break easily. Those things might seem simple enough, but they end up eliminating many possible instruments. In fact, of the stringed instruments virtually only the mandolin and the travel guitar are feasible. A fiddle breaks all too easily (and you have to carry a bow for it), or if it’s in a hard case it’s awkward and heavy to carry, while other instruments are simply too big.

As it is, both mandolin and travel guitar will need a case, but usually a soft sided gig bag will be fine. This can be carried on the back, but even so you’d probably only want to carry it between the car and the tent, or on short day hikes where you don’t have a full pack. Like other instruments they’d be too bulky for several days on the trail. Both are good because they’re fairly easy to play and can make chords to easily back up singing. Even when not played well they can make a good sound (and many people know some basics on guitar so it’s an instrument that can easily be passed around a group). They’re usually sturdy enough to withstand light knocks so they don’t need to be treated like fragile china.

Reed Instruments

Small accordions – essentially toys – are very cheap and lightweight and can pack into a pretty small space. So can a concertina, and both can make wonderful music in the right hands. They’re both very much part of the folk tradition and fit in perfectly around a campfire when singing old ballads or sea shanties.

Similarly, if you know how to play one, take along a harmonica, probably the most portable musical instrument of all. It can fit in a shirt pocket and be ready to play in a moment, there’s not even any need to tune up. The downside to that is that harmonicas come in different keys and you might well be playing in a key none of the singers can match, which can make the music extremely discordant. Short of carrying a wide range of harmonicas, which defeats the purpose of portability, you’re going to be limited.


There are people who like to take small hand drums, known as djembes, camping with them. Some people approve of this, others hate it. It’s very much a matter of personal taste, but as instruments to accompany singing they’re not very satisfactory. If you’re meeting others for a drum circle, that’s one thing, but for a campfire singalong they’re best left at home.


You can see any number of curious instruments at a campsite. Some people might bring an ocarina. It’s certainly not the best or most versatile instrument, but it’s exceptionally easy to play and as portable as a harmonica. In a pinch, if there’s nothing better this will do to accompany voices.

An instrument that’s enjoyed a small renaissance in recent years is the ukulele. There are groups in most cities now, and the instrument is cheap to buy and easy to play. It can pack well for a camping trip and accompanies songs well. Although people still think of it as a novelty instrument, it’s not; it does a good job for choral backgrounds to voices.


If you’re just in the early stages of learning to play an instrument, the greatest courtesy you can give your fellow campers is not to take it along. No one wants to hear someone moving hesitantly from chord to chord. That’s not fun. Wait until you’re fairly proficient and known the chords to quite a few songs. That way everyone can have pleasure from the singing – and the playing.

Leave a comment

Camping Expert