Tour photography requires some specific gear, more than your standard concert. For one, you're traveling with your gear, often for extended periods of time. If you're packing for tour, here are some items you'll need on the road.
I've written about essential gear for travel photography before and I want to expand on that, specifically for doing tour photography. Now, there are all kinds of tours, from van tours to bus tours to fly out tours. All these different kinds of tours require different setups, so I've tried to keep things as universal as possible.
I'm going to leave off some of the obvious items like a camera, laptop, card reader, etc. I'll also keep this relatively tech focused — but you should totally get some shower slippers.
A roller bag is going to serve double duty. It's going to save your gear and it's going to save your back. A good roller bag can be either a hard case or a soft case. Both can protect your gear very well and each approach has their pros and cons. The weight, storage of accessories, customization options for padding, and so forth are all considerations.
Regardless of which type you choose, a roller on tour will help you on long distances. For large venues like arenas or amphitheaters, the distance from stage to production to the bus can be large.
I have and LOVE the SKB ISERIES 3I-2011-7DL. This is a hard case made by SKB with an padded insert/divider system designed by Think Tank Photo. Nothing wrong with Pelican, but Think Tank designs the very best camera carry solutions and I trust their expertise with my gear, including this SKB case.
“Soft” here is a misnomer, but I absolutely love the Think Tank Airport International v2.0. I've had this bag for over a decade and it still has been all over the world with me. The padding is excellent, it holds a ton of gear and protects like nothing else. Best of all, as the name suggests, it's designed for fitting in the carryon overheads of most all international flights, even those with smaller than domestic US sizes.
For me, a photo backpack is a great pair with my roller bag. In the rare instance when I'm made to check a roller bag (even if it fits), I use my backpack to carry on all the important gear.
My default for tour is to keep my clothing and toiletries in my backpack. When flying and when carrying on my gear is an issue with a roller, I just switch clothes and camera gear between my backpack and roller if needed.
The Think Tank Shapeshifter is my favorite photo back of all time. It doesn't have hard dividers, but instead has neoprene pouches. As a result, it packs down super slim when empty, but still offers decent padding without a lot of weight. It's an extremely versatile bag and it goes with me on every single tour.
The bag is great for carrying a change of cloths and toiletries to a venue bathroom, keeping your laptop safe, carrying charger and cables, etc.
Multi-port GaN Charger
This is a huge one for me. A multi-port 100W GaN charger can replace the AC adapter for your phone, tablet, computer and more. Save on the bag clutter and use a single adapter for all your gear. In addition, due to the GaN tach, they're smaller than the standard MacBook chargers even while having more ports.
My favorite (and I've tried many) is the uGreen 100W GaN charger. It's small, very well built, has a folding plug, and packs a ton of charging power. It offers 3x USB C ports and 1x USB A port.
The uGreen 65W GaN charger is even smaller and excellent as well. It features 2x USB C ports and 1x USB A port.
Extra long USB Cable
If you have ever known the pain of searching for an outlet, only for it to be too far away from your preferred location, this one is for you. A 6-foot even 10-foot charging cable can be a life saver for rooms with limited outlets, bus lounge, weird hotel layouts, and more. Bonus, get one with a right-angle connector for a more streamlined setup for your laptop or tablet.
My favorite cable is the uGreen 10-foot right angle USB-C. Tons of length, braided cable exterior is tough, and the 100W rating will charge your MacBook Pro at full speed vs lower rated. The right angle plug creates a more streamlined profile for tight spaces, which is great for tour life.
Double battery charger
Cut down on clutter and time swapping batteries as they charge by getting a third party double battery charger. These chargers are available in a variety of battery formats and simultaneously charge two batteries. Bonus, they can offer capacity indicators and trickle charging that may not be present in your stock charger.
Recommendation: There's no standout brand that I've used for double battery chargers and there are many. Just make sure the charger takes USB-C ideally instead of a micro USB.
Unless you splash out for a very large internal hard drive on your laptop, you're going to need an external drive. SSD drives are tiny, very fast and extremely reliable. Perfect for tour photography on the road. In addition, having up your work can be critical and SSDs are also ideal for that.
The SanDisk Extreme SSD series are pretty much ubiquitous and what most photographers I know use. They've got some decent shock protection built in, the exterior is rubberized against bumps, and they're fast. Upgrade to the SanDisk Extreme Pro version that offers up to 2,000 MB/s speeds if you're fancy. The standard Extremes offer 1050 MB/s speeds — for photo even the standard Extremes are great.
If you're like me, you probably go heavy on gear and light on clothes. A packing cube might seem unnecessary but it serves a few purposes. For one, it lets you keep your clothes easily separated from your gear, even when you're using the same bag/backpack. Two, it can help compress clothing and save you space. Three, your smelly clothes can be separated out so you don't have to smell your old socks when you pick up your camera.
I have an Eagle Creek packing cube that I love. It's not made anymore that I can see, so in place of that I'd recommend this Acteon compression cube — it has the same kind of lightweight material my Eagle Creek has, but the bonus of dual compartments for dirty/clean cloths. It's super light weight, dries quickly when you need to wash it, and fits more than you'd think thanks to the compression (read: smashing clothing into it) aspect. This is the one item I'd actually recommend a music photographer get in a bright color, so it's easy to grab in a black bag or dark bunk/bus.
If you're on a tour where you have to shower in venues — particularly if it's a sports venue — you might want to consider shower slippers. No point in risking athletes foot if you don't have to, right?
Personally, I like having a watch for concert photography. Even with my phone as a time keeping device, I don't always want to dig into my bag or have to check time on my large phone when I'm working. Sometimes, I just want to be able to roll my wrist and quickly glance at the time. Maybe I'm old fashioned.
Casio G-Shock GBD-200: I love this watch. It's a Casio G-Shock, so you know it can take a some physical abuse without missing a beat. I prefer a working watch like this over something like an Apple Watch on tour, something I don't have to worry about charging. And of course, the fact that the Casio GBD-200 is all blacked out is a great appeal. This watch features a MIP display, which means amazing contrast and a super readable display, even in very dim conditions. Perfect for concert photography, in my opinion.
A flashlight is invaluable on tour in my opinion. Besides dark photo pits, backstage, and venues in general, a flashlight in the tour bus can be essential. The bunk section of a tour bus is often left dark 100% of the time, with crew people catching a nap whenever they can. A flashlight to help you navigate the bunk area in the dark like a pro.
Olight makes great lights. The Olight Baton3 is tiny, rechargeable via a magnetic dock, and packs a ton of power. The light has multiple levels, from “moonlight” mode that is very dim and perfect for say, looking around your bunk when your eyes have acclimated to blackout conditions, to “turbo” that's a bright 1,200 lumens. In addition, this light has some nice features like a magnetic tail, so you can stick it to ferrous surfaces and use the flashlight hands-free.
There's a “premium” version of this light that features a case with a rechargeable battery (like AirPods) so your light is always charged up and ready to go.