To pick the best marching snare drum, a drummer must consider the materials from which the drum is made, as well as the cost and ease of tuning the instrument. The type of snares is an additional consideration, as is the drum's weight. Much of what makes a drum the "best" is a matter of personal preference, so not all marching drummers will come to the same conclusion about what drum to select.
Probably the most basic decision when trying to pick the best marching snare drum is to look at whether the drum is made from wood or metal. In each category, a drummer can find different options, such as maple, mahogany and birch for wood and steel or brass for metal. Each material has its own unique sound characteristics, so what's right for one drum line is not necessarily right for another. In general, wood has a much more mellow and natural sound, but it usually lacks the projection that comes with a metal drum and which marching drummers typically are after. Metal also can withstand tighter head tension and isn't as susceptible to damage from heat and moisture, which matters, considering that a marching snare drum can play in conditions ranging from searing heat to downpours of rain.
Once a drummer knows he is leaning toward wood or metal, the next thing to tackle is whether to use a marching snare drum with a Kevlar® or Mylar head. Mylar provides much more "give" than Kevlar®. This is ideal for a marching group where the drummers are less experienced, because it is a little more forgiving to improper technique. Kevlar® provides a much cleaner sound, but the resistance of these types of heads physically can tax the wrists and hands to the extent that some drummers compare Kevlar® drum heads to playing on concrete.
Related to the drum head issue is an examination of expense and tuning. Mylar is much less expensive than Kevlar®, so for a drum line on a budget, a marching snare drum that uses Mylar is the best bet. On the other hand, the flexibility and give of a Mylar drum head translates to drum going out of tune faster, which subsequently means more maintenance. Very young drummers sometimes do not have the ear or skill to tune the drums properly. From the aspect of upkeep and time, a marching snare drum with Kevlar® wins.
Drum dimensions are next on the "best drum" checklist. Marching snare drums come in different diameters and depths, which drastically alter the sound. Although a deeper shell does lower the pitch to some degree, much of the pitch comes from the diameter of the drum, with depth impacting articulation and resonance. The way the drum sounds to the drummer is extremely different than it sounds dozens of feet away to an audience member, so it is important to have someone listen to the drum at a distance to determine whether the pitch, resonance and articulation the marching snare drum produces are appropriate. Standard dimensions for a marching snare drum are diameters of 13 or 14 inches (approximately 33 or 35.56 cm) and depths of 11 or 12 inches (about 28 or 30.5 cm).
The basic element of a snare drum is, of course, the snares. These are materials stretched over the bottom drum head. Snares can be metal cable, synthetic gut or wire. Those made of wire don't handle high volumes as well, so they might not be the best choice on marching snare drums, but when used, they provide a very bright sound. Cable snares tend to perform well at all dynamic levels, but gut snares, which give a darker sound, are most common.
Lastly, drummers need to look at the weight of the drum. A typical marching band or drum line show lasts anywhere from three to nine minutes, and the drummer must carry the marching snare drum the entire time. This might not seem like a huge feat, but drums can weigh up to 45 pounds (roughly 20.4 kg), not including the harness. Staying toward the lighter end of the weight range, or around 16 pounds (about 7.3 kg), is especially helpful if the drummer must cover a large amount of area very quickly or do some basic but flashy dance movements to increase the aesthetic appeal of performance.