Every year I try to travel to one, and preferably several, events and I’m confronted with a perennial problem when I do: actually transporting my stuff. I live in a part of country where I’m not really in driving range of a lot of events, which means airplanes.
Miniatures and airplanes don’t mix.
I’ve been experimenting with different cases for the entire time I’ve been a gamer. The classic GW cases, an early “case-and-foam” company that I believe is out of business, and more recently, KR Multicase. Last year for the LVO I carried two bare cardboard KRD cases, but this year I wanted something a little more secure, but still carry-on friendly.
KR’s answer to those two requirements is the Backpack2.
I picked up the Dropzone Commander branded version, which at the moment is 50% off at KR’s store, but it appears to be identical to the unbranded backpack. In an attempt to distinguish it from potentially many other identical bags, I proceeded to stick a few pins on it – a Hawk Wargames pin from the Dropfleet Commander Kickstarter, and an Ultramarine’s pin that the guys from Frontline Gaming through into my Betrayal at Calth order awhile back.
Because I was carrying 3,000 points of Eldar (both my and my teammate’s armies for the Team Narrative event), I needed to break out another one of the doublewide cases anyway.
So that was my carry-on luggage. How’d it perform?
The Backpack2 has two separate compartments for single, classic KR card cases. It’s also got a zipper that will collapse the outer compartment to reduce the size of the pack if you only need a single case because you’re one of those clever people who plays an infantry heavy skirmish game. While it’s a little frustrating not to be able to take a double case (I have a lot of very bulky models – Crimson Hunters, tons of Drop Pods, etc.), I wouldn’t trade that for not being able to collapse it down.
In addition to that, it’s got two reasonably generous side pockets, and two front pockets. I was able to put charging cables, objective and psychic power cards, a codex, etc. in the front without getting too large to work – which was one of the appeals of it. While a double card case holds the same amount, it really holds nothing else. Being able to tote around rulebooks, etc. as well as an iPad for a long layover was a welcome feature.
The whole point of the Backpack2 is for it to be carry-on compatible. KR lists the size as 450 x 310 x 290mm with two cases in it – obviously, if you make the pockets bulge out it’ll be larger. By contrast, Alaska Airlines (my carrier of choice) lists the restrictions as 610 x 430 x 250mm. United lists theirs as 560 x 350 x 220 mm.
So you’re pushing it. On standard, modern planes, I didn’t find this to be a problem – you’re compact enough that you don’t “look” like a problem, and overhead space runs out because of wide bags, not tall ones, and you’ve got a fair amount of leeway with even restrictive carriers.
But I don’t just fly on standard, modern planes. Oh no my friends. Variance Hammer is based out of the rural Pacific Northwest, and this is our airport:
See that plane? That plane does not take carry-ons that are “pushing it”. The overheads there get maxed out by laptop bags, and are better suited to coats. Even the standard bare double card case is a near thing, and has to be guided in carefully. Which means if you’re flying on a puddle jumper, there’s the distinct possibility that your backpack is going to get to spend some time with the rest of the luggage in the cargo hold.
Which is vexing if your whole goal was to not do that. On the bright side though, it doesn’t have to go through the full-blown checked luggage experience of belts and trucks and getting left on the tarmac, and it does let me do an evaluation of something of the worst-case scenario, which was the flight back – loaded into the hold during a downpour, by the uncaring baggage handlers of Seatac. I did however take my iPad out at that point. There are some things I’m not willing to risk for a review.
The Travel Experience
As alluded to above, on a normal, civilized 737/A320/etc. sized airplane, the Backpack2 is not a thing. Like all carry-on luggage, you want to get on the plane early to get a spot, but that’s going to be a problem with any bag you want to carry on, so you can’t really hold it against the Backpack2. Things felt secure, and comfortable, and raised no eyebrows in going through security.
In terms of comfort, lets face it, there’s not very many ways to make carrying two inflexible cardboard rectangles comfortable. There’s a reason no one designing backpacks puts in a rectangular internal frame. There’s a minimal amount of padding in the pack itself – enough to cushion some blows to the bag hopefully – but for long distances it’s not terribly comfortable. And as dorky as it looks (and it does look super dorky) the across-the-chest strap is probably a good idea, as otherwise the pack angles such that one of the edges of the rectangular cases is headed straight into your spine. That being said, I’m a pretty big guy, and I found it comfortable enough for getting to and from gates, etc. and could even manage the one-strap style of carrying the bag for a bit while getting on a plane before it got uncomfortable. My one note is that occasionally the straps can head toward the center of the pack, making it a little hard to get on, but once I learned that if the strap wasn’t right there it was probably next to my spine things went well enough.
But comfy isn’t what I’m really looking for. How about protective?
Having spent two flights in the hold, two flights in an overhead, and the interim time in an airport lounge, a McDonalds, the back of my car, a well-driven taxi, a recklessly driven taxi, and I’m sure a few other places, the final tally of models broken on the way to LVO is…one. Out of a total of 67 models, that’s a failure rate of 1.5%. And the model that broke?
My Autarch. Whose flag is like 90% superglue on superglue at this point, and which breaks on the drop of a hat. Heck, she’s broken in this picture because she is perpetually in a state of being broken. 1.5% is a good record even if I was going to blame the cases for the break, and a damned good record considering that the one model that did break breaks at the drop of a hat, and also in that bag were 17 models with the skinny little Forge World Eldar Corsair wings, which all survived the journey there and back.
The only other flaw I noticed was that due to the torrential downpour and sitting on a “to be loaded’ cart for a bit, one of the card cases did get wet despite being inside the bag itself. This doesn’t seem to have impacted much of anything, and I’m going to let it dry out before I assess whether or not it’s structurally compromised, but it did happen.
The Gaming Experience
How about the backpack during the actual event? I also used it to transport some of the figures down, and again, it worked really well. One of the nice parts is that with the card cases inside it’s fairly rigid, so it worked decently as a side table/stool to keep codexes, my dice bag, etc. on that was both not on the table and also not taking up one of the valuable chairs in the gaming hall. And free from the constraints of the airplane, it was capable of holding pretty much everything I could possibly imagine gaming with – a rulebook, a codex, an iPad, a dice bag, several decks of cards, the new battle journal thing, a spare notepad…really, if you need to carry more than that, you’re probably a Horus Heresy player whose refusing to buy the red books.
Despite owning a Kaiser4 bag (see review) for hauling genuinely everything I have, I’m glad I bought the Backpack2. It’s far more portable, more practical for transporting smaller games that don’t need four units worth of carrying things but where you’d also still like a secure back, and comfortable enough. It didn’t expand my transport capacity (I’ve got lots of card cases at this point), but it’s opened up better ways to carry it. I easily foresee the Backpack2 being my primary way of transporting armies, with the Kaiser4 reserved for bulk transport to larger and local games where I’m less worried about needing to check it.
At $44.99 for the discounted Dropzone Commander version it’s a steal. At $89.99 for the standard version (and presumably when the Dropzone promotion ends) I’d still consider it a pretty solid purchase.
Overall, it got my models there, it got them back, and it kept them from breaking. I’d give it a solid 9/10.
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