With Gen Con just around the corner, it got me thinking. What am I going to do with all of the games that I purchase while I am there? The thought of walking around for hours on end with 20 different plastic bags hanging off of my arms, cutting off my circulation, and causing pain and discomfort certainly isn’t a prospect that I am looking forward to. I know there are a lot of storage solutions out there, but which one is best for me? Which one will best suit my needs for the best price? So, I did some research and came up with several solutions so that I could share them with you here.
Before I get to that, though, I guess it would be useful for me to tell you what my criteria are.
Straps: When I was in high school, I was one of those people that eschewed backpacks and preferred to carry all of my books around in a gym bag instead. I mention this because this experience of carrying around a massive amount of weight across long distances using only my arm strength was quite painful and ungainly. Looking back through the eyeglasses of time and experience, I am able to discern that, back in high school, I was something of a moron. Heavy weight is best distributed across the shoulders. Therefore, any bag that I am going to seriously consider needs to offer me some sort of shoulder strap or the ability to at least use a strap if I desire.
Portability: A good carrying and storage solution, when not in use, should be easy to break down and carry around.
Price and Availability (P&A:): My money is earmarked for games. I don’t want to pour a bunch of cash into acquiring something that I am rarely going to use. In fact, I’m a pretty thrifty person. I’d rather not spend a lot of money if it can be avoided. Also, the easier it is to obtain the bag, the better.
Functionality and Durability (F&D:): If I’m spending money on a product, I want it to last a long time. Any carrying/storage solution for the intent of moving heavy board games from one point to another needs to be able to hold up under those conditions. It would also be good if the product has multiple functions (i.e. – a backpack AND a rolling suitcase).
Capacity: Obviously, I want my storage solution to be able to accommodate a lot of games as well as games of varying sizes and weight. The more games that I can fit into the space, the better. At the very least, any feasible solution MUST be able to accommodate a game with Ticket to Ride (TTR) dimensions (12” x 12” x 3”) as that is the gold standard.
None of the things that I found hit all of these notes perfectly. Each one has its plusses and minuses. So, in no particular order, I present you my top 6 picks along with the pros and cons for each.
IKEA Large Shopping Bags
IKEA’s shopping bags are very popular in boardgaming circles… and for good reason. They’re very affordable, very durable, and they hold a ton of games.
Straps: Unfortunately, these bags do not come with any kind of shoulder straps or any place where any kind of shoulder straps could be attached.
Portability: These bags can be compacted down quite a bit, but are still fairly bulky when treated so. However, since they don’t have inserts in the bottom of them, they can be crammed into smaller spaces such as a purse or a backpack.
P&A: IKEA’s shopping bags are very cheap. In fact, these are the lowest priced items on this list. If getting a lot of bang for your buck is important to you, then these bags are probably your best bet. They also have the benefit of being widely available and rather easy to obtain.
F&D: IKEA’s bags are made of some very durable stuff. The stitching on the bags around the handles ensures that they remain steadfastly attached even under great strain. My wife is very fond of using these bags whenever we go shopping at the grocery store. However, there are a few drawbacks. Because of the handles being situated in the middle of the bag, it means that things within the bag have a tendency to shift to the middle of the bag whenever the bag is picked up. This is easily overcome by putting an insert of some kind into the bottom of the bag to provide some kind of base. Adding such a base, though, will alter the bag’s portability. So, that’s a consideration for you to keep in mind.
Another drawback is that, when these bags are mostly empty, they are awkward and clumsy to handle because things will shift to one end of the bag as opposed to shifting to the middle. This true for any wide bag that only presents you with a top strap to carry it by. The IKEA bags are especially cumbersome because the bags have wide openings and, when shifted to one end in this way, things inside the bag could potentially fall out of the bag. Finally, there is another drawback that could be a deal breaker. Unlike most of the other solutions on this list that are able to be sealed up in some way, IKEA’s shopping bags are always open on top. Normally, this isn’t a big deal, but if it’s raining or snowing outside, there could be trouble.
Capacity: I’ll show you what I was able to cram into one of these bags. I tried to select games from my collection of varying shapes and sizes while leaning more towards the traditional square shaped boxes like Ticket To Ride and Five Tribes and rectangular ones like Agricola. It’s also worth noting that the IKEA Shopping Bags are one of the only solutions on this list that can comfortably accommodate large games of irregular size such as any of Queen Games’s Big Box series.
Note here that there is a second type of IKEA Shopping bag that has a built in zipper and can be worn as a backpack, but it presents its own challenges. The first is that, when not in use, these bags are essentially just hollow boxes that don’t have any rigidity to them. That’s even more awkward to carry around than the empty bags are. The second is that even though these bags come with straps that allow them to be worn as backpacks, the straps aren’t adjustable and wearing the bag on your back in this way puts a lot of potential stress directly on the zipper. Since that zipper runs straight down the middle, if it should fail when you’ve got a large load of stuff on your back, that stuff could conceivably fall out onto the floor and become damaged.
Chromacast Cajon Drum Bag
This storage solution first appeared on my radar a little over a year ago when my fellow staff writer, Jesse Fletcher, showed up with one at game night one evening. Here are my thoughts on it.
Straps: The Chromacast Cajon Drum Bag offers two strap solutions. On top of the bag is a standard lifting strap. The sides of the bag also come with two backpack-like shoulder straps. However, since this is a bag designed to handle the weight of a single cajon drum and not a stack of board games, there are multiple reports of strap failure. While it is possible to use this bag’s shoulder straps, by all accounts, they’re not very reliable.
Portability: When not in use, this bag collapses down a good deal and can be crammed into a standard sized backpack with some effort.
P&A: At less than $20, this solution comes with a palatable price tag for what you get. These bags are readily available and easily obtainable as well.
F&D: I mentioned the failing backpack straps earlier. Aside from those, there have been many reports of broken zippers. These reports are true for all of the front loading cajon bags that I read about in the course of researching this article and not necessarily just this brand. Aside from those two flaws, this is actually a pretty sturdy storage solution. The fabric is stitched together well.
Capacity: Since the carrying strap for this bag is on top of the bag, that dictates how the bag is loaded. This is important because the shape of the bag also dictates what kinds of games the bag can actually hold. In the case of this bag, you’re pretty much limited to games of the TTR variety. The Chromacast Cajon drum bag sits at 20” tall, so this means that you can comfortably fit six TTR sized boxes into it and possibly a seventh if you don’t mind cramming it in there. You won’t be able to fit much beyond that, though, and you certainly won’t be able to fit longer, irregular sized games in there unless they’re loaded in standing on their ends. This would mean that every other game in the bag would also have to be stored on their ends and this would greatly affect how many games are able to be stored inside.
Also of note is this cajon bag, the Echoslap Cajon backpack. Unlike the Chromacast, this bag is a top loading bag, but it can carry a similar amount of games inside of it. Whereas the Chromacast has a handle built into the top of the bag, the Echoslap has two handles that come together with a velcro strap that extend up either side of the bag. This is not only more durable, but also lifts the load from the sides as opposed to the top providing more stability and even load distribution than the Chromacast. The drawback of this bag, obviously, is that it’s a top loader so you won’t be able to load or unload your games as easily.
Rothco Canvas Parachute Cargo Bag
Straps: The Rothco parachute bag has a single carrying handle that wraps all the way around the bag in one continuous loop. Aside from this, there are no other included carrying options, but there are rings which a shoulder strap can be attached to.
Portability: When not in use, the bag is able to fold down small enough that it could fit comfortably inside of a standard sized backpack. If you choose to add a custom insert, as Andy does in his review of the bag, then this will change obviously.
P&A: This bag is easy to get your hands on and clocks in at around $21 making it a very good value for what you get.
F&D: This is one tough bag as is to be expected of a bag crafted from military grade materials. This bag is designed to withstand a lot of rugged conditions, so it can easily weather the wear and tear that comes along with carrying board games around.
Capacity: This bag can hold a massive amount of games. In Andy’s article, he was able to fit 27 different games in there of varying shapes and sizes. While being able to fit a LOT of games into a single bag is definitely a big selling point, it kind of glosses over the fact that 27 games equals a lot of weight. If you’re thinking of purchasing this particular solution and loading it up with games, then you’re probably going to want to consider purchasing some kind of shoulder strap to attach to it as well.
There are a few straps that are recommended on the Amazon shopping page for this solution, but they seem pretty thin and I can easily imagine them digging into my shoulder and causing some distress after a while. I would personally need a shoulder strap that was a bit wider and provided some kind of padding. A good strap will cost you another $10 or so, though, so keep that in mind.
Bigger Smart Cart Multipurpose Rolling Collapsible Utility Cart Basket
I first became aware of this solution after seeing it on the TV show ‘Shark Tank’. I immediately began considering how the product could be used for board games.
Straps: The Bigger Smart Cart includes two handles on top of it. Like the cajon bag, this solution lifts from the top. Unlike the cajon bag, there are no backpack or shoulder straps included nor is there any way to attach either of these things.
Portability: This solution folds up flat and, thanks to a handy carrying strap, it can be slung over the shoulder and easily carried under the arm. Thanks to its sturdy construction, it has a rigidity to it that the other solutions on this list do not have. While this does help with its durability, it also prevents it from being folded up and crammed into a much smaller space.
P&A: At the time of this writing, this cart can be easily obtained for just under $30. While this is slightly higher than many of the other products on this list, it’s still not a bad price because it is the only option on this list that also includes rollers on it.
F&D: As mentioned previously, the Bigger Smart Cart has one significant advantage over all of the other products on this list: rollers. Instead of constantly having to carry a heavy load on your back or at the end of your outstretched arm, this cart provides you the opportunity to simply wheel it along behind you. However, it does suffer from a slight disadvantage. At only 19” in height, it is an inch shorter than the cajon bags mentioned previously. This means less room for games. This bag is very tough and durable, though. As a plus, it has a lid that folds down over the top that is designed specifically for protection from the elements.
Capacity: At 19” in height, this cart has roughly the same capacity as the cajon bags that I talked about earlier.
Bear in mind that rolling carts are kind of frowned upon in convention settings. With a lot of people around they have a tendency to get underfoot and can get kicked around a lot. But, if rolling carts are how you prefer to operate, this might be the perfect solution for you.
This solution first came to my attention when it launched on Kickstarter a little while ago. I did some research and asked Elijah Longwell about his and this is what I found…
Straps: While the Game Canopy comes with a standard handle pre-installed, there is also an optional shoulder strap that can be used. Along the top and bottom of the bag are several D-rings which the shoulder strap can attach to in different variations. In one video, the individual in the video is wearing the bag almost like a backpack.
Portability: When not in use, the bag folds down. Due to its padding, though, it’s not going to fold down into as tight and compact a bundle as an IKEA bag, for example, would. This bag is also not designed to be carried around in a broken down position, but it is possible with a little creative strap positioning and some creative problem solving, to arrive at a solution that would allow you to do so. Or, if you prefer, with a little bit of wiggling, the bag can be fitted into a standard sized backpack where it could remain until it is needed.
P&A: During the Kickstarter campaign, a single Game Canopy and a single strap would cost you around $130 and it is implied in the reward tier that the bag would sell for retail around $160 with the same setup. That is quite a steep price point and may be neither here nor there anyway. As of this writing, this bag does not appear to be available from anywhere other than via the creator and even that is questionable. It is implied that the bag will be available elsewhere at some point, but there’s no telling when that might be.
F&D: This bag is very durable and heavily padded. As far as protecting the contents inside of it, this is definitely the beefiest bag on this list. The D-Rings along the top and bottom of the bag present a lot of extra functionality should you possess the straps and the creativity to make it so.
Capacity: At 13” x 13” x 16”, this is the smallest carrying capacity on this list with a height a full 3” shorter than the Bigger Smart Cart. TTR is 12” x 12” x 3”. This means that you can only fit 5 standard sized games into this container before you run out of space. You can probably slide several smaller games in there as well, but it isn’t going to hold nearly as much as the other solutions on this list. Fortunately, the Game Canopy also has a couple of pouches on its outside that can accommodate several other small box games, so that will help provide some extra capacity.
The Con Carrier Bag
This solution came to my attention a while back when I saw it on Kickstarter. While not yet publicly available at retailers (and it may never be), it can still be obtained via their Kickstarter page.
Straps: The Con Carrier bag does not have any backpack straps, but it does include a 4” wide shoulder strap. Watching the reviews and videos on the Kickstarter page, the straps do not appear to be causing a lot of discomfort to the people who are lugging around 40-50 pounds worth of games. However, none of these videos talks about how the reviewers feel after several hours of lugging games around or how easy it is to shift the strap from one shoulder to another while the bag is full of games, so that’s something to consider. I’ve carried my school backpack across one shoulder many times and it starts to weigh pretty heavily after a while which forces me to shift it to the other shoulder… and that’s only 20-30 pounds.
Portability: The Con Carrier bag does fold along several lines which makes it collapsible. Since the bag is unpadded, it can also be folded up small enough to fit inside of a backpack or a purse. Compared to the IKEA bag, due to the boxy nature of this bag, it would probably fold up into a much neater bundle as well.
P&A: The bag is marketed on the Kickstarter page for “as low as $10 per bag” and that seems like a pretty good deal.
F&D: By all accounts, this is a very durable bag. The straps are extra long and run the full length of the bag. This not only makes the bag sturdier, but it also helps the bag to remain balanced as well. This carrying solution also has the added benefit of being very tall. In fact, in several of the videos presented, there are actual children popping up out of the bags. While you can ostensibly carry this bag in your hand by holding the strap, the sheer size of the bag dictates that you will most likely be carrying it on your shoulder whenever it’s got stuff inside of it. Like the IKEA Shopping bags, this bag does not close or seal up in some way. That means that the top of the bag is always going to be exposed to the elements.
Capacity: The Con Carrier bag was designed to hold a lot of stuff and, boy, does it ever. In multiple videos, you are able to witness people shoving a ton of stuff into the bags with room to spare. Many of these items are also of the oblong and irregular shaped varieties such as Mechs vs. Minions and the Starcraft board game. In fact, these items can be laid into the bag horizontally instead of having to be stored vertically or stood on end. That’s a lot of room!
So, what’s the verdict? Well, MY ideal bag would have both the wide shoulder straps of the Con Carrier and the backpack straps of the cajon bags. It would also have the rugged durability and storage capacity of the Rothco parachute bag while allowing me some flexibility by including the rollers of the Bigger Smart Cart. Ideally, I’d get all of this at the price point of an IKEA bag. If that bag could pull if off with the stylishness of the Game Canopy, that would be about perfect.
However, we live in a world where wishing for something doesn’t necessarily make it so. After much consideration, if I had to choose just one of the solutions presented above, I would have to go with the Con Carrier. It’s portable, has a lot of capacity, has a wide shoulder strap, looks pretty good, and it sells at a decent price point as well. The only real downside is that it’s open to the elements, so I guess I’d need to make sure to stow an umbrella in there somewhere.
Whatever your needs are, there’s a good carrying and storage solution for you out there.
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