Over the last few months I have been considering getting a new bagpipe case, with my 8-year-old case looking a little worse for wear. So, I spent some time looking at the various cases available on the market.
My initial thought was to get something with wheels since, as you know, carrying the Original Bagpiper Case for long periods, on planes or through airports can be awkward and lead to quite a strain on your back and shoulders. I was however not too keen on the idea of taking my drones apart every time I put my pipes away (those maintenance fanatics will be telling me I should be doing this anyway), as well as hesitant from talking to people who have found that their drone reeds have come loose and fallen into their hide bags as a result of the vibrations as they roll their bags around. Just as I was about to decide I saw Murray Blair walking around Glasgow Green with something I’d not seen before and thanks to Geoffrey Manger from St Kilda Retail I have my pipes resting in the new Bagpiper Explorer Case.
To fully tests the Bagpiper Explorer Case, I had to go exploring right? So I loaded the case up with my bagpipes, all the maintenance items I could find, 2 tablet computers, and a few kilos of paperwork to give me a hefty weight of about 15kg to carry around. I started on a Qantas A320 flight to Sydney with no problems and then a second smaller De Havilland Dash 8 (50 person) plane to Albury on the NSW/Victoria border. I also took my Explorer Case with me as I explored the tourist hotspots around Sydney.
So, did I make the right call?
Quality and Comfort
The first thing that comes through when you see the Explorer Case is the quality, and the amount of padding to protect your valued instrument. With 20mm wall padding on the inside, and a thick plush strap for securing the drones, your case is going to take a beating before your pipes are damaged. The main compartment zipper is heavy duty, with the outside of the bag being the water resistant nylon (which also comes with other Bagpiper branded cases).
The backpack straps are contoured to be quite comfortable while the rear of the case protrudes with padding for extra back support. There is also an adjustable centre stabilising clip attached to the shoulder straps which I found was extremely effective in increasing the distribution of weight across your entire shoulders. Comparatively to the Original Bagpiper Case, the weight is no longer focused onto one point (i.e. the carry strap) which should help to eliminate the straps breaking like I have found they often do on the Original Case.
Overall, I walked around Sydney carrying 15kg on my back for a few hours straight and barely noticed it was there. The ergonomic design of the Explorer Case stands out as a major step up in bagpipe cases. As you will notice, there are no Cons in this department.
The Bagpiper Explorer Case also excels in this department, clearly having had a lot of thought put into it. The capacity is huge with the middle pocket being full length, while I also found that the rear pocket intended for storing the backpack straps was useful for storing extra music and for an easy access storage location for your practice chanter.
There are a lot of internal compartments to help with organisation of all the junk that gets thrown into pipe cases, with areas specifically marked for tablets and phones, and space for music books, pens, drone reeds, and other accessories in the middle pocket so that they don’t all end up in the bottom of the bag. This all makes keeping things organised in your pipe case very easy, which is perfect when you are travelling through an airport or want to quickly identify which of your bit of maintenance equipment your Pipe Major has permanently borrowed.
Other handy features include an external water bottle (or flask) holder, D rings around the front of the case for attaching things like keys and towels (although these could potentially be used to attach a light second bag), and a section on the front pocket that I can only imagine is for the Pipe Major to store his golf tees. There are also a number of ways to carry the Explorer Case, with backpack straps, a side handle and 2 top handles.
Two things stood out to me during testing which I really didn’t consider when making my purchase.
First, the orientation of the main zipper means that the whole top hinges at the bottom. As a result, you need a fair bit of space to open the case. If you are opening the case on a table, be cautious of where you lay the now heavily stocked top, as letting it hang down over the table may cause the whole case to fall off the table. This was never a problem with the design of the Original Bagpiper Case. Perhaps a kick stand or similar would be useful to alleviate this.
Second, the rubber feet at the bottom of the case are quite sharp. In addition, because the base is not flat (even with, or perhaps due to, the rubber feet) you cannot stand the bag up vertically without it resting against something.
The Flight Fight
One of the most important things that I know most people will want to know is “will the airline let me on with the case?” Why buy a case which you can’t take everywhere with you? Well, this is going to depend heavily on the airline, your ability to stick to your guns, and a bit of luck.
My experience with the Original Bagpiper Case was that I never got pulled up on any airline for it being the wrong dimensions. It was also the perfect shape for the overhead locker as it would slide right to the back and allow for other luggage to be stowed in front.
During my testing I flew mainly with Qantas which have never even blinked at my luggage (except on the small De Havilland where there is no case on the market that you will fit on). It was also still that handy size for overhead stowage efficiency. On the other hand, I flew one of the flights on Jetstar, a budget airline who are extremely tight with carry-on luggage restrictions (max 7kg exactly and must fit inside their luggage sizing cage) with no exemptions for musicians. Firstly, I had to take almost everything but my pipes (no heavy silver) out of the carry case to reach 6.9kg. Once they were satisfied that I was a lightweight (my luggage!) they then made me try and squeeze it into their sizing cage, which with a bit of force was fine width wise but had the end sticking out, so I was told I would have to check it in. However, being on the border line I managed to point to the big “bagpiper” sign on the case and they let me through.
At least in Australia, be firm about it and explain that it’s a musical instrument and you should be fine because it is so close to fitting their specifications. Qantas and Virgin you certainly won’t have a problem with as they allow extra length for musical instruments, but beware with some budget airlines.
The Bagpiper Explorer Case is by far the most comfortable bag I’ve tried. I would also say it is the highest quality available. The two design criticisms are outweighed by the plethora of positive design attributes that are unbeaten by other options on the market. As long as you don’t mind a bit of squabble at check-in with your strict budget airline, then the only reason not to buy the Bagpiper Explorer Case comes down to price. At a retail of $250AUD it is an $80-$90 step up from the Bagpiper Original and Trolley Cases, or a bit more compared to the other brands on the market. However, I think it is definitely worth the extra investment for this quality product.
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More images and information on the Bagpiper Explorer Case can be found here.