The Backpack Collab Craze. Should you buy in?
Hello friends and welcome to another blog post!
On this picture-filled blurb I'll do my best to share my experience and observations with the latest wave of Carryology backpack collab drops since March of 2020.
How it all started.
For those who don’t know me, I have been in the gear collecting hobby since 2004, when I purchased my first surplus LBT 1DAY Pack from a friend in the military. Up until that point my nicest backpack had been an Oakley SI pack that I had been carrying for over 3 years everywhere I went.
Having this new LBT pack, however, opened my mind’s door to the experience of feeling really good gear, and needless to say it just tickled me in a way that nothing else had until that point (well, almost nothing).
Made in USA, 1000D Cordura, Mil-Spec hardware and #8 or #10 YKK zippers became sort of a winning combination for me, after all I was hooked on that day pack and wanted more of it, a lot more. I soon moved to the rarer side of things and procured an issued Mystery Ranch 3 Day Assault Pack (3DAP), a prototype First Spear assault pack and some “rare” pattern LBT 3 day assault packs.
This love for tactical and military bags lasted a solid 13 years, where I had the pleasure to try literally every bag in that category you could get your hands on.
But as I was maturing and realizing that I was not getting ready for an MI6 mission anytime soon, the obvious became apparent; these bags were overkill.
I now needed something along those lines, to stay in my comfort zone, but perhaps a step up in craftsmanship or rarity. Enter Triple Aught Design. Their FAST line soon became my complete go-to, and was head over heels for their brand image. Subdued, somewhat mysterious and low key, yet still had that tactical edge that was so useful when pretending to be in an episode of “Strike Back”. The surprise came when, in less than two months, I had overcome my “love” for these bags and found reasons to move on.
I still had a particular resonance with Multicam and especially Multicam Black, but no-one was manufacturing much in that pattern back then, besides Crye Precision and a handful of others.
My lucky (?) day.
One day, however, I stumbled on Carryology.com, a site that seemed to have appeared out of my deepest desires. There was finally a place to absorb information and learn more about what was out there. Even better, I was not crazy for liking bags this much and if I was, I was not alone.
Among the many brands and packs I had read about, one stroke my heart like cupid in February: The Brown Buffalo Conceal Pack in Multicam Black. This article had the answers to all my prayers. OMFG
My first nice bag!
From the branded box to the nicest kraft wrapping I’ve seen, unboxing this conceal was a sensory overload. Not only was it what I expected, but quickly thought “damn, nice things are worth the money”.
The stitching, the contrasting, oh the red interior with organization, the proud and loud Made in USA label and a beautiful cut of Multicam Black made this bag everything I needed.
But I was wrong, and I needed more. I was traveling more, so there was plenty of justification to please my senses.
I guess I’ll eventually write a blurb about almost every bag worth mentioning, but lets say that in the lat 6 years I’ve had the pleasure and fortune to have owned every nice production bag in the market, and my passion for carry has taken me places I'd never thought I would go.
Enter the collabs.
By now the bags “game” had been feeling a bit stale, after all one becomes a Mandalorian of Unicorns, those bags that very few have seen but all know exist.
And as if the carry gods were joyful to answer my request, there it was, a new Carryology article about the exact same bag I’d been after for years. But this time around things seemed a bit different; in the last few years I had been working in product launch and marketing, and had learned my fair amount of guerrilla tactics.
This newfound knowledge was something that had turned me off from certain brands and the whole “drop culture”, where creating artificial scarcity f*cks with your brain and makes you do things like spending money you don’t have, in order to “score” something you probably don’t need and in turn, minimize financial exposure for the company.
But that is my strictly personal view and understand that crowd-funding is a great way to get small quantity projects launched the quickest, when investors who are not willing to risk their own money on said project aren't present.
Also, I have been on Ebay since 2004, when buyers could still mail you a check for their purchases. I have a keen sense for trends and also patterns, so I understood how supply and demand worked, especially at deeper levels than most don’t think to explore.
In any case, this article sounded like a setup; the emphasis on the extreme rarity of the BEAMs collab, why it is something everyone wants and then multiple proof points of monetary value evoked a sense of uneasiness in me, but I’m a huge fan of awareness and decided to stop the cynical train of thought on its tracks.
I was right! right?
Not long after, the CCxMR Assault Pack was announced and alas, a Beams-collab resembling tri-zip in updated (and trending) materials, high contrast interior and unique features, such as admin space and zip-side pockets much resembling a Camelbak Tri-zip (TOTALLY underrated pack, get one if you can).
On one hand, I was excited that after having owned pretty much anything I could get my hands on, I would finally be able to explore new things. The MR brand was and still is one of my favorites, and compared to the $1,200+ that a BEAMs is worth, $350 was reasonable for a limited edition collab from a brand we all trusted and modified by people who know their craft.
The designs were also heavily influenced by user feedback, which I find is the best way to know what your customer wants. Who would have thought?
The first drop happened and I can’t remember exactly, but I do recall taking 10ish minutes to decide if I wanted the bag or not. I purchased one, hesitantly for some reason, and moved on. I want to say they lasted, perhaps, around 15 minutes live; but eventually sold out.
There were many angry members in their FB group claiming they sold out too fast, didn’t ship internationally or had their order cancelled. The turmoil was quite significant but warranted; no pictures or information were released until the launch itself, no official quantities were given (less than 350 was the last I heard) and cancelling folks orders for over selling is a no-no.
But none of this seemed to matter. In the weeks to come, ISO MR Unicorn (that’s what group members dubbed it….surprise!) and FOMO were real. The ones that had the pack sat in the high chair, looking down at the unfortunate peasants. “I might let mine go” or “I could be persuaded to sell mine” were phrases used too often, and somehow owning this bag was a symbol of some sort of imaginary power over who knows what, which many were willing to pay top $ for.
The bag went quickly from $350MSRP to $500 street price, within the group. The Ebay “scalpers” (we’ll touch on that some day) were shooting upwards of $600. Once ONE “Unicorn” sold for over $650, the benchmark had been set. See, when one involves you emotionally with the unattainable and then gives you an alternative to sooth that need, then relating it to the aforementioned is almost a natural process, hence helping in justifying the perceived value of something.
The demand seemed too strong to stay put, and CC announced a new “thank you” drop for all of those who missed out on the first round. This continued to prove my initial theory, and was beginning to get turned off by this type of tactics. Once the pressure cooker was set, the second drop landed and lasted less than 3 minutes.
I realized back then, than just as DEFCON had been doing their VANS and other collabs for years, this was the door for more things to come. After all, this wasn’t something new to me; I saw it with the TY craze in the late 90’s, sneakers, watches and other collector hobbies out there.
My second "divine" confirmation was a group poll that read something along the lines of “what is your favorite or most carried backpack? Why?”. Being the knowledge addict that I am, I immediately connected the dots and alas, I knew it!
They have arrived.
Shortly after the black/orange fleet landed; modified versions of already existing backpacks, with trending materials and vendors with a good reputation within the group. For me, its all in the numbers, almost as if I could see the “collab” matrix, and walked away from the hype.
Turns out that my life quality increased when I unplugged from the scene, even though it was hard at first. Not having a mail call or pack bounties was anxiety evoking, but this exasperation for having the latest had to stop. Slowly but surely I began to detach, and my feelings were validated when their collab and limited edition bags were selling for at least 2x their MSRP, sometimes literally the day after.
I had the grail of grails so far, the “Unicorn”, and was less than impressed, so I began to understand in the flesh what it felt when someone sells you something. I was totally turned off and chose to stay ignorant to anything after that, yet somehow ended up with all of the collab bags except the Tokai sling.
How did I end up getting these bags? Trades. I had grown bored of the bag game and began to trade some hard to find items for these. My receiving party would benefit from the item I have and what that means to them, and I benefit in getting the chance to educate myself on something before I open my mouth.
One particular day in November of last year, they were all here. The dragon, unicorn, gorilla, cobra and the phoenix. Ironically, I had also just received an Alpha 31, a GR2 26L and a GR1 Heritage.
Taking the Red pill.
As I sat on my kitchen table sipping on some homemade cortado, I went through every bag, making notes of what I liked and disliked about each bag. I was on a mission to find something Wrong with each of these bags, as I wanted to once and for all shush this hype thing and have a hands-on, real life back-to-back comparison and opinion of them. One thing is people thinking you’re dumb, and another is proving them right.
But something unexpected happened; just as I had "seen" their marketing tactics way back when with my then newfound knowledge, I was now looking at these bags as someone who over the last 5 years had brought ideas to life for myself and many companies, understanding many aspects that I had been ignorant about before.
I opened and closed each zipper, filled them with pillows first, then my usual pouch/carry setup. I used the hardware, flipped them inside out and took a close look at how things were put together. I was beginning to realize that these bags were in fact pretty damn cool and I had been feeling resentment based on only one aspect of a much bigger picture I wasn't even aware of back then.
All of sudden I realized that if I had to pick top brands for myself, those would have definitely made my top 10. Looking at them through the lenses of love, I began to appreciate well thought out features, mixture of new materials and innovation in certain aspects. I thought of all the work behind the scenes, the amount of people involved, logistics, vendors, etc etc; challenges I faced on the daily in my past life. I knew what the pain felt like, and this brought even more admiration for these packs.
Scalpers and "victims".
Seeing these bags switch hands for $100-$300 over MSRP was somehwat unpleasant, but not uncalled for. Most bag collectors pursue the feeling associated with the carry culture, and money comes in an easy second place.
Some truly hard to find things are worth as much as one is willing to pay for them, but trying to profit immediately after one just ordered a pack by selling it to their peers at a markup sounds somewhat unethical, and most likely not even worth the difference.
But that’s what’s all about, street value. If someone is willing to pay $800 for anything, then that anything is inherently worth $800 unless proven otherwise. I personally value almost anything over money, and if the return seems worth the price, I will not hesitate to pay.
These bags are definitely unique and any of them could be your first and last. In my opinion, their MSRP were spot on with the offering, but anything beyond that is a stretch. The production models (CPL24, GR1, Evade) are staples in the carry community and will bring you almost everything these limited editions do if you are willing to give up esotericism for function.
Personally and after so many years surrounded by gear of all types, the things worth paying over MSRP for are far and few in between; rarely a manufacturer underestimates their products.
But then again, that is a belief based on my experience and understanding of myself, and no-one knows what makes you happy better than yourself.
To summarize, the hype is real and in my opinion, a bit out of control. But these are all bags worth owning if reasonably purchased (reasonable defined by you) as they will give any collector a good grasp on unique flavors of kit out there. They also belong to the “high end” tier of backpacks, and considering they weren’t made by the thousands justifies them as an item to hunt for, but to what extent is up to the buyers.
At the end of the day, you can make money again and if people pay extravagant amounts to feel things like horror or pain, a couple of hundred in exchange for joy should be no factor. There's no feeling like scratching our own itch!
Thanks for reading and have a fantastic weekend!
PS: USE YOUR GEAR!