Think Tank Airport Helipak for DJI Phantom Review
The Think Tank Airport Helipak for DJI Phantom is an excellent lightweight case and perfect for traveling with your quadcopter. The backpack has plenty of room for a DJI Phantom (any Phantom model can fit - as well as the 3DR Solo and other similar sized quadcopter), multiple batteries, a laptop, accessories, and even other cameras and gear. The Airport Helipak is a soft shell pack with a reinforced and re-configurable padded interior and it is comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. At about $200, the Think Tank Airport Helipak is not the cheapest pack on the market, but we highly recommend it given its smart design and high quality build. Read on for our full Think Tank Airport Helipak review!
Design and Construction
The Airport Helipak measures 14” W x 20.5” H x 9” D (35.6 x 52.1 x 22.9 cm) and weighs about 4.6 lbs (2.1 kg). This pack meets nearly all domestic and international carrier carry-on size limitations and should have no problem fitting into an overhead bin. When flying, we always recommend taking your quadcopter on as a carry-on if you can, as you don’t have to worry about the airline losing your quad or it being damaged by the baggage handlers.
The Airport Helipak is a soft shell pack, which means that there’s no rigid frame or hard exterior; you can bend the sides and top of the pack with relative ease. However, the entire case is made out of high quality nylon and polyester with a water repellent coating, and the sides of the case have about a 1/4″ of foam that protects your quadcopter and accessories. When zipped up, the pack is actually fairly rigid in shape and feels very solid. Overall we like the decision to go with a soft shell rather than a hard case exterior. It makes the pack lighter, easier to handle, and more configurable while still giving you enough protection.
The backpack has a main compartment for the quadcopter and larger accessories, and a smaller sleeve/compartment for a laptop and smaller accessories. The main compartment is accessed by the large zipper that runs around 3/4 of the pack. The lower two thirds of the main compartment is designed to accommodate a DJI Phantom quad (or other similar sized drone), with four adjustable dividers that essentially hug the body and arms of the quadcopter and keep it in place (and also provide additional storage areas. The upper third of the main compartment has about six different size mini compartments, though you can readjust all of them and reattach the velcro to customize the compartments to fit your gear exactly. One is pre-sized to hold your remote control, and folks typically fill the other ones up with batteries, chargers, other cameras and lenses, etc.
There are three zippered mesh pockets that are on the top flap of the main compartment and are perfect for your rotors and other small accessories. You definitely have to take off your props to use this case, as there’s no way to make it fit otherwise - Think Tank provides four red rotor caps to protect the threads and the rest of the case. While some may view this as a downside of the case, it really only takes about 30 seconds to take rotors off or put them on so its not a big issue, and the case would have to be much larger in order to accommodate the props.
The smaller sleeve/compartment on the front of the pack is designed to carry a laptop, and can fit up to a 17″ laptop with no issues. The laptop sleeve is well padded and has a half inch cushion above the bottom of the pack, so when you put the pack down on a hard surface the laptop is protected and won’t impact the ground. In addition to the laptop sleeve, there’s another full length sleeve and five or six smaller pockets for business cards, cords, travel accessories, pens, etc.
On the exterior of the pack, there are two sizeable handles (one on top, on on side), an elastic water bottle holder, and a nylon strap on the bottom.
The part of the pack that rests on your back has serious mesh padding with air vents, and the backpack straps are cushioned and comfortable. There’s an adjustable chest strap and waist/hip support strap that work really well at keeping the pack supported. While these may be overkill for cruising through the airport, they are extremely useful when carrying the pack for extended periods or while hiking in rough terrain, especially if you’ve loaded it up with gear.
Also, the Airport Helipak comes with a nylon rain cover, which while not waterproof, does a great job in light-moderate rain.
Usage and Comparison
Ok - so clearly the Airport Helipak has tons of compartments, well-designed features, and generally high quality construction. But how does it fare in day-to-day usage? Not surprisingly, we found it to be an excellent pack over several months of testing. It has protected everything we’ve put in it, it is comfortable to wear even during longer hikes, and it looks pretty cool (stealth black understated design).
If you’re in the market for a pack or case for your Phantom, you’re probably also looking at the DJI Phantom Hardshell Backpack. The DJI Hardshell pack is designed specifically for the Phantom and is a bit smaller at 12.5″ W x 17.5″ H x 9″ D and lighter at 3.55 lbs. At a $150 retail price, the DJI Hardshell is about $50-$100 cheaper than the Airport Helipak too. However, it has significantly less storage space than the Airport Helipak and there’s no chance of fitting a laptop in there.
Another popular option is a hard plastic case, like the Go Professional Phantom 3 Case, the Nanuk 945 DJI Case, or the Pelican DJI Phantom 3 Case. Each of these will provide superior protection over the Airport Helipak and are suitable for checked baggage (though we recommend trying to carry on anyways if you can!). However, even the wheeled versions of the hard plastic cases are tougher to transport, especially when you’re flying in remote locations. Very few of these type of cases have the same storage capacity as the Airport Helipak as well.
Airport Helipak Review - Bottom Line
If we could only use one pack for traveling with the Phantom, we’d definitely choose the Think Tank Airport Helipak. It is a spacious, rugged, comfortable, and well-designed backpack suitable for all types of travel. Think Tank Photo has a strong reputation for designing bags for photography professionals and the Airport Helipak shows that they know what drone users need in a pack. Hope that you enjoyed our Think Tank Airport Helipak review and we look forward to seeing what Think Tank comes out with in the future!
Where to Buy
The Think Tank Airport Helipak is available directly from Think Tank and through several retailers, all of which currently offer it at about $200-$250:
- Airport Helipak on Amazon.com
- Airport Helipak on ThinkTankPhoto.com
- Airport Helipak on BHPhoto.com
Also, if you’d like to check the backpack out yourself before purchasing it, visit Think Tank Photo’s store locator page to find a distributor that carries their products (we’d recommend calling the store first to see if they carry the Airport Helipak):