I’ve been juggling seriously for over 25 years, and during that time, I have been on a continual quest for the impossible. That “more rare than rare,” the unicorn and griffin combined, the Holy Grail being held by an honest politician. I speak, of course, of the perfect prop bag.
The “perfect” bag used to be something that could hold all of my stuff. As my collection has grown, though, I’m over that quest. I don’t need a bag to hold ALL my props, I need a bag to hold the props I’m bringing to whatever event I’m going to go to with ease, be comfortable to carry and provide easy access to my stuff. So yes, there is no single “perfect ” bag since the context plays a big role in what I’m bringing, how often I have to move, whether I can leave some of my stuff in one place, etc, but this article is about the bags themselves. Pros and Cons, preferences and desires, and all that jazz.
I know many jugglers don’t care too much about how they transport their props, and the simple backpack method works just fine for them. I personally never cared for that look, having to explain what those sticks poking out of my bag were, and the occasional spill as the backpack was not completely closed. So here’s my criteria and various bags I’ve used (and in some cases, still use) through my juggling career. Lots of images to follow. Yes, I’ve given this a LOT of thought, almost obsessively. I have a ridiculous love for unique portable storage options, it might even be possible that I’ve bought new props just because I found the “right” bag for them. Possible. Maybe. Shut up. 😛
So, what are my basic criteria? The ideal bag for me has several qualities (the numbers in parentheses are minimum requirements, if the bag fits 2-3 more, all the better, but this way lies madness):
- Holds balls (7) and clubs (4) Clubs are the real issue. I only use 4 for solo work, but a bag that lets me hold 6-7 so I can pass with someone isn’t bad either. I usually can get away with a 4 club bag, though, as most folks have their own clubs to mix into the passing pattern. Rings aren’t a consideration for me as I personally don’t mind if rings are held outside of the bag rather than inside. A bag wide enough to hold rings is a wider profile for a prop I rarely carry, and I’d rather keep the bag slimmer.
- It has to close all the way, no props sticking out.
- It should hang vertically. The standard athletic duffel bag is great in terms of space, but generally they carry the load horizontally. This creates a larger profile for the walker and it’s easy to get caught and bump into things.
- While it does not need to hold rings, it does need to have some kind of clip that allows me to attach my rings to the outside of the bag. Extra clips (for diabolo, devil stick, juggling staves, what have you) are desirable but I rarely carry those props and don’t worry too much about them. (I’ve just recently picked up some juggling staves, though, and have found a nice solution to carry those below).
- Separate compartments to keep my balls and clubs apart. If the ball compartment has enough room to hold my 3 poi and/or my meteor, bonus points. I do not carry torches in the same bag as my regular clubs.
So, given this list, what are some bags I’ve used/still using? I’ll tell you all up front that my “go-to” bag is a made-to-order Modek bag which I’ll describe at the end, but here are a few other bags I’m still using.
I have a large tennis racket bag currently holding 7 European clubs and 3 American clubs. The bag can be carried vertically. It’s a great bag for space, but has no separate compartments, though it does have an outside clip where I can attach rings. It’s used mainly for storage, but it’s the bag I use if I’m headed to a massive passing workshop.
I have this bag meant to carry a scooter I found at a thrift shop (where I find most of these bags). It does not close all the way, but hangs vertically really nicely. It also has the best shoulder/back padding. Holds close to 10 clubs. No separate compartments inside, but the outside section easily holds 10 balls (3-inch diameter, you can see my wiffle ball Russians on the right there). I keep my “office props” here.
I found this bag at a thrift store. I think it’s for a tripod or telescope. It has a zipped extension on the bottom to make the bag slightly bigger. It hangs perfectly straight and I love the strap design. It currently holds my 4 LED clubs. It has no separate compartment, but can hold a few balls (I usually only juggle 4 LED balls in performance). I’ve used it as my “LED case” with clubs, LED balls, charger, and remote.
Another thrift store bag. It’s my “I’m not going to do anything really serious and mostly will probably hang out” bag. No separate compartments, no outside clips, but this bag is spacious. It does not close all the way, but it hangs well vertically. I’ll throw balls (7-9), clubs (4-7), some poi, probably my meteor and puppyhammer and go have fun, or let others have fun.
This rolling suitcase is my teaching “bag.” It holds several Russian juggling balls and I take it to teach classes. I can place 4 clubs and several rings in the upper compartment. The weight and positioning of the clubs and the pile of balls themselves sometimes will crush a few of the balls. They bounce back, but it’s sad to open the case to see some crushed balls.
A friend carries her props in a bag meant for baseball equipment. I wasn’t really a fan, I thought the long section designed to hold bats would just be unused space. That is, until I picked up juggling staves. Now I’m sold, I love how the bag keeps staves and other equipment separate, the larger part of the bag holds clubs and balls easily (though not separately). It’s a great bag for when I want to focus on staff work, but I know I’m going to want to get at least a little “regular” juggling in my practice.
Last but not least, and in fact almost certainly best, are the custom bags made by Modek designs. You can see my video review here. Kassandra made this first bag after our conversation at Fahrenheit festival 2016. the bag holds 7-9 clubs (the picture shows 6 Renegade 105mm clubs inside. It could hold another 1-2), hangs vertically, closes all the way, and has a clip for rings. The outside pockets each hold 3 juggling balls (3” diameter) well enough, but the hook-and-loop closure often pop open.
After several more conversations, my second Modek bag is a little smaller, holding 4 clubs (Henrys Pirouettes). In the shot below are 4 clubs, 8 balls (2.5”), and a meteor. It hangs vertically, has separate compartments, and an outside ring clip, The outside zip pocket holds a set of 3 contact poi (and on newer bags the zipper is vertically aligned, which is better, and probably means I’ll be getting another bag soon). The interior compartments hold the balls and my meteor comfortably, though sometimes it takes some work to then slide my clubs back in to the bag. I’d probably prefer the strap hang straight up and down the center of the bag along the lines of my LED bag, but this right now is the bag I use for nearly every event. The “Propfessor” on the top of the bag is actually a velcro strip. Kassandra sent me “Juggle”, “Professor,” and “Propfessor” and while I do sometimes switch them around, I usually keep “propfessor” on this bag. My next one will have my nickname directly embroidered onto the bag ( a service also provided by Modek).
In the end, the quest for the perfect bag for me may just be about compartmentalizing what I want to do in terms of a particular practice session, spin jam, or festival. Am I teaching? Just going to hang out? Work on a new prop? Intellectually, I know better, there is no “perfect” bag, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to find it.