OnePlus Explorer Backpack review: Meet my magical new gear bag

OnePlus is known for flagship phones that don't break the bank, high-quality accessories, and they already make a pretty great backpack, which is why when they announced alongside the OnePlus 6T that they were releasing a new backpack with a higher capacity and a slicker look, we all sat up and took notice. The OnePlus Explorer Backpack is beautiful, durable, and one of the hardest items to acquire this holiday season, which makes me all the more grateful for the one on my desk.

The Good

  • 2 laptop pockets, including a padded rear sleeve
  • Good-sized accessory pockets on front and back
  • Water resistant CORDURA is nice (Slate Black only)
  • Well padded shoulder straps and back
  • Fidlock keeps the main compartment secured

The Bad

  • Begging for invite codes
  • Fidlock doesn't always line up if the bag isn't full
  • Phone in "hidden pocket" can dig into your back

Not like, love

OnePlus Explorer Backpack What I love

Explore with me!

The Explorer doesn't look like a backpack that can fit much inside it, but filling up this Slate Black CORDURA-covered pack takes a lot of time and a lot of stuff. The deep main compartment has a laptop sleeve with a securing strap, a zippered accessory pouch, and is secured with a long, long zipper, a stiff fold-over flap, and a Fidlock snap fastener with a signature OnePlus red strap.

4 phones, 3 chargers, 2 laptops, and 1 still half-empty bag

I regularly had trouble filling up this cavernous cavity without just stuffing a hoodie in with all my chargers, cable bags, phone stands, headphones, and the random Bluetooth speaker. Seriously, this thing felt like a bottomless pit when packing it up for my Thanksgiving trip home. On the back of the Explorer sits a very well-padded, easy-access laptop sleeve, great for pulling out your computer at the cafe or TSA, and I greatly preferred using this sleeve to the one in the main compartment.

The wide, shallow front compartment — waterproof with a draining vent for damp umbrellas — is a hair on the small side for comfortably holding larger headphones, but it's been the perfect size for snacks or quick-access cables. Since it's waterpoof, it's wonderfully easy to wipe it clean with a wet paper towel or a Lysol wipe if some dirt or crumbs get inside.

Two smaller exterior accessory pockets — a deep pouch on the front and a "hidden" phone/wallet pocket sandwiched between the laptop sleeve and your back — and a narrow, slightly stretchable water bottle pouch round out the Explorer's 8-pocket lineup, and between these 8 pockets, you'll be able to pack just about everything you could ever want. The shoulder straps aren't quite as padded as the back wall of the laptop sleeve, but I still felt zero discomfort carrying my loaded bag from place to place on my journey.

This bag has been a treat, holding everything I need for work and then some without feeling cramped, bloated, or heavier than Jacob Marley's chains. This water-resistant, travel-ready bag is everything I'd hoped for and more, and I have no doubts it will serve me for years to come.

So, we're back to this nonsense?

OnePlus Explorer Backpack What I can do without

Brand power

When the Thunder Purple OnePlus 6T arrived on my doorstep for our hands-on, I squealed with delight upon seeing the Explorer arrive with it. This is a striking, precise, subtly nerdy bag that I had been dying to try out, but I also thought there was no way I'd be able to get my hands on one for a while. See the Explorer's biggest flaw isn't a lack of pockets — though it could use another accessory pouch near the bottom of the main compartment — it's that you can't just get online and buy it. You need a golden ticket first.

Once upon a time, when OnePlus was a fledgling smartphone maker, the invitation code system made sense. OnePlus wouldn't end up with a surplus of phones and a loss of revenue if all the phones they made were spoken for. The most devoted fans in the OnePlus community could easily obtain codes when they needed to upgrade, since the way you obtain an invite code is by winning one from OnePlus's social media accounts or begging for one in forum threads.

OnePlus isn't a start-up anymore. Invitation codes aren't needed for anything but hype.

Invitation codes made earlier OnePlus phones harder to buy for anyone that wasn't a die-hard fanboy, and die-hard fanboys are the only people who are going to be able to easily buy the OnePlus Explorer for a while, and even many of them will bebegging to split an invite code with someone.

OnePlus Explorer Backpack

That's a shame, too, because this a great bag whether you're a OnePlus fan or not, and I look forward to using it for the foreseeable future. The feeling of exclusivity is a great one, but when someone asks me how much my OnePlus Explorer Backpack is, having to tell them "Oh, it's $100, but you gotta get invited to buy it" sounds exactly like the pretentious gatekeeping it is.

4.5 out of 5

The OnePlus Explorer Backpack is modern, sleek, and it can carry all the tech and snacks I need smartly whether I'm just leaving for the coffee shop or a week-long multi-city adventure. It's exactly what I needed and I wanted out of my next gear bag, and it more than earns its $100 price tag. I just wish my owning it didn't require a massive stroke of luck.

$100 at OnePlus (invitation code required)

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.