The official start of summer is right around the corner, but as far as I’m concerned it’s in full swing. The weather is nice, backyard barbecues are a daily event, and probably half the people I know are off to the beach somewhere on vacation. I have quite a few trips coming up myself, and of course the big question is always: Which of my RCs should I bring with me? This is not easily answered, as there are a lot of factors to consider when selecting a vehicle to pack in your luggage. If you’re flying you’ll have a lot less flexibility than if you’re driving, but there are still some good options out there. Let’s start by narrowing things down and see if we can find what we’re looking for.
Power source is a key consideration for taking an RC on the go. Sorry nitro guys, but electric is the clear choice here. Don’t get me wrong – I love my gas guzzlers and drive them all the time, but when we’re talking about ease of transportation they don’t stand a chance. You have jugs of fuel (which means absolutely no air travel, period), extra support gear, and oily equipment to deal with, but that’s only the beginning. Nitro mills are loud and smelly, and as a result they tend to annoy other people quite a bit more than electric power does. You are far more likely to get away with running an electric ride in a hotel parking lot or campsite than a nitro one. You can run your nitros when you get home, but for the road electricity is king.
The size of vehicle to bring with you is not as simple a choice as you might think. Sure, a mini or micro might fit more easily in your luggage, but is it going to be any fun to drive where you’re going? If you will be restricted to indoor spaces, then smaller is better. If you’ll have a chance to run outside, you’ll want something that can stretch out its legs a bit more. A 1/5th or even a 1/8th scale rig will probably be a handful to deal with no matter where you’re going, but 1/8th buggies do actually travel fairly easily. Somewhere in the 1/10th to 1/18th scale range seems to be the butter zone, as vehicles in that size are generally compact and light but still very entertaining in wide open spaces. For open-wheeled vehicles, don’t forget that you can take the wheels off to make them easier to pack.
This is a biggie. Should you bring a car or a truck? Perhaps a boat would be fun, or even a small plane. Starting with surface-based vehicles, it’s generally a bad idea to go with a strict on-roader. If the surface conditions aren’t ideal, you’re dead in the water. Off-roaders can handle any surface, but tire choice is a factor. Ditch those fast-wearing fuzzy race tires and go for some general purpose treads or lugs instead. Boats are generally a no go because, well, they’ll only run on water, but micro boats can be a lot of fun in the right circumstances. Aircraft aren’t generally restricted by any kind of terrain, but wind is the enemy. However, any plane or helicopter small enough to pack will really only be good indoors anyway, and as long as you’ll have a fair amount of indoor space to fly in a micro aircraft is never a bad choice.
Ok, enough idle chatter – it’s time to get down to the good stuff. Here are my top picks for best go-anywhere RCs by category, followed by my #1 overall choice.
- Team Associated RC18: This flexible and fun platform is one of the very best choices for RCing on the go. With a few parts changes you can go from buggy to monster truck to sedan, and the full time 4wd helps in the handling department. This one is fast enough to be fun but small enough to go anywhere.
- Rock crawler: With nothing more than a battery, a controller, and a couple wrenches you can go off-roading for hours pretty much anywhere. Axial is a good place to start looking as they have a few models to choose from, but I’m partial to the original AX10. Even if you’re stuck in a hotel room you can still easily throw together a makeshift crawling course. My 2.2 crawler is one of my favorites to bring along when camping, but any smaller or mini size crawler will do just fine as well.
- Kyosho Mini-Z: There are a lot of micro and ultra-micro vehicles to choose from these days, but the Mini-Z is still king of the hill in my opinion… although the dNaNo is a close second place. These tiny cars offer great entertainment for the size, pack up super small, and require essentially no additional equipment at all.
Land – honorable mentions:
- 1/10th electric buggy: If you still have one of these sitting around, bring it along on your next camping trip; you won’t be sorry. It’s a blast from your RC past.
- 1/10th electric sedan: I always like having a drift car handy, and as long as there’s a smooth surface nearby you’re good to go.
- E-Flite Blade CX: There’s plenty of micro helis out there, but this has always been one of my favorites. It’s small enough to fly indoors but big enough to be controllable and easy to work on. The CX is equally enjoyable inside a hotel room or in a breeze-free campsite. Don’t forget spare parts though.
- ParkZone Etomic plane: Ultra-micro RC airplanes are amazing fun and great for honing your skills. The ParkZone Etomic line, which includes the Ember and Vapor, is hobby-grade flight in an amazingly tiny package. Transporting these extremely delicate planes is a bit tricky, but the payoff of proportional 3-channel stunt flying indoors is totally worth it.
- AquaCraft mini boat: Take your pick of catamaran, hydro, or traditional V-hull and hit the nearest tiny body of water with one of these. At only a hundred bucks, AquaCraft offers a lot of fun for the money, but of course the hardest part is finding a place to run one. If you love boats and will have access to a pool, pond, or even a fountain of some sort, look no further.
Best overall go-anywhere RC:
Traxxas Rally VXL (aka Ken Block, Ford Fiesta, Boss 302, etc.)
This is without a doubt the very best overall go-anywhere RC on the planet today. It’s fast, fun, tough, compact in size, and big in performance. It uses batteries you already own (1/18th stick packs), wheels you already own (1/10th sedan wheels), and is completely at home on any surface. Rough pavement? Perfect. Feel like doing a bit of off roading? Slap on a set of 1/16th Slash shocks to gain a bit more ride height and hit the dirt rally car style. Changed your mind and want to drift instead? No problem – just bolt on a set of standard issue drift shoes and get sideways. Speed run? Sure thing – just add a couple LiPos and you’ll be at 50mph in no time. Not much room to run in? Easy – run a single battery pack and put the ESC in trainer mode, and you’re set for indoor use. Add to the mix waterproof electronics, sealed metal-gear diffs, an included 2.4GHz radio, brushless power, awesome looks, beefy hardware, and a price tag under $300, and you just can’t go wrong.
Remember, just because you’re away from home doesn’t mean you have to be away from RC. Bring your hobby with you, and you’ll soon wonder why you haven’t done it before.