I’m a blogger, a journalist, an author — I travel the world and video, photograph, and record just about everything. This means I carry a lot of electronics. Piles, in fact. Laptops, tablets, smartphones, cameras, voice recorders, stacks of SD cards, external hard drives, chargers, batteries, headphones, microphones, flashlights, cords and plugs — lots of cords and plugs. To put it simply, I need good backpack to carry all of this.
While I usually just use a conventional mid-size backpack and simply stuffing all my electronic gear into a few float bags and piling it in, this clearly isn’t the best way. Whenever I need a piece of gear fast I need to go digging for it, which means time and the potential of missing what it is I want to document in the first place (things happen fast in travel). So Incase gave me one of their ICON backpacks.
Billed as the ultimate work backpack, Incase set out to design a bag precisely for people who are both electronics-laden and extremely mobile.
- The ICON is a mid-size backpack, coming in at 19″ x 13″ x 9.00.”
- It can take up to a 15″ laptop.
- It’s made of durable 840D nylon.
- As is absolutely necessary in an electronics bag, it is extremely water resistant.
- The harness is solid, having more akin to a yoke than straps.
- There is a sternum strap but no waist strap.
- On the top of the bag is a very sturdy and well-made handle.
- The back of the pack — the part that touches your back — is solid and well padded.
What give this backpack its signature is its arrangement of sections, pockets, and other types of gear slots. The bag itself is seriously divided into five sections that are layered on top of each other. Inside each of these large pockets are myriad smaller pockets, slots, and dividers for about every electronic device and accessory imaginable. The two pocket layers in the back of the back are for the most important cargo: the laptop and tablet. The laptop pocket is soft and fleece-lined. There is also a fleece lined mobile phone pocket at the very top of the pack and two triangular side pockets for external batteries or for a music playing device. This backpack is like a large jewelry box for electronics: there is a special place for everything and it keeps it all highly organized.
The ICON backpack also looks good and is comfortable to carry — which is important, as a bag full of electronics is a heavy bag.
What is also remarkable about this backpack is how well it’s made. This is an extremely high quality pack, one that should last until you get tired of looking it rather than falling apart.
To sum up this bag’s benefits in one take: if you are a videographer, a photojournalist, or someone who uses a large amount of electronics for work and needs these electronics to be organized and easy to access, then the Incase ICON is it. To put it bluntly, Carryology.com awarded this backpack a readers choice award this year for a reason.
Which brings me to my criticisms.
One thing that I personally really do not like about this backpack is that there isn’t a compartment for a water bottle. While electronics and water don’t mix, an elastic sleeve on the outside of the bag for a bottle would have been nice. As we already covered, the outer fabric of this bag is water resistant, so any potential leakage more than likely will not permeate through to the electronics within. When on the road you need a way to carry water with you, always. It is a huge inconvenience to have to go looking for something to drink every time you get thirsty, and in situations where stores are not readily available this can lead to great discomfort. If you use a bag without a water bottle pocket you either have to carry a bottle in your hands — which sucks — or carry another bag just for the bottle — which would be ridiculous.
Another drawback to this backpack is that it is a little venerable to theft. First of all, it looks like an electronics bag. Anyone who looks at it is going to assume that there is at least a laptop within. Secondly, its zippers are not the most easily lockable. While the two main compartments have double zippers that could potentially be locked together, thus inhibiting wandering hands and thefts of opportunity, the holes in these zipper handles are incredibly narrow. This means that only the smallest, thinnest of locks could be used. Definitely not good. Although with a slight adaption you can make the zippers fully lockable.
But what I’m really critical of is the fact that for a backpack this size you really can’t put much in it. With its excessive amount of separate layers and pockets it is not really equipped for carrying anything other than electronics. You’d even be hard pressed to get a folded up jacket into it, let alone some snacks or other types of travel gear. This bag really gets in its own way.
When I went on my most recent research trip to Asia I evaluated my ICON backpack against the standard day pack that I usually carry, trying to decide which I wanted to bring. If I went with the ICON pack it was clear that I would need to carry a second backpack as well, as there would be no way that I could fit my electronics, clothes, and other essentials into it. While the standard pack comfortably holds everything. While I really like the ICON backpack I don’t like it so much that I am going to carry around an additional bag just to have the pleasure of using it.
When it comes down to it, if you want a backpack for electronics and electronics alone — something to cart your gear to work and back — then this is an excellent choice. But if you want to use your backpack to carry electronics as well as other things, then you will probably be better off with a simpler bag that doesn’t crowd itself with its own features.
The Incase ICON backpack can be found here and lists for $199.95.
Photo tour of the Icase ICON backpack