By Amir Ismael, Insider Picks
Between grade school and college, I've carried a backpack on a regular basis for the majority of my life without a hitch. It wasn't until I became a working professional with a relatively long commute when I realized that none of the backpacks I owned met my expectations anymore.
As a commuter, I wanted something that was durable and compact, yet high-end enough to look like it belonged in an office — not on the back of a student or a hiker. Unfortunately, most backpacks fall into two categories: rugged outdoorsy or strictly aesthetics-driven luxury.
Because of that, I struggled to find a professional-looking bag that was truly ideal for commuting and comfortably carrying daily essentials. And then I met the ISM Classic Backpack.
Founded in San Francisco by Justin Kwong, ISM came about after he experienced the same issues I did. After a lengthy creation process that included 82 digital designs and 15 prototypes, the ISM Backpack launched in its current form.
Designed to neatly and safely carry all of your necessary tech items and other daily basics, the ISM Classic Backpack features 17.2 liters of storage capacity. The main compartment includes three useful storage pockets for keeping your belongings organized, and there's a separate zippered compartment for carrying a laptop on the back, which means you don't have to struggle to get other items out of the way before you can to get to your computer. The backpack also has a zippered compartment for small items is on the front.
Unlike most luxury bags, the ISM Classic features a fully padded back and shoulder straps for comfort. Made from premium full-grain leather and water-resistant nylon, the ISM Classic a true blend of luxury and durability — and on top of that, it's completely unisex.
On paper, the ISM Classic Backpack sounded like an incredible concept, so the brand sent one over to allow us to put it to the test in the real world. After carrying it for a full work week, I can say that it's the most convenient bag I've used on my commutes to and from New Jersey and New York.
Initially, I thought the bag was a bit small, but the thoughtfully placed compartments make great use of the space. On a daily basis, I usually carry a 13-inch MacBook, an external battery, an iPhone cable, Beats headphones, a compact Patagonia Jacket, a book, a bottle of water, and maybe a small umbrella if it's raining. I was able to fit everything I needed in the backpack. The only time I ran into storage issues was when I randomly acquired a stainless steel pot at work to test out for another review, which isn't an everyday occurrence for the average person.
My favorite feature is the separate laptop compartment. Just about any backpack you can buy today features a laptop sleeve, but many of them are an afterthought simply included to say it's there. Most of the time they can be hard to access without taking the contents of the bag out. When I'm commuting to or from the city on the bus, I usually occupy myself by reading a book or using my computer. With the ISM Classic Backpack, everything I need is easily accessible compared to having to rummage through whatever else might be in my bag.
Another small but notable detail that I really appreciate is the charger port. There have been plenty of instances where I need to charge my phone, but don't want to take my external battery out of my bag. To get around this, I've had to leave my backpacks partly open, which isn't ideal. With the ISM Classic Backpack, I can keep my bag closed and neatly run my iPhone cable through here.
Priced at $225 for the black zipper detailing and $235 for the gold zipper option, the ISM Classic Backpack is a great value. Yes, it's more than the average camping backpack, but it's far less than high-end designer bags. I've only come across one other backpack that does a good job of fusing durability with luxury, the Stuart & Lau Capstone Backpack, but it's $120 more.
If you're looking for a quality backpack that can handle your daily grind, whether it's in the office, a café, or at home, the ISM Classic Backpack is it.