The Wirecutter: A subtly fashion-forward, minimalist backpack

This article was originally published in The Wirecutter's Favorite Laptop Backpacks. Read the article here.

By Justin Krajeski, Staff Writer


Who this is for: Someone who values a comfortable, minimal, and attractive bag with lots of storage and wants it to look more stylish, subtle, and refined than most other backpacks.


Photo: Michael Murtaugh


Why it’s great: ISM’s The Backpack is a great choice if you want a stylish, sophisticated backpack that's comfortable to wear for a long time and has enough storage for a long day of work (notably more storage than in small fashionable bags like the Rains). It fits a variety of body sizes and looks a cut above everything my co-workers tested (in my opinion), thanks to its full-grain leather bottom.

The ISM (pronounced “-ism”) Backpack is a sleek, demure-looking bag, with understated leather flourishes providing a subtle contrast to its primarily nylon construction. Its leather bottom and trim details make it suitable for attending important meetings at the office, or for impressing your date so thoroughly that they forget you were late to dinner because of said meeting.

The ISM bag is comfortable to wear on your back for long periods of time. The mesh padding on its arms and back is plush, and I had no issue wearing the backpack for a cumulative 10 hours while testing. Riding on subways, waiting for coffee, shopping at a vintage vinyl record outpost in Soho—we’ve done it all together, the ISM and I. And I never felt like it was overheating my back.


The ISM Backpack is a traditional-looking bag elevated by subtle material and design upgrades.


It has enough storage space to cover you in most situations. I counted six pockets and two main compartment areas, including a laptop sleeve for a 15-inch laptop. Most other backpacks I tested didn't provide as much room as the ISM for storing notebooks and folders. The ISM pack provides a teeny leather flap on the right side, where you can pass through a phone charger from the inside of the bag.

ISM offers a lifetime warranty that applies to manufacturing defects in the bag’s materials. I couldn’t find a warranty this long for any of the other stylish backpacks I tested; some, like the AllSaints Ridge Rucksack, offer only a farcical 14-day return window.



Flaws but not dealbreakers: At its usual price of $235, ISM’s The Backpack is expensive, so I recommend this bag only to those who care deeply about appearances. The lifetime warranty makes this pricey pill a touch easier to swallow compared with other fashionable bags like those from AllSaints and Saturdays, which have a paltry two-week return policy. The ISM pack also lacks side pockets, but if you’re carrying a bag for style, it’s better to avoid any situation where a week-old plastic water bottle might be lodged in its side.



Dimensions: 18 by 13.5 by 5 inches
Weight: 1.8 pounds
Water bottle holders: none
Warranty: lifetime (manufacturing defects only)
Maximum laptop size: 15 inches
Colors: black with black accents, black with gold accents


See The Backpack 

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