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 best backpacks I owned met my expectations anymore.
As a commuter, I wanted a commuter backpack 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 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 Laptop Backpack features 17.2 liters of storage capacity. The main compartment includes three roomy storage pockets for keeping your belongings organized, and there's a separate zippered laptop pocket for carrying up to a 15-inch 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 useful front pocket zippered compartment for easy access to small items.
Unlike most luxury bags, the ISM Backpack features a fully padded back panel and expandable shoulder straps for comfort. Made from high-quality full-grain leather and water-resistant nylon, this shoulder bag is a true blend of luxury and durability — and on top of that, it's completely unisex.
On paper, the ISM 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 commuter backpack I've used on my commutes to and from New Jersey and New York and I look forward to using it as a travel backpack next.
Initially, I thought the bag was a bit small, but the thoughtfully placed compartments and side pockets make great use of the space. On a daily basis, I usually carry-on a 13-inch Macbook, an external battery, an iPhone cable, Beats headphones, a compact Patagonia Jacket, a book, a water bottle, and maybe a small umbrella if it's raining. I was able to fit everything I needed in the backpack and some additional essentials in the quick access front pocket. 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 laptop bag 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 Backpack, everything I need is easily accessible compared to having to rummage through whatever else might be in my bag.
Priced at $235 for the black and gold zipper option, the ISM Backpack is a great value (it also comes with a lifetime warranty). 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 commuter bag that can handle your daily grind, whether it's in the office, a café, or at home, the ISM Backpack is it.