Incase ICON backpack review: Woolenex armor for all your stuff

iMore Recommended Award

Let's start this off by saying that I did indeed receive the ICON backpack from Incase for review consideration. I didn't go asking for it, but when someone offers you a cool new backpack to try out, you're not gonna say no.

Incase recently started making its ICON collection out of "Woolenex," which is essentially an abrasion-resistant fabric that's tightly knit, "woven from two different thicknesses of polyester fiber." I figured winter in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada is as good a time as any to test out the durability and weather resistance of a backpack like this, so here we go.

This is the Incase ICON backpack with Woolenex.

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A turtle shell treasure trove: Design

When I say turtle shell, I mean it in the best way. This backpack is rigid. Actually, almost to a fault. I could foresee a bit of an issue if you took this on a plane and it was quite full and a flight attendant told you to stuff it under the seat in front of you. It just doesn't want to seem to flatten. That being said, you may see that as its best quality. If you have a laptop in there (this one can hold a 15-incher) and any other expensive tech that you really would rather stay in one piece, this is the perfect backpack for you.

I got a pocket, got a pocket full of pockets. If you want to carry all the things, you can in the ICON. I count nine zippered pockets and within several of them are separate pouches (not zippered) of various sizes for pens, peripherals, and whatever else you feel like tuckin' away in there. The two side pockets are kind of awkward in that you'd probably only slip a wallet in there or something, but one of them has a headphone cable hole and would definitely fit your phone. The inner lining of each pocket feel strong, like it could stand up to the everyday wear and tear of plastic binders and pens and pencils and other relatively pointy things.

My favorite pocket is the back laptop pocket, which seems to be lined with a (Zapp Brannigan voice) sweet, soft layer of supple, luscious velour. The outside of that pocket, which is what your back touches, features the comfiest of padding, which makes the rigidity of the whole affair seem almost oxymoronic in a way. I really didn't believe something so sturdy could be so comfortable.

In terms of looks, the ICON is simple and understated, but an altogether elegant and stylish backpack that you could see a business-type businessman walking around with or a college student or even an elementary school kid toting to class. It's aesthetic is that versatile. And the Woolenex material feels just as durable as Incase claims — scratching at it with my nails and various somewhat sharper objects, I was unable to put even the slightest mark on it. I'm always skeptical when a company makes certain claims, and I've had bad luck with backpacks in the past (Tracker backpacks, anyone?), so I was more than pleasantly pulled the ICON out and full-on felt the quality. I'm as frugal as frugal gets (look up "cheap Winnipeggers" and you'll see what I mean), and I would honestly pay the $200 for this backpack.

The happy wanderer: Functionality

I don't get out of the house too much, so I only had the chance to take the ICON for a spin a few times. So in order to really test its mettle in everyday situations, I asked my wife if she'd take it to work with her on a daily basis. I said, "Wife, please take this backpack with you every day and let me know what you think." And she said, "What have I said about calling me that?" And after a time she agreed. She busses to and from work and is a shooter/editor at a local TV station, so she often has to grab her bag and hit the road. She loved how comfortable it is, especially with the chest buckle, which helps distribute weight and take the load off your shoulders and back.

Her only complaint was the lack of an exterior water bottle pocket. She said she didn't really realize how much she relied on that aspect of a backpack, but not having it was actually a bit of a pain. I have to say I agree; on my recent excursions, the inability to just reach back and grab my water bottle on the fly made things a bit cumbersome and inconvenient.

On any given day, my wife ends up sitting around waiting for work to come in — sometimes for hours at a time — so she brings lots of stuff to keep her occupied, and she couldn't fill up the ICON no matter how hard she tried. On any given day, she'd bring our 15-inch MacBook Pro, a couple thick books, a 3DS, her lunch, a binder for a distance learning course she's taking, headphones, extra batteries, her water bottle, and other small, miscellaneous items. The ICON still wasn't full, and thanks to that chest buckle, it didn't feel heavy.

As for weather resistance, we've had a pretty snowy February and March, and the water-resistance of the Woolenex is superb — water just beads and rolls off. When I'd get place or my wife would get to work, the backpack would only be slightly damp and the inside remained dry as British wit.

When I ventured out to coffee shops, I brought along the laptop, a couple notebooks, some peripherals, and a book or two. This particular backpack might have been overkill in that instance, but I have an upcoming plane trip, and I'm particularly excited to take the ICON with me, since I'll likely be packing books, a laptop, the 3DS, and possibly a ukulele (which fits!).

Should you pay $200 for a backpack? Absolutely

If you want to essentially buy a backpack that you'll probably have for the rest of your life, the Incase ICON is a wonderful choice. It's incredibly durable, holds all the things, is stylish enough to bring to school, the park, a business meeting, or the altar at your wedding, and it's comfy as all get out, which I have found is pretty rare in a good backpack.

The ICON pretty effortlessly marries functionality and form (even if it is missing that all-too-convenient water bottle pocket).

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Mick Symons

Mick is a staff writer who's as frugal as they come, so he always does extensive research (much to the exhaustion of his wife) before making a purchase. If it's not worth the price, Mick ain't buying.