Hands-on Gear Review

Incase City Review

Price:  $130 List | $67.99 at Amazon
Pros:  Compact, good laptop protection
Cons:  Not good for bulky items, pricey, doesn't repel water
Bottom line:  This tends to be a comfy pack unless you have a large load; there are lots of great features to help stay organized and the 360 degree laptop protection is a fun feature (even though it felt as though the bottom padding sometimes slipped).
Editors' Rating:   
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Volume (L):  21 L
Dimensions:  20.5 x 13.5 x 5.50 in.
Weight:  2 lb.
Manufacturer:   Incase

Our Verdict

The Incase City has one of the sleekest designs when compared to the other nine contenders we tested. It has two primary storage areas and a dedicated laptop compartment that fits up to a 17 inch MacBook Pro. Incase's platform is rooted in the lifestyles of those who create on the Apple platform, so if you are an avid Apple product user, this is a very well-designed bag for use with Apple products. The laptop compartment has a soft faux fur lining and 360-degree padding, which made it stand out amidst the plethora of laptop backpacks we tested.

The shoulder straps were a little bulky and the lack of sternum strap didn't allow for any minor adjustments, which would help a smaller framed individual carry this pack with ease. The back panel is heavily padded, adding unnecessary weight to a simple design. While this pack was comfy, extended wear might cause it to become cumbersome.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Katherine Elliott

Last Updated:
Tuesday
November 29, 2016

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With the InCase City's sleek design and a dedicated laptop compartment that fits up to a 17 inch MacBook Pro, it is an excellent laptop backpack that has some great functions. However, it just wasn't a top scorer in any of the testing metrics (and this is coming from an avid Apple product user). The laptop compartment incorporates a soft faux fur lining that made using the sleeve enjoyable and 360-degree padding was great. Unfortunately, when stuffed with gear, the padding on the bottom seemed to slip away from the laptop sleeve, which allowed our laptop to hit the floor on several occasions. The shoulder straps and back panel add a padded airy feel that makes it comfortable to wear, but the lack of sternum strap and the large diameter of the shoulder straps make it feel clunky and bulky when traveling by foot (and especially by bike).

Performance Comparison


The simplicity of the City made it great for short commutes that don't require a hefty amount of gear.
The simplicity of the City made it great for short commutes that don't require a hefty amount of gear.

Laptop Protection


The Incase City Collection claims to offer a 360-degree layer of protection for your laptop, encompassing it in its own separate faux fur lined pocket. Although this was a nice feature, we still found that the bottom layer of padding tended to move around with different gear in the pack. Our laptop even ended up making contact with the ground once while in the sleeve, because our 15" Macbook slipped through the padding layer. While this was a decent contender for scoring high in laptop protection, the lack of a securing strap, a roomy laptop sleeve, and the variable bottom padding, ranked it in the middle.

The faux fur lining of the Incase City made for a pleasant feel while using the sleeve; this performed sub par with the rest of the group.
The faux fur lining of the Incase City made for a pleasant feel while using the sleeve; this performed sub par with the rest of the group.

Comfort


This contender had all the makings of a very comfortable laptop backpack, though a few shortcomings ranked it rather low in the comfort spectrum. There is adequate padding on the back panel, and the straps are wide and padded - maybe a little too wide. They tended to slip while walking (and especially biking) and since there is no sternum strap, this wasn't a problem that we could address. If you are looking for a highly adjustable bag, this would not be our first pick. Instead, consider the Osprey Flapjack for ultimate comfort. It scored a 9 out of 10, blowing all of the other contenders out of the water.

The lack of sternum strap on the City was unfortunate  as the width of the straps made it rather uncomfortable for carrying. It tended to pinch our underarm area.
The lack of sternum strap on the City was unfortunate, as the width of the straps made it rather uncomfortable for carrying. It tended to pinch our underarm area.

Storage


Since the Incase platform was designed around the avid Apple product user, this is a very friendly bag for all of your tech storage needs. There is a decent size zippered pocket on the outer pack. This pocket has a nice organization system in place for an iPad or tablet and also a few pockets for pens and other loose knick-knacks. There is plenty of room for gear, such as a jacket and a change of clothes, but this wouldn't be our strongest recommended pack for outdoor use. If that's something important to you, we'd recommend the Patagonia Black Hole 25.

The top pocket is also lined with faux fur. Unfortunately  it wasn't quite big enough for our 11" Chromebook and we instead used it to hold our iPhones.
The top pocket is also lined with faux fur. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite big enough for our 11" Chromebook and we instead used it to hold our iPhones.

Ease of Use


With lots of pockets for keeping this organized and accessible in a pinch, the one complaint most of us had was the mesh inner pockets. Found in the main compartment, the mesh would constantly get hung up on the corners of paper and books when trying to take things out. This became such a nuisance that it made this pack hard to reach for when others were in the lineup, like the simple single compartment Patagonia Black Hole 25. The zippers also seemed to have a few hang-ups with proper use and the plastic pull tabs were not as easy to use as some of the other webbing pull tabs. This was all in all a great design; however, for the price, Incase could have put in a little more effort into installing a better zipper system.

The zippers frequently snagged on this backpack  making this a frustrating bag to use when in a hurry.
The zippers frequently snagged on this backpack, making this a frustrating bag to use when in a hurry.

Style


Like many other packs in the review, the City has a sleek look and clean lines, but we didn't think that alone was enough to outrank the Top Pick winner the Burton Tinder for style. Not having a sternum strap made this pack seem much more suited to office and city life.

The simple design and large build made this a decent laptop backpack for short trips around town and to the office. It was not our first choice for longer commutes or travel.
The simple design and large build made this a decent laptop backpack for short trips around town and to the office. It was not our first choice for longer commutes or travel.

Water Resistance


At first glance, this looks to be made of a similar material that the nine other packs are made of, but it scored by far the lowest in the shower test. It became almost fully saturated within seconds of a simulated downpour. This tended to leave the paper wet on the edges where it made contact with the zippers. Granted nowhere on their website does it claim that this bag is even water resistant, this pack remains true to its word.

This was the lowest scorer in the shower test and became saturated within seconds of our simulated downpour. Others in the test also became saturated but when the paper was removed  no water damage was seen. The Incase tended to leak at the zipper contact points  leaving the paper wet on the edges more than not.
This was the lowest scorer in the shower test and became saturated within seconds of our simulated downpour. Others in the test also became saturated but when the paper was removed, no water damage was seen. The Incase tended to leak at the zipper contact points, leaving the paper wet on the edges more than not.

Best Applications


This laptop backpack says it all with its name. It is a nice pack to use if you are on the go in the city and not commuting by bike. The low levels of adjustability don't make this a very versatile pack for outdoor use, but it does have a good handle on staying organized and spacious. There were also a few problems that we kept encountering, like snagging zippers and getting our paperwork caught in the mesh pockets on the main compartment.

The Incase offers many great pockets for staying organized One complaint by many was that the mesh caused hangups on book corners and paperwork alike.
The Incase offers many great pockets for staying organized One complaint by many was that the mesh caused hangups on book corners and paperwork alike.

Value


At $130, the Incase was the most expensive laptop backpack in the review. We don't think the price is properly reflected in the product. The The North Face Borealis ($89) is our Best Bang for the Buck winner, while the Patagonia Black Hole 25 and Osprey Flapjack offer excellent quality for $129 and $110, respectively.

Conclusion


This contender wasn't a very high scorer throughout our testing process, though all in all, it seemed to be a decent laptop backpack. Unfortunately, it's expensive, and the water repellency is very poor (though again, Incase never claims it repels water). We were able to fit many small items into this pack and were able to find them again with ease.

Here you can see the difference between the Osprey Flapjack's well-designed shoulder strap system which includes a sternum strap and hip belt (pictured left). The City had a large back panel and extra wide shoulder straps and there are many of options for almost any body size (pictured right))
Here you can see the difference between the Osprey Flapjack's well-designed shoulder strap system which includes a sternum strap and hip belt (pictured left). The City had a large back panel and extra wide shoulder straps and there are many of options for almost any body size (pictured right))
Katherine Elliott

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Most recent review: November 29, 2016
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (3.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
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3 star: 100%  (1)
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