The Incase EO Travel Backpack Actually Lives Up to the Hype.

So, the Amazon reviews are correct. In case (pun clearly intended) you were wondering.

In a nutshell, the Incase EO Travel Backpack is essentially the perfect digital nomad backpack. So while there are a lot of trendy packs out there like Minaal and Tortuga, the Incase really stands above the pack for its construction, aesthetics and exceptional price point. Don’t discount the tried-and-true brands to rise to the occasion.

Beyond being a great digital nomad backpack, the Incase EO Travel Backpack is a truly great general backpack. It’s sleek enough that it can withstand an urban commute to the office, versatile enough for weekend trips and big enough for roughing it on multi-week trips. If I was a dude looking for a great general all-purpose bag, this is the one I would cinch in a heartbeat.

Even though the Incase EO Travel Backpack retails at $180, Amazon has it on sale for $130. Most of its competitors are generally priced around the $200-$300 range, and while it would compete fearlessly at this price point, its current price makes it the best value around, hands down. (Our closest is completely stuffed with bags.)

In fact, if there was a complaint, it’s the fact there’s not really a female version of the backpack. Though most one-bag travel bags—boy, is that a mouthful—bill themselves as unisex, the aesthetics do gear to a certain, um, crowd. In all honesty, it seems a bit sexist, but that isn’t the focus of this piece. (The pack is also on the heavier side, but then again, it seems clearly designed for a man.)

Is there a digital nomad backpack for girls? Does that even exist? Perhaps what we’d like to see is a more feminine form factor, because I’d be all over that. But for guys looking for a solid backpack that is able to withstand some roughing, the Incase is the bet I’d make.

Say goodbye to sweaty backs and hello to quality construction.

It may not be the lightest bag in the Map Happy repertoire at 2.85 pounds, but the EO is certainly one of the best designed and constructed backpacks that we’ve seen thus far.

At any rate, it’s clear that Incase has sourced some of the best materials around for the EO, putting a lot of those other “digital nomad bags” we’ve seen to shame. It comes in both a grey and black version, which have slightly different exteriors. The grey, which seems to be less popular, is made of a 300-denier heathered weave polyester. In layman’s terms, it feels like an extremely durable canvas that would take some heft.

The extremely popular black version is triple-coated with a polyurethane coating and more weather-resistant as a result. (In the end, our preference was for the grey. Skip to the end to read further in-depth.)

The bag is also made with YKK zippers, so they are manufactured by a Japanese zipper company known for their dependable—get this!—zippers. It’s clear there have been no shortcuts made here, since the bag fared well not only under rainy conditions but under a full bathroom shower. The remaining contents kept fairly dry in all cases (and we can say that cause it was directly under a high-pressure water faucet for quite a bit).

In terms of capacity, Incase reports that it carries up to 24L, but since the main compartment is expandable by 35%, it can be roughly surmised that it has a true capacity around 32.4L, which is in keeping with what we packed in it and our experience with other bags.

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Comfortable, breathable, no sweaty backs here.

The back is also well thought out, integrating an injection molded foam for extra comfort. There’s also good ventilation to prevent sweaty backs, which can be the bane of the male existence. Basically, it’s a good pick for old people with back problems.

One thing to note is that there isn’t a waist strap. These can be particularly helpful in centering weight, but its absence wasn’t so sorely missed that it wasn’t even noticed it until we thought about it further.

There’s also a topmost handle, which means the bag can be carried sideways à la briefcase in more convenient situations. Indeed, the main downside seems to be that the backpack straps don’t really tuck away, which would be helpful in this format.

Superior organization and compartmentalization at its finest.

Perhaps the best place where the Incase really stands out is its superior organization. There’s are four main sections to play around with, but it’s not so overly organized as to cause anguish for a Type-A person (truly, the boon and bane of every Type-A persona out there).

It is even more distinct from other backpacks because the last two compartments completely open lie-flat, much like a clamshell. There’s also a hidden, passport-ish-sized compartment along the top, great for hiding valuables and keys.

Perhaps the only real additional thing that is missing is some type of shoe compartment. Bulky items can be also be a bit finicky storing in the bag, depending on how packed to the brim to the bag can be.

But first, in order to cover this section more thoroughly, we’ll be covering each section independently.

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Inside the front pocket.

Front pocket: The front side of the bag has the smallest pocket out of them all. It runs along the bottom half of the bag, and there’s not much accessibility (its designed for grabbing items fairly quickly, which is evident by the fact that you can barely stick a hand in here). It’s also relatively flat, and will continue to be when the bag is clasped shut.

The material inside is very plasticky, lending itself well for liquids, though given how flat it is, I’m not sure how well would actually fare for most water bottles. But it is great for housing random knickknacks, much like a Kindle, travel journal or boarding passes.

Top front pocket: Ideally, this is where Incase would like travelers to store all those documents and cables. There’s two pocket-sized and two pen-sized pockets that run along inside, along with two mesh pockets at the bottom for the cables. On the other side, there’s two more pockets.

Honestly, we didn’t really use it like that. This is the best space to place irregularly shaped objects like a collapsible daypack and a hairdryer, along with some cords, cables and exploding sunscreen. At some point, our DSLR made a guest appearance in this section as well. My only suggestion here would be to never put sunscreen in the same place you put your electronics, and that was thoroughly our fault.

Inner clothes compartment: Is it weird to have a favorite compartment? Okay, it is kinda weird. This is the first section that lies completely flat, left to right, although sometimes its hard to pull off when the rest of the backpack is packed. Mea culpa.

This section is dominated by two mesh compartments, one on the top half left side, and one extending the full width and height on the right side (that errs toward the backpack straps). For people that aren’t able to rub two brain cells together, the most obvious use for the left side is miscellaneous toiletry items, liquids, first-aid kits, deodorant and the like.

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Do indeed travel well.

The right side is obviously best suited for clothes, though packing cubes and a separate laundry bag for dirty clothes are still highly recommended. It is also great for stashing large items. (Forget squishing things in between the two mesh pockets, unless they’re flat.)

This section also has the most versatility since it can expand up to 35% than its initial capacity for longer trips, and truthfully, which we needed every square inch for that. Otherwise, the compression straps on the exterior of the bag do a fabulous job of reducing the bag’s footprint when it is not in use.

Laptop compartment: First, like oh my god. I mean, like oh, my god, did you see the lining? That’s some SERIOUS protection, and as a former tech reporter, I think my heart skipped a beat. Finally, a company that does it right. But that makes sense, considering its Incase.

It fits up to a 17-inch laptop, measuring 16 inches x 11 inches (41 cm x 28 cm)1. Though that’s way larger than the 11-incher we stuck in there, there’s some serious protection here so it was kept properly padded the entire time on the road. In particular, where the laptop compartment seems to absolutely shine is the materials Incase uses to pad it, which in one word, seems downright plush (and vinyl).

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No laptop sleeve needed.

This compartment also opens ies flat, but from top to bottom, so in the exact opposite direction from the clothes compartment. (It makes for a fun T!) There’s a long pocket opposite the laptop compartment, probably for documents, but truly the only thing we did was stick dirty clothes in there. And shoes.

The best part is that it also doesn’t need to be opened completely to access the laptop. There were plenty of times we were able to quickly retrieve or stow away the backpack, without needing to spill everything open. It was a great feature during airport customs or simply when we needed to pull it out to do some quick work at a café.

Roughing it up in the Peruvian beach, desert and mountains.

Confession time. Look, even though we ended up taking this bag on less mileage comparatively to the Away and côte&ciel bag, the Incase took serious beatings while we were on the road in Peru. Think planes, taxis, buses, colectivos, more buses and even more tiny planes. In fact, the road conditions were probably equally strenuous as the the Away bag, which endured 14 plane hops throughout Asia, if not more so.

For starters, this is what we fit into a two-week trip through seven cities in Peru. The bag was fully packed to the brim, since, remember, Peru houses 30 out of 32 different climates. But we were able to make do somewhat with our general assembly line covering almost every single situation:

  • Full toiletry bag, pads, first-aid kit
  • Full tube of sunscreen and moisturizer bought en route
  • Swimming suit
  • Intimates: 5 pairs of undies and 6 pairs of socks, two bras
  • General clothing: 2 pairs of shorts, one pair of jeans, 2 dresses, 5 tops, 2 pajama sets, 3 pairs of shoes
  • Cold weather clothing: 1 long sleeve shirt, 2 sweaters, 1 fleece, 1 pair of gloves
  • Travel towel and hairdryer
  • Collapsible daypack, passport, journal, keys, F1 seat pak travel kit
  • Phone and charger, laptop and charger
  • Gifts (a phone, multiple USB chargers, chocolate)

Because of what we stuffed inside, there were at least two incidents where the bag didn’t necessarily fit: It didn’t fit in the overhead of a Movil Tours overnight bus, forcing us to check it in cargo, and also in the overhead bin of a Star Peru regional jet, the British Aerospace 146 (a plane no longer manufactured).

Notably, the overhead bin on the BAe 146 initially seemed like it would have been able to accommodate the EO Travel Backpack, but we were eventually forced to ask a flight attendant to gate-check the bag. We surmise, that with less stuff inside and fully compressed, the bag may actually be able to make it onto a regional jet.

Perhaps the most drastic issue we had was the situation involving a 14-hour overnight bus ride from Nazca to Cusco. Forgetting we had our laptop in it, it got stuffed in a bus cargo of an extremely full double-decker bus for the ride. There were LOTS of people on that bus, and LOTS of windy roads.

By the time the morning rolled around, the bag had substantially increased in heat from all the bumpy roads and packed cargo conditions. Temperatures inside the bus had raised so substantially that a tube of sunscreen had exploded in the middle of transit, causing some concern. (But for real, the primary concern was wondering how the laptop had fared, which ended up being fine.)

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Great zippers mean better waterproofing.

Despite all this, we were able to hose the inside of the bag down in the shower with some sufficient waterproofing in the rest of the compartments (valuable electronics and items were removed, but some clothes and loose items had been left in the bag). The remaining items inside the other compartments managed to remain relatively dry, even while we were soaping all the Dr.Bronner possible over it.

After dumping as much as water possible outside, we then left the bag outside overnight to dry, zipped open. Even though there was some light rain during the night, by morning time, the bag had still managed to sufficiently dry. To be fair, while it looks a little beat up at this point, it’s got our trust in weathering rugged conditions. The Patagonia Stormfront, which is virtually waterproof, is in a completely different category.

Stacking the two versions against each other.

Basically, if you’ve gotten this far in the review, there’s probably only one question left you’ll be asking: Should I get it in the black or the grey?
Even though the black is the most popular option, the Map Happy team threw down a unanimous vote for the grey. But let’s backtrack about how we came to this decision, because it wasn’t really unanimous in the beginning.

First, our Boston-based tester expressed a preference for the grey, citing it “would wear better over time.” (That is fair, because we’ve see him beat bags into oblivion.) Then our New York-based tester expressed another preference for the grey. Two out of three.

In all fairness, the only person on the team that expressed a preference for the black was yours truly. It seemed like the most logical choice, considering both versions are the same price, and it was built to be more water-resistant, office-friendly, and therefore, presumably, a better-value all around. Several months later, we’re looking for around the grey.

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Side by side.

In the end, there are three reasons why we prefer the grey. The first is that the black is a bit too severe for traveling, and while it’d fit in a little bit better at the office, the truth is the grey would suffice fine (in a super uptight office environment, we’d never take in the backpack anyway, and probably opt for something like a leather attaché).

Secondly, the backpack seems water-resistant enough on its own without the extra coating, and unless you plan on directly hosing it down at full blast with $700 phones sitting in the front pocket, it’s simply not relevant. Chances are, that will never happen.

Thirdly, our Boston-based tester’s prediction came to pass: after weeks of roughing it, the black no longer looks that great. Keeping it newish-looking is simply going to be hard, and because of that, it is no longer fit for the office, somewhat defeating the point.

Don’t get us wrong, the black is still a great choice, but the grey simply ages better. Honestly, it mostly comes down to aesthetic preference, but that’s an aesthetic feature to consider.

1 footnote

  1. Remember screen size is usually measured by the length of its diagonal.
The Incase EO Travel Backpack Actually Lives Up to the Hype. via @maphappy
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