Incase A.R.C. Travel Pack Review
The A.R.C. Travel Pack from Incase is a well-rounded travel companion, though we wish some pockets were a little more dynamic.
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- Laptop sleeve is well designed
- Comfortable back panel and shoulder strap padding
- Holds substantially more gear when expanded
- Main compartment zipper can be awkward to navigate
- Shallow top quick-access pocket
- Shoe compartment and side pocket eat up main compartment space
Like the Look
Polled on Instagram
33L when fully expanded
3.7 lb (1.7 kg)
19 in x 13 in x 8 in (48.3 x 33 x 20.3 cm)
Recycled Polyester, YKK Zippers, Duraflex Hardware, Polyethylene, Polyurethane
Laptop Compartment Size
Incase is well known for its wide variety of laptop sleeves and cases, but also makes backpacks, slings, and other travel products and accessories. We’ve reviewed some of their smaller travel packs in the past, so when we saw that the A.R.C. Travel Pack expands to 35 liters, to say that we were intrigued is an understatement. We can’t help but wonder whether they can take what has made their other products so successful and create an equally useful travel backpack. Let’s find out!
Materials & Aesthetic
Kicking things off with the pack’s exterior, we have a 900D & 1200D outer shell crafted from recycled polyester. We see these two materials featured throughout the exterior in different places, giving the shell a nice look. One of the fabrics has a nice texture to it and is more matte, and the other material is softer and feels almost rubbery. They come together nicely, and we think Incase did an excellent job deciding which should go where.
The rubbery material is on the top tech pocket and the bottom of the pack, offering more water resistance where it counts. The textured fabric makes up the rest of the pack and feels durable enough to take the wear and tear of travel.
The main fabric has an exterior water repellent coating, which is a good shout because you never know when you might get caught in the rain, snow, or other inclement conditions. In our experience, the A.R.C. Travel Pack holds up in light rain, but if it starts pouring, you’d better head for cover. After 30 minutes in steady rain, we noticed that the interior was starting to feel damp.
There’s an Incase logo on the top right of the pack’s front face, and it’s crafted from metal. It’s raised a little, too, but is the same color as the fabric it’s adhered to. This makes it difficult to see from a distance but adds a nice bit of layering to the pack’s exterior, which we vibe with.
The two colorway options at the time of writing are Black and Navy. We have the Black on hand and dig the minimalism, but we must admit that the Navy option’s deep tones strike a chord with us.
Throughout the pack are YKK zippers, inside and out. Any pocket or compartment that Incase felt might be used for tech has an AquaGuard model, which is a nice addition but leaves us a little confused. This is a travel pack, and odds are, you will need to put tech in more than just the top quick-access pocket and the laptop compartment.
If you wanted to bring some camera gear, you’d probably put it into the main compartment. That doesn’t have a water-resistant zipper, so in theory, water could get inside and get your electronics wet. We would have liked to see similar AquaGuard protection all over this travel pack.
Unfortunately, our gripes with the zippers on this pack continue. The main compartment zippers feel a little small for a pack of this size. It’s a YKK #8 zipper, which is usually a mighty fine zipper for all intents and purposes, but because the pack utilizes a butterfly opening (similar to a clamshell opening) and has to travel so far, we wish it was a little larger. When we open the zipper, we feel like we’re doing the hard work. We have to go all the way around the pack, there are straps and other accessories to maneuver around, and it doesn’t feel in charge of the backpack. Don’t get us wrong, the #8 is smooth and does the job well; it just can be a little awkward to use sometimes.
The AquaGuarded tech pockets we mentioned earlier have #5 zippers, and the interior is all #5 zippers as well. They work well and are of ample size, we think.
So long as we’re oversharing about how we feel about zippers, this is as good a time as any to talk about how you can expand this pack. Just behind the main compartment zipper is another track that runs all the way around the pack and expands the bag from its base size of 25 liters to 33 liters. Opening and closing this zipper can be difficult because it goes all the way around the pack and runs underneath the compression straps, which we will get to in a little bit. It isn’t a zipper you’ll need to use all the time, but we thought that was worth noting.
All the hardware on the pack is made by Duraflex, from which we expect quality. The compression straps on the left side are easy to manipulate and hold fabric well, and the clips on the opposite side and the sternum strap are sturdy and easy to clip and unclip. As always, no complaints from us when it comes to the utilization of Duraflex hardware.
We’ve got compression straps on both sides of this pack, which, as we mentioned above, can make using the zippers a little clunky. The compression straps are an excellent addition for when you don’t have the pack fully stuffed, but tightening them too much can make the pack look a little funky. When they’re tightened up and you get a side view, it’s almost shaped like a skateboard or a Pringle, but this is only the case when it’s cinched down.
The shoulder straps and back panel have Ortholite® Impressions foam, which adds a lot of comfort while wearing the pack and some protection for the laptop compartment. The foam is typically used to make heel cups and shoe inserts, so it’s pretty durable but offers ample cushion.
The shoulder straps have a little curvature to their design but are mostly straight, which might not be the best fit for all body types. The taller members of the Pack Hacker team found it comfortable, but shorter people may have issues with the design. The padding from the foam is quite comfortable, though the added aeration keeps things fairly dry even on hot days. Both shoulder straps have an attachment loop just above the sternum strap, which is a nice place to attach accessories like a GoPro, Yakoda Utility Pouch, or a flashlight.
We find the same aeration throughout the back panel, as only aerating certain parts of the back panel can lead to sweaty spots. On the other hand, this pack’s full back is perfect for hitting the ground running right when you land before going to your hotel or Airbnb.
The back panel has a luggage pass-through, which is integrated well. It’s pretty large, so it holds onto a luggage handle pretty well. Plus, it has the same mesh as the rest of the back panel, so things stay cool.
The sternum strap isn’t perfect, but it gets the job done. It doesn’t feel as homey as it could, perhaps due to its small size compared to the weight of the pack, but it adds a little extra security and comfort when the bag is packed full. It’s on a rail, so you can make very minor adjustments to the height of the strap, which is nice.
There’s an elastic strap keeper that works well at maintaining the extra material when you tighten it up. We see the same strapper keepers on the bottom of the shoulder straps, which is nice for tightening up the look of the pack in transit.
Inside The Pack
We have a lot of exterior pockets to go over before we dive into the main compartment, so let’s start with the hidden pocket, which sits just below the luggage pass-through. The zipper is pretty nicely hidden, however the zipper pull dangles and is visible. The pocket isn’t very deep but can fit a passport and other travel documents. It struggles to fit anything that isn’t flat, and even larger flat items can be felt on your lower back while carrying the pack.
There are two pockets that take up the entire front face, which we like because it makes us feel like there isn’t any wasted space. More storage space means more gear!
The top pocket is a quick access pocket advertised as being RFID blocking. There are two liner pockets inside, one crafted from mesh and the other from the same material as the rest of the interior. The mesh pocket can’t fit a phone vertically or horizontally, but the top zippered pocket can fit most phones when stashed horizontally. This compartment isn’t very tall, so larger items don’t fit so well here. All of the over-ear BlueTooth headphones we have in the office fit here, but larger sizes may be a tight squeeze. There are also cable holders crafted from elastic on top of one of the liner pockets. Overall, this isn’t a grand palace for all of your quick-grab items, but a good spot for things you might want to access quickly on an airplane or while in transit.
Just below the quick access pocket is another compartment that takes up the rest of the front face of the pack. It’s deep enough to fit most of a forearm inside, so it can hold quite a bit of gear. There isn’t much protection between this pocket and the exterior, so easily breakable items like an uncased tablet aren’t a great look here. It’s best suited for books, a notebook, or a toiletry pouch for quick access to your toothbrush when you get off the plane.
There’s only one hidden pocket on the A.R.C. Travel Pack, but there’s another that’s just as hard to find. On the left side of the pack is a side pocket in between the compression straps that blends in nicely with the folds of the side panel. It’s an odd pocket, as we can’t really determine what it’s meant to do. It extends down past the bottom of the zipper, so we can fit a smaller water bottle here, like a 18 oz Hydro Flask, but it’s a little awkward in use.
We most often stash a Bluetooth speaker here, but even that’s a little odd because the sound gets pretty muffled by the high denier recycled polyester. It’s nice to have another exterior pocket, but this one shares space with the main compartment, so it can be hard to use when you’re fully packed up and ready to go. A small tripod like the Joby GorillaPod fits but is a little awkward to access. If you figure out a better use for this pocket, please let us know because we’re dying for it to be more useful than we found it to be.
Moving to the back of the pack, we find the laptop compartment. We feel this is an area where this backpack shines, and it isn’t surprising to us. After all, Incase is known for the laptop sleeves. The laptop compartment feels like one of their laptop cases, and it works exceptionally well.
The zipper extends more than halfway down the back panel, so you can fold down the extra material to get deep inside the compartment. The laptop sleeve itself will hold up to a 16″ MacBook, and the smaller slide pocket in front of it can handle up to a 12.9″ iPad. The extra padding from the back panel we mentioned earlier keeps your devices safe, and the laptop compartment is lined with a fuzzy material to ensure your laptop makes it safely from point A to point B.
In addition to knocking the laptop and tablet sleeves out of the park, the compartment goes all the way down to the bottom of the pack. This leaves enough room for just about anything else you might need to stow with your laptop, from a keyboard and mouse to a hefty textbook about Magical Water Plants of the Mediterranean so that you can keep up with all the new research on Gillyweed. That book might not be what you choose to stuff inside here, but there really is a ton of room here for extra goodies, which makes this our favorite part of the A.R.C. Travel Pack overall.
The shoe compartment is the last area to cover before we get into the rest of the bag. It’s accessible from the bottom of the pack’s exterior and is wide enough to fit larger athletic shoes, though larger boots are too big for it. The material isn’t waterproof, so either bag up your wet shoes first or wait for them to dry before placing them inside the pack.
The compartment shares space with the main compartment, so it’s the same as putting your shoes inside the pack, but with a layer of protection from mud and grime. If you have two pairs of shoes, it makes sense to wear your larger pair and put the smaller pair in the shoe compartment to save space.
Now that we’ve covered all of the smaller pockets, we’ll move on to the main compartment. As we mentioned when talking about the zippers, it has a butterfly opening, so it quite literally opens all the way. This gives us full access to both sides, which is great for organizing our gear.
Both panels have encasing zippers and mesh material to stop anything you put inside from falling out, and the right panel has a small zippered compartment on the panel door. This is an excellent place for socks, underwear, or other smaller items you want to keep out of the main area. It’s about as tall as a hand, so it has a fair amount of room for storage.
Behind the panel door is a large storage area, although it isn’t very deep if you don’t have the pack extended out to 33 liters. The backside of this area isn’t flat due to the beefiness of the laptop compartment and back panel. It bulges out a little, which isn’t a huge deal unless you have something flat that you planned to sit against it. In that case, you might be better off placing it in the laptop compartment.
There aren’t any smaller zippered pockets on the left panel, which is a bummer, but we like that we can see everything inside the compartment through the mesh without opening it. This area is pretty amply sized but does share space with the shoe compartment, which can eat up a lot of real estate depending on what size shoes you have in there.
The shoe compartment does have two small hook and loop fasteners on it so that you can fold the…well, let’s just call it…shoe bag, out of the way while you don’t have shoes in there. The fastener has come unhooked a few times when other items get intermixed with the shoe bag, but that might say more about our packing than the construction of the pocket.
You can see the large and oddly shaped pseudo-hidden pocket we talked about earlier sharing space, too. With neither the shoe compartment nor the side pocket in use, there’s a ton of space here. Even with both in use, there’s still a fair amount of room, but not as much as it seems like there should be.
To put things in travel terms, with the shoe compartment and side pocket stuffed, there’s enough room for an extended weekend trip’s worth of clothes. When they’re both empty, there’s enough room for a weeklong trip’s worth of clothes. Your mileage will vary, but we feel this is a good metric for how much space there is available here.
Overall, we’re happily surprised how well the Incase A.R.C. Travel Pack performs. The zippers can be a little awkward to use considering how many there are and because they run underneath compression straps, but once you get that sorted out, there’s a ton of room for storage and gear. There isn’t a ton of internal organization even with the designated pockets, but that can quickly be shored up with a few packing cubes or pouches. One thing is for sure: you won’t need a separate laptop sleeve!
- The tech compartment has a kind of hinged opening
- Shoulder straps are relatively wide apart
- Boxy design means there’s a lot of space inside
- Exterior materials are easy to clean
- Carry handles are comfortable over extended periods
- Zipper pulls can take a beating and still look nice
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