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Road Tests :: Côte&Ciel Isar Twin Touch

Road Tests :: Côte&Ciel Isar Twin Touch

by , June 19, 2015
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The Côte&Ciel Isar Twin Touch is a bag that gets us really excited for the way it gets us to rethink what a bag can be. For years, backpacks have been associated with school bags and getting away from that has been hard. They’ve been either these boxy or kind of dome, simple school bags or they’ve been really technical outdoor packs. And often when people try to make a backpack in leather or something like that, it just doesn’t quite work. We have a saying in Carryology that a stylish backpack should look like a good winter jacket – it should be tailored and built in similar ways. It should show a respect to flowing fabrics. It should work with lots of different outfits; be subtle enough in color and hue, but use texture to create interest. It should use interesting folds. It shouldn’t have been obviously designed by an industrial designer who’s looking to make everything hard and controllable. It’s a lot nicer when if you’re looking for a stylish backpack, it looks like it’s been designed by a fashion designer who understands folds and darts and gussets and ways of creating flow to fabric. Cote et Ciel looks like it’s been designed by fashion designers. And then they just go in and they insert just enough organization and tech and sort of more traditional product design approaches to make the bags quite usable.

Design – Looks and materials

So, this is why we’re really excited by this backpack series – the Isar series – which has lots of different fabrics and lots of slight tweaks on format. So, as we write this, there’s still two formats to this bag being sold. One format puts the laptop and work section under the straps and the other format puts it in front of the straps. Now, Mike, you’ll have to look at that. Try and understand that from Cote et Ciel. Is it the 15-inch vs. the 17-inch? Or what is it? But there are two versions floating around. And it actually changes them a fair bit. So, this is the 17-inch. We generally recommend only if you’re like 6’1”, 6’2” or bigger to go with this 17-inch. It needs quite broad shoulders. Otherwise it can slip off your shoulders. We generally recommend the 15 inch is much better for most people, unless you are really a bit of a hulk.

So the other thing that changes a lot in these is the fabric you choose changes the feel of the bag a lot. The thicker, heavier gauge fabrics have their own structure and support more. The lighter fabrics are much softer, drape more, and it changes the nature of the bag.

Performance – Pockets and organising

In general, this bag is split into two sections. The front half is generally clothing, soft things, a bit of food – whatever. And the back half is generally your work tools, your rigid things – all of that. If you have the one where it’s under the straps, it is a bit fiddly to fold them over, but the benefit of that is number one: harder for pickpockets in an urban environment to slip a laptop out without you noticing; and the second is you get this softer, draping apparel without the zips showing. It really hides them all away. And, so the style’s the thing, it’s more stylish. However, if this is a bag you access many times a day this might drive you nuts.

So, the work tool section is really interesting because it kind of cascades out, accordions out – whatever. So, the laptop sits against your back – again that’s fine for a work bag. If you’re riding a bike, it locks up your back a bit, so it’s not perfect. There’s a lot of padding between your back and the computer, so it’s okay. It’s just not ideal. But your laptop in there gives you easy in-and-out once you’ve got the bag open. The pocketing’s interesting. It’s reasonable pocketing. This is a mid-level pocket, this is a higher pocket and then there’s no pocketing down there, which is sensible for crush zones. It works pretty well – it’s just it doesn’t work really well – it just works pretty well.

This model, again, the interior fabric makes a lot of difference to how the bag sits and drapes. We love this elasticated format that automatically compresses it in a little. But there’s not actually enough structure in the fabric to properly work, and so you do get a little bit of drape and it doesn’t quite work. In some styles though, there’s a bit more structure on that internal fabric and so that works a bit better. You throw your chargers in here or your work tools. That way your work stuff’s laid out. It’s nice, easy, convenient, and it just works.

The front section is much more the stuff you’d take on an overnight or weekend. It’s much more for your clothing or your organizing stuff. So there are straps to lock down your clothing so it doesn’t get too tangled. There’s a high pocket that works for sunglasses and an outer pocket – again, delicates, a bit of organizing, some toiletries in there. That all works really nicely for your sort of overnight, gear change, toiletries or just for your stuff for the day: jumpers, jackets – that sort of thing. You can lay it on the bed, you can organize it all. It does mean that on-the-go access is a bit fiddly because you just sort of have one zipper and then you reach in. But, it actually still works pretty well. Compression comes through this side strap and the bottom strap, which is again just a really interesting take. It’s subtle; it’s nice; it just creates a really different fold. So the bag works well when empty or…not quite as well, but still fine when full.

Design – construction

In terms of construction and build, it’s again really interesting. Some fabrics on this one, on the 17-inch where the zip’s tucked in behind, there’s a bit of flaring that happens out. That’s not super well-controlled. If that’s on you and pulled in a bit tight, that sort of goes away. But, again, you’re not cranking these straps up because this is a more casual backpack. And so it’s not fully resolved; it kind of works. The yoke and shoulder spread’s not quite dialed; we think this one’s built for too big of people. But the handle’s great. There’s no grip on this. This one runs the surface fabric underneath as well, which makes it beautiful. But it is quite a slippery fabric which again, doesn’t help with it slipping off your shoulders. There’s no air mesh or ventilation, but there is a lot of padding. So again, this is not a bag that you get active in; this is a bag you wear to the office. You get so many comments; you turn heads left, right and center. It’s a really, like, interesting bag that a lot of people like.

Design – hardware

The hardware is actually a let-down on Cote et Ciel. Unfortunately, they’ve designed all this stuff that looks really lovely, but unfortunately it’s not resolved enough. So the zippers are not the quality they need to be. It’s great that they run a large #10 and you think it’s awesome, but then there’s just a bit of sticktion in it. It just doesn’t flow smoothly enough. That may just be the powder coating they’ve run on that zip head, or it may just be the zip design – we’re not sure. But there’s just a bit of sticktion and it doesn’t flow as smoothly as it should. These compression buckles are totally the main issue. They look great, but they haven’t rumbled them. They’re sharp-edged and so, the webbing they’ve chosen which is quite a soft webbing, grabs on the sharp edges of the buckles, so it’s actually quite hard to use. They catch, they freeze. It’s not what it needs to be for compression that you do end up using a bit. And that’s the same with all of the buckles. None of them move smoothly enough. So that’s partly the webbing and partly the sharp edges. They’ve just got to rumble them, knock those sharp edges off a little bit in manufacture and then coat them. It is also powder-coated, which means they do start to chip and age. There are other ones that are anodized that should hold up a little bit better. There’s other ones that are like a [00:09:26]. Again they will age much better than the black powder coated versions.

Whom it’s for.

This is a bag that turns heads. If you’re a style cat, if you’re working in a nice, casual office environment, if you like to look sharp at uni, this is the bag that just looks great. It turns heads; it’s really lovely. It works for an overnight bag; you can even fit a couple of nights’ clothes in there, a pair of shoes. There’s a reasonable capacity so it works for all those things. It is not an active bag. You can definitely take a casual ride on your bike with it, but if you thump through the city streets and sweat and do all of that, there are better bags for you. If you really bend over, if you run, if you do those things there are better bags for you. You know, this doesn’t have waist straps, this doesn’t have sternum straps. This is not an outdoor backpack. It’s fighting against that. So, know that this is a different audience, but for that audience, it’s a beautiful pack. We’re so excited to see such different formats in the carry world. We think there’s a lot that bag designers can learn from this. We don’t think the way to make an office bag is to use black ballistic nylon and hard rigid forms and like, zips all exposed and that sort of thing. We think this looks great in a stylish office environment, and if you’ve got to go out to dinner afterwards, you even don’t feel silly carrying a work bag because it looks like a beautiful casual bag.

Other bags to consider.

Most other people in this space will be looking either to heritage bags. So it might be Kletterwerks, it might be some of the other Topo designs and that sort of thing. They’re trading off the outdoor heritage when times were simpler. That works, but again it’s a different vibe to this. Other ones might be a lot of European brands like Teddyfish out of France. They have other quite interesting soft aesthetics. Other people might be looking at Hardgraft and stuff around that space. This is more sort of the European fashion house design that you’re looking to compare to.


So, best points is it totally changes bag aesthetics; it brings something new and fresh to it. It works pretty well with the two zones: the work zone and the casual zone. It means you don’t have to expose clothes when you reach in in a work meeting. It totally turns heads, definitely. It does really well. And the other thing is there’s just so many great fabric options, color options – they’re just nailing it with that. They’re really bringing some beautiful colorways and other good options.

And, things to avoid. Avoid the 17-inch unless you’re massive. Downsize. Like, 15-inch is better. If they could just work a little bit with a better hardware supplier, this would just fix those little niggles that just get in the way of pure enjoyment with this bag – better hardware, better zippers, just nailing the interior fabrics a little bit. That stuff would just make this where you didn’t have to compromise to have something really attractive and awesome. But overall, it’s a great bag. We really enjoyed reaching for it every now and then. But, when we’re living on the road for a long time or we’re in kind of stressful or uncertain environments, there are different bags we’ll reach for instead.

Performance – weatherability

Weatherability’s just reasonable. It depends on the material you’ve got. I mean these aren’t waterproof zippers and things. But, because most of the zippers are tucked away, it generally does fine in a light shower or anything like that.


The Breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Geek (Performance)

Space & Access

Style (Design)

Look & Feel
Build, Materials & Hardware

Stoke (Experience)

Warranty & Support
Brand experience
X Factor

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