- Buyer's Guide
côte&ciel Isar Backpack Review
Known for their innovative style and design, the French brand côte&ciel creates conceptual carry gear for travelers. Their iconic Isar rucksack embodies these characteristics with its intriguing and bold, sculpture-like design, while also providing multifunctional compartments.
The “beautifully alien” aesthetic is not meant for everyone, but to those who do see the appeal, it is an undeniable hit! The Isar is a true work of art that you won’t find anywhere else.
If you’re unsure at first glance, open your mind to the possibilities and you might feel it too. If not, that’s fine. It’s like I said – beautifully alien is not for everyone.
I got this backpack with the intention of using it for carrying my laptop to the office but ended up taking it on a week-long trip involving city commutes, air travel, and some outdoor activities. I found that the Isar L Obsidian Black worked to varying degrees for these different use cases.
- Name: Isar L Obsidian Black
- Brand: côte&ciel
- Format: Backpack
- Measurement: 19" x 14" x 3" (not expanded; about 7.5" when expanded)
- Capacity: 22L (not expanded), 33L (fully expanded)
- Weight: 3 lbs
- Material: Water-repellent coated polyester with a tactile rubberized finish; mesh on flaps, straps and back panel
- PriceUS$365 (Isar M)
Who It Suits
côte&ciel explains it well: “For those resisting labels, breaking out of boxes, we create to inspire you.” To be more specific, this bag would be great for stylish commuters, weekend travelers, ninjas, and anyone else with casual carry needs that will complement a striking aesthetic.
Who It Doesn’t
The Isar is not ideal for long-term travel, or outdoor recreation such as biking or hiking. The front-zip access for the main compartment also makes it difficult for use with air travel.
As we’ve already established, the design is undoubtedly polarizing, so I’ll let you decide how you feel. I’d also like to point out that the Isar only looks good, in my opinion, when its contents give it a considerable bump to create the round shape. That’s the only way the sculptural look comes to life.
The materials look decent with the water-repellent polyester covering the outer part of the pack/flap, and a mesh fabric covering the underside of the flap and back panel. It’s certainly of superior construction. However, I don’t personally prefer the look or feel of the mix of textures, which makes me wish I’d maybe tried the EcoYarn instead of the Obsidian. On the other hand, the soft, grey fabric in the interior and the heavy-duty zippers make it easy to overlook.
The Isar has two main compartments: one in the front that zips vertically like a duffel bag, and the flatter back compartment which contains a laptop sleeve and some pockets. The front compartment is nice for big, bulky items like a parka (yes, I tried) or for light packing for a carry-on bag, as it also has internal straps like a suitcase and a side pocket. Then, the back compartment functions well for office items: a laptop, pens, papers, and chargers.
There’s also a hidden device pocket, which can be accessed on the side, just between where the mesh meets the back compartment.
When you first put the Isar on, it has a comfortable feel on the back due to the padded mesh. However, if you’re looking to use this for active pursuits, it can become sweaty if worn for long periods. The large capacity and weight that this bag can carry is impressive. For me though, as a petite woman, it became painful on my shoulders when overloaded. As a note, my husband didn’t experience shoulder pain from the straps. I probably should’ve got the small or medium, but my 16" laptop would only fit in the large.
I enjoyed the conceptual form of the main front compartment, as it allowed me to fit way more than I expected was possible. My biggest gripe is that the buckle/flap design makes it difficult to easily grab things while wearing the pack or if stowed in the under-seat area on an airplane. The pointed front flap is especially problematic for the under-seat area, because it doesn't quite fit. Goodbye legroom. This is another case where the small or medium may have been a better option.
Other than that, the Isar seems to weather well since the water-repellent polyester protects it from dirt and damage. I didn’t get the chance to test it in heavy rain, so I can’t testify to its water repellency, but I wouldn’t take it out in a downpour.
- Unmatched conceptual design for unique styles
- The large front compartment is great for multiple uses and a variety of items
- The front compartment morphs to fit small or large items
- The heavy-duty zippers are great quality
The Not So Good
- Unappealing look when it’s not full
- Difficult to quickly access items in the front compartment
- Unsure if it is truly water-repellent due to the mesh panels
- Back compartment only holds flat items
Overall, the Isar left me with more to be desired. The conceptual design grew on me and I was excited to try it out for myself. Unfortunately, I did not find it convenient to use for travel due to the asymmetric shape. The materials in this style (the Isar comes in many different fabric options, updated each season) are good but not irresistible, and I’m unsure if it will hold up in heavy rain – a worrisome aspect for something that would be housing an expensive laptop! Lastly, the accessibility to the largest, front compartment is a nuisance. There’s no way to quickly grab items unless you remove the pack completely.
With that said, this bag could be more fitting for your style and needs than it was for me and my uses, especially if you find yourself as a frequent city commuter. And I'd also recommend checking it out in other fabrics that might perform better in heavy rain.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Isar, check it out on coteetciel.com or start a discussion in the Carryology Classified group!
Many thanks to Christina Ortiz for this review.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Space & Access
Look & Feel
Build, Materials & Hardware
Warranty & Support