I published my review of the the Icelandic Ash Isar in January. That bag was holding up really well…but it’s no longer my main backpack. As of June 2015, a Medium Coated Canvas Isar is what I’ve been using to haul around heavier loads.
I sold my larger Isar within a few weeks of purchasing the smaller canvas version, but while I had both bags in my possession, I took a few measurements for comparison. One of the biggest questions I had before purchasing the Isar was whether there was a discernible difference between the two sizes.
Isar: Medium vs Large
The Isar comes in medium and large sizes and the two don’t look very different on paper, but after having worn the large version for a year, there’s no question that the medium is a better size for someone of my height and build (5’11 and 180 pounds).
Côte&Ciel provides their own measurements of the bag on their sites, but I didn’t trust these measurement when I first saw them. There are so many variations of the Isar rucksack, and I thought that Côte&Ciel might have used a generic set of numbers for all of their bags.
So I took my own stock of the dimensions. I measured the rear compartments, not counting the “shark fin” fold that’s created by the main compartment. Official measurements are on the left, my measurements are on the right.
Icelandic Ash – Large Length 26.7” / 22.0″ Width 14.5” / 14.0″ Depth 8.5” / 8.0″
Coated Canvas – Medium: Length 25.2” / 20.0″ Width 14.2” / 13.5″ Depth 9.25” / 8.00″
Regardless of whose measurements you look at, the two sizes don’t look very different, do they?
Part of this is because it’s difficult to measure the bag because its form changes so much depending on how tightly the compression strap is pulled and the contents of the main compartment.
There’s no question that buying medium has made a difference, though. The two-inch difference in height makes it easier to keep the bag on my lap on the TTC, and it also keeps the pack from digging into the back of my belt as I walk around. The laptop compartment is also a little narrower (max. 15–inch, instead of 17–inch in the Large), which makes the medium look slimmer when viewed from the rear.
The main duffel compartment is smaller, which means there’s less fabric to wrinkle and fold. This gives the medium Isar a more crisp profile, and also means the bag doesn’t jut out as far when it’s fully loaded.
What it all comes down to for me is proportion. I loved my gray Isar for its design, but I was always a little self conscious about how much space the bag took up, and how much it could dwarf whatever else I was wearing. For taller or larger people, this won’t be an issue because the proportions will match their frame. I also acknowledge that really big bags are part of a specific look: Côte&Ciel has plenty of imagery of the bag taking up half the height of its wearer.
I much prefer the way the medium sits on me. It’s not a small rucksack, but it’s a fantastic daypack and can function as a weekender in a pinch. I suspect it will be that way for most people, and that the larger size of the bag should be conserved for a more niche audience.
Yet Another Isar Review
Despite having owned the larger in raw canvas version, I think the coated canvas still deserves its own review because of a handfull of smaller changes.
I actually took a closer look at the coated canvas Isar at Tools & Toys, but there’s also another newer review from Bryan Maniotakis at minimalgoods. He uses his Isar as an everyday carry for some tech stuff and gym clothes, and it seems to be working well for him too.