The new ICON Squad 3 backpack was designed with the every day rider's needs and wants in mind and is packed with features that show an attention to the details that could set this backpack apart from the competition. Not bad for $100.
If you have been reading this site long, you know about our love for Kriega backpacks. We love that they're designed by people who have actually ridden a motorcycle and are packed with useful features that make carrying shit easier. The only problem we have with the Kriega bags is that sometimes, it's just overkill and if you aren't packing for a weekend or you aren't filling the backpack with enough stuff to keep your items secure. Most days, I commute with just a laptop and a small snack and, with my Kriega R25, I just can't cinch the compression straps tight enough to keep the laptop from flailing around. I often opt for an old Incase backpack, but by the end of the day my shoulders are sore from the way it carries the load.
My first impression with the Squad 3 was that someone over at Icon had the same problem I did. It is definitely more "day sized" than "weekend sized" as I had a problem fitting two spare tire tubes (in the box) into it. The backpack is not very expandable and it will not contort much out of its resting shape should you need to fit objects in that are not laptop/folder/magazine shaped.
The backpack has one main compartment with a padded laptop sleeve and large mesh zippered compartment inside it, a second full-length zippered compartment on the front, and a mid-sized compartment on the very front which is accessed by a vertical zipper. The main compartment and the smaller compartment both have rain resistant zippers, while the middle compartment has a standard zipper. All of the materials are water resistant, but ICON recommends an aftermarket drybag for anything that really can't get wet. Size and compartment wise, the Squad 3 is pretty much perfect for day-to-day use.
ICON has developed their own closure system which has two buckles on the chest, similar to the Kriega R25. One of my main problems I have with this bag is that the buckles they used here are inexplicably hard to get to snap correctly. I'm not quite sure why but they take more attention than they should to line up correctly and I have found myself struggling a few times, even without gloves on. That said, I do appreciate that they didn't try and go for a cinch system like the Kriegas which limits the range of motion for the sake of not having excess fabric. Even in full winter gear (read: thermal, button up, hoodie, fleece zip-up, insulated Dainese leather jacket with full armor) I'm too skinny to get the kriega tight on my body to a point where it carries the weight as designed if it isn't fully loaded for a trip. In street clothes and the chest straps fully tightenend and in full winter gear with the chest straps mostly extended, the Squad 3.0 fits my torso as tightly as I want. The straps all come with elastic bands so you can tuck the excess away and not leave it flapping in the wind.
ICON also included zippered pockets on the inside of the chest straps for a cell phone, mp3 player, or wallet and both sides have a little hole to run headphone cables into. There are cable management elastic bands at two more points up the straps toward your shoulder to help keep the cables out of your way, which are especially nice when putting on or taking off the backpack. The exterior part of the shoulder straps also have a velcro section where you can attach a removeable, easy access I.D. holder. These were kind of annoying when taking the bag off or putting it on, but are a really nice touch and well worth dealing with for anyone who has to use a key card or take a ticket when parking on a daily basis. Or show a badge to gain base entry; a big part of Icon's customer base is active-duty.
Outside of the buckles being difficult to operate, all of the hardware on the Squad 3 feels rugged and durable. There are three areas where straps connect where, in my opinion, ICON went a little overboard style wise and that look a little too "old ICON" instead of "ICON 1000," but with the rest of the bag being so much better than anything else available at this price, it isn't a deal breaker. All of the zips have a reflective pull attached and each of the straps has a reflective piece running down the center. In fact, there is reflective material all over this bag (almost excessively), with it also in two more places on each shoulder strap and two places on each side of the belt area. The "Air Mesh" back paneling is very comfortable, but thus far I have been wearing too many layers to feel any air flow it may create. I like the light decorative print applied to the body of the bag, but the large plastic branding peice is a tad much for what I would consider ideal.
There's a large, vertical strap on the rear of the backpack's exterior intended to carry helmets, boxes or other large objects. But with just that one strap, securely attaching a load is difficult and would require a bungee net or similar.
A slim, internal pocket adjacent to your back is designed to fit a CE1 D3O back protector, which is a bargain at $25.
It amazes me that it took this long for someone to pair the weight distribution and comfort of a Kriega with the size and features needed for less heavy-duty use and I think that ICON has a winner with the Squad 3 backpack. I would like to see a better buckle enclosure system and a friend commented that it looked like I was wearing a wakeboarding lifejacket, but it looks more subtle and does a better job of carrying the things I need to and from work or school than anything else currently available on the market and all for only $100.