Five years ago, if you saw someone running through the city with a backpack on, you may have thought they were running from the cops. But now, it’s common to see people running to work. In 2018, run commuting grew as a sport by 70 percent, according to the Strava’s yearly data. The key to success? A backpack. But not just any pack: it has to be roomy enough to carry  work clothes, your wallet, water, an extra pair of shoes and snacks, all while hugging tight to your back for a mile or three or more. It should have a waist-strap, weigh less than three pounds and be made of a ripstop durable material that’s also water-resistant.

In the past year, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of dedicated running backpacks on the market — and some unique, experimental designs. So, we took two of these new packs —the  Stolt Alpha and the IAmRunBox Backpack Pro — and put them to the test. Each has a rectangular shape with hard-sided walls, lots of adjustable straps and the capacity to carry a suit. But that’s where similarities end. Small differences, like look, shape, size and straps, made big differences.

The all-black, 10-liter IAmRunBox Backpack Pro has hard sides to protect your laptop and other fragile items. Its clamshell-style opening swallows four to five garments securely inside. And, it’s water-resistant — the polyester, PU-coated fabric ensures no moisture will seep onto your work attire. Bright orange accents mark zippers (nice safety move), and expandable cables hold a pair of shoes away from your back. There are two pockets on the waist straps so you don’t have to open up the backpack for small things like sunglasses, a Metro card, keys, etc. Our team took this backpack to and from work in New York City.

The Stolt Alpha Casual Set Blue pack looks and feels more like a standard backpack than the IAmRunBox, with a few zippers and lots of pouches for all your gear. There are two main compartments: one for a garment section and another that holds a laptop, stationary, pens, folders and more. Fold all your clothes into the hard-sided garment box, which lives inside the middle compartment so you won’t have to worry about wrinkles. The bag comes in navy, black or white and includes a bright rain cover. Our team took this backpack to Paris for a video shoot, where they ran over 18 miles in a single day.

We compared the Backpack Pro and the Stolt Alpha within three categories — design, storage and running feel. Here are our findings.

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Test 1: Design and Look

The IAmRunBox is very small and thin. It’s incredibly light, too at just 2.9-pounds compared to the 2.5-pound Stolt. The all-black look has an ergonomic divet in the back to fit your body, which our tester said felt just right. “I liked the IAmRunBox waist strap — there’s a little pouch for your keys and things there. The waist strap is bigger than most people think it would need to be, but it’s a perfect size,” our tester said. The clamshell design is simple to open, but we missed interior pockets, which are helpful to organize small items. The only exterior pockets are on the belt, and the look of the fabric with the orange accents can be a bit bold for some users.

At first glance, the Stolt Alpha is sleek and looks like a more puffy laptop case with the straps tucked inside. You can hide all the shoulder and waist straps, so when you walk into a boardroom, it’s not immediately apparent that you ran to work (after you’ve changed, of course). While it’s still basically a box with straps, the soft edges and nylon fabric exterior add to the lifestyle factor.

Winner: Stolt Alpha for its casual workday vibes as opposed to IAmRunBox’s boxy look.

Test 2: Storage Space

The IAmRunBox is minimalistic, which our NYC-based tester thought would be great if he didn’t have to carry so many layers. “It’s a personal thing, but if I lived in Florida, it would satisfy all my needs,” he said. Size-wise, “the IAmRunBox is good for a t-shirt, pants and underwear, but if you want to bring anything additional, [I’m not sure] how to fit a jacket in there, or other thicker items,” another tester said. The clamshell design with hard sides means there’s no space for expansion and the additional add-ons, like the bungees, make the bag look and feel bulky.

The Stolt Alpha is more of a traditional backpack with different sections for your gear — almost too much space for our tester. “There’s going to be a lot of empty space [if you don’t fill it], and you want to minimize the size of a bag [when running],” he said. The Stolt backpack carried a 15-inch MacBook, a Canon 5D4, multiple lenses, a gimbal and snacks (note: more stuff than most people carry to and from work) and survived for a full day that consisted of 18-miles of running. It did so without any issues. For regular daily run commuting, the pack was a bit large, but there’s plenty of room to fit a winter coat or another pair of shoes. If you wear a lot of layers or three-piece suits during the day, this is a good pick.

Winner: Both. In winter, Stolt Alpha for its spacious interior and multiple compartments, but in summer (or if you live in a more consistently warm clime), when you need less, the IAmRunBox.

Test 3: The Feel and Performance on a Run

Neither bag caused any chafing issues and both have waist straps to hold the backpack in place when running. The IAmRunBox didn’t bounce, regardless of the heavy camera equipment, meaning you can over or under pack this and it won’t affect its ability to stay put. It also has a pouch for keys on the waist strap (as does the Stolt pack, just slightly larger), which our tester found extremely helpful. “My favorite thing about it was the backpack fit so well onto my back. It didn’t shift around. [It did] not affect my [running] form whatsoever when testing it,” one tester says. “I ran from the office back home at 5 PM, so during rush hour traffic with a lot of stopping and starting, and the bag didn’t annoy me at all.”

“The Stolt bag got gross and sweaty and did not seem as aerodynamic. I would’ve rather ran with the IAmRunBox,” one tester said about lugging the pack all over Paris. However, one of the positives was that our tester could leave the bag open and not worry about anything jumping out while running. “I kept moving on the fly, [stopping] to put different things in the backpack, before running again.”

Winner: IAmRunBox for its aerodynamic feel when running.

Verdict: While both of these are ideal for urban run commuters, we recommend the Stolt Alpha for buttoned-up offices — it’ll hold a suit and looks like a bulky briefcase than a sport pack. If you’re running longer than 5 miles each way, we recommend you invest in the IAmRunBox due to its ergonomics and lightweight feel.

Key Specs
Weight: 2.9-lbs. (IAmRunBox); 2.5-lbs. (Stolt Alpha)
Storage: 10 Liters (IAmRunBox); 20 Liters (Stolt Alpha)
Exterior Fabric: Polyester with PU coating (IAmRunBox); Water-repellent with YKK Zippers (Stolt Alpha)
Weight: 945 grams (IAmRunBox); 1200 grams (Stolt Alpha)
Laptop Pocket: 14-Inches (IAmRunBox); 16-Inches (Stolt Alpha)

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Stolt and IAmRunBox provided products for review.

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