A boy and his gym bag…
I was recently in search of a new gym bag as my old one was A) seriously lacking, and B) looking like it got left outside in the rain a few too many times. I searched high-end options, cheap-ass options, and everything in between. There was a feature set I knew I wanted, and I didn’t really care where along the price range the right solution landed. I’ve long been a believer of the theory “spend your money where you spend your time” and I spend a LOT of time with my gym bag.
In the end, I purchased a gray duffel bag with mesh end pockets for $11.99 from bags.com
I know, I know…weak, dude. But it had the organization and features I wanted, and at that price I figured it was essentially disposable so even if it was trash it wasn’t a big loss. It actually served me pretty well for over a year, until eventually it started to fall apart (it was pretty cheaply made…duh) and it’s shortcomings became more and more evident.
In need of something better
So I went back to the drawing board and searched again…this time specifically thinking I’d get something a little nicer – higher quality materials, and ideally a food storage/meal prep bag also. I don’t need to take meals with me often but when I do, it would be nice to NOT have to bust out my first generation 6 Pack Bag that is itself falling apart by now, and also far too big for what I typically need. Just the ability to keep maybe 2 meals cold is typically what I need at most.
In the end I settled on the ISOPACK from Isolator Fitness. It’s a backpack style bag with a large (huge, really) main compartment, a small front compartment, mesh pockets on the sides for 4 shaker cups/bottles, a couple smaller pockets, and also a separate pouch for cold storage with a removable insert (the main compartment of the bag just gets about 5” deeper if you remove that insert). It also has a large, slender pocket that holds a laptop or tablet – it holds my iPad Pro comfortably.
I’m writing most of this review on a long Delta flight from Portland to Atlanta, having just taken this bag with me as my carry on and only piece of luggage. I was visiting family in Oregon and knew I’d be hitting the gym daily, so I wanted my gym bag and usual goodies and also wanted to see how it would fare when stuffed with clothes and into overhead bins on the plane.
The verdict? Great gym bag. Good meal prep bag for casual use. So-so travel bag. In its defense, I loaded it the hell up and it was very heavy, and damn if I didn’t miss the wheels on my usual roller bag.
Disclaimer: this review is completely and totally impartial. I have not been asked to write a review and was not provided anything for free or as compensation for writing this or for any other reason.
Clearly a lot of thought went into the design of the ISOPACK. The material is thick, the zippers glide smoothly without catching and navigate the twists and turns in their path even when the pockets they’re sealing up are slightly overstuffed. My previous bag developed numerous small tears and punctures and, frankly, started collecting those not long after I got it. Hey, for $12 it was about what I expected. Point being, I understand what low quality materials look and feel like and this isn’t that. It looks, feels, and carries like it was made by people who give a crap. The ISOPACK is gonna run you around $200 but it feels immediately like it’s worth it.
As a gym bag
Of course this is going to depend entirely on what you typically take with you to the gym. I was never a Boy Scout but I live by their motto: Be Prepared. I take everything I’ve got with me to the gym every day. This includes:
- Lifting straps
- Wrist wraps
- Ankle cuffs
- Resistance bands
- Bluetooth headphones
- Blood flow restriction bands
- Pre-workout shaker
- Post-workout shaker
- Post-workout carbs
- Change of clothes
- Accessories for the tanning bed
- Log book/pen
- Gallon water jug (carried separately)
So yeah, it’s a lot of stuff. Most of this goes in the main compartment, and to make it a little easier I use a small zip up bag (like a toiletries bag) to wrangle together a lot of the smaller items. The side mesh pockets hold my stubby little shaker cups well – very snug, and the elasticity so far seems to be pretty forgiving and they don’t feel at risk of popping free.
So far I’ve been able to find a good spot for everything that makes it all quite accessible when I’m in a rush and trying to move quickly. There’s a Velcro side pocket that kind of holds my phone but it’s a bit small. Not much to complain about there. I’ll probably get another small bag for my collection of mini bands since currently as you can see in the photo they just sit loose in the bottom of the main compartment. The current organizer I have in there is for straps, wrist wraps, ankle cuffs, knee wraps, and BFR bands.
Stands up on its own
One thing I really like about this bag is its rigid structure. When you set it on the ground, it stands up confidently and is not at risk of falling over. The inherent structure of the bag also prevents it from collapsing in on itself which – and I cannot overstate the importance of this – makes it so much easier to find what you’re looking for in the bag, especially since a lot of your stuff will be jumbled into that one large, main compartment. Since it’s a backpack it also has a smaller footprint than a big-ass duffel bag. If your gym frowns upon bags on the gym floor then A) get a new gym, and B) this will at least be less objectionable and intrusive.
While I don’t carry any food that requires cooling to me with the gym, I keep the meal storage insert in there anyway for a couple reasons – it’s still a good sized compartment for what I DO have as a post-workout meal, and having that insert in place also makes the main compartment a bit shallower which means I’m not fishing quite so deep into it to pull out what I need.
As a meal prep bag
My only frame of reference for comparison is my really old Six Pack Bag (first gen) – and one huge improvement is in the freezer packs. The ones included with the ISOPACK contain something that feels more like sand, though they keep a rigid structure whether frozen or not. This means (drumroll please) NO LEAKING. Also, if you have tried to take the frozen gel-based packs through TSA and they weren’t 100% frozen, you may have encountered a problem (as they could then be classified as a liquid or gel and would need to be checked or confiscated) – no such issue with these, so you could easily take them through airport security even after they’ve been out of the freezer for awhile.
I don’t typically do a lot of travelling with meals. I work from home, so when I take my meals on the road with me it’s most commonly just 1-2 for a day trip to go visit the in-laws while I attempt to avoid all manner of biscuits, gravy, and other various southern staples. Recently my wife and I took an overnight trip to Virginia when I was less than 4 weeks out from my photo shoot – so staying on plan was essential and it was a good and proper road test to see how the ISOPACK held up.
And? Not bad at all. I’m a 5-meals-per-day dude, and the plan for this trip (Saturday->Sunday) was to have meals 1 and 2 before leaving on Saturday, 3 and 4 during the day, and eat out for #5 (saving a good chunk of macros for that). Sunday would be meal 1 out (lots of macros here), and then 2 additional meals anticipating we’d be home just around noon. So I ended up needing only 3 meals that had to be kept cold, and I took 2 shakes (dry ingredients only in small plastic containers) – one scheduled for Sunday, and one just in case. As you can see in the photo below, you can fit 4 decent sized meals in there and that’s it. There just isn’t room for more, unless you use the smaller containers they provide (not big enough for me) in which case you might be able to fit 6.
Now, storage limitations aside, it did the job very well. In the photo above you can see there’s a pouch in the front zipper flap, I put silverware in there – you could conceivably throw one of the freezer packs in there but it barely fits. In practice I put one flat against the very back (in before the food containers go in) and then the other sandwiched in between the containers. It wasn’t a pretty fit either way, but again – it works.
Does it cool effectively?
With travel time and a full day of exploring, it was about 10 hours before I pulled things out to store in our Airbnb’s fridge (and freezer for the freezer packs) overnight. After those 10 hours they were still pretty solidly frozen and I suspect they could last for 14 hours or more before they started to really have any issues. Much better than other products I’ve used before.
The ISOPACK comes with a variety of food storage containers in varying sizes – depending on how big your meals are, the largest ones MAY struggle to contain a full meal, but larger sizes are available for order as well. They give you a good variety of sizes so you can mix and match according to your needs. Fitting 4 typical meals in the cold storage area should be pretty easy for most people, more for those with smaller meals.
Some minor issues
Complaint #1: the removable insert has to really be mangled to take in and out of the ISOPACK – like squished, bent and deformed, and once you get it in, its such a tight fit that I never really feel like I get it settled in there properly. Also, for something that really puts up a fight it doesn’t have a ton of structural strength – I often use that as storage for rice cakes more often than not, and with the weight of the main compartment above it pushing down I’m always concerned that they’re going to be crushed. Hasn’t happened yet, but I’m also pretty careful with it.
Complaint #2: the food containers are cheap and don’t feature locking lids, so you put the lid on and then go around the perimeter of it 2-3 times to make sure it’s really closed. I prefer the old locking lid containers from my Six Pack Bag, and those fit here and you’re not limited to using JUST the Isolator-provided containers.
As a travel bag
Admittedly this is more of an off-label use but I really was looking for a bag that could be extremely multi-purpose. I knew that for something that was primarily a gym bag with food storage capabilities, trying to use it as a travel/carry-on bag was going stretch the utility of even the world’s greatest bag.
My recent longer trip was a 6 day excursion to some warm-ish weather and I packed accordingly – mostly gym clothes (shorts, tanks, socks) with some casual shorts, t-shirts, and sandals as well as the standard toiletries, the essential gym items (straps, wraps, headphones) and electronics (Kindle, iPad, chargers, etc). With some careful packing, everything fit – I ended up packing more than I needed (I was able to do laundry mid-trip) but still had no issues. I didn’t make use of the refrigerated insert as I knew I wouldn’t need it on this trip based on where I was staying and what I was doing.
Giving those traps a workout
I did absolutely miss my roller bag as I lugged this heavy, over-stuffed (my fault) bag through multiple airports. I also wasn’t able to get it to fit into the overhead bin of one plane (a small EmbraAir jet between Knoxville and Atlanta) and because of the rigidity of the bag and how fully crammed it was, no amount of stuffing was going to make it fit so I had to gate check it after I had already carried it on to the plane, which was a pain in the ass. Lesson learned – my next flight is on a similar jet so I’ll just pre-emptively gate check it there.
It held up very well however, getting slung over my shoulders multiple times, running through conveyers at security and banging into people and walls repeatedly (I was in a bit of a hurry at times, oops!) – the overall quality of construction of the bag doesn’t lead me to feel i need to be gentle or overly careful with it.
Ya know, it ain’t cheap. You can purchase it direct from Isolator Fitness or from Amazon for right around $210 as of this writing. I looked at several options in the $200 price range of this bag from Six Pack Fitness, Fitmark, other Isolator products and other manufacturers as well – and honestly I have no regrets.
I’d say this is a bag that doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally well, but it does everything quite well. I love it as a gym bag and if your meal prep bag demands aren’t extravagant, it will do very well for you there as well. It does seem the meal prep storage is a bit haphazard since there aren’t clearly defined dividers or places to stick things – you just kind of throw it all into the compartment and make it fit, but the flip side is that you’ve got flexibility to use the size of food containers that fit your need and can easily throw in a drink to keep cold, etc.
The big takeaway
The biggest benefit of this bag? It’s an all-in-one. You can use it for your typical daily activities – commuter bag for work, gym bag, school pack – AND have your meals in there as well without lugging around a separate bag and making everything generally just a pain in the ass. That’s a big win. If you’ve ever carried around a purse/backpack/messenger bag AND a meal prep bag, you know what a pain in the butt that can be.
Here’s your solution.
I wanted a bag that could be used for everything – normal travel, an everyday gym bag, a meal prep day trip bag. I absolutely feel I hit the mark with this selection. Kudos to Isolator Fitness for designing and manufacturing a quality product.