**UPDATE** I just noticed on one of my photography forums that the Snoop bags (meaning the messenger bag built around the Snoop, which is similar to this bag without all the laptop stuff) is nearly 50% off Timbuk2! So I got one – it is now my dedicated bag, while the custom bag below is my daily briefcase and travel bag. Review here.
I waited to write my review of the Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger until I had a few hours carrying it around. Having done that a fair bit over the last several weeks, I’m ready to give an initial review, though I’ll probably update it in a few weeks after an upcoming business trip to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Since this is a pretty extensive review (I’m wordy…), I’ll try to create a summary version that incorporates both parts. But for now, the full monte…
If you read my reviews of the Ona Union Street and Part 1 of this review (about the Snoop camera insert I’m using with this bag), you’ll remember that I got a custom version of the Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger in two colors of waxed canvas.
Before I get to the review of the bag itself, let me say a few things about Timbuk2 and the buying experience. First, the ability to customize your bag is just plain fun. I’m a conservative guy, and wound up with a conservative bag, but I spent a lot of time playing around with the custom bag process. You can choose from a wide variety of fabrics and colors for three panels of the the bag (I only tried the one I bought – there are six different custom bags). You can also choose the trim color and even what color thread is used for the logo. The fabric options range from 30 colors of the standard ballistic nylon to “Performance” options like polybond, “SuperBright” (described as “99% nylon, 1% magic”), to X-Pac, which appears to be a tough, lightweight sailcloth-like fabric similar to what is used in the Gura Gear bags (not to say it is the same). There are also premium “Specialty” fabrics that lean a little harder toward fashion than sheer function – these include denim, faux snakeskin, faux leather, a dark heather wool, the two waxed canvas options I chose and more. The Performance and Premium fabrics add an extra $15 per panel, except the Super Bright, which are $25 per panel (I guess that 1% magic is pricey!). You can mix and match any of the fabric choices on any panel. Since there are 62 different fabrics available, there are hundreds of thousands of combinations, even before we start talking about trim and logos. They occasionally rotate in new Performance and Premium options. Inside, you can choose any of 11 colors for the lining of the bag. I chose light blue to ensure high visibility for whatever was in the bag. Lastly, you can choose to add reflector tails (for higher visibility if you’re on a bike – this is a messenger bag after all) or Compression Straps which allow you to cinch the bottom of the bag when it isn’t full. Since I was getting the Large size (Lg./Med./Small are available) that would only occasionally have the Snoop insert, I added the Compression Straps.
Configured that way, the bag totaled $215. Add $59 for the Medium Snoop Insert, $3 for the “silencers” for the velcro and $20 for a premium shoulder pad and my out-the-door cost was a shade under $300. Not cheap, but where else can you get a custom-made bag? Since this one is doing double-duty as my daily laptop bag, and it looks very nice, I’m happy overall. My only ordering quibble is that I’d like to get at least the standard shoulder pad (which is $10) by default and as I mentioned in my Snoop review, more dividers should be as well. That said, all I had to do was ask and they sent me some, so kudos for customer service. A quick expansion on that point – all my interactions with them by phone and mail were just terrific. The people seem enthusiastic and are knowledgeable and helpful.
OK – so what about the bag itself? I’ll follow the same general format I commented on in the Snoop Review.
Build: Nothing at all to complain about here. The origins of this company is building bags for guys who kill bags just doing their job. The seams are very strong, and stress spots are oversewn without making the bag look too industrial. The shoulder strap is very wide, made of extremely tough nylon and all the hardware feels very beefy and strong. YKK zippers throughout.
Features and Design: As a messenger, the formula is pretty set, but Timbuk2 has managed to put in a few nice touches. The “Napoleon pocket” is a zippered horizontal pocket that can be reached without undoing the flap. Handy. The shoulder strap is adjustable, allowing you to keep some slack to remove the bag without having to wiggle out of it. In my case, I’m tall enough at 6’1″ that I’m using most of the slack.
As opposed to the Snoop insert, there are lots of pockets and places to put things. In addition to the Napoleon pocket, there are four medium-sized pockets on the front, three with zippers (one containing a lanyard for keys, etc.) and the top pocket that is open (no zippers. There are several D rings on the outside of the bag for attachments. The optional cinch straps to a nice job slimming this bag down when I don’t have the Snoop installed, though it would be nice if there was some way to secure the slack – I just wrap the extra around the bottom.
The carry handle at the top is comfortable and generally well-placed, though it is a little unbalanced when the Snoop is in the bag. It is fine for the duty it will serve. The hardware on the outside of the bag is just the right size – not too big, but not so small that I can’t undo the buckles when I have gloves on.
On the interior of the bag, there is a large zippered pocket with two phone-sized pockets and some smaller business-card sized slots inside. Facing inward, there are three additional phone-sized pockets – one with a flap and two open pockets lined with soft nylon, presumably for a phone. One accommodated my iPhone easily, the other left about 1/4 of it exposed. Between these two sets of pockets are notches for three pens. Then there is a huge cavity for whatever, or the Snoop when I’m using it. That is it for storage, but is pretty substantial.
There is a large sleeve for my ThinkPad T410s (14″ screen), with a knobby pattern for some additional protection. It should easily hold most 15″ laptops, though there is a compatibility checker on their website for most makes and models. On the other side of the laptop sleeve is another compartment for notebooks, or whatever. When I have the Snoop in the bag, this is where most of my other stuff goes. When the Snoop is slumbering elsewhere, it is empty. One small quibble I have is that this pocket isn’t sealed from the Snoop compartment, so small items can move between and get lost.
I’d also like to see the flap have a similar design I saw in the Ona bag, where there was additional fabric at the base that prevented a gap to the interior of the bag in case of rain, etc. As I mentioned in the Snoop review, they missed a chance for some really handy storage by not adding SD card pockets on the top of the Snoop and maybe a zippered mesh pocket or two on the top. Lastly, a bag this big and costing this much should come with a padded shoulder strap as standard equipment.
What about space? You want space? Here is a listing of what I got inside the bag:
- Nikon D90 w/ Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 non-BIM (mounted)
- Nikon 35mm f/1.8
- Nikon 80-200 f/2.8
- Nikon 18-200
- 2 extra EN-EL 3e batteries
- Cable release
- 3 MF clothes & cleaning spray
- TIffen filter case (4 filters)
- Black Rapid RS-7
- 3 SD Cards
- L-wrenches for tripod & plates
- Various caps
- Bag-o-cables, thumb drives, Advil, etc.
- Dual battery charger with AC and Car/Plane cables
- Gitzo 2531 with RRS BH-40 (tucked in the cinch straps on the bottom)
- Cell phone
Plus the work stuff…
- ThinkPad T410s (14″ screen)
- ThinkPad Tablet (10″)
- AC/DC travel charger for ThinkPad
- 3 pens
- presentation remote
- Business card holder
- USB hard drive
So there is a big checkmark next to “Space.” Was it huge? Yes. Was it workable to carry? Yes. At least I think so. I doubt I’ll travel with all of that stuff (at least very often), but it is nice to know I could. The strap was comfortable and I think I’d be able to get on a plane counting his as the second item (probably minus the tripod). I’d likely break the Snoop out once I was safely aboard.
As for protection, I think the design allows for a lot of protection for the laptop, as it is protected not only by the knobby neoprene sleeve but by the contents of the bag around it. The Snoop has a similar benefit, and has some interior padding as well.
Looks: No worries here. The bag looks as good as I expected. It is a bit more casual than the Ona Union Street, and I think that is OK for the versatility it offers. The waxed canvas feels more substantial than the Ona and richer than what I’ve seen on Domke and others. Net: high marks for attractiveness.
Comfort: Despite being a big bag, the Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger carries well. The weight feels balanced and it is manageable even with a fully stacked Snoop whether over your shoulder or in “messenger mode” with the strap across your chest. However, you have to buy the shoulder strap. Otherwise it won’t be comfortable on your shoulder and will saw your head off if looped across your chest. Nobody around me will be fooled into thinking there isn’t something in the bag, but it doesn’t seem like it will be breaking me, either, and the design doesn’t tell the world you’re carrying photo equipment.
As for fiddly things, I can’t really find any. I can get to everything I want to without much fuss, and when I’m in full-camera mode I can fold the messenger flap completely open and still have the Snoop zipped until I need it. With the Snoop open, I can easily get in and out whatever I want, despite things looking a little cramped. The Napoleon pocket and similar touches make the handling of this bag excellent.
Conclusion: Is it the perfect bag? No. You can’t do this many things and be great at all of them. As I’ve configured it and with the amount of stuff inside it I’m using to judge, it does strain a bit. But only a bit. To ask a bag to handle that much and have it achieve it in a travel-worthy fashion is a tall order, and the Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger delivers. I think it stands in a class by itself. The Snoop insert is a good idea, with some room for improvement. The quality and handling is terrific. Asked to any two tasks, it excels. Asked to do three, it handles it, and still looks great doing it.
Ultimately, I’m very pleased with this bag, and it’s a good thing – custom bags can’t be returned!
For full-size and higher-quality photos of the Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger, check out my set on Flickr, or just click on any of the photos above.