Tested: Innovative Laptop Bags from Timbuk2

It's back to school season, and what every student needs regardless of being in grade school or grad school is something to carry all that he or she needs to and from classes, labs and lectures. Those whose school days are behind them may also need something a bit more practical than a briefcase.

Over the next few days, we're going to be taking a look at some bags that would be suitable "everyday carry" bags that are also well-suited for carrying laptops, but don't look like the old, boring and rectangular laptop bags.

The first company's offerings that we're checking out today are from Timbuk2. This San Francisco company is one of the biggest in the industry and is best known for its three-panel messenger bags. What it is not nearly as well known for, however, are backpacks. While backpacks are a completely different animal to over-the-shoulder messenger bags, Timbuk2 has applied some of its design experience in making a backpack that's more innovative than your typical school backpack.

Today we discuss two new models of backpacks for the fall 2012 season, the Showdown, which retails for $99, and the Uptown, which is $119.

Timbuk2 Showdown

With a 22L capacity, the Showdown is not suited for those who want to bring their entire lives around with them. The compact size is perfectly fine for carrying a laptop and some books, but don't expect to fit too much extra beyond that. Depending on climate, you may find yourself wanting to pack along a jacket or a beach towel, and thankfully the bag can accommodate this even if the bag is full: there are compression straps at the bottom of the bag that can cinch up to secure anything that's rolled up.

The front has three differently sized zippered compartments, and these are great for separating your smaller items. Be warned, however, they're not exceptionally big, but they are perfect if you're the type to carry around a bunch of small things, like your cell phone and some USB thumb drives, that would otherwise float around in the bigger main compartment.

One thing that makes the Showdown exceptionally conscious of being a laptop bag is Timbuk2's "laptop hammock" that suspends the computer from the bottom of the bag. If you've ever put down a backpack only to sense a solid thud on the ground, signaling that the laptop hit the hard surface first, then you can appreciate this design. The hammock compartment is big enough for a 15-inch laptop.

Timbuk2 Uptown

The Uptown is a bit roomier (30L) and does better for those that find themselves carting around rather a lot of from day to day, or occasionally traveling longer distances. large main compartment (which is free of any internal compartments or pockets) and two front pockets, or additional sections, stacked onto the front of the bag.

The middle compartment is slightly smaller than the main compartment of the bag and features two zippered net pockets near the top, and a sleeve with a velcro seal just below those. This is great for keeping certain items separate from everything else you're carrying, or stowing a couple of quick access larger items (such as a 3DS, book or external HDD).

The last section features a neat little organizer with numerous little nooks and crannies handy for keeping your pens, USB sticks and all those other miscellaneous bits and pieces in order. It's also perfect for carrying an iPad or similar-sized tablet, though we're not sure how comfortable we'd be putting such a delicate item in the outermost pocket and would recommend you buy a case if you're going down that route. Finally, this front compartment also has a little slip pocket on outside, which comes in handy for stashing your phone, cash or a train ticket/boarding pass.

Now, you might be wondering where the laptop compartment is in all of this. Indeed, the most notable thing about the Uptown is its functionality as a laptop bag in that it is Timbuk2's first TSA-approved backpack. Behind the main section of the bag sits another compartment with a laptop sleeve inside. This unzips all the way around and the laptop sleeve swings down to lay flat on the conveyer belt at airport security. This means you don't have to wrestle your computer in and out of your bag and instead only have to deal with zipping it back up once you're through security. The laptop sleeve in the Uptown can fit up to a 17-inch laptop.

Nice Additions

Both the Uptown and Showdown share several similarities that are consistent throughout many of the Timbuk2 backpacks. The shoulder straps are not directly attached at the top, but rather there is a connective piece of durable nylon bridging the bag and strap. This increases flexibility and range of motion for the straps, making the bag less restrictive and more suitable for a wider range of body types.

The Uptown has comfortable straps and even has a laptop-style carry handle on one side, which makes pulling it down from an overhead bin a cinch. There's also a bottle opener attached to the front of one strap. Despite traveling with this bag three times in the last month, I have yet to use the bottle opener, but it's a nice touch on a bag that would be great for a camping trip or festival. Some could argue that it should be a removable option, but regardless, it adds an element of playfulness to the overall design.

Timbuk2 Classic Messenger + Laptop Sleeve

Those who want to go the traditional Timbuk2 classic messenger route can opt for custom-made-in-San Francisco bags, with or without dedicated laptop compartments. Those who want the option of going with or without a laptop compartment can get a laptop sleeve instead of getting on sewn in. Timbuk2's Escape laptop sleeve, while $40, is made of the same 840D nylon as the backpacks and also features the same venting holes to help dissipate residual laptop heat. It's also got an extra pocket that will fit a tablet.

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Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • back_by_demand
    Nice, but Wenger has been doing stuff like this for nearly 10 years and a lot better.
  • Lord Captivus
    are you kidding me!! its a bag!! (maybe im just tired from work and have zero tolerance...)
  • amuffin
    Um, $100+ for a backpack is kind of too much for a student....
    I use the High Sierra Sheridan which I got for $18 at Costco, but it retails for about $35. Honestly the Sheridan does everything these two do.

  • gravewax
    2 years ago I stumbled onto the High Sierra backpacks. It would take something truly amazing nowadays for me to use anything else as a laptop bag and this certainly isn't it.
  • GreaseMonkey_62
    I'll stick with my Targus bag. It has lasted quite well for several years.
  • EldritchOnRye
    So uh... any chance we'll be getting those articles on the other companies bags?