Timbuk2 Bag In A Box

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It doesn’t matter if you call it a gear bag, a carry all, a man purse, or a satchel; finding your perfect bag seems to be a personal quest without an end. I speak from experience as I’ve been on such a quest for the past 20 years or so. It always seems like the bags that I choose have 1 or 2 things that keep me from loving them. Most of the time it’s the number of pockets and ease of use, but sometimes it’s as simple as the color and size. I’ve often thought that if I could only design my own bag from the ground up, that it would be perfect and I’d never need another gear bag again. Even though I watch a lot of shows on the HGTV and DIY Networks, I don’t have much experience sewing or making bags, so I’ve yet to try this endeavor.

Recently I came across a bag manufacturer that comes very close to giving you the ability of designing your own bag from the ground up. The company is Timbuk2, who have been in business of making messenger bags since 1989. Made popular by bicycle messengers, these style bags have to be tough and road worthy. Now you can have one built to order by purchasing their Bag In a Box kit. This kit is actually a $100 plastic gift card with a special code on the back, that you can use to go on to Timbuk2’s website to configure your bag in 5 easy steps.

When you start the online process, you first have to choose the size of messenger bag:

Small ($70) 15″ Top W x 10″ H x 5.5″ D x 12″ Bottom W
Medium ($80) 19″ Top W x 11″ H x 8″ D x 14.5″ Bottom W
Large ($90) 23″ Top W x 12.75″ H x 8.5″ D x 16.5″ Bottom W
X-Large ($100) 27″ Top W x 14.5″ H x 9″ D x 20″ Bottom W

As you can see, your choice of bag size will have a substantial effect on what you can actually get for your $100 gift card. I went with the Medium sized bag, which according to the website, is comparable in size to most backpacks.

Step 2a is where you make the choice between Ballistic Nylon and Cordura. Ballistic Nylon has a higher sheen, brighter colors and won’t pill your clothes. Cordura looks and feels more like a tightly woven matte canvas. I opted for the Ballistic Nylon.

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Step 2b, we get to pick colors! The number of colors that you can choose from depends on which type of fabric that you decided on in Step 2a. If you chose Ballistic Nylon, you will have 21 color choices. If you went with Cordura, you only have 16 colors to pick from. You can pick different colors for the left, right and middle panels. As you can imagine, there are many possibilities. I went with Olive for the left and right, and Orange in the middle.

Step 3 is the free options choosing step. Here is where you can choose the color of the bag’s interior (or liner), logo color, type of reflectors and whether the bag is right or left handed. I decided on orange for the liner, gold for the logo, tab reflectors and a right handed bag. At this point, the cost of the bag was totaling up at $80.

Step 4 allows you to choose some upgrades for your messenger bag. The upgrades include a grab strap and a center divider. Both cost $10 each. I went ahead and picked both, which brought my total up to $100.

And finally we get to Step 5 which gives you a few other accessory choices including a strap pad, strap pouch, accessory case and phone holster. The only one I decided to get was the strap pad for $10. This wraps around the shoulder strap to give some extra padding and gripping ability. At this point you see that I’ve gone over budget by $10. With shipping, I ended up running over $22. It was a small price to pay for a bag that I customized myself though.

A few days after placing the order, I came home to find a box on my front porch. Opening it revealed a bag that looked even better than what I had envisioned. I loved the colors that I had chosen, and the Ballistic Nylon looked and felt great.

The stitching is perfect. The top handle is padded and comfortable.

As you can see, this bag will sit on a desk or floor without falling over. This is one of my main pet peeves when it comes to a gear bag. If it won’t stand up on its own, it will go bye-bye. The wide woven shoulder strap is surprisingly comfortable. More so with the padded strap pad that I added. The right side of the bag has a large plastic adjustment buckle so that you can use to lengthen or shorten the shoulder strap. It would be nice if there was a strip of canvas that you could tuck the shoulder strap loop into. The Waterfield Cargo bag has this same style buckle with the feature I’d like to see here.

The flap is held closed with 4 large strips of Velcro. Yeah, I hate Velcro with every fiber of my being, but I’ve reluctantly grown used to the rippppppppppppppppppp noise that it makes every morning when I open it at work. Besides the Velcro, two plastic pinch latches also hold the flap closed. I don’t much like this style of latch because I invariably pinch my fingers with them at least once a week.

Under the flap you’ll find a zippered pocket with another unzippered pocket behind it. I keep my car keys in the unzippered pocket, and my wallet in the zippered one.

At the bottom of flap latches are reflectors. Great for visibility if you happen to carry the bag at night.

The interior of the bag is washable vinyl. I chose a bright color so that it would be easy to see my junk at the bottom of the bag.

Inside the bag is one large cavity with the optional thin double ply divider sewn into the back wall, and a organizer panel on the front wall. I’ve never really liked a messenger style bag due to the fact that it typically has just one cavernous area, instead of lots of dividers and pockets. I will have to say that I’ve changed my mind about that after using this bag for several weeks. I’ve come to appreciate being able to stuff a lot of gear in there and still having room left over.

If you opt for the divider, it is sewn into the back wall and uses Velcro to hold the two layers together. I use this area to hold small flat items like papers and user manuals I may be reading.

The organizer panel sewn into the front of the bag has a large zippered area with other pockets sewn on the outside of it. There is another large zippered pocket with a clear business card holder in front of it. Next to it there are 3 pen/pencil pockets, with an open pocket behind them. Next to that pocket there is a flannel lined pocket suitable for a narrow cellphone or pair of sunglasses.

Here you see that I have 2 similarly sized Waterfield zippered pouches (one is the iPod Gear Pouch) in the main cavity of the bag. I also have my One Touch glucose meter pouch in there, but you can’t see it. Even with those 3 items, I find I still have a lot of room to spare. In the morning, there’s plenty of room if I want to put a McDonald’s bag with an egg McMuffin in it. And when I come home from work, I’m able to stuff all the mail from the mailbox in the bag. I can also fit quite a few full sized magazines behind the divider. This bag can carry a laptop, but since the bag itself lacks padding, I don’t really recommend it unless you put the laptop into a separate padded sleeve. Timbuk2 makes some laptop specific bags that are a much better choice.

As for carrying the bag, I typically wear it bandolier style. I find it to be very comfortable against my back since the bag is soft and molds to the shape it rests against. I’ve been really happy with the materials and workmanship of this bag. I think the messenger style is now my favorite style of bag and I will probably be sticking with it for future bags. If I could change any features to make this bag more perfect for me, I would get rid of the Velcro, change the flap latches to something more finger friendly, and add a small pocket on the outside for easy access to a cellphone. Yeah, I know you can attach a cellphone pouch to the shoulder strap, but I’d rather just have a pocket on the bag itself. Even though the bag isn’t my end all be all bag, it is my current favorite which says a lot.


Product Information

  • You get to pick your own colors
  • Lots of storage
  • $100 may not be enough to get all the options you want
  • Velcro - nuff said

33 thoughts on “Timbuk2 Bag In A Box”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. Timbuk2 makes fantastic bags. One thing I’ve noticed is that while I might “cheat” on my timbuk2 bag, and wander to another, I always return to it because no other bag gets that inside organizer so very right. Every other messenger bag puts the organizer on the outside under the flap instead of in the bag itself, and I constantly lost papers, pens, etc, with those styles.

  3. Great review Julie. Quick question, it appears that your newer reviews do not include a good/bad overview at the end of the review. I really miss those. Its really nice to have the “quick summary” at the end. Just wanted to let you know.


  4. Julie wrote:


    So what color and size Timbuk2 do you have?

    I have the smallest one in all black with a yellow logo, and a grey inside. I bought it at an REI, so the colors were a bit more limited. It’s pretty plain, but sturdy as hell. And even as it aged, you can barely tell where it’s getting worn.

  5. I just went to the website, since I’m looking for a backpack replacement – very nice. 😀 Anyone here have a Large bag, that can compare it with a normal duffle or backpack for size and volume purposes? I know they describe it on the page, but it’s not quite the same as someone saying ‘I can stuff my laptop in there without problems’ or similar.

    Not that I’d recommend stuffling a laptop into a bag that isn’t padded, but you get the drift.

  6. TripleTapper wrote:

    Great review Julie. Quick question, it appears that your newer reviews do not include a good/bad overview at the end of the review. I really miss those. Its really nice to have the “quick summary” at the end. Just wanted to let you know.

    The Pros and Cons are still there – they are just in the upper right hand corner of the review page now. :0)

  7. Thanks a ton! I am just blind 😎

    btw, I just wanted to let the both of you know that I REALLy like the new layout on this site.

  8. Bailey Works makes a better bag, if courier bags are what you like.

    I still own my old Timbuk2 (small cordura), but it’s been relegated to an equipment bag while I carry my Bailey Works everywhere.

    Here are the main reasons why I like my Bailey Works bag better than my Timbuk2.
    1. Bailey Works uses a more durable cordura. My Timbuk2 bag has very obvious signs of wear and tear in both the cordura shell and in the ballistic nylon strap pad — the liner is intact though.
    2. Bailey Works has a MUCH better strap pad. It’s far more comfortable and it doesn’t slide around.
    3. The Bailey Works main flap does a better job at keeping rain out. If you look at your Timbuk2 when the flap is closed, there are small areas next to the shoulder strap where the main flap does not cover. It’s like Timbuk2 forgot to add a 1/4 inch of fabric on both sides of the main flap. The flap on the Bailey Works bag covers everything, easily — that extra fabric is a life saver in a downpour.

    I still don’t think the Bailey Works bag is perfect, far from it, but it’s the best one I’ve found so far, and I definitely find it a better bag than the Timbuk2.

  9. I also am a big fan of Timbuk2 – ordered mine back in the day when you could customize almost everything about it. Last time I visited, the choices were a little more limited – but still very customizable. This is absolutely the bag to get if you are on a budget or just don’t see the value of spending $200+ on a laptop bag.

    If I had one complaint it would have to be the “briefcase” handle at the top of the bag. I think you dodged this issue Julie by not carrying a heavy laptop in the bag, but when you have it loaded with a 15″ Powerbook or big Dell, the handle is a little lopsided and kind of odd. Since there isn’t the strong side construction of a typical briefcase, the bag kind of forms around the rigid laptop – and when you stand holding the handle it doesn’t hang quite right. Just a little odd is all.

    Still a great bag – and probably one of the best for $100 or less you can get.

  10. SQLDba wrote:

    This is absolutely the bag to get if you are on a budget or just don’t see the value of spending $200+ on a laptop bag.

    If you are on a budget, even $100 is too high. I picked up a great messenger bag at Eddie Bauer outlet for $35 out the door. Yes I had to add some other gear, but on a budget, it is not needed.

    Pictures of the bag are in this thread.

    I can afford higher priced bags, but with my bag addiction, I soon wouldn’t be able to :). Also, my ministry is with College age guys through Sigma Theta Epsilon, and most of them are on a budget in a BIG way :).

  11. How much velcro are we talking about here?

    This is a purely subjective judgment, mind you.

    Enough, too much, or any velcro is too much velcro?

    — Craig

  12. SQLDBa:
    The handle on top of the bag seems to be perfectly fine for regular sized loads. I only used this handle to move the bag from my shoulder to the car seat, or from my shoulder to my desk. I don’t think I’d want to carry the bag by this handle for any distance when I have a nice wide shoulder strap to use instead. We also have to remember that this isn’t a laptop bag, and I did mention that fact 😉

    You can see in one of the pictures that there are 4 long strips of Velcro sewn into the area of the bag where the flap rests. This is too much for me, but like I said, I’ve grown used to it. There is also a short section of Velcro used to hold the two layers of the interior divider together.

    Velcro would be fine if it didn’t make such an obnoxious sound everytime you used it 😉

  13. I’m sure there is a good reason for it, but why did you stop putting cons and pros? I used to scroll down to see if I want to read the review first, now I just look at the pictures.
    There is something to be said about making up my own mind, but then again reviewers and reporters have two different tasks.

    Could it be that giving “cons” soured some vendors?


  14. areo:

    You’re the 2nd person to ask this question in this forum. The Pros and Cons are in the top right corner of the page. 🙂 They’ve been there since the redesign. We just recently stopped duplicating them at the bottom of the reviews because they had been put in manually before. If we have the pros / cons pasted automatically at the bottom, older reviews will have 2 sets of pros / cons listed at the end of the review. Clear as mud?

  15. I recently bought the medium sized bag in Cordura. Gold side panels and a black center panel. I also added a gold and black shoulder pad, a black padded strap pouch for my wallet or Treo and the center grab handle and internal divider.

    I find the bag to be almost perfect for my needs. I use public transportation to get to/from work and found that leather briefcases would get torn up over time. This bag is much more durable and can always be washed if necessary. I’m not crazy about the sound from the Velcro, but it adheres tightly enough that I never need to use the latches to keep the flap closed.

    The medium size is very functional. It would be perfect for college and big enough to carry a change of clothes. Since there is not a lot of form to the bag, carrying it with not a lot of stuff is comfortable as Julie mentioned in the review. Also, compared to the Timbuk2 website, these bags look a lot better in person as far as the colors.

  16. Julie,

    A quick visit to timbuk2’s site reminded me that the laptop bags they sell and a completely different bag then the messenger bag you have. There is a padded pocket area sewn into the laptop version – and the customization is much less. I stand corrected.

    Another good messenger bag out there is some of the stuff from Crumpler. I bought their Crisp Suit bag – which is their largest. A ton of pockets and areas to put things. Good, well padded laptop area. My biggest complaint on this bag is there is NO handle other than the strap. Otherwise great bag.

    Just a thought – how about a Review Category of the Month section? Seems like we are getting a lot of input of different bags – maybe pick a general topic like messenger bags and open it up for gadgeteers to post mini reviews with pictures, experiences etc. In just a couple minutes I could think of a bunch of gadget topics of the month – messenger bags, backpacks, mp3 players, flash drives, cell phones, digital recorders etc. You could set up a basic rating – 5 stars type thing – and have it work like an Amazon type rating only focused on a specific product type each month.

    I know I look here first before I buy almost any gadget – and having an extensive user review section on different gadgets would be a pretty cool feature…

  17. SQLDba:

    You have a good idea about the Review Category of the Month. I’ve been wanting to add more user contributed content. My original thought was more things like the Featured Gadgeteer stories, but this is a good idea too. I’ll give it some thought over the weekend and see what can come of it 🙂

  18. Julie
    Thanks for clearing this. Cons/Pros section was hidden right where it belongs; in front of my eyes. 🙂

  19. SQLDba wrote:

    Another good messenger bag out there is some of the stuff from Crumpler. I bought their Crisp Suit bag – which is their largest. A ton of pockets and areas to put things. Good, well padded laptop area. My biggest complaint on this bag is there is NO handle other than the strap. Otherwise great bag.

    I second SQLDba’s support of Crumpler. I’m in NYC and have access to both the Timbuk2 and Crumpler retail stores (as well as seeing people carrying each brand’s bags). I originally picked an XL Timbuk2 Messenger Bag in order to carry a variety of stuff (specifically, legal-size files between 1.5 and 15 inches thick). I wound up buying a Crumpler “Wonder Weenie” which was good as a basic backpack replacement, but then I found that I was carrying more, thicker files and the width of the bag couldn’t keep up. So I got a “Fux Deluxe” and I’m really pleased. The FD is a big bag — it can accomodate a LOT of stuff — and I’ve never been in a situation where I have to switch bags on the fly to be able to carry a half-dozen files totalling 18 or more inches deep.

    The bags are very durable, look professional (ie not inappropriate with a suit) and have lots of storage space. The cons are the missing top handle, no zippers on the deep but narrow internal pockets, and the large excess “strap-loop” that hangs off the side of the bag.

    All their messenger bags have third-leg stabilizers that go across your waist, but I think they just get in the way and have never bothered using any. If I spent each workday on a bicycle in Manhattan, however, I might think differently.

    I think the Timbuk2 bags are nice and very well-designed; I would have ended up buying a customized T2 but they were out of gray strap-pads and ipod cases when I was doing mine up, so I always put off buying one until they had the colors I wanted in stock. After a few visits they were still out, and I wound up finding Crumpler so I’m pleased. Crumpler offers a variety of add-on accessories which hold everything from iPods to phones/radios, cd players, cameras, etc. So I figure that the bag will grow with me if/when necessary. I’ve used Crumplers as carry-ons for coast-to-coast flights and haven’t regretted buying either bag. It handles a bunch of thick files, my LifeDrive, an iPod (and the requisite crap that goes along with the iPod), a Nikon Coolpix S1 digicam, a 20-CD holder, reference manuals, and my gym clothes — simultaneously. I’d bet that the bag will fit more than you can — or want — to carry at once.

    One final note, for an extra $50 or $75 or so, they let you custom-design the front panel/flap of the bag yourself — not just color-blocks but any design you can imagine. Pricey, but really nice if you need to have a logo or design of your own making. The FD was about $120 with tax and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

  20. Just wanted to say thank you for the great t2 review. After reading the review and doing some further research, I purchased a custom t2 messenger and I absolutley love it. I am a bag geek and I’m proud to say this is currently my bag of choice. Thank you again.

  21. thec13:

    The Timbuk2 bag that I reviewed is still my everyday bag as well. Love the colors you chose for yours! 🙂

  22. So… It’s been seven years, and I wonder why I didn’t get one earlier. The redesign for the outer pockets is nice, though. The Napoleon pocket that can be gotten at without opening the velcro in particular.

    It isn’t QUITE as capacious as a backpack, but it’s a lot more comfortable, most days. As long as it’s not too heavily loaded. Plus, the coated canvas looks very sharp.

  23. I can see why. I just answered my 7 year old question (yes, that was me in 2005 asking) with ‘the Medium fits fine, without being overlarge and tempting me to overload the bag’.

    I just got the brown and tusk-grey mahogany Classic Messenger yesterday as it was the first time I’d seen the Messenger locally. I wish I’d had this bag for travel two years ago.

    1. @Haesslich I’m tempted to design another one as I’m getting a little bored of carrying my shiny red/black one. I would like to go back to ballistic nylon or canvas.

  24. @Julie: The X-PAC material looks good. I saw the canvas and the nylon bags with a (newly official) local retailer, and liked the classic look of the former. They do have a lot more selection now, and the redesigned organizer mentioned in the more recent reviews (and Napoleon zip pocket) would be worth it.

    I’ve gone through six bags in the past seven years due to fit or capacity issues: I think that hunt is officially done, now.

    1. I have a bag with the napoleon pocket but never use it. I always forget that it’s there. I really really wish there was a pocket on the back side that I could use for papers or a magazine.

  25. That would be useful, but I find I use smaller pockets more often to stash things. A bottle/cup holder wouldn’t be too out of place as an addition, IMO. I stick documents into that internal slash pocket, myself.

  26. 3 waxed canvas Timbuk2’s and counting. Canvas is just that little bit “old school” and “builds character” over the time so much better 🙂

  27. I don’t know what sort of character canvas build up, but in response to Ian’s EULA review, I treated my bag with Nikwax Softshell Proof when I first got it, and haven’t seen the propensity for picking up dust and whatever else he mentioned in his review yet.

    Plus, it rained today – good timing on the bag change, and the bag held up well to the rain – only the nylon trim got soaked.

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