The Highs: Funky Timbuk2 vibe, quality materials, surprising capacity

The Lows: Slippery shoulder strap pad; sloppy ad copy; no grab handle on top

The Verdict: Good looking, versatile daypack/”seatside”/mini messenger bag

Sticking with our recent theme of smaller bags that can be used as ‘personal items’ or ‘seatside’ bags, today we check out the Timbuk2 “Freestyle” Netbook messenger bag.

The Freestyle is an XS version of Timbuk2’s venerable messenger bag. Although somewhat diminutive in size (around 12″ wide, 9″ high, and 6″ deep), the Freestyle can swallow a fair amount of gear, including as the name suggests, netbooks. There’s a bit of a catch in that regard, however, and I’ll explain in a bit.

A Freestyle plus, at least to my eye, is the fact that although the bag is compact, in no way will it be mistaken for a “murse” or “man purse.” Beefy polymer hardware, robust seams, and a no-nonsense 1-7/8″ wide shoulder strap equate to a masculine look.

The easiest way I’ve found for evaluating these bags – in addition to traveling with them – is to temporarily put them to use as a daily bag. Using a bag day in and day out makes flaws stand out quickly. What’s surprising about the bag is that it’s worked reasonably well as a daily bag. Of course my needs may differ from yours, but the things I carry between home and work – an iPad, spiral bound notebook, a few file folders, Bluetooth iPad keyboard, a Canon S90, and a bunch of odds and ends (jump drives, ear buds, aspirin/meds, business cards, eye drops, extra contacts, small notepad, pens, keys, etc.) fit just fine into the Freestyle. Of course, were I to bring home my ThinkPad, I’d be carrying it separately.

Before going any further, let’s take a look at the Freestyle specs.


  • Published dimensions: 12.5″ wide x 8.87″ high x 5.12″ deep
  • Actual dimensions: 11.5″ wide (at bottom); 12.5″ wide (at top) x 9¾” high x 6″ deepat base of bag and ~4″ deep at top of bag
  • Per the Timbuk2 website:
    • Fits the iPad and iPad 2 with Smart Case
    • Durable ballistic nylon exterior
    • Fuzzy Tricot-lined internal sleeve for protecting 10″ netbooks, iPads and Kindles (see next section)
    • Built to fit 10″ netbooks
    • Waterproof TPU liner
    • Adjustable cam buckle makes it easy to strap on and off
    • Internal organizer
    • Red key tether
  • Available in 4 colors
  • Warranty covers defects in materials & workmanship
  • Made in China

Timbuk2 copy editor needs a ruler

Let me clarify something about this bag right up front. If you look at the specs on the Timbuk2 site (quoted above), they claim that the Tricot-lined internal sleeve will accommodate 10″ netbooks. This, in a word, is horseshit. A 10″ netbook, or for that matter, a 10″ anything, will not fit in this sleeve.

There’s no denying that the sleeve is marvelous. It features a plush lining and is suspended by elastic in the back third of the bag’s main compartment, affording your electronics an extra degree of protection. For the record, however, the dimensions of the sleeve are 9¾” wide x 7¼” high x ~½” deep. Timbuk2 copywriters are no doubt a wonderful bunch, but they apparently have not come to grips with the fact that something 10″ wide will not fit in a space which is 9¾” wide. A Gen I iPad will fit, only if it’s not in a case. A Gen II iPad with Smart Cover will probably fit just fine; I don’t have a sample on hand to test this, however. Kindles with any sort of cover will fit.

A photo tour…

The Freestyle is simplicity itself. There’s one main compartment, no side pockets, and a few organizer pockets inside.  Velcro fastens the flap to the bag’s front, as well as the polymer snap buckles. The tabs on the ends of the buckle straps feature the Timbuk2 logo, and are reflective.

One end of the shoulder strap is fixed; the other (below) features Timbuk2’s clever cam buckle system which makes adjusting the strap’s length with one hand easy.

A close-up of one of the snap buckles and stitching; the quality of the materials and workmanship is readily apparent:

The front of the bag features an open pocket (you can see my Canon S90 peeking out) and a small zippered pocket that can handle the keys you’ve secured with the red key retainer:

Moving around to the back of the bag and looking toward the bag’s front, you can see the Timbuk2 organizer system: a couple of open pockets on the right, a pocket with Velcro flap on the left, and a zippered pocket behind. The zippered pocket measures ~9½” wide by about 7″ deep; in order to help keep things orderly, there are few open compartments inside this pocket. The only issue I’ve encountered with this system is that if you put anything at all bulky in these pockets, they intrude on the already precious real estate inside the main compartment:

Below, the first of a couple of shots of the main compartment. In the back of the compartment are a spiral bound notebook, magazine, and a file folder with travel itineraries; in the “laptop sleeve” is a Gen I iPad, sans case; in front of the sleeve is a Bluetooth Apple keyboard, and in front of that, a paperback book. I’ve left the flap of the iPad sleeve open in order to show how snugly a Gen I iPad fits in the sleeve:

In this shot, I’ve removed the book and put our Asus 1000HA (10″) netbook in its place. At this point we’re close to the bag’s full capacity; not much else could be accommodated. I’ve closed the flap on the iPad sleeve in this photo, of course.

Finally, a shot in which I tried to give you and idea of what the compartment looks like empty. Obviously, items can be stored behind (in this photo, to the left) the iPad/Kindle sleeve as well as in front of it; note the box stitching on the shoulder strap. The interior of this bag is a white thermoplastic urethane (TPU) which is both good looking and has a substantial, rich feel:

Below, the construction of the shoulder strap pad: two strips of foam are encased in ballistic nylon; the pad secures to the shoulder strap with a hook and loop closure. The only issue I encountered with the strap is that if you’re wearing a shirt or jacket that’s synthetic or in any way slippery, the pad wants to wander around like Charlie Sheen at a pornstar convention. Timbuk2 sells an accessory “Gripster” pad for $15 which addresses this issue; it ought to be standard.

A shot which I don’t normally include, but here’s a quick look at the bottom of the bag. Also note that the Timbuk2 logo at the bottom of the front of the bag is sewn on only at its ends; in a pinch you can use it as a grap strap. Speaking of which, I wish this bag had a grab strap or handle on its top; its a bit inconvenient to always have to use the shoulder strap.

Our last image: the Timbuk2 Freestyle, flanked by the Tom Bihn Synapse and the Bihn Co-Pilot. The Freestyle is close in size to the Co-Pilot, although I think the latter will hold more. All three are perfectly fine as “seatside” bags; obviously, the Synapse is a larger bag than the other two.

Wrapping up

I am really enjoying using the Timbuk2 Freestyle messenger bag. Depending upon your needs, it’s a neat little daypack/seatside/mini messenger bag. It does have its limitations, however. If your on-board gear includes a netbook and a pair of Bose noise-canceling headphones, for instance, you’re going to find yourself running out of real estate in the Freestyle quickly. Regular readers will recall that I used a Pacsafe Metrosafe 350 as my seatside/daypack in Europe last year, with excellent results; I could see myself using this bag in that capacity without issues…  other than the slippery shoulder pad and the lack of a grab handle.

If you really must have a Freestyle with a better shoulder pad and a top grab handle, you can customize one a the Timbuk2 website. But doing so will eliminate one of its most attractive features: its $65 price tag. Going the custom route pushes the price north of $100, and at that point the price/value ratio isn’t quite as compelling for what is in the final analysis a relatively small bag.

If I continue to use this as a daily bag, I’ll see if I can buy a grab handle from Timbuk2 and have a shoe repair shop sew it in place.

There’s no question that the Freestyle makes a great seatside bag, unless you must bring along a laptop. As a daily bag, if your work or avocation requires you to carry a lot of paperwork, books, files and so forth, this likely isn’t the bag for you. If that describes your situation but the Freestyle’s style is appealing to you, check out Timbuk2’s entire line, which includes messenger bags in a wide variety of sizes.

See the Freestyle here: Timbuk2 Freestyle Netbook Messenger

The Fine Print:  I have no connection with Timbuk2

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9 Comments on Review: Timbuk2 Freestyle Netbook Messenger bag

  1. Lani Teshima says:

    Thanks for the review. I haven’t had a chance to check out this particular model. My favorite for the longest time was their Metro, which was slightly smaller than their XS messenger bag, but with nicer features (like straps that actually clipped off). Alas, they don’t make that anymore–replaced with its poor cousin, the Click.

    One very minor nit: You refer to “copy editors” in the section header (“Timbuk2 copy editors need a ruler”) but in the body of the section, refer to copywriters (“copywriters are no doubt a wonderful bunch…”). Just wanted to make sure you knew that there is a vast difference between copy editors and copywriters. Copy editors are proofreaders on steroids, who can help turn any mundane, error-ridden text into easy-to-read prose. Copywriters, on the other hand, are advertising people who typically write text for ads.

    So while both your statements could be considered correct (that is, it’s quite true that copy editors could, in the process of copy editing a product description, perform some rudimentary fact checks including making sure the dimensions on the product are reflected in the text; while it’s also quite possible that the product descriptions are written by Timbuk2’s writing staff in their advertising team, hence technically a copywriter), but the two are as different as a botanist and a landscaper. So if you meant to use the two interchangeably, that is incorrect.

    Great review, though. Enjoyable and informative, as always!


    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks. I get it – I wasn’t using them interchangeably. Whoever wrote the copy goofed, and whoever proofed it (an editor? a product manager?) did as well.

    Thanks for the comment!


  2. Michael W. says:

    I have both the T2 bag you reviewed above and also it’s close, and perhaps more suitable, cousin the Classic Messenger (in XS size, which matches your Freestyle “notebook” edition).

    Oddly enough (very oddly, because I know you are very precise about these things) my HP Mini 210 (close in size to your 10.1″ Asus) fits in my padded netbook slot with room to spare.

    I don’t really like my Freeestyle, however, because the padded slot just takes up too much volume in such a small messenger bag. I much prefer the XS Classic (extra small Classic) which has a separator panel at the back in lieu of the hanging netbook slot. My netbook won’t really fit in that narrow/thin slot, at least not comfortably, and since there is no padding in the Classic anyway, I just use that slot for papers and put my netbook in an accessory neoprene case in the main compartment.

    You hit the nail on the head on my two main complaints about the Freestyle (and by extension the Classic as well): lack of grab handle, and slippery shoulder strap. I purchased the anti-slip handle but they should all be antislip by default, since few purchasers use these bags in classic messenger carry style (where many messengers forgo the strap altogether, and if they use one, don’t want it grabbing).

    (I do have one other complaint – I don’t like the “hook” part of the Velcro on the bag, I’d rather have it on the panel, if you overfill the bag and loosen the straps do so, you leave some of the “hooky” Velcro exposed and it will snag the clothing of innocent bystanders.)

    I do like the inner front panel and the exterior coin pouch and slot on all their models. These bags “organize” for me almost as well as the RedOxx Gator.

    Finally, the Classic has an interesting “side access” zipper slot which is great for a thin wallet or passport – accesses without opening the bag at all.

    Thanks for the long-awaited T2 review! These are great bags and I have many in my collection. They are the best looking seat-side bags for guys (with the possible exception of the ordinary daypack).

    PS – Relatively pilfer resistant, since the Velcro makes them “noisy openers” and it’s tough to razor through that ballistic nylon and tarp lining (I assume).


    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks for your comment. I wasn’t aware that the XS Classic has the netbook sleeve. I thought it just had an open pocket. Your comments about the XS seem contradictory – is there a padded sleeve, or not?

    In any event, our Asus has as great a chance of fitting in the “netbook sleeve” as Muammar Gaddafi has of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. It barely fits in the main compartment, width wise.

    Thanks for mentioning the role Velcro plays in theft prevention. I meant to mention it, but deadline pressure got the best of me.

    Were I to do it again, I’d think hard about ordering the XS Classic in black, with the grab handle and the grippy shoulder strap pad. But that jacks the price to $125, a far cry from $65. Having someone sew a strap onto the Freestyle is looking more and more attractive. And in the final analysis, the suspended sleeve might meet up with Mr. X-ACTO.


  3. Michael W. says:

    The XS Classic has a single, very slightly padded, slightly stiff separator panel towards the back of the main compartment, unlike the Freestyle which has a wrap-around, fully padded sleeve which is “free hanging.” In addition, the gap between the separator panel and back of the messenger bag is only about .25″ when empty, although it will accept an iPad in a Bihn Vertical Cache due to the way soft panels bulge to adapt (it’s a snug fit even for an iPad when in case).

    I think maybe you got an undersized Freestyle. I would call up T2’s customer service department to discuss with them. Your Asus isn’t any bigger than my HP Mini 210 and should fit. They should exchange the Freestyle you have for one that will hold a netbook (that’s not unreasonable to ask for!) or give you a credit against the XS Classic.

    For my purposes my limited papers (mail?) fits well in the XS Classic’s back slot. Judging on your office papers in the pictures, I don’t think they would fit as well. Also, the Freestyle’s netbook slot is fixed in location – you use a separate neoprene sleeve like I need to do with my XS Classic, the netbook tends to slide to the bottom of the bag, which isn’t ideal.


  4. Michael W. says:

    P.S. –

    Yes a custom costs more, but it is hand made in an All American Sweat Shop. Well probably not a sweat shop since it is made in San Francisco which is pretty touchy about such things, and Timbuk2 has always had a good reputation.

    Plus you get to custom select exterior color (panel by panel!), interior lining color too, and add that handle.

    I am using this as my current pad strap, I just cut off the manufacturer’s sewn on label:


  5. Jojo Hosaka says:

    Great review!I recently bought one and it really isn’t perfect,it depends on your application. When I travel, with some shuffling, I’m able to put a Samsung NF310 netbook in a capdase sleeve, Rudy Project sunglasses, Canon Powershot, Dischaler, Epipen, other meds, travel docu, wallet, chamois and an I-Pod. For daily use less gets in it. I’m using this more often when I travel than the PacSafe Metro 200. For work I use a Timbuk2 Commute Slim without the strap so it looks like a briefcase. But when all I have to lug around is a netbook I use the Freestyle. It really is versatile and it doesn’t look like a murse. Very happy with the Timbuk2 products I own.


  6. Bob says:

    When someone gives a single measurement (10 inches) for a laptop/tablet, it is a diagonal measurement. 9.75 inches is plenty wide enough to fit a 10 inch diagonal even at a wide 16:9 ratio.


  7. Wes says:

    Bob is right, 10″ net books are 10″ diagonally, making them less than 10″ across. Unless they’re absurdly thick, they’ll fit just fine. All screens are measured this way.


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