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.
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