Head to Head :: Laptop Messengers
Timbuk2 Custom Laptop Messenger vs Greenroom136 JunkMonkey Heretic
Before we begin, we need to admit that there are LOTS of messengers we could be reviewing in this space. We’ve picked two good examples of a common format, each with a couple of twists. Our hope is that we’ll work through some likes and not so likes in order to help you understand how to pick a good laptop messenger.
The players are the Timbuk2 laptop messenger we’ve already highlighted in our Backpack vs Messenger post. It’s a custom done up with coated canvas that Timbuk2 generously supplied. We’ll call it the T2.
The other is a JunkMonkey Heretic that is both a new bag and a new brand to our discussions. Greenroom136 is a little startup from Malaysia, making interesting bags that they were kind enough to send a sample of to us. It’s getting labelled the Heretic for this little excursion.
Let’s start with the obvious, which pertains to the sock. The Heretic runs a big sock lining, which adds just a little in weight, not much in bulk, but a lot in confidence. While most early generation messengers were along the lines of the T2 block (think flap on a tub), all the cool cats of late are running more and more flap gusseting and corner covers to avoid the dreaded…
… Gorby Gap (not a real carry term, just one I borrowed from my old days on the ski hill). The single biggest downfall of the T2 is its Gorby Gap either side of the flap, where stuff can get in and out without you wanting it to. On the Heretic, no matter how carelessly you close the flap, you know you’re covered. On the T2, you need to take a bit too much care.
Expandability is the other bonus of radness that the Heretic sock bestows. A good messenger really should grow and shrink with your changing carry needs, and the Heretic does this well. It could run straps a touch longer to allow even more expandability, but you can see it’s already standing pretty tall. The T2 really likes to keep things tighter, so it will struggle if you need to ride home after winning the meat tray at your work break-up bingo.
Pocketing is the next major point, and an area that most messenger bags get very wrong. While actual bike messengers must not carry cameras and batteries and sunnies and deodorant and all those little things we occasionally need, the rest of us do. The place for these is NOT stuck on the centre front layer of the bag. This is the major crush point of any messenger, and everything will fight for space.
Instead, messenger bags need to utilise the side zones that are typically empty. Dear Heretic, well done. While those front side pockets are not as weatherproof as they could be, their placement means you can load clunky items and forget they’re there. My photos don’t do these guys justice. Dear T2, you could actually pull back on the number of really small pockets because they’re all in the wrong spot.
And now our T2 comes back fighting… The single greatest aspect of the T2 is something we covered in our last post about it – the floating laptop sleeve. This is the best example of this we’ve seen, and something others can learn from. Flat laptops should not be placed against curvy bodies. The T2 has a floating mid divider that lets you place jackets or soft things between your laptop and you. It just works.
More protected is not always better. While the Heretic continues the sock theme through to its laptop sleeve, I almost find the quick in and out on the T2 easier.
The T2 has slightly more refined inner lining as well, but then is not removable the way the Heretic is.
With strap pads, more is better. Some of the earliest messenger bags ran with fully padded straps (like, the whole thing). It’s been downhill since, with pads getting smaller and smaller. On the big messengers that wrap around you like a poncho that’s OK, but with mid and small, a bit of extra padding is nice. We like the T2 a touch more between these.
Polyester is boring. While Greenroom136 is doing a few interesting things, fabric ain’t one of them. Standard 800D-ish polyesters with ripstop nylon interiors. It’s the most common look for messengers, so nothing wrong with it, there’s just nothing interesting about it either.
Timbuk2 has some scary fabric options, but some interesting ones as well. While coated canvases do pick up a little more dust, they look much nicer in a work setting.
Buckles matter. If riding, you want to yank your bag up to sit high on your back. That means the main buckle gets a serious workout. The T2 certainly has a chunkier and better buckle than the Heretic, but we think there are better systems to both of these, like the Mission Workshop multi-pull-bit-buckle-assemblage-bit-buckles that we don’t know what to call [Ed: Let's go with D-Pull adjusters].
And all the other bits – Having a grab handle on the T2 is awesome. As is being able to customise your color and fabric set-up. Having little main strap wings on the Heretic helps it wrap around your shoulder better. And you get a little pouch with it. They’re both well made, they both reinforce key areas, and they both play well in a few types of workplaces.
So is there a winner? Ummm, if we could combine the two of these bags, we’d be on to something better for sure. They both have really strong points, and both have a few bits that let them down. I think in the end it comes down to how often you carry a laptop. If it’s every day, the Timbuk2 is just way more comfy to ride with, but you’ll need to be careful in the rain (Gorby Gaps). If it’s only infrequently, then the Heretic’s sock construction and versatility is really nice to live with. Yep, cop out, but it’s true.