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Head to head

Head to Head | Backpack vs Messenger

by , December 19, 2011


We team with Timbuk2 to battle backpack against messenger

One of our most popular old posts at Carryology is Backpack vs Messenger; a look at which bag format suits which needs. After a bit of jamming with the folks at Timbuk2, we thought it would be fun to bring that post to life via their custom bag program…

The starting point was a typical Carryology reader; think smart, sexy, intelligent… mixes work and play, cycles, carries a laptop, likes long walks and bathes in unicorn tears. With this user in mind, we spec’d a backpack and a messenger with as similar specifications as we could manage: Black (of course), waxed canvas, 15″ laptop, waterproof TPU lining, kinda understated.

Our orders were taken, Santa’s workshop got busy (it’s in San Fran if you didn’t know), and we soon had ourselves 2 fancy new bags to make war with.

So how did they stack up? We’ll do more indepth reviews in coming weeks, but here’s a bit of a summary of our findings so far…

Timbuk2 backpack vs messenger

Look and Feel – Messenger 1, Backpack 0

This one is down to personal taste, but we loved being able to spec the whole outer of the messenger with waxed canvas. The backpack asks you to leave the body in ballistic nylon – customising the flap and construction details. For crew that live under mountains of bags on a daily basis, we’re loving a move back to (slightly more) natural fabrics.

backpack volume

messenger volume

Space & Volume – Messenger 0.5, Backpack 0.5

Wow, this one surprised us. We were sure the messenger was going to win this battle, but we were wrong. With our highly calibrated office-material-volume-off, it was a dead heat (we share an office with the amazing baby wear brand Oishi-M, hence the fabric). They fit the same volume exactly. However it is worth mentioning that the backpack took us about 6 times longer to get all that fabric in and out, where the messenger was super quick.

Timbuk2 internals

Internals Timbuk2 messenger

Laptop Sleeve Access – Backpack 1, Messenger 0

Sweeet, we scored one for the backpack. The backpack sleeve is larger (that’s a 17″ and a 15″ in the above backpack image, vs a 15″ in the messenger shot). It’s faster to slip a laptop straight in to the backpack, and there’s even a side access zip for getting to it on the go.

But you know what? We’re now at the crux of our Head 2 Head, where the messenger lays down it’s trump card…

The Timbuk2 Custom Laptop Messenger does what very few messengers do, but all should. It puts the laptop sleeve on a ‘floating wall’, which lets you cram more or less stuff on either side of it. Other than being more versatile in load ability (push it back for a helmet or split it for work and play separation), it lets you put soft stuff between the laptop and your bent back.

All of a sudden…



…the messenger can fit your back!

Laptop Transport – Messenger 1, Backpack 0

We’ve moaned about ‘if backs bend, then why are packs flat‘, but few bag companies understand this fundamental issue. The Timbuk2 Swig backpack is guilty like most laptop bags, but the Timbuk2 Custom Laptop Messenger fixes this admirably, getting a big thumbs up (and a point) from us.

Timbuk2 backpack access

Timbuk2 messenger access

Accessibility – Messenger 1, Backpack 0

Whether on the go, or on your bed, the messenger just let’s you get at stuff better. The landscape format gives you a massive wide opening for large volume stuff, and the single strap is easier to swing the bag around to your front. The downside is that the pocketing is maybe not as good for lots of small things, where backpacks almost always win at this.

Timbuk2 Rear Comparison

Comfort on the go – Backpack 1, Messenger 0

Even with the laptop issue, backpacks just end up more comfortable when carrying heavy loads or loads for long periods. Spreading weight between two straps just works better for demanding carrying. Now if only they fixed the laptop carry…


Price & Value – Backpack 1, Messenger 0

The price as we spec’d it for the Swig Backpack with waxed canvas was $155, and for the upspec’d medium Laptop Messenger it was $195. That gives a win to the backpack, as it feels like less than $40 difference.

Timbuk2 fabric

Overall – Messenger 4.5, Backpack 3.5

So when you bring it all together, how did we go?

Yep, the messenger just pipped the backpack. For those of you that are pretty good at adding, you’ll realise that a mystery point appeared on the Messenger’s tally. That point was for the fact that despite normally being backpack people, we’re using the Messenger more. The floating laptop section is awesome, the access is better, and it just looks better in a workplace setting.

Both bags have some great points, and some things that need a little work (we’ll get to those in later reviews), but for now, we’re giving this one to the Timbuk2 Custom Laptop Messenger. Oh, and a big thanks to Timbuk2 for providing the bags and working through it all with us.


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