- Buyer's Guide
Timbuk2 Never Check Backpack Duffel Review: Drive By
One bag for the city and outdoors. For work and play. And for overnight trips or multi-day travels. Is the Timbuk2 Never Check Backpack Duffel that one bag? Let’s find out…
Who It Suits
You want multiple carry options. You love organization. And you appreciate a bag that can move from work trips to holidays and city pavements to outdoor trails. Sound good? Then this one’s for you.
Who It Doesn’t
You favor less is more in the pocket department. You’re setting off on a gruelling mountain expedition with loads of heavy gear in tow. There are better alternatives out there more suited to your tastes and needs.
You can’t talk about this bag without mentioning the organization. Plenty of pockets are on hand both internally and externally, ensuring there’s a place for everything. I also found them well positioned for accessing individual items quickly and easily. And speaking of access, the clamshell opening lets you easily reach gear throughout the main compartment.
To break it down, on the outside you’ll find a padded 15″ laptop compartment (more on this later), a pocket with a water-resistant zipper that contains four interior pockets, and an additional pocket near the base of the bag that’s useful for longer items such as laptop chargers and the like.
Open up the clamshell main compartment and you’ll find two separate compartments each secured with a zippered mesh divider. Both dividers also feature two mesh pockets, allowing you to see the contents at a glance. So in total, four interior mesh pockets and two organization halves with dividers to secure gear in place.
“Plenty of pockets are on hand both internally and externally, ensuring there’s a place for everything. I also found them well positioned for accessing individual items quickly and easily.”
For me personally, I really liked the pocket layout. It might be overkill for people who don’t carry a lot of smaller items or prefer to use pouches, but it suited my needs. The interior mesh pockets are better suited to flatter items but that’s not to say you can’t store bulkier items in them. You just might need to do a bit of planned gear positioning for the most effective layout internally.
Another big feature of this bag is the multiple carry options. The bag can be carried as a duffel, shoulder bag or backpack. Top carry handles let you grab and go in duffel mode, while stowable backpack straps can be deployed for longer distances and heavier loads. The backpack straps zip away neatly for snag-free storage. And if you prefer shoulder carry the bag also comes with a detachable shoulder strap.
Additional handy features are the numerous grab handles running along the top and sides of the bag. These are nicely padded, making them very comfortable to hold and useful for maneuvering the bag in tight spaces (like overhead baggage compartments). So you’ve got options when it comes to portability. Are there some drawbacks? Yes, but I’ll touch on these later on.
Size-wise it’s 34L and weighs 3.7 lbs (1.7 kg). I’d say it’s pretty much spot on for overnight trips when you need to carry a fair amount or multi-day trips of a week or shorter. The longest trip I’ve had it on was four days but I’d say it could easily accommodate a week-long trip without needing to wash any clothing. If you’re a savvy packer and prepared to do laundry, I think it’s a decent option for one-bag travel. Additionally the clamshell design makes it easy to pack a day bag inside. I managed to fit a Trakke Bannoch Backpack laid flat inside, so anything that size or smaller and you should be all good.
“There are numerous grab handles running along the top and sides of the bag. These are nicely padded, making them very comfortable to hold and useful for maneuvering the bag in tight spaces.”
I think the bag does a great job in terms of versatile aesthetics. It’s understated and smart enough for work trips, with just enough urban style to look at home on city streets during your holidays. The kind of bag that won’t draw unwanted attention, easily following your lead and transitioning from formal to informal settings as required.
Now onto the durability and weather resistance. The Timbuk2 Never Check Backpack Duffel has been on multiple flights and road trips and come out the other end just fine. It’s solid in the durability department, with no problems to report. The shrink-wrapped zipper pulls were easy to use and the zips opened smoothly without any snagging. The weather resistance is also surprisingly good too. Rain and snow? No problem.
I also intentionally left it outside in a drenching downpour for several hours simply to see how it would hold up and it performed like a champ. Would I suggest you do this? No. But if you find yourself caught out in a downpour, your gear should be fine while you scout for shelter. And for added peace of mind, the bag is backed by a lifetime warranty too.
The Not So Good
Overall there’s really not that much I dislike about this bag. That being said, two things stand out. First up is the tech storage. According to Timbuk2’s website the laptop compartment is designed to fit a 15″ laptop. I’ve tried two different 15″ laptops (an HP and a Sony) and neither of them fitted. No matter how they were angled, it was impossible to get them in. For reference the compartment zipper measures 37.5cm long. The zipper would need about another 2cm to comfortably get the laptops I tried in without scraping against the zipper hardware. I’ve noticed one of the reviews on Timbuk2’s site also mentioned a 15″ Dell didn’t fit either.
To carry my 15″ laptop in a quick-access pocket it needs to go in the external pocket with a water-resistant zipper on it (see below). Sure, you get the benefits of the added water protection, but no padding (not to mention blocking the interior pocket access in this particular pocket). Also, I question the use of a water-resistant zip just on this particular pocket when the designated laptop pocket is missing a water-resistant zip. If you’re going to provide that added protection from the elements, why exclude the laptop storage?
Secondly, I had some issues with the portability options. The primary one is the shoulder strap. It’s a basic strap with no padding on it. Use it to haul the bag and you’re going to quickly notice the weight digging into your shoulder. After I used it once, I decided to forgo the strap completely and just alternated between the carry handles and backpack straps. For a bag at this price point (US$259), it would be nice to include a shoulder strap pad.
Speaking of the carry handles, the top carry handles aren’t padded. They’re simply folded over and stitched in place to create a flat area for your hands. These handles were uncomfortable to use with heavier loads and I always opted for the padded grab handles directly beneath the top carry handles instead when I needed to carry the bag by hand.
“The shoulder strap is basic with no padding on it. Use it to haul the bag and you’re going to quickly notice the weight digging into your shoulder.”
Another thing to be aware of is you’re not going to want to carry this bag heavily loaded for hours on end in backpack mode. The backpack straps are decently padded and there’s a chest strap for added comfort. But this bag isn’t designed for extended heavy load hauling. Think getting from the plane to your accommodation, not scaling mountains with heavy camping gear. You won’t find load lifters or a waist belt here. I’ve used it for some outdoor exploring with day supplies, sticking to relatively flat terrain, and it coped just fine for a couple of hours. But I wouldn’t recommend it for continuous trekking on longer, more demanding excursions.
The Timbuk2 Never Check Backpack Duffel does a great job of straddling the work/play travel divide. The understated aesthetics look the part in work settings and there’s more than enough organization to keep work tools and travel gear tidy. Just bear in mind that you might struggle to fit 15″ tech in the laptop compartment.
I appreciated the range of carry options. The backpack straps and chest strap are more than adequate for carrying loads over shorter distances. Sure, for longer time periods and heavier loads, you’re going to eventually notice. But that kind of hauling isn’t the point of this bag. I pushed it out of its comfort zone and for a bag that leans towards urban use, it performed well when swapping pavements and cobbled streets for dirt trails. Additionally, the padded grab handles are awesome, it would just be great if the top carry handles matched their level of comfort. I don’t think the shoulder strap is adequate for a travel bag of this nature and it would be great to see a comfier upgrade in an updated version.
So all things considered, would I recommend it? Definitely. It’s become my go-to travel bag. Sure, it’s got some flaws. But importantly you can work around them if you need to. If you’re looking for a versatile bag that’s good for travel and day trips with larger loads, not to mention being able to tackle a range of environments, this is a solid pick.