What We Like
Plenty of pockets for small gear
Clever fold-out padded sleeve for laptop
Easy to access all pockets, even when full
What We Don't Like
Too small for most overnight trips
Pricey when not on sale
Unless you’ve managed to avoid flying in the last decade, you probably know that you almost always have to pay extra to check a bag when flying economy. As a result, carry-on backpacks have become a must-have item for most travelers. Provided that a backpack can fit under the seat in front of you, it counts as your personal item rather than your carry-on on most airlines, which means you can bring an additional suitcase for the overhead bin which will hold the majority of your clothing. We tested the Timbuk2 Uptown Travel Backpack to assess its performance as a carry-on bag. Here, everything we gleaned about its design, portability, and extra features after a few weeks of use.
Design: A thoughtfully designed, urban look
With an urban-inspired design, the Timbuk2 Uptown Travel Backpack is one of the most workplace-friendly bags we’ve used. It comes in five different neutral colors and has simple lines and cuts. The Timbuk2 brand was started by bike messengers, so it’s not surprising that this bag is one of the most city-appropriate options.
It’s definitely smaller than what the average consumer would consider a weekend bag.
We love the sheer number of small, item-specific pockets throughout the bag. An external front pocket is the perfect size for a phone, and the first zippered pocket has a place for pens (essential for saving time at customs) and two large pockets well suited to small electronics like portable chargers or hard drives. The main storage area is divided into two compartments: the first offering more zippered pockets and divided storage and the second being one large pocket. In our testing, we were able to fit two pairs of women’s shoes, a light sweatshirt, a pair of jeans, two button down shirts, and a small toiletry bag into this pocket before completely filling the pack. While we were surprised by how much we were able to fit in the 30-liter bag, it’s really only enough for a weekend—and that’s if you’re a light packer who’s willing to rewear some of your clothing. It’s definitely smaller than what the average consumer would consider a weekend bag.
Laptop Compartment: Our favorite feature
Timbuk2’s thoughtful solution to laptop storage is one of the bag’s most compelling features. Rather than a traditional padded laptop pocket, the back panel zips out to reveal a padded laptop sleeve with a Velcro closure. The panel zips out completely flat, providing easy access to both the laptop and any other small electronics (like an e-reader or iPad) that may be stored in the pocket. The bag’s product description states that it can accomodate laptops up to 15 inches, though some reviewers have reported using it with laptops up to 17 inches. We tested 13- and 15-inch laptops—with and without cases—and found that the compartment safely held both. The zip-down panel is a time saver when going through TSA and airport security lines as it doesn’t require you to remove the laptop from the bag—just send your bag through with the compartment fully unzipped and open.
In our testing, we were able to fit two pairs of women’s shoes, a light sweatshirt, a pair of jeans, two button-down shirts, and a small toiletry bag...before completely filling the pack.
Portability: Lightweight and useful
This bag scores major points for portability as it weighs just 2.6 pounds. The lighter weight comes in handy when making multiple airport connections or covering long distances on foot or bike. To make sure the bag sits securely on your shoulders—even if you’re running to make your connection—the Timbuk2 Uptown Backpack has an adjustable chest strap. It’s a useful feature you’ll likely want to use frequently, but it can be removed via two heavy-duty snaps. The shoulder straps also have extra fabric and a metal hook that could be used to clip gear—like a water bottle or commuter light—to the front of your bag.
In our testing, we especially liked the bag’s side handle. Not only does it allow you to carry it more like a briefcase than a backpack, but it’s handy for grabbing the bag in a hurry. If you’re trying to quickly deboard a plane to make your connection or hopping in and out of carshares, the handle will prove useful.
Unlike other bags we’ve owned, the Timbuk2 Uptown doesn’t slouch when empty. It can’t quite stand on its own, but it retains its slim, rectangular shape. That makes it easier to slide into spaces like lockers and overhead bins.
This bag scores major points for portability as it weighs just 2.6 pounds.
Price: Middle of the pack
The Timbuk2 Uptown Backpack has an MSRP of $119 but you can usually find it for less than $100 at online retailers. For a brand-name travel bag, that’s a pretty average price tag. In fact, it’s much cheaper than comparable offerings from Osprey, Tortuga, and Cotopaxi.
Competition: An average-sized bag with above-average features
SwissGear 1186 Laptop Backpack: The Timbuk2 Uptown bag is only a bit larger than the 27-liter SwissGear Laptop Backpack, but it has additional pockets and organizational features that make it more useful. Since both offer a dedicated laptop compartment and roughly the same interior capacity, the decision here comes down to price and aesthetic. If you have room in your budget and want a slim, sleek profile, Timbuk2 is the way to go. But if you’re looking to save a little cash (it’s just $50) and don’t mind the school-esque feel of the SwissGear, it’ll get the job done.
Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack: Style-wise, the tactical Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack isn’t for everyone, but it’s bigger and much more feature-rich than the Timbuk2 Uptown bag. If you’re looking for a backpack that can handle a weekends-worth of clothes and romps through the woods, this is the bag for you. That is provided cost isn’t a concern, as the Kitchen Sink retails for roughly $220.
Interested in reading more reviews? Check out our list of the best carry-on backpacks.