The BT Review: Timbuk2 Never Check Expandable Backpack

Timbuk2 Never Check Expandable Back Pack 1man with backpack at bottom of escalator
Courtesy Timbuk2

Timbuk2's latest line looks great and carries even better, but is it worth the buy?

Over the course of the past year or so, we’ve aired our frustrations with skyrocketing checked-baggage fees and ever-shrinking cabin space, and it turns out we’re not the only ones feeling aggrieved. In August, bag brand Timbuk2 launched its new Never Check Collection with the aim of getting travelers through security and onto the plane without letting go of their luggage, and as avowed baggage-claim avoiders, we were eager to test it out. I loaded up the line’s expandable backpack for a recent four-night trip to Mexico City and gave it a whirl. Here’s what I learned.

Timbuk2_NeverCheck_ExpandableBackpack5.jpg?mtime=20180921113618#asset:103291Courtesy Timbuk2

The Basics

With a 24-liter capacity and a wraparound zipper that offers for more volume, the Never Check Expandable Backpack ($199) is a great way to go hands-free without sacrificing space. There’s a zippered slip pocket on the front that’s perfect for a passport and a boarding pass, and behind that, another section that unzips halfway, with a wide mesh zippered insert and two smaller pockets, plus two small pockets on the back of the flap. The main compartment has slip pockets on the front and back panels, and an additional mesh insert at the front. The back itself is well-padded, as are the shoulder straps, and there’s a thin, removable chest strap as well. There’s a zippered panel between the back and the main compartment, accessible from the outside, that holds a 15” laptop. The heavy-duty cordura exterior is water-resistant, with a blue lining that gives a bright pop of color. There’s a side pocket that unzips to hold a water bottle or an umbrella when needed, and sturdy top and side handles that make carrying a breeze.

The Good

Before Timbuk2 sent over the Never Check sample, I’d been using the brand’s Blink pack—mostly very happily, thanks to its deceptively roomy main compartment and clamshell-style opening, among other details. My main complaint was with its lack of organizational features, and the Never Check addresses that issue, with more pockets I know how to fill. Its straps are also thicker, the back padding cushier, and the laptop sleeve much more conveniently located. Style-wise, I love the design: The stiff, matte-black cordura has a high-quality look and feel, and the contrasting deep-blue lining is a nice aesthetic touch. It’s definitely an upgrade—which it should be, given the higher price point. (The Never Check retails for $80 more than the Blink.) Which brings us to...

The Bad

I’m a big fan of backpacks with clamshell openings, and this one has panels of fabric at the base of the main compartment that keep it from unzipping all the way. The result is an awkward packing experience: You can’t really lay the bag flat and get into it as you would a suitcase, so you’re left trying to stuff everything in from the top down. Also frustrating is that front compartment. Because it only partially unzips, it's tough to access the entire thing, which is a bit of a bummer—it feels like a missed opportunity to provide more usable space. The hooks that latch around the main compartment look nice and provide a layer of extra security, but they can be tricky to maneuver, so it would be great if they were removable. And the side pocket only holds a small water bottle; my big 25-ouncer wouldn’t fit.

The Takeaway

The Never Check is pretty much tailor-made for a short trip. For my weekend in Mexico, I used it in place of a carry-on suitcase, and even on the return leg, when I was cramming it full of souvenirs—breakable ones to boot—I managed to make everything fit without having to exercise the expandable option. On the plane, it fit below my feet (though it didn't leave me with much leg room), and its narrow profile allowed it to slide into a crowded overhead bin with no problem. If you can overlook the irritants mentioned above, it's well worth the expenditure. 

Timbuk2 Never Check Expandable Backpack, $199;

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