Timbuk2 H.A.L. Notebook Backpack – Review


I’ve never been a huge backpack fan. Instead, I have always been partial to messenger-type bags such as the Acme Courier Judie and I both reviewed a few months ago.

The H.A.L. Backpack from Timbuk2 may just change that. It is versatile, well-designed and pretty impressive! Let’s take a look.


A large daypack for students and commuters. Swing Around access makes it easy to dig for your laptop without taking off your pack and fully-paded laptop compartment protects your machine. Includes a very helpful organization system for your highlighters and Post-its.


* Super durable ballistic nylon exterior
* Padded, low profile internal laptop compartment for full protection without the bulk
* Timbuk2’s trademarked Swing Around Access; grab your laptop without taking off your pack.
* Lightweight ergonomic shoulder straps are designed to fit people, not robots
* Padded back panel with secret small zipper pocket for easy key storage
* Multiple grab straps for easy lifting
* Huge internal volume for carrying loads of stuff
* Super easy-access internal organization area for pens and such
* Small external zipper pocket for stashing small things
* Ultra adjustable sternum straps

My Take:

I liked the H.A.L. the minute I opened the box.


I loved the all-black design and the small, but obvious, Timbuk2 logo. I think it would be dumb for any company to not use their products to spread their name, but I really hate when I purchase something and then am expected to be a billboard. This is perfect- obvious but understated!


The workmanship is perfect. Seams are straight and tight. There are no loose threads. The material is flawless. The zippers feel high-quality without being “industrial”.

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The pulls really indicate the kind of company this is. They have the company logo embossed on them but you have to actually look at the pull to see it. (Again- love the understated nature of it.) More importantly, the edges are raised on the pull in order to make getting, and keeping, a grip easier.

This was the first Timbuk2 product I have used, and it took about three minutes to know this is a quality company that takes pride in their products!

Design and Use:

When I first went to use the H.A.L. backpack I was a bit surprised.


All the backpacks I have tried in the past opened wide at the top or completely unzipped. Not the H.A.L. The main compartment only opens at the top. My initial response to this was rather negative until I took a closer look at the design.

You see, that main compartment is large and will hold a good deal of “stuff” (for the uninitiated, that’s a technical backpack term!), but it isn’t where the main “business” of this pack takes place. That takes place in the other compartments and pockets. Using the backpack over the last week has confirmed this design choice- the smaller pockets see far more use on a day to day basis than the main compartment.

Side Compartments:
The company describes the design as including a “swing-around” feature. The reason for this design feature is that it allows you to access specific items without having to completely remove the pack and put it on the ground the way you do with so many other packs.


Swing the pack to one side and you can quickly unzip the pack and grab your notebook. (Did I mention the pulls are awesome?)


The notebook compartment is felt-lined to protect a notebook but it isn’t padded. This keep the bulk and weight of the pack down but may be an issue for those who want a pack with a high degree of protection.


Swing the pack to the other side and you can access a long but shallow-ish compartment that can hold a wallet, iPhone etc. Basically this is the pocket for the stuff you use most.

Middle Compartment (ie. “Command Station”):

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Right in the middle of the pack is a zippered area that is best accessed when the backpack is laying on a flat surface.

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Inside is a generous space with-

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-a zippered compartment that is 9″ deep and 7″ wide
-a large 7″ by 7″ open pocket
-an assortment of smaller, open pockets that are clearly intended for pens, small notepads, cell phones mp3 players etc.

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In addition, there is a zippered pocket on the outside of this compartment for items you really need to access quickly.

The Straps:

This is a backpack so the design and comfort of the straps is important.

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The H.A.L.’s straps are thinner than most I have seen but are designed in such a way that they are super comfortable and distribute the weight of the pack evenly.

The H.A.L. has a lot of pockets and takes some time to become familiar with the design. Once you do, however, you’ll have an appreciation for the thought that went into the design. And once you have organized the pack the way you like it, you’ll have no problem knowing where to look for any give item.

This isn’t a backpack that is designed for camping or overnights but can be used as a notebook pack. No, this is a backpack that was clearly designed for urban/suburban use and busy professionals who need a a great way to carry their notebook and some essential items AND have the option to carry a good deal more on occasion. As such, the H.A.L. achieves everything Timbuk2 was hoping to achieve and more.

What I Like:
Great, thoughtful design
Super materials and workmanship

What Needs Improvement:
Offers little padding to protect a notebook while carried.
At $120 it certainly isn’t the cheapest bag on the market but what you get for that $120 is quite impressive and should be exceptionally useful for a good while into the future.

I really like this backpack and it has peaked my interest in using a backpack to carry my notebook and work sometimes. The H.A.L. is actually a little on the large size for me but I like it so much I just might be buying myself its smaller sibling the “Q” (or maybe one of the messenger bags) in the very near future.

If that isn’t an endorsement of a product I don’t know what is.

The H.A.L. Backpack can be purchased directly from Timbuk2 and has an MSRP of $120.

Here’s a product video from Timbuk2…

H.A.L. Backpack from timbuk2designs on Vimeo.

Categories: Reviews

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8 replies

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  4. Timbuk2 H.A.L. Notebook Backpack – Review | Gear Diary: Using the backpack over the last week has confirmed thi.. http://bit.ly/zgmBj

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  6. Timbuk2 H.A.L. Notebook Backpack – Review | Gear Diary: I loved the all-black design and the small, but obvious.. http://bit.ly/Ehm7P

  7. Timbuk2 H.A.L. Notebook Backpack – Review | Gear Diary: All the backpacks I have tried in the past opened wide .. http://bit.ly/mbuAu


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