Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack Review – Your New Travel Companion

The Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack is a serious backpack for people on the go. It has an MSRP of $179, and it is made with the fit, finish and design Timbuk2 is known for. This isn’t a travel backpack for someone looking for a simple casual bag, but rather it’s for someone who is planning on doing some serious trekking around the world — someone who needs a great and flexible way to both carry and protect their gear. Let’s take a look.

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The Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack takes two different forms — a backpack and a carryon — and converts from one into the other in a matter of seconds. More on that in a bit.

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Handles on the top and side of the Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack let you carry the bag as you would any carry-on, in either landscape or portrait depending upon how much gear you have and which orientation is most comfortable for you.

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The bag has three external zip pockets. One is along the top of the bag, a second is on the exterior rear panel of the back and a third is a long one of the sides. Each is perfect for your smartphone, passport and wallet, as well as assorted other gear you’ll want to quickly access when you’re on the go.

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The interior space offers a storage volume of 28.5 L. It is plenty of room for all of your gear, and there is even a pocket to safely protect up to a 17″ laptop.

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A nice feature in the Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack is the storage compartment at the top of the bag. You can opt to not use it at all and take advantage of the entire interior of the pack or you can use it to separate out, or as the company states “quarantine”, shoes, toiletries or wet or dirty clothing so it doesn’t come into contact with the rest of the contents in the backpack.

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This flexibility between using the entire interior or having to separate spaces is pretty impressive, and it is just one of the many features that make this backpack great for someone taking an around the world trip.

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As mentioned, this is really two bags in one. It can function as a carry-on suitcase with handles on both the top and the side. That means you can carry your gear in either orientation — whichever is most comfortable for you.

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The bag is also a backpack however, and it has an awesome design in that the backpack straps are hidden away until you need to use them. Years ago I had a number of different bags that had hidden backpack straps. In each of those cases the backpack straps were afterthoughts that were added on to standard carried bags. They weren’t comfortable, and they didn’t allow you to spread the weight of the bag’s contents the way a good backpack will. That is anything but the case with the Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack.

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Yes, the shoulder and waist straps tuck away and are hidden out of sight when you aren’t using them, but they are serious straps that have the same quality build and design as the company’s dedicated backpacks.

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The waist strap is hidden in a compartment at the bottom of the pack. It offers a wide padded strap that can securely lock around your waist. There’s no compromising here at all.

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The backpack straps take a few seconds to put together. That’s because the company didn’t want to simply have them attach in one spot on the back but wanted to actually have additional steps that you put into hidden attachment points just below the top grab handle.

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These attachment points helped spread the weight even further, so there is no single spot on the bag that is taking the full burden of its weight.

Tenba Discovery Photo Tablet Daypack

There is even a bottle opener and an adjustable chest strap, so you can get even more comfort when carrying heavy loads.

This isn’t a small backpack. That’s a good thing considering the fact that it’s meant for significant travel, and it’s designed to safely hold a laptop of up to 17 inches. Its 14.2 inches wide, 20.1 inches high, and it is 5.9 inches deep; it comes in at 4.4 pounds when empty.

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The 5.9 inches in depth is actually a bit misleading, because there are four cinch straps along the side. Once the pack is loaded, you can grab each of these straps and compress the pack so it is not only thinner but also holds the contents in place. It’s yet another nice little touch Timbuk2 included with the Aviator.

Finally, in the side pocket of the Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack there is a “rain fly”. This raincoat is specifically designed for the aviator backpack, and it helps keep the contents of the pack dry even when the weather is lousy. It’s just one more way that Timbuk2 makes it clear that this is a backpack designed for travelers.

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In all, the Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack is an impressive way to carry your gear. It serves double duty as both a carry-on and a backpack, and it doesn’t compromise with regard to either of them. My only small complaint is that I wish the separate compartment at the top could be opened and laid flat, so that you have complete top-down access of the contents. Since it does not, the only way to access the items in the main body of the pack is to open the rear panel and that takes a few steps. You can learn more and order yours here.

MSRP: $179

What I Like: Amazing build quality; Strong straps, pulls and buckles; Three zippered pockets; Plenty of interior space; Can be used as a carry-on or a backpack; Timbuk2 lifetime warranty

What Needs Improvement: I wish the divider inside could be opened and/or removed

Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample

Categories: Reviews

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11 replies

  1. Excellent review. I am now coveting. I think they nailed every design feature I would want (expect the “ultralight”). One of the best features of the pack is the way they handled those two straps that you snapped together from the shoulder straps to the top of the pack. They were called “load lifters”. Most travels packs skip them and the bigger or heavier the load the more important they are.

    A backpack-nerd observation. They don’t so much lessen the load on the strap where it connect to the pack as they are meant to lessen the pressure of the shoulder strap on the muscle on top of the shoulders (the trapezius-told you it was nerdy). Once the hip-belt and shoulder strap are properly set you then tighten the load lifters until the shoulder strap lifts off the top of the shoulder roughly the height of one finger thickness. This causes the weight to transfer to the front where the shoulder ends and the upper chest begins. It also significantly increases the stability of the pack (think running through the concourse to make a connection- been there, done that).

    • Cool details Steven thanks. I knew the “load lifters” (thanks for the technical term for them) worked but it is really cool to understand exactly what they do.
      It is, as you note, these details that separate the quality products from the ones that are just okay.
      With your permission I want to add this comment on the video page itself- really important for anyone trying to really get a sense of the bag and what it offers.
      Thanks again.

      • Permission granted.

        A future article could cover just how to wear a backpack. People pay big money for bells and whistles and never realize just how comfortable a pack could be. This ranges from two strap packs (like school packs) all the way through the best internal frame/travel packs. For that matter most people do not even wear those precurved shoulder straps properly that many attache/messenger bags come with.


        Steven Shytle

  2. Is this a bag that can be used on a 1-2 day business trip? I want to bring my laptop and two set of business clothes, but I don’t want my bigger roller bag.

    I think it will come down to how well does it hold the laptop? Is the laptop accessible from a separate opening, or it is just in the main part with your clothes?

    Is the interior space enough for some business clothing?

    • I’ll check when I get home from work later tonight but off the cuff I don’t think I would see myself using this with business clothing but would lean toward something better designed specifically for dress pants, pressed shirts etc.

      • Thank you. I tend to use one of the clothes folders like the eagle creek pack-it folders. They do a good job with my business clothes, but need about 18×12″ of space. There is a smaller one of 10×15″ which would work for the wrinkle protection. Clothes come out of them nice. My current laptop bag is just a little small to fit it.

  3. Dan,

    Do you think this bag would fit under the seat of an airplane? It looks perfect as a “Personal Bag” in addition to my roller.

  4. I actually think this would be perfect for some light backpacking (overnight or 2 night). Might have to try it!

  5. Have a “vintage” Eagle Creek bag from when I backpacked around Europe based on the similar concept. Might be time to upgrade. I love the flexibility the bag has to offer and would be perfect for a couple day business (casual) trip. Getting down to a single bag and gaining some leg room back on the plane would be great.

  6. I read your bag reviews and believe this would be my best option for travelling for the day.

  7. I would love to have this bag