Snooping Timbuk2's camera messenger bag

For more than a decade, I lugged my notebook in a simple shoulder bag. I suppose you'd call it a messenger-style bag today, but I got it before fixed-gear bikes were seen outside of velodromes being ridden by men wearing skinny jeans from the women's department. In those days, it was just a bag—the one that accompanied me to and from class every day.

When I joined TR, the bag came with me to trade shows and press events. It held everything I needed for business trips: my laptop, charger, mouse, MP3 player, headphones, and point-and-shoot camera. There was even room for associated accessories and show-floor swag. Then I got a DSLR—a Rebel T2i—that's quite a bit larger than the old point-and-shoot. While the Rebel can easily be stuffed into the bag, it's hardly a perfect fit. The camera just sort of bounces around in the biggest pocket along with everything else. That just wouldn't do for my new baby, so I set my sights on a replacement carry-all. Christmas morning, my girlfriend obliged with a Timbuk2 Snoop messenger bag designed to swallow a notebook and SLR.

My snoop is the smaller of two available sizes, with official dimensions of 15.9" x 9.6" x 4.7". That's plenty of room for a 13.3" laptop, an SLR, and several lenses. The medium size measures 19.3" x 10.4" x 7.8" and should accommodate beefier notebooks plus additional camera gear.

Perhaps because it's a relatively fresh model, the Snoop is only available in a couple of pre-baked color combos. This black-and-grey version is the most reserved of the options, and it looks professional enough for my purposes. I wish the Snoop could be customized like some of Timbuk2's other bags, though. The company offers scores of different colors and prints in addition to lightweight, tarpaulin, and faux-leather alternatives to the standard "ballistic" nylon used in the Snoop.

Although the ballistic nylon is unlikely to stop a bullet, it feels nice and thick. The textured surface provides a little bit of grip for your fingertips, and it looks tough enough to endure years of abuse. A layer of waterproof material sits behind this nylon exterior to provide a measure of weatherproofing.

Your first hint that the Snoop is designed for shutterbugs is the pair of tripod straps that grace the undercarriage. At about a foot in length, the straps should be long enough to secure larger tripods. Unfortunately, there's no mechanism to prevent all that webbing from hanging loosely if you're not using it. Add in the longish straps attached to the buckles that secure the main flap, and you've got four little tails to swing in the breeze. Looping the straps around themselves nicely cuts down on the dangling, but it would be nice if the bag came with some clips or additional buckles to consolidate the excess webbing.

If you'd rather not use the exterior buckles, the Snoop has a set of Velcro strips to keep the flap secured. This quick-draw configuration is perfect for paparazzi hipsters cruising the streets in search of the celebrity flavor of the week buying groceries, pumping gas, or staggering drunk outside a night club.

A pair of fabric strips neatly covers the Velcro if you're going the buckle route. Beneath them sits a collection of exterior pockets that includes the Napoleon. This zippered pouch is easily accessible when the bag is closed and the flap secured, making it great for passports, airline tickets, and anything else you might need to grab quickly or with regularity. Brilliant!

There are three zippered pockets in addition to the Napoleon, including one with a clear exterior that's especially useful when digging out smaller items. A key chain sits at the end of that bright red ribbon, which is anchored inside the top pocket. If only there were more room in the pocket to easily accommodate the fistfuls of keys I see some people carrying around. The exterior pockets all sit on top of each other and have little capacity to expand, making them better suited to slimmer items.

Fortunately, the Snoop's main cabin is plenty roomy. The laptop sleeve is large enough to take a 13.3" system from a couple of years ago, and slipping one in hardly eats into your storage space. I do wish that the laptop sleeve had some padding, though.

At least the Snoop offers cushiness elsewhere. A zippered insert for the main compartment has a fleecy interior with four padded partitions. Users can arrange these Velcro-laced walls to snugly hug their SLR, lenses, and other accessories. This seemingly simple feature really makes the bag for me. Not only do the partitions give my Rebel a padded home that's exactly the right size, but they also do a great job of keeping the bag's contents organized without shutting everything away into separate pockets.

The padded pouch is poorly suited to documents, but those can be slipped between it and the laptop sleeve. That's where most of the hard-copy press materials we picked up at CES ended up. Meanwhile, the rest of the bag held everything else I needed for the show: my notebook, SLR, power adapter, MP3 player, headphones, notepad, pens, several flash drives, and my flight information.

I carried the Snoop all around CES and quickly fell in love with the Napoleon pocket, which was perfect for quickly stashing business cards and flash drives. The padded strap was comfortable to shoulder after carrying a fully loaded bag all day. I'm even more impressed by the nifty buckle that lets you easily switch between two strap lengths. You can synch the bag up tight when you don't want it moving around or let it hang loose when you want to get at the Snoop's contents. A single lever locks the buckle's grip on the strap, making it easy to fine-tune things on the fly.

While traveling or at trade shows, I typically like my notebook bag hanging off one shoulder. To spread the load, I'll often switch shoulders or carry the bag with one hand. Unfortunately, the latter is a little difficult because the Snoop lacks a handle. You can compensate by making the shoulder strap really tight, but it's not the same.

To test the Snoop's messenger credentials, I took it for a spin on my fixie in the cold, wet misery that is Vancouver in February. Rain pelted the bag for roughly three hours while I rode around the city getting sprayed by traffic and soaked by the occasional downpour.

Before heading out, I battened down the Snoop's hatches in anticipation of the wet weather. The camera compartment was zippered shut and all the exterior pockets closed. I also folded in the top portion of the flap to prevent water from seeping in. Although the Snoop's waterproof liner should keep water from soaking through the exterior, there is potential for water to trickle into the bag through the flap's folds.

Rather than filling the bag with valuable electronics, I decided to run a few errands. The Snoop started empty, but by the end of the ride it was filled with several bottles of wine and a few groceries. Annoyingly, the shoulder strap tended to slide around a little when the bag was empty. The smooth surface of my Gore-Tex jacket probably didn't help, and it looks like Timbuk2 sells a grippier shoulder pad for those who encounter this issue.

As I loaded it up, the Snoop started to sit more comfortably on my back. However, I still found myself pining after the backpack that usually accompanies me on my bike. The handful of cycling-specific packs that I have do a better job of keeping the weight of the load centered and low. Those packs really have to be removed completely to get at their contents, which is considerably more cumbersome than releasing the Snoop's strap buckle and swinging the bag around. I can understand why messengers paid by the delivery prefer this style.

After hydroplaning through rush hour, I returned home to inspect the Snoop's cargo. Everything in the fleecy insert was bone dry, and there was only a little moisture clinging to the flap's liner. The fact that any rainfall infiltrated the Snoop makes me wish the laptop sleeve had a zippered flap or some other form of additional protection against leakage. Three-hour rides in the rain might be rare among Timbuk2's customers, but effort has clearly gone into providing additional protection for the camera compartment. Notebooks deserve the same consideration—and some plush padding of their own.

Otherwise, it's hard to find fault with the Snoop. This isn't a perfect bag by any stretch, but the adjustable strap, configurable partitions, and Napoleon pocket have quickly become features I wouldn't want to live without. Those unique touches, combined with solid build quality and Timbuk2's reputation for durability, nicely cushion the Snoop's sticker shock. Expect to pay $130 for the small and $150 for the medium. Those prices doesn't seem too unreasonable for well-equipped messenger bags that should easily outlast the electronics you put inside. Now all I have to do is see if my girlfriend can add a handle.

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