Timbuk2 HAL Backpack Review: Pockets for Laptops (and Contraband)S

I'm pretty square, fashion-wise. I own few intentionally ironic t-shirts, and fewer skinny jeans. Buchanan bags on my style choices regularly. That's why, when he ordered me to ditch my old backpack, I picked Timbuk2's new HAL.

I am not going to lie. What got me excited about HAL wasn't fashion. Besides the Kubrickian name, the allure was a long skinny laptop slot, with its own zipper access, right up against your back. The $120 pack (one size: medium) can hold a 17" MacBook Pro, or any laptop that's 15" wide and 11.5" from front to back. The reason for the separate zippered compartment should be obvious: Airports. No longer do you have to reach into a fully packed piece of luggage and pull out the most buried object. It's not exactly one of those TSA approved bags, but when I flew with HAL, I was pleased by its convenience.

Timbuk2 HAL Backpack Review: Pockets for Laptops (and Contraband)S

Timbuk2 HAL Backpack Review: Pockets for Laptops (and Contraband)S

Timbuk2 HAL Backpack Review: Pockets for Laptops (and Contraband)S

Timbuk2 HAL Backpack Review: Pockets for Laptops (and Contraband)S

Timbuk2 HAL Backpack Review: Pockets for Laptops (and Contraband)S

Timbuk2 HAL Backpack Review: Pockets for Laptops (and Contraband)S

HAL has a lot of pockets, a prerequisite of a gadget guy like me. Besides the laptop slot, there's a spacious main compartment for large objects, plus a nice series of pockets on the back face. One is the traditional "organizer" pocket, with lots of silky subpockets for precious items like checkbooks, passports and portable hard drives. There's an outer pocket—one I typically refer to as the "speed rack"—where I keep all sorts of odds and ends, SD cards, pens, 30-pin iPod cables, Flip cams and guitar picks. They fit.

There's also a funny side pocket, opposite the laptop slot, that I will identify as the "wine pocket" since it's just right for fitting a 750ml bottle of wine. Would you then attach a straw out of the zipper hole and then up over your ear, for quick drinking? I suppose it depends if the wine is white or red. (A 40oz might also fit, but I didn't have one handy.)

If you're more a fan of the wacky tabacky, you'll enjoy the little pocket on the back. It's subtle, but it's not exactly concealed. I mean, cops would probably look there (especially cops who read backpack reviews on Gizmodo), but it's probably a decent way to hide small amounts of contraband from your parents, guidance counselors and parole officers.

Timbuk2 HAL Backpack Review: Pockets for Laptops (and Contraband)S

What's great about HAL is that it wears the bulk well, but doesn't look empty when it's empty either. I guess what I mean is that I am sick of backpacks that "show" like a pregnant lady, and this one hangs, nice and casual, whether it's empty or fully laden. And, on the fashion tip, it's got skinny straps. Apparently people like Buchanan think fat straps are uncool. I was not aware of this, but now I am.

I do have three complaints, mostly minor. There's no padding on the bottom of the bag itself, so carrying DSLRs and other expensive hardware takes some added caution. It may make sense just throw a rectangle of foam padding in there, to be on the safe side. As I said, the "speed rack" fits all of my fast-access crap, but it has a zipper that runs down the side, so there's a risk of losing said guitar picks and SD cards.

My final complaint may put me back in custody of the fashion police: There's no place to strap an umbrella or bottle of water on the side. Certain crap like that, I want to be able to access fast. I can put a dry umbrella in the side wine pocket (as you see in the pics) but what happens when it's wet? This may be me letting practicality get in the way of good style sense, and I'm willing to concede in order to keep up with the backpackerati—and in Buchanan's good graces. I just thought you should know. [Product Page]

In Brief

Timbuk2 HAL Backpack Review: Pockets for Laptops (and Contraband)

Stylish but not over the top; looks good full and empty

Timbuk2 HAL Backpack Review: Pockets for Laptops (and Contraband)

Enough variety of pockets to satisfy gadget geeks

Timbuk2 HAL Backpack Review: Pockets for Laptops (and Contraband)

Places to put both weed and wine

Timbuk2 HAL Backpack Review: Pockets for Laptops (and Contraband)

Not the cheapest backpack on the block, but quality makes up for some cost

Timbuk2 HAL Backpack Review: Pockets for Laptops (and Contraband)

Not enough padding in the main compartment

Timbuk2 HAL Backpack Review: Pockets for Laptops (and Contraband)

Nowhere to put a wet umbrella

Top photo by the multitalented Chris Mascari