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Initial Review: Timbuk2’s pro-quality Especial Medio messenger pack

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Of all the brands to have emerged from the messenger scene, Timbuk2 are arguably the most successful.  From their early US-made messenger bags to their adoption of mass customization and their ever-broadening range, the company has done well.  That said, the tradeoff for success is often street cred.  Despite having branched out into (often quite nice) laptop packs, accessories, and even yoga bags, Timbuk2 remain a bike company at heart.  Introduced at Interbike the fall before last, the company’s Especial line is an attempt to reconnect with their original customers: bike messengers- and those whose lives revolve around bikes.

Built with these heavy users in mind, the Especial Medio is the third–and least expensive– backpack in the San Fancisco company’s professional-quality line.  Though my messengering days came and went years ago–I still own the custom Timbuk2 bag worn while working the streets of Boston–I still have a soft spot for messenger gear and love a well-made manbag.  Jump the curb for all the details and a some forty days’ worth of impressions.

While I still commute four days out of five, my packs have lately been just as likely to see me through airport security as through traffic.  As a result, the Especial Medio has already seen four weeks’ bike commuting use, been on four flights, come along for two weekend trips and had a day at the zoo.  Since it’s arrival, the Especial and I have been all but inseparable.

While the 20x14in pack is only 6in deep at its base, the bag has a Tardis-like ability to swallow just one more thing.  Against the rider’s back, a large (cavernous?) main pocket is made accessible by a long, beefy zipper.  Inside sits a waterproof laptop sleeve and a couple of organizing pockets.  A stretchy internal pocket holds a water bottle or glasses case easily- though stuffing the internal pocket can make access to the outside zippered pocket on the other side of the wall hard to use.

On the pack’s left side sits an easy-access pocket that will securely hold a small U-lock, normal water bottle, or any small items that need easy accessing.  Against the rider’s back on the right is a wallet- or smartphone-sized zippered pocket that is both secure and easy to access- a really nice feature.  A rubbery flap on the back of the pack conceals a deep pocket with plenty of organization for pens, cards, snacks, and the like.  Below that, a highly expandable pocket swallows everything from large-format magazines to big U-locks and even helmets (if somewhat uncomfortably).  Two compression straps on each side of the bag keep things tidy- or allow decidedly untidy items to be carried along.

Riding low on the back, the Timbuk2’s rounded top corners allow for good over-the-shoulder visibility- something that can rarely be said for roll-top bags.  The angled back flap provides good access when the pack is swung under the right arm.  When off, the huge zipper allows for very easy access to and good visibility into the main compartment–even more so when the top compression straps are released–helping to keep small items from being lost in the depths.

Timbuk2’s molded back panel does a good job of balancing durability with comfort- though the nubs at the waist and shoulders can be noticeable (though not uncomfortably) when wearing a thin shirt.  The bag can’t approach systems like Deuter’s Airstripes for warm-weather and long-ride comfort, but it is plenty stable and does protect the wearer from oddly-shaped contents while keeping the bag away from much of the wearer’s back.

Given the pack’s lifetime warranty, it’s no surprise that the Cordura “air jet textured fabric” and tarpaulin panels aren’t showing any wear yet.  The only off-notes are the cheap-feeling hardware on the removable sternum and waist straps: hardly the end of the world, but disappointing on a pack approaching $200.  The bit of exposed ‘hook’ Velcro on the laptop sleeve also has an annoying tendency to snag on knit layers- swapping the hook and loop locations would help to protect that fancy wool hoodie or your date’s sweater when packing them away.

At $180, the Especial Medio does a great job of balancing organization, capacity, and access.  The large, undivided compartments provide plenty of space for large loads and there are just enough smaller pockets with easy outside access to keep the wearer from constantly opening and closing the main compartment. While some of the black reflective material used on the Especial Messenger would add a bit of security after dark, the Timbuk2 is a very handsome bag as-is.

It’s a rare and wonderful thing to meet a bag that you hit it off with right away.  The Especial Medio has the volume, organization, features and convenience needed to slot seamlessly into my life.  For anyone looking for a pack that works well for commuting, travel, errands, and just about everything else, checking out the Especial Medio would be my first recommendation.



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10 years ago

I own the Especial Tres (One step bigger than this one) – With a price approaching that of a Mission Workshop Vandal (one of the Holy Grails of cycling commuter backpackets), I’m not sure it’s quite as good. It’s undeniably well built, however, and can hold an INSANE amount of stuff. My girlfriends Shiba Inu can comfortably fit in the backpack (with the top open of course) while sitting on a normal backpack’s worth amount of stuff already in there. The shield on the back also makes weird-shaped objects less uncomfortable.

Samuel Goodwin
10 years ago

When you do reviews like this, can you make sure to clearly link to the actual product? I saw the link to timbuk2’s site but had to search for the actual product.

Tina Ingle
10 years ago

We had a chance to peek at this bag at Outdoor Retailer in January and were excited to hear what reviewers thought. Happy to hear it impressed you from the start!
Account Manager

Bill Bracken
10 years ago

Since this is an “Initial Review”, a follow up seems in order — it would be great to know whether your first impression of the bag has held up after using it for a few months.

Tom Castle
Tom Castle
8 years ago

Agreed RE a later re-review: is it worth the money? Been considering this one for a while, but mixed reviews here & there. Amount it actually holds/front pocket usability while the main compartment is stuffed/weight/reflectivity VS dollar amount. Thanks!

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