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Timbuk2’s Robin Pack is my fatal attraction

Timbuk2’s Robin Pack is my fatal attraction

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Timbuk2 Robin Pack
Timbuk2 Robin Pack
Thomas Ricker

I love bags of all kinds. I also love magnets. So imagine my excitement when Timbuk2 announced the new Robin Pack a few weeks ago, with not one, or two, but three sets of magnetic closures. "This might be the perfect 20 liter backpack," I thought. After three weeks of everyday use I can say it's close, but with one frustrating flaw.

What is it?

The Timbuk2 Robin Pack is a compact 20 liter "bike and work" backpack meant for daily use in all types of weather. It features two pockets secured with magnetic clasps, a magnetic sternum strap, a concealed rainfly, and an inner pocket for a tablet and/or laptop. It costs $179.

Robin Pack specs

  • Magnetic top closures, adjustable magnetic sternum strap, and big magnetic outer pocket with keychain lanyard
  • Padded outer zipper pocket
  • Deployable rain fly concealed underneath
  • Laptop pocket for tablet and/or laptop up to 15-inches
  • Reflective fabric to keep you safe at night
  • 20 liters of top-loading space
  • Dual water pockets on sides
  • Available in red, black, or green/grey
  • Lifetime warranty

What's special about it?

The Robin Pack is pitched as "a reflective, weather-proof rolltop with tons of hidden features.” It’s perfectly suited for daily bicycle commutes to the office and quick trips around town. This top loader features a hidden rain fly at the bottom and lots of magnet fasteners. Magnets by themselves make for convenient, but weak closures. They can also be combined with mechanical latches to make strong closures easier to use. The Robin Pack uses both techniques, which, in theory, should make the bag very easy to open and close — even with one hand — compared to backpacks with traditional buckles and straps.

At least that was my hope when I requested a review unit from the hundreds of bags Timbuk2 sells.

Is it good?

I like the Robin Pack, but it’s not perfect. The "surplus" green/gray color I've been using every day for the last three weeks looks great, in my opinion. It's also rather svelte for a 20-liter pack, and is comfortable to wear with all types of loads. 

On a recent trip abroad, I loaded it down with a 12-inch MacBook, an iPad 2, a bulky DSLR with zoom lens, a GoPro camera plus attachments, a portable tripod, an LG 360-degree camera, a big Anker battery pack, a water bottle, rain poncho, and lots and lots of cables and accessories needed for a family snowboarding adventure. Even with all that weight the Robin Pack was still comfortable and felt up to the task. I wore it everyday during a week of snowboarding, and for two weeks while biking around Amsterdam with my work or gym gear. I only felt the need to pull out the very convenient (and cleverly stowed) rainfly once during a particularly heavy downpour. Otherwise, the coated nylon fabric offered what I considered to be reasonable protection for my gear during a snowfall or even the light Dutch rain.

Now, about those magnets...

What do you notice about the Robin Pack in the video above? The flap shouldn't be fluttering around like that, especially in those conditions for a top-loading backpack. (The inside of the bag was damp before I realized it was open.) See, there are two identical magnetic closures on top that should keep it closed. I've been struggling with them for the entire three weeks, thinking I’d master them — but never quite able to. To be fair, the top closures are easier to use when the bag is full because the top of the bag is rigid. But when it's only lightly loaded (which was most of the time in my usage) the top of the bag is limp and uneven making it difficult to align the two magnetic slide-to-clasp mechanisms. The result is a lot of hunting and pecking, sometimes for several frustrating seconds and always with two hands.

One of the offending magnetic clasps
One of the offending magnetic clasps
Thomas Ricker

Conversely, the outer magnetic pocket is fantastic. It can be opened quickly with a single hand and it snaps shut with a reassuring strength. It also stayed shut even after several wipeouts in deep snow. After a few days I even managed to master one-handed operation (without gloves) of the magnetic sternum strap. 

Am I happier or more fulfilled?

The top closure is irritating, exasperatingly so because of all the excellent solutions already available on bags elsewhere. Yet I still find myself using the Robin Pack regularly. In that way, it's a lot like my relationship with Twitter: I use it daily, but I can't stop complaining about its shortcomings that have already been fixed by rivals. So no, not feeling happier; I feel whatever it is people feel when somebody is wrong on the internet.

Should you get one?

If this were a $99 backpack I could easily recommend it. But it's not, it's a $175 backpack with two magnetic clasps on top that don't work very well. If Timbuktu used a better magnetic closure like the one found on Peak Design's Backpack I could whole-heartedly recommend the Robin Pack. They don't though so I can't, but damn did Timbuk2 get close.