Backpack Review: Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack

As a frequent traveler, both domestically and internationally, I’m constantly on the lookout for the next great backpack. And while I love my Osprey Sirrus 36 for its size and comfortable hip belt, some airlines, specifically budget carriers, don’t let me carry it on because of its shape. It fits fine into most overhead bins, but won’t fit into the metal box where you’re supposed to test it out for the airline. When Timbuk2 contacted me about providing their Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack for review, I was definitely interested (disclaimer: free bag). I thought it might be a great addition to my bag set, particularly as I had been looking at similar models from eBags and Tom Bihn.

Timbuk2 was a brand I was already familiar with, as they make messenger bags popular with bicyclists that are tough and stay out of the way while you’re riding. I was glad to see that they also make suitcases and duffels as well as the backpack I ended up choosing. When my Aviator bag came in the mail, it was wrapped in a plastic bag with a map of San Francisco on it, which can be used for riding your bike around the city.

Timbuk2 Aviator Features from the Timbuk2 site

Top Features

The size is comparable to other carry on backpacks, but the shape is rectangular, meaning you’re more likely to be able to carry it on for those budget airlines. It holds 28.5 liters, which is significantly smaller than my 35 liter pack, pictured alongside it below. It comes in all black or in black and orange colors. The fabric is a water resistant and ripstop.

The Aviator has a suspension system of sorts and a hip belt, which is important. Every strap can be tucked away and clipped on when needed, allowing you to carry it as a duffel or as a backpack. One of the straps even has a bottle opener.

The top loading feature both zips and clips, making it theft proof, and you can also open it through a front panel. There are lots of compartments for your items and one even includes a rain cover. And since I always travel with a laptop, I was glad to see a thick laptop sleeve inside of the bag that fits up to a 17 inch MacBook Pro.

timbuk2 on Caroline

Why I Liked It

I was impressed at the features and compartments of the Aviator, especially for a backpack that could become a go-to weekend bag.

  • It has a more sleek look to it, so you can get away with wearing it and not getting funny looks if you’re going to a nice hotel or the first class lounge. This is certainly a backpack a business traveler could get away with using; I might not say the same of my Osprey.
  • It’s designed with the traveler in mind, especially when it comes to the compartments for your passport and travel documents.
Osprey vs. Timbuk2 Sizes
Comparing Osprey Sirrus 36 vs. Timbuk2 Sizes

Why I Didn’t Like It

There were a few things I would change about the Aviator, starting with the shape. While it is the perfect size for carrying on, I get the feeling that the shoulder straps aren’t made for long term travel. If you packed it to the brim, you might be in for some serious pain.

Other issues:

  • It looks full even when it isn’t, so you may not be able to squish it under your seat when necessary.
  • It doesn’t have the back support you’ll find on backpacks created for hiking.
  • It doesn’t expand, so the size you see is what you get.
  • The laptop sleeve takes up much of the room you could otherwise use for clothing, so if you don’t travel with a laptop, this may not be the bag for you.

With that said, with the right use of packing cubes, you could easily travel with enough items for a few weeks in this bag.

The Timbuk2 Aviator Packed Up

Who the Bag is Perfect For

Digital nomads and light packers will love this backpack as it gives you just enough space for anything from three days to three weeks. You could certainly use it for longer travels, depending on how much you want to bring (but just keep those straps in mind). I would definitely recommend this bag if you’re looking to go carry on only and want the look of a backpack with added versatility.

And with a lifetime warranty, this may be your bag for life.

>> Check out prices for the Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack on Amazon.

>>See all the best travel backpacks for women here.

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Gear We Use


Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.

Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.

Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking! – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions


  1. Viki says

    Wow this backpack looks really great! It’s not that expensive either!
    but – oh god – why is there no back support 🙁
    it is a pitty, there are so many well designed backpacks out there but it seems like 99% of them do not have a proper back support

  2. Sydney says

    Wondering if anyone has tried either of the wheeled versions of this bag and what they thought. I am specifically interested in the medium size (small build and don’t need 60l) which is aprox 45l? Have been seeking out reviews online and haven’t found to many.

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