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Topo Designs Messenger Review

Stylish, durable, and well-featured, ideal for anyone that depends on a solid bag for everyday use.
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Price:  $159 List | $158.95 at Backcountry
Pros:  Incredibly durable and weather resistant, ambidextrous strap, spacious
Cons:  Stiff when new, boxy shape, buckle on shoulder strap is bulky, very loud to open
Manufacturer:   Topo Designs
By Penney Garrett ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 15, 2020
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71
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 13
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Packing & Organization - 25% 7
  • Electronics - 15% 8
  • Ease of Use - 15% 6
  • Wear & Tear - 10% 9
  • Volume to Weight Ratio - 10% 3

Our Verdict

The Topo Designs Messenger Bag is, as we've come to expect from Topo, expertly designed and crafted. It's highly durable and weatherproof, the features are smart, and the overall look is both fun and stylish. It is heavy and a bit cumbersome at times, but for the commuter that needs to be able to depend on their bag every day, rain or shine, this is a top-notch choice.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award  Top Pick Award 
Price $158.95 at Backcountry$179.00 at Amazon$69.99 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$169.00 at REI$120.00 at REI
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Pros Incredibly durable and weather resistant, ambidextrous strap, spaciousWaterproof laptop sleeve, weather resistant, easy to use, great features, ambidextrous, brightly colored interiorDurable, comfortable, simple but thoughtful storage, customizableWaterproof, comfortable, lightweight, highly durable, ambidextrous shoulder strapUnique low-profile shape, secure, expanding compression straps accommodate many load sizes, durable
Cons Stiff when new, boxy shape, buckle on shoulder strap is bulky, very loud to openExterior water bottle pocket is small, shoulder padding can get bunched up, tips over easily when set downMinimal features for electronicsTips over easily when set down, doesn't have very many pockets, expensiveFew pockets, not very waterproof, can only be worn on one shoulder
Bottom Line Stylish, durable, and well-featured, ideal for anyone that depends on a solid bag for everyday use.This is a highly impressive ambidextrous bag with excellent features and bomber weatherproofing.With a longstanding reputation that it continues to live up to, this staple bag is simple yet thoughtful.This sleek, comfortable, and lightweight bag is highly durable and weatherproof with minimal yet thoughtful features.This sling bag is highly functional, adaptable, and durable - ideal for commuters with more modest storage needs.
Rating Categories Topo Designs Messenger Timbuk2 Especial Stash Timbuk2 Classic Arc'teryx Granville 10 Chrome Vale Sling 2.0
Comfort (25%)
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
8
Packing & Organization (25%)
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
5
10
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6
Electronics (15%)
10
0
8
10
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9
10
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5
10
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7
10
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6
Ease Of Use (15%)
10
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6
10
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7
10
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8
10
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7
10
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7
Wear & Tear (10%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
7
Volume To Weight Ratio (10%)
10
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3
10
0
8
10
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9
10
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7
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7
Specs Topo Designs... Timbuk2 Especial... Timbuk2 Classic Arc'teryx... Chrome Vale Sling...
Measured Weight 2.66 lbs 2.18 lbs 2 lbs 1.15 lbs 1.74 lbs
Measured Volume 13 L 20 L 21 L 10 L 14 L
OGL Volume/Weight Ratio 4.89 9.17 10.50 8.70 8.05
Dimensions 17 x 12 x 6 in 17.5 x 12.2 x 4.72 in 14.6 x 12.2 x 7.1 in 16 x 10.5 x 5 in 13 x 9.25 x 5 in
Shoulder preference Either Either Either but optimized for left Either Left
Number of Compartments 2 3 2 2 2
Number of Large Pockets 3 5 3 1 3
Number of Small Pockets (i.e. sleeves for pens, thin items) 1 4 5 1 2
Number of Zipper Pockets 3 3 3 2 2
Key Clip? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Reflective Material? Yes Yes Yes, on bottom straps No Yes
External Side Pocket No Yes No No Yes
Sleeve For Laptop? Yes - 15" Yes - 15" Yes - 15" Yes - 12" Yes - 13"
Stabilizing Cross Strap No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Available Sizes One Size One Size XS, S, M, L 10L and 16L One Size
Size Tested One Size One Size Medium 10L One Size

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Topo Messenger Bag shows that style and rugged durability can walk hand-in-hand.

Performance Comparison


The Topo Messenger is ready for wherever your day may take you.
The Topo Messenger is ready for wherever your day may take you.

Comfort


Nicely shaped, with a fully ambidextrous shoulder strap that is wide with excellent padding, this is a comfortable bag. It is stiff, especially when new, and manages to feel much larger than its 13-liters, but it carries well, and the adjustments that can be made are plentiful. Still, there are aspects of the strap design that can make certain angles of wear awkward, so give yourself some time and experimentation to dial in the perfect settings. This also may not be the ideal bag for someone with a small frame.

The Topo messenger is well padded and quite customizable  but it's also boxy and large so if you are small-framed you may want to try it on before committing.
The Topo messenger is well padded and quite customizable, but it's also boxy and large so if you are small-framed you may want to try it on before committing.

Packing & Organization


The Topo Messenger has some handy pockets, but it's also on the minimal side, striking a good balance between just enough and not too much. There's a large zippered pocket on the back and another under the front flap; both are exceedingly useful for flat items like books, papers, or low-profile electronics. Under the flap, there's a medium-sized zippered pocket with a key clip on top of a second Velcro pocket of the same size. Inside, you will find a padded laptop sleeve with a Velcro closure strap and two stretchy water bottle straps. There are no small sleeves for pens and pencils, so some sort of an accessory bag is a smart addition, though it will cost you extra. We found ourselves wishing for one more pocket in the main interior compartment.

This bag is wide and roomy with some very useful pockets - though there's not an abundance of them and none in the large main compartment besides the laptop sleeve. The water bottle straps are nice  though a bit snug if you carry a liter bottle. They do work  but when in a hurry we often opted not to use them.
This bag is wide and roomy with some very useful pockets - though there's not an abundance of them and none in the large main compartment besides the laptop sleeve. The water bottle straps are nice, though a bit snug if you carry a liter bottle. They do work, but when in a hurry we often opted not to use them.

Electronics


One of the best in our review, this is an excellent bag for electronics. The laptop sleeve secures with a Velcro strap, is well-padded, and fits up to a 15" computer. The flap is zippered on the underside and is an excellent place for cords, a tablet, a supplemental keyboard, etc. There's also a large zippered back pocket that's ideal for flat items and papers. The thing that really seals the deal, however, is how weatherproof the Topo Messenger is; after being sprayed down full-force with a garden hose, the interior stayed bone dry. The flap is well-designed with large corner wings, the zippers are waterproof, and the interior is lined with a thick truck tarp liner. Our gadgets were safe in all manner of weather with this burly bag.

We held nothing back during our water tests  but the interior of the Topo Messenger stayed completely dry.
We held nothing back during our water tests, but the interior of the Topo Messenger stayed completely dry.

Ease of Use


In most respects, this is a straightforward bag to use, though there are a handful of rather cumbersome things. The front flap is a bit stiff because of the truck tarp liner, and it closes via thick swathes of Velcro and g-hooks. Don't plan on sneaking into a meeting late or being discreet in a library — opening this bag is LOUD. There's no pocket inside the large main compartment, so some self-organization with supplemental accessory pouches is recommended. The strap sometimes flips around and twists because it's sewn at an angle for better ergonomics when on the move — and it doesn't move or pivot.

The crossbody strap is rather tricky to attach, and there isn't any explanation or photo on Topo's website about it (you have to push one D ring through another at just the right angle). Finally, the front buckle is very large and not overly intuitive, and the internal water bottle straps are tight if you carry a liter water bottle. This all may sound overly negative, but mostly it's just part of the process of learning a new bag; once you get in a groove, it's all straightforward. There are a lot of thoughtful features that we really loved, like the daisy chain webbing at the base of the bag for attaching multiple bike lights and the fully removable and ambidextrous shoulder strap and crossbody strap.

Most aspects of this bag are great  though keep in mind that the front buckle is quite large and bulky and the crossbody strap is a little tricky to attach.
Most aspects of this bag are great, though keep in mind that the front buckle is quite large and bulky and the crossbody strap is a little tricky to attach.

Wear & Tear


This is an incredibly durable bag. Thick water-resistant material inside and out, waterproof zippers, and bomber construction all add up to a bag you can feel confident will be by your side for many, many years.

The Topo is well-constructed with strong materials and excellent weather-resistance.
The Topo is well-constructed with strong materials and excellent weather-resistance.

Volume to Weight Ratio


The Topo Messenger doesn't score well here. At 2.66 pounds, it's burly and heavy (its construction is reminiscent of a Chrome bag) and — despite seeming very large — is only 13 liters. However, you sure won't have to worry about durability or weather, so for some, this will be a fair tradeoff.

While on the heavy side  this is a bag that you can rock with confidence rain or shine.
While on the heavy side, this is a bag that you can rock with confidence rain or shine.

Value


This bag is a little expensive, but for what you get, we find it more than fair. It's made with high-quality materials in the U.S. and offers a lifetime warranty (within reason). This is a bag to choose if you're looking for money well-spend on a long-term friend.

Conclusion


While there are a few aspects of the Topo Designs Messenger that we find marginally awkward, in most respects, this is an incredibly proficient bag. It's stylish with a smart layout and excellent weather-proofing and is perfect for the commuter that wants to ensure their belongings are well-protected at all times.

Minimal yet smart features meet good construction and style in this impressive bag.
Minimal yet smart features meet good construction and style in this impressive bag.


Penney Garrett