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Travel bags, laptop bags, and backpacks. Tom Bihn has been designing and making bags since 1972. The best materials and innovative construction.

Smart Alec - Tom Bihn 13

The Smart Alec is a modular backpack system: customize it to carry your gear with a variety of interior and exterior organizational pockets.

13 webbing loops on the front of the Smart Alec and an included removable black bungee make it easy to secure a rain jacket, umbrella, yoga mat, or bike helmet to the front of the bag. Ride your motorcycle or bike or walk at night with your Smart Alec? Add a Glowire electroluminescent wire kit, which you can weave through these new loops.

Designed to attach to the webbing loops are the optional Upper Modular Pocket, Lower Modular Pocket, and 1" Gate Keeper Straps. Each adds extra carrying capacity and custom organization to the Smart Alec.

The Upper Modular Pocket adds an extra 2+ liters of volume to the Smart Alec. Inside there are four small organizer pouches sized for the things to which you need quick access: smartphone, keys, multitool, flashlight. Two interior O-rings so you can attach keys or pouches or what-have-you. The Lower Modular Pocket adds an extra 3+ liters of volume to the Smart Alec. Fits two 1-liter water bottles, or one water bottle and other stuff, or just a lot of other stuff. Inside are two o-rings and an open-top organizer pocket sized for a wallet. 1" Gate Keeper Straps can replace the front bungee included with the Smart Alec with these straps (or leave the bungee in place and install the straps over the bungee). Useful for securing large/bulky items to the front or top of the Smart Alec: a yoga mat, snowshoes, raincoat, Christmas trees, or anything else too big or wet to go inside. Available individually or in sets of two or three; the Smart Alec has webbing loops for accommodating up to five 1″ Gate Keeper Straps. Wondering how many you need? Tom uses two 1″ Gate Keeper Straps to secure his snowshoes to the front of a Smart Alec. For more detailed information on each of these three accessories, visit the Smart Alec Modular Pockets & Straps page.

The streamlined main compartment of the Smart Alec opens wide, providing easy access to your gear, and zips with a #10 YKK Aquaguard® water-repellent zipper. Inside the main compartment you'll find two removable Annex Clips, which come in handy if you need to carry a laptop, as they allow you to securely clip the optional Vertical Brain Cell or Horizontal Brain Cell hard-sided laptop cases inside the main compartment of the Smart Alec. The Brain Cells are available in sizes specifically designed for Apple laptops and PC laptops; please consult our Laptop Bag Fit Guide to determine the right size for your laptop.

Also in the main compartment on the back panel are two unobtrusive webbing loops (that we call "rail loops") to which you can secure the optional Cache (available in sizes specifically for every Apple laptop and iPad; PC users, click here for our Laptop Bag Fit Guide). When you add the Cache, the Smart Alec becomes a "checkpoint-friendly" laptop backpack. Here's how it works: on the back (or bottom, depending how you look at it) of the Cache are two parallel "rails" of 1" wide lightweight nylon webbing which extend from the top to the bottom. Included (and already attached for your convenience) when the Cache is ordered with the Smart Alec are two Gatekeeper Rail Clips: unclip the side that isn't clipped to the Cache, slip it through the webbing loops in the Smart Alec middle compartment, and flip it shut. Slip the Cache inside the Smart Alec, and pull it back out: you'll see that the Gatekeeper Rail Clips ride the rails of the Cache, allowing you to remove your laptop from the Smart Alec entirely while it is still encased in the protective Cache. Doing this at the airport security checkpoint means the X-ray machines (and TSA personnel) will have a clear, unobstructed view of your laptop ó allowing you to keep your laptop in the Cache and the whole affair securely held together as one unit. (We think that's much better than having to remove your laptop and dump it in one of those buckets.) Many of us will appreciate this functionality on a daily basis as well: the rail system can be a convenient and quick way to remove one's laptop from the bag. Note that one must choose between attaching the Cache or the Brain Cell.

Inside the main compartment, you'll also find three medium-size organizer pockets: one near the bottom of the bag, and two at the top of the bag that zip shut so that, when you open the main compartment, the small stuff in those pockets won't fall out.

The main compartment has one O-ring with an included 8" Key Strap attached, ready and waiting to help you keep track of your keys. And, of course, you can clip Yarn Stuff Sacks to the O-rings.

If you need more pockets and organization for your gear, or if you carry a lot of papers or folders, you may want to consider our Vertical Freudian Slip insert. The Vertical Freudian Slip fits well inside the main compartment of the Smart Alec and has four slots for files and folders on one side; organizer pockets for cables, small electronics, business cards, pens, and more are on the other side. Best of all, you can pull the Freudian Slip out of the Smart Alec and hang it on a doorknob or near your desk, giving yourself easy access to your accessories while keeping them organized.

The Snake Charmer, a two-sided organizational pouch with mesh panels, is also an optional accessory.

The top back of the Smart Alec has a comfortable, PORON® foam padded grab handle. While you wouldn't want to use the handle as a main carrying method for the Smart Alec, the comfort of the handle makes hoisting a fully loaded Smart Alec an easier task.

The Smart Alec has two long pockets on either side of the bag that zip with #8 YKK Aquaguard® water-repellent zippers. We think it's important to do whatever we can to keep the elements out of your bag and we figure you'd agree. One of the side pockets has an expanding water bottle pocket that can fit water bottles up to 1-1/2 liters. Our Matterhorn Water Bottle, a lightweight made-in-U.S.A. aluminum water bottle, fits well in the water bottle pocket. The water bottle pocket has an eyelet at the bottom that will allow liquid inside the water bottle pocket to drain (just in case). The other side pocket has two pen slots and a pocket sized for a wallet or iPhone. This side pocket can also hold other items such as a book, power supply, ereader, or other small accessories. Each of these pockets has one O-ring.

The exterior of the Smart Alec is made of our custom, U.S. made, 1050 denier, high tenacity ballistic nylon fabric and 1000 denier Cordura® nylon, and the interior is lined with our ultralight 200 denier Dyneema®/nylon ripstop fabric, custom produced for us in Japan. The back is made of Dri-Lexģ Aero-Spacerģ mesh and is padded with 1/4", high quality, closed-cell foam.

The comfortable shoulder straps on the Smart Alec are made from 3/8" (10 mm) padding that offers serious comfort without bulk. While the Smart Alec is not built to be a mountaineering pack and we don't suggest you use it as one, we regularly take it for day hikes. We even went to the extreme of testing the comfort of the shoulder straps by carrying a fully loaded Smart Alec on an 18-mile day hike in Olympic National Park. The verdict? The shoulder straps left our shoulders feeling fine (how our feet felt is another story).

The Smart Alec also comes with removable sternum and waist straps, just in case you do take it on a hike, urban or otherwise. If you do decide to remove the sternum and/or waist straps, you'll be pleased to find they leave no hardware behind.


U.S. high tenacity 1050 denier ballistic nylon — or — ultralight 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon ripstop
200 denier Dyneema®/nylon ripstop fabric lining
Closed-cell foam back and bottom
EVAZOTE® foam shoulder straps
PORON® foam handle
Tough Duraflex® and Nexus buckles
#10 YKK Aquaguard® coil zipper on main compartment
#8 YKK Aquaguard® coil zippers on pockets
Dri-Lexģ Aero-Spacerģ mesh padded with 1/4", high quality, closed-cell foam.


Made in USA
100% finished seams
24 reinforcing bar tacks


Dimensions: 18.5" x 11.75" x 7.75" / 470 x 300 x 200 mm
1050d high tenacity ballistic nylon: 1 lb 15 oz / 865 grams
400d Dyneema®/420d nylon ripstop: 1 lb 12 oz / 785 grams
Volume: 1600 cubic inches / 26 liters (ASTM Standard Measure)
Removable 1" / 25 mm waist strap included
.375" / 10 mm padded and contoured shoulder straps with .75" / 20 mm removable sternum strap

Videos and Customer Photos

Smart Alec walk-through by maverick.

View customer photos on Flickr.

External Reviews

As reviewed by Rands in Repose:
"In time of stress, the items are readily accessible, remain safe, and don’t shift around. I canít predict when I need to go ninja. I donít know when itís absolutely essential that I have a pen ready to go in five seconds. When this moment does arrive, I donít want to be digging feverishly around my bag, placing various items on the floor as I search the bottom of the bag where the small stuff has fallen. The Smart Alec backpack not only has a sensible number of pockets, they are readily accessible and not cavernous. At this moment I can tell you: right side external pocket is notebooks and the essential small crap bag (which Iíll explain in a moment), left external pocket is pens, mints, and playing cards, and the internal top pocket is safe and easily accessible for sunglasses, random small pieces of paper, a passport, and the occasional stash of hard candy. All my stuff, readily accessibly at a momentís notice ó thatís pretty ninja.” Read the full review.

As reviewed by Loaded Pocketz:
"As a gear tester, there are those rare moments when you take something out of the box and you know instantly that you have something in hand that is going to be difficult to review because youíre not sure that words and pictures can do it justice. My unboxing of the Tom Bihn Smart Alec was one of those moments. The quality of materials and attention to detail is evident. " Part One and Part Two of the full review.

As reviewed by The Brooks Review:
"What surprised me the most was just how much I loved the modular nature of my packing with the Smart Alec. Two small bags for my toiletries (one is TSA approved for liquids, too small for everything) one Snake Charmer for all my electronic goodies and my small pouch for the often used accessories. It was truly great to just pull out a little bag of items when I needed to get something instead of digging through large pockets filled with these items. With all this in the bag it carried surprisingly well and allowed me to keep both hands free to carry gifts and my wifeís rolling luggage when we arrived places." Read the full review.

Want to read more reviews? Here's our complete list of external bag reviews.

people who have the Smart Alec say:

TB Smart Alec deserves a review
"The Bihn system seemed pretty smartly designed when I first packed the bag, but now at the tail end of my trip, I can say that it's friggin ingenious! My company's version of "business travel" is probably one of the more rigorous things one can do with their time. Most weekdays consist of waking up at 6AM, getting dressed, re-packing your suitcase, visiting with customers or co-workers until 6PM or so, then driving or flying to the next city. So, it's really important to have ever piece of your travel arsenal designed well enough to make packing, retrieval, and, of course, carrying as easy as possible. Fully loaded, the Smart Alec held all of my workday stuff plus a spare change of clothes in a packing folder (should luggage get lost in transit), and weighed in around 17 pounds. I'm happy to say that I have no back strain or fatigue after carrying it through Budapest, Vienna, Munich, Stuttgart, Dusseldorf, Paris, and Madrid. I highly recommend it!!!" — posted by fvfvsix

On Tour: 18 days with an Aeronaut & a Smart Alec
"I make an odd living selling merchandise for bands on the road. It's a crazy, fun, unforgiving lifestyle where grown men sleep in bunk beds on a tour bus and eat peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for dinner. It also requires expert packing and lifehacking skills. After my first couple years of touring I was fed up with my large, bulky hardshell suitcases that required being checked. I've dealt with lost baggage on several occasions. It's a scary realization when you land and your life isn't there to greet you at baggage claim. And you might be hundreds of miles away in 24 hours at another gig. Thankfully, after many hours of research and comparison I stumbled upon Tom Bihn. I've made a few purchases that have changed my touring life and made it for the better. And I hope to make more in the future. " — posted by leviathan

Smart Alec Review (long)
"Top Load - This is one of the greatest parts of the bag. No zippers that spill the bags contents as you open it up to look inside. It is like opening a drawer and everything is right there. The bright color on the inside is great to brighten things up and reflect enough light to help you find your stuff. " posted by Tartan1749

a Smart Alec story from India
"I'd like to share a little story of my adventures with the Smart Alec. I'm in India right now, here on a trip for business and pleasure. I carried my laptop and other accessories, a hard back book and a small bag of bathroom articles in it on my flight. Once here in India, I've been using it daily to carry my laptop, accessories, fruit and water to work. Did you know that the side pockets of the Smart Alec are great for holding 1 litre water bottles?" — posted by maverick

Read more customer reviews posted in our forums.

Post your review in our Forums, on our Facebook page, or email it to us.

Smart Alec

Select a color (Main Body/Front Panel/Lining):

Add a Upper Modular Pocket:

Add a Lower Modular Pocket:

Add 1-inch Gate Keeper Strap(s):

Add a Vertical Brain Cell:

Add a size of Cache:

Add a Freudian Slip:

Add a Snake Charmer:

Add a Whistle Sternum Strap Half:

Add a Guardian Dual Function Light:

Add a Glowire kit:


Tom Bihn bags are made in the USA Always Made in U.S.A.

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Vertical Freudian Slip
Vertical Freudian Slip: $50.00
Brain Bag
Brain Bag: $190.00
Vertical Brain Cell
Vertical Brain Cell: $65.00
Clear Organizer Pouches
Clear Organizer Pouches: $9.00 - $16.00
Cache: $30.00
Synapse 19
Synapse 19: $170.00
Smart Alec Modular Pockets & Straps
Smart Alec Modular Pockets & Straps: $5 - $45
Guardian DF Light Strap-Mount
Guardian DF Light Strap-Mount: $18.00
Glowire: $18.00