Thoughts on the Pilot

Initial reactions to the new PilotPhoto courtesy of kkintea.

“My pilot came! The UPS man came and I snatched the box from his hands. I love the size. It is perfect. Big enough but not too big.” –atarango1

“As far as size, I think this could easily be a bag to use for a 3 to 4 day trip, especially if the trip is to a warmer climate where you have no need to dress up. I’m not sure how/where I’d squeeze in an extra pair of shoes (as light as I pack, I always like an extra pair) but I bet you could squeeze in a pair of flip flops for the beach very easily. But of course, this bag is really the ultimate size for a personal carry on and will certainly be able to hold enough stuff to keep you occupied even on the longest of flights.” –WMW40

“I can’t wait to start packing it for my upcoming conference. I specifically want to see if I can get away with only taking the Pilot. I will have to look “professional”, travel by plane (thus I will want to bring knitting), and will have to carry stuff with me all day (hotel is offsite from main events).” –gochicken

“It crosses over nicely from travel bag, overnight bag, work bag, knitting bag, and EDC. Of course, to each his own. That’s why I love Tom Bihn. He makes bags that appeal to many different types of people for all their varying needs!” –Mausermama

“I carried the Nordic pilot to a business meeting where everyone was wearing suits, so formal end of the spectrum. No one seemed to find it unusual. And the color really popped against my black suit. ” –Yoda Sloth

“This Pilot is sick!! I am able to fit more than I imagined and the Eagle Creek large packing sac, which can fit a change of clothes, fits like a dream in the Pilot. I am more than happy with this bag and so glad I splurged on the absolute strap.” –MelissaL

“I love my new (Navy/Solar) Pilot! It’s perfect for every day carry for my 11″ MBA plus some misc. stuff. It also works decently well (though not as well as a Packing Cube Messenger Bag (PCMB) would!) in the center of a Tri-Star. Alternatively, I can fit my (Lumix GH1) micro 4/3 camera in a small Crumpler Haven AND MBA in there without it looking too funny. Finally, I did a test pack, and for a casual 1-2 night trip (without the camera, but with the laptop), I can get everything I need. It’s like 4 bags in one!” –jmoz

“I got my Pilot yesterday – Black/Wasabi. It’s early, but my first impression is that it’s wonderful. It’s exactly the size I hoped for to use as my work bag.” –smj

Thanks to everybody for the marvelous feedback! Check out the Pilot for yourself and maybe you’ll be inspired to leave your own feedback in the Forums.

 

New: 7″ Tablet Cache

The 7″ Tablet Cache is a protective sleeve that’s designed to protect your 7″ tablet against scrapes and scratches; it’ll fit in just about all of our larger backpacks, travel bags, and messenger bags. Available in four sizes to fit most 7″ tablets.

7″ Tablet Cache. $25. In stock and ships within one business day.

7" Tablet Protective Sleeve | TOM BIHN Made in USA

Introducing the Pilot

The Pilot personal item travel bag | TOM BIHN | Made in America

The Pilot personal item travel bag | TOM BIHN | Made in America

The Pilot personal item travel bag | TOM BIHN | Made in America

The Pilot is a personal item carry-on sized travel bag designed to fit the items you want close at hand and easily accessible during your flight or at the airport. It’s a natural complement to our larger Aeronaut, Tri-Star, and Western Flyer carry-on travel bags. Ultralight travelers may choose to use the Pilot as their “one bag” travel bag, utilizing the Pilot’s Packing Cubes for organizing clothing and a 3D Clear Organizer Cube for toiletries. Some may not even use the Pilot primarily for travel: it also serves well as an organized every day carry briefcase.

And the Pilot is proof that, yeah, we do listen: several years ago, we introduced the Co-Pilot, our original personal item travel bag. For many, the Co-Pilot was an ideal size, but some of you asked for a slightly larger version that would accommodate a 13″ laptop. We heard you, and that larger Co-Pilot is here, with a few updates. Not simply content to upsize an existing design, we took a look at the extra space the Pilot offered and considered how we could best maximize its utility while retaining a proportioned look and feel.

The Pilot. $150. Available for pre-order and ships by mid-February.

Recap of the new stuff

It’s been a busy week (month? year?) around here…

We introduced The Guide’s Pack and Founder’s Briefcase.

We debuted a new fabric: 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack.

Tom authored several posts about the new fabric and two new designs:
Accessory Strap Holders: Return of an Icon
On Internal Frames and Frame Sheets
The Story behind 420 Denier High Tenacity “Parapack” Pack Fabric
Ballistic vs. Leather Pack Bottoms
On shoulder straps
On the design of The Guide’s Pack
On the design of the Founder’s Briefcase

And we made available for order our new 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack fabric in the Synapse 19, Synapse 25, Small, Medium, and Large Cafe Bags, 3D Fabric Organizer Cube and 3D Mesh Organizer Cube.

Friday!

Introducing The Guide’s Pack and Founder’s Briefcase

“A couple of years ago, I set out to revisit some of the designs from my extensive youth: I wanted to see what features and materials were still useful, and which were better off left in the past. Now that I’ve come back up for air, we can finally share with you the initial results.” — Tom

The Guide's Pack

The Guide's Pack

Functionally modern, yet aesthetically grounded in our 40+ years of outdoor equipment design, The Guide’s Pack is a daypack for hiking and mountaineering; it will likely be as at home on city streets as on alpine trails. It’s an internal frame top loading backpack that closes with a drawstring and top flap pocket. The main body of the Guide’s Pack is made of 420d HT Parapack fabric. We go into the 420d nylon used to make The Guide’s Pack in depth over here, but in case you were late to class: 420 denier, high-tenacity, type 6.6 nylon was originally developed for the military for use in parachute backpacks. The exterior of the Guide’s Pack has multiple accessory strap holders, made from synthetic felt and nylon webbing. They’re designed to accept the optional Guide’s Pack Side Pockets and Lash Straps.

Read more on the design of The Guide’s Pack…

The Guide’s Pack. $240. In stock and ships within one business day in colors Olive/Steel, Navy/Steel, Black/Steel, and Steel/Steel.

Founder's Briefcase

Founder's Briefcase

The Founder’s Briefcase is a conservatively sized, one compartment clam-shell style checkpoint-friendly briefcase. Like the Guide’s Pack, it’s the result of some deep meditations on both the past and future of outdoor gear. Its myriad of useful features will satisfy the most technically-driven user, and its classic style comes as a welcome relief to the legions of ubiquitous black ballistic bags. Unzip the Founder’s Briefcase wide and lay it open — one side has a built-in checkpoint-friendly padded laptop compartment sized to fit the 15″ MacBook Pro Retina or anything smaller; the other surface is where the bulk of the organization lies.

Read more on the design of the Founder’s Briefcase….

Founder’s Briefcase. $220. Available for pre-order; ships by mid-December in colors Olive/Steel, Navy/Steel, Black/Steel, and Steel/Steel.

On the design of The Guide’s Pack

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Like lots of good stuff, it all started in a garage.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Better than leather: heavy-duty synthetic felt and nylon webbing combine in the Double Accessory Strap Holder.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

#00 spur grommets, made for us in the UK. Yes, we took every detail quite seriously.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

The internal frame . . .

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

. . . is removable.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Two pie-slice cut-outs on each edge allow the frame sheet to flex in use.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

The 6061 Aluminum stay is removable. Soft plastic caps insure the rest of the pack can’t be damaged by the stay.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

We pre-bend the stay to a gentle S-curve to approximate the average spinal curve.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Carefully bending the frame sheet and stay over your knee (or knees for a gentler curve), you can adjust the curve if you so desire (though you needn’t remove the frame from the pack).

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

The back and bottom of the Guide’s Pack are fully padded with .25″ / 6mm closed-cell foam.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Six flat pockets on the interior back panel accept the six “fins” of the frame sheet . . .

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

. . . firmly holding it in place against your back.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Curved, thermo-formed, die-cut, padded shoulder straps: we just didn’t have the technology to make these 40 years ago.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

And who woulda thunk it: pockets for a cell phone and a GPS.

Tom on the design of The Guide's Pack

But then again, the best things in life really haven’t changed.

On the design of the Founder’s Briefcase

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

Thick synthetic felt reinforces the handle attachment points.

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

A pleated, 3D mesh pouch is divided in to three separate spaces . . .

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

By moving the two zipper sliders to be over the one you want to access, the other remain securely zipped shut.

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

Great for cables, power supplies, point-and-shoot cameras.

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

The handles are designed to naturally meet top dead center.

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

Our signature, super-tough hardware facilitates attachment of a shoulder strap.

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

Heavy-duty, 1050d ballistic piping adds shape and color.

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

The Founder’s Briefcase has many graceful yet subtle curves: a straight line may be the shortest path, but seldom the most interesting.

On Internal Frames and Frame Sheets

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

I’ve always tended to keep my designs as simple as possible and eschew adding features just for the sake of, well, just because we could. So, it should be no surprise that the first iterations of The Guide’s Pack had no internal frame, just a padded back panel. The idea has always been to rely on careful packing to supply the bag with form and the user with comfort. I still think there is great value in learning the artful arrangement of a bag’s contents to optimize weight distribution and therefore carrying comfort; however, as soon as I began using The Guide’s Pack with my beta version of its internal frame and frame sheet, I started to see the light.

At 35 liters (when you include the side pockets), The Guide’s Pack can definitely become somewhat heavy when fully loaded, and though not intended as a backpacking pack, it can certainly handle all you need for a very long day out (or maybe an overnight). Bending its single aluminum stay to roughly parallel my spine, I was able to comfortably lift some of the pack’s weight off my shoulders and onto my hips (yeah, with just a 1″ webbing waist belt). Combined with the HDPE frame sheet, the internal frame helps maintain the bag’s profile (read: keeps it from beer-barreling when overstuffed) and also allows one to have a somewhat cavalier attitude when packing hard objects such as a DSLR camera or a thermos: basically, I no longer need to wrap them in extra clothing or some kind of padding to ensure all-day comfort on the trail. After some further tweaks and some long hikes, I was a believer.

The Guide’s Pack’s internal frame consists of a unique, die-cut frame sheet of .060″ high density polyethylene (HDPE) and a single stay of 1″ / 25 mm wide 6061 aluminum. The stay is held in place by a strip of 2″ wide nylon webbing sewn down the center of the frame sheet; you can remove the stay if, for some reason, you want a frame sheet but no frame.

You can also remove the entire affair: six flat “pockets” on the inside back of The Guide’s Pack are designed to retain the six lobes (or fins) of the frame sheet. These lobes are engineered to relieve the torsional stresses of the pack flexing as you walk; they also facilitate the design that allows the frame sheet to be easily removed from the pack.

The aluminum stay comes to you pre-bent to approximate a generic spinal curve. If you find The Guide’s Pack comfortable out of the gate, as most folks will, you’re good. But if you need to adjust that curve, it’s easy to do — and you needn’t remove the stay or frame sheet from the pack to do it (we’re working on a video that’ll show you how — stay tuned).

 

The Story behind 420 Denier High Tenacity “Parapack” Pack Fabric

Our 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack in OliveOur 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack in Olive.

420 denier, high tenacity, type 6.6 nylon fabric was originally developed for the military for use in parachute backpacks — the thing on the guy’s back that holds the parachute. Paratroopers needed a fabric that was smooth so as not to hang up on anything as a jumper left the plane; it had to be light (obviously); and it needed to be strong so as not to be easily punctured or abraded. These same qualities gave it great appeal in the blossoming outdoor-recreation industry; 420d HT nylon became the staple backpack fabric in the early 1960s, almost entirely replacing cotton canvas. At one time, virtually all high-end backpacks were made of 420d HT “Parapack” (short for parachute-backpack) fabric.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a renewed interest in health, nature, and the environment coevolved with an interest in self-propelled outdoor recreation: hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing, even mountaineering, became mainstream pursuits. And pretty quickly folks realized that all their new, light, and durable outdoor equipment functioned just as well back in town as it did in the wilderness. Quilted jackets made of ripstop nylon and filled with goose down appeared on city streets, and small backpacks designed for day hiking became de rigueur on campus. Of course, it wasn’t long before large, corporate (or soon-to-be large and corporate) interests saw the potential in this new market. I’m going somewhere with this, so hang tight.

I’ve already mentioned that 420d HT nylon is light, strong, and smooth, but I didn’t mention what it’s not: neither easy to dye, nor cheap. Just like our 1050 denier, high tenacity, type 6.6 ballistic cloth, 420d HT does not take dye as readily as type 6 (or “regular”) nylon. It dyes somewhat inconsistently and often ends up with a slightly heathery appearance (which I’ve grown to really like but can drive our fabric inspectors a bit nuts because it’s not consistent). Lots and lots of daypacks made of 420d HT were sold, and the sellers pushed the fabric mills for something cheaper. Some technically driven, small-time manufacturers wanted quality; some larger companies wanted low cost. Enter 430 denier (type 6 nylon) pack cloth: it was smooth, it was light, it was easy to dye consistently and evenly, and it was considerably less expensive. It was less densely woven, not as strong or abrasion resistant, but price, not quality, was now in the driver’s seat.

At about the same time as all that, texturized nylon fabrics (like 1000d Cordura®) were developed as alternatives to both smooth nylon pack cloth and cotton canvas. Their texturized look and feel made them plausible alternatives to cotton canvas, but they were lighter and more durable. The market share for 420d HT Parapack fabric continued to shrink and the mills ran less and less of it, resulting in it being difficult to obtain. Eventually, even high-end manufacturers abandoned 420d HT Parapack.

By the late 1980s, most backpacks were manufactured offshore, and Southeast Asia was making their own Parapack simulacra, with nominal deniers ranging from 400 to 430. Most of it was low quality, none of it high tenacity, but it was cheaper than U.S. made 420d HT. By the 1990s, with U.S. made 420d HT fabric nowhere to be seen, smooth nylon pack cloth became generally equated with low quality products, and understandably so.

Fast forward to 2013: when we went down this nostalgic rabbit hole, looking for fabrics from which to build the new Guide’s Pack and the Founder’s Briefcase, we were delighted to find some undyed, unfinished 420d HT nylon in a warehouse on the East Coast. We had it dyed to our own colors and we’ve pretty much fallen head over heels with it. The mill says they can weave more for us and we hope to add another color or two early in 2014. In addition to our 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack simply being a beautiful, densely woven, tough-as-nails fabric, its smooth surface entirely lacks an affinity for pet hair, lint, sweater fuzz, and snow. Combined with our 1050d HT ballistic fabric in high-wear areas, it makes The Guide’s Pack an amazing bag of which we are particularly proud.

And the revival of 420d HT Parapack continues: we’ve made our Small, Medium, and Large Café Bags, Synapse 19, Synapse 25, 3D Fabric Organizer Cube, and 3D Mesh Organizer Cube available in 420d HT Parapack.

 

Accessory Strap Holders: Return of an Icon

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Accessory strap holders were originally designed as a means to allow the user to add lash straps to a backpack to secure either items that were oddly shaped (such as ice axes or skis) or to extend the capacity of the pack (by adding a sleeping bag in its stuff sack or perhaps a rolled-up ground pad). Eventually, these usually diamond-shaped patches became emblematic, symbolizing that a pack was a real outdoor pack. Of course some manufacturers then sewed them on pretty much every pack they made, even school/book bags; most people had no idea what they were for and even if they did, well, few students carried ice axes anyway (probably for the best).

The earliest versions of these patches were made from thick, full-grain leather: they were often stiff and hard to use, especially when soaking wet and/or frozen (by that point, the user’s fingers were usually wet and/or frozen too — what fun). While leather is quite abrasion resistant, it doesn’t have much tear strength, so even the heaviest leather couldn’t support much weight. As accessory strap holders filtered down from genuine outdoor gear to mass-market consumer goods, the quality of the leather used declined as well. And unless regularly treated with leather conditioner, even the high-end, full-grain leather patches would become brittle over time.

In the 1980s, many manufacturers began switching to simply using a short piece of nylon webbing sewn down to the pack fabric (both ends were tacked down or included in a seam) as a replacement for leather patches. Though the stitching was often an area of acute stress, this solution was still stronger than the old leather patches, and usually easier to thread the lash strap through as well. These loops of nylon webbing, or sometimes a full daisy chain of loops in webbing, have now become the industry standard, and they work pretty well.

(There was a brief period — very dark times indeed — when black plastic strap holders, molded to look vaguely like the leather patches they replaced, made an appearance. They typically would fail after a few seasons’ use, plus they were . . . less than attractive.)

When we first considered revisiting some of the old designs, I became obsessed with developing a new version of the once-iconic, diamond-shaped accessory strap holder. I wanted to make something that spoke to the aesthetic of that era, but was more useful, stronger, and didn’t tend to absorb water. After a lengthy search for the right material and endless iterations of the shape, size, and sewing pattern, I think we’ve nailed it.

My final design is composed of a short length of nylon webbing, sewn (with substantial bar tacks) onto the fabric at the same time as a die-cut patch of synthetic felt. The synthetic felt is evocative of heavy leather, and though it’s quite strong, it bears none of the load: the nylon webbing provides all the strength. The synthetic felt provides reinforcement at the area of stress — at the stitching — and nicely covers the hot-cut ends of the webbing. I designed both a single version (the common diamond shape) and a double version. Double accessory strap holders are useful for lashing skis or a yoga mat onto the side of The Guide’s Pack; they also provide the optional/removable side pockets with a sweet spot to secure to the pack (via the Annex Clips included with the pockets).

Optional Accessory Straps are available in matching coyote brown: choose from a pair of 24″ straps (used to secure a small sleeping bag or mat) and a 10″ strap (to secure an ice axe), both made from 1″ wide nylon webbing.