Modestics Meet the Maker: Tom Bihn

Modestics Meet The Maker: TOM BIHN

Modestics recently interviewed Tom for their Meet the Maker series.

Modestics: When did you feel like you were a “real company”?

Tom Bihn: It all felt pretty serious, though very small, when I first rented commercial space back in Santa Cruz. Otherwise, our growth has been slow, steady, and mostly self-funded. Rather than owing money to a bank or venture capitalist, our loyalty is to the folks who believe in us enough to buy what we make: still friends and family, just a bigger circle.

Read the full interview over at Modestics.

Holiday Shipping Guide 2013

Use this handy guide to help figure out which shipping method you need to choose to ensure your TOM BIHN order will arrive by or on December 24th. Note that our shipping cut-off time is 12:30pm PST. Need help? Wondering if an out of stock bag can get to you or your loved one in time?, call us at 1-800-729-9607 (+1-206-652-4123), ask us on Twitter, or on Facebook. We would be glad to help. Good thing to know: our Gift Certificates can be ordered and delivered instantly to your friend or family member’s inbox, along with a personalized gift message.

Orders shipping within the United States:

December 17th: Last day for folks on the East Coast and in the Mid-West to place an order with UPS Ground ($10) as their shipping method with guaranteed delivery by or on Tuesday, December 24th. Don’t worry: you can still place an order and choose expedited shipping ($20 and up) for December 24th delivery up until Monday the 23rd.

December 19th: Last day for those in Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, and Southern California to place an order with UPS Ground as their shipping method with guaranteed delivery by or on December 24th. Note to East Coast folks: this is the last day to select UPS 3 Day Select shipping for guaranteed December 24th delivery.

December 20th: Everyone: choose UPS 2nd Day Air as your shipping method for guaranteed delivery by or on December 24th. Exception: Washington State, Oregon, Utah, Northern California, Northern Idaho, Western Montana or Northern Nevada folks can still choose UPS Ground.

December 21st:We’re shipping UPS 2nd Day Air, Next Day Air, and International shipments, even though it’s a Saturday — UPS is working and that means we do too. For example: an order placed with Next Day Air shipping by 12:30pm on Saturday, December 21st will shipped on Saturday and received on Monday, December 23rd, while an order placed with 2nd Day Air shipping will be received on Tuesday, December 24th. UPS Ground and 3 Day Select orders will not ship until December 23rd.

December 23rd: Order today by 12:30pm and choose Next Day Air as your shipping method for guaranteed delivery on December 24th.

December 24th: Our Seattle factory showroom will be open 10am – 2:00pm for last minute shopping and we’ll be answering your phone calls and emails. Our shipping department will ship orders as usual, though they will not be delivered until after Christmas. Need a last minute gift? Order a Gift Certificate and have it delivered instantly to your friend or family member via email with a personalized gift message.

December 25th: We will be closed. Have fun — that’s what we’ll be doing! Orders received over the holiday will ship Wednesday, December 26th. P.S. There’s still the option of ordering a Gift Certificate with instant email delivery to your loved one’s inbox.

P.S. This UPS Time in Transit map might also help you plan your order:


Orders shipping outside of the United States:

For our customers in Canada, Japan, Germany, Australia and everywhere else outside of the United States: we recommend placing your order by or on Friday, December 13th for guaranteed delivery by or on December 24th. Note that we are adding a couple of days on to the usual 2-5 business day transit time because of customs and high package volume.

Gift Ideas

Someone has a new Guide's Pack...
Illustration by Mason Drumm

Just a few of the things we’re planning on giving this year. If you plan on giving something TOM BIHN and want help choosing the right thing, or give us a call — we’d be glad to help. Oh yeah: here’s our Holiday 2013 Shipping Guide. It’ll help you figure out when you need to place your order to guarantee delivery by or on December 24th.

Stenlight headlamp
The best headlamp out there.

The Guide’s Pack
An all-season pack for the person in your life who can’t be outdoors enough. It’ll accompany them on extended day hikes and short overnights. Works great as a commute bag in the big city, too.

The Guide's Pack
The Guide’s Pack in Olive

Synapse 19
It’s the backpack of choice for ultralight world travelers and day hikers alike.

Movie gift cards
Don’t know what to get someone? Get them one of these. In our experience, pretty much everyone ends up appreciating an excuse to go see a movie.

Shop Bag
Everyone we know ends up with at least two of these and always wishes they had more. The most comfortable and durable reusable shopping bag around.

Shop Bags Made in USA

3D Clear, Mesh, or Fabric Organizer Cubes
Another one of those “everyone can use one” kind of things. Used to organize toiletries, make-up, socks/underwear, computer cables, snacks, DIY FAK stuff — a million uses and counting.

Carbon Credits
This could be taken as the 2013 version of a lump of coal (or, uh, the opposite?) or as a thoughtful gift from someone that recognizes the recipients care for the environment, so tread carefully. For the right person, though, it can offset any holiday-related consumption guilt.

Pendleton Baby Blanket
Made in USA and timeless: a Pendleton blanket is a classic gift. This’ll be the baby blanket they hang on to.

More appreciation for finely Made in USA items. We even have a Vitamix at the Seattle factory. It’s great for baby food, smoothies, soups, ice cream, bread…

Skookum Dog stuff
It doesn’t get much better than a finely decorated tree, a bunch of friends and family hanging out drinking fine libations, and a dog sleeping comfortably on a memory foam Sheepskin Bed. There’s duffels for people and bats for pups. And something to feel good about: Skookum Dog donates 10% of its profits to The Petfinder Foundation and the National Forest Foundation.

Skookum Dog Sheepskin Bed

Travel Stuff Sacks
Use ‘em as stockings or stuff ‘em in stockings.

For the business traveler. Checkpoint friendly laptop compatible.

Etsy Gift Card
It’s a great place to find and purchase affordable works of original art.

Everyone we know wants more time. Time to do nothing, time to exercise, time to play with the dog, go on a trip, learn to make pie crust, whatever. Think of something you could help your loved one out with that’d give them more time to do whatever it is they want to be doing.

Seattle Factory Showroom Holiday Hours

Forget the masses: come hang out with us on Friday (November 29th) and Saturday (November 30th) of Thanksgiving weekend.

Our Seattle Factory Showroom will be open 10-4 and we’ll have hot drinks and tasty food. Bring the kids. Bring the dog. Bring strangers. It’s all cool with us. For those of you not in the Seattle area: we’ll also be answering phones and emails as much as time allows.

TOM BIHN Seattle Factory Showroom
4750A Ohio Ave S.
Seattle WA 98134

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.


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 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).


Bags available for order in 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack

3D Fabric Cube in Olive 420d HT ParapackA close-up view of the 3D Fabric Organizer Cube in Olive 420d HT Parapack. Note the slightly heathered appearance of the high tenacity yarns, as described in Tom’s post on 420d.

Synapse 19 (420d HT Parapack exterior/200d Dyneema/nylon lining)
In stock: Navy 420d/Ultraviolet, Navy 420d/Solar, Olive 420d/Steel, Steel 420d/Solar
On Backorder: Navy 420d/Iberian, Black 420d/Steel, Black 420d/Wasabi, Black 420d/Iberian

Synapse 25 (420d HT Parapack exterior/200d Dyneema/nylon lining)
Available for backorder, ships by early December: Olive/Steel, Black/Steel, Black/Iberian, Black/Wasabi, Navy/Solar, and Navy/Iberian

Small Cafe Bag (420d HT Parapack exterior/200d Dyneema/nylon lining or 420d HT Parapack exterior/lining)
In stock: Olive/Wasabi Dyneema, Steel/Iberian Dyneema, Navy/Ultraviolet Dyneema, Black/Solar Dyneema, Olive/Steel, Steel/Steel, Black/Steel, and Navy/Navy

Medium Cafe Bag (420d HT Parapack exterior/200d Dyneema/nylon lining or 420d HT Parapack exterior/lining)
In stock: Olive/Wasabi Dyneema, Steel/Iberian Dyneema, Navy/Ultraviolet Dyneema, Black/Solar Dyneema, and Olive/Steel, Steel/Steel, Navy/Navy and Black/Steel

Large Cafe Bag (420d HT Parapack exterior/200d Dyneema/nylon lining or 420d HT Parapack exterior/lining)
In stock: Olive/Wasabi Dyneema, Steel/Iberian Dyneema, Navy/Ultraviolet Dyneema, Black/Solar Dyneema, and Olive/Steel, Steel/Steel, and Black/Steel

3D Fabric Organizer Cube
In stock: Navy, Olive, Black, Steel

3D Mesh Organizer Cube
In stock: Olive, Black, Navy

The Guide’s Pack (420d HT Parapack exterior/lining)
In stock: Olive/Steel, Navy/Steel, Black/Steel, Steel/Steel

Founder’s Briefcase (420d HT Parapack exterior/lining)
Pre-order, ships by mid-December: Olive/Steel, Navy/Steel, Black/Steel, Steel/Steel

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.


New designs tomorrow

Tom working on the new designs
Summer 2013: Tom working on one of the two new designs debuting tomorrow.