Shout-Out for Gracie and People Who Do Good

Update: minutes after we posted this, the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley announced that Gracie had been adopted. Pretty cool.

On a recent road trip through the West (testing some new designs, and some current designs made out of new materials) we stopped by the Iconoclast bookstore in Ketchum, Idaho. At the register, we noticed a display advertising a Labrador Retriever mix named Gracie available for adoption; she’d been at the local no-kill Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley for a while, just waiting for the right home.

Here’s what really caught our attention — along with Gracie’s photo, the animal shelter had bound a book with Gracie’s photo on the cover. The title was “Gracie’s Story”. When we opened the book, we saw that the first page said this: “I don’t have much of a story yet. Will you adopt me and help me write the rest?” and the remainder of the pages were blank.

Gracie seemed like a pretty cool dog (I never met a dog I didn’t like) and if we weren’t full-up in the canine department we’d have squeezed her on board with the rest of the traveling zoo. But what really struck us was how creative the folks at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley were in trying to find Gracie a home. They were inventive, they cared, and it showed. As soon as we got home, we sent an email to the shelter offering a Synapse and Citizen Canine for the upcoming Dog Days of Summer auction benefitting the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley.

Anyway, we wanted to share this with you because:

1) We like to support non-profits who do good things for the world, and it’s even better if that’s done in a creative way. If you run or work for or volunteer at a non-profit that fits that description, email us: we’ll see if we can donate a bag for your next auction or fundraiser. (Our Giving Back page lists some of the non-profits we’ve donated to.)

2) We figured one of you folks who reads our blog might be looking to add a happy-go-lucky Yellow Lab mix to your family. If that’s the case, Gracie is waiting for you. Scratch that: after 9 months of living at the ASWRV and in a loving foster home, Gracie was adopted on Friday, July 6th.

Gracie is available for adoption

Happy Independence Day

Happy Independence Day from TOM BIHN

Illustration on the shipping box by Scott, TB Shipping Lead. See more of Scott’s illustrations.

Free shipping to APO addresses

For a while now, we’ve removed the shipping charge on orders shipping to APO addresses: it’s one small way of saying thanks to the folks who serve this country. We didn’t tell anyone we were doing this — it’s just something that we, on the fly, decided was the right thing to do.

Now we’ve made it official: during the checkout process, you’ll see the Priority Mail [Free to APOS] to shipping option if you enter an APO address. And just because it’s free doesn’t mean your order will be delayed or sent via a slow shipping method: it’ll be the same fast service everyone gets.

By the way: when we introduced our Brain Bag backpack in Universal Camouflage, we offered customers in active duty military the option to swap their current, non-camouflage Brain Bag for the Universal Camouflage version. That offer still stands. Email us for details.

TOM BIHN Brain Bag in Universal Camouflage and Free Shipping to APOs

Motley Zoo Animal Rescue, Lily, and 100 Cars for Good

Motley Zoo Animal Rescue

Motley Zoo Animal Rescue is dedicated to improving the lives of animals by alleviating their suffering and elevating their status in society through their rescue and rehabilitation with a focus on the education of the community on responsible pet ownership and animal welfare. What does Motley Zoo Animal Rescue have to do with us here at TOM BIHN? jme and Brian, founders of Motley Zoo, rescued and fostered Lily, one of the staff dogs here at TOM BIHN.

Lily, staff dog at TOM BIHN, rescued by Motley Zoo Animal Rescue
Lily, on a hike, proudly displaying her snow beard

We’re giving Motley Zoo a shout out today because they could use all of our help. As a finalist in Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good Program, Motley Zoo Animal Rescue is in the running to win a new Highlander SUV, which would provide them with a safe, reliable ride to help transport the dogs and cats that they rescue. Voting takes place one day only: June 12th, 7am – 9pm

How you can help:
Go to
Search for “Motley Zoo” in the top right field or click the light green “Finalists” tab and search there
Click the dog icon next to Motley Zoo Animal Rescue
Click “Remind Me” that pops up underneath the dog icon
A personal email will be sent to you on June 12th, so you can remember to vote
On June 12th, vote for Motley Zoo Animal Rescue

Tom’s first designs: down jackets

Tom Bihn in 1977 wearing one of the down jackets he made
Tom, at 17, wearing one of the down jackets he made.

Last week, we shared with you this note that Tom sent to Mary, who commented as she placed her order for a new Medium Cafe Bag that she found our website through Google, but knew Tom as he went to school with her kids and made down jackets for them. You told us you wanted to learn more about Tom’s days making down jackets, so here you go.

Tom’s first cutting table was the family’s Ping-Pong table flipped upside-down; his first sewing project was a down jacket made from a Frostline kit. It was hard work, but Tom was hooked. Soon after that, Tom met David Meeks, then-owner of Custom Alpine Equipment in Santa Cruz, California. Dave was an avid Yosemite climber and mountaineer who designed and made his own line of down jackets and sleeping bags; Tom purchased raw materials for his projects from Dave, and Dave was generous with his time, showing Tom industrial sewing tricks he’d figured out over the years.

Tom Bihn's mentor Dave Meeks
Dave Meeks

It wasn’t long before Tom was taking orders from friends, classmates and teachers for his down sleeping bags, jackets and vests, all designed and sewn one at a time by Tom. A sectioned-off part of the family garage became the sewing and down-filling room and was known affectionately as “Feather City.”

For his own use, Tom made various internal and external frame backpacks (including an external frame made of PVC pipe — not a good idea, it turned out), tents and sleeping bags, which he tested on backpacking trips in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific Northwest. Tom continued his exploits in the outdoors with the West Valley Hiking Club, hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island and a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington before he was 14.

Tom Bihn on the West Coast Trail

Over the years, into his teens and twenties, Tom taught himself the art of patternmaking and in the early 1980s began focusing his creativity on daypacks, briefcases and messenger bags.

Tom has a down jacket (not a skeleton) in his closet

Tom Bihn made down jackets when he was 16

An order came in today with this comment:

“I found your website through Google, but I knew Tom Bihn as he went to school with my kids and made down jackets and a comforter for us.”

We told Tom about Mary’s comment (he was out working in the factory) and he included the note in the photo above in her order. Tom was 16 when he made the down jackets and comforter for Mary’s family.

Light travel experts weigh in on packing techniques

kjm3579 posted in the TOM BIHN Forums that s/he was ready to buy an Aeronaut but was told online that it wasn’t ideal for the bundle packing method because it doesn’t have tie-down/compression straps (not accurate; Tom added removable tie-down/compression straps to the Aeronaut in 2010) and that it doesn’t have much “flat space” (this is why the Tri-Star, with its ample flat space, might be a better option for those who want to bundle pack.)

Frank II, owner and author of One Bag, One World (OBOW) replied:
“As the owner of a site dedicated to light, one bag travel, I can tell you my main bag is the Aeronaut and I travel wrinkle free. I also don’t bundle pack as I find it to be the least efficient way to pack. And contrary to the bundle packing cult, there are other ways to pack wrinkle free.”

moriond posted an excellent collection of links to other forum threads in which techniques such as rolling and bundle packing are discussed as well as the use of Packing Cubes to keep clothes wrinkle-free.

JLE and peregrina noted that Packing Cubes prevent their clothes from being wrinkled in the Aeronaut.

Lani, owner and author of The Travelite FAQ, posted:
“There are two big disadvantages to the bundle method (and I’ve read the book, which for the most part is pretty good):

#1: It prevents wrinkles… BUT ONLY FOR THE OUTER GARMENTS IN THE HUG/BUNDLE!! If you aren’t careful, the inside garments can easily fold into each other and get just as wrinkled as always.

#2: You wind up with one huge lump. You can’t get to an inner garment without unfurling the entire bundle. What this means is that when you get to your hotel/destination, you HAVE to unpack everything. Put them in dresser drawers or hang them, but they cannot stay in your carry-on.”

Read the full thread in the TOM BIHN Forums. Do you bundle pack? Roll? Use Packing Cubes? Join the discussion and share your experience with wrinkle-free packing for ultralight, one bag travel.

Removable tie-down or compression straps are included with the Aeronaut travel bag

Photo: Seattle factory continues to surprise

Earlier today in the post Photos: Synapse continues to surprise we mentioned that backorders for the Synapse would ship in the next 2-3 weeks. Hours later, our Seattle factory crew surprised us with many of the Synapse backpacks needed to fill those backorders — that’s weeks ahead of schedule. All backorders for the Synapse are expected to be filled by the end of this week.

TOM BIHN Synapse back in stock

Tom’s review of The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

At the TOM BIHN factory in Seattle, the crew gets a first look at The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
At the TOM BIHN factory in Seattle, June, Maria, Ying Xue, Fong, Lisa, Lee, and Sau Ling get a first look at The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau. We’re one of the companies featured in the book.

Chris Guillebeau’s new book The $100 Startup (#4 on Amazon as we type this) is not only an excellent primer for anyone who is dreaming of making the leap to being self-employed, but it’s also a great book for those of us who have been at it for a while and are hungry for a new point of view on business-as-usual. And I don’t say all this just because TOM BIHN is one of the featured businesses: I could hardly put Chris’s book down. It’s full of inspiring stories of the successes (and sometimes failures) of entrepreneurs, some who knew all along they wanted to own their own business, some who came to self-employment serendipitously — often by losing their 9–5 job.

Chris is a keen observer of business and of human nature: from dozens of interviews and the results of hundreds of surveys, Chris has distilled the essential questions you need to ask yourself before you start your own company. And if you answer yes, this book will give a foundation to begin the hard work and fun that’s in store for you.

He emphasizes that all of it can often be done with a pretty minimal investment (yes, sometimes for $100 or less). For me it was borrowing $900 from my brother to buy a new industrial sewing machine — since then it’s been largely “bootstrapping” ourselves up and growing the business with the growing demand. It’s been said that a new business is far more likely to die of indigestion than of starvation — in other words, staying a little hungry and lean will keep you smart and efficient. The businesses in The $100 Startup are living proof of this.

The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

The $100 Startup is not a road map to guaranteed financial success, but rather a how-to guide for your own off-trail adventure into the world of self-employment.

TOM BIHN in the $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Your Local Bookstore.

Watch The $100 Startup trailer and learn more at

And tell us about your small business, the one you’re going to start, or ask us questions about ours: join the discussion on The $100 Startup in the TOM BIHN Forums.