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

Empire Builder - Tom Bihn Briefcases and Messenger Bags

The Empire Builder is the result of three years of product development and 30 years of bag-building experience. It is uniquely styled, superbly functional, and built to endure years of abuse.

The asymmetrical front flap of the Empire Builder closes with a strong 2" side-release buckle and has three pockets: a horizontal zippered pocket to fit power supplies or small electronics; a vertical zippered pocket designed to store an iPhone for quick access; and a diagonal, open-top pocket for a plane ticket or any similarly sized items you might need quick access to.

Under the front flap, there is a large, zippered front pocket that extends almost the length of the bag, and behind that pocket, a large open-top pouch that has two organizational pockets for notebooks or small electronics, three pen pockets, and a business card pocket, plus an O-ring to which the included 8" Key Strap is attached. Key Straps are useful for keeping track of your keys (many folks leave their keys attached to the Key Strap) and can also be used to clip a pocket watch or Swiss Army knife to the bag. (Additional and extended-length Black and Color Key Straps can be purchased separately.)

The main compartment unzips low on the sides, exposing a "bellows" that allows access to the depths of the bag. The front, back, bottom, and sides of the Empire Builder are padded and stiffened by 1/4" (6 mm) closed-cell foam to protect its contents and maintain its sharp looks. Inside the main compartment are three hard plastic file dividers (included with the bag) that make organizing your papers a snap. They also help to keep those important papers from getting damaged by the other contents in the main compartment. The dividers stay put inside the bag but are easily removed if you don't want them. You can order Extra File Dividers for even greater organization.

Also in the main compartment, you will find clips for the optional Brain Cell laptop case, which, once clipped inside the Empire Builder, transforms it into a sophisticated and highly protective laptop briefcase. The Brain Cell is sized specifically for Apple laptops and PC laptops and provides the ultimate in laptop protection with soft, thick foam padding, hard, corrugated plastic walls, and a suspension system. We recommend using our Laptop Bag Fit Guide to determine which size of Brain Cell is right for your laptop.

The back of the Empire Builder features an open-top pocket for magazines or newspapers. It also has a slot that allows you to stack the bag on top of rolling luggage — slip the handle of the rolling luggage through the slot on the Empire Builder. The slot zips shut at the bottom so it can be used as a pocket when you're not using it to fit the bag on rolling luggage.

Did we mention the handles yet? They are amazingly comfortable — constructed of U.S. made, 1050 denier, high tenacity ballistic nylon rolled around high quality, 1/2" thick PORON® foam; they lie naturally together at the top of the bag, so there's no fishing around for your grip. The Empire Builder can also be carried across-body or over the shoulder with the optional Absolute Shoulder Strap. The Absolute Shoulder Strap, which combines a soft, durable neoprene pad with comfortable stretch backing, has a unique internal control-stretch system that has given it a well-earned reputation as the best shoulder strap available. We say it makes bags feel 50% lighter, which might sound like a bunch of marketing nonsense, except it's actually true.

The Empire Builder is made of our custom, U.S. made, high tenacity 1050 denier ballistic nylon and is lined with U.S. made 500 denier Cordura® nylon. It features #10 YKK Aquaguard® water-repellent zippers for the main compartment and exterior pockets. The front pocket under the flap has a #8 YKK coil zipper. A smaller version of the Empire Builder — the Zephyr — is also available.


U.S. made, high tenacity 1050 denier ballistic nylon exterior
500 denier Cordura® lining
Closed-cell foam front, back, bottom, and sides
PORON® foam handles
Tough Duraflex® buckle
#10 YKK Aquaguard® coil zippers on main compartment and flap pockets
#8 YKK coil zipper on front under-the-flap pocket


Made in USA
100% finished seams
24 reinforcing bar tacks


Dimensions: 18.25" x 12.75" x 7" / 465 x 325 x 180 mm
Weight: 4 lbs / 1805 grams
Volume: 1375 cubic inches / 22.5 liters (ASTM Standard Measure)

Videos and Customer Photos

Empire Builder walk-through by maverick.

View customer photos on Flickr.

External Reviews

As reviewed by Burney's Legal Tech Reviews:
"The inside is incredible - you get a cavernous hollow that will hold the largest consumer laptops of today. Unbelievably, I was able to fit not only my 17" HP laptop, but also my 15" Dell laptop, side-by-side. The most amazing part of this was that the Empire Builder wasn't bulging at the seams. It was heavy, but the Empire Builder zipped up perfectly and looked great.Ē Read the full review.

As reviewed by Mac Law Students:
"Reviewing a product designed for rigorous day-in, day-out use can be difficult, because thereís no real way to tell how durable it is without using it for an extended period of time. With that in mind, hereís an update to my December, 2007 review of the Tom Bihn Empire Builder bag: It still rocks. The zippers still work perfectly. The shoulder strap hasnít frayed in the slightest. The black metal fixtures are still black. The interior dividers still function exactly as they did 18 months ago. None of the colors have faded. I use this bag five days a week, hauling my 15″ MBP, books, power cord, pens, Moleskine, and assorted paraphernalia to and from work (on foot, not sitting in a car seat), to client meetings, and so on. Itís been on planes and trains (no boats yet), and it takes it all in stride." Read the full review.

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

people who have the Empire Builder say:

7+ Year Old Empire Builder. Like New.
"I purchased mine over 6 years ago for a trip to Hamburg to serve primarily as a briefcase. Since then it has seen daily use in rain/snow/extreme heat. Going in and out of the floorboards and trunks of cars, overhead bins (checked it many times) on planes, boats/ferrys and hotels all over the world. It is now my exclusive goto for 1-2 day trips, holding everything I need for business and wearables. So awesome to travel light. The Absolute neoprene shoulder strap has been a life saver more times than I could begin to count!!! Standing in the endless line, or running to catch a connecting flight at a gate on the dark side of the moon, the Empire Builder loaded beyond capacity, with even more stuff strapped to the side and somehow i have not once lost the circulation to my arm/shoulder and my shoulder is never jacked at the end of a 12hr travel day." — posted by mrmajestic

Empire Builder ~ 1mo in.
"In Germany, I found the bag wonderful. It had space to carry the extra stuff I'd need on various days. Be it papers, or stuff to give out when i presented. Even the little pockets to put receipts in were nice. Everything just made sense. In fact, I had pockets with nothing in them, which is *good*. Because if things came up, I was ready to deal with them. Everything had a place.... And back in the States, that's how I'd still summarize the bag "everything has a place." If I could rewind time, I'd not order the extra dividers, and I'd order an extra keystrap. But that's all the adjustments I'd make. The bag is 100% the right choice for my needs. Small enough that I don't mind carrying it, unless I need it to be "large" in which case I get what I asked for." — posted by phreaker

Empire Builder & Zephyr: A Comparison, Part I
"Trying to choose between the Empire Builder and the Zephyr? Wondering if one is too big, or the other too small, for your daily haul? Until a couple of days ago, so was I. The good folks at Tom Bihn gave me the opportunity to try both of them out--thanks, Darcy!--so I figured I'd post a few pics of the two bags side by side for anyone else who might be going back and forth between them." — posted by Zasky

My new Empire Builder: Deliverance!
"The bag itself is a wonder. High quality materials. Higher quality construction. Design that is intelligent and inspired. my two adult children have seen and handled the bag, and I think I'm going to have to put it in my will. I'm confident I'll have it for years, no matter what my commute does to it. I have a Dell laptop, charger, Blackberry and charger, personal cell phone and charger, DayTimer notebook, assorted keys, cables, books, magazines, train schedules, lunch, bills and other mail I haven't gotten to and more. And the bag isn't even half full, even with the number 4 horizontal brain cell I also bought. I think my laptop actually sighed with relief when I slid it in to the brain cell." — posted by rjthomas

"I've had an Empire Builder since Dec 2007, purchased at TB's most excellent factory store. In the time since, I've been through a couple of jobs and laptops, with variously more and less travel, and the EB has been a champ. The current position requires that I carry two machines - an older Dell and current Lenovo - two phones, and various accessories (power supplies, USB gear, cell-data card, et cetera). I'd been considering replacing the EB with a backpack, but found that everything fit more or less neatly into the EB. It's heavy but it holds everything and then some. It's had about 110k air miles since I bought it, and it still looks brand-new. Way to go, TB. I can't recommend this highly enough." — posted by Matt Hayde

Read more customer reviews posted in our forums.

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

Empire Builder

Select a color
(Main Body/Flap/Lining):

Backorder info

Add an Absolute Shoulder Strap:

Add a Horizontal Brain Cell:

Add a size of Cache:

Add a Freudian Slip:

Add a Camera I-O:

Add extra File Dividers:


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

Email this Share via... Pinterest Twitter Facebook Tumblr

Horizontal Brain Cell
Horizontal Brain Cell: $65.00
Absolute Shoulder Strap
Absolute Shoulder Strap: $30.00
Zephyr: $180.00
Horizontal Freudian Slip
Horizontal Freudian Slip: $50.00
Western Flyer
Western Flyer: $230.00
Extra File Dividers
Extra File Dividers: $9.00
Checkpoint Flyer
Checkpoint Flyer: $220.00
Tri-Star: $315.00
Ballistic Nylon Organizer Pouches
Ballistic Nylon Organizer Pouches: $9.00 - $16.00