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Thread: My Top 5 Tom Bihn Bags

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    My Top 5 Tom Bihn Bags

    Over the past 3 years, I have had the opportunity to use many of the Tom Bihn bags. Without question, these bags are the most well made bags on the market and, when I am shopping for a bag, I have gotten to the point where I don’t even look anywhere else. Over several years, I have used many other brands only to be disappointed in how well they hold up. For me, plain and simply, if Tom Bihn doesn’t make it, it is not worth owning.

    Having owned or used these bags, I have made a “Top 5” list. I know everyone that uses these bags may have a different list, but when I first started shopping at Tom Bihn, I think this may have been helpful. First, I’ll give you a few details about myself that should shed some light on my choices. I am a working professional that travels occasionally for work (about 3 times per year). I do bring a bag to work each day that either contains my tablet or labtop. I often have multiple journals with me as well. I also travel with my family (2 children and wife) about 6-7 times per year. Of those 6-7 trips, about 4 are for long weekends with extended family. The remaining 2-3 trips are typically 1-2 weeks in duration.

    Now to my Top 5…

    5. Zephyr. While I really like the Empire Builder, I find that it is just a little too big for me. If you have a large labtop, then the Empire builder is your choice; however, I carry my tablet much more often than my labtop and the Zephyr is the perfect size. I love the organization. I use the outside pockets frequently, especially the zipper-less/open front pocket to slide something into temporarily if my hands are full. My only complaint would be that there is not a spot for a water bottle; however, I really like how professional it looks and I think adding a water bottle pocket to the outside would detract from this.

    4. Camera I-O Bag. I am an amateur photographer, but have several lenses and accessories for my DSLR. It just holds everything perfectly. I love the versatility of the bag as the dividers are adjustable. I also love that the bag can be attached to the inside of the Brain Bag (and other bags) with Annex Clips and has the optional Quiver for my tripod. If I had one complaint, it would be that I would like to have a couple of O rings on the inside of the bag to attach a pouch or two.

    3. Ego. The organization of the Ego is unmatched. There is just a plethora of pockets. If you add the Horizontal Freudian Slip, you have even more organization. The interchangeable stripe is a very nice touch. It fits my 15” MacBook Pro and has room to spare for my tablet. I love the 2 water bottle pockets – I typically use one of them for my umbrella. While more casual then the Zephyr, I think the black still looks professional. If you have a larger labtop, the Super Ego is your choice, but I find that it is a little too big for me.

    2. Aeronaut. I have used the Tristar and Western Flyer. I really like all 3 bags. The Tristar and Western Flyer definitely provide more organization. It may be a function of how I pack, but I just find the Aeronaut to be my “go to” travel bag. It seems to fit everything that I need. I have had multiple instances where I have packed my Tristar, only to unpack it and use my Aeronaut. I like the cavernous main compartment. The end compartments are perfect for 1) my second pair of shoes and 2) toiletries. There are several O rings which are great for holding the multiple pouches that I typically bring along. As with the Tristar and Western Flyer, the backpack straps are a lifesaver when running to your connecting flight through the airport. It cannot secure a labtop with Annex Clips as the Tristar can, but I am typically carrying another bag if traveling with my labtop. My wife has one as well and we both love these bags.

    1. Brain Bag. This was the first bag that I purchased from Tom Bihn and is still my favorite. Versatility, durability, comfort. It is the Swiss Army Knife of backpacks. If I have a lot of gear to pack such as a labtop and Camera I-O bag, it rises to the challenge with room to spare. If I just have my tablet, I cinch down the straps and it collapses to the perfect size that I need. The front pockets provide an adequate level of organization. Need more organization? Just add the Vertical Freudian Slip. Need to carry 2 labtops? No problem, it’s covered. Every time I need to fit just one more thing into my luggage, the Brain Bag always seems to have that little extra room to spare. For me, it is the perfect bag. No complaints. Ever.

    Honorable mention: Absolute Strap (obviously not a bag, but it is so good it has to be mentioned), ID and Large Café Bags (I don’t use these but my wife uses them nearly everyday and loves them both).
    Navy Brain Bag, Navy/Iberian Aeronaut, Black/Steel Tristar, Black/Black/Steel Ego, Several Organizer Pouches

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    I'll play too!

    Heavy packing category (Cordura Bags)

    Brain Bag: Quoting phillyfan because his description fits my experience with the bag: "This was the first bag that I purchased from Tom Bihn and is still my favorite. Versatility, durability, comfort. It is the Swiss Army Knife of backpacks. ...The front pockets provide an adequate level of organization. Need more organization? Just add the Vertical Freudian Slip. Need to carry 2 labtops? No problem, it’s covered. Every time I need to fit just one more thing into my luggage, the Brain Bag always seems to have that little extra room to spare. For me, it is the perfect bag. No complaints. Ever."


    Large Cafe Bag: Perfect travel companion to the Brain Bag. (I even matched the color)

    Swift: Perfect car travel companion for the first two, great library, book, craft or yarn store jaunt


    Light packing category (Dyneema Bags)

    Aeronaute: The ultimate maximum carry on in a lightweight profile.

    Tri-Star: The ultimate organized carry on in a lightweight profile.

    Synapse 19: The ultimate ultra light carry on for people who wear small and medium clothes.

    Ultimate Every Day Carry for iPad sized electronic. Field Journal Notebook and paperwork in a Large Pouch.

    Small Cafe Bag: Ultimate stylish minimalist purse.


    Traveling with the Tri-Star, Synapse 19 and Small Cafe Bag in Dyneema gives one such sense of freedom, it is really empowering.

    I last visited the Seattle store with a 40 pounds Brain Bag/Large Cafe Bag pair, I can't wait to go back with the Tristar, Synapse 19 and Small Cafe Bag in Dyneema all 15 pounds of them!
    Last edited by backpack; 07-13-2013 at 09:37 AM.

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    Great reviews! Your writing just compelled me to buy yet another bag. (Not that I don't already have too many.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by backpack View Post
    I'll play too!
    I last visited the Seattle store with a 40 pounds Brain Bag/Large Cafe Bag pair, I can't wait to go back with the Tristar, Synapse 19 and Small Cafe Bag in Dyneema all 15 pounds of them!
    How comfortable or not comfortable was carrying that heavy of a load with the Brain Bag?

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    Registered User bchaplin's Avatar
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    As a short (5'3") woman who spends a lot of time commuting back and forth to work on the train, and also flies about 4-6 times a year, my list:

    1. Synapse 19. I don't always feel like carrying a backpack but it is SO comfortable while walking. It will hold anything I might possibly need, including gym clothes (sans shoes) or an extra fleece. My pocket pouch with the train pass fits perfectly in the small front pocket and is quick to extract. It's easy to grab items on the very crowded train without rummaging through the entire backpack, because of all the pockets, and is slim enough to wear even while threading my way through the crowd. It's also a good travel bag.

    2. Co-Pilot. This bag is really growing on me. I bought it for plane travel, but it's an excellent commuting bag if I don't need to carry too much. The camera fits nicely in one of the front pockets.

    3. Side Effect. I love this thing. It keeps all my essential stuff and makes it easier to switch bags. It can hold my wallet, iPhone and Kindle, and makes a great lunch or run-into-the-grocery store bag.

    4. Western Flyer. Small enough for me to handle without feeling weighed down in airports like Reagan National, where you have to walk for what seems like miles to get from the gate to the metro station. I have the ballistic version, but am considering selling it and getting one in dyneema.

    5. Smart Alec. Also an excellent travel bag. Perfect when I'm flying somewhere for the weekend and expect to do a lot of walking. I usually carry something small to hold my in-flight stuff, as the Smart Alec usually goes in the overhead and it's awkward (for me anyway) to retrieve things from it. The dyneema version.
    Last edited by bchaplin; 07-13-2013 at 04:29 PM.

  6. #6
    JLE
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    Great thread! Here's my list. [Context - 5'6" woman who travels by plane about 15 times a year and does about 4 or 5 car trips.]

    1. Western Flyer (ballistic nylon). It's light and durable. When fully packed it is not too heavy or bulky to shoulder-carry comfortably (mine usually works out to around 7kg). It doesn't bulge like the TriStar can when over-packed. Its internal organisation is ideal for my packing style. I have the rolling luggage sleeve version and like others I love the two internal pockets in the rear compartment. It does double duty as my main bag for short trips or my carry on bag when i have checked a larger bag on longer trips (or trips with the kids). And it fits everywhere. Except on the overhead luggage rack of a French TGV. I checked last week. No luck.

    2. Synapse 19. The perfect gym bag when I don't need to carry shoes. It's the most comfortable backpack I've ever tried. My young sons each have one too and they love them. They especially love all the pockets and so do I. The only reason I haven't put the Synapse 25 on here as well is that I haven't had a chance to road test mine yet!

    3. Aeronaut (ballistic nylon). Just the ideal sized, most flexible bag for travel. I use mine for car trips because I find it a little heavy to carry and deal with when flying. But I am constantly amazed at how much I can fit in a bag which looks smaller than most wheeled IATA-compliant cabin trolleys.

    4. The 3D packing cube. These are the best! I have them in wasabi nylon/Dyneema, Iberian nylon/Dyneema, mesh and original clear. They are the Goldilocks of organiser cubes. I use the Dyneema ones for non-liquid toiletries, larger first aid kits etc, the mesh ones for chargers and cables and the clear one for 3-1-1. They fit beautifully into all my bags.

    5. Lastly, in honour of its imminent retirement, the Imago. It's my ideal sized messenger bag. It works as a casual computer bag for my MBA 11", and is a great day bag when travelling.
    Last edited by JLE; 07-14-2013 at 08:37 PM.

  7. #7
    TOM BIHN Crew (we work here) Darcy's Avatar
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    I tried to put these in order of 1 - 5, but couldn't pick favorites. So they're listed here from smallest to largest.

    Shop Bags
    Yeah, so, I have so many of these I'm not even going to try to count them. I even have a Small in Sapphire. I keep them by the front door and in my car and folded up not-so-neatly inside of my bigger bags. They're great for grocery shopping (Seattle, like many other cities, has banned plastic shopping bags) and storing a bunch of last-minute-I'm-running-out-the-door-grabbing-things stuff. I like to give them as gifts because most people I know could use one (or two, or six).

    Little Swift in Cork
    The bag I take pretty much everywhere. I get a lot of compliments on it -- people are pretty wowed by the Cork fabric.

    Synapse 19
    My go-to dayhiking pack for summer hikes or shorter all season hikes. See here.

    Smart Alec
    For hikes on which I'm taking camera gear, winter hikes, or hikes where I purposefully want to carry more stuff and therefore more weight (it's not always a bad thing). Super comfortable and can hold a lot of stuff (now even more with the addition of the Modular Pockets).

    Aeronaut
    Whether I'm carefully packing stuff or throwing it all in at the last minute, I love using my Aeronaut. I pretty much never unpack completely -- I just live out of it. It's great for road trips, car camping, plane trips, everything.
    Current Carry: Skookum Dog Citizen Canine prototype, Founder's Briefcase (every day carry), Small Cafe Bag (every day carry), Shop Bags (groceries, extra random stuff), Aeronaut 45 (travel), Synapse 19 (day hikes), Smart Alec (longer day hikes), Skookum Dog Road Duffel (Medium) (travel), Clear Organizer Wallet, Travel Stuff Sacks, Organizer Cubes

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    Registered User PaulT00's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darcy View Post
    Whether I'm carefully packing stuff or throwing it all in at the last minute, I love using my Aeronaut. I pretty much never unpack completely -- I just live out of it. It's great for road trips, car camping, plane trips, everything.
    Funny - in the obstacle course of clutter which is my home at the moment, I too never unpack the Aeronaut. Uncluttering fanatics talk of 'a place for everything, and everything in its place' (sometimes abbreviated to 'PEEP') - several things do have their places and for some of them, that place is 'in the Aeronaut'. It saves a certain amount of worry to know absolutely that I can find [x] at a moment's notice, not to mention being much quicker to pack!
    A45 crim/stl TS navy/solr A30 aub/wsbi S19 nrdc/stl P nrdc/solr CP blk/stl; SE wsbi CQPC ibrn, solr Ri aub/stl 3DCC card TSS4 wsbi K card TT solr,nrdc,blk CC card/stl PCBP solr PP navy QK frst,cyte,aub + loadsa cubes!

  9. #9
    TOM BIHN Crew (we work here) Darcy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PaulT00 View Post
    It saves a certain amount of worry to know absolutely that I can find [x] at a moment's notice, not to mention being much quicker to pack!
    Yeah! I keep a set of toiletries in the Aeronaut at all times for that very reason.
    Current Carry: Skookum Dog Citizen Canine prototype, Founder's Briefcase (every day carry), Small Cafe Bag (every day carry), Shop Bags (groceries, extra random stuff), Aeronaut 45 (travel), Synapse 19 (day hikes), Smart Alec (longer day hikes), Skookum Dog Road Duffel (Medium) (travel), Clear Organizer Wallet, Travel Stuff Sacks, Organizer Cubes

  10. #10
    Registered User dorayme's Avatar
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    For me, it's hard to narrow down, but here are my top 5

    Swifts (both sizes) in Hemp, Cork and Ballistic: The Swift started me down the path of TB bag ownership and I haven't turned back since. I have used a LS or Swift as my EDC ever since I got the first one, and I don't foresee a time when I will set them aside for any length of time and move to something else. Other bags just don't allow for the flexibility, comfort and carrying capacity of the Swift family. I used to be a religious purse carrier, then I had children and switched to a wallet contained in the diaper bag. I sprung for my first LS as I transitioned from diaperbagdom. If it were possible for me to have another little one, I would still use the Swift, just add in some organization for baby's things.

    Shop Bag (both sizes, all colors but sapphire): I love using these for the obvious/shopping, but they are versatile for so much more. Anytime I need to have a tote to bring extra things along, bring extra things home, even move things from room to room, the Shop Bags are my go to bag. The Shop Bag is perfect for what would fit into the plastic t-shirt bag and the Large Shop Bag is equivalent to a paper grocery bag. The interior pockets and o-rings add organization and function, the padded handles comfort and the ability to bear the weight on my shoulder, and lastly the Dyneema fabric is both durable, lightweight, pleasant to look at, and protective. Can't say enough about the Shop Bags, I heart them.

    Aubergine/Wasabi Side Effect: This little gem at first didn't have a place in my heart, but I gave one a chance before they were redesigned and somehow we now own 4. They are excellent little bags to bring the essentials in a handsfree way, the stow inside of the other bags. They look cute worn or carried, and they have saved my iPhone and wallet numerous times from being soaked in a downpour. The newly redesigned model is so sleek, I love the changes!

    Ballistic Steel/Dyneema UV Western Flyer: The best suited travel bag for most of the travel that I do. I in general travel by car. The duration is usually less than 4 days. My travel is predominantly casual in nature for leisure/vacation/conference/family visits. The WF is excellent to allow for just enough, but not too much. I have learned how to either roll or bundle to achieve wrinkle free, clothes and a balanced load and I never have any problems carrying this bag. I feel like Tom designed my WF just for me!

    UV Dyneema Synapse 19: When the others aren't the right choice because I need to carry hands free, or have everything zipped up, my Synapse 19 is my goto bag. Great as a daypack at a museum or zoo with the littles. Great for the pool or gym. Even useful at the library or for a nature hike, I love my S 19. It's low enough profile that I don't feel like it's an obstruction, it feels more like a natural extension. I can move freely while carrying it and not disturb my surroundings. I can carry it loaded up for hours without it feeling like a hinderance. I keep the sternum strap attached and frequently use it to stabilize the bag.

    I have other TB bags that I enjoy and love, but these are my favorite 5 (and I know I cheated on the Swifts and Shop Bags), but who's going to get me? I am after all an honorary member of the bag police!
    Si non aptus in Peram, ego opus ad buy magis quisque.
    my bags: S, LS, KP, mg'11, S, LS, COW, MCB, LS, COW, LSB, SE, LSB, TT, SB, SE, TSS4, PCSB, PCBP-A, SC, LS, BB, SCB, FJN, BB, FoJ, RS, F.O.T., LSB, S25, PCSB K, LS, I w/AS, A, PP, RiPad, FJN, SE, 3-DC, MCB, PCBP-T/WF, PCSB, CQPC, S19, LSB, SB, TT, SE, S, P, WF, UT, LSB, CQPC, PCBP-T/WF, RiPad, SB, LSB

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by chrisc983 View Post
    How comfortable or not comfortable was carrying that heavy of a load with the Brain Bag?
    I used the Brain Bag/Cafe Bag with that capacity (40 pounds Brain Bag/Large Cafe Bag pair) or even heavier from the day I got it for all my domestic flights, car trips and train travel.

    Once, I was able to run from one side of the Dulles terminal to the other and barely made my flight. I had arrived early but got confused about gate numbering.

    I love the Brain Bag with two Packing Cube Backpacks for Aeronaut and 2 Packing Cube Shoulder Bags.

    The 3-1-1 went into the Large Cafe Bag along with the netbook and other things.

    I used a Sapphire pair and my husband a Steel one. We are both average height, he has an average frame, I have a big seat and a wide back to match, so for me, carrying a backpack is no problem.


    Last spring, I went on an international trip. Earlier, while booking, I found out about the drastic luggage requirement of international airlines including weight and size requirement.

    I went onto many travel forums and website to find out as much as possible about it.

    Tom Bihn Crew came up with the wonderful Travel Dyneema and I bought an Aeronaute and a Tristar in this fabric.

    I can fit my curvy frame clothes without trouble and the bags are less than 14 pounds each.

    The Packing Cube Backpacks for Aeronaut/Tristar and Packing Cube Shoulder Bags are perfect with my Travel Dyneema Aeronaute and Tristar.

    I have only one problem, I really really love the Tristar best.

    To me, it is perfect match to my Brain Bag, the compartments means easy organizing and the wonderful backpack straps enable easy airport and stations trek.

    However, it can also be turned to a stylish luggage/briefcase piece and is very easy to carry by the handles, especially at 14 pounds, I can even rotate which handles (top to side or vice versa) I use while walking in airports (for example when there is a flat escalator or a line coming up, I switch to the side handle to be able to rest the bag in a north/south position)
    eWalker likes this.

  12. #12
    Registered User Tizi's Avatar
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    Here are my top 5:

    1. Synapse 19 - I use this a my EDC. It's the perfect combination of size and function
    2. Co-Pilot - This is my gadget bag for trips, etc. All of my electronics fit perfectly in this bag
    3. Tr-Star - This is my business travel bag. I can easily fit 3-5 days of clothing in it as well as other items
    4. SCB/SE (tie) - I use these for short excursions
    5. Aeronaut - This is my personal travel bag
    eWalker likes this.
    Black/Steel TS, Black/Steel A45, Black Dyneema/Wasabi A30, Black/Black/Steel Brain Bag, Black/Steel Co-Pilot, Black/Steel Pilot, Black/Steel Synapse 19, Black Dyneema/Wasabi Synapse 19, Black/Steel Cadet 11, Black/Steel Imago, Black Dyneema/Wasabi MCB, Navy/Cayenne and Black/Solar SCB, Black/Wasabi and Navy/Iberian SE and many pouches in various sizes. Tom Bihnaholic.

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    I only have two TB bags, both of which I'm well pleased with. CoPilot w/ absolute which is my edc bag and is the best I've found for that job yet, though I am giving thought to getting a Synapse 19 just because I sometimes need more than the CP can hold. Also have a TriStar with a full set of packing cubes and like it very much. In the few trips I've taken so far it's really improved the journey by making it easy to stay organized and enabling travel without an additional computer bag. The packing cubes really make the bag shine.
    eWalker likes this.

  14. #14
    Volunteer Moderator Badger's Avatar
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    Here are my top 5 (and I'm not sure why I didn't respond earlier, given my love of lists):

    5. Indigo/Steel MCB. A small bag perfect for light loads and sneaking contraband (like a Klean Kanteen) into the movies.
    4. Wasabi Packing Cube Backpack. I use this as my bag if I'm doing a casual overnight trip with no electronics. Minimalist perfection.
    3. Steel Dyneema/Steel Tri-Star. Perfect with #4 above and an excellent single bag for conferences, as others have noted.
    2. Black/Iberian Aeronaut. Capacious black hole of a bag that has never let me down on trips of anywhere from 3-22 days. This color combo is also the bomb.
    1. Steel Dyneema/Solar Synapse 19 (old school style). I carry this bag every day, and it is my soul mate. It's compact, well-organized, and. It completes me.

    I feel sort of bad for leaving my Western Flyer off the list. I think it would be on the list except that I thought I'd try something different and got one with a UV interior, which I have learned startles and upsets me every time I see it. I am hoping for a run of Nordic/Solar WFs so I can bequeath the Steel/UV WF to someone who is a bit more into purple.

  15. #15
    Registered User bltkmt's Avatar
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    I am a bit amazed/surprised that the Synapse 19 is so well represented on these lists, but not the Synapse 25?
    eWalker likes this.
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