I am a forum newbie, so by way of introduction…
Hi, my name is Yoda Sloth and I have a bag problem. (They say the first step is admitting…) I love bags of all kinds – purses, totes, messenger bags, nice reusable grocery bags, luggage, baskets with handles – yes – ALL kinds of bags Once upon a time, I thought there was a “perfect” bag out there – suitable for all occasions. I only bought bags that might be “the one” and I was always disappointed. Eventually, I realized there was no one perfect bag – which liberated me to buy all bags I liked!! This has resulted in a huge bag glut over the past few years. So, recently I decided that maybe I should pare down to fewer bags, and invest in a couple of new ones that were more multi-purpose. And here I am at Tom Bihn. (BTW, I showed my daughter a couple of forum posts, and she said, “Oh, mama, you found your people…”)
It all began with the “laptop of evil”, the monstrosity of odd shape with the wide extra battery and great heft – close to 7.5 pounds with power cords. After years with my 13 inch MBP, I was sorrowful to receive this from my IT friends at work, but they reminded me it was powerful and only one pound heavier than the alternative… Sigh.
The LOE was not bad from home to work – I drive and it sits in the back seat. The LOE weighs nothing (in my mind) when I am not carrying it. But, then I began to travel for work, and the LOE had to be schlepped through airports and across towns. Turns out it is much heavier when carried long distances on one’s person. My solution was to put it in the front pocket of my roller bag so that I didn’t have to carry it, and take it out as needed. However, when I had to gate check the rolling bag, I had to take it out – then I had a largish personal item, a laptop, a water bottle and a coat/scarf if traveling in winter. I looking like an airport based homeless person with things everywhere (or an extremely inept traveler – which with over 1M miles on AA, I know should not be true…)
So, I set off to find the perfect bag to solve my problem (because, as we all know, the perfect bag will solve almost any problem). It needed to be large enough to hold all the stuff I normally carry on a plane (iPad, Kindle, full size earphones, water, snacks, scarf (to use as a blanket as needed), wallet, jewelry, glasses/contacts, etc.) + the LOE and related cables. Essentially, everything I was unable/unwilling to part with should my larger bag be relegated to the scary underside of the plane. I also had to be able to carry this bag into business meetings at my destination, thus was pretty convinced it could not be a backpack.
After hours and hours and days and days of searching – on both the Internet and actual stores, I found the perfect bag (by accident as it so often happens) – a lovely EC tote with enough room, a bit of beauty, and in my favorite tote shape (vs. briefcasey or messenger bag looking…) I took it home, loaded it up (everything fit!!!) and set off on my first trip (an overnight business trip to Lincoln, NE) Anyway, before I arrived at my gate on the outbound trip, I was almost in tears. Turns out, while everything fit in the bag of beauty, it was so heavy it felt as though my shoulder would rip away from my body. Sad face. Balancing it on top of my rolling bag merely resulted in it pulling my arm off from behind, and had the added distraction of slipping off and almost knocking me over.
At this point, I decided I might have to resort to a back-pack to solve my problem. Now, in general, I don’t like backpacks. I don’t like vertical bags of any sort – because it seems the bottom is always very far away, very dark, and filled with mysterious things that have slipped down there and cannot be recovered. I haven’t carried one since college (which is a scarily long time ago…) But if it would allow my arms to remain attached to my body, and my neck to not ache, a backpack I would find. But it needed to be able to look like a normal business bag so I could take it to meetings.
This is when I found Tom Bihn (you were all beginning to wonder when in the story we might get to that…) In my search for just such a bag, I found the Western Flyer and the TriStar. These seemed like they might work!! Since I love both data and bags, I spent hours pouring over the website, read every review I could find (thank you forum posters!!), and felt like I had collected an odd collection of friends from the forum posts. If not the WF or TriStar, I thought that maybe I would like the Brain Bag or the Synapse, or maybe… Since I live in Seattle, I decided a trip to the mother ship was in order, to test all 4 bags (and see all the other bags of beauty).
The night before I went, I laid out everything I carried, and I weighed it. I was trying to figure out if I really needed to carry all that weight. Turns out, not much could be removed – and the total was 15-20 pounds.
Since it was January 2, and my company was not really back at work, I went at lunch. Enter “Kyle the Patient”. The very, very patient. For those of you that have not been to the mother ship, the “store” is a fairly small room with bags hanging on the walls, and a big square table in the middle. I took over the table for almost 3 hours, with everything I carry spread out on it, I put it all in 4 bags, I asked Kyle (bless his heart) for every item TB makes (I think) – and he would say “Oh, its not out” and disappear into the “magical room of beautiful things” and emerge with the item requested. He would even go back and fetch bags out in a myriad of colors if I so required…
I tried the Western Flyer first, it seemed most likely to meet my exact needs – and after much cajoling, I got everything to fit in it. It felt “tight”, but workable. It looked small enough to carry into a meeting and not feel like I had a suitcase. And it came in the absolutely gorgeous Aubergine/Wasabi. Kyle thought I might like the TriStar because the fit was so tight in the WF. So, I loaded it up. True, there was more room – and I liked the flexibility it gave me, but there was no way around the fact it would look like a suitcase if I took it to the meeting (I am 5’6”, I am sure my 6’5” friends could pull it off, but I can’t).
Since neither one of those felt “perfect”, I decided to try the backpacks.
During this time, I began to understand various comments I had read on the forum. When people said that the Synapse “ate” things and/or contained a small black hole- I understood. I just kept putting things in it, (laptop, iPad, kindle, water bottle, 3-1-1 bag, wallet, 2 eye glasses cases, power strip, cables, bag of snacks, etc) and it just looked at me and laid their vaguely limply looking empty. This was nothing compared to the Brain Bag – where I put everything I ever carry into it and still had an entire main pocket empty. That felt good to me (I like having extra space in a bag to address whatever comes up) – but it looked so much like a back pack with straps everywhere – I just couldn’t imagine taking it into a meeting. Also, for whatever reason (perhaps it was the Aubergine/Wasabi colors talking) I was certain (while I was in the store) that the WF/TriStar were more comfortable to carry in the backpack configuration than the backpacks. (I should have noted Kyle’s look of surprise on that one with more caution.)
So, in the end, I got the WF, and a pile of accouterments to go with it, and went home. On my way home, I had a realization (late as always) – I don’t have to use the bag I carry 20 lbs of stuff in to go to a meeting. I only need my laptop, cable, iPad, wallet and water bottle for meetings. The rest of the stuff can stay in the car or at the hotel. So, with the perfect bag for meetings (collapsible, packable, carry just those things…) maybe, I could use the Brain Bag and just not take it into meetings….
That night, I packed the WF up, put it on my back, and walked around my house. In less than 5 minutes, I wanted to cry (but wait, we have been here before). This is when I figure out that I was solving the wrong problem. I don’t want to find a way to carry 20 pounds through an airport every time I travel for business. I want to have somewhere to put my laptop if I have to take it out of my rolling bag that it will easily fit. So, I needed space and the ability to carry weight – sometimes.
I was back to the Brain Bag. But, what to carry my LOE to meetings in? Could it go in its neoprene sleeve with a strap? That with a large purse? But where would I carry the large purse on the plane? I already have a rolling bag and wanted a Brain Bag. I searched all my favorite non TB bag sites, but did not find what I needed.
The very next morning, during a very long and often boring meeting, I began cruising TB again. Turns out the Large Café Bag was large enough to hold my laptop. Hmmmm…
So, I returned to the mothership (just over 24 hours after my first trip). I was hoping Kyle would not be there – vaguely embarrassing to say – “um, I know it took me 3 hours to decide just yesterday, but that was all wrong, so now I need more bags…” Fortunately, Matt was there. (although Kyle came through, and I looked sheepish). Since it was 20 minutes to close, I was more efficient. “Hi, I need the Brain Bag in Plum, a LCB in any purple or black you have in stock and whatever packing cube will fit in the brain Bag”. Trying the LCB, turns out I could fit the LOE in it, with power cord, water bottle and Side Effect (purse/wallet combo for those of us (mostly female) who are tormented by business clothes with no pockets…) Hurray!! It was small, light, would easily collapse to pack in another bag to get to the destination, and best of all, would let me carry the Brain Bag on the plane. For, at this point, I was convinced I loved the Brain Bag in Plum….
My only difficult decision was LCB in Black cordura with wasabi lining or black parapack with dyneema solar. It seemed like the parapack was “dressier” (is it only on the West Coast that one can say “I think para pack nylon is dressier than cordura and not get laughed at?”) – but I am not a big solar fan. (green/purple/black – these are my only colors). I went back and forth, and Matt, in a moment of wisdom (or maybe he just wanted to go home… ) said “since you have to come back again to return the WF and whatever else, maybe you should just get them both and deicide later”) So, that is what I did. I laid them both in the front seat next to me, so I could consider them as I drove home. As the sun was setting, I found the solar rather nice, and decided maybe it was the one…
When I finally got home, I loaded up the brain bag with all 18 lbs of stuff (yes, I weighed it, yes, it was still ½ empty), figured out how to use a waist strap, and carried it around. When I took it off 20 minutes alter, I was not in tears. Progress at last!!
Then, because I was curious, I decide to see if I could fit my clothes for an upcoming 2 day trip in it as well. Why not? So, I added the 6.5 lbs of clothes. (yes, 18 lbs of gear, 6 lbs of clothes) and it fit. (I could not get in the workout clothes and extra shoes though) Well, maybe I could have done it, but it was at 25 lbs by this point and had started looking “large”, so I knew I wouldn’t carry it that way. But I could if I needed to.
Then, I wanted to do a test run on the LCB. Turns out I like the cordura one better – it lays better (the flap stays down) when it’s full, and it doesn’t cave in as much on top when I take the laptop out of it. (Heavier material, holds its shape better, makes sense…)
But, then I put the Brain Bag next to my rolling suitcase, and it just looked huge. And strappy. I was having a hard time seeing myself meeting colleagues at the airport carrying such a bag. And anytime I put stuff in that extra space and looked in the mirror – I felt like a bit of a turtle (in danger of landing on my back and not being able to get back up) – or a college student off to travel the world with a huge pack.
So, I thought, maybe the Synapse 25? It was so smooth and elegant looking. It would carry all I need and look so much better doing it…
Monday, I called to see what color they had the Synapse in. Matt answered the phone and agreed to open up the shop (by appt only on Monday) for me to try the Synapse (he had steel dyneema/UV and Black parapack/Iberian in stock). 40 minutes later, I am there again. Yes, this is the 3rd trip in 3 business days. Don’t judge me . I should note here that either Matt really does care what bag I pick and how I will use it, or he feigns interest very, very well… On both trips, he seemed passionately concerned that I find the right bag and make a choice that worked well for me.
I decide the black Syn 25 calls to me (I can’t quite do the checkerboard dyneema on the outside of a big bag – personal preference), and while I am checking out, several pouches leap into my order, oh, and another stuff sack (I have found those very handy while moving stuff from bag to bag to bag to bag in my testing phase). And, another absolute shoulder strap for the extra LCB bag I bought, as a friend of mine wanted it from me as soon as he saw it…
Home I went and packed everything up in the Synapse 25. Perfection. Truly.
(well, actually, it would be perfect if it was lined with UV. It would be really close to perfect if it was lined with wasabi. With Iberian, well, maybe I can trade someday )
I returned home Friday from a two night business trip. I couldn't be happier with my choices. I will do a series of specific reviews from the trip, I think these:
1) Side Effect – the awesome purse substitute
2) Synapse 25 – my “one perfect bag”?
3) The Magic of Stuff Sacks
4) Packing Cube Shoulder Bag with clips as plane seat back bag
5) Large Café Bag as client facing option / companion to a backpack
And because we like pictures – here is what I got in the first 3 trips…