An Aeronaut for Iceland?
This summer I'm planning a two-week trip to Iceland. The goal is to avoid having to drag wheeled luggage through puddles, mud or snow, and in general to have a light and manageable bag - particularly important because I'll be circumnavigating the country by bus, with only a night or two spent in each place. Last time I went to Iceland I brought a small (about 25L), no-name convertible wheeled backpack, which I'm still rather fond of, but it's starting to wear out and really it's a tad too small for a week-plus trip. So I thought I would make the most of Icelandair's limited carry-on rules, and try Tom Bihn!
After hours and hours of poring over reviews, both here and everywhere else on the internet, I finally decided to order an Aeronaut and try it out. All the information was so interesting to me that I thought I'd try to give back a little by offering my own thoughts.
To start off with: everything everyone says about the quality and design of Tom Bihn bags is absolutely true and not exaggerated. The aubergine and wasabi fabric is even more gorgeous in person. The Aeronaut is impeccably made and a pleasure to handle. I spent quite a while when I first got the bag just turning it over and pondering all the design choices that went into it. Tom Bihn bags easily fulfill both halves of William Morris's famous credo: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
One of the difficult aspects of assessing a bag like the Aeronaut is (as others have said) its mysterious TARDIS-like size-shifting qualities. Look at it in the box, it looks small. Look at it next to a carry-on roller bag, it still looks small. Start packing it, OMG, it is epic. Try to pick it up, it is unwieldy. Put it on your back and walk around for a while, it's surprisingly comfortable. Look in the mirror while you're wearing it on your back, and there's a certain aspect of looking as if you're off to the Himalayas.
Though is it really that big? A couple of days ago I found myself in a bus station (without the Aeronaut) and spotted some duffles being toted that I thought were about the same size. When I got home I realised that the Aeronaut is actually about half the size I remembered it being. So oddly, even having it in front of me hasn't helped me to pin down how big it really is.
Obviously the only solution is to try test packing it. So I did, imagining that I was off on my trip to Iceland. Here's what I put in it...
18 oz water bottle
Jagbags silk sleep sack
Rough Guide to Iceland
4 polo necks (one wool, one cashmere, two Icebreaker merino)
2 pairs trousers (jeans and hiking pants)
Icebreaker long underwear
2 pairs hiking socks
1 pair long Smartwool socks
One packing cube:
7 pairs underwear
2 pairs short socks
Another packing cube:
(For reference, I'm a 5'8" woman and wear a size small in most things. Not petite but my clothes don't take up a huge amount of room either.)
It was a pleasure to pack. I love the depth and scope of the main compartment and the easy access to it. I love the shape of the end pockets, which are very useful, and not only for shoes. It was great fun putting everything in!
I should note (and this is important) that this is more than I had planned to bring with me. I wanted to give the bag a sensible test of what it could hold, and got it to the point of "mostly full," but still with significant wiggle room, and definitely not anywhere close to crammed. In particular there was still a good bit of room in both end pockets. And all of the clothes fit in without any special effort in terms of rolling, bundle packing, or use of packing cubes apart from the little ones.
Which is good, right? Yes and no.
Though some people are really dedicated one-baggers, I do like having a personal item with me on the plane, just for the things that I'll want when I'm in my seat. If I did this, the water bottle, notebook, guidebook and Kindle would come out of the end compartments, leaving them practically empty. I suppose that means that I could take a pair of sandals along, or transfer the little packing cubes into the end pockets and fit my raincoat into the main compartment, but I worry that this starts to creep into "excuses for overpacking" territory.
I picked up my packed Aeronaut and carried it around the house for a while. Once I hoisted it onto my back it really was fairly comfortable. I could take stairs at full speed, loiter around without longing to put it down, and generally do all the sorts of things that you want to be able to do when carrying your luggage. It holds its shape remarkably well despite the lack of rigid structure, which is something that had really worried me. Having said this, it did sag away from my back a bit, and I suspect that leaving it half-packed would exacerbate this.
Because of how long the Aeronaut is, I wanted to shorten the backpack straps quite a bit, in order to get the bottom of it to ride closer to the small of my back. This was only partially successful: it meant that the waist strap ended up somewhere around my lower ribcage, so I let them out again. The low-riding nature of the Aeronaut was something that I had noticed from pictures previously, and it's not as if I have a particularly short torso either.
I did order the Absolute Strap as well. It's a magnificent construction but honestly I can't contemplate carrying even a mostly-full Aeronaut on one shoulder for long. Nor would I really want to have to stash it away when I'm not using it - it's just so big, really a little unwieldy. So I think it's not for me.
So, what's the verdict on the Aeronaut? I'm torn. I'm already beginning to bond with the thing emotionally. I just want to sit it on my bed, fill it with my clothes, and admire it. But I'm not all that keen on the idea of wrestling it through the airport, onto buses, and so on, which may be the key activity I should be considering! It seems possibly just a bit too much bag for me.
There's an argument for keeping it and simply under-packing it. I do have the capacity to exercise restraint when packing, and it would always be nice to have extra room for souvenirs and suchlike. On the other hand, I've been moving towards a more lightweight style of travel, and it seems silly to have a bag with much more capacity than I want to be regularly using.
Therefore... I have just ordered a Tristar. I wasn't initially keen on it because of the three-compartment structure - arguably I should be waiting for the much-anticipated Aeronaut Junior - but it seems to be closer to the size that I want, and hopefully easier to handle. Also it seems as if it will have the rubber-side-in zippers, which I like the idea of.
For the moment I'm holding onto my Aeronaut. I'll report back when I get the Tristar (next Monday apparently) and see how the two stack up against one another!
[In the mean time, I do have some pictures of the Aeronaut and the clothes that I packed in it, which I'll share once I've got them off my camera.]
Not to muddy the waters, but they are coming out with a smaller Aeronaut I think in about 3 more weeks? We don't know specifics such as size or capacity yet, but there has been some buzz here on the forums for this rumored Aeronaut junior . . .
Yeah, I was thinking about waiting for that. Then I read discussion that a smaller Aeronaut was on the way back in 2010 or 2011 and that never materialised, so I didn't quite know what to think. I guess if the smaller Aeronaut comes out and it's the right size for me, I could always return both bags and make a third order.
(Also I thought if I waited too long to order a Tristar, it might go out of stock in aubergine/wasabi. Which would have been terrible!)
Darcy has alluded/referred to a prototype of the Aeronaut Jr. In the last month or so. So we await its arrival soon, for reals (as we would say when we were kids). That aside, i'm with you regarding the compartmentalization in the WF and the TS. I'd rather not have it. I don't want to be opening different compartments to find clothes and gear all of which are again packed in cubes, pouches, etc. Also I want the structure of an open-topped bag that can serve as my "dresser" when traveling. And it's footprint is small. I also find the Aeronaut too big for my needs. I did order a beautiful nordic/solar TS in the recent past, hoping I would fall in love and hence put a stop to my incessant waiting and longing for a smaller Aeronaut. But, it was not to be. I returned the gorgeous TS and returned to my status of waiting and longing.
Three more weeks? Be still, my heart!
Originally Posted by Melissa
I've been thinking many of the same things about the Aeronaut. I'm also 5'8" and it's great to hear how it carries on a woman about my height. I've been wondering about that. And I've got the same feeling about the compartmentalization of the Tri-Star. I'd love to hear your verdict when you get your TS. Maybe I can get over all those durn zippers (I do NOT like having lots of external pockets, especially in something I plan to carry on my back) in exchange for what seems like the right sized bag. While I know I can underpack the Aeronaut, I'm one of those who feels compelled to fill the bag at hand. Plus, with no air travel on the horizon I'm hoping to see that smaller Aeronaut appear before I need it.
Regarding the wanting a personal item on the plane issue, if you're not overpacking the Aeronaut you could always use something like a Ristretto or a Small Cafe Bag as your personal item, stash it on top of the main compartment and take it out when on the plane... I recently did an overnight stay with my Aeronaut, and was able to put my EDC Pilot in the main compartment for ease of carrying all-in-one, then take it out at my destination for ease of getting stuff done.
I have to say I'm a great fan of my Aeronaut - I bought it off eBay a while back, from another regular on this forum. I bought a TriStar at the same time, from the same lady. But I have to guiltily admit that I have yet to use the TriStar in anger - the Aeronaut is just so perfect for my needs! So the poor TriStar languishes in a corner of my office, no doubt longing for the day it will be packed up and taken on an adventure...
Just for size reference, I'm a 6'2" male who takes an XL in most things, so the scale of the Aeronaut is probably to me as the forthcoming Aeronaut Junior might be hoped to be to the original poster. The longest trip I've done with my Aeronaut is a 5 days/4 nights business trip, including carrying laptop and paperwork, plus yoga mat and all the usual impedimenta - and it still had room to spare. Like Issigonis' Mini, the Aeronaut is a miracle of packaging.
binje, glad to hear that my review was helpful to you! In terms of sizing, the Aeronaut wasn't overly huge on my back - if you loaded it up as listed above, and asked me to walk a mile with it, I could certainly do so without much trouble. To that extent I'm being overpicky, but if I'm going to have a bag this nice, I want to have it suit me perfectly. As it is, it ends up somewhere near the boundary of "unwieldy."
I'll certainly report back when I get the Tristar. It may be that the smaller Aeronaut ends up being perfect for my needs as well - and it would be a bit embarrassing to have to return two bags! - but given that we don't know the exact size factor or release date yet, I thought I'd try this first.
PaulT00, I had definitely thought of packing my personal item in the Aeronaut as well. I suspect my usual handbag would fit just fine on top of my clothes in the main compartment. I still partly like the idea of having them separate for the bus and airport as well, but this may be habit rather than a sound packing strategy.
The Aeronaut is definitely a miraculous bag and it's great to know that it's worked so well for you. I want it to be right for me as well... maybe I should try it out once more...
So I got my Tristar in the mail today! And the answer to the question "an Aeronaut for Iceland?" turns out to be "no."
After test packing the Tristar, I found it so much easier to handle. There is something about the form factor that is extremely satisfying. My father, after a first glance, said "that looks more like a carry-on." It's extremely structured: not only did it stand up with handles up, but it also stood up when placed on end, which surprised me. On my back, the fact that it's three inches shorter than the Aeronaut made a huge difference in terms of how it rode. It felt like it fit me in a way that the Aeronaut just didn't.
What did I manage to pack in it? Everything that I packed with my Aeronaut test pack, minus the water bottle, books and camera (which I'd originally intended to carry in my handbag anyway). The best part was that it was nowhere near to the overstuffed, bulging Tristar look that I'd been afraid of. There was a bit of room to spare and the external appearance of the bag was perfectly sensible. It looked so compact and unassuming, which was exactly what I'd been hoping. (All of this suggests that I must have been severely underpacking the Aeronaut.)
Packing the Tristar did indeed take slightly more thought than packing the Aeronaut. It feels a bit odd to pile things up in order to fit into a compartment that at first glance seems to be basically flat, but it all works out! I may well buy another packing cube or two (in part so that I don't have to worry about getting my clothes stuck in the zippers when I close the compartments), but it's perfectly possible to pack a good amount in the Tristar without using them.
In conclusion: very happy with the Tristar. There's an indefinable feeling of satisfaction when a bag fits with your needs and inclinations, and that's what I felt today. I'll learn to pack flat but I don't think it'll be that much of an ask. Roll on, Iceland!
Iceland is a wonderful place to visit. Layers are always good as the record high temp is about 71f. The lamb and fish are extraordinary. Don't bother with beef - very expensive and not so great! On the subject of packing cubes -what i like about them is having things sorted. One cube for undies, one for tops and one for bottoms. That way i dont have to dig through my bag.
Would love to go to Iceland and all the northern European countries!
I pack the Tristar exactly the same way I pack the Aeronaute and the Brain Bag before that.
For me Packing Cubes and Travel Stuff Sacks are the key to pack with less stress, everything I bring has to fit in the Packing Cubes and Travel Stuff Sacks I own.
I have learned to pare down and switch wardrobes for example there is an outdoor, no need to look fancy one and an urban classic pieces that mix and match and can be dressed up wardrobe.
When I was travelling with the Brain Bag, I brought both, just in case, that was unnecessary and also heavy.
You will need a very good raincoat. Likely, you will walk very close to or behind waterfalls. I say it from experience. :)
When I visited Iceland it was early April, still snowy in some parts (we even had a flight delayed because of an unexpected blizzard up in the Western Fjords), and I packed very light. Layers are the secret, and most of mine were merino wool. I washed socks and undergarments in the sink, but otherwise managed pretty well for 10 days with just a Patagonia Chacabuco backpack and my MCB as a personal carry. For rainy or waterfall conditions, I had a Marmot Highland Jacket - a bit pricey, but one of the best wardrobe investments I've ever made. It will pack down to practically nothing. I was plenty warm with a Smartwool medium weight baselayer (top and bottom), a t-shirt and wool skirt, a cardigan and my rain jacket. You'll find plenty of posts extolling the virtues of merino wool - its warmth, odor resistance, etc. - and I second them all. Honestly, I think you'll find that your packing list, especially for summer, could be trimmed a bit.
Iceland is amazing - one of the best places I've ever visited - I hope you will love it as much as I did!
I was in northern Iceland in late June and it snowed! Agreed that a waterproof windproof layer is essential.
Thank you to all of you for your very kind advice. It's at this point that I shamefacedly admit that I've actually been to Iceland, erm, five times before, so I'm well familiar with the vagaries of the Icelandic weather. (And those waterfalls that you walk behind.) I've seen snow in the West Fjords in late June, definitely, so "be prepared for anything" is the watchword.
My original packing list for the Aeronaut was intentionally overpacked, because I was trying to see how much I could fit in it. Ditto with the Tristar, which I had to give the chance to compare with its larger cousin. When I actually go to pack for my trip I'll almost certainly take less, and this may give me the chance to actually fit in the raincoat which I'd been planning to carry onto the plane with me as part of my travel day ensemble. (Also, yes, merino wool is a wonderful thing - you'll notice the quantity of Icebreaker on my clothes list!)