Synapse keeps its cool when it's 100 degrees in the shade
Last Monday I headed off on a day trip to Athens, Georgia: a peaceful 100-mile drive through farmland and pine woods and cotton fields, and even a national forest. My son graduated from UGA four years ago, so I've got no real reason to go there anymore, but I will find any excuse to make the trip; Athens is a great town, and the state botanical gardens are located there as well. I hit Jittery Joe's for chai and a little "café writing" on my Macbook Air, then walked around the state botanical gardens just a couple of miles outside town, taking photos. (I picked one of the hottest days of the summer to do it: aiyee!) Although I was disappointed to find out that my favorite noodle shop, Doc Chey’s, was closed for remodeling, I ate lunch downtown and people watched before I wandered around the historic North Campus. I thought I’d get there before the first rush of students, but there were already lots of kids there with their parents: the last batch of freshmen for orientation.
On previous trips, I've loaded up my Indigo/Indigo Swift, which can carry my laptop, my camera, my notebooks and pens, toiletries, wallet, phone, iPod Touch, and thermal bottle well. There is something about the Puron handles on those double straps that help the Swift feel comfortable on my shoulder even with a heavy load.
But since I've got a new Indigo Synapse, I decided to try that for my trip today instead. This is how I packed it:
For the morning, I put my 16 oz thermal mug in there. Since I had access to my car, I switched that out after Jittery Joe's with a 16 oz. double-walled thermal water bottle that's a bit smaller, actually.
•Neoprene pouch with spare batteries, memory card, remote, and lens cloth for my camera
Side pocket with pen slots:
•Five pens, four of them Levenger Pocketini pens (I like to write in different color inks)
•Two Moleskine Cahier notebooks
•Packet of Kleenex
Room in here for more
Side pocket with Ultrasuede pouch:
•Plum key strap for car keys
•Sunglasses in internal Ultrasuede pocket
•Mini tin of Altoid mints
Room in here for more
•Detached waist strap from Synapse
•Indigo 3D Clear Organizer Cube with Handle Loop containing all sorts of toiletries. I'm one of those "what if" packers, even with my daily bags, because I've ended up needing all the stuff inside at one time or another, including wet wipes, Band-aids, hand sanitizer, lip balm, artificial tears, comb, brush, hand lotion, and in the summer, a travel bottle of L'Occitane lemon verbena spray. (That is so refreshing to spray on when you're walking around in the steamy heat of a Georgia summer.)
•13-inch Higher Ground Flak Jacket with my Macbook Air inside.
[Note: This offers excellent protection, but it is kind of bulky. In future I'm going to try carrying the Air in a sleeve, placed inside the large pocket inside the main compartment. But I haven't finished that yet. I'm in the midst of sewing a form-fitting sleeve for my Air out of 3mm industrial grade felt hat offers a surprising among of cushioning with very little bulk, and it's also water-repellent. But I'm still waiting for some Ultrasuede to arrive from Etsy so I can finish the sleeve, so for this trip the Air traveled inside the Flak Jacket.]
•Olympus e620 DSLR with 14-42mm lens attached, wrapped in a cushioned RAPS.
•Attached with key strap to one of the O-rings was my FoT pouch that has my Air's power adapter inside
•Attached with a key strap to the other O-ring in the compartment were a Small Clear Organizer that has spare phone batteries in it, and also a Clear Organizer Wallet with the credit cards that don't fit in my regular wallet
• Tucked down in the large pocket was a large but flat zippered wristlet wallet/purse.
I could definitely squeeze more in the main compartment.
Since this was a day trip with lots of time to sit and rest, and also lots of occasions when I needed to access the bag, I detached the waist strap and wrapped the sternum strap connectors around each of the shoulder straps to tuck away the excess webbing. If I were planning to run through the airport with this on, or go on a hike, I would definitely use both the sternum strap and the waist strap, because it makes it more comfortable to carry a heavy load.
The heat index was 111 degrees, so this was a tough test for my maiden voyage with the Synapse. When it’s that hot, even the lightest bag starts to feel heavy, and every step is an effort. But I truly wasn’t aware of how much my Synapse weighed; this was my first time carrying a load on my back, rather than cross-body or hanging off one shoulder, and it does make a huge difference. You can remain comfortable and rested longer carrying a heavy load if you’re doing so on your back.
One thing I did worry about with a backpack was sweat, but the back panel of the Synapse did a good job of wicking that away from my body. With tropical heat and humidity, nothing is going to keep you from sweating, but when I took off the Synapse, my back was relatively dry. My shoulders were another matter: I had two dark wet stripes on my blouse where the shoulder straps had been. I was actually a bit self-conscious about that when the time came to head back to town from the botanical gardens (where I was the only person crazy enough to be standing out in the noonday sun). And boy, did I think about jumping in the fountain where I photographed the Synapse! But I needn’t have worried too much about my unplanned wet t-shirt ensemble: everybody in town looked just as bedraggled and sweaty as I did.
Two comments about the Synapse. Someone else has already mentioned this on the forum, but it’s easier to pack the main compartment if you fill the bottle pocket first.
Second, I did find that the shoulder straps dug into my underarms a bit. That may be because I haven’t carried a backpack in many years, and I need to get used to it again; or it may be because I didn’t use the sternum strap. I did test the sternum strap once, and it pulls in the straps enough that I didn’t feel that same binding sensation under my arms, so I’ll have to experiment further with this and see what works best.
All in all, this was a great first trip with my lovely new Synapse.
Packing Ultralight for China
Hello! I recently bought my first Tom Bihn bag: an olive/solar Synapse. I purchased it to take on a four-week trip to China. It was the only bag I took with me, which was a big change in my packing habits. I used to carry an old school-size backpack on short trips, and rolling luggage on long trips. The old backpack made my back feel awful, and rolling suitcases don’t mesh well with staircases. It was definitely time to try something new, and I was inspired by online articles and blogs to pack as little as possible.
I'm just over five feet tall, so the Synapse is the perfect size. I'd never owned a backpack with a waist strap before, but I quickly learned the advantage of letting the weight rest in its proper place. When fully packed the weight of the Synapse was a little much for me (yes, I'm weak), but I could walk around for a couple of hours before it became a problem. On most days I was able to leave the majority of my gear behind at the hostel anyway.
In the main compartment I packed my clothes (one spare set and pajamas), a manila folder with my documents, a pair of foam flip-flops, a sarong, and other odds and ends. To pack my clothes I put them in a 12" Loksak and then sealed it while sitting on it to eliminate any extra air (always fun). I still had room for snacks and a sandwich / cup o' ramen.
I didn't bring a water bottle, but I bought ones along the way and there was always room in the water bottle pocket. Normally I use a reusable water bottle, but drinking tap water in China isn't a good idea. I did wish I'd brought a mug or thermos because hot, boiled water was nearly always available.
In the little pocket I packed the couple of cords I needed and a rechargeable battery. The only electronic device I brought with me was a smart phone I could put in my pocket. I filled the side pockets with toiletries, including all-in-one soap. In the bottom pocket I packed a thicker cord to charge the battery, a universal plug adapter (never used it), a glasses case, and my rain jacket in its pouch.
Everything else I brought I either wore or put in my pockets or money belt. Sometimes it was inconvenient to have so little, like when I had to dry my clothes by wearing them. And I missed my laptop. But it was liberating to be so mobile, and I had an awesome trip.
My packed bag at the airport in Chengdu: