Let me preface this post by saying two things. Firstly, I love bags. I especially love backpacks. I've owed at least 25 of various shapes and sizes in the last 20 years. Not the fashion-oriented ones, but the serious, functional, built-for-a-purpose ones, with that purpose being hiking, climbing, urban commute, travel, etc.
Secondly, I researched a *lot* before buying this one – read reviews, looked at photos, considered my own carrying needs in terms of travel and commuting.
My reference bags for sizing (with manufacturers' specs) were:
* The North Face Amira (19x13x7", 26L) – my daily commute bag, a 4-5 km round trip walk on foot with study notes, handbag, lunch, seater, umbrella, etc;
* The North Face Sweeper (20x13x8, 30L) – my current work “clinic” bag for patient notes and assessment tools;
* High Sierra Passport (HSP) (22x14x8.5, 40L?) - carry on bag that's survived 2 x 6 week trips to Europe and 50+ domestic flights.
The plan was to use the Smart Alec as a less “outdoorsy”, slightly classier and water proof replacement for the Amira. The plan came a little unstuck when I opened the TB box....
The Smart Alec is HUGE. Another reviewer here
said that the photos on the TB website, and even those posted by owners elsewhere, really don't do it justice. I agree. In terms of volume, I estimate the Smart Alec is about 1.5x larger than TNF Sweeper, 2x larger than TNF Amira, and only slightly smaller than the High Sierra Passport. Now I know one should take manufacturers’ specifications largely with a grain of salt, but... wow. Wow. WOW.
My Tom Bihn gear arrived about 10 hours before a 5 night trip to Melbourne. After a minor packing crisis brought on by the size of the Smart Alec, I decided to leave my trusty High Sierra Passport at home and travel with a Western Flyer / Smart Alec combo. The Smart Alec swallowed my clothing and personal gear - pictured here
with room to spare. At one point I stashed a wool/cashmere coat and Pacsafe Toursafe 100 handbag in there as well, and STILL managed to get the zips closed. Amazing. The Smart Alex's exterior is sleek and functional – it shed water easily during a Melbourne downpour, fit nicely into the over head lockers and didn't knock anyone out down the aeroplane aisle . The pockets – especially the zip pocket in the “lid” - are fantastic and ensure that smaller items don't get lost in the depths of the bag. The solar lining is gorgeous, the steel outer is subtle and lovely. The Smart Alec is a solid bag.
As my daily commute bag, however, the Smart Alec is unfortunately not working as well as I'd hoped. I'm a 5'5”, 150 lb gal with a slight exaggerated lordosis (sway back). When the bag is loaded with my day gear (small handbag, 1” thick binder, 2 x A4 plastic wallets with papers, sweater, lunch, sometimes an ultra light laptop), the gear migrates to the front / bottom, which pulls the bag away from my body. The back pad “bows” out, and only makes contact with my back at the top (through the shoulder straps and down another 3” from there) and at the bottom, in a 1” ridge along the stitching that marks the transition from back pad to base. If I tighten the backpack straps, the ridge loads onto the top of the sacrum and the straps pinch my neck. If I loosen the straps, the bag sits lower and the ridge loads heavily on the bottom of the sacrum. It's very uncomfortable for me to carry. After persevering for two weeks, I've concluded that I'm just a little too short and too curvy for the bag to fit right. Which is quite unfortunate because the bag kinda rocks...
What to do? Well... I’m a little sad that I didn’t wait for the Synapse, because 19L would be plenty big enough. But, had I waited I wouldn’t have two very nice bags in my office every day. :-)
Anyway, the plan now is to trial the Smart Alec as my work “clinic” bag and use the Western Flyer in backpack mode for the daily commute. Should be interesting!