After nearly two months, here's my review of the Tom Bihn Co-Pilot, versus the Red Oxx Gator.
Let me start by saying I've had 4 years to knock my Gator, both physically and verbally, and so I extended my original month-long test to include certain specific destinations I have used the Gator for (not routine destinations, once-a-year ones) as well as using the Co-Pilot daily.
Two fabrics, Ballistic or Dyneema
Dimensions: 12"L x 10"H x 5"W / 300 x 255 x 125mm
Volume: 10 liters / 600 cu.in.
Ballistic nylon: 17.2 ounces / 485 grams
Dyneema/nylon: 11.2 ounces / 315 grams
Red Oxx Gator $105.00
One fabric only, Cordura
Dimensions: 12"L x 9"H x 6"W
Volume: 648 Cubic Inches
Weight: 2.35 lbs
The two bags are very similar in dimension, but very dissimilar in what can be packed in them. The Gator is one large, padded compartment with a mesh panel on one side of the interior, one external very tight zipper panel, and two external bellows pockets one one side, with a drink holder pocket on each narrow end, right under the strap rings (more on THAT later). The Co-Pilot is actually four pockets, one large for iPad/Netbook or other similar item,
two smaller side front pockets for wallet/phone/3-1-1/etc. and a center pocket for a drink/umbrella/computer accessories/what have you. The Co-Pilot is not padded, one reason it weighs more than a pound less in the Balistic version alone.
The shoulder straps do add to the weight difference. If you don't order the basic Co-Pilot strap it will weigh more with the Absolute. The Gator comes with the Red Oxx Claw. It's heavy, and it doesn't flex on your shoulder to lighten the load. However, it WON'T slip. I guarantee that. But the Absolute wins, hands-down. I bought one to use on my Gator and Air Boss.
Let me say right now that I've been using Red Oxx products for over four years now, and the Gator was a love-hate item right from the start. There was no other bag on the market in that size, so I had no real choice but to use it.
So I'll start with the 'why I no longer use my Gator.'
The Gator is heavy empty. It's padded so it's not crushable to fit into another bag (it won't fit into Red Oxx's Air Boss - if I'd gotten the Air Boss first I'd have returned the Gator). I just made sure to swing it about to the front of me as I got on and off buses or trains, as its non-crushable size stuck out on my hip and was good at sideswiping people.
It has rings on each end that are double the size of the Air Boss's strap rings - serious overkill. One Gator reviewer stated one could probably be airlifted by the bag. They weren't kidding. But that kind of overkill weighs one's shoulder down FAST. The rings also are right over the drink pockets. If you carried a Klean Kanteen or Sigg bottle the rings are a clinkety-clanking nightmare.
And, worse yet, the pockets aren't deep enough to hold the bottles IN - one of my favorite Siggs looks like it's been through a lion cage - scratches and dents from those rings and falling out of said pockets.
The front zipper pocket has no bellows expansion, so getting things in and out of it is difficult at best. I kept my wallet here and DARED a pickpocket to get into it without me knowing. It was that tight at fit. But was it an undertaking just to dig it out to pay for something!
Writers keep papers on them. Well, the Gator chews up 81/2" by 11" paper. It's a fraction too small in the internal compartment and there's no external file size pocket like the back pocket of the Co-Pilot.
However, the Gator held my netbook in an Apex sleeve, a wireless mouse, the brick, a 4th Gen iPod Nano, at least one Moleskine Cahier, my Laptop Lunches lunchbox, my wallet/change purse/bus pass, a rain shell, the Sigg bottle (if I was lucky), and my phone. It was padded and therefore helped my items survive as I ran about Seattle or whereve I was. Like I said, no other bag was doing all that and keeping the contents dry... until the Co-Pilot came along.
The Co-Pilot holds my netbook inside the big pocket in a Cache, the wireless mouse in one of the interior pockets, the brick and Moleskine in another, and a crammed-in rain shell or Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero. One front pocket holds my phone, the bus pass in the front of an organizer wallet (the back of the wallet holds my five most-used Sound Transit bus schedules), and a pack of Kleenex. The other front pocket holds a pen, a lip stain, my iPod, my organizer wallet used as a -natch- wallet, a nose spray, and a change purse. I also keep spare house/car keys in the change purse, so it has some heft to it. Earphones in a case drop to the bottom of this pocket. The center waterbottle pocket always has something liquid in it, and was I surprised when my Zojirushi half-liter thermos bottle fit right in! That bottle pocket is something else, let me tell you. It holds every soft-drink bottle I've stuck in, even Japanese ones.
The iPod fits into the inner two pen pockets after I modified the bag a little. It's a five-minute job to rip out the inner divider seam in the pen pocket, leaving the Co-Pilot with two pen pockets and one larger pocket. That larger pocket fits a Nano perfectly. Please note if you do this your Co-Pilot is not returnable. That was not an issue for me - I wasn't about to return mine!
Unfortunately, the one-inch depth difference on paper was substantial with the design differences. My Laptop Lunches bento box will not fit in the Co-Pilot if my netbook is inside. It will fit if the computer is left at home. So, now I have a choice to make as I leave the house: shall I meet friends in a coffeeshop with wifi so I can eat while we yack and work (we're all writers and hate to see our own four walls day in and day out), or shall I eat my own cooking and do the writing by hand? Third choice, carry lunch separately (boo) or get a Synapse... I've been eating out or eating Larabars or turkey jerky, mostly, they fit just fine. There just isn't another option for a netbook bag, not for me. One try of the Co-Pilot and I was hooked.
IT COLLAPSES. Yes, siree, the Co-Pilot fits into either my Air Boss or my Aeronaut. I don't HAVE to carry two bags. I can leave the Brain Cell at home and carry a real daybag. With the Cache and the ballistic fabric around my netbook, I can bury the Co-Pilot between packing cubes in the Aeronaut and fear no broken screen or banjaxed hard drive, the two most common Apex netbook deaths. The Horizontal size 5 Brain Cell I use is 14.2 ounces, so 3 ounces extra for the Co-Pilot and probably 2 ounces extra for the Cache isn't a big weight difference, but oh, the usefulness of the Co-Pilot far exceeds the Brain Cell on a trip.
My only quibble with the Co-Pilot, other than the Why? of four pen pockets, is with the strap pad. With a little finagling, I slid it off the strap and threw my Strap Wrap on. If I have a serious weight in the bag (anything over 7 pounds and my shoulder starts to complain) I switch to the Absolute.
So, although I've had my Gator for four and a half years, it's gathering dust and will probably be looking for a new home. My Air Boss may join it - I love my Aeronaut - but that's another comparison review.