I just received my new Synapse (Navy/Ultraviolet) and Aeronaut (Navy/Wasabi) this last week. I am a research scientist and therefore incapable of making a purchase of this sort without extensive analysis, reading of reviews, and watching youtube videos of the various bags available (not just Tom Bihn bags - sorry) for comparison. And, while I initially had been hoping to obtain the Navy/Wasabi version to make it easier to see items (I am getting older and so is my eyesight), the Navy/Ultraviolet version has quickly grown on me.
Initial Reason (Excuse?) for The Purchase:
I had also order a number of pouches and key straps, a cache for a MBP 15", and packing cubes for the Aeronaut. My primary goal was to obtain the best quality gear for a trip to Bangladesh, both for packing light and for packing efficiently. I have not traveled internationally in 20 years. I am considering a MBAir 11" for traveling purposes. I was not concerned about the checked baggage weight limit, but the carry-on limit requires a re-assessment of my previous in-country travel approach, plus a roller bag will simply not be appropriate.
The Challenge: The carry-on bag will be limited to one (1) bag weighing no more than 7 kg, and the checked baggage limit is 23 kg. I know that I need to have on me or in my carry-on: documents (passport, etc), medications (it's no fun getting older), 3-1-1 bag, computer/electronics (I will be giving presentations), a camera (foolish not to take one), as well as a change of clothes (or at least a clean shirt since it will take 2 days to get to Dhaka).
I have a travel vest of the Scotte-variety to handle some items to reduce a few bits and pieces, but the ONE carry-on had been my main concern. My travel/packing lists are now EXTREMELY detailed at this point so I can figure out what I can (and should) leave behind.
Enter the Synapse by Tom Bihn.....
As I pack it for daily use to get used to the configuration, I become more and more pleased with the thoughtful consideration to fine details.
General Design Elements:
Starting with the 1000 Denier outer shell, the #8 YKK rubber-sealing type zippers, to the 200 denier Dyneema tear resistant lining (except between the deep top outer pocket which uses a fine heavy duty mesh), it is designed to survive whatever obstacles one can think of, and maybe a few others too. I like the small front pocket for its variety of uses, the deep top outside pocket, the depth and width of the bottom outside pocket, the tough suede cloth in the side pocket (right side when looking at bag), and location of pen loops in the left side pocket. The main compartment has the depth and width to accept the MBP 1" in a cache on the side closest to to back which is ergonomically to superior location for carriage in a backpack. The pocket within the main compartment also has depth and width to hold a variety of items from notebooks, folders, to textbooks - though I think I would simply place a large textbook in the main area and not in the pocket. The padded back has an outer mesh fabric as well as a nylon-covered padded lumbar section with vertical stitching to hold the padding in place. When fully loaded, it appears that the padded lumbar section will flex away from the wearer to form a bit of a padded 'shelf' or base of sorts for additional protection of computer devices inside, or anything else while being worn or placed on the ground.
Since I would never purchase a backpack that did not have padded shoulder straps, I am happy to find that the straps are padded, with a different yet equally dense fabric material on the underside to keep the straps from slipping or moving around once placed on the back. But just to be sure, the designers added sternum straps that can be adjusted to the individual as well as a waist strap, both of which can be removed if not desired by the wearer. The designers even included a hydration tube clip (I think) on the right side (wearer's right side) that can be position-adjusted and complements the deep top outer pocket designed to hold a one liter water bottle. All a person would have to do is drop the bottle into the pocket, feed the tube through the opening at the bottom of the pocket into the right side pocket, and out to the clip ---- though to do so would also require that the right side pocket remain in the OPEN position.
Interior Design Elements:
The bag lining increases the visibility of the items within. Again, I would have like to have had the option to get the Navy/Wasabi bag, but only for the visibility that the Wasabi would have afforded. But, having read the "News" sections in the Forum, I understand that everything Wasabi was in such high demand that the supply was running short. As it stands, my second choice for lining (Ultraviolet) quite frankly is growing on me by the hour.
The main bag compartment seams all appear to be double stitched using a heavy-duty chain-stitched followed by the use of heavy nylon binding with 0.157" (4 mm) stitching, which is the same as on the Cordura pouch edge binding and new Mesh pouch binding (versus 0.131" (3.3 mm) on the Dyneema and Clear Wallet pouch binding). The top backpack straps attachment seams, and in fact the entire top seam line where the backpack straps attach, is double-chain stiched PLUS the straps are included in the nylon seam-bound edges (they are not simply stitched to the first point of attachment to the bag) where they are anchored by the heavy-duty thread in a zigzag stitch across the 6-inch span of strap attachment area. This should provide a secure anchor as this area binds together the mesh fabric covering of the outside of the back panel, the closes off the fabric containing the back padding, the Cordura top section, and the Dyneema inner lining of the main compartment.
The buckles all appear to be of good quality, field testing will decide for me. There are plastic rings placed strategically throughout the bag (exterior diameter 0.75", interior diameter 0.5"). These rings are located in the center of the bottom outside pocket, back flap wall of the two side pockets, and on the sides of the back wall of the main compartment 2" down from the top seam. All of the rings are attached via heavy-duty 5/8" nylon webbing that extends the ring 5/8" to 3/4" from the bag seam to which it is anchored. All of the 2.5" zipper tabs have a nylon cord and plastic tab, for which I noticed Tom Bihn sells replacements if needed.
1. I am a 5'6" average-built woman over 50 yo so ergonomics is important with regards to fit. I have not fully loaded the bag yet, but by adjusting the backpack straps leaving only 2.5" of nylon webbing to spare the bag fits comfortably with daily items loaded.
2. I was initially surprised by the opening at the bottom of the deep top outer pocket until I realized that an inverted water bottle/hydration system would utilized this feature along with the clip on the right backpack strap. Unfortunately the Right side pocket would have to remain open. I would prefer a small opening with a rubber type valve similar to what you see with electronics equipment such as headphones as a port for this feature, rather than losing the ability to close the right side pocket. Thus a tube could be fed through the rubber port and the pocket could remain zipped closed.
3. I am one of those absent minded professors who is constantly misplacing her keys. Thus, the smaller top outer pocket is ideal for my keys or other small items. My only wish would be for a ring-anchor to be placed inside this small top pocket so that I could attach my keys or other item to a key strap, and then tuck them back inside. The same goes for the deep top outer pocket, a ring anchor would be a singularly nice addition.
As I have examined the bag and accessories that I have placed in the bag so far, I am very happy with my purchase. I have yet to determine the weight capacity issue relative to my impending journey, but I am sure that my new Synapse will make traveling much easier. The bag fits well and is comfortable. it could easily be adjusted to slide around under an arm for easy access to the side pockets as the zippers have been placed in the correct direction for this purpose (similar to some of the nicer photography equipment backpacks I prefer). The weight distribution is still a wait-and-see at this point, but the bag design gives me hope, as I have shoulder issues, again, getting old is not that much fun but the tradeoff is we see the world and its wonders in much greater detail and depth of context.
I look forward to settling into it over the coming weeks prior to my departure.