Synapse 25 Review
I've recently started bicycle commuting to work and back every day, and I've been looking for a good bag to help with that. The Synapse 19 sounded perfect until I learned that my laptop wouldn't fit in it, so I upsized to the Synapse 25.
The bag arrived yesterday, and on first look I wasn't thrilled. I looks beautiful, but it is a bit bigger than I was looking for. I really only need to carry a laptop, a change of clothes or two, a lunch, plus maybe some rain gear. So the Synapse 25 is definitely overkill and will probably be mostly empty most days. On the other hand, I really like the low and shallow profile and as long as I don't give in to the urge to carry stuff I don't need, I expect it will work just fine as an EDC bag.
Trying it on, the straps are quite comfortable and the pack is very stable, especially with the sternum strap. While I haven't actually ridden with it, I think it's definitely a step up compared to the cheap bag I have been using. I'm concerned about my back and shoulders getting sweaty as there's no contour to the cushions, but we'll have to wait and see.
I travel about 3 or 4 times a year, and so as a secondary use, I wondered how the bag would do as my only bag for a 2 or 3 day trip to visit a customer. I already have a tri-star for this purpose, but I was curious. It's always nice to have options, right?
So this morning I practice packed for a typical trip to a European customer. The packing list (not including what I wear):
2 pair pants
2 button-down shirts
2 pr socks
2 pr undies
Toiletries bag (a Tom Bihn 3D Clear Organizer Cube containing all my liquids, toothbrush, hairbrush, deodorant, razor, meds, etc.)
Laptop in 4Z cache
and here's why there's even a question:
Respironics Remstar CPAP machine
Hose, facemask, charger.
I packed all the clothes into a tri-star medium packing cube and a tri-star small packing cube. The small PC went into the bottom pocket. The laptop went into the cache and onto the 'rails' in the main compartment. The medium packing cube fits very nicely into the main compartment, adjacent to the laptop. Then the Remstar on top of the PC, and there was even enough space left over in the main compartment for the toiletries bag. The exciting thing about this is that I can open 1 zipper, pull out the toiletries, the CPAP machine (yes, I have to pull it out for security) and the cache, all in about 5 seconds. And it goes in almost as easily as it came out since the only other thing in the main compartment is the packing cube.
The chargers and hose go into the 'water bottle' pocket, the facemask goes in one of the size pockets (but could probably squeeze in elsewhere). That leaves me with one extra side pocket and the small middle pocket for cell phone, keys, headphones, cell phone charger, etc.
It's been a little over a month, and I have over 500 miles and daily experience using the Synapse 25, so I thought you folks might appreciate a follow-up.
I think that this is the nicest general-purpose backpack that I have ever owned. Although a little larger than I was looking for, it's still a great size and I've found the extra room very handy on a couple of occasions. It's got the perfect amount of organization; I always know where my stuff is and I love that the main compartment doesn't steal space from the front pockets.
I have found it to be quite comfortable for daily use. I bike to work 10 miles and back again each day, and even when I loaded the bag up with 25lbs (as a test, of course) it remained stable and comfortable each way. I did end up with a sweaty back pretty much every day, but then I'm not sure there's really any way around that unless you put a frame in the bag to hold it off your back. (Might be an interesting optional add-on for future upgrades though...)
I'm not quite sure I like the elastic divider in the main pocket. It has been useful a couple times to organize stuff inside, but it just as often gets in the way of something I'm trying to put in or pull out.
I haven't needed to use the water pocket for something other than storage, but it seems like the bag is begging for a way to get a drinking tube from the bottle to the users mouth. I suppose you can get it out of the pocket through a partially open zipper, but I think you would need some webbing loops or something to attach the tube to in between. I might actually drink while I ride if it was convenient. Or I could install a water bottle on the bike, I suppose. :)
I've got another business trip to France coming up in a few weeks and I know I can fit everything I need into this one bag. I think it would be weird to carry all my luggage, including my clothes and CPAP machine into a business meeting, however. Maybe what I'll do is take along a TB shopping bag and leave the packing cubes, CPAP and paraphernalia it in the car while I'm in the meeting. Unfortunately the steel dyneema bags are out of stock. :(
Nice pics! Thanks for your input and thoughts on the S25! I own a Nordic Synapse 25 and use it with all my RV weekends for electronics, and binoculars, camera, etc. I love it that u bike to work everyday....good for you Mike! I use Aeronaut for clothes and everything else.
Well, I have to admit to a little cheating... it's an electric bike, so I have the option to engage the motor on a steep hill or when it's windy. Or when I'm just feeling lazy. But I can easily justify this because I can average almost 20 mph which makes the commute much more time efficient. If I didn't have the motor, I probably would wimp out and quit, citing all the usual excuses... too cold, too windy, too dark, too tired, I'm in a hurry, etc.
I'm really happy with my Synapse 25, except that now I'm yearning for another bag... I have a tri-star too, but for these quick business trips it's just too big, and my CPAP machine won't fit in it very well. It's 4" in it's thinnest dimension and it won't fit in any of the TB travel bags. Except for maybe a Western Flyer. So do I get a WF? Maybe, but I'm thinking maybe I should wait for a smaller CPAP machine. Or maybe I should get a WF anyway, as it's really a better size for short trips than the Tristar. Or maybe I should just use my Synapse 25 because it fits everything perfectly, even though it's a backpack.
So many decisions. Help!
It's nice to have a little help in the bike path!
Originally Posted by Mike
I am a bag, backpack and jacket junkie! I usually just leave my Aeronaut semi packed as I seem to be doing more wondering these days. Being an over-packer, trying to get better at minimalism, the Aeronaut is the great tardis training bag for me. Now I must admit, I have my eyes on the Tristar! So like you, what is a girl to do...save up for the Tristar and train more to decrease my packing needs? I have always been prepared for most scenarios. I did see an add for a very compact C-PAP machine. The other day, but don't recall where. So good luck to us as we figure out the perfect scenario for each travel challenge!! PS if I sound like a competitive athlete, I was!!
Mike, you might want to take a look at the Somnetics Transcend II CPAP machine. It is really small compared to any other unit available and makes one bag travel much easier if you need to travel with a CPAP. Not only is it smaller than other units, it reduces the weight you need to carry considerably. Another space saving idea is to ditch the standard 6 foot CPAP hose for a shorter hose composed of humidifier hoses (e.g. two 18" hoses & a connecter to give you a three foot hose)... the hoses are all the same diameter as the 6' hose, but cuts down considerably in the volume you need to carry. Everything needed for the CPAP (smaller hose, Transcend II, power supply & mask) comfortably fits into a Tom Bihn size 3 stuff sack. This should easily go into a Western Flyer (and pretty much every other TB bag) leaving plenty of room for clothes, or give you extra room inside of the Synapse 25.
For quite a while, I had an Aeronaut and a Western Flyer (I have since added a Tri-Star). Between the two aforementioned bags, I was able to accommodate most of my stuff for most of the types of travel I do, but the TS has been invaluable for one-bagging with a laptop. I'd say that it's quite possible to cram almost the same amount into a TS as an Aeronaut, and the rectilinear shape can have the effect of making the TS feel heavier. YMMV.
Originally Posted by Anniegill
I think the key to what you are saying is "train more to decrease my packing needs." For most domestic short-haul trips, there isn't too much of a need to pack the kitchen sink (which I guess technically you do, since you travel by RV!). Targets and Walgreens and malls exist in many places, in case you actually end up needing the "just in case" item.
This may seem heretical on a forum dedicated to the purchase and use of travel bags, but I think it's also worth thinking about what you'd gain from having a Tri-Star, especially since having a tightly-packed bag isn't quite as important when you're traveling by car or RV. It may be more of a challenge to see if you could eventually get all of your stuff, including the empty Synapse 25, into your Aeronaut, and from there getting everything into the 25. Not that I'm trying to dissuade you from buying a Tri-Star; it's a great bag and I'm always very happy when I have an opportunity to use mine. Whether I could make do is just a question I'd ask myself if I was aspiring towards minimalism. Once again, YMMV.
@ Mike, I wish you the best for your international trip with the 25. For a fabric shopping bag, Patagonia makes very nice ones that weigh 85 g. and cost $10. (They make them with fabric remnants though, and this season's colors seem a bit funky.) It occurs to me that you probably don't even need to buy a cloth bag since you can keep your stuff in the trunk while you're in your meeting, and thus only need a bag of some sort to keep items contained tidily. A couple of plastic shopping bags could accomplish that, though admittedly not as stylishly as a Steel Shop Bag.
I've been looking very closely at the Transcend II. I've been told that it fits neatly, along with its hose, into an Eagle Creek packing tube. And because the EC Packing tube has a mesh side, I might not even have to remove it from the packing tube for security. What's keeping me from buying it right now is that they are releasing a new model that is an APAP and slightly quieter, but with the same form factor. The new model is available in Europe and Australia but hasn't gotten FDA approval yet in the US. There's no official availability date, of course, but I was told by a customer rep yesterday that they hope to have them available in the US by the end of the year.
I just ordered a 15mm hose to replace the 22mm hose that I've been using. That should save a lot of volume, but getting 2 18" hoses is an even better idea!
I'm having a lot of fun figuring out how little I can get by with. I now pack ALL my toiletries in my 3-1-1 bag, not just the liquids. That includes the razor, the hairbrush, toothbrush, my meds, etc. You can see it in the first and 4th photos above. I've also learned to do laundry while traveling and bring layers so that I can always add or remove a layer to stay comfortable.
Last July I took my Tri-Star to Alaska for 3 weeks. It was a packing challenge because the first 2 weeks was a cruise / tourism trip and I wanted to look like a normal human being. But the last week was hard-core fishing where I new I was going to get slimed, so I didn't want to wear my nice travel clothes. I also knew (from experience) that I was going to need a rainsuit, and had to be prepared for 80F days in Anchorage as well as freezing cold winds coming off of glaciers. And of course the CPAP had to come along too.
I took along a backpack (this was before I got my Synapse 25, so it was an inferior bag ;) ) as a daypack and packed a few snacks in it, but I got pretty close to fitting everything I truly needed in the Tri-Star. And by the end of the trip I realized I had packed too much, as I had stuff I'd not worn!
Last edited by Mike; 09-24-2013 at 09:45 AM.
Reason: Added Tri-Star Photo
Mike, another benefit (at least based on my limited experience) of the Transcend (existing or new unit) is that it seems less likely TSA will ask you to remove it for inspection and explosive swabbing. For whatever reason, the larger units seem to attract lots more attention going through security.
Instead of "Think big, or go home," my inclination is "Pack small, or stay home."
Still puzzling over this, I am now considering an Empire Builder. It looks a bit more at home in a business meeting than a backpack or the Western Flyer, it has a nice large center pocket that I think can fit both my CPAP machine and a Size 4Z Brain cell containing my laptop. And I don't think I'll have any trouble fitting enough clothes for a short trip such as this one. For longer trips, I could use the Tri-Star. The EB won't go backpack-mode, but I have a nice Absolute shoulder strap, so I think I'd be OK there.
Originally Posted by Mike
Does anyone know how wide the main compartment is? I need it to be at least about 6" and 7" would be better.
Last edited by Mike; 09-30-2013 at 07:06 PM.
To clarify, the Tri-Star does go backpack-mode, unless you were saying it wouldn't because you wouldn't use it that way (in which case ... nevermind!).
"The back of the Tri-Star features hideaway backpack straps. Want to carry the bag as a briefcase or shoulder bag, or stow it in the overhead compartment for a flight? Unsnap the bottom of the backpack straps and tuck them into the back compartment — you'll never know they were there. To turn it into a backpack, simply reverse these steps. The backpack straps are padded and contoured, and they feature a removable sternum strap and an optional removable waist strap. Both the sternum and waist straps are simple webbing straps designed to help distribute weight and stabilize the bag to your body."
Yes, I know... I meant the EB won't go backpack mode, but I see my wording was totally confusing. Edited. Thanks!
Ha! Well that makes much better sense.
Mike, I've put some photos up in my review of my new Empire Builder that might help give you a sense of dimensions. It is TARDIS-like in its ability to swallow things! If I had to pick a bag for business use out of the Synapse 25 and the Empire Builder, I'd pick the Empire Builder (which is exactly the decision I made, actually).