After field-testing 4 different Osprey hiking backpacks from REI for an upcoming backpacking trip in Europe (their return policy LOVES me), I discovered Tom Bihn through a blog on travel bags. Immediately, I was hooked and was up into the wee hours for the following 2 nights on TomBihn.com, this forum, and other Bihn-related web pages. The following day at 10am I drove to REI, returned my latest iteration of the perfect europe-trekking bag (A green Osprey Kestrel 38 at the time) and drove up to the Tom Bihn factory/showroom in South Seattle. This is what came back with me-
This is an absolutely killer bag. I spent about an hour on the showroom sweating and pacing about like a rabid monkey; whether I wanted the Ballistic Nylon (Even more rugged and thick than I was imagining) or the lighter-weight Dyneema.
The interesting part about visiting the showroom was that sometimes, they have items that are literally right off the press OR special items that aren't even listed on the website. For instance, they had a few aeronaut packing cube backpacks that were constructed from the heavier 400 denier Dyneema fabric as opposed to the thinner and lighter 200d that they normally make and sell on the website. This was a very tempting addition (as I'm still on the market for a semi-rugged daypack to go along with the adventures) but I knew that self-control had to be in peak mode before even walking into this place.
Back to the bag: I was almost set on walking right out and waiting for backorder on a Navy Ballistic Aeronaut, but despite the assurance of the exceptionally chill(at least compared to me at that moment) and helpful guy running the showroom that my bag would be produced on-time, I opted for the Dyneema. The biggest selling point for me was weight - I'm going to be carrying this thing around on my back for 2 months and am not really expecting it to take too much abuse as it will serve the majority of it's time in transport, getting me from city to city. The second reason was that the colors on this bag are really cool. The Nordic looks better in person. The ballistic nylon is incredible though, it's so thick that it really felt more 'padded' - and that it would protect the items inside from some serious jolts and bumps, simply by it's nature.
I really like the spacious design. The interior removable straps are a nice touch as well. The only part I'm unsure about is the configuration of the side pockets. When the bag is in 'backpack mode', the zippered-end pocket is on the top and the unzippered pocket is on bottom, potentially allowing items in that particular pocket to fall out of the bag.
Granted, this pocket was never designed to be really secure, but it should be a useful pocketin all 3 configurations that this bag can be carried in, nonetheless. I'd like to see these pockets reversed so that the zippered pocket is on the bottom of the bag, keeping my papers, gummy bears, and piroshki's safe ;) Possibly with some more weight in the bag, the pressure might compress the open pocket to the point of securing some non-essential papers and other flat items in there, but this pocket would be much more useful if there was at least an o-ring or some type of securing point within the pocket itself to attach a carabiner or some TB straps. Another idea would be to tactfully integrate some strong magnets into the ends of this pocket so that with a little force of the hand, you can access the inner contents of the pocket. Then, after removing your hand, the fabric snaps back together leaving some lightweight items totally secure in that pocket.
Overall, I'm excited to be giving this bag a good run by living out of it for a couple of months - There was always an unsettling feeling about the idea of a traditional hiking bag for such a versatile trip where I will be in a lot of urban places. Despite having lived with several different options for a few months, the mesh exterior pockets and extraneous straps are really something I don't want to deal with on this journey. I think Tom Bihn has cured my indecisive quest for the perfect carry-on backpacking Europe bag; I can lock most of the zippers, it's cool-looking, tough, secure, and more spacious than anything else out there.
Thanks Dr. Bihn!