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  1. #1
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    Thinking about purchasing... something

    Hooo-rah! I just got paid for a seemingly endless project I just wrapped up. Now, it's time to take care of some things I've been putting off for too long. If I'm lucky, I'll have a budget of about $200, give or take a few. I want to replace one on my aging bags with a new Tom Bihn bag. There are other necessary charges about to go onto my plastic first, notably some computer upgrades.

    I will definitely not have enough money to replace all of my aging pack wares at once, so I'll have to choose one and get something minimal, maybe adding onto it later.

    In this thread, you'll see pictures of some of my aging wares, and why I need to replace them. There are more images in this thread, which discusses briefcases and notebooks. I've been thinking about which one to tackle first, and how to go about it.

    Choosing between which bag to replace first is a bit of a headache. The one in the most ailing condition would be my backpack. That thing is really showing its age and foreign-made lack of quality. I was thinking of replacing it with a Smart Alec. Problem: if I bought a bag, any bag, I would likely want to buy a Brain Cell for my MacBook Pro to go with it. (It is my understanding that the Brain Cell can be snapped inside many TB bags using "annex clips", an extremely attractive safety feature for me.) That would jack to price up considerably. I doubt I could afford a Freudian Slip to go with it. (I do not know enough about this pending "field journal" as yet, so maybe I should hold off and see if I get more money down the road for a Freudian Slip and/or a "field journal". I will definitely not have enough money for other add-ons like Organizer Pouches, which I would really want to have, but I could always buy pouches at a later date, as I figure out how I could use them. A Guardian Light would also be nice, but that would also have to wait.)

    Then there are other, competing interests. Despite the shape my backpack is in, I would be equally inclined to look at replacing two of my other bags first: the slowly deteriorating Kensington Saddlebag and my simple briefcase. The thought occurred to me that I could kill two birds with one stone here by replacing both bags at one time with a single Tom Bihn bag with a Brain Cell, the candidates being:

    Empire Builder or Zephyr - an all-business-looking briefcase, which has built-in file folders (a HUGE plus; I could forego the Freudian Slip for the time being)

    Ego or Super Ego - I'm not a huge fan of the styling, but I like the construction and capacities of these bags and I could always add a Q-AM strap to it down the road to make it into a quasi-backpack. These bags would make a Freudian Slip more of a necessity though, and I can't afford one now. The Super Ego would be a HUGE plus, beacuse it would have enough room for use as a semi-overnight bag.

    If I went the breifcase/messenger bag route, I could not afford a Shoulder Strap, Organizer Pouches or a Freudian Slip right away, but having one of these would be a tremendous asset for business purposes.

    What I really want doesn't seem to exist: I want an extra-large version of the Checkpoint Flyer that can be worn as either a shoulder bag, a hand-carried-briefcase or as a backpack with sternum and waist straps. Unfortunately, no such animal exists. Maybe someday.

    Comments?

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by MtnMan View Post
    What I really want doesn't seem to exist: I want an extra-large version of the Checkpoint Flyer that can be worn as either a shoulder bag, a hand-carried-briefcase or as a backpack with sternum and waist straps. Unfortunately, no such animal exists. Maybe someday.

    Comments?
    Wouldn't the Western Flyer be really close to this description? If you get it in black and carry it by the handle, I think it would be hard to tell it's not really a briefcase. In fact, it resembles a briefcase I used to own many years ago. Plus you have added flexibility of a bag that can be used for travel.

    Regarding your earlier comment on the Smart Alec and Freudian Slip and Brain Cell, note that this combo takes up space fast. If you are constantly going in and out of your bag for items stored in various places, it might be better to lean toward something with separate zippers.

  3. #3
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    Thanks for the reply, pretzelb.

    The Western Flyer would be a great travel bag to have, but if I purchased it with a Brain Cell, you're talking $240 before shipping and tax, (please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong on that) and no Freudian Slip, Shoulder Strap, Organizer Pouches or any other accessories. There are also folks in this forum who say that while a Western Flyer or Tri-Star would be great to carry on your back in an airport, they supposedly are not meant to be used as dedicated personal backpacks for hikes, outdoor events, etc. I don't know if there are different camps on this question, but I assumed that the Western Flyer would be too rich for my blood at this moment.

  4. #4
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    Yes: the cost does add up especially with the accessories. I got the Western Flyer, the absolute shoulder strap, three of the organizer cubes for the WF, and a Ruck Sac. I also have the medium cafe bag. I also got 4 assorted sizes of the organizer pouches (small, medium, and the sack variety). I got the WF just before the prices went up by $20. Regardless, I blew close to $400 on all this. I was kind of in a panic when I first added it all up.
    I lurked on these forums for months before I actually bought anything.
    I have owned the following: an old rollaboard Hartmann; a TUMI; Eagle Creek--the first versions of the rollaboard with a zip off daypack; Samsonite--various iterations of it. Most of my travel is limited to conferences within the US; and travel abroad, particularly home to India with stops en route. Over the last 25 years of doing this, this is what I have found:
    1. Softsiders ultimately last longer and better than any suitcase style bag however well constructed; other than those old dinosaur "true hardsiders" that literally weighed a kitchen sink!
    2. Most bags "look alike"--by which I mean this: when I first got the TB Medium Messenger Bag I was disappointed. I was like, "wow..this does not look any different than the million other bags I have owned and carried...so what is all the forum fuss about." Until I started using it....I think it is only in USE that the design aspect of TB bags become clearer. I am a great believer in DESIGN: that is where the Danish rule, for example. Nothing unnecessary; no bells and whistles; a few elements cleanly done and all adding up to functionality and form.
    It is in using the Medium Cafe bag that I appreciated the placement of organizer pockets--it is easy to reach and retrieve because they are on the OPPOSITE panel instead of the usual place (close to your body)--which makes it easy to spot and retrieve. The O rings are an ORIGINAL. I can not emphasize how much it has saved my sanity and life to have my life organized into various little pouches, and have them all clipped --easy to identify and to move around.
    The O rings are a great example of design thought. Plenty of bag companies do a key tether; but no one else has this concept that allows it all to work together.

    For the past 6 months, I have been routinely using and carrying the various TB bags. I am now in Austin visiting family; and I brought just the WF and Medium Cafe bag. Held all I need for a week. It was easy to trapeze thru airports --wore WF as a backpack and slung the cafe bag across. I am a small made person, and not particularly young..and I manage best with these bags.

    No: the TB backpacks are NOT meant for hiking and such like. But then, I have been a die hard Patagonia fan, and a Mountainsmith fan--and in the past few years their bags have been dreadful. Patagonia's old design philosophy was closer to what TB is now.

    Which brings me to my final request to Tom: please do NOT change. I have now watched companies like Patagonia and Mountainsmith--american originals--go down a certain path with pressures of consumer competition and keeping up with the market. While some of this is unavoidable, i just hope that TB continues to produce small batches of good quality, well thought out bags.

    thanks for reading this very long post,

    shiva

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shiva View Post
    2. Most bags "look alike"--by which I mean this: when I first got the TB Medium Messenger Bag I was disappointed. I was like, "wow..this does not look any different than the million other bags I have owned and carried...so what is all the forum fuss about." Until I started using it....I think it is only in USE that the design aspect of TB bags become clearer. I am a great believer in DESIGN: that is where the Danish rule, for example. Nothing unnecessary; no bells and whistles; a few elements cleanly done and all adding up to functionality and form.
    Shiva,

    Are you talking about the Medium Cafe Bag? Before I started working at TOM BIHN, I saw people wearing the Cafe bags and noticed how distinctive of a design the off-set buckle was. Maybe it's just that since then others have copied this design. However, I still don't see lots of bags that look "just like the Cafe bag" out there. The shape of the Cafe Bag and the materials used to make it also add to its distinctive look. I admit I do have a habit of paying extra attention to bags people are wearing. I wonder why? Maybe it's the tradition that if you're out and about with a TOM BIHN colleague, the first to spot a person on the street wearing a TOM BIHN bag buys lunch.
    Current Carry: Skookum Dog Citizen Canine prototype, Founder's Briefcase (every day carry), Small Cafe Bag (every day carry), Shop Bags (groceries, extra random stuff), Aeronaut 45 (travel), Synapse 19 (day hikes), Smart Alec (longer day hikes), Skookum Dog Road Duffel (Medium) (travel), Clear Organizer Wallet, Travel Stuff Sacks, Organizer Cubes

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    HI Darcy:
    I did not write as clearly as I should have, I suppose. What I meant when I said that there are plenty of bags out there that "look" similar to TB was simply that many companies sell bags in this price range that are smaller messenger bags/larger purses if you will. Yes: the offset buckle, materials etc., are distinctive; but I think many folks when they first see the bag just do NOT realize how different it truly is--and I do believe the difference is DESIGN more than anything else...the slight variation in pocket placements, size of pockets etc., all of which adds up.
    Am I clearer?
    i find myself reaching only for these bags over and over again--and that is worth the $ for me. I found I could no longer pack as efficiently using the Eagle Creek folders (which I have been using for 15 years or more) compared to the cubes.
    So yes: you do have another convert around with me! I still think we need to do D-rings !!!
    Thanks

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by MtnMan View Post
    Thanks for the reply, pretzelb.

    The Western Flyer would be a great travel bag to have, but if I purchased it with a Brain Cell, you're talking $240 before shipping and tax, (please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong on that) and no Freudian Slip, Shoulder Strap, Organizer Pouches or any other accessories. There are also folks in this forum who say that while a Western Flyer or Tri-Star would be great to carry on your back in an airport, they supposedly are not meant to be used as dedicated personal backpacks for hikes, outdoor events, etc. I don't know if there are different camps on this question, but I assumed that the Western Flyer would be too rich for my blood at this moment.
    I will admit that the price can creep up on you. Only you can say what is comfortable for you so if that's what too much then that's cool.

    I am having trouble with your requirements, which might be from me not reading your post closely enough. But I thought of the WF because it sounded like you were leaning toward briefcase style. In fact, it was a recommendation in direct response to your comment on wanting a large Checkpoint Flyer.

    I do see where you are going back and forth on briefcase vs backpack. I would agree the WF is probably (I don't own one but I assume it similar to Aeronaut) not a hiking bag. So, if you decide to get a briefcase style bag but want something large-ish, then the WF might be good.But if you want to go backpack first, then the Brain Bag might be a decent choice. It's huge and would easily accommodate the Brain Cell and Freudian Slip. You might have to save up to buy accessories later but it will easily fit in the BB.

    Hope that helps.

  8. #8
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    MtnMan,

    My suggestion is to go with the Brainbag. Looking at your current backpack and the requirements you put out there, I'd say replacing your backpack should be your priority. Is it going to solve all your problems at once? No, but you should be able to make do long enough to get you to your next bit of Tom Bihn gear. I carry a large 18" laptop in mine, protected by a Soft Cell. When I take it for a hike, I pad the bottom of the main compartment with a towel so I don't have to worry as much when setting it down. Looking at the amount of gear you carry, I doubt anything smaller than the Brainbag will suffice.
    I've got a 2XXLT H. Brain Cell (fits my H-P HDX18t like a glove), a Sapphire/Black Brain Bag with a matching Snake Charmer, a 2XL Vertical Soft Cell, a Sapphire wallet, a Size 4 H. Brain Cell for my wife's laptop and... a school boy's crush on Darcy

  9. #9
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    So, it looks like here are my choices to date:

    (Note that all potential choices must include a Brain Cell at a minimum.)

    BACKPACKS

    Western Flyer -- Too expensive when combined with a Brain Cell, but it would be a nice-looking unit with superior shape aesthetics even when worn on one's back. I'm told this would not make a good dedicated "backpack", though. I could see this unit being used as a "briefcase", but it would be too costly for me to afford a shoulder strap for it right away.

    Brain Bag -- $40 less than the Western Flyer, making it easier to combine with a Brain Cell. Buying this unit would set aside my desire to have a briefcase for the time being.

    Smart Alec -- $50 less than the Western Flyer, this unit would be significantly smaller than a Brain Bag but would still be able to hold a Brain Cell. This unit looks aesthetically better both setting down (loaded or empty) and while worn on one's back.

    BRIEFCASES

    Super Ego -- $30 less expensive than the Western Flyer, this could be a useful briefcase/laptop bag with extra style. I would not be able to afford a Freudian Slip right away, and I'm not sure I could afford a Shoulder Strap right away, either. This unit stands out for its outstanding volume.

    Ego -- Same price as the Brain Bag, and about the same capacity. Still not sure I could afford the Slip or Strap for it.

    Empire Builder -- $20 less than a Western Flyer, or $20 more than a Brain Bag. This would capture a serious "business briefcase" look, but could never be outfitted with a Q-AM Strap. One huge plus is that the unit comes with plastic file folders, plus it is legendary for its ample volume.

    Zephyr -- $10 more than a Brain Bag, another "serious briefcase", sans Q-AM Strap.

  10. #10
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    Hi,

    Quote Originally Posted by MtnMan View Post
    So, it looks like here are my choices to date:

    (Note that all potential choices must include a Brain Cell at a minimum.)

    BACKPACKS

    Western Flyer -- Too expensive when combined with a Brain Cell, but it would be a nice-looking unit with superior shape aesthetics even when worn on one's back. I'm told this would not make a good dedicated "backpack", though. I could see this unit being used as a "briefcase", but it would be too costly for me to afford a shoulder strap for it right away.

    Brain Bag -- $40 less than the Western Flyer, making it easier to combine with a Brain Cell. Buying this unit would set aside my desire to have a briefcase for the time being.

    Smart Alec -- $50 less than the Western Flyer, this unit would be significantly smaller than a Brain Bag but would still be able to hold a Brain Cell. This unit looks aesthetically better both setting down (loaded or empty) and while worn on one's back.

    BRIEFCASES

    Super Ego -- $30 less expensive than the Western Flyer, this could be a useful briefcase/laptop bag with extra style. I would not be able to afford a Freudian Slip right away, and I'm not sure I could afford a Shoulder Strap right away, either. This unit stands out for its outstanding volume.

    Ego -- Same price as the Brain Bag, and about the same capacity. Still not sure I could afford the Slip or Strap for it.

    Empire Builder -- $20 less than a Western Flyer, or $20 more than a Brain Bag. This would capture a serious "business briefcase" look, but could never be outfitted with a Q-AM Strap. One huge plus is that the unit comes with plastic file folders, plus it is legendary for its ample volume.

    Zephyr -- $10 more than a Brain Bag, another "serious briefcase", sans Q-AM Strap.
    I find a few of your summary comments a bit off from my perception of these bags. For example, while I don't have an Ego (23 liters), because I prefer other design styles (like the slightly smaller ID Bag (20.9 liters)), it''s a bag that I might get, while I've always considered the Brain Bag (36 liters) as an admirable bag, but one that is scaled too large for me (5' 4") to comfortably carry, and nowhere near the same size as the Ego. I do have a Smart Alec (26 liters), and also carry the Aeronaut (also 36 liters, but of more streamlined design than Brain Bag).

    Similarly, you asked earlier about using the Empire Builder with a Q-AM messenger strap. It probably could be done, in the sense that I could attach my Q-AM strap to connectors that could clip on to the Empire Builder, but I would never carry that bag this way. Messenger style bags are designed to be more pliably carried against your frame (say, if you were on a bicycle). The Empire Builder is structurally stiffer, as described in this thread, so I wouldn't carry it that way. Also, the Empire Builder comes with file dividers -- not folders. Scroll down to look at the picture in this post or this review.

    I think of the Ego and Super Ego as messenger bags -- that I might carry with a Q-AM strap or Absolute strap, and I think of the Empire Builder and Zephyr as brief cases.

    And here is an example photo of what the Empire Builder holds.



    HTH

    moriond
    Last edited by moriond; 09-04-2009 at 06:07 PM. Reason: Corrected link address to picture of what the Empire Builder holds

  11. #11
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    I like the Brain Bag idea, but I'm leaning more towards either a briefcase or a Smart Alec as a backpack because I like its simpler backpack design.

    Nothing will be decided until next week at the earliest. I have to see how my other expenses are going to pan out.

    Thank you for the input.
    Last edited by MtnMan; 09-04-2009 at 05:47 PM. Reason: typo correction

  12. #12
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    As of Monday, I have not yet done any of the needed computer upgrades which are my top priority. Those computer upgrades must be completed before anything else.

    Other baggage issues came to my attention last weekend. One bag I haven't bothered to mention on this forum is a video bag, which I use to house a MiniDV tape camcorder, tapes, recharging gear, and TV/playback connectivity gear/remote. I'm thinking about consolidating my backpack needs with a (non-Tom Bihn) camera/camcorder bag from a cam bag maker like NaneuPro or ThinkTank Photo, both USA manufacturers of pro bags. (I haven't completely ruled out the Medium Shootout Backpack from Tenba) I plan to eventually migrate to an HDV or AVCHD professional or prosumer (most likely a tape-based Canon Vixia HV40) when $$$ permits.

    For right now, I'll just make due with my aging cheap backpack.

    Backpacks are not as important to my needs as finding a good, conservative paper-hauler briefcase like Tom Bihn's Empire Builder or Super Ego. I say this because that simple, old briefcase I've been using is such a pain to carry around. (no handles, awkward to hold) Once, over ten years ago, I actually left it on the roof of my car and drove off, leaving it drop onto the road. A good samaritan from a nearby town found it, called me, and I picked it up from him. Since then, I've been convinced that if the thing was easier to handle, I would never have lost it and would get more use out of it.

    The reason I'm thinking Empire Builder vs. Super Ego is the size and features of both bags. Both are the largest of each one's class. Both make a styling statement, with the Empire Builder being a very respectable-looking businessman's mobile office, while the Super Ego is almost like a stylish cross between a briefcase and a backpack. (It is a messenger bag, after all.) The Empire Builder has the lead because the bellows that shadow the main compartment would prevent spillage of the contents in the file folders.

    Even though I would like to see a backpackable version of the Checkpoint Flyer, I'm beginning to wonder if simply unclipping and removing the Brain Cell (with laptop inside) from an Empire Builder or Super Ego for airport security would be as effective (and probably more practical, $$$-wise) than the current shoulder-mounted Checkpoint Flyer is. (I checked out the checkpoint-friendly Skooba backpack on the Tenba web-site over the weekend, and I was not impressed.

    I know some people are going to swear that the Brain Bag offers superior volume for the money, but it's not built to be a paper-hauler. And I doubt I'd ever haul a Vixia HV40 or better HD camcorder around inside of one.

    The real question for me would be usage of either the Empire Builder or the Super Ego as a briefcase/daypack or briefcase/overnight bag.

    Can the Empire Builder-style "file dividers" be used in a Super Ego's compartment, or would it be best to consider those meant strictly for the Empire Builder or Zephyr?

    Has anyone ever hauled a digital still camera around in either an Empire Builder or a Super Ego?

    One point-and-shoot camera I use is a Canon Powershot A720 IS, which I carry around inside a Case Logic zipper pouch that looks a little like this, but with a carabiner to hook it to a belt loop or a D-ring on the outside of a bag. Are there any D-rings or anything similar to hook onto on the outside of either the Empire Builder or the Super Ego?

    Has anyone ever used either of these bags as your one-bag-solution (assuming you do not own a Western Flyer or Tri-Star or that you just don't want to lug one around all day as a briefcase) on an overnight business trip? If so, what could you get away with including in that one bag?

    Anyone ever use a packing cube in one of these bags for an overnighter?

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    Quote Originally Posted by MtnMan View Post
    Can the Empire Builder-style "file dividers" be used in a Super Ego's compartment, or would it be best to consider those meant strictly for the Empire Builder or Zephyr?
    Pasted in from the page you linked to, just below the ordering information at the left side:

    With which bags can I use the File Dividers?
    File Dividers are custom-built for us and only work with our Empire Builder and Zephyr briefcases. They do not work well with any other bags.

    Both the Empire Builder and Zephyr come with three file dividers included.
    Has anyone ever hauled a digital still camera around in either an Empire Builder or a Super Ego?

    One point-and-shoot camera I use is a Canon Powershot A720 IS, which I carry around inside a Case Logic zipper pouch that looks a little like this, but with a carabiner to hook it to a belt loop or a D-ring on the outside of a bag. Are there any D-rings or anything similar to hook onto on the outside of either the Empire Builder or the Super Ego?

    One of the links in a recent reply to you in your REQ: Briefcase/shoulder bag photos & videos thread discussed using the Super Ego as a camera bag.
    Quote Originally Posted by moriond View Post
    …since you're asking about other bags, like the Super-Ego, and since you're considering many different models in your Thinking about purchasing…something thread, here are some other links to check:
    • Look at the movies linked at this post about the superego.

    Comment: other non-movie links on that page are to threads that discuss use of the Super Ego as a camera bag as explicitly noted in the linked post.
    Quote Originally Posted by MtnMan View Post
    Has anyone ever used either of these bags as your one-bag-solution (assuming you do not own a Western Flyer or Tri-Star or that you just don't want to lug one around all day as a briefcase) on an overnight business trip? If so, what could you get away with including in that one bag?

    Anyone ever use a packing cube in one of these bags for an overnighter?
    Someone else will have to address these questions, since these aren't bags/functions that I use.

    moriond

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    TB SuperEgo vs. Orvis Safe Passage Laptop Briefcase

    My bag purchase has been delayed because my laptop upgrade turned out to be more expensive than I expected. But I am still intent upon replacing the old Kensington Saddlebag and briefcase with something that will combine the two into one highly functional shoulder bag. It will simply take longer than expected to raise the money.

    I've been looking at other sites, and never found anything that compares to Tom Bihn bags. Then this evening I attended a meeting and one of the presenters had a briefcase unlike any I had ever seen before. He said it was an Orvis. I checked the company out on the web and the bag is called a Safe Passage Laptop Briefcase. I decided to compare the Safe Passage with Bihn's Super Ego:

    TOM BIHN SUPER EGO
    • Capacity: 27 liters / 1680 cu. in.
    • Eye-catching styling, nice selection of colors
    • Exterior: 1050 d Ballistic nylon
    • Interior: 500 Cordura
    • Made in USA (HUGE PLUS!!!)
    • Lifetime Warranty (ANOTHER HUGE PLUS!!!)
    • O-rings and substantial selection of pouches and other accessories make this bag highly "expandable"
    • Available shoulder strap options, including Q-AM strap, make this into a urban quasi-backpack
    • Brain Cell option provides superior protection for laptops, all the way up to 15-17-inch sizes
    • Downside: all those options add up fast; fully outfitted bag could cost over $250 when equipped with Brain Cell, Freudian Slip, shoulder strap and pouches.



    ORVIS SAFE PASSAGE LAPTOP BRIEFCASE
    • Capacity: 1,768 cu. in. / 28.9 liters
    • Seems to only be available in green, but looks great
    • Foreign-made (Bummer!)
    • Lifetime Warranty (HUGE PLUS!)
    • No apparent o-rings or any expandability options
    • Comes with only one shoulder strap; no apparent Q-AM option
    • No Brain Cell option, no way to clip it in this bag if bought separately
    • Cheap at less than $100, but lacks expandability options, so low cost is misleading.


    What do you think of my evaluation?

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    Hi MtnMn,
    Good start on the evaluation. A few things to think about:

    * Bag dimensions / volume - manufacturers' dimensions can be quite misleading. I got caught out buying a Smart Alec (26L) thinking it would be a similar size to The North Face Amira (19x13x7", 26L according to the website). The Smart Alec turned out to be much larger, and can carry almost 2 times as much as the Amira!! The Super Ego might be a little bigger than expected.

    * Materials - I'm not familiar with the material Orvis uses for their bag, but I can say without question that TB's ballistic nylon is simply stunning. It's smooth and cool to touch and has a sheen that is quite sophisticated. I think it looks more professional and less "outdoorsy" than any other soft bag fabric I've come across (and I've owned a *lot* of bags!).

    * Style - The Super Ego is the hands down winner here...

    Good luck!

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