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Thread: Smart Alec or Western Flyer

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    Smart Alec or Western Flyer

    Hi all, I posted in the review section about choosing between the Tri-Star and the Brain Bag on a very long trip. Those are the two bags that I already own (well, until I gave the brain bag to my daughter yesterday). Anyway, everyone really helped my decide. I used to use the Brain Bag for trips to Tanzania where I work for a month each year, and always used the Tri-Star for other trips. I got great advice, actually practice packed, and found that the try-star was more comfortable and easier to live out of. In Tanzania I unpack totally, put the bag away, and don't live out of it. I use packing cubes always. Now that I've given one bag away, I want to get a slightly smaller bag for domestic trips. I've been traveling light for several years, and have it down to a science. I wanted the Western Flyer, but agree with White Star who just posted about colors of shop bags - color is really important to me! I can't really see myself with a black or Navy Western Flyer, when I'm so used to the cardinal/steel Tri-Star that I love! Does anyone use the Smart Alec for clothing? It has the same capacity as the Western Flyer, but most reviews talk about it being used for computers, etc. I just want to buy one bag, slightly smaller than the Tri Star for short trips. Thanks, LauraA
    "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive."
    LauraA

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    Registered User TavaPeak's Avatar
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    Now that I've seen your packing list, I bet you could live out of a Synapse for domestic travel! ;-) Smart Alec has capacity, but it does that "black hole" thing for me. (I hope the Smart Alec folks will chime in, because there are some big fans out there.)

    You might look at Synapse - some people do use it as a solo bag. It is rumored to have supernatural powers. About a navy Western Flyer - I'm tellin' ya, that navy is so rich and dimensional. My navy Synapse arrives today. (yippee!) I'll report back.

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    Volunteer Moderator Badger's Avatar
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    I have a SA in which I pack clothes. To keep things organized, I use an Eagle Creek 15" packing sleeve, which helps distribute the clothing vertically. Packing cubes can also be stacked vertically from the base of the bag up.

    If you can hang on until tomorrow, I will be packing the SA with stuff for an overnight business-casual trip to Chicago, and I can take a few pics so you can see my set-up. Just to give you an idea of what I'm bringing, I've cut-and-pasted my packing list here:

    Clothes:
    (I'm wearing my "going to a meeting" outfit because we are driving from Iowa straight to the meeting)
    15" EC packing sleeve with: 2 shirts, socks, chonies, pair of shorts + an outfit and pajamas for Mrs B, who is accompanying me

    Electronics:
    15" MBP in third-party sleeve
    iPad
    Charging cable for MBP
    iPhone
    Shure earbuds

    Toiletries:
    a little dopp kit with contact cleaner, toothpaste, toothbrushes, moisturizer, etc.

    Other:
    Folder with paperwork for meeting, notebook, pen
    Organizer pouches with advil, business cards, eyedrops, and other small things

    I expect there to be quite a bit of extra room.

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    Wow, thanks TevaPeak and Badger for the replies. Yes, Badger, I'd love to see your packing pictures. Thanks! TevaPeak, I'm excited that you are getting your new bag today - sounds wonderful. I know that the navy is really pretty - it's just that when I travel, my clothes are always black. I feel like I would always look like I'm on my way to a funeral. At least my red bag looks a little cheerful! By the way, the Synapse is quite a bit smaller than the Smart Alec, and I would use packing cubes to eliminate that "black hole" thing. Take care, LauraA
    "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive."
    LauraA

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    OK, now I'm really confused. I just took a good look at the Synapse, and it is wonderful. I really love the Iberian - red checks! It does look small, though. One thing that i could do is take some sort of a personal bag that could hold my iPad and a couple of other things. On domestic trips I don't take things like a towel, and I often don't take an extra pair of shoes. Any thoughts? Take care, LauraA
    "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive."
    LauraA

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    Laura,

    I have the Synapse and the Western Flyer. If you already have the Tristar, I don't think you are gaining much versatility with the WF. The WF is a tad smaller than the Tristar but is the same configuration. I love the Synapse. It looks small, but it is not. I have carried in it, at various times, a Macbook 13" and an IPAD, and a small cube of clothes, a pair of sandals (size women's 7); toiletries; and adapters etc., Do not be fooled by its size. It swallows up a lot, and in my mind, the most versatile of the TB backpacks.

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    Registered User Lani's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LauraA View Post
    Does anyone use the Smart Alec for clothing?
    Yes, I do. I don't even have a laptop anymore so I don't use the SA for electronics. The last time I used it, I flew on a short hop down to LAX (from SFO).

    Here's the main difference between the Smart Alec and Western Flyer, as I see it:

    - If you plan on living out of your bag where you don't have places unpack to, you will want the WF. Otherwise you're gonna be digging around inside your SA to find stuff (I bought the dangle flashlight they sell here and clipped it inside the main compartment of the SA).

    - I see this really as good for casual travel or car travel, where you schlep stuff around in a backpack. If you're got business travel and you need to be dressed sharply, where you don't want to look like a college student, you will want to use a convertible pack like the Tri-Star or WF.

    - The dimensions of the SA are much more conducive to stashing in the underseat area. And if it's a tight fit, I just smoosh it in with my foot. Just make sure you put stow it bottom side first so you can still pull it out a bit to unzip to get to stuff.

    - SA is very compact and wears GREAT. Plus it comes with the waist strap and chest strap and those really help to stabilize the pack. If you need to walk a mile at Denver International, you will have a real easy time doing it with the SA.

    - The Smart Alec is a black hole. It's a deep dark hole. You will want to pack it with various organizers. They don't have to be Tom Bihn organizers. And actually, I wound up packing my clothes into some Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Cubes (Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Cube Set at REI.com). I stuffed them full so they looked like football pillows and then literally stuffed them into the bottom of the Smart Alec.

    I can smoosh things down to where I have enough room on top that I can lay a Packing Cube Shoulder Bag across the top by the flap. This is great for me, because I can stash all my purse-type things in the PCSB... if I want, I can stash the SA in the overhead and quickly pull out the PCSB to leave by my feet. Or leave the SA with my husband by the boarding gate while I flitter off with the PCSB and look for snacks or magazines to buy at the airport.

    All in all, I've been very very very happy with my Smart Alec purchase. It packs very differently from the Western Flyer, but it's great when I don't need a lot of organization in my pack.
    Lani Teshima: A Dyneema diva with a closetful of Tom Bihn products!
    Publisher, The Travelite FAQ: Don't get saddled with baggage—free yourself & your mind by packing lightly!
    Editor, MousePlanet: Detailed park guides, daily news & stories from all over the Disney kingdom | Technical writer | Marathoner

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    Registered User Lani's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shiva View Post
    I have the Synapse and the Western Flyer. If you already have the Tristar, I don't think you are gaining much versatility with the WF. The WF is a tad smaller than the Tristar but is the same configuration. I love the Synapse. It looks small, but it is not. I have carried in it, at various times, a Macbook 13" and an IPAD, and a small cube of clothes, a pair of sandals (size women's 7); toiletries; and adapters etc., Do not be fooled by its size. It swallows up a lot, and in my mind, the most versatile of the TB backpacks.
    Shiva has a point; you may not need two very similarly styled bags.

    The Synapse does hold a lot, and there are some posts on the forums here from people who are ultralight packers who managed to use that as their primary travel bag. Trust me when I tell you I was deeply impressed, because even *I* don't travel THAT lightly. Maybe one of these days I can make that a little goal!

    Anyway, here's my thought. Since you already have a Tri-Star, if getting BOTH the Smart Alec and Western Flyer is not in your budget, I would go with the Smart Alec, just because that way you have two very different style bags. I'm not absolutely confident you can manage with just a Synapse... although you can always buy all three and check them out at home where you can touch them and feel them.
    Lani Teshima: A Dyneema diva with a closetful of Tom Bihn products!
    Publisher, The Travelite FAQ: Don't get saddled with baggage—free yourself & your mind by packing lightly!
    Editor, MousePlanet: Detailed park guides, daily news & stories from all over the Disney kingdom | Technical writer | Marathoner

  9. #9
    JLE
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    We have a TriStar, a Western Flyer and a Synapse in the house. We don't have a Smart Alec because the "black hole" layout scares me!

    I am not a backpack person, but i absolutely love the Synapse (I use it for the gym). The layout and capacity of this bag are fantastic. But I agree with Lani that the Synapse would challenge all but the lightest of packers as a travel bag. For overnight trips, no problem. But Laura sounds like a very light packer!

    The WF, to me, is the pick of the travel bags I currently own (Aeronaut on its way this week - a different bag for a different travel style). I have posted about this elsewhere in these forums, but in summary I find the WF cleaner, more minimal and easier to carry than the TS. It packs the same way, so if you like the TS you would like the WF as well in terms of how it suits your travel style. I tend to only turn to the TS now if I really can't get everything I need into the WF.

    Would you consider the WF without the backpack straps? I'm sure you saw that it is available on backorder in Cardinal/Steel in that configuration. It is a sufficiently small bag that a hand or shoulder carry is quite feasible IME.

    PS my TS is Navy. I agree with the the others that it is a gorgeous, rich, warm colour, not a sombre navy at all. The screen shots really don't capture the depth and complexity of the colour (true for every TB colour I've seen, actually). I think it would look very chic with your black ensembles, FWIW!

  10. #10
    Registered User Lani's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JLE View Post
    PS my TS is Navy. I agree with the the others that it is a gorgeous, rich, warm colour, not a sombre navy at all. The screen shots really don't capture the depth and complexity of the colour (true for every TB colour I've seen, actually). I think it would look very chic with your black ensembles, FWIW!
    Ohhh... perhaps a Navy WF is in my future... still sad to see Cardinal go bye-bye.
    Lani Teshima: A Dyneema diva with a closetful of Tom Bihn products!
    Publisher, The Travelite FAQ: Don't get saddled with baggage—free yourself & your mind by packing lightly!
    Editor, MousePlanet: Detailed park guides, daily news & stories from all over the Disney kingdom | Technical writer | Marathoner

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    As a SMart Alec owner and now regular user, it is an excellent bag for travel - if you don't need to live out of the bag. If you are going to be is a place for a couple of days or more and can unpack the bag, you will be surprised what you can carry. In January I was on a 5 day trip with the bag and carried enough clothing for the trip. In the bag I had 2 button down long sleeve shirts and a pair of slacks in a 15" folder pack (no problems with wrinkling). In a packing cube I had 3 pair of underwear, 3 pair socks, 1 set of workout clothes. Toiletries were is a side effect. I also packed a pair of light, squishable workout shoes. Finally I had an iPad in a cache and vertical Freudian slip with a few folders and papers. iPad and phone charger, 3-1-1 bag, a couple of pens and other small items were in the side pockets. Total weight was about 16 pounds. There was a bit more room in the bag if needed. I had a 3 hour layover in Chicago and wandered throughout O'Hare wearing the bag. I was going to one location and "parked" there. If I were going to multiple locations on the trip, it would have been more of a problem to pack/unpack frequently. (if you are good at Tetris, it would be less of a problem - I have never done well with Tetris!). It really is not a "black hole" but you do need to plan your packing so things you need access to are either in the side pockets or near the top of the bag.

    I also have a WF and TriStar - for now, the SA is my bag of choice.

  12. #12
    JLE
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lani View Post
    Ohhh... perhaps a Navy WF is in my future... still sad to see Cardinal go bye-bye.
    Not completely gone - you can get Cardinal/Steel in the WF if you are prepared to forego the backpack straps (I have one on back order right now), and it is still available in the Aeronaut, but I am guessing that is too big for you, Lani

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    Hi Laura,

    OK, I'm not sure which thread to post in but here goes … I have the the Smart Alec (Crimson), Western Flyer (Crimson), Tri-Star (Indigo), and Synapse (Indigo). My Aeronaut is crimson, too. From your earlier description of your Tri-Star in the Brain Bag vs. Tri-Star for a long trip? thread, I gather that you have the original Tri-Star in Crimson, which is a brighter red than the current Cardinal. This image form the blog post introducing cardinal will give you an idea (crimoson on left; cardinal on right), although the difference is more noticeable with larger pictures:


    The combination that I generally travel with these days is Synapse+Tri-Star, and I use the Synapse as an every day bag. (If Tom re-designs the smaller Aeronaut, I might go back to Synapse+Aeronaut -- another great bag). The Synapse is a wonderful bag, with great capacity despite the apparently diminuitive size. If I wanted a smaller bag to travel with, I'd probably use the Western Flyer, however. Shiva is right that there are more style similarities between the Western Flyer and the Tri-Star than between the Synapse and the Tri-Star. It really depends on what your plan to carry in that bag. Now, as to colors, I haven't seen the Synapse available in crimson Cordura for a long time. That's probably not an option, although you might consider the Synapse in Iberian Dyneema.

    If you really want a crimson Western Flyer, I could let you have mine, and then get a new WF in a different color combination (or maybe spring for the Cardinal Western Flyer with the rolling luggage handle pocket for the back pockets and color, since I don't use wheelies). The catch is that I have the original Western Flyer with the sling strap design. This works, but I think it's not as comfortable as the backpack straps on my Tri-Star. (It may also be a question of frame size -- the Brain Bag is too large for me. On the other hand, I love the comfort of the sling strap design on the original Buzz, which was made for 12" iBooks and Powerbooks.)

    Some forum members did think the crimson color option would always be there, but alas, no. See this irrelevant color commentary for some light-hearted comments.

    I'd advise you to take another look at the Synapse if you find a color combination that you like.

    moriond
    Last edited by moriond; 04-18-2012 at 07:35 PM.

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    moriond, Thank you so much for all of the explanations, and especially for the offer of purchasing your Western Flyer bag. Unfortunately, I think that the backpack straps are what I would need, so I'll have to say "no thank-you." How kind of you to offer! I actually like all colors of red (except very dark maroon) so both crimson and cardinal are fine with me.
    Thanks to everyone for all of the great advice and ideas. Every bag that has been mentioned is highly recommended by someone. I guess that is why they make so many bags - we all have different taste. I seem to be a creature of habit with my packing, and I get a plan going with a certain bag and stick with it. For that reason, I want to get just the right bag. As I've said, I have used the Tri-Star for years, and used the Brain Bag for long international trips about once a year. The Brain Bag was actually a little too much for me to carry - especially when there was a lot of walking. It also was big to put on and take off. Here's what I've decided to do for now-
    I have ordered the Synapse in iberian - I'm so excited!! If it turns out to be too small, then I may exchange if for the Smart Alec, or I may just keep it as a backpack and keep using the Tri-Star. Also, maybe someday just the right Western Flyer will become available for resale! I have also ordered the Ristretto in cardinal/steel for my iPad, and to use as a personal bag. That way, I won't have my iPad or purse items in the Synapse, so I'll have a little more room. Here is what I would need on domestic trips:

    PACKING LIST – DOMESTIC TRIPS

    IN THE SYNAPSE

    MEDIUM TRI-STAR PACKING CUBE
    2 pair thin pants
    1 set thin long underwear or thin pj’s
    2 panties, 1 bra, 2 pr socks
    2 tee shirts/tank tops
    2 button shirts
    SMALL CLEAR CUBE FOR LIQUIDS
    hair gel, face cleanser and cream, eye drops, nose spray, small tube Aquaphor, toothpaste
    SMALL TOILETRY KIT
    mineral make up, toothbrush, floss, deo stick, bar shampoo, small mirror,
    EXTRAS
    ipad/iphone charger, camera charger, small camera, small hair brush, green and herbal tea bags, flax seed packets, spork, vitamins, Advil, Earplanes,

    IN RISTRETTO
    iPad, credit cards, driver’s license, iPhone, money, reading glasses, sun glasses, lip pencil (I use instead of lipstick), chapstick

    WEARING
    panties, bra, tee shirt or tank top, button shirt, light sweater, light weight jacket with pockets, thicker pants, socks, shoes, watch, travel scarf

    note – this amount of clothes could last me indefinitely – if it is cold, I layer long underwear, wear two shirts, the sweater, and the jacket. If I have extra room, I would take one more tee shirt or tank top just to add another color. For domestic trips I don’t need towel, extra medications, flashlight, paperwork, passport, extra shoes, or stickers and balloons for children. If I needed to dress up, then one shirt would be dressy, and I’d squeeze in some light flat shoes.

    Thanks all - when my bags come, I'll do some practice packing and take some pictures to post. Take care, LauraA
    Last edited by LauraA; 04-18-2012 at 08:25 PM.
    "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive."
    LauraA

  15. #15
    Registered User Lani's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JLE View Post
    Not completely gone - you can get Cardinal/Steel in the WF if you are prepared to forego the backpack straps (I have one on back order right now), and it is still available in the Aeronaut, but I am guessing that is too big for you, Lani
    **GASP** The backpack straps are what make the bag for me. It's basically that ace up your sleeve. It's still a great bag without it, mind you. But without the backpack straps, in my opinion, you no longer have the secret weapon.

    My husband and I share an Aeronaut but you're right; it's very rare that we need that much room.

    I'd blame it on procrastination, but I won't. I blame it on my recently noticing that they changed the bottle pocket so it's zippered now. Had I noticed that earlier, I probably would've splurged to upgrade to the newer model.
    Lani Teshima: A Dyneema diva with a closetful of Tom Bihn products!
    Publisher, The Travelite FAQ: Don't get saddled with baggage—free yourself & your mind by packing lightly!
    Editor, MousePlanet: Detailed park guides, daily news & stories from all over the Disney kingdom | Technical writer | Marathoner

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