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Tom Bihn Forums: Community discussion on travel bags, laptop bags, and backpacks. Tom Bihn has been designing and making bags since 1972. The best materials and innovative construction.

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  1. #1
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    Backpack questions

    After over 25 years with my family's construction business, it looks like I'll be hired for a corporate office position with a regional manufacturing company. I have mixed feelings about leaving the family (we consistently enjoy a reputation for quality, sticking to our price quotes, and customer satisfaction) but I'm eager to join this new firm and tackle a new challenge.

    After I've settled into my new job, I'm going to go shopping for needed business and personal clothes, as well as what I call "luggage items", which I define more broadly as not just travel bags but also EDC (everyday carry). Since I joined these boards in 2009, I've flirted with the idea of getting a backpack but there was never enough money to get the kind of high-quality pack that I wanted. So I've been hopping from one cheap-junk backpack or shoulder bag to the next. None of them serve my needs or last long enough to be acceptable.

    Even though my new job will likely be a quasi-white-collar office job, I'm still very much an outdoors person. One of the common charitable activities I performed over the years with my family (both as a business and as individuals) was volunteer work on recreational trails projects and also outdoor historical projects. I also enjoy hiking and volunteering for outdoor events. Of course, even though I may not be with my family's business anymore, I do expect to go to construction sites and other outdoor venues in the future.

    Here is a possible packing list for a backpack:

    • Either a writing notebook, or a large clear organizer pouch containing a tablet and writing utensils, or a vertical Freudian Slip
    • compact binoculars
    • either a point-and-shoot digital camera, or a digital SLR, or two SLRs (occasionally I might substitute a camcorder)
    • walkie talkies or ham radios (I just got my FCC amateur radio license in March)
    • wallet/checkbook
    • calculator
    • GPS receiver
    • iPod with car kit and kit-pouch
    • compact first aid kit
    • sometimes a water vessel for drinking (could be a small thermos in cooler weather)
    • little bottle of hand sanitizer
    • maybe a small flashlight or headband light
    • possibly self-contained food items in something like a LunchBots container
    • maps
    • work gloves
    • roll of streamer material
    • possibly an Olympus LS-10 digital audio recorder
    • maybe some batteries in reserve
    • maybe a cheap open-face Tracfone (pay-as-you-go cellphone), possibly with car charger adaptor
    • at least one Joby GorillaPod micro-tripod
    • maybe a clipboard for some oocasions, usually with a tablet in a large clear organizer pouch



    Some of these items are not EDC. I may include them for special excursions. So some items may typically be swapped out. I have absolutely not desire to carry a computer in a backpack. That's what my SuperEgo and it's included Brain Cell are for.

    I'm looking for a backpack that I can set on the ground when not being carried and hopefully it will stay upright while loaded. Not a biggy if it's not perfectly balanced. I can also see myself taking this pack on recreational trips visit state parks and also for picnics and volunteer meetings (where it would probably be used as a portable office).

    If this were the old days with the family business, there would be no question that I would have the backpack as a constant EDC companion for work, play and everyday pursuits for everything from shopping to meetings to visiting relatives. Lately, since I haven't had a decent backpack (and I wouldn't carry my SLR in an unpadded pack anyway) I've been using a Canon 2400 Gadget Bag instead. Shoulder bags do not work well as a primary pack in backcountry, especially if you have to stoop over to tend to a dog who's along for the occasion.

    Currently, my camera of choice is a Canon Digital Rebel T3, which a family member gave to me as a birthday gift last year. It was purchased an QVC as a bundle, with the 18-55 kit lens, a 75-300 telephoto lens, the aforementioned gadget bag and memory card. In the future I would like to add at least one new compact point-and-shoot, like maybe a Canon S100, for those excursions where the bulkier Rebel is not desirable. I may also buy another Rebel like the T3i, making one SLR the wide-angle SLR and the other one serving as the telephoto. On hikes and other road trips, I love to shoot photos of wildlife, scenic vistas, people enjoying the outdoors, or other sights I may encounter. I also like to use digital photos on volunteer outings to keep a record of either problem areas that need work or of the work the volunteers are doing.

    If you look on YouTube for "Nutnfancy" for first aid kit videos, you'll find this guy who's a really militaristic survivalist but he seems to know his stuff about creating his own home-made first aid kits. I'm not into the kind of extreme backcountry hikes and camping excursions that he's into, but seems to have some good ideas for first aid. I'd like to use his smaller first aid kits as a possibility for something I could EDC.

    The three tentative finalists for this backpack pageant are the Tenba Medium Shootout Backpack, the Red Oxx Airborne Ruck, and the Tom Bihn Brain Bag. The Tenba is both the strongest contender and has the greatest weaknesses. All are expensive, but the Tenba seems to offer the most comprehensive overall package geared for backcountry excursions of photographers. But it's heavy and I don't know how well it's built or who would stand behind it. I have experience with Red Oxx and Bihn customer service, so they have a huge advantage. The Red Oxx ruck pack isn't geared to be a gadget bag, nor does it offer o-rings for bihn accessories. Neither the Red Oxx or the Tenba offer Bihn's poron-filled grab handle. None of these packs seems to be outfitted for snowmobile travel, so I'm really not sure what to do there. So despite the fact that Brain Bag is not explicitly an outdoor or work pack, it seems to be the leader of the pack at this point.

    Does anyone else on this forum use the Brain Bag in lots of everyday outdoor situations, hikes, and maybe even outdoor work sites? What are your experiences and how do you outfit it for your exploits? I realize that if I got a Brain Bag it would have to include one of the new Camera I/O setups, as well as probably a vertical slip, key straps, and pouches. If this purchase were based on price alone, I would likely go with the Tenba since it is already set up for cameras and offers weather protection (although I have no idea how effective or necessary their protection would be). Quality, who stands behind the pack, versatility and accessorizing are also major factors for me. The Brain Bag looks huge, but it seems (so far) to make the most sense.
    Owner of: Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.

  2. #2
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    551
    Congrats on getting your Ticket!

    Call Sign?

    73-KC0UKR

  3. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2006
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    551
    The Brain Bag can be awesome and it can also be unwieldy and requires a bit of thought and planning to get the most out of I think.

    The main beauty of the bag to me is the huge space in there and the fact that the way it is divided makes sure it maintains its basic shape most of the time.

    I use them as a Go Bag of sorts for Emcomm work and have one loaded and ready to go in each of my trucks. I also used one in Joplin and other various spots where I have dome Emergency service work and mostly have been content with the performance.
    I think it will easily swallow your list of stuff but you may need to find ways to store like stuff together inside smaller bags to keep it all organized and accessible.

    I carry a loaded vest with my HT's in it and batteries,tools,antennas,cables,ARRL radiogram message forms,ID,Lights,adapters and snacks ready to go when I put it on.
    I carry a few Military MRE meals and water,Rain Gear and Duct Tape also ready to go.
    I have Flame,Signal and First Aid and I even made a sleeve I can drop in that carries a mounted full power mobile radio if needed.

    This is a bag you just need to get and experiment with to get comfortable but I can easily carry more in there than I can even carry at all!
    I also use one as a hauling bag when traveling by car and will typically carry 3 armored computers in it and several full sized binders all together. It may be OK on your back that way but I just sling it around.

    As for Photo gear the same story applies. I either slide an insert in there or a ThinkTank bag I have that will go right in or both but anything used will need its own padding for the gear. One issue is that the bag is so tall that it can be tough to get stuff on the bottom out without emptying the whole compartment.

    I have 3 of them so I guess it is clear I like this bag a lot.

    Ed

  4. #4
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    Jan 2009
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    Florida
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    Congratulations from me as well on acquiring your ham radio license! My Brain Bag goes with me everywhere. I use it daily while attending graduate school (carrying my MBP and other school items). I also use it while hiking with my Cub Scouts, camping, visiting Disney World, etc. - you name it, this pack can handle it. It can easily hold more than I can comfortably carry for long periods of time. I think it could carry the items you have listed above.

    73,
    KF4ZQB

  5. #5
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    Jul 2009
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    Somewhere in the Hills
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    Oh, you guys would have to do this to me. I'll have to dig out my FCC license. I have no radio yet. I got my license so I could be one of least two contacts for volunteer trail work bees. Without another volunteer passing the test, neither of us will be getting radios. The radios are to be used for trail work and other volunteer trail functions. So new radios are on hold for now.

    I'll see if I can dig out my license. Nice to know there are people to correspond with.
    Owner of: Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.

  6. #6
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    What does everyone think of the Brain Bag as an outdoor pack / hiking pack? Anybody ever worn it on a short hike? How about an all-day trek?
    Owner of: Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.

  7. #7
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    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    551
    Maybe I wasn't clear in my reply about using one for radio work?
    I often carry the pack all day on my back or just from spot to spot but either way I am careful to try to keep the load manageable as it can easily become heavier than I want to carry all day long.
    Having the Vest is handy as I can grab a subset of the whole thing and only wear what I need a lot of the time.

    New Radio? I love new radios!

    Ed

  8. #8
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    Do any Brain Bag owners want to share their experiences of using their packs with sternum and/or waist straps? How well do these work on a hike?
    Owner of: Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.

  9. #9
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
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    Outside of Philadelphia, PA
    Posts
    221
    I can't speak to long outdoor hikes with my Brain Bag... But I can speak to using the sternum/waist straps for traveling adventures.

    The BB is my go-to travel bag. I pack light for the plane trip, but it becomes the real workhorse for the family when we hit our destination. I've loaded with trinkets (and bottles of tequila!) on day trips shopping in markets in Mexico. In New Orleans, we filled it with trinkets and cans of Cafe Du Monde coffee in the French quarter (5 total, I think). Last year, we used it as the gear bag as we wandered all over Maui (light hikes, beach trips, and a camera/jacket hauler to the peak of Haleakala.

    It always gets overloaded. it always gets heavy. And Daddy's hauling the freight.

    For day-to-day work use, I usually remove the sternum and waist straps... But they are a serious back-saver on trips. I don't have a lot of experience with traditional hiking packs, but I have found the sternum/waist combo on the BB to be great for my use in these cases. The sternum strap arrangement can be moved to find the ideal spot for comfort, and the waist strap is nice and wide for good stability. You don't have the frame support of a traditional hiking pack, but the sternum/waist straps do allow you to conform the bag to your back and keep it from shifting around, especially when you use the side cinch straps to lock down the load.

    For reference, I am 6' even. Again, not an expert on hiking gear... But hopefully this helps!
    ----------------
    Bob P.
    Magic Tiki Studios

    Empire Builder (black/steel), Brain Bag (steel), Small Padded Organizer Pouch, Clear Wallet, Soft Cell, Snake Charmer (cayenne) and assorted trimmings.


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