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  1. #1
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    Synapse or Smart Alec?!?!?

    So I'm looking to upgrade my backpack to a Tom Bihn and am completely torn between the Synapse and Smart Alec! I love the looks and organization of the Synapse but am worried that it's too small for me. I don't love the Smart Alec nearly as much as the Synapse but am afraid the size might be more fitting of small trips, although I do pack extremely light. My main concern about the Smart Alec is the lack of organization compared to the Synapse. I would love to avoid having to store everything loose in the main compartment of the Smart Alec. I can post a list of all of my packing gear if that would make it easier, but please help me make a decision!

  2. #2
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    I had the same question. Then I noticed a post by one of the Tom Bihn forum regulars on her own blog (The Travelite FAQ). Her experience is a good indicator of max load for the synapse and I was nowhere close. I love my synapse. The build/material quality is amazing.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brehnert View Post
    So I'm looking to upgrade my backpack to a Tom Bihn and am completely torn between the Synapse and Smart Alec! I love the looks and organization of the Synapse but am worried that it's too small for me. I don't love the Smart Alec nearly as much as the Synapse but am afraid the size might be more fitting of small trips, although I do pack extremely light. My main concern about the Smart Alec is the lack of organization compared to the Synapse. I would love to avoid having to store everything loose in the main compartment of the Smart Alec. I can post a list of all of my packing gear if that would make it easier, but please help me make a decision!
    Brehnert, I completely sympathize. The Smart Alec is indeed designed for rectilinear objects that can be slipped in and out past one another vertically (like the Freudian slip, or a laptop, textbook, notepad, etc.). The Synapse is a more organized design for lots of smaller items or pouches/containers. I should note I have the Smart Alec, but not the Synapse, but I think I will get one in the near future as they are really complimentary bags. The Smart Alec for short trips and for work commute, and the Synapse as a bag to take with me while doing recreational activities, or very short overnight trips on the weekend.

    The Smart Alec, in my opinion, is the better bag by looks, and it's certainly very nondescript (it's hard to even see how it opens while it's being worn). Here's a guy who is using only a Smart Alec for a year-long round-the-world trip and he specifically picked it so that it would blend in and not stand out:

    I chose this backpack because of the great organization and heavy duty material that it’s made out of. It also looks like a daypack so it doesn’t scream tourist. The bag is equipped with aquaguard zippers to keep the contents dry when it’s raining.

    ...

    I have been traveling for over 3 weeks now and as I’ve told the people I’ve encountered, “I have everything I need, just not very much of it.” The freedom to just pick up and leave is remarkable. Everyone I have met wishes they didn’t pack so much. I saw a traveler walking to the train station with a 70+ L backpack, another backpack the size of mine strapped to their front and another bag in their hand. They looked miserable. Pack less, and if you can’t live without something, buy it on the road. The lack of restriction is very liberating and I wouldn’t recommend traveling any other way.
    (Gear List - 12 Month Round the World Trip)

    My advice to you would be to look up the volume of packs you already own, to see how big these are. Alternatively go to a recreational/outdoors store and see the daypacks and note their volumes.

  4. #4
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    One other thing, I posted this on another forum, but the Eagle Creek Pack-It Complete Organizer fits perfectly into the main compartment of the Smart Alec, with a few inches to spare on the top for say a toiletries bag (a small one). It's a good single item which folds out and hangs up in a closet, and has 3 packing cubes built-in. This adds instant organization to your Smart Alec when you want to transition from using it as a daypack to using it as an overnight bag (with lots of clothes).

    You can also use Tom Bihn's own packing cubes for the same purpose (which might work better for you). See the post here:

    Using Packing Cubes in the Smart Alec (photos) - TOM BIHN Blog: We make travel bags in Seattle, Washington

  5. #5
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    It would indeed help if you were to post a list of your packing gear.

    Some people, in the forum, have both bags and would be the most help.


    If you gear is mostly small stuff, the Synapse is likely the way to go. If you want to add clothes, it could also be the way to go if you are a small to medium size individual into ultra light packing.


    Make sure to check all the reviews, videos and the Flickr set for each bag.

    It is a tremendous help for visualizing the capacity of each bags!
    Last edited by backpack; 12-19-2012 at 08:43 PM.

  6. #6
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    Both You would use both, I'd bet. Like drbobguy says, they are complimentary.

    I have the Synapse not the SA (yet!) and I LOVE it.

    But like backpack advises, post your packing list and the Forum Experts can weigh in on which backpack to get first

  7. #7
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    I own both bags and have used both for travel and everyday use. For me, while both have their advantages, I seem to keep coming back to the Smart Alec as my general bag for both travel and everyday use. With what I carry on a daily basis, the SA's exterior and interior pockets are perfect - I have places for small electronics, pens, glasses, and a couple of small and medium pouches. I use a vertical Freudian slip which adds to the organization. For me, the biggest problem with the Synapse as a daily bag is not having something more rigid for papers and folders. I have tried large pouches, plastic folders and the like - none seem to work as well as the Freudian slip. For travel the SA works wonderfully with a couple of packing cubes. I have traveled for 3-4 days carrying business attire (dress shirts, ties, slacks - all in a folder or cube) and a tablet or laptop in the SA. Finally, again for me, the SA feels better on my back - not sure why, just does!

    I do like the Synapse as well and use it on occasion as a daily bag and for travel but I find that I will often have a more difficult time keeping track of where things are in all the pockets. There are times I consider selling the Synapse but suspect I would have seller's remorse - although I have been known to sell TB bags in the past - who knows?

    Having read the above, I feel the need to note that I do have a tendency to change bags a fair amount and the Synapse may become the bag of the day tomorrow!!

  8. #8
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    I'd agree with the others, here: it would be helpful for us to know a) how you plan to use the bag, and b) what you need to carry. I think both packs have potential as daypacks/work packs and as travel bags, but without knowing what items you want to carry, and the general size of those items, it's very hard to offer advice. For instance, a women's L t-shirt takes up way less space than a men's L. Lani can get like 86 shirts in a Synapse, but I can't.

    drbobguy's recommendation of a cube is a good idea if you're carrying clothes. You could definitely fit some of the Western Flyer small cubes or Aeronaut end cubes in the Synapse, and I've had success carrying Eagle Creek's double-sided cube, too, with room for other things.

    The other thing to consider is the ease of removing and replacing items once the bag is full. The SA doesn't have that much larger of a footprint than the Synapse, but its greater available volume might allow you to pack more loosely, giving you room to maneuver if you're in the airport, on the train, etc. If my Synapse is really full, I'd better not want to get my water bottle out and hope to cram it back in; this is less of an issue with the SA, which I rarely fill to capacity. Also keep in mind that the new modular pockets for the exterior of the SA might offer you more easy-access organization, a feature I admire in the Synapse.

    Based on what you've said (concerns about being able to fit enough), I think I'd err on the side of more rather than less space. With the customization options available for the SA, and the organizer pouches, some of your other concerns could be addressed. Then you'll have enough room to pack for your immediate travels, and time to acquire a Synapse in the future—which I recommend you do; it's by far my favorite bag of all time.

  9. #9
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    This is a great thread. I have been debating this issue myself. I have a Brain Bag as my workhorse, but I am looking for a smaller solution for a daypack. It seems that the Synapse is the right choice as an alternative to a small messenger. Would you all agree?

    Maybe I need both as well. I really dig the Smart Alec design changes...

    Does anyone have the Dyneema synapse? Is there a big difference in the weight when compared to the standard fabric?
    ----------------
    Bob P.
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    Empire Builder (black/steel), Brain Bag (steel), Small Padded Organizer Pouch, Clear Wallet, Soft Cell, Snake Charmer (cayenne) and assorted trimmings.

  10. #10
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    Thanks so much for all of your input! I recently saw on Twitter that a larger Synapse may be available as early as March 2013, but since I am going away in early March and will still need a bag for that trip, I'll include my packing list here anyway:

    CLOTHING
    2 Icebreaker tshirts
    1 Icebreaker tank top
    1 pair conversion pants
    1 pair mesh shorts
    1 pair cargo shorts
    1 long sleeve shirt (brand to be determined)
    1 Marmot Super Mica Rain Jacket
    2 pairs Icebreaker boxer briefs
    1 pair Vibram FiveFingers
    1 pair flip flops

    ELECTRONICS
    Canon Rebel XT Dslr
    GorillaPod tripod for camera
    Kindle
    Belkin Mini Surge Protector
    Travel Adapter
    iPhone

    TOILETRIES
    Glasses, contacts, razor, qtips, deodorant, Advil, antibiotic, hair trimmer, nail clippers, epipen, toothbrush

    3-1-1 Bag (in GoToobs)
    Saline solution, Dr. Bronners soap, Pacific Shaving Company shaving oil, after shave balm, shampoo, toothpaste

    MISCELLANEOUS
    Camelbak All Clear purification water bottle, swimming goggles, playing cards, headlamp, Aloksaks, dry sacks, headphones, MSR Packtowel, Kiva Keychain Backpack, sunglasses, ear plugs, sleeping mask

    That will literally be everything I bring on a 10 day trip to Costa Rica and Panama. Also, keep in mind that this list includes a full set of clothes that I will be wearing and will not have to go in the pack.

  11. #11
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    @Brenhert,
    Good list. I think that by packing your clothes into your dry sacks and grouping little odds and ends into pouches or baggies, you'll have a nice, light load. I think if you wear the bulkiest items (pants, a t-shirt and long-sleeved shirt, the jacket, the VFFs), and if you're really skinny, you probably could fit everything into the Synapse. However, I stand by my original recommendation that you invest in the SA. The extra room will allow you to tuck in a few extras like food, and you'll have an easier time getting your camera equipment in and out.

    @Bob,
    I have the (old) dyneema Synapse. It's a touch lighter than the Cordura version, but not radically so. The fabric does have more "give," so I feel like maybe it can accommodate more. I tend to think that the Synapse is likely more practical than a messenger, but I think that's my preference for two straps versus one.

  12. #12
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    @drbobguy,
    I've got an upcoming short trip coming up, and I think the Eagle Creek Pack-It Complete Organizer might be the way to go for me. Do you think a 13" laptop in a soft case (Cache-like) would fit into the Smart Alec along with the organizer, or would it be too tight a fit?

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