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Thread: Questions about Tri-Star before I pull the trigger

  1. #1
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    Questions about Tri-Star before I pull the trigger

    Hi.

    One-bagger here looking for the ultimate travel bag. I'm not totally new to Tom Bihn; my husband has an Aeronaut and he once got me a Buzz laptop backpack. Seeing the travel bag in action and having owned a TB myself has left me convinced that TB should be my next purchase, and hopefully my last one for a good while.

    I want the bag to work for nearly all my travel, both because I don't have the budget to buy multiple TB bags and because I don't like having a lot of bags at home to store. The type of travel I do really runs the gamut: I make a lot of weekend trips by train to my hometown (often taking my laptop so that I can do work on the train), occasional road trips, weeklong trips to Europe where I want to bring dressier clothing and accessories, weeklong adventure trips that are all about hiking clothes and practical gear. I don't do much business travel; about once a year I'll go to a conference, but as mentioned above I do sometimes like to take my laptop along on personal travel.

    I've been one-bagging whenever possible for years, using unstructured, nonwheeled weekender and duffel bags with Eagle Creek packing cubes for organization. I feel this isn't the best use of space, and I am craving something with a bit more built-in organization, not to mention backpack straps for long security and passport control lines. That, and the fact that I sometimes carry a laptop, have me thinking Tri-Star is the way to go. I have a few questions about the bag before I decide.

    Ballistic vs. Dyneema. Weight is pretty important to me. I'm a 5'8" woman, 145 pounds, so the conventional wisdom tells me to stay under 15 pounds for a shoulder-carried bag (10% of body weight). This isn't always going to be possible (laptop, souvenirs), but I'd like to get close. I far prefer the look of ballistic, but the 10-ounce weight difference makes Dyneema really tempting. I don't think I'm particularly hard on my bags, and I only travel about once a month. I feel like strength/durability is not the concern for me so much as aesthetics. Any opinions on the look/vibe of these fabrics would be welcome.

    Packing accessories vs. built-in organization. I've read lots of advice to use packing cubes with the Tri-Star. I was wondering how necessary people feel this is. The reason I kind of rebel against this advice is that to me the draw of Tri-Star is that it has organization built into it, with the tradeoff being extra weight (such that it weighs more than the larger Aeronaut). I hesitate to add even more weight to the bag by using multiple packing cubes and other organizers. If I'm going to do that, I may as well get an unstructured Aeronaut and pack it my own way, right?

    Adding three packing cubes (one each of small, medium, and large) adds 10 ounces in weight to the bag. Is it worth it?

    Bulky items. The vast majority of the time, I pack items that are flat or can be packed flat -- clothes, toiletries, one or two extra pair of shoes, a day bag. However, once in a blue moon, I will want to take something bulky. For example, on a recent trip, I took hiking boots. I know I could wear them en route, but that can be really uncomfortable. Or I might want to bring toys and gifts when I visit family. How accommodating is the Tri-Star of the occasional odd-shaped item?

    Fitting it all in. When you pack the Tri-Star, where do you tend to put smallish items that don't fill up the various sections? I'm especially interested in your 3-1-1 bag. I'm strongly considering getting the 3D clear cube so that I can tether it to one of the o-rings in the bag, but does it fit well on top of things in the center or divided compartment?

    For a hypothetical cross-Atlantic flight, I feel like I would pack the Tri-Star like this:

    • large compartment with tie-down straps: all clothing (including loose items like socks and underwear, laid out flat and sandwiched between larger items like pants). For years I've been fitting all my clothes in a single Eagle Creek packing cube (10 x 14 x 3), although the cube has been filled to bursting at times, so I feel that my clothes for a typical trip would fit perfectly in this compartment without overstuffing.
    • center compartment: laptop in sleeve if traveling for business; compartment left empty for souvenirs if traveling for pleasure. Maybe this is where the 3-1-1 would go?
    • divided compartment: extra pair of shoes on small side, handbag (I have a nylon tote that is practically the exact dimensions of the TS medium packing cube) containing miscellaneous items such as dry toiletries, camera and chargers, sunglasses, jewelry, magazines, etc., on larger side.
    • exterior pockets: water bottle, travel wallet, keys, phone, earbuds.


    Then, when I pass security, I would fill up the water bottle and move it along with my wallet, phone, earbuds, and other inflight items from the exterior pockets to my handbag. When boarding the plane I can just grab the handbag out of the medium compartment and stow the TS.

    This makes sense to me in theory, but it's so hard to know what will work without having the bag. Another question is all those small items. I think of the bag as really having 4 compartments. In reality people seem to be able to pack a multitude of items, various cubes and stuff sacks and whatnot. It's so hard to visualize how it will all fit together!

    Finally, weight distribution. If the center compartment is empty, is the bag awkward to carry as a backpack? Would it be better to fill the center compartment and leave the outermost compartment empty?

    Thank you for any and all thoughts and advice, even on the questions I forgot to ask!

  2. #2
    Registered User scribe's Avatar
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    Hi Cara, and welcome! I bought a TriStar initially and then returned it because it was too big for me (I'm only 5'2"), but I now have a Western Flyer that's very similar. I can't answer all your questions, but:

    * like you, I'm not crazy about dyneema as an exterior fabric, but the black is quite smart - I have a packing cube shoulder bag (PCSB) in black dyneema and it looks OK

    * the 3-D clear cube fits really nicely into the smaller of the divided sections (which I think is the same size as the Western Flyer outer sections) - you can stack at least two on top of one another

    * I'm not sure you need all three packing cubes. The large size is good, as it reduces bulging (affectionately known around here as TBTSB), but I wouldn't bother with the medium and small if you're going to use your tote and some smaller cubes/sacks

    * the three sections are quite narrow, so a bulky item wouldn't fit well - you'd either need an Aeronaut (or maybe the new mini-Aeronaut that's set to debut next month?).

    * weight distribution - the middle compartment seemed to me to squish shut if the two outer ones contain stuff, so I can't imagine it will be an issue if you leave it empty

    Overall, your packing plan sounds a lot like what I did with my WF for a weekend trip, down to filling one outer section with a tote for the flight!
    Last edited by scribe; 05-18-2014 at 09:36 AM.
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  3. #3
    Dee
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    Until you said you preferred structured I'd have recommended one of the Aeronauts too.

    I have so far bought my travel bags in Ballistic, but I do own a Synapse in Nordic. The grid pattern definitely makes the bags more sporty casual looking. Of course your only Dyneema choice right now is black, so that might impact too. All the colours look good in their way, but I am a purple person, so I love Aubergine.

    Yes, the TriStar works with very little organisation. The back compartment has straps to tie down a clothing bundle, and the front is divided. That adds a lot of organisation. I tend to use a set of packing cubes, but instead of the small and large I have a packing cube shoulder bag and backpack. They are dual purpose, squish things a bit more, make things a bit squarer, and it's easier to stick something next to them without messing up your other bundles.

    It doesn't do bulky stuff, at all. It definitely won't do hiking boots, and if you buy souvenirs you'll have to stick to flat stuff. That the main reason I bought an Aeronaut. I needed something that can handle bulky on Christmas with the family trips.

    You packing plan sounds sensible. I tend to stick one of the packing cubes each in the middle and front compartment, and then put small stuff on the side. That way I don't have one compartment entirely full of tiny stuff. Having some 3D cubes and stuff sacks helps with stacking the remaining space, and don't forget that the zippers on the front compartment open all the way around too, which helps which filling those little gaps.

    I never bothered with any planning the weight distribution, but I have never noticed it being particularly awkward to carry either.

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    I would second that comment that the TriStar is not good for bulky items. That said, I love mine. I packed for a week and stayed at about 15 lbs., but did not take a laptop. Your hiking boots will likely not fit at all, or take up way too much room. I wear a size 12 or 13 (depending on brand) narrow woman's shoe, and could not get my tennis shoes in the small compartment, although a dress shoe did fit. One thing to be aware of is that a bulky item will tend to push into the adjacent compartment.

    I am a woman a few inches taller and a few lbs. heavier, and I would guess a few decades older than you (I'm officially retirement age). I was a little worried about how I would manage with carrying my luggage instead of rolling it, but no problems! Because of that, I deliberately kept the weight down on my first trip; next time I will venture more. I used both the Absolute Strap and the backpack straps, depending on how long I was going to be carrying the bag.

    I found that the front pockets were difficult to put much in unless it was flat. I was trying very hard, though, to keep the width at 8-9" because of United's newly published rules about carryon size (which I found they did not really enforce on my flights).

    My husband and I recently took his Aeronaut on a 4 day trip. It does hold quite a bit more, and bulky items are less of a problem, but the laptop would be easier in the TriStar. Although the Aeronaut worked great for the 2 of us, I still think I prefer the organization of the TriStar, and will probably stick to using that.

    Your method of packing sounds doable (without the hiking shoes) in a TriStar, although I think the bag will bulge some. I also think the camera will need to be a small one. I honestly think I could handle 20 lbs. in it. Being tall has advantages!

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    I have a Dyneema WF and I am able to put my 311 kit which is in 3D cube secured by a key strap in the smallest front pocket. This way, I can easily pull it out for security and not loose it.
    Synapse 19, Co-pilot, Travel Tray, PCSB, Western Flyer, all in Dyneema, Side Effect and pouchmania

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    This forum rules.

    The more I think about it (validate it?), the more I think it's pretty rare that I need to carry anything truly bulky. The hiking boots, I've needed twice in four years, I think. Let's say I wanted to take them, or Christmas gifts, or whatever--that would probably take up too much room in an Aeronaut even. So either way, I'd be two-bagging that trip (at least one way). On reflection, too, most souvenirs I buy to be small or flat. Clothes, jewelry, record albums for my husband, record-album-size Ritter Sport bars from the Frankfurt airport, artwork, etc. Tri-Star is looking better and better for the way I travel.

    Following Auntie Em's post I'm now wondering about other shoes. I wear a women's size 11. Hiking boots are a no, but will running shoes lead to TBTSB? Speaking of TBTSB, does this happen with other bags--is there a TBWFB, or a TBAB? Or is this an issue that's unique to the Tri-Star and if so, how annoying is it?

  7. #7
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    I say go for it ! The way you describe packing above matches almost exactly how I use my Tri-Star. But with men's clothes obviously ...

    I would also advise a complete set of TB packing cubes for the Tri-Star (large, medium & small). It gives you the flexibility to use 1,2 or all of them depending on the length of your trip and how many clothes / shoes you have. The clear 3D cube is a perfect 3-1-1 bag and can fit in either of the front 1/3 of the bag or even in the front zipper pocket. I have said before, think of the Tri-Star as a Club Sandwich, keep each compartment as flat as possible and use the packing cubes right into the corners. I prefer folding to rolling clothes as I find this helps the flatness.

    OK, of course if you over-pack, it WILL bulge - TBTSB. If this is too much I transfer some items (laptop, electronics, etc) from the centre compartment into my Cadet and use a 2-bag strategy. Generally this is what I do for travel to-from Boston (4-5 days trip); for Frankfurt (2-3 days trip) everything usually fits into the Tri-Star.

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    I don't think you will have a problem with size 11. I believe it is rated for a man's size 11, which is longer. My current size 13’s *almost* fit in the small compartment. It was a shoe length problem, not width. They would fit in one of the other compartments (more room to tilt).

    I also recommend packing cubes in order to get your clothes as flat as possible.

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    A slightly contrary view: I have the clear 3D cube and love it, but I just tried out the packing cubes for Tristar and I really didn't feel like they added anything appreciably in the way of organisation or packing ease for me. I just lay my clothes flat in the front and back sections and fold shut (the centre section I use for odds and ends that don't fold, like the 3D Cube and socks, and that works very well indeed). The thing about the Tristar is that it's already divided in three, so you have some built-in organisation there.

    Last month I took it on a trip to New York: I was staying in a hostel which had lockers for luggage. The Tristar fit happily on end in the locker and when I wanted to get clothes out I just unzipped it from top to bottom (without bringing the zippers around the corners) and pulled the clothes out without moving the Tristar. Maybe not an anticipated use case but it worked surprisingly well!
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by cara View Post
    Speaking of TBTSB, does this happen with other bags--is there a TBWFB, or a TBAB? Or is this an issue that's unique to the Tri-Star and if so, how annoying is it?
    I definitely get TBWFB if I'm not careful. As UK-Limey says, make sure your packing cubes are packed to an even thickness right out to the edges - if your cubes bulge, your bag will bulge!
    Collections:
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    forest/cork/linen + steel/olive (Imago, Pilot, SCB, COW, QK, OPs)
    olive/plum + steel/UV/wasabi (S19, SE, MCB, TSSs, SSBs, YSSs, OPs)
    black/steel + iberian (SE, SCB, FJN, TSSs, YSSs)
    Hoping for: FJN for iPad Mini; more bags in Aubergine; the return of Portable Culture!

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    Quote Originally Posted by cara View Post
    record-album-size Ritter Sport bars
    You can get record-album-size Ritter Sport bars in the Frankfurt airport? That's reason enough for me to go! Especially if they come in Rum Raisin which I cannot find anywhere in the US anymore (yes, online, but no, not at the going rate - yeesh).

    Have you ever tried minimalist running shoes for travel? I recently took a pair of size 11 black Merrell Bare Access Arc 2s on a trip and was delighted with the space and weight savings (though I eventually decided to wear them on the plane and bring sandals as my other shoes). I slogged all over a city in them, sometimes with all of my belongings, and couldn't get over how comfortable I was. The light weight is an advantage while walking as well as when packed. Unfortunately, a lot of the current minimalist runners seem to come only in obnoxious colors which would be less versatile so I'm now running in a bright yellow pair and saving my black ones for travel.

    When I was test packing, I wrapped the shoes with velcro straps to keep them compressed. I think that would cut down on the bulge, though I don't have a TS and can't say for sure. If you don't need the ankle support, there are minimalist trail shoes out there as well. One of my friends swears by Vivobarefoot. They even make a hiking boot, though the site doesn't specify weights and they don't look terribly packable.

  12. #12
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    I love Vivo Barefoot shoes - I currently have two pairs of trainers (Lucy Lites) and a pair of Mary Janes. The latter are great for plane travel as they fasten with velcro so are easy to get on and off.
    Collections:
    black/aubergine + wasabi (WF, SA + UMP, TT, TSSs, SE, Swift, QK, YSSs & KTPs)
    forest/cork/linen + steel/olive (Imago, Pilot, SCB, COW, QK, OPs)
    olive/plum + steel/UV/wasabi (S19, SE, MCB, TSSs, SSBs, YSSs, OPs)
    black/steel + iberian (SE, SCB, FJN, TSSs, YSSs)
    Hoping for: FJN for iPad Mini; more bags in Aubergine; the return of Portable Culture!

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    Also, on the packing cube front, the only reason to have a large cube (or, even better a Packing cube backpack) is for when you want to use the center section for clothing. It makes packing soft stuff rather than electronics in the center WAY easier...

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    Quote Originally Posted by binje View Post
    You can get record-album-size Ritter Sport bars in the Frankfurt airport? That's reason enough for me to go!
    Well, they did a few years ago, at least. I'd call before you make a special trip.

    I do have black (with white trim) Nike Frees and love them for running, light hiking, and general sightseeing. They don't quite cut it for more difficult terrain or wet/muddy conditions. Also rocks get stuck in the treads, which drives me nuts. My compromise for most hiking is to wear trail runners. The boots are when I need serious support and Gore-Tex.

    I think that I will skip the packing cubes for now. I don't want to order them only to find that I don't need them. I don't want to have to sell a kidney just yet. I'm going to try to limit myself to just the bag, a few key straps and double carabiners, and maybe the 3D clear cube.

    Is there any speculation on new Dyneema colors for the Tri-Star, besides just the black/wasabi combination?


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