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  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Oslo, Norway

    Time to invest in a new EDC bag


    I have to start with saying how amazed I am to find all this information about just one bag company and their bags. I started looking for bags through various websites and ended up here through All this information, the obvious quality of the product and direct interacting with the customers made the decision easy to go with my first Tom Bihn bag. But which should I get?

    I work with clients in an office environment that tend to be quite laid back. It's business casual at best, but I need to be able to look professional. To come across as a bit sporty or techie is probably okay, but I don't want to push it. A backpacks will fine and if I keep the colors conservative - I am thinking black (or gray and black) is probably okay.

    Basically I can leave nothing overnight, and I have to haul everything I need back and fourth every day. This is what I always bring:

    Electronic equipment
    Think pad X1 carbon (14'' inch ultrabook)
    Charger for the PC and cell phone with cables
    Various display adapters
    Laser pointer

    Two manuals (paperback books). Maybe 300 pages total

    Office equipment

    Office shoes (wintertime)
    Bike clothes for biking home (summertime)
    A rain coat on rainy days

    Business cards
    Access cards
    Chapstick and some medicine

    I would also like to be able to carry some random groceries from the local market on the way home (think bread size)

    I think that is about it. Today I just have a standard small Dell backpack in black and gray. I am fine with the colors, but it has no room for my shoes and extra clothing. I am able to cram it in there, but the bag looks stuffed and the keyboard is pushed into the display leaving marks on the display. I need something bigger.

    I really like the various mesh inside pockets and easy to get to outside pocket on my current setup. What I don't like is that the cords are all in a bundle at the bottom of the bag, and that it is too small.

    Given that I bike in the summer, I much prefer a backpack to anything else. In the wintertime I haul stuff through all kinds of weather (snow, rain and anything in between) on foot and public transportation.

    I have been looking at the Synaps 25, the Smart Alec and the Brain Bag. I think I like the neat organizing of the Synaps, but I worry it will not fit my shoes and extra clothing. I like the looks of the Smart Alec and the fabric choices, but here as well I worry it will not be big enough. So that leaves me with the Brain Bag. I like it that it is big and the flexibility that comes with that. For looks though I am not sure it is my favorite and I worry that the fabric inside it will be too dark.

    Your thoughts would be welcome on bag, setup (accessories) and material!

  2. #2
    Forum Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Get the Synapse 25 - I use it similarly, and I'm sure it can more than handle your everyday! You should be able to fit the laptop, books, and notebook in the main compartment, with the misc things (and the mouse, display adapters, etc) in the side pockets. The bottom pocket can be used for your shoes, clothes, or raincoat (provided that you only have one of those at a time, though if the raincoat folds up small, it might fit alongside), or you could even fit them in the main compartment (recommend a packing cube so they don't end up smushed at the bottom and uncomfortable on your back) and put chargers, etc in the bottom pocket (lots of people love the snake charmer for that pocket) instead. If you don't usually carry a water bottle with you, the water bottle pocket could be used for the laptop charger or even your shoes (depends on shoe size - my women's size 7 fit with room to spare).

    I also think the styling of the Synapse is the most professional-looking, but I suppose that's a matter of opinion. Smart Alec probably wouldn't be a bad option, but I think the Brain Bag is way bigger than you need.

  3. #3
    Forum Member Melissa's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    La Mesa (San Diego), California
    Have you looked at the Western Flyer or TriStar? They allow you the option of carrying brief case style (a bit more professional) or backpack (for longer hauling). The backpack straps on either are great! They are well-padded and distribute the load, especially as hauling electronics can a bit heavy. If you prefer to carry on your shoulder or cross body, I highly recommend the Absolute shoulder strap. I believe they also have the attachments clips for a brain cell computer case.
    Last edited by Melissa; 12-28-2013 at 06:59 PM.

  4. #4
    Forum Member monkeylady's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2013
    Puget Sound region
    I own a Synapse 25. It would easily accommodate everything on your carry list if well organized. However, the big advantage to the Smart Alec, since you bicycle so much, is that it can sport a reflective cord down the back of the bag that keeps you glowing in the moonlight or in headlights. An important safety feature, I think, since you live so far north and, I imagine, enjoy so little daylight much of the year (like Seattle, where I live). Of course, you could rig a guardian light on a Synapse, but maybe some serious biking folks from around here can weigh in on the importance of the safety features of the Smart Alec. The Smart Alec is less than 100 cu. in. larger than the Synapse. This would give you all the room in the world for shoes, rain coat, biking clothes (think stuff sacks), toiletries (think packing cubes), cables (think Snake Charmer), and a small shop bag for groceries (which you may also stuff into the pack, if a modest purchase, for the ride home.) Yes, the organization of the Synapse 25 is quite alluring. You might also find a newer video on the Synapse 25 made by a user. He is a tech guy and how he organizes and packs his gear is very interesting and hopefully helpful. Good luck.
    The stockpile keeps growing...I'm in serious trouble.

  5. #5
    Forum Member Ms. Ferret's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Seattle, WA
    The Smart Alec is what I use, because I won't carry a work laptop without a Brain Cell to protect it, and the SA has built-in clipping points for that. Brain Cell vs. Cache is probably an important consideration if you're going to be biking with your laptop:

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    get the smart alec with both an upper and lower pocket...this increases the volume from 26 liters to 31 liters...i have one in black/black/solar with nordic upper and lower...i intend to do a review and post it in a couple of places the next time i have a pretty day so i can take some shots outside..

    i ride a bike full time and my current load out weighs between 15 and 20 lbs. depending on the weather...

    a word of caution...the smart alec will definitely cause heat build up on your back...

  7. #7
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Oslo, Norway
    Thank you all for very useful information. I had not considered the the Tristar and Western Flyer. They are really good suggestions and seem like amazing bags, and I agree they look more professional. But they also will make me look a bit more like "I just got off a plane". More likely than not though, I just got off a tram or my bike. I like to keep it real

    I actually thought you all would steer med towards the Brain Bag, but non of you really did that. I really can't decide, so I ordered three bags and will send one or two back. (My wife is also looking for a bag)

    I ordered the Synaps 25, The Smart Alec and the Brain Bag. I'll take some pictures and give you my thoughts when I get them.

  8. #8
    Forum Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Somewhere in the Hills
    I believe you'll find that participants in this forum are a diverse group. Different people have different needs. The Synapse 19 and Synapse 25 have created quite a stir here as the latest generation of backpacks, so you'll naturally find major fans of them here. Given time for the Guide's Pack to gain a following, it will have a fan base here as well. (Of course, the Guide's Pack is more of a specialized product as I see it.)

    I look forward to seeing what you do with your new gear.
    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
    Dec 2013
    Oslo, Norway
    Time to update this post. I received the backpacks today. (picture intensive post)

    The bags came nicely packed in TB box.

    Time to invest in a new EDC bag-photo-1-jpg

    This is what was in the box

    Time to invest in a new EDC bag-20140107_165134-25%-jpg

    Synapse 25 (Exterior/Lining): Black/Steel
    Cache: Size 4Z (15-inch MacBook Pro)
    Brain Bag (Main Body/Front Panels/Lining): Black 420d/Black 420d/Steel 420d
    Snake Charmer: Black 420d
    Smart Alec (Main Body/Front Panel/Lining): Black/Black/Iberian
    Glowire kit: Aqua
    Yarn Stuff Sack, Small, All Fabric, Solar

    First impressions were very good. I thought it would be easy to decide once I got bags in hand, but that was sadly not the case. I liked all of them, but I can only keep one.

    Time to invest in a new EDC bag-20140107_170657-30%-jpg

    I feel certain that all the packs would get the job done quite well, and I think I would be happy with any of them.

    The first one I tried to pack up was the Synaps. My shoes does not fit in the bottom compartment, so they have to go into the main room. They fit there, along with my computer, the cash and a notebook and small books. The snake charmer fits nicely in the bottom compartment. Over all I like this bag a lot. I think it is great looking, well laid out and organized.

    Time to invest in a new EDC bag-20140107_170848-30%-jpg

    The cashe comes out nicely too.

    So everything fit in the pack, but I felt the shoes took up a lot of the room in the main compartment. One thing that is a difference in these bags are the handles. Perhaps not a big deal, but I will be placing the bag next to me, on my lap on buses and trams and I will be using the handle quite a bit. The Synaps has the flimsiest handle of them. (You should be able to tell from the picture with all three above.)

    The Smart Alec is a great pack. Different from anything I have seen before. It has room for all my stuff. Lots of little pockets on the inside.

    Time to invest in a new EDC bag-20140107_165449-25%-jpg

    I thought it would look less professional, but getting it in black really hides the "odd" shape quite well, and for me this would not be a problem AT ALL. On the downside I feel having that one big room where I have to put my shoes, my computer and my books feels messy. I also noticed that unzipping it quickly was a problem because you can't just draw the zipper in one direction - you have to do a circle. I am sure this is just something I would get used to though. The handle is much nicer than on the Synaps. It is thicker and more comfortable to carry. I love the iberian color and fabric on the inside.

    However, I feel this bag would excel more as an non-work bag. If I were buying a pack to haul some stuff off to friends or go to the park or anything else really this would be my choice.

    So to the bag I am going to keep; the Brain Bag. This bag seems more organized for my purpose. I can put my shoes and raincoat in one compartment, and put the computer, books, notebooks and office supplies on the other. For me this a big plus. I don't have to pull my raincoat and shoes out to get to a small book. I know they will be in separate compartments.

    This bag is huge. The two other bags fit all my stuff, but there was not much room for anything else. I am not saying nothing else would fit, but the bags would start feeling stuffed. Stuffed bags are also more difficult to get stuff out of. I like the hugeness and the flexibility that comes with it. It makes it easier for me to go by the market on my way home and pick up a few things for dinner. In the odd case that I would have to carry something extra, for instance my own projector to some meeting, (okay that never happens anymore, but) this bag would do that - easily. I don't think that would be the case with the two other bags.

    The 420 fabric is great. It looks good, and i think it will shed water, snow, dust and hair easily. For the inside fabric and color, I wish I could get it with some of the options available for the Synaps and the Smart Aleck. Frankly, the steel is rather boring.

    One worry I had was that it would look too big. It is bigger than the two other bags and it looks bigger than the two other bags, but nothing outrages and feel it is withing the limits of what I can pull off in my line of work and my clients. They know I have to carry my computer and office around with me, and where I live - extra cloths.

    I took some pictures to illustrate how the different bags looks on my back. Hopefully it will show the difference for others that might wonder how big they will look. I should add that I am 5'10''.

    (Just found out I can only have 5 images. Will make a new post with the three next to each other)

    So this is what we will do. I am keeping the BB, the snake charmer, the little yellow sack and cashe. I already moved the cashe over to the BB and I ordered a Vertical Freudian Slip to go with it.

    My wife loved the BB so we ordered her a blue one.

    In closing I must stress that all the bags are great bags. I had a really hard time choosing and it comes down to personal preference and small details like the handles to sway you one way or the other.

    Sadly we are returning the Synaps and the SA, but I have a feeling we will be return shoppers.
    Last edited by Sandman; 01-08-2014 at 08:04 PM.

  10. #10
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Oslo, Norway
    The three bags on my back next to each other.

    No of them have much in them at this point, but I think the SA (far right) actually look the biggest of them. In this case the SA and the BB are carrying about the same content. I think the Synaps is pretty much empty here.

    Time to invest in a new EDC bag-photo-2-jpgTime to invest in a new EDC bag-photo-3-jpgTime to invest in a new EDC bag-photo-4-jpg

  11. #11
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Great review and photos. I'm glad you found a bag that works for you.

    I gotta say, though, as a happy owner of a Brain Bag and Smart Alec (and ID, and Synapse 19), your photos are misleading with regard to sizing. For someone considering Brain Bag vs. Smart Alec, I'd hate for them to get a feel for sizing based on these photos. Both bags are pretty big, but the Brain Bag is noticeably larger than the Smart Alec. In your pics, the Brain Bag looks tiny (I almost didn't recognize it!) and the Smart Alec looks about normal if fully stuffed.

  12. #12
    Volunteer Moderator tpnl's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Toronto, Canada (GMT+5)
    I love the comparison and the whole decision process.

    I do agree that the last side by side picture of the Brain Bag and Smart Alec can be misleading. Also, some of the zippers and clips are open so it gives the backpacks a distorted look. For me, it is how the bag looks in the picture overall - very different from what I am used to - and I have a BB and SA! Maybe these side views may help:

    Time to invest in a new EDC bag-edcbrainbag640-jpgTime to invest in a new EDC bag-sa_edc_side_view-jpg

    Both bags are filled out about the same - I think I am just missing my breakfast and lunch containers in the BB. Also, the BB is cinched down as I am not using the full volume during my EDC carry times.

    Hope this helps!

    Last edited by tpnl; 02-09-2014 at 10:37 PM.
    TB Ballistic Black/Iberian Dyneema backpacks and briefcases for every occasion together with my cherished Nordic and Solar Dyneema!

  13. #13
    Forum Member dnarud13's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Vicenza, Italy
    Funny, over 10 years ago I faced the same problem with about the same parameters ('cept the laptop was hella heavier ). I came to the same conclusion. BB & SC ftw!
    [2003] Brain Bag (w/Lg. A45 Packing Cube, Snake Charmer, Q-kit & 2 Brain cells) ___________________________________________ "Be excellent to each other."
    - [2010] Aeronaut45 (w/Absolute, 1lg/2sm Packing Cubes, Travel Tray & 3D clear cube)
    - - [2013] Co-Pilot (w/S.O.S. strap, Cache, Clear Org wallet, 3D mesh cube, whistle, Sm. COP's & Q-kit)
    - - - [2015] Tristar (w/Absolute, PCSB, Passport Pouch & lg Packing Cube)

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