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Thread: Smart Alec Competitors? General Thoughts?

  1. #1
    Registered User platisc's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    New York/Santorini

    Smart Alec Competitors? General Thoughts?

    Hey everybody. First time on the forums. A brief about me: I'm Chris, editor of a travel brand, Off Track Planet, am fortunate enough to do a lot of traveling as part of my work. Additionally, I frequently fly back and forth between Greece as I am in the process of salvaging a small hotel on Santorini (it's not as glamorous as it sounds, but I'm far from complaining). Part of my editorial duties is to source quality gear for review. I don't know how it's slipped under my radar for so long, but I finally came across the Smart Alec and have since become completely consumed by all things Tom Bihn. Wow, what a brand! I'm anxiously awaiting my Smart Alec's arrival, and have pretty much run the entire internet dry of Smart Alec content. This leaves me wanting more, and is pretty much why I am writing to all of you. Hello, again.

    My question to all of you (Smart Alec owners or past users or anybody friendly enough): what would you say is the Smart Alec's strongest/best competition? Furthermore, has owning it led you to learn/want anything new that you hadn't known upon purchase?

    A bit about my bag requirements: First and foremost, I'm a backpack guy. My bag needs two straps, and needs to sit on my back. I need organization (exterior/interior), but am not willing to sacrifice space for extra pockets. Despite my neat tendencies, I am a fan of big open spaces in my bags, which is why I have went with the SA as opposed to the Synapse. I will be using this bag as an everyday bag. I will cycle with it, sleep outside of train stations on it and travel for extended periods of time with it. I also need it to be flexible in terms of carrying capacity, and am thinking that the bungee and 3 front straps will allow me to carry all sorts of stuffs (small tent/sleeping bag, shoes, etc.) on the exterior of the bag. Asking a bag to be small enough to not stick out (too badly) during the daily commute but big enough to pack up for a month internationally is a lot, I know. But we're all here for the best, and I'm hoping that the SA can deliver. I am a fairly light packer, and continue to minimize my load with each trip. 25L will be the least for me, but sometimes proper organization of a small-medium bag can trump a bigger bag any day

    My bag history: I started with a 60L Osprey (the big ones that people recommend when you first start "backpacking") but hated having to pair that with my North Face Recon. The dual-bag approach is just not for me; I'm less is more all the way. Thankfully, I cut that down to a 44L (when expanded) Mission Workshop Rambler. I LOVED the Rambler for years, but am sad to say that this SF company is quickly declining in terms of quality control (their bags are not as carefully crafted as they once were, and feature several design cues which just scream "cost-cutting" albeit having raised prices). Despite my once-deep love affair with the Rambler, its company's new direction and lack of interior AND exterior organization have led me to flee the brand in favor of Tom Bihn (but WOW, that was one sexy bag that could unexpectedly swallow loads). I also had a 5.11 RUSH 12 in the mix as my sort of Bug-Out-Bag, but after ten days in Colombia with the thing it left me wanting more. Nothing real bad to say about the 5.11, other than it isn't meant for extended trips, and thus wasn't for me.

    I suppose that is all. I'm just hoping to hear more stuff about Tom Bihn, the Smart Alec, or anything else relevant from any of you. I'm super super excited about receiving my SA and these forums. Brand loyalty is huge for me and I love how TB has created such a great group of people in these forums. Thanks for reading.

  2. #2
    Registered User Rocks's Avatar
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    Oct 2011
    Minneapolis, MN
    I also came to Tom Bihn from a Mission Workshop Rambler. I just sold my Rambler a few months ago. I loved that bag, but it was too much for me. I think you'll do well with a Smart Alec. It has more organization than the Rambler, and it's much smaller. I transitioned from the Rambler to the Synapses 19 and 25 and found myself liking the Synapse small pockets, but if you like open spaces, you'll dig the Smart Alec. Can't wait to hear what you think!

  3. #3
    Registered User scribe's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Cambridge, UK
    I don't have a Smart Alec (the S19 fulfils my needs), but I just wanted to say good luck with the hotel on Santorini. I went there as a student - amazing black-sand beaches, and the ancient ruins are awesome!
    platisc likes this.
    Work EDC: SE + S19 (summer); SE + SA (winter)
    Leisure: some combination of SE/SCB/MCB/Swift/LS/FJN/DLBC/Imago/SSB
    Travel: WF + Pilot/DLBP + SE/SCB or SA + SE/SCB
    General organisation: More pouches, stuff sacks and cubes than you can shake a keystrap at!
    Favourite TB colours: aubergine, forest (sniff!), linen, wasabi, UV
    Hoping for: FJN for iPad Mini + Moleskine; a Linen Side Effect; the return of Portable Culture!

  4. #4
    Registered User Ilkyway's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    GMT +1 Germany, North
    Ahh the anticipation! It is like watching someone read ones favorite Book for the first time. There is even a bit of jealousy for that person has so many thinks to discover for the first time. I am sorry not to have anything to contribute to your thirst of knowledge. But to be honest: I think that is not what you really want. I think you just can't resist to share this waiting until a new bag enters your live.

    I like your stile of writing and I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on your new SA. Which color did you pig? When will it arrive?

  5. #5
    Registered User platisc's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    New York/Santorini
    I'm feelin' the love! Thanks for all the replies guys.

    Extremely glad to hear that the SA is much smaller than the Rambler, Rocks. Obviously at under 2/3rd the Rambler's capacity, I knew it'd be smaller, but the Rambler was already a decently small size when fastened down. I'll admit that the lack of compression straps had me a bit worried about the SA's day-to-day size. Any further comments on sizing, compression, daypack usage are much appreciated. As previously stated: I'm looking for the one bag to rule them all. Big enough for long trips, small enough for a trip to the beach. Obviously there may be more suitable bags to throw a bottle of water, suntan lotion and some misc. stuff into, but I wouldn't dare enjoy a good day out without my best friend! (which I'm hoping will be my SA–just as all my other previous bags have been).

    And to llkyway, I totally understand and appreciate your jealousy to my virgin TB experience. I'm so excited it's ridiculous, this bag swarmed over my life and has yet to let go of its tenacious grip–and I haven't even gotten it yet! You're completely right that my questions aren't totally genuine, just rather something to spark some conversation while I'm anxiously awaiting the bag to be delivered. Itis scheduled to arrive Friday, and I eagerly refresh the UPS tracking page in hopes that it will expedite to Thursday. I prefer a more stealthy look so I went Black/Black/Steel. I was extremely on the fence with my liner and was very close to going Solar or Red (inferno?), but ultimately went with steel because even that is brighter than what I have been accustomed to. I loaded it up with a Vertical Cache for my 11" MBA, some external straps, and an upper Modular Pocket (also black). I kind of regret not purchasing more accessories to get in with the combined shipping, but I figured I needed more time to really understand what accessories will suit me best. I definitely want some cardholder type things (for Passport/IDs/folded receipts, etc) to attach on the O rings of the side pockets. Any suggestions on sizing for these accessories? Small?

    Thanks guys! It's so great to have a forum dedicated to quality bags. Nobody can hold a conversation with me when it comes to my backpacks, and my girlfriend (who is pretty much forced to listen) is growing tired of hearing about the benefits of modularity and ballistic nylon. Much love!

  6. #6
    Volunteer Moderator tpnl's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Toronto, Canada (GMT+5)
    Hello and welcome!

    I have a previous gen Smart Alec (no upper pocket loops) and I use it as my backpack EDC. Note that I use it mostly in an urban environment as an IT Professional EDC and therefore, some of my comments may not be relevant to what you would use it for.

    My chief requirements were for a system to protect my laptop, for the bag to be unobtrusive and for it to be durable.

    I tried many other backpacks for use by IT Professionals including Booq, Brenthaven, Think Tank, STM, Higher Ground, Axio, Victorinox and MEC. Generally, all the other backpacks had varying degrees of fixed pockets / protection that were close to the Smart Alec but not the modular flexible organization that the TB products have. Most importantly for me, all the other backpacks (and many others I researched including Goruck , Tumi, Chrome and Mono) were not made of what is considered the best denier ballistic nylon – 1050d. Most were made from 1680d ballistic nylon that frayed after minimal use. My Smart Alec has had no issues with fraying. Even if marked, there is no splitting or fraying. Note that only the middle section is ballistic nylon. The rest is 1000d Cordura which is almost as durable (marginally better abrasion resistance but ballistic has marginally better tear resistance).

    For me, the top 3 advantages of the Smart Alec above other backpack I have found are:
    1) Protection – Hard sided Brain Cell + backpack padded base + annex clip suspension system
    2) Unobtrusive, relaxed style – Streamlined shape with minimal external details to catch onto things - everything is simple but well thought out
    3) Durable – Tom Bihn is one of the few companies that use the most durable ballistic nylon – 1050d. Also, the quality of the workmanship is exceptional and outstanding.

    Now, for the Smart Alec, I have an extra level of respect. Surprisingly, it ‘convinced me’ that it was the best! When I first got it, I did not like it as much. However, with actual use, I learned to appreciate its full qualities and it has made it to the top of my list of backpacks. One of the things that convinced me was its versatility. It has carried bulky items like a subwoofer where no other backpack of mine could because it can handle the extra depth of a bulky item. The large space with optional organization items (clip-on pouches, Freudian Slip, etc.) allows me the flexibility to hold many items – especially odd-shaped ones. The two pockets in the top flap are especially convenient for retrieving things easily and the combination of built in organization plus modular add-ons make it custom for you. Also, if packed properly, it is very streamline and sleek without any busy zippers or exterior pouches – good when travelling in crowded areas or in a professional environment. Wearing the backpack was also a surprise – it was so comfortable and felt almost therapeutic. Now, I know that each person is different but I found it has helped me to stand straighter and stretch my shoulders. Finally, it neatly fits all my gear inside (and I carry a lot) plus lunch, breakfast and mug. The bungee is useful for odd-shaped long items. There is even the option to increase the max volume via the modular pockets from 26L to up to 32L.

    There are, IMHO, some tips on how to best pack a Smart Alec. I find that packing vertically (instead of piling everything at the bottom) and putting things in the top flap pockets helps the pack keep its form. Having a Vertical Freudian Slip, Packing cubes and organizer pouches do help as well – especially if packing clothes for travel.

    BTW – look for the ‘Sticky’ for Acronyms in the TOM BIHN News & Everything Else section of the forum. It will help you read the posts. Now, this brings me to the final surprise so far – the forum. As you may have already found, it really enriches the experience of owning these quality laptop and travel bags. It allows people to share their experiences, have some fun and for everyone to find out even more about their products and how they can be used – generating more interest and dialog.

    Hope this is of some use to you.

    Last edited by tpnl; 03-25-2014 at 02:36 PM.
    S25/SA/Pilot/Cadet/TS/WF/A45 (Black/Iberian), Zephyr/BB/Co-Pilot (Black/Black/Steel), DLBP (French Blue), Ego (Black/Black/Steel with Indigo Stripe), CPF (Black/Indigo/Steel), EB (Black/Steel/Steel), Vertical & Horizontal Brain Cells, Vertical and Horizontal FS, Camera I/O, PCBP/PCSB/TT (400d Nordic), SE (Black/Iberian), Lead's Pocket (Black), Tall YSS (Iberian)

  7. #7
    Volunteer Moderator
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Honolulu, HI
    @platisc Welcome to the forums. For a look at accessory pouches used with the Smart Alec, you might take a look at @taminca's recent First trip with the Smart Alec as a Camera Bag thread, which shows pictures of several different accessory pouches in use. You've probably already seen this from your web searches, but I always liked Sid O'Neill's review and pictures of the Smart Alec (with a bright solar interior). I'll paste in one of my replies to another thread that gives the links
    Quote Originally Posted by moriond View Post
    You can see pictures from the Sid O'Neill's October 2013 Crate of Penguins review of the Tom Bihn Smart Alec in Black/Solar. That web page requires flash to view, so you can also see these pictures at his Flickr stream. These are some of the best/most detailed photos I've seen of the interior of the Smart Alec -- partly because there are so many photos taken at different angles, but also because the Solar interior makes it easy to see these details. (By the way, this web site review doesn't appear in the list of external reviews, even though the Tom Bihn folks retweeted the posting about this Smart Alec review back in October.
    As far as packing cubes for clothing, that's going to depend on how you use the rest of your bags, but you can take a look at Darcy's pictures of the Western Flyer packing cubes in the Smart Alec to get started.

    Another accessory that a lot of Smart Alec users like is the Vertical Freudian Slip.

    HTH. moriond

  8. #8
    Registered User platisc's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    New York/Santorini
    Hey guys! Thanks for all your help and support during my anxiety-filled week of waiting. Well, my Smart Alec came and so far I'm loving it! I've started a thread with a brief review here

  9. #9
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    New York City
    Welcome to the forums and glad you're loving your SA - it's a fantastic bag! I have it and I love it because it's a big open space and gives me a possible third option for my laptop (which is sizable) if my Brain Bag or SuperEgo need a break.

    I see your in the NYC(?) area. I have almost all of the TB travel bags - though my SA is an older version than the one you have - and if you'd ever like to get a peek before getting something I'd be happy to show you and answer any questions I can. Haven't traveled and used as much as others, though expecting to work them out this year (fingers crossed!) but seeing them up close and personal might help the decision making process.

    Good luck!

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