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  1. #1
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    A New Travel Bag

    I currently own a first generation Patagonia MLC travel bag. This bag is the perfect bag for me, but has long since been discontinued in favor of second and third generation models which make some unfavorable design choices such a using a less durable material (I hear) and a slightly smaller capacity. I'm also concerned that Patagonia is changing their business model, much like Eagle Creek, and is focusing more on releasing new models every year or so rather than maintaining and improving their current line in the long term. That said, I'm beginning to look for a bag that can replace the first generation Patagonia MLC in form and function.

    My Bag Requirements:
    • Approximately 22x14x9, give or take a few inches
    • No larger than maximum legal carry-on size (45 linear inches)
    • Between 40-45 liters (40 liters is ideal)
    • Large main compartment capable of folding out completely flat for bundle method packing
    • No dedicated laptop compartment
    • Backpack mode must be comfortable for long sessions (approx. 2 hrs)

    Aftering doing much research online, below are the bags that come closest to fitting my requirements:

    Patagonia MLC - First generation bag is great but later generations decline in quality
    Tom Bihn Aeronaut - Not conducive to bundle packing but great bag otherwise
    Tom Bihn Western Flyer - Too small (26 liters)
    Tom Bihn Tri-Star - Slightly too small (33 liters) and wasted space dedicated to laptop
    Tom Bihn Brain Bag - Not conducive to bundle packing and wasted space dedicated to laptop carry
    Red Oxx Sky Train - Durable but unnecesarily heavy and backpack straps leave comfort to be desired
    Red Oxx Air Boss - Durable but unnecesarily heavy and backpack straps leave comfort to be desired
    MEI Voyageur - Very basic and rugged looking, lacks auxiliary compartments for convenience

    Of all the travel gear companies I've researched, I've been most impressed with Tom Bihn. They appear to have great customer service, a strong customer focus, and they love what they do. I'm not a Tom Bihn customer yet but I'd love give them my business. Of the bags listed above, none of them are a perfect fit (call me picky if you want). From what I've seen the Aeronaut is a great bag with great reviews, but I'm just not comfortable changing my packing style to accomidate the bag. I've included some suggestions (including some rough sketches) for a new bag that would fit my needs:

    Suggestion 1 - Western Flyer expanded to accomidate 40+ liters, roughly the size of the Aeronaut.
    Suggestion 2 - Tri-Star with laptop compartment removed and adjusted to accomidate 40+ liters.
    Suggestion 3 - Brain Bag with laptop compartment removed and main compartment modified to allow it to fold out completely flat for bundle packing.
    Suggestion 4a/4b - New bag designs with form factor similar to Aeronaut but with completely redesigned compartment layout. (see my very amateurish sketches below)



    I'd love to see a bag made by Tom Bihn that could fit these requirements. Does anyone else concur? Is there anything you would add or change about the design? I'd love to see a Tom Bihn bag that fit these requirements. I'd be first in line to buy one.

  2. #2
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    I don't think the tri-star is too small. Pushing the future edge of carry on maybe but not too small. The future of carry on is being able to fit the bag under the seat though which a Western Flyer can do. Not many reports on the Tri-Star yet accomplishing this.

    I agree with the suggestion that a bag with 2 halves to a clamshell should have the option to remove a divider to make it one giant clamshell. Also see my suggestion for zipper compression strips in the Chameleon thread. They could allow a bag too big for carry on or under the seat, an option to go slightly smaller to fit the bill and eliminate extra hassle of check-in.

    My wife got a Mei Voyaguer and will be using it for the first time on our cruise, no flight. We got it last year after a 5 month wait, but we weren't in a hurry. I/we had not grown an attraction to Tom Bihn yet at that point. It has one external pocket that looks big enough to slip in a laptop. She glued flower and dragonfly patches on it, looks awesome. :)

    I considered an Eagle Creek Flight Companion when comparing it with a Western Flyer. I was able to see one in person at Whole Earth Provisions. The Flight Companion cost less but the quality is less as well, and somewhat flimsier.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by thorn View Post
    I don't think the tri-star is too small. Pushing the future edge of carry on maybe but not too small. The future of carry on is being able to fit the bag under the seat though which a Western Flyer can do. Not many reports on the Tri-Star yet accomplishing this.

    There's a reason why there aren't many reports out on whether the Tri-Star can fit under airline seats--only a couple are in circulation, and those went to reviewers. Wait a couple of months until "regular" people get them. I believe they will fit under most seats.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by thorn View Post
    I don't think the tri-star is too small. Pushing the future edge of carry on maybe but not too small. The future of carry on is being able to fit the bag under the seat though which a Western Flyer can do. Not many reports on the Tri-Star yet accomplishing this.

    I agree with the suggestion that a bag with 2 halves to a clamshell should have the option to remove a divider to make it one giant clamshell. Also see my suggestion for zipper compression strips in the Chameleon thread. They could allow a bag too big for carry on or under the seat, an option to go slightly smaller to fit the bill and eliminate extra hassle of check-in.
    I might be able to suffice with a 33 liter Tri-Star if it weren't for the middle laptop compartment. This is just wasted space for me, and 33 liters is less space than I'm accustomed to. I'm used to at least 40 liters but if the Maximum Legal Carry-On requirements change, I might have to adjust.

  5. #5
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    Hi Novan! Wow....that is the most detailed diagram I have ever seen.....and I thought I was a bag addict who obsessed over details. I agree with you: the old Patagonias were something else altogether; I just reluctantly parted company with my very old Little Brother carry on that they made--although the Western Flyer is a great substitute for the LBC. Their general philosophy seems to have become more "use and throw"--unlike their old one of buy one and keep it forever. I suppose they have to stay in business...!
    As for what might work for you: I find it useful to take two pieces...and of late, I am realizing that carrying the Western Flyer with another small carryon works really well for me rather than one larger one.
    I am not sure if you travel internationally, but if you do, then oftentimes the Max Legal Carry on does not quite work...so I prefer the understated look of WF.
    But I like the suggestions you have made above....I do not think it quite exists!! I know I wanted something a bit larger than the WF but less than the Aeronaut..I suppose it is hard to make a bag that size!

  6. #6
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    If the legal carry-on size is trending towards a smaller bag than the Aeronaut, perhaps the Tri-Star would be a good bag to go with. It would need to be optimized though. Perhaps made a little larger and/or the laptop compartment removed and that space added to one of the main compartments.

    Shiva, I haven't flown internationally yet but probably will for the next year or so. I hear European carry-on requirements are a bit more strict than here in the US. Since I like to do a little short-distance location hopping on foot I haven't really considered taking two bags. It just wouldn't be conducive to this kind of travel. In the perfect world, I'd prefer to have everything in one bag for convenience.

    I like the Western Flyer design, but like you, I wish it could be a little larger; legal carry-on size minus a few inches perhaps.

  7. #7
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    The TriStar is designed to be between Western Flyer and Aeronaut (inch between all 3)--but I think more than the inches, it is the design that is crucial. I too prefer NOT to have a dedicated compartment for my laptop--mostly cos I do tend to carry a sleeve; and usually have it with me outside until I pass security, and then I put it inside the bag. Unless one is a true business traveller, and hops thru every couple of days, I don't know if I want a separate compartment. And if one wanted that there is the Checkpoint Flyer. I really like the versatility of the WF design for packing...including the front pocket which can be made into a single compartment. I have found it perfect for packing all my clothes, and then I toss odds and ends into a small backpack or even a tote, and I am done!

  8. #8
    TOM BIHN Crew (we work here) Darcy's Avatar
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    The Tri-Star doesn't have a middle laptop compartment. Its middle compartment gives you the option of adding our Brain Cell laptop case if you'd like to use that compartment as a laptop compartment. Otherwise, it is another compartment sized to accept Packing Cubes, books, shoes, or whatever else you'd like to carry. In addition, the fact that the middle compartment does not zip completely down on the sides allowed Tom to add side comfortable grab handles to the bag. Because the middle compartment is in the center and loads from the top, it's a great place to safely store a bottle of wine or anything else fragile - not just laptops.
    Current Carry: Founder's Briefcase (every day carry), Small Cafe Bag (every day carry), Shop Bags (groceries, extra random stuff), Aeronaut 45 (travel), Synapse 19 (day hikes), Smart Alec (longer day hikes), Skookum Dog Road Duffel (Medium) (travel), Clear Organizer Wallet, Travel Stuff Sacks, Organizer Cubes

  9. #9
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    I don't have my Tri-Star yet, but I'm planning to keep the middle compartment empty and use it to bring home souvenirs. (I just got an EEE, which I think will fit in the Kindle-sized front pocket.)

    I find that the packing cubes make it really easy to use the bundle-wrapping method. I sometimes use my large packing cube in my REI Vagabond to hold the bundle.
    I love my Aeronaut, Tri-Star, Western Flyer, Cadet 15 Brain Cell, Imago, Medium Cafe Bag (daily bag), Swift, Side Effect and accessories (snake charmer, packing cubes, stuff sacks, pouches, lights, keystraps, etc.) Eagerly awaiting trays and Canine Citizens! Picture to come soon.

  10. #10
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    I think having a large main compartment and one small or medium sized auxiliary compartment is just more conducive to bundle packing. A large main compartment would also allow for multiple larger packing cubes if desired. I just have no use for three compartments, and subdividing the bag into smaller compartments limits the size of the bundle. This probably more a matter of preference than anything.

  11. #11
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    I think you should check out the Ebags Weekender


    I have personal experience with this bag. It's very sturdy, well made, has what you describe, is to your dimensions. Don't let the price fool you. It's pefect for bundle packing and even has internal tie down straps that adjust from high to low. And if you order it and don't like it, Ebags will pay for the return.

    I sold mine because I travel internationally and the size is just too big for most European airlines these days. That's why I got a Tri-Star. I don't bundle pack, I use packing cubes. I find bundling a pain if going to more than one or two places on a trip.

  12. #12
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    Personally, I love the size and configuration of the TriStar.
    The size is perfect, because it means that I'm less likely to overpack. Heavy luggage is not fun to carry around. Currently, my packing skills aren't sufficiently advanced that I can use a Western Flyer. However, I hope my skills eventually evolve so I can graduate to a compact bag like the WF.

    Three compartments also makes perfect sense to me. A compartment for clothes, another for toiletries and shower shoes and the middle for either my notebook or souvenirs.
    Personally, I want to really one bag my trips. I only want to take my notebook out during security checks and when I'm actually using it. Otherwise, it should stay in the bag. Doug Dyment makes a good point that it's better when both hands are free.

    It's possible to bundle pack into the large cubes. You could then fit that cube into the Aeronaut. Then again, this idea may not work for you.
    The opinions expressed do, in fact, represent the opinions of the government--its Congress, Supreme Court, and President--as well as the United Nations and its representatives; because, let's face it, I have that kind of power at my disposal.

  13. #13
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    The Brain Bag doesn't have a laptop compartment but two very big compartments.

    Each compartment can hold one laptop in its sleeve and related accessories.
    - One laptop in one compartment and other items such as rolled clothes in the other.
    - A Convertible Packing Cube/Backpack in one side and rolled clothes and a Convertible Packing Cube/Shoulder Bag on top.
    -Two Convertible Packing Cubes/Backpack in each compartment.


    I have 2 Brain Bags and I find them to be the most versatile backpacks I ever owned or laid my eyes on.

    They are perfect for plane and car trips, I imagine that they are as good for train trips.

    They are great bookbags also.


    Brain Bags can be filled to the brim and still meet carry on requirement or packed with a few things and look like very thin backpacks.

    I even sold my husband into carrying our Steel Brain Bag on a weekend trip. (his packing style is "lets throw things in until the bag fills up")


    My Sapphire Brain Bag can hold a week worth of coordinated pieces that can be dressed up and down.
    The Sapphire Large Cafe Bag makes a perfect plane traveling companion.

    The Large Cafe Bag could be used to carry a netbook in its sleeve and there will still be room for other items.
    Last edited by backpack; 06-13-2009 at 09:43 AM.

  14. #14
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    If you want an exact replica of your current bag, maybe you should look into getting it made custom. (No, this wouldn't be Tom Bihn, but he can't do everything.)

  15. #15
    genie1985
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    It's also not bad to Buy a new one !


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