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  1. #1
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    Imago or Large Cafe Bag for travel?

    I just bought an Aeronaut to start traveling, one-bag style. However I still need a smaller bag to carry some other miscellaneous items that I usually need for flying. When I had my backpack and checked luggage, a Medium Cafe Bag was enough. But now that I plan on leaving the backpack at home, I'm suddenly in need of a larger bag. I've narrowed down my choices to either the Imago or the Large Cafe Bag, but am having a hard time deciding. Has anybody used one or the other as a carry-on bag and care to share their experiences? I'm mainly curious about:

    1) Does the bag fit under the seat in front of you?
    2) How packable is the bag when empty?
    3) What do you carry in it when using it as a carry-on?

    For reference, whenever I go flying I have the following in my Medium Cafe Bag:

    1 large Cavallini notebook (think Moleskine, but better paper quality).
    3 pens
    1 pill/vitamin box
    1 passport/ticket holder
    1 spiral reporter notepad
    1 DSLR + lens
    1 paperback novel
    1 cell phone (also serves as P&S camera and MP3 player)
    1 set headphones

  2. #2
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    I use the large Cafe Bag as a carry on second bag and I would have said no problem if I hadn't seen the DSLR + lens.

    How big is the camera and how big of a lens are you taking?

    I don't have the Imago, I hope somebody who does will chime in.

  3. #3
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    All of that actually fits into my Medium Cafe Bag at the moment. It's a bit of a squeeze, but everything fits.

    The camera is a Pentax ist DS2 with a 40mm pancake lens attached, so it's a very compact package.

  4. #4
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    I traveled to Vancouver with the Imago as my carry on and it fit under the seat in front of me with enough space for a foot to rest on either side.

    I find the Imago very versatile in terms of packing, and depending what I'm carrying I can pack it easily in both a horizontal or vertical fashion. I also like the way the shape of the Imago wraps around my hip while I'm carrying it. It molds perfectly.

    What I carry in my Imago on a daily basis is a pretty long list. But here's the gist:

    Headphones
    iPod
    Cell phone
    Large wallet
    Swiss Army Knife
    Small emergency med kit in small organizer pouch - tooth brush, toothpaste, disinfectant, band-aids, lip chap, small led light, aspirin, glasses cleaner.
    Mittens
    Scarf
    Large Moleskine notebook
    Whatever novel I'm reading
    18 oz stainless steel Canteen
    1 litre plastic water bottle
    Hair accessories - hair sticks, small metal container for elastics and bobby pins
    Hand Cream
    Face Cream
    Four sets of keys

    And there is a ton of extra room to pack more stuff if I want to.


    A final note - I like the versatility of the extra space the Imago allows over my Medium Cafe bag. If you want to pack more you can, but it is an extremely comfortable and well shaped bag to carry only half packed.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Akilae View Post
    All of that actually fits into my Medium Cafe Bag at the moment. It's a bit of a squeeze, but everything fits.

    The camera is a Pentax ist DS2 with a 40mm pancake lens attached, so it's a very compact package.

    So I would say go for the Large Cafe Bag, you can see the picture of it carried by a person on the blog,

    Depending on your height it is quite large and it will fit what you Medium fits (I carry roughly the same thing you carry everyday).

    While on plane trips, I add my camera (old, not compact, point and shoot)two pairs of glasses, one letter size plastic folder.
    Before checkpoint, I am able to stuff my large packable hat, big phone in it's medium pouch, a couple of passport pouches and mini pouches.

    I am big on pouches and the TSA ladies even commented on them while checking my Large Cafe Bag on the xray.

    I also love the lightness of the Large Cafe Bag with its Absolute Strap, so much so that I don't think about it. It's length distribute the weight all the way from shoulder to back to legs and it doesn't get in the way of carrying your backpack of choice.

    I use a Brain Bag/Large Cafe Bag while traveling by air.

    Fitting the Large Cafe Bag under the front seat means it has to be bent a bit
    or placed horizontal.

  6. #6
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    As providence would have it, my backpack just went kaput on me (the zipper separated from the fabric). If the original manufacturer won't repair it, then I suppose I'll just get another backpack with my Imago/LCB fund.

  7. #7
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    Well...both.....

    I have both the Imago and the large Cafe bag, and either will work for you, as long as your SLR is as compact as you say.

    I have carried my large Cafe Bag on all sorts of trips, and it is amazing all the things which can fit inside. I particularly like the interior pockets for stuff.

    I just bought an Imago this Fall, and will post a review after my next couple of long trips.

    I think your choice will boil down to taste, but here are a couple of thoughts:

    Think about the orientation. It can sometimes be a pain to find things way down at the bottom of the Cafe Bag, but on the other hand, things are less likely to fall out if it tips over while open.

    I find the Imago accommodates a laptop or netbook better, but am always very careful to close it well. I do like the fact that the front strap and buckle is adjustable for length, whereas my (older) Cafe Bag doesn't adjust. this lets me slightly over or under pack it and still cinch it closed.

    I love the big open pocket on the back of both. I love the quality and the design. Tom Binh has a knack for designing bags which look simple, but turn out to be incredibly well thought out and to hang or ride very well on your shoulder or in your hand. I have gone through a lot of bags, and this sort of subtle difference has made me a real believer in Tom Binh's skills.

    Note that I ordered the Imago with an optional handle, which is a strap just like the handle on the Cafe Bag. I find this very practical, but it isn't designed on either to be carried a long time with a heavy load--these are both mainly shoulder bags.

    good luck!

    bb

  8. #8
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    Well, like I said, right now my funding is being channeled to a new backpack. Shoulder pains that developed when I used the ID to haul around my 15" laptop + textbooks convinced me that a proper backpack is still better for hauling heavy loads. I'd hate to get my shoulder into further trouble when I need to start grading undergraduate papers... The broken backpack sealed the deal for me.

    Right now my plan is:

    1) Backpack (This baby). Hope I'm not advertising for the competition... different target market anyway.
    2) Sell the ID.
    3) Use the ID sale to fund an Imago, since once the ID goes I'll need a good shoulder bag of horizontal orientation.
    4) ...
    5) Profit!

  9. #9
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    A bit of a non sequitur: You could try getting your original backpack fixed at a shoe cobbler. They often have the right equipment for difficult (and industrial-kind) sewing tasks.

  10. #10
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    I thought about that, but my old backpack never really felt right on my back. When it's half-full the bag tends to sag, when full it pinches into my shoulders. My most comfortable pack ever was a Dana Design 60L internal frame that was adjusted to my height and back at the shop. That thing felt near weightless even when full. I figured I might as well go the same route for my regular pack.

    Side note if anybody is interested:
    Dana Design is no longer (another great company that bit the dust...), although Dana Gleason has since then founded Mystery Ranch. I found his latest designs a tad on the gimmicky side, too many zippers, buckles, and straps. Why 3Zip when one zip will do?! Dana's frames also tend to be built directly into the packs, with a central aluminum yoke straight down the back supported on both sides by other stays, infinitely adjustable, making them a dream to carry, but will also make the pack stiffer when empty. Otherwise I loved his 2000 cu-in pack.

    Kifaru traces its roots back to Mountainsmith, which made pretty good packs back in the day, and still churns out simplistic designs. I've also fallen in love with MOLLE, which lets me configure my pack for regular use or hiking/mountaineering at ease. The Kifaru frame consists of two aluminum stays that are fitted to the back and distribute the weight into the lumbar region. If the pack isn't being used to full capacity, the stays can be removed to make the pack more flexible. Unfortunately Kifaru didn't have a 2000 cu-in pack, so it was a 2300 cu-in instead. I've also never heard a Kifaru user that wasn't happy (except about the price, lol).

    It's interesting how all these great pack/bag companies develop a cult following around a central figure. Lots of Dana Design customers followed Dana Gleason to Mystery Ranch, and I know a handful of Kifaru users who originally bought Mountainsmith. Heck, just look at Tom Bihn, lol.

  11. #11
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    I'm not sure the Imago would be a good idea if you want to take a DSLR on the plane. I once tried to use my Imago to carry my DSLR with just a 50mm lens on it and I wasn't happy with the way it bulged out. I have yet to use it on a plane trip but I can't see it being any issue at all fitting under the seat in front of you on a regular large jet.

    As far as a backpack goes, I thought the Smart Alec to be very comfortable. It would also seem like a good bag for the plane ride with the Aeronaut.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by pretzelb View Post
    I'm not sure the Imago would be a good idea if you want to take a DSLR on the plane. I once tried to use my Imago to carry my DSLR with just a 50mm lens on it and I wasn't happy with the way it bulged out. I have yet to use it on a plane trip but I can't see it being any issue at all fitting under the seat in front of you on a regular large jet.

    As far as a backpack goes, I thought the Smart Alec to be very comfortable. It would also seem like a good bag for the plane ride with the Aeronaut.
    I actually got to see an Imago up close and personal today. Apparently a girl in my complex is also a Tom Bihn fan and was carrying a Cocoa/Cocoa/Wasabi Imago up the elevator. The bag size actually works for my DSLR. With the pancake lens on, my DLSR is basically just a camera body, not much larger than a Canon G9.

    I did give the Smart Alec some serious thought, but it would not work for the loads I carry, topping at 30 pounds sometimes. I also use my backpack for hiking/mountaineering.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Akilae View Post
    Well, like I said, right now my funding is being channeled to a new backpack. Shoulder pains that developed when I used the ID to haul around my 15" laptop + textbooks convinced me that a proper backpack is still better for hauling heavy loads. I'd hate to get my shoulder into further trouble when I need to start grading undergraduate papers... The broken backpack sealed the deal for me.

    Right now my plan is:
    [snip]
    2) Sell the ID.
    3) Use the ID sale to fund an Imago, since once the ID goes I'll need a good shoulder bag of horizontal orientation.
    [snip]
    I suspect you would have been better off if you had purchased your ID Bag with the Absolute Strap instead of the Quick-Adjust Messenger Strap. I use the Q-AM Strap with the Imago. (Well, strictly speaking I use the Q-AM Shoulder Strap with my second Imago, since the option to select straps was added after the first generation Imago came out.) I use an Absolute Strap with my ID Bag. The switchover point is based on the load for each bag. I find that for a bag the size of ID Bag, I always want the option of the Absolute Strap. A number of us who had the classic ID bag jumped to use our Absolute Straps when Tom designed an adapter to retrofit the older models of these bags. In fact, if you follow through on the links in eristick's post with the photos of the adapter and Absolute strap fitted to the older model ID bags, and look through the links in my post a couple down from hers, you'll see that we were discussing this strap for the ID bag back in the original design thread for the Aeronaut and again when the revised design for the ID Bag was announced.

    I actually got to see an Imago up close and personal today. Apparently a girl in my complex is also a Tom Bihn fan and was carrying a Cocoa/Cocoa/Wasabi Imago up the elevator. The bag size actually works for my DSLR. With the pancake lens on, my DLSR is basically just a camera body, not much larger than a Canon G9.
    If you want to read more Imago vs. Large Cafe Bag comparisons, you can take a look at the discussions starting with this post in last year's forums. The discussion centered around some fairly specific requirements, but you might find the bag comparisons of some interest anyway. And you can probably calibrate my comments about the ID Bag against your own experience. There are a number of relevant links in those posts, including ones like this What is your personal carry on item? thread, which harks back to your original post about whether people use either bag for carry on. See what you think.

  14. #14
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    So my Imago arrived today, and I spent the better part of an afternoon fitting stuff into it to see how it would hold up. For some reason, carrying it on my person, the Imago feels oddly sized. I should explain.

    As a carry-on travel bag, I think it's the perfect size. I jammed in two legal pads, two folders full of papers, my DSLR + lens in a Domke wrap, Sigg water bottle, passport holder, pill box, cell phone, paperback, and still had room for a second paperback and even another lens in a Domke wrap.

    As a general purpose bag, it does seem a tad small, probably the size I'd use when going to a friend's place and wanted to carry a bag. On the flipside, the ID is a tad big, lol. Without the laptop the rigid-ness of the ID tends to stick out on my short 5'6" frame.

    In my current lineup of bags, the Imago would actually take the place of the Medium Cafe Bag, which I had in the past found a tad on the small side for camera use. That and quite a few friend have taken to calling my MCB a "purse"...

    I have a 20 year old L.L. Bean shoulder bag that is squarely between the ID and Imago in size and works perfectly as a general purpose shoulder bag. Unfortunately after 20 years of constant wear and use it's starting to fall apart... guess my quest for a worthy replacement continues. Tom, would you happen to have something Zephyr-sized in the Imago format in the pipeline? :-p


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