Tom Bihn: The Early History
I was amused to see the references on the Tom Bihn blog to “Mary”—who had mentioned that her kids went to school with Tom.
The Mary in question is my mother, and besides the Medium Café bag she purchased, I’d also given my folks one of Tom’s Aeronauts, which they love. I have a few of his bags myself, but I thought some of the forum readers might like to know a bit more about the early Tom Bihn history.
I recall meeting Tom at Aptos High, where we were both students. I think he was a year ahead of me and a year behind my sister. My family was a little bit crafty—at one point I tried to sell handmade leather belts, not too successfully. Tom was in another league entirely. He was making down jackets (Tom’s first designs: down jackets) but he had a few other tricks up his sleeve as well. Santa Cruz at the time was a very creative hub for backpacking equipment: Down Works was founded there in 1974, and is still there on River Street; the owner of Osprey Packs, Mike Pfotenhauer, also started out there in 1974 (Osprey's history: an interview with owner and founder Mike Pfotenhauer - YouTube). I remember buying one of Mike’s very first internal-frame packs (which I still use and is still in great shape).
Tom made jackets, sleeping bags, and even tried his hand at designing tents. He was always innovating with new materials. I recall once hanging out with him at his house when he excitedly showed me a new fabric called GoreTex that he immediately started using in his equipment. I bought from him a GoreTex down sleeping bag that I used when hiking the entire John Muir Trail in 1979. At one point near the Marie Lakes it rained pretty heavily and our tent leaked like a sieve; my hiking companion Jim Brumfield’s bag became soaked, while mine was dry and toasty. Amazingly, I still have that bag and still use it for camping and backpacking. My wife also uses a down jacket I got back in those days. Another product that I still remember fondly—it’s now gone to backpacker’s heaven—either Tom or I christened the “bomb shelter.” It was a jacket made of four or more layers of different fabrics, including GoreTex in the middle, completely impermeable to rain, wind, snow and other elements. It had pockets both visible and hidden, and it became my go-to jacket for concert taping, Grateful Dead and other concerts, as it was fantastic for getting my Sony Walkman Pro past pesky friskers.
I told Mary about Tom’s post, and she tells me she still has one of Tom’s old down jackets and a down comfortable he made for them, though it rarely gets cold enough to need it. I don’t know about the rest of the family; there’s probably a few other Tom Bihn collectables around. You might see a thread here that my family never gets rid of things, but the basic truth is that TB’s always made quality products that last.
It’s great to see Tom still doing well, still innovating, and making what are in my opinion the best travel and computer bags on the planet.