September 20, 2016

Interview With Tom: The Hero's Journey


Tell us the story behind the name "Hero's Journey."

Early on in the process of sketching this pack, I pictured it being used by people headed off on a journey of discovery, the sort of trip where they seek the world and instead finds themselves. Reminded me of Joseph Campbell's writing.

The design process of The Hero’s Journey was a journey for me. It’s a bag I couldn’t have designed 10 or 20 years ago. It’s a design that required the experience of living and working those decades. And, when reflecting on those decades, I realized that (as we often do) it wasn’t so much the things I did or the places I went that mattered — it was the people. The friends and the family I spent those decades with, or the people I met along the way on trips. I've been writing about this and might share it with everyone.

What is your favorite design detail in the Hero's Journey?

Ah, so many from which to chose! Overall, the zip-off top pocket and all you can do with it is pretty captivating—do I really have to pick just one?

Were there any particularly tricky design or sewing/manufacturing obstacles you and the crew faced while working on this bag?

It's back to that zip-off top pocket: so much depends upon getting the separating zipper sewn in just right, so that everything lines up where it's supposed to. At first the crew weren't sure it could be done in production, but we stuck with it and I believe we've nailed it.

Can you talk about the way you collaborated with the crew throughout the design process, especially when you were working on creating the first prototype?

There were lots of bemused looks and head scratching in that process, from me and and from the crew. I'd bring in various parts and sub-assemblies to see if Lisa or Fong thought the crew could replicate production-style what I had sewed, and would ask if they had any ideas for a more streamlined way to achieve the same results. Ultimately, we worked together to build a Hero's Journey that, though very detailed and complex, is still possible to manufacture to our standards (though probably only by us).

What influenced your choice of fabrics/materials?

I wanted it to be as tough as possible but knew that, because it was to be carried as a backpacking pack, weight savings also played a role. I think the 400d Halcyon is our best compromise of durability and weight savings.

Could you talk about some of the features you considered for this bag but ultimately rejected?

At some point early on, the Hero's Journey had a big, burly side handle like the Aeronaut has. But I realized that a good number of people would seldom, if ever, use that feature, and it took up a lot of valuable real estate and conflicted with the side compression straps and the optional side pockets. My compromise was to include a stripped-down side handle that is removable: use it or don't, it's not a big deal either way. Other than that, the Hero's Journey got all the features I originally conceived of plus more it collected along the way (significantly, the ability for the top pocket to turn into a daypack).

How useful is this bag for urban travelers and explorers?

We'll have to see how people use it and what they say. It definitely looks more like "outdoor" gear than does our Aeronaut, for example. But in solid black I think it may pass as urban enough.

How have you outfitted your personal Hero's Journey (straps, pockets, accessories, etc.)?

Well, since I'm the designer, I need to use and test the whole enchilada, don't I? But I'm going to try the hack of using four Aeronaut 45 End Packing cubes in the main compartment (like books in a bookshelf) instead of the purpose-built Hero's Journey Packing Cubes. (And on that subject, it's important to note that folks who already have Aeronaut 45 Packing Cubes can use them in The Hero's Journey.)

How do you suggest loading the Hero's Journey for maximum comfort, efficiency, and stability?

First of all, pack as light as you can, but no lighter. Keep the CG (center of gravity) centered side-to-side, and as high in the main compartment as you find comfortable. So, dense stuff like food and cooking gear set centered and high, with clothing/tent filling in around that, and sleeping bag in the lower compartment. Carry stuff you need to get at quickly in the top and side pockets (water bottle, snacks, rain gear, sun hat, fleece vest). Cinch the compression straps snug to keep the whole thing from slopping around and you should be good.

You know there's that saying: "Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time." The design philosophy behind the Hero's Journey seems to promote a slower, pared down, and less intermediated way of traveling. What makes right now a particularly appropriate time to embrace this kind of travel?

It's always the right time to slow down and pay attention! Walking is the oldest and most elemental mode of human travel, so for me it's simply getting back to basics. Personally, I go through a pair of hiking boots about every 18 months, and the Hero's Journey is, I suppose, my oblique attempt at advocating for my favorite outdoor activity.

Is there a journey you've long hoped to make? Where is it, how would you get there, and what would you do/see there?

Of course, I hope for peace in the Middle East for the sake of the people living there, but also because I'd like to go to Afghanistan some day. Just to take a walk in those mountains....

Hear more from Tom about the design process in this new video:


John Serrao - November 19, 2019

Amazing story telling Tom. Loved the way you go about things. And most importantly the passion that you have for bag making even after 40 years. That is an amazing love story. Truth be told Tom, I have been in love with your bags ever since I first bought them. I have no shame in admitting that your website is one that I have religiously and often pored over the last 3+ years, like literally every day. I read all the blogs, most of the forum pages, scour eBay for deals and keep dreaming about bags. And it gives me so much pleasure to use your bags.

When I was young, I read “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie. He said buy half as much and pay twice the cost. It will last longer and will give you pleasure for a long time. I have followed that advice meticulously. I first bought a leather belt in my very first job in 1983 and it cost me 1/3rd of my then salary. The only exception to that rule has been Tom Bihn bags. I haven’t bought half as much, I have bought much much more than Mr. Carnegie recommended and guess what I have no regrets.

It gives me supreme pleasure not only to use your bags but also to know the love, care and passion that each of you pour into your them – right from design stage, to materials, production, shipping and after sales support and beyond and for treating us like family.

Thank you Tom and your amazing crew!

John Serrao all the way from Bangalore, India.

TB Crew - November 19, 2019

@John Serrao Thanks John. So well put, and so great coming from someone who “gets” us. – Tom

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We're the TOM BIHN crew: we design bags, make bags, ship bags, and answer questions about bags. Oh, and we collaborate on blog posts, too.