March 21, 2022

TOM BIHN Synapse 25: A Bag that Lives to Tell a Story

TOM BIHN Synapse 25 Constellation Blue

The TOM BIHN Synapse 25 has been my trusted daily companion for 8 years. In 2019 our puppy Flake moved in, a Czechoslovakian Wolfdog. He challenged the fate of my beloved Synapse 25. This is the story of my TOM BIHN Synapse 25 - a bag that lives to tell a story.

I am a travel journalist and photographer based in the Black Forest in southern Germany. While traveling to remote places in the Arctic or hiking from hut to hut in the Austrian Alps, the last thing I need to worry about is my gear. It has to work 100% or otherwise I don't have a story to tell. My Synapse 25 in French Blue has protected and schlepped my photo gear, iPad and other essentials since 2014. In fact, I never leave my home without it.

To this day the TOM BIHN Synapse 25 is the best bag I have ever owned. It has carried my gear to the ends of the world, it has endured icy weather conditions while hiking on snowshoes in snowstorms in the Black Forest and while traveling on an expedition ship to the Antarctic. It withstood penguin poop (probably the world's worst poop), hot climate, rocky trails, traveled in Lufthansa Business Class to Buenos Aires, as well as in tiny bush planes that took me way beyond the Arctic circle to remote National Parks and many train rides in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

I don’t know about you but for me this backpack is more than just a piece of gear. It has been my travel companion, one that is literally attached to my body most of the time, carrying the most essential tools for work and life. It has carried my photo gear, my passport, travel documents, my iPad, MacBook Pro, a bottle with water, my wallet, my iPhone, Tempos (German hankies), Moleskine notebook, pens, pocket knife, lip balm, adapter, cables, rain jacket, sunglasses, beanies, gloves, snacks – you name it. I love the various compartments and the sturdy zippers and of course the fantastic outer and inner material of the bag.

When not carrying the Synapse 25 on my back, it is always so close to me that I can reach it within arms length. While staying overnight in a hotel room, the Synapse is packed with my essentials – passport, travel documents, computer, iPhone, wallet and a few clothes – always ready to grab and run in case the fire alarm rings. You better be ready cause you never know when that is going to happen.

It was around 1 o‘clock in the morning when I awoke to the sounds of fire trucks. While my mind was still in the land of dreams I slowly realized that I was on the 11th floor in a downtown hotel in Winnipeg, Canada. The fire trucks seemed to be very close. Just when I realized that they were on our street (and when I gazed out of my window, I saw fire fighters running in the entrance of my hotel), the loud noise of the fire alarm sounded in my ears. Now I was awake! I managed to get dressed within seconds, tied my shoes, grabbed my Synapse and ran out of the door, to the nearest fire exit and downstairs. The lobby was filled with other guests and fire fighters seemed to be everywhere.

Thank God there was no fire and nobody got hurt.

I heard that somebody smoked in their room which happened to be located on my floor and triggered the fire alarm. So after one hour when the fire fighters were finished with their investigation we were allowed to go back to our rooms. So it’s always a good idea to keep your bag ready. You never know when the alarm goes off.

When not travelling, the Synapse is sitting behind me in my office, just like my dog, waiting patiently for the next adventure or just going out for coffee or shopping groceries at the local farmers market. The Synapse 25 excelled when I put it to use as my journalist-photographer travel-bag. In the past I have used special photobackpacks and photo shoulder bags and carried an additional Rucksack for my essentials. It was a pain in the neck to schlepp two carry-ons on airplanes.

That all changed with the Synapse. Now I had a bag that was soft and sturdy enough to carry my camera, lenses and my travel essentials in one bag. But the bag is not perfect – it lacks a side pocket where I could fix a tripod. Other than that I can work out of my Synapse like a pro. My camera when not hanging around my neck is protected by a neoprene bag, my lenses are protected by soft pouches. No need to have a lot of padded foam in a bag. On all assignments I never had a problem that the bottom on the Synapse is not padded. What was annoying is the soft back panel which caused the bag to fall over. And if you don't pack it properly, I had something punching into my back which really drove me crazy. Those problems disappeared when TOM BIHN sent me the Internal Frame. The bag never lost its shape again and no worries anymore with stuff punching my back.

The bag held up really well. While on expedition in the Antarctic aboard the Hurtigruten MS Fram photographing penguins, the bag caught penguin poop. This was the messiest, worst stinking type of poop I have ever experienced. When watching a movie about the Antarctic and you see those cute penguins, you would never ever imagine that they stink like hell. With their poop, you have to watch out cause it gets ejected two or even more meters. Even in the worst conditions the Synapse excelled! The bag protected my gear against the icy winds, fog, ice, and rain. And somehow I even managed to get rid of the penguin poop.

Flake entered our life; he's a Czechoslovakian Wolfdog from DaMa Kennel Wolf, a breeder in southwest Germany. We named him Flake, aka Snowflake, cause he loves the snow and looks too funny when his nose is topped with snow. He also has his own instagram account, @flake_wolfdog. It happened in summer 2020, he was one year old then, when my husband and I met up with our friends on top of the Blue Mountain in the Black Forest to photograph comet Neowise.  We left Flake in the car, inside his box. I left my TOM BIHN Synapse 25 in the trunk, next to, but out of reach of the dog – or so I thought. Was he bored? Was he peeved that we left him in the car? When we got back to the car and opened the trunk I could not believe my eyes. Flake somehow got a hold of my bag! He chewed on it and ripped the shoulder straps apart. My heart dropped. This was not just a backpack. This was my beloved Synapse 25, my companion, my bag that has lived to tell so many great stories – from the Arctic to Antarctica. And now my dog killed it! We had 3 bags laying in our trunk; of all the three my dog picked the TOM BIHN.

I emailed the fine folks at TOM BIHN, explained what had happened, and asked if it would be possible to get the bag repaired. The answer was not what I had hoped for. Sending in the bag from overseas would just be too expensive to have it repaired and send it back to Europe.

I then called an outdoor sewing company based in Berlin. They'd repaired my tent a few years ago. But they told me that it was not possible for them to repair the straps. I was bummed.

Near my village works a haute couture tailor and so I went to her studio with my bag asking if she had any idea where I could get my bag repaired. She looked baffled when I showed her my backpack and told me right away that she does not do any work like that. But she handed me a business card and told me to give that guy a call. A shoemaker. His shop was only open twice a week for a few hours. I called him and he told me to come by this afternoon.

The shop was like stepping back in time. Machines that looked like they are a century old, the smell of leather, lots of tools hanging around. I expected a guy way into his 80‘s but he was much younger than that. He looked at the bag and said that he would use some leather patches in black and sew it on the straps. It was Wednesday and he said I should come back on Saturday.

Saturday I went back to pick up my Synapse. He did a great job. The patches were hardly recognizable. He wanted 15 Euros for his work. I gave him a 5 Euro tip and drove happily back home.

My Synapse is still working great and the bag looks as good as the first day I got it. Well almost. A little wear and tear, but given the fact that the bag is 8 years old and has been used daily, I can say that this has been the best backpack I have ever owned. A bag without wear and tear has no story to tell. I am sure, my Synapse will outlive me. It has a story to tell that goes a long way. And I am looking forward to what kind of stories we will experience this year.

Birgit-Cathrin Duval is a German freelance journalist, photographer and author. Her travel stories and pictures have won international awards. She lives in the southern Black Forest with her husband Axel and their dog Flake. Follow her on Instagram @takkiwrites and @flake_wolfdog



Juju - July 2, 2023

And what a great story it is! It even has a happy ending!
My puppy once ate two favorite t-shirts when we left her in her crate to go out, and the crate apparently was left too close to the laundry hamper. Like you, I don’t know whether it was boredom or frustration or maybe a little of both, but we came home to t-shirt rags. OK, not nearly as heart-breaking as the damage to your Synapse, but sad nonetheless. On the other hand, we all learned a valuable lesson.
Thanks for sharing your dog-vs-Synapse story with us!

Daniel Moore - March 22, 2022

Excellent story! So glad you’re enjoying testing the durability of your Synapse 25. I can only hope that I get to do the same with my S30.

Steve - March 22, 2022

Wow! You live an exciting life. Sounds like so much fun. Back in the mid 70’s, I lived in Würzburg, Germany and was able to walk around lots of Germany, Italy, and France. The Black Forest was one of my favorite areas. Now days I stay mostly at home in North Carolina and really don’t go adventuring anymore. I only found out about and purchased from Tom Bihn bags. I liked it so much that I bought one for my son too. He is headed to Austria for the summer this year, and I thought a Tom Bihn bag would be perfect for him too. Take care and Thanks for sharing some of your adventures.

Dean Johnson - March 22, 2022

Please post pics of the wabi-sabi repaired bag! Also, perhaps the shoemaker could add a coupla velcro straps on the bottom for the tripod!

I have had a Synapse 19 for many years, and it looks brand new. But I am plotting getting a Synapse 25 for the additional capacity.

rebecca - March 22, 2022

That dog obviously has great taste! Loved this story. ♥️

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