Coming Home to Tom Bihn (with updated product review)
September 25, 2012
After 77 days of traveling, on the day of my return, which I scheduled on my father’s birthday, I felt a lot like it was my own birthday too. I had never seen my Tom Bihn in person but was really excited to meet him. I had known in the early days of my trip that upon my return, my Tom Bihn would be waiting for me at home.
Lo and behold, I received a big box from Tom Bihn (a Seattle-based company specializing in travel bags and briefcases), waiting to be hastily ripped / cut / broken open; I would be like a child on Christmas morning.
Introducing the Tom Bihn Tri-Star.
*Gah! It’s bee-yoo-ti-ful!*
My speech is then rendered into primitive caveman / baby gibberish.
The moment I saw the bag’s features and functionality on the Tom Bihn website, I had lusted after it. I really like the fact that they seem to have put a lot of thought into the functionality, particularly with all the handles and pockets in place. I also really loved the easily concealable backpack straps.
What I love the most about it is that it looks like it can function really well for backpacker types, while staying presentable enough for the aesthetics-conscious or the business travelers. A perfect hybrid for a Nomad Manager!
It also looks a great size for this no check-in baggager, as it will probably fit in most baggage compartments (so long as you don’t overstuff), but allows very ample space to pack your things. (And you can easily unpack your things here too, without digging out all your other stuff, like you would with a backpack.)
One of my initial reactions though is the weight of the bag itself. At 1.55kg, I knew it wouldn’t be the lightest bag, and I now somehow wonder how its lighter but smaller counterpart, the Western Flyer, would compare.
I’ve yet to try the bag out, but I’m definitely looking forward to road testing it on my trips to Dumaguete and Bacolod, and India, in October.
BUT WAIT, there’s more!
The pouches come with hooks you can easily latch onto the various Tom Bihn bags. But the RFID-blocking feature of the passport pouch was of particular interest to me because not every traveler is aware of the importance of keeping one’s passport and other sensitive cards or documents from being scanned (by identity thieves or other such messed up individuals).
As a fan of the whole packing process and managing to pack in the most efficient way possible, I was also thrilled to receive some packing cubes.
These come in a range of sizes to suit your various packing needs. It also comes into fabric/fabric or fabric/mesh combinations so you have the option to keep things either fully covered/protected or easily visible, depending on your preferences.
But the coolest packing cube I got from them was the packing cube backpack.
I’m all for multi-function items (because it means you can do with packing less), and this packing cube functions as, well, a packing cube, and also as a daytime backpack! It’s made with Tom Bihn’s Dyneema®/nylon ultralight ripstop fabric, which the tag claim is the lightest yet strongest fiber in the world, (the same material used on a lot of their products - including the other pouches and packing cubes).
And last but not least is the Tom Bihn shop bag, made with the same light and sturdy Dyneema®/nylon ultralight ripstop fabric.
I’m such a sucker for oversized amorphous bags, so I was able to use this immediately. And while there are raves about the handles/shoulder straps, adding more weight will certainly strain your hands and shoulders. Though that may be a problem with you (or me) overloading the bag vs. a shortcoming of the product.
That being said, I was surprised to find myself even more excited to use the packing cube backpack and shop bag than the rockstar Tri-Star, and I won’t be surprised if those two bags will be my favorites among my Tom Bihn loot.
I’d also like to point out that the packing cube backpack and shop bag are results of customer requests, proof that Tom Bihn really pays attention to customer comments and feedback, and that to a certain extent, this organic sort of market research can be very helpful to product development.
Oh, I also love that their part of one my idols Chris Guillebeau’s book, The $100 Startup. :)
UPDATE: My Tom Bihn Review (10/16/2012)
After getting to road test my Tom Bihns on my trip to Dumaguete, here’s what I like and don’t like about some of their items:
Packing cubes: Loop for pulling or hanging the cube could probably have been placed where the zipper opens. But very useful for organizing stuff in lightweight, tear-free Dyneema fabric.
Packing cube backpack: Useful for packing bigger things, and served as my travel bag on a 10-day trip to India! It’s amazing how much this thing can pack. Its lightweight material allowed me to travel extra light! (under 4 kilos) But in spite of its lightness, it proved to be very durable, carrying close to 8 kilos in its Dyneema fabric and simple straps. :)
Shop bag: This I LOVE. It’s an absolutely fuss-free bag you can store a lot of stuff in, and because it’s also made with Dyneema, it’s easy to clean and you don’t worry too much about it getting wet. I know it’s usually reserved when you actually BUY stuff, but I’ve been using as my everyday bag since I do like spacious, amorphous, fabric bags.
Tri-Star: The star of the show that was outshone by his supporting cast. While really beautiful too look at, filled with lots of useful compartments and pockets, and lovely handles all around, I feel there’s quite a bit to be improved for me to love this bag like I thought I would.
- I’m what you might call a light packer. And at ~1.5KG, the Tri-Star eats up a considerable bit of my carry on baggage allowance; just lifting the empty bag, you’ll already know it’s quite heavy.
- Shoulder straps could provide further padding/cushioning. I was wearing a sleeveless top, something I do with other backpacks, and felt that the strap material was somewhat abrasive so I opted to wear a sarong on my shoulders to minimize the rubbing of the relatively tough straps.
- Given the size, you’d expect to be able to pack a lot of stuff in it. And you definitely could pack a lot of stuff. I had all that I needed in just 2 out of the 3 compartments. However, even with all my stuff, my bag just weighed 8KG, and standing in line for just 20 minutes to check into my flight, I could already feel the discomfort from either the abrasive straps or poor weight distribution system (i.e. it doesn’t come with a waist strap but you can order it separately, but even so, it looks like it lacks the necessary padding to really support you carrying your bag around for a while).
So having said that, I feel you can’t actually pack in that much stuff because it would be too heavy to carry around…and bags with a proper weight distribution system, with sufficiently padded shoulder straps and waist straps really do wonders in making much heavier loads still feel light.
But lots of people love the Tri-Star for their own reasons, or for the same reasons I love it in the paragraph before my enumeration of proposed product edits, or in my rave upon first sight. But given the cost of the product, I feel quite sad about the aforementioned points of improvement. Perhaps the smaller, lighter Western Flyer would have been a better option for me, but I feel the straps and weight distribution might still be an issue.
So, it’s really a matter of finding the perfect bag to suit your travel needs. In my case, it seems as if I’ll need to keep looking.