Tom Bihn’s Brain Bag Reviewed

I need to start off this review with a bit of an “I’m sorry” to the lovely folks at Tom Bihn. I received a sizable discount on both this Brain Bag and my Camera I/O back in July 2012. It’s now March 2013, and I’m just now writing this review. In the meantime, I purchased (at full price) a Smart Alec, and that bag is now my day-to-day bag that I use for almost everything. I did however carry the Brain Bag every day from July 2012 through December 2012. I wanted to put some time into the Brain Bag before I wrote about it. One, because I wanted to stress the bag more than bag’s I’d previously reviewed and two, because the Brain Bag initially left me with a ho-hum feeling. I’ll expand on that initial feeling and how it changed after starting to use the Smart Alec day in and day out.

The Brain Bag is a monster of a backpack. That’s the reason I chose it. It can hold a lot of gear. I used it for a daily work bag where I carry textbooks, binders, laptops (it can hold two Brain Cells at a time!), large water bottles and a set of gym clothes. I also used it on overnight trips to the mountains of Oku-Hida here in Japan where I stuffed it with clothes, my DSLR and a couple lenses, an iPad and it still had space to drag my souvenirs back.

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Like my Empire Builder before it, the Brain Bag’s size wound up being a major factor in why I stopped using it. It was overkill as a daily bag that I took to work. As an overnight bag, it was excellent. It’s large enough to handle a two day trip’s worth of clothes and toiletries, a camera and space to bring back things you may buy on your trip. Since it’s a backpack though, and not a small suitcase or a duffle bag (like my beloved Aeronaut) it’s not as difficult to carry around.

The Brain bag has excellent straps like all Tom Bihn bags. They remain very comfortable even when the bag is fully loaded. They sit firmly on your shoulders and flare out to the sides as they go down to avoid rubbing your torso too much. The bag comes with removable chest and waist straps as well.

Hook

The back of the Brain Bag has a nifty carabiner that you can use to hook something (water bottle or umbrella) to the bag and straps below the clip will keep the item in place and there’s a strap on the bottom that prevents the hooked item from sagging down past the bottom of the bag. I usually use my clip when I’m taking my glass water bottle out with me, but you could use this clip for just about anything.

I wasn’t that happy about the side pockets on the Brain Bag. The Synapse’s side pockets have great sleeve for a cell phone and have o-rings inside them so that you can hook up accessory (key) straps that Tom Bihn sells. I always use these to make sure I know where my keys are at all times when I’m out with my Synapse or Smart Alec. The Brain Bag lacks these o-rings in either of its side pockets.

The Brain Bag’s side pockets do include slips for pens and pencils and large pockets that could be used for passports, notebooks or cell phones (although they are a little large for an iPhone and it might slip out if the bag is turned over). The left side pocket has a mesh pocket on the outside that I often stuck extra water bottles in at times.

Small pocket

At the top of the front of the bag, there’s a small compartment that I used to keep my wallet and phone in. It’s a great size for keeping small item like these in, but the zipper on this pocket is kind of loose and I often worried about it being pulled open from behind while I was out and being pick-pocketed. That’s not a huge concern here in Japan, but I was paranoid about putting valuables (or just fragile items that might break if they fell out of this pocket) in there. This pocket does have an o-ring inside, so it’s a good place to clip your keys. The loose zipper is ideal for quick access to keys.

Moving backwards, the middle compartment, the smaller of the two large areas of the Brain Bag is a big open space. No built-in pockets inside, so I added a Freudian Slip to organize my pens, notebooks, cables and files. The Freudian Slip fits perfectly into this middle compartment and really enhanced my use of the Brain Bag. If you decide to purchase a Brain Bag and need to organize smaller items inside it, the Freudian Slip (vertical) is a must-buy accessory. Lastly, this compartment also includes an o-ring.

The final part of the bag is also its biggest, the back of the bag. It’s a giant open space with two sets of Brain Cell clips for your laptops. You could fit a couple 17-inch MacBook Pros in here (if Apple still made the damn things). I carry an 11-inch Macbook Air, however, so these clips were lost on me, as Tom Bihn doesn’t make a Brain Cell for the 11-inch, only a Cache sleeve. This part of the bag also includes an o-ring. Are you seeing a trend here?!

Overall, here are my final thoughts on the Brain Bag.

  • While there are o-rings in the two main compartments and the small one at the top of the bag, why aren’t there o-rings in the side pockets?
  • The carabiner clip on the front of the bag and its accompany straps are a novel idea that I really miss on every other backpack I have.
  • The bag felt too big at first (as a daily work bag) but its size is a huge plus if you’re going on two or three day trips and don’t want to drag a duffle bag along with you.
  • There needs to be a better place for things like your wallet and cell phone. The small compartment on the front or the side pockets can be used for these things, but the side pockets are the right size and the small front compartment feels unsafe.
  • There’s a good bit of fraying around the biggest compartment’s zipper that’s a little worrying. So far, I’ve been able to just cut the threads without any trouble, but it’s been worrying me about the build quality of this particular bag. Not that any of my other Tom Bihn bags have ever had build quality issues, so this may just be a one time problem, that hasn’t affected my use of the bag as of yet.

Tom Bihn’s Empire Builder and Synapse Reviewed

Empire Builder

I’ve been in the market for a larger, briefcase-style bag for work for quite a while. I wanted to get away from taking a backpack (a messenger bag or a briefcase seemed more suited to work) as a backpack lacked a lot of the organization that I need for the papers and teaching materials I carry with me to and from work. I used a Timbuk2 messenger bag for a little over 6 months, and it was okay, but it was a bit small and the build quality felt cheap in a few places. Now that I’m a Tom Bihn convert, I thought it’s time that I upgrade to a better class of briefcase.

Size

Empire builder

It’s hard to gauge just how big a bag is from looking at an image of it on the Internet. When I first opened up the shipping box with my Empire Builder in it, I was shocked at how large it was. It’s a beast of a bag. (It holds 22.5 cubic liters.) And if I have one thing to complain about with the Empire Builder, it’s that it’s huge. At the same time though, that’s its reason for being. It’s huge because it can carry a ton of stuff. And that’s what I wanted. I was constantly running out of space in my Timbuk2 bag and I needed something bigger. I think it’s because I’ve been used to carrying around such a small bag the last 6 months, I’ve forgotten how heavy a big bag can be. For most people (those who drive, especially), the size will never be a burden, but I’m often on a bicycle, and wearing the Empire Builder across your chest like a messenger (which isn’t what it was built for) can be pretty heavy. It’s not a strike against the bag. It’s more about it not matching my commuting style. Right away, I found myself wishing I had gone with the Zephyr, which is the Empire Builder, only smaller. But who knows, I may have wound up finding the Zephyr too small, and ultimately have wished I had got the Empire Builder.

Organization

Empire builder inside

Tom Bihn bags are always well-organized. The pockets always seem to be just the right size and the number of pockets on the bag is perfect. The Empire Builder is no different. It’s got a monster main compartment that eschews the trend of putting zippered pockets inside the main compartment (I never use those kind of pockets and it’s a place for pointy things to stab at your stuff and make things generally lumpy) and adds nifty little clips to hold an optional (man I wish I had ordered one) Brain Cell laptop holder in place.

There’s a large flap that closes over the bag and on the outside of the flap are two zippered pockets and one open pocket. I’ve found the two zippered pockets are great for things like earphones, my wallet and my Pocket WiFi (think MiFi). The unzippered one is just large enough to hold a Japanese canned coffee. Under the flap is a large wide pocket with spots just the right size for an iPhone, index cards or Field Notes, three slots for pens or pencils, and one small slot where a pack of gum or an eraser would fit nicely. (I’m using it for a USB-charging battery pack.) With the remaining space, I’ve been keeping my Kindle in a Tom Bihn padded organizer. And below that pocket is another zippered pocket That is also large enough to find a Kindle (in a case) as well.

Empire builder front pocket

Construction

As with all Tom Bihn bags, the Empire Builder is built like a rock. It’s made of the same durable materials as all the other bags, the shoulder strap clips are heavy metal, the handles are well-padded (and quite comfortable) and all the zippers are YKK. (I hope you realize how important the quality of your zippers are!) In addition, the zipper teeth are covered from end-to-end, which will help keep dust, dirt and water from getting into your bag. I also love that the Empire Builder will stand all on its own and never wobbles, even on a bumpy train ride.

As far as gripes go, I wish the bag didn’t waggle so much when worn messenger bag style. This might be due to the placement of the shoulder strap clips at the top of the bag on opposite sides of the zipper instead of being on the actual sides of the bag under the zipper. Doing that wouldn’t allow the bag’s zippers to go as far down as they do now (which is very nice). The zippered pockets on the flap are easily used when opening the pockets, but because there’s only one clip in the center of the flap holding it down, there’s nothing keeping the sides held to the bulk of the bag, and it makes it hard to zip those flap pockets up one-handed.

My gripes are very minor to be sure, because the Empire Builder is a very fine bag. If you’re in the market for a large and durable briefcase, the Empire Builder will take care of you. It’s currently $180 on Tom Bihn’s site. If you love the style but are afraid of it being too big though, it’s little brother, the Zephyr ($170), is also available.

Other Option

If you’re like me and your commute involves riding bikes and running to catch trains, check out The ID. It’s a messenger bag with an optional quick-adjust strap and most of the same style of pockets as the Empire Builder. It’s slightly smaller than the Empire Builder at 20.9 liters, but in a lot of ways, it’s the bag I wish I had got instead of the Empire Builder. I would love to do a review of The ID sometime to compare the two.

Synapse

I’ve had a lot of bad luck with backpacks. I’m hard on backpacks. Really hard. I’ve destroyed every backpack I’ve ever had by either ripping holes in the material or pulling zippers off. This time around, I wanted a tough backpack that would stand up to my rough treatment, would have lots of pockets (without adding a lot of bulk) and would be comfortable. The Synapse is all of those things, and might be the best bag I’ve ever owned.

Size

Synapse

The Synapse is not a big backpack. It’s actually no bigger than the Adidas one I was using, but where the Adidas bag had just two pockets, the Synapse has six, including the main compartment. The Synapse is big enough to do light grocery shopping, go on a day trip, or just run around downtown. As everything I own keeps getting smaller (MacBook Air, iPad, Kindle) I don’t need a huge backpack. I’ve got all my work and all my books on just two slim devices, and I’ve still got plenty of room left in my Synapse after that.

Organization

Synapse pen pocket

Synapse phone pocket

So the Synapse has a big compartment and a deep pocket inside of it. The pocket will fit a laptop or an iPad, no problem. On the back of the bag, there’s a super deep pocket that’s great for a mini umbrella or a big water bottle. (I’ve got a 22 ounce glass Life Factory bottle in mine.) There’s a shallow pocket just above that that is handle for small things like earphones or a wallet. On the sides of the Synapse are two vertically zipped pockets with o-rings for key rings. The right side pocket has a suede pocket that’s perfect for an iPhone (although if your phone’s in a case, it might be a tight fit). In the left side pocket, there are slots for pens and other stuff. On the bottom of the Synapse is a long pocket that I’ve been using to keep cables in.

Construction

All the things about how well-built the Empire Builder is can be said about the Synapse as well. The bag is super tough. It comes with chest and waist straps to keep the bag snuggly against your back and has a little clip on the right strap that can be used to keep headphones from getting in your way. (You can switch which side the clip is on). But my favorite part of the Synapse might be the straps. They are dense. They feel soft enough when you’re wearing the bag, but when you take it off and are slinging it around, you’ll notice that they don’t squish. They are very firm.

The Synapse is a tough backpack and super comfortable. If you need a good backpack, the Synapse is it. If Steve Jobs had ever done a keynote about the Synapse, he would’ve called it magical. It’s $130 on Tom Bihn’s site. You should buy one.

Accessories

Snake Charmer

When I’m traveling, especially between the US and Japan, I take a lot of electronics and their accompanying cables with me. So I was quite excited about Tom Bihn’s Snake Charmer. There might not seem like there’s a lot to the Snake Charmer at first glance, but it’s its simplicity that makes it so great. The Snake Charmer’s sides are mesh while the encircling part is solid. This gives it the chance to show off its contents to you while still having a sturdy feel to it. The Snake Charmer is also split into two compartments. Dual zippers line the top of it and it makes organizing say your portable game system’s cable separate from your MacBook’s various cables. There’s also a loop on the end that makes it easy to hang your Snake Charmer for easy access.

Packing Cubes

Something that I wish I had bought when I got my Aeronaut this past summer was a packing cube. The Aeronaut is quite a large duffle bag and I really wanted to be do some organization in the main compartment. I finally got a couple of the large packing cubes. You can fit two large cubes or one large and two small cubes into the Aeronaut. I’ve found them quite useful for separating casual clothes from business attire or just clothes from everything else. The large cubes go for $20 while the small cubes run $17.

Clear Liquid Pouch

I’m no fan of security checkpoints at airports. If you are looking for a sturdy see-through pouch for your liquids, the 3D Clear Organizer Pouch is nice to have.

Padded Organizer

I didn’t know there was a Kindle Fire/Kindle Keyboard pouch coming when I made my last order, so as a replacement for my noisey velcro-fastening Kindle cash, I picked up a Padded Organizer Pouch (medium). There are various sizes and prices varying accordingly. The medium one is priced at $13 and while it’s slightly larger than my last generation Kindle, it’s worked out very well. At this point though, I’d recommend you buy the real Kindle Pouch for $15.

Other Goodies

  • Assuming your have any touchscreen devices, do pick up an Ultrasuede Screen Cloth or two. I got a black one, and my only regret is that I didn’t get a handful to keep in different bags and one to leave at work.
  • I really want one of Tom Bihn’s new Travel Trays. They were announced after my order arrived. They are a super quick way to gather up all your stuff and go. If you go to a hotel, throw your various pocket items into a travel tray on your bedside table and when you’re ready to checkout, just pull the drawstring and throw the Travel Tray into your main bag. You’ll never forget another little thing at a hotel again.
  • I don’t have a dog, but if I did, I’d get one of these Citizen Canine bags. They are good for walking the dog, with space for your stuff and your dog’s stuff. (Even has a nifty spot for poop bags.)
  • Lastly, if the Empire Builder is too much for your needs, check out the new Cadet which has less emphasis on document management and more emphasis on your computer. If you’re looking for a lightweight laptop-friendly briefcase, the Cadet looks awfully nice.

Review of Tom Bihn’s Aeronaut and Co-Pilot

I first heard about Tom Bihn from John Gruber on an episode of The Talk Show. They were discussing good iPad bags and Tom Bihn’s Ristretto came up. I had just gotten an iPad like everyone else and was looking for a great bag for it. I planned on ordering it while on a visit back home to the US, but it was out of stock. It was something I wasn’t accustomed to. Tom Bihn is frequently out of stock of certain colors of bags. It’s partly because they’re great bags and just sell out, but also because these things are carefully made in just one shop in Washington. If you want to buy one in a store, you have to visit their shop in Seattle. They aren’t mass market bags. And because of that, there is more thought and care put into the design and manufacture of these bags than of any bag I’ve ever used. I had a very cool bag that came for free with Grand Theft Auto 4. (Hold your laughter.) It was a big duffel bag and had a good looking Rockstar monogram on the inside liner. It was thin and felt slightly cheap, but it was a great size for the gym. I also took it to the grocery store on my bike. One day, I had an extra heavy load of food in the bag and the straps just snapped off like the Macho Man attacking a Slim Jim. Ever since that day, I’ve been obsessed with the bindings that bags use on straps and handles. All the Tom Bihn bags have reinforced bindings on their straps, and they look like it’d take even a Rottweiler gnawing on them for a few hours to rip them apart. Tom Bihn also uses ballistic nylon for their bags. They are tough bags, and throughout my travels through airports from Ohio to Japan, I never worried about the bags ever being damaged. It was also very important for the zippers on any bags I used to be YKK zippers. I’ve had nothing but trouble from cheap zippers, and more than once I’ve wound up throwing a bag in the bin because of the zippers breaking, and it was easier to just lose the bag than to replace the zipper. The people at Tom Bihn must also believe like I do, because on every product page they state that each product uses YKK zippers. Don’t accept anything but the best zippers.

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The bag I was most interested in testing out was the Aeronaut. It’s touted as the largest size a bag can be and still be a carry-on. When compared to most duffel bags, the Aeronaut might seem a little strange. With most duffel bags, you sit the bag on its bottom and unzip open longways from end to end. Most of the time you end up with one gigantic compartment with a couple smaller pockets on the inside. With the Aeronaut, you lay the bag down on its backside (not the backside your grandma switched you on) and unzip a large U-shaped flap that flips back to reveal the Aeronaut’s main compartment. It’s a rather large one, that will fit close to a week’s worth of clothing (assuming you’re not wearing a fresh pair of jeans every day). If you’re using the bag for a business trip, you could get three days worth of clothes in their with multiple sets. I don’t think you’d wanna be cramming a suit into the Aeronaut, however. It’s far too cramped for that. If you’re not a suit-wearing traveler, you could definitely get away with just this bag for a long weekend. On my most recent trip back to Japan, I used the Aeronaut not as a bag for hauling clothing, but for all the electronics and fragile souvenirs I picked up while in the US. Anything that I didn’t trust the baggage handlers wouldn’t smash went into the Aeronaut. Even with a stack of 10 video games, an Airport Extreme, portable game systems, all the cables associated with said electronics, the Aeronaut had plenty of room left to even put my Co-Pilot (more on that in a few paragraphs) in the bag. Oh, I even got a neck pillow fully inside the bag at the same time. There’s even a mesh flap pocket on the inside of the main compartment that’s great for tucking away things you might need to find and get out quickly (think liquids).

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The Aeronaut has two very large end compartments as well. I read on the Tom Bihn customer forums (they’re fans are so crazy about Tom Bihn that they chat with each other about the bags!) that the end compartments can fit a US size 12 pair of sneakers. I wear a size 12 so as soon as I got the bag from UPS I immediately tried stuffing my shoes in the end compartments. I’m pleased to report that they fit just fine, and even dressier shoes that are slightly wider fit without undue finagling. On the flight to Japan, I wound up using one of the ends for an extra set of clothes (in case my checked luggage was lost) and the other one for a bunch of cables. The ends make a great place for longer than average items that you couldn’t find room for in your main compartment. These compartments would also make a good spot for putting dirty clothes to keep them separate from your clean ones. There’s also one additional but smaller zipped pocket on one of the ends. I wound up using this as a place to stick a book I forgot until the last minute. It’s a bit shorter than the real end compartments and substantially less roomy too. On the other end, there’s on final pocket that has no zipper. I struggled to figure out what the purpose of this pocket was. I didn’t want to put anything in there for fearing of something falling out as I schlepped the bag around from airport to airport. I poked around on the Tom Bihn site and couldn’t find a stated purpose either. Lastly, the ends have handles attached so that you can grab onto the bag easily from not just the top usual handle, but from either end, making it easy to pull the bag up off the floor or out of overhead compartments onboard the plane.

There are three ways you can carry the Aeronaut. The first and by far the most useful way is using the built-in backpack straps. For me, the most useful feature of the Aeronaut is the backpack straps that you can hide away inside the back itself. There’s a zipper on the bottom of the bag that opens up to reveal very comfortable straps. You pull them out the top and snap them into place at the bottom of the bag. There’s a cross-chest belt attached as well. If you don’t need the straps, you can unclip them, tuck them back away, and no one but you would even know they’re there. The straps have their own space and never get in the way of the stuff you want to carry. Except for when I was stowing the bag overhead, I used the Aeronaut as a backpack. I was able to keep my hands free while walking around the airport and I didn’t wind up with aches in one shoulder from the over-the-shoulder bag I would’ve been using. Wearing the Aeronaut as a backpack also came in handy onboard the plane too, since I could keep it on my back during boarding and deplaning. When not using the bag as a backpack, there’s a sturdy handle that you can use as well. Adding to the backpack straps and the regular handle, there are also rings for a shoulder strap. I remembered hearing John Gruber on The Talk Show mentioning how nice the “Absolute Strap” was, so I made sure to add it to my order. The strap is an extra $30, but it’s very comfortable, with just a bit of stretch to it so that it will usually stay in place as you move around, even though you may be pulling at it.

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If you couldn’t already tell, I love my Aeronaut. Yes, it’s my Aeronaut. Get your own. I have a couple small complaints about it though. First, the handle on the bag splits in two, but it’s not like it’s splitting the sides of the bag like normal duffel bags. There’s no zipper to be found on the side of the bag where the handle is, and yet it splits out. It even has one of those wrapping grips that snaps closed to keep the two parts of the handle together. Unless you’re splitting the handle so that two people could stand on either side and hold the bag up between the two of them, I don’t see any reason why the handle needs to be this way. Doesn’t affect my use of the Aeronaut in any way, but it seems odd. Second, as I mentioned before, there’s a pocket on one of the ends that doesn’t zip shut. Maybe there’s some guy out there with a crazy long thing he wants to travel with, but for me, having a zipper on this pocket would prove much more useful, as I was afraid to put anything in there for fear of losing it. My third and final gripe is that the bag doesn’t come with zipper pulls. The smaller and cheaper Co-Pilot came with zipper pull cords and tabs to make grabbing zippers easier. For some reason, the Aeronaut doesn’t come with any. I didn’t realize the bag didn’t come with them, or I would’ve bought a set for it. The pulls can be purchased separately on Tom Bihn’s site and only cost $3. I would’ve ordered another set but my flight was just a couple days after the bags arrived, and the flat rate shipping (while great for large orders) would’ve cost four times the cost of the product for even the slowest delivery method.

If you’re going to buy an Aeronaut, I have a few additions you’ll want to make to your order. The bag is already going to run you $240, but you might want to add on these things as well.

  1. Buy a set of zipper pulls. You’ll thank me later. The zippers aren’t hard to get a hold of, but the pulls are much nicer.
  2. Get some packing cubes. These zipped bags meant for separation aren’t necessary but I wish I had a couple. They would’ve helped keep the contents of my Aeronaut a little more organized after sliding around overhead. There’s also a Packing Cube Backpack ($40) that can be turned inside out and used as a packing cube inside the bag, and then turned right side out later to be used as a backpack. It could be quite useful as a secondary bag to take out of the hotel room during your trip.
  3. You might want to check out the Snake Charmer if you should happen to carry a lot of cables with you. The Snake Charmer was designed with computer backpacks in mind, but it would fit in an Aeronaut, no problem.
  4. Check out the 3D Clear Organizer Cube ($30) for all your liquids. Going through security and having to pull out your tiny soaps and shampoos can be a real pain, but it doesn’t have to be. While the 3D cube is pricier than a ziplock bag, it’s tougher, more secure and will last you a lot longer.
  5. Lastly, I might recommend getting one of Tom Bihn’s lights ($20). You can clip it on to the D-ring inside the Aeronaut, and might make it easier when digging around in the dark.

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If the Aeronaut is the perfect carry-on bag, the Co-Pilot is the perfect personal bag, as long as you have a small computer. My traveling computer is an 11-inch MacBook Air. (I’m sitting on a train, writing this review on one!) Should you happen to happen to use a small-form notebook computer, the Co-Pilot can be used as a briefcase and still have room for a few other things you’ll need while onboard a plane. If you have a large laptop, the Co-Pilot may not be for you. But if the computer you’ll be pulling out while flying is a netbook or an iPad, you’ll be happy with the Co-Pilot. The main compartment of the Co-Pilot is just wide enough to fit an 11-inch MacBook Air inside a Tom Bihn Cache sleeve, or an iPad with plenty of room to spare. While traveling to Japan last month, I was able to fit my 11-inch MBA, my iPad, and my Kindle all into the main compartment of the Co-Pilot. Inside the main part of the bag, there are two pockets for separating out documents and books. The pockets were great for keeping my passport and boarding passes together, and I’ve seen people fit Lonely Planet guides into the pockets too. On the back of the bag, there’s an open pocket that’s just the right size to fit a magazine or two into your bag. There’s also a zipper that opens up to allow you to slide the Co-Pilot down over the handle of wheeled luggage. Better yet, there’s a small lip even after unzipping the sleeve so that even if you put the bag onto the wheeled luggage’s handle, your magazines won’t fall out. It’s a brilliant little touch that blew my mind. On the front of the bag, there are three pockets. In the right pocket (if you’re wearing the bag) is a pocket with padding for a phone. I didn’t see specific mention of the iPhone on the Tom Bihn web site, but it just so happens that it fit my iPhone 4 like a glove. After that, there was still plenty of room for my wallet and I affixed my keys with the included strap to a ring inside the pocket. Inside the left pocket, there are slots for pens and pencils, another ring, and enough room to fit a compact video camera. In my case, I popped my 3DS in there with no trouble. In the middle is maybe the coolest thing I’ve seen on a bag ever. There’s a pocket that zips straight up and down and is designed specifically for a bottle. There’s a small hole at the bottom of the pocket to allow condensation from the bottle to drip out of the bag and not pool up inside the bag. In order to keep my purchases at the airport to a minimum, I took a Bobble water bottle that filters the water as you drink it so that I could fill it up at drinking fountains and keep the bottle in my Co-Pilot. Saved myself a few bucks! Even after my flights were over, the Co-Pilot quickly became my everyday bag when I knew I wouldn’t be carrying much stuff. It surely won’t replace a backpack when you need that much extra space, but for walking around town and keeping the essentials handy, the Co-Pilot is pretty great. If you’re thinking about getting the Co-Pilot, definitely get an Absolute Strap since unlike the Aeronaut, you will be putting the Co-Pilot over your shoulder. The bag comes with cord zipper pulls, so no need to buy an extra set for this bag. If you want to want to attach multiple items to the O-rings in the bag, you might want to pick up an extra clip strap when purchasing the bag. If you have a netbook, an iPad or a Kindle, definitely check out Tom Bihn’s line of sleeves. I use the MacBook Air Cache sleeve everyday and it’s been great. Most sleeves use velcro or zippers, but the Cache uses just a flap that tucks inside the the sleeve. I worried that if would be secure, but surprisingly, the Cache’s flap manages to hold in the Air even when turned upside down. Don’t test your luck with it too often though!

I’d like to thank Tom Bihn for building the best bags I’ve ever used. I’d also like to say that they’ve utterly ruined all other bags for me. Every time I use any other bags, they feel cheap and unworthy of use. If you’re a serious bag enthusiast (those people exist, right?) then you have to check out Tom Bihn’s offerings. They certainly cost more than a lot of the bags on the market, but they’re durable enough to last years and years, and the layouts of their bags are more forward-thinking and better suited for their tasks than any bags I’ve used before.