Tom Bihn Brain Bag Review

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I often go to San Francisco and New York for up to 5 days at a time.  I never check my bag for the flight and typically carry on a backpack and a large roller board duffel.  However, sadly, my roller board has taken quite a beating over the years and has some holes in it.  On a few occasions, I've arrived at my hotel on a rainy day with dirty clothes.  Not cool.

So, I began a search for a new roller board.  But I fell into a different hole entirely.  Much to my surprise, there are many who travel who will rely solely on a single, larger backpack in order to cut down on what they need to carry on the plane.  At the top of the list on many, many blogs is a company named Tom Bihn.

Tom Bihn is based out of Seattle, Washington.  They use high-quality and forward thinking fabrics and have some crazy designs that accomplish a surprising amount.  One of their bags in particular, the Brain Bag, caught my fancy.  The more I read and researched, the more this seemed like what I wanted.

Requirements

Here were my criteria going in:

  • It had to be capable of holding the following
    • 4 to 5 days worth of clothing
    • Running shoes
    • Sanuks
    • 15" Retina MacBook Pro
    • iPad
    • 4 phones
    • Various wires, chargers, cables, etc
    • Large noise canceling headphones case
    • Small travel power strip
    • It had to be "checkpoint friendly", which means that I would not have to completely take my laptop out of the bag when going through airport security
    • It had to look good fully packed and with only my computer equipment in it

The Bag and Extras

The Brain Bag is a backpack that can hold 36 liters worth of goods.  It has two main compartments, both of which have the nifty Tom Bihn track suspension system as well as the back-most compartment having "rails" which allow for a pouch containing the laptop to be pulled out of the bag and laid out behind the bag on a conveyer belt.  There are also two side pockets, a central smaller pocket on top and a spot in the center of the bag to hold a water bottle or other long-ish, tubular item (some folks use it to hold tripods, for instance).

When the bag is not fully loaded, you can cinch down the large inner pocket so that it's not overly large.  This allows you to get to your hotel room, unpack your clothes, then use the Brain Bag to carry just your laptop and various electronics equipment.

In addition to the bag itself, I ordered two "packing cubes", one large and one small, in order to house my clothes and shoes in a highly compact manner.  I also ordered an iPad sleeve which mounts to the walls of the bag and a two pouched bag for holding cords, wires, chargers, etc, called the Snake Charmer.  Last but not least, the bag itself comes with a sleeve for my laptop.  These sleeves are sized for the laptop specifically and are a very snug fit.

Packing it Up!

When it arrived today, I spent some time seeing if I would be able to fit everything I need in it or if I'd have to take it back.  Turns out that everything fit!  Here's what I packed (with an eye towards a 4 night stay):

  • 3 button up shirts
  • 2 t-shirts
  • a pair of jeans
  • a pair of running shorts
  • 5 pairs of underwear (always pack extra, folks, you never know what's going to happen)
  • 4 undershirts
  • 4 pairs of dress socks
  • 1 pair of running socks
  • size 11 mens running shoes
  • size 11 Sanuks

Amazingly, all of this fit!  The shirts, jeans, shorts, underwear and undershirts, along with 3 of the sock pairs, fit into the large packing cube very tidily.  Both pairs of shoes fit into the smaller packing cube, along with a pair of socks.  The cubes then went into the bag very easily, in the front of the two pouches.  Last, I slid in the last pair of socks, loose, but not a big deal.

Next, I had to put the electronics gear in.  The iPad sleeve I mounted to the back wall of the bag, then slid the iPad in.  The 15" rMBP went into its sleeve, which slid down into the bag over the iPad sleeve.  The Snake Charmer went into the bottom, beside a small notebook.  The headphone bag went in next.  This left a bit of room for something like a small toiletries bag, which I'm going to add later.

The phones went into small pockets inside the two large side pockets, two a piece.  Last but not least, the power strip went into one of the side pouches.

Once fully packed, it weighed between 20 to 25 pounds.

Wearing it Around

I threw it on my shoulders and walked around for a bit.  The straps have a strap that goes across the chest.  When it's this full, that strap is necessary.  The shoulder straps are not the most comfortable, but they are sufficient and should not prove overly problematic after a few hours of wear.

Even this heavily loaded, the bag wore well.

When not fully loaded and with the sides cinched down, it looks like a typical backpack.  It still wears comfortably then, as well.

Build Quality and Looks

The build quality is exceptional.  A lot of details have been taken care of.  For instance, not only are all of the zippers very rugged, they are also waterproof.  But, not stopping there, wherever there is a zipper, there is a fabric overlay that covers the zipper.  Your stuff is not going to get wet.

The bag is light, and all of the mounting systems in the bag are pretty awesome.  I've never seen their like before, and I can really see how they could come in handy if I needed to carry around another tablet or another computer.  I'm actually kind of hoping that they will put out some phone sleeves, so that I can mount all of my test devices in the main compartment.

All of the fabric is very heavy-duty and I doubt that you're going to get much wear and tear, even after years of use.  As a matter of fact, judging by the forums, this is how Tom Bihn does their thing.  Awesome fabrics that last a long time.

I also think it looks great.  Preferring to stand out a bit, I got the burnt orange color.  If you were looking to be a bit more subdued, the all-black version would be just right.  Even then, it's a much better looking bag than a lot that I've seen.

Conclusion

This is a pretty awesome bag.  I'll be traveling with it soon and I'm looking forward to seeing how things go.  While fully packed, it's not going to fit under the seat in front of me, but it will definitely take up a lot less space than a roller board.

All in all, I'm very pleased with my purchase.