Yay! My first ever, official bag review! And hopefully not my last! I’ve wanted to write this review for a while, but I’ve been too lazy to take good pictures. Hopefully, when I post this, the pictures will be acceptable, at the very least.
WARNING: Long post. So I got excited. So sue me.
So, first, a bit about me and my bag habits. I’ve always been a one-EDC bag kind of girl (and even a one-backpack kind of girl). So even if I bought a billion bags, I’d most likely use one, or maybe, two. I’m just too lazy to switch between bags. The few times I’ve done so have ended up in forgotten items and lots of grief. So I’m looking for the one EDC bag. Now, before you comment, I know there’s no one perfect bag, but isn’t it our obligation as bag people to look for it? Who knows? We may even discover parts of ourselves we didn’t know existed!
Now, how did I discover Tom Bihn? If I recall correctly, i was looking for either a new messenger-style bag or a one-bag travel… bag. I was inspired by posts and comments from OBOW (One Bag, One World) where people would use just one bag to travel internationally for weeks on end; and the EDC (Everyday Carry) Forums (although most of the bags discussed are tactical-looking). I was familiar with a few of the big name brands (Timbuk2, Crumpler, etc.) and even stumbled on some of the less big names (Goruck, Mission Workshop) which then lead to niche big names (Chrome, RedOxx). From time to time, I would come across the name “Tom Bihn” but I’d just pass over it. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me, and I didn’t have many options anyway so I checked it out. And very slowly, but very surely, I fell in love. My first TB love was/is the Aeronaut. It may not look like much but it packs a lot of bag despite its deceptively simple exterior. I was convinced that it was the right bag for me, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger because of the cost (including accessories, it would run really high) and I ended up purchasing an Eagle Creek Weekender, a poor substitute for the TB.
Nonetheless, the TB fire was lit and I became curious. I looked around the TB site (I don’t recommend this unless you have some money you want to throw away) for more of their bags and considered their Cafe Bags as options. These were my criteria:
- I wanted to fit my laptop and a 9″ x 12″ sketchpad, so at least 13″ but not bigger than 15″.
- Internal organization (I love me my pockets.)
- Lighter than 1lb. Or at most 2lbs.
- Zipper for main compartment
- Water bottle holder would be nice
- Compartment at the back
- Not too expensive (below $100)
There were a few contenders, but in the end, I went with the Derek Alexander Full Flap Messenger (with dimensions 15″ x 12″ x 4″, weighing 14oz). It didn’t have a handle, but I figured it wasn’t too big a deal. When I got the bag, it wasn’t love at first sight, but I didn’t hate it, either. I got the black one with the lime green lining. When you zip open the main compartment of the bag, it’s quite roomy, and there’s an additional zippered compartment inside. The second, smaller zippered compartment has a bunch of pockets where I kept my pens, small notebooks, credit cards and even spare change. There are two zipper-less pockets in the front of the bag. There is also a zippered compartment on the flap of the bag itself and another one at the back. For all intents and purposes, it was my perfect bag. It did match most of my criteria (aside from the handle). Unfortunately, in practice, it didn’t pan out so well.
I’ve always wanted my bags to ride low, so they end up being heavier. Pretty stupid, when you think about it, since I’m bringing about my own unhappiness but there you go. For an idea about what I usually bring on a daily basis, I made a packing list when I was talking to Tom Bihn Customer Service and I’ll share the same list I gave them.
I realized early on that bringing a laptop (with an adapter) was out of the question, because, even with the regular stuff, I already felt it was heavy. That put a damper in my plans because, part of the reason I considered a huge bag (15″ long) was because of the lugging around a laptop plan. I ended up carrying my laptop separately. So the bag was too big for my daily use. I appreciated the organization, the lime green lining, the water bottle carrier and the weight, but I realized that it just wasn’t for me. Also, the lining at the front of the bag started fraying because of normal wear and tear, which was a bit annoying. I also didn’t appreciate the full flap-ness of the bag, and it just ended up becoming a nuisance. It didn’t help that I but semi-heavy things in the flap zipper for convenience, which messed with the balance of the flap. I can really see this bag working for someone else, although I’d suggest replacing the strap, but I wanted something else. Now, it was back to the drawing board.
Enter Tom Bihn. I still had mostly similar criteria and packing list. Modified criteria include length of less than 13″ (no more delusions of carrying a laptop unless it’s tiny or in a backpack) and water bottle compartment negotiable. Packing list stayed the same, except I removed one notebook, no 9″x12″ sketchpad and I don’t bring a mouse nowadays (not that it makes a big difference). I settled for the Steel Dyneema/Solar Co-Pilot (over the Ego *too big*, the Imago *too wide?*, the Cafe Bags *prefer a horizontal orientation*) and I have no regrets. I never seriously considered the Co-Pilot before since it looked too mini-briefcase for me (which I didn’t like), but something made me pause. Materials and specs as listed on the website are as follows:
- Exterior: (my version) ultralight 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon ripstop (Steel)
- Lined with 200 denier Japanese Dyneema®/nylon ultralight ripstop fabric (Solar)
- #8 YKK Aquaguard® water-repellent coil zippers
- PORON® foam padded handle
- Dimensions: 12″ x 10″ x 5″ / 300 x 255 x 125 mm
- Weight: 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon ripstop: 14 oz / 385 grams
- Volume: 600 cu. in. / 10 liters
The Co-Pilot has one main zippered compartment with two interior pockets and one D-ring. It has three front compartments: two on either side (with various pockets) with a D-ring each and a water bottle/umbrella holder in the middle. There’s also a back pocket that can be zipped open so the bag can rest on rolling luggage. First and foremost, I have to comment on the Dyneema. I know everyone comments on this, and I have to as well. I can’t say that I know the ins and outs of Dyneema, because I don’t. What I do know is that, although the material is thinner than ballistic nylon or Cordura, it looks and feels quite strong. As others have mentioned, I appreciate how much give the bag has. Also, the construction of TB is top notch! The interior of my bag is Solar and it is probably the happiest color EVER! Seriously! And it makes finding things in the bag a cinch!
I also love the zippers! My bags usually have normal, generic zippers, but these seem to keep out the water (coz, as we all know, water usually seeps in through the zippers). And it’s really easy to just wipe off.
And I appreciate that the Absolute Strap doesn’t tangle since the straps are er reversible? Or whatever you call it. And the Abs. Strap is VERY comfortable. It seems I have narrow shoulders since messenger straps often slide off if I wear them on one shoulder. But the Absolute Strap stays put. I now believe! And it makes the load feel so light. Even my mom commented on it (I have a tendency to over pack).
And these are what fit in my TB Co-Pilot!
The Co-Pilot fully packed. I didn’t include the books in the back pocket and the shoes as I didn’t have a plastic bag on hand.
I have to comment that Tom Bihn changed the way I pack my EDC. I’m very careless and usually just squeeze things in together as long as they fit. But I love the convenience and organization the organizer pouches and the d-rings provide. It makes my life a whole lot easier. A place for everything and everything in its place.
In conclusion, I LOVE the Co-Pilot! 4.5/5 because I wouldn’t have minded if it were half an inch to an inch wider. I know some people have commented that it would’ve been better if the Co-Pilot were a bit bigger to accommodate a 13″ laptop but I know how you can go bigger, bigger and bigger til the bag becomes huge! It might fit the kitchen sink, but it looks like it will, too. So for my purposes as an EDC bag, I am a happy duck. Would also love to commend Tom Bihn on their customer service. Love the RWB Pocket Pouch and the Friend of Tom pouch!! Beau from Tom Bihn CS also answered my questions promptly and even sent a handwritten postcard (which is a typical occurrence for Tom Bihn (: ).
Anyway, sorry for the long post but hope my experiences and pictures helped! If you have any questions/additional pic requests and so on, feel free to ask. And sorry for the quality of the pictures, as I took them using my phone (Samsung Galaxy Note 2). But if better pictures are needed, I’ll borrow our DSLR.