The Journey of picking a bag by an obsessive | Tom Bihn Synapse 25

This post is about researching the bag I ended up buying, but more recently I posted an actual review of the bag itself here | The Tom Bihn Synapse 25 | An (exhaustive) review

A couple of years ago my wife trained to be a coach for a personality test called strengths finders, and I discovered one of the strengths types high up in my results was called “input”. Input basically means you love to collect information, it can be about anything, and it begins to explain while I have over 3000 notes in my evernote file1.

The point is, I love to research, and not like a normal person, I obsess. So, when I finally decided that I wanted to buy a top quality rucksack for a recent birthday, I went into overdrive!

The truth is, I love bags. I know it doesn’t seem like the most manly of admissions, but there is something about the coming together of design, functionality, and storage. Rachel I don’t travel as much as some people we know, but we certainly travel enough to value having things that make the journey easier2. But our travel didn’t justify the kind of money it takes to buy the types of bags I was looking for, so it would have to be worthwhile on day to day basis as well as on the occasions when we fly.

After a little research I realised that this is called an ‘EDC’ or ‘Every Day Carry’ bags. In fact there is a whole (admittedly geeky) community out there dedicated to bags that review and chat this all the time.

My brief:
A bag;
– That looks nice enough to take into formal settings but relaxed enough to not feel like a business briefcase when I’m hanging out with friends.
– Small enough to want to carry into most daily decisions, big enough to use when I’m trying to make the most of ‘carry-on’ baggage allowances.

Around the EDC community I discovered there are a few bag companies that kept coming up;
GOruck – These bags have a strong following but at the end of the day the military styling did not suit my personality or our occasional foray into more sensitive parts of the globe.
Tom Bihn – This company seemed like the classic bag company in this market, it was hard to find something to go against them, although their range made the choice mind boggling3

Finally, the only thing that even tempted me outside these two companies, was minaal – a kickstarter project (of which now there have been many) for a ‘perfect’ travel bag. In the end the price and size of the bag put it outside the contention for this purchase, but the style and logic of the layout kept it in my mind long after the promo video had stopped.

Given the endless praise given to Tom Bihn, I decided to focus in and spent at least 6 months in downtime trawling reviews and forums (see explanation of input above) to figure out which of these bags could double as both a great travel bag and an every day carry.

  • Smart Alec – This was my first consideration, there are lots of fans all over the internet that love this seemingly cavern-like bag. The upside (for flexibility) but downside (for price) is that you buy lots of seperate compartments or packing cubes from Tom Bihn and you build your own bag.

  • Synapse 19 – This was re-named after the soon-to-be mentioned larger brother was brought into the line. This seemed like it had all features you’d want in a bag, with some customisable options. The only thing that concerned me from both a looks and ‘can I cram everything I’ll ever want to take on a plane with me’ angle was, is it big enough?

  • Synapse 25 – This is where the big brother comes in. Tom Bihn says this is made for those 5’11 upwards. Im right on that line, and my biggest concern was, ‘will this feel like Im carrying around a huge bag everyday?’ and ‘will I be tempted to carry a metric ton of stuff-just because I can?’.

I decided (despite the hassle of getting it shipped to a friend in the US, carried to South Africa, and then taken back to US to be returned), that I would buy both Tom Bihn bags and make use of the 90 days no-questions-asked-in-original-condition return policy.

Tom Bihn bags are made by hand in the US, this, I’m picking up plays towards a nationalistic pride in their stateside customers, but for me it simply meant, ‘we take the building of our bags seriously, and we want to watch it happen rather than ship it out to a sweatshop somewhere‘. Both ethically and quality-assurance wise, I was on board. The downside of this cottage-style industry approach is that, a constantly varying number of colours options are available. This would be OK, apart from Tom Bihn has a flare for bizarre and bright colours and that was really not what I was going for here. Either way, I was under the hammer and needed to even expedite shipping, so I decided on grey or black exterior and then the best options available for interior – iberia red for the small one, and, wait for it, wasabi green for the large one (I told you they had a penchant for funny colours!).

When they both arrived I excitedly unpacked them and went to packing them full of clothes and posing in a mirror like a girl in a prom dress to see which one I should keep. At this point I deferred to my wife and in-laws (who strangely enough did not engage with the obsessive focus I was making the decision with), and decided the bigger option would offer greater flexibility, and the smaller one was slightly too narrow on my back.

Honestly I was thinking a 22ltr would be a perfect size, both ratio and capacity, but I knew I’d more likely be trying to zip the zippers closed after sticking a little too much in and always wish I had the option if I didn’t pick the 25. So the 25 stayed and the 19 went.

A week later I began to realise why Tom Bihn has such a cult following – and so, for those (few) of you still reading, a proper review of the Synape 25 will follow here soon!

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for less than a “true believer.”

  1. Though I’m not sure I’ll ever read many of them again! 
  2. We take 2-4 long haul flights over the course of 12 months normally. 
  3. though admittedly more the ‘researcher’ in me, it made the process all the more fun! 

One Comment on “The Journey of picking a bag by an obsessive | Tom Bihn Synapse 25

  1. Great review. I have been trying to decide between the 19 and the 25 for about a month. I am settling on the Synapse after 2 months of researching and comparing (I guess I am a data hoarder as well and have over 4000 notes on EN to prove it lol)

    Now the issue is size I have about 10 bags already and my favorites are an Osprey Daylite (too small) and a Tenba Daypack (to big not much space) and will like one that falls between them. But I am only 5′ 5″ so I am not sure if the 25L will be a good fit. I guess I will follow in your footsteps and order both and get over it.

    Once again nice write up.

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