Bag FAQs

Tote Bags: Frequently Asked Questions

Road Trip Snacks
Road trip snacks in The Truck.

Below is a list of questions (and answers) that we’re asked — or anticipate we will be asked — about our various tote bag designs. If you have a question that wasn’t answered here, feel free to emailus@tombihn.com.

  1. You offer five different tote bag designs (not counting different sizes). Can you tell me a little about each of them?
  2. Which of the tote designs is right for me?
  3. Why do you offer so many different tote bag designs?
  4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a tote bag with a zipper top?
  5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a tote bag with an open top?
  6. How do people typically use their tote bags?
  7. Which of the totes can be carried on the shoulder as well as in hand?
  8. Have you considered making the handles/shoulder straps adjustable in length?
  9. What are the key differences between a tote and a duffel bag?
  10. I want to add some additional organization to my tote. Which accessories fit in which totes?
  11. If I knew I was going to be stranded on a deserted island, which tote bag would you recommend that I take with me?
  12. I’m planning to take Ulysses by James Joyce, a water filter, my pet rock, an antique sugar bowl, a small adze, a picnic blanket, a jumbo bag of salt water taffy, and some antibiotics in case I need them for my rock. So, which tote?

You offer five different tote bag designs (not counting different sizes). Can you tell me a little about each of them?

Sure thing.

The Truck
A true multipurpose carry-all bag. You can use it for groceries, tools, laundry, work stuff—whatever. It’s made out of our durable 525d or 210d ballistic nylon, which can help it withstand years of hard use. That being said, if dirty or sharp tools get tossed in the bag, it’ll eventually develop some character. We think of it as showing its history.

Pop Tote
Our very first zip-top tote bag design. It shines as a personal carry-on bag for air travel and as an every-day-carry tote.

Zip-Top Shop Bag
An updated version of our Original Shop Bag, this time with a zipper closure. It comes in two sizes and makes a great reusable grocery bag whether at home or in faraway lands: fold it up and stow it away in your Aeronaut to serve as a shopping bag at your travel destination.

The Moveable Feast
A purpose-built grocery bag for gourmet chefs and enthusiastic food lovers. It keeps wine bottles upright and tomatoes up high and unsquished. It’s got padded handles and lots of organization. Note: we’ve retired the Moveable Feast for now to give folks a chance to consider the Truck, which is very similar in design. We may or may not make a future production run of the Moveable Feast.

Original Shop Bag
The tried and true classic reusable shopping bag. With padded handles, piping to help it keep its shape, and two interior open-top pockets, it’s refined, simple, and classic.

… There’s also the Swift, but we think of it as a dedicated knitting bag as opposed to a tote bag.

Which of the tote designs is right for me?

Our answer depends mightily on what you plan to carry and in what context. Feel free to emailus@tombihn.com or post in our Forums to ask for advice specific to your situation.

Generally speaking, we’d suggest:

The Original Large Shop Bag if you’re looking for a simple, lightweight reusable grocery bag.

The Truck if you want a heavy-duty tote you can really work out of, and that’ll look even better as it develops character from years of use.

Trying the Small Zip-Top Shop Bag to use as an Every Day Carry (EDC) tote that’s the perfect size for lunch, a sweater, Kindle or small tablet, phone, wallet, and water bottle.

The Pop Tote if you want a tote that can serve both as a day bag at your travel destination and your personal carry-on bag en route.

Why do you offer so many different tote bag designs?

Several reasons. Notably:

Everyone here at TOM BIHN has at least a couple of tote bags. We use them as shopping bags, lunch bags, overflow-of-stuff bags. Tom will often bring one of his original Utility Totes to the factory full of patterns and segments of a new design. Because we use tote bags so much, we’re inspired to make new variations that could prove even more useful to us (or to you…)

Tote bags are universally useful. Nearly everyone will appreciate owning one, which makes them a great bag to give as a gift.

You guys seem to appreciate the tote bags that we make, so it only makes sense for us to make more.

A tote bag can be a very basic, utilitarian, yet thoughtful sack. Because tote bags are so well-loved and so often used, we consider a new tote bag to be a good place to refine features, aesthetics, and materials that may (or may not) be applied to other more complex bags sometime down the road.

Lastly, the development timeline for a tote is often much shorter than that of, say, a briefcase. Or a 787 Dreamliner.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a tote bag with a zipper top?

The main advantage of a tote with a zipper top—such as our Pop Tote, Large Zip-Top Shop Bag, or Small Zip-Top Shop Bag—is that your stuff won’t fall out if somehow the tote is topsy-turvied. We think this is especially important if you plan to use a tote bag as a personal carry-on bag like we sometimes do.

The main disadvantage is that the zippers and the required fabric dome add a small amount of weight to the bag. With the tote zipped shut, you can’t fit tall items like a baguette or ukulele—but, of course, you could simply leave the tote unzipped in those instances.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a tote bag with an open top?

The main advantage of a tote with an open top—our Original Shop Bag or the Truck—is that you don’t need to mess around with zipping a zipper open or closed. The top of the bag is wide and open, allowing you to easily put in and remove your stuff.

Game Night Truck Tote

You can also fold the Original Shop Bag into its own interior pocket, which turns it into an elegant little parcel that can be easily stowed inside of a larger bag. This can sort-of also be accomplished with the Zip-Top Shop Bag, but it’s not nearly as easy.

The main disadvantage to an open-top tote is that, if it somehow falls or tips over, your stuff could spill out.

How do people typically use their tote bags?

All kinds of ways. Here’s how we use our tote bags and how you’ve told us you use them:

Reusable grocery bag
Picnic bag
Tool Bag
Front seat road trip stuff bag (snacks, road map, drinks)
Every Day Carry bag
Personal carry-on bag
Game night bag
Gym bag
Overflow-of-stuff bag (a catch all)
Beach bag


The Small Zip-Top Shop Bag as a personal carry-on item.

Side note: some folks use tote bags as firewood haulers or storage containers. We don’t haul firewood in our totes because we use these firewood haulers Tom made back in the early 80’s.

Tom Bihn's Original Firewood Bag

Which of the totes can be carried on the shoulder as well as in hand?

The Pop Tote, Large and Small Zip-Top Shop Bag, Original Shop Bag, and the Truck can be carried by most folks either over the shoulder or by hand. Note: the Moveable Feast is designed to be carried only by hand.

Have you considered adding shoulder strap attachment points to any of the tote bags?

We have, and we do, but we haven’t found a way to do this with any of our current tote bags designs that meets our own standards of perfection. But we’ll let you know if and when we do.

Have you considered making the handles/shoulder straps adjustable in length?

Same answer as above: we’ve explored this a bit here and there, but haven’t found a way to add such a feature in an elegant way.

What are the key differences between a tote and a duffel bag?

That’s a good question! While some of our tote bags are open-top and others are zip-top, our Yeoman Duffel (and most every other duffel out there) has a zipper closure. So a zip-top tote is sort of wandering over into the land of duffel bags, isn’t it? Guess you could say you know a duffel bag when you see it.

Our Yeoman Duffels feature a classic U-shaped opening that makes packing them more like packing a suitcase. They’re also wide rather than tall, which means they offer shallow, horizontal packing space as opposed to more vertical packing space like a tote bag. The Yeoman is available in four sizes, three of which are quite large and can fit bigger items such as camping tents.

I want to add some additional organization to my tote. Which accessories fit in which totes?

This response really isn’t intended to be cheeky: you can use basically any accessory that fits within the tote’s dimensions—and, if applicable, permits the zipper to be zipped up. That being said, certain accessories fit particularly well:

Pop Tote
The main compartment can fit a Medium or Small Café Bag Freudian Slip or Maker’s Bag/Swift Freudian Slip. The small exterior pockets can accommodate Mini or Small Organizer Pouches, the Pen/Pencil Organizer Pouch, Knitting Tool Pouches in sizes 1-3, the Q Kit, and the Pocket Pouch.

The Truck
The Small Café Bag Freudian Slip can fit in any main pocket; the Medium Café Bag Freudian Slip fits in the center pocket (at a diagonal or by pressing out the sides a little bit), and Organizer Pouches in size Medium or smaller will fit in the front/back pockets.

Small Original Shop Bag or Small Zip-Top Shop Bag
Medium or Small Café Bag Freudian Slip (Note that the Medium size might take away a bit of real estate from interior pockets in the Zip-Top Shop Bag), Small/Mini pouches in interior side pockets.

Large Original Shop Bag or Large Zip-Top Shop Bag
Large, Medium or Small Café Bag Freudian Slip, and up to a Medium pouch in interior pockets.


The Truck with a Small Cafe Bag Freudian Slip, a Size 4 Travel Stuff Sack, and a Double Organizer Pouch.

If I knew I was going to be stranded on a deserted island, which tote bag would you recommend that I take with me?

That’s a tough one, and it kind of depends on what you plan to take with you to that deserted island. So, what do you plan to take? Tom says he’d take the Truck because he’d figure out a way to make a sun hat out of it, plus it would likely carry more water (for a few minutes at least).

I’m planning to take Ulysses by James Joyce, a water filter, my pet rock, a hat, an antique sugar bowl, a small adze, a picnic blanket, a jumbo bag of salt water taffy, and some antibiotics in case I need them for my pet rock. So, which tote?

That helps. We’d recommend the Truck because it will help you keep that wide variety of items contained and, if need be, separate (so you don’t accidentally get rock antibiotics all over your candy).

I'll finally have time to read Ulysses!
I’ll finally have the time to read Ulysses!

The Aeronaut Travel Bag: Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of questions (and answers) that we’re asked — or anticipate we will be asked — about the Aeronaut 30 and Aeronaut 45 travel bags. If you have a question that wasn’t answered here, feel free to emailus@tombihn.com

  1. How did Tom come up with the design of the Aeronaut?
  2. What does Tom consider to be some of the more unique features and aspects of the Aeronaut design?
  3. How many design updates have been made to the Aeronaut over the years?
  4. Tom designed the Aeronaut so that the end user could carry it via three different methods. In what particular scenarios did Tom imagine one might carry the Aeronaut by hand, via a shoulder strap, or as a backpack?
  5. Does the Aeronaut meet with all airline carry-on standards?
  6. Will the Aeronaut fit under the seat in front of me on the airplane?
  7. Is the Aeronaut a good bag for road trips or train trips too?
  8. Can I use the Aeronaut as a hiking backpack once I reach my destination?
  9. What if I’m traveling to a conference and I want to “one bag” it—will it work to carry my Aeronaut as my Everyday Carry (EDC) bag?
  10. How much of a difference do the optional Aeronaut Internal Frame and Padded Hip Belt make? Do I need them?
  11. Can I use just the Internal Frame or just the Padded Hip Belt, or are both necessary?
  12. Why not just include the Internal Frame and sew in the Padded Hip Belt?
  13. I’m trying to choose between between the Aeronaut and the Synapse 25. Help me out here: what are the advantages of each?
  14. Is a shoulder strap included with the Aeronaut?
  15. How can I pack my Aeronaut so as to maximize comfort for sustained carrying?
  16. Are Packing Cubes necessary for packing the Aeronaut efficiently?
  17. What are the benefits of using Packing Cubes?
  18. How do people use the o-rings in the Aeronaut?
  19. What’s the maximum weight that the Aeronaut can hold?
  20. I use wheeled roll-aboard luggage now. Will the Aeronaut work better than that for me?
  21. Does the Aeronaut have a compartment for my laptop?
  22. Have you considered adding a laptop compartment to the Aeronaut?
  23. What causes the zippers on the Aeronaut to be a little stiff?
  24. Can I lock the zippers of my Aeronaut?
  25. I’m 5’2″ and not so big. Which size of Aeronaut is right for me?
  26. I’m 6’2” and pretty big. Is the Aeronaut for me?
How did Tom come up with the design of the Aeronaut?

The Aeronaut was born from Tom’s desire to make a soft travel bag that would be a significant improvement over a simple duffle. Tom was fond of the Road Buddy series of duffles that he designed and made in the 1990’s, but wanted compartmentalization more tailored to what he carried, which was typically clothing, and somehow always seemed to include at least one pair of shoes. He wanted this new bag to carry comfortably handsfree (as a backpack) when needed for getting across Heathrow or across town. Though Tom sized it to take full advantage of the recommended FAA maximum carryon size (basically a box measuring 9″ x 14″ x 22” / 22 x 35 x 56 cm), he incorporated as many curves as possible – hoping the resulting aesthetic would be a bit more sports car and a bit less ice cream truck.

What does Tom consider to be some of the more unique features and aspects of the Aeronaut design?

Though not originally one of the design criteria, it turns out that a cool thing about the Aeronaut’s division of space is that many folks find they can live out of it and never actually unpack it. Once you set it down on a luggage rack/desk/bureau/bed/floor, it’s sort of like a chest of drawers, providing easy access to its contents. This can be particularly sweet when you’re only staying a night or two somewhere, or when your accommodation lacks a closet. We even added two simple webbing loop handles just inside the main hatch opening so you can easily pick up your Aeronaut and move it around your room without needing to zip it shut; these grab loops can also come in handy if, for example, your bag is inspected at an airport security checkpoint, or any time you might want to move an open Aeronaut with some alacrity.

How many design updates have been made to the Aeronaut over the years?

Whew—too many to count! Since its inception circa 2003, we’ve added features and nudged things around a bit, but its basic layout and size remains the same. Of particular note are the Late-2014 and 2017 design updates.

Tom designed the Aeronaut so that the end user could carry it via three different methods. In what particular scenarios did Tom imagine one might carry the Aeronaut by hand, via a shoulder strap, or as a backpack?

Tom wanted to have all three options, and to be able to choose which mode was most appropriate at any given moment. Having the backpack straps zip away is great: when stowing the Aeronaut in the overhead bin, it’ll slide in and out without getting caught; if you need to check it, there’s less reason to worry about what baggage handlers and conveyor belts might do to it; the Aeronaut looks relatively tidy and presentable with straps stowed and carried by hand (or with a shoulder strap attached), so that when you’re making an appearance at a four star hotel you’d perhaps be less likely to be given the bum’s rush. Carried as a backpack, the Aeronaut can make navigating a crowded plane, bus, or subway easy-breezy; a short hike through town to the hostel or pension is no biggie.

Does the Aeronaut meet with all airline carry-on standards?

The Aeronaut 45—with exterior dimensions of 21.9” (w) x 14” (h) x 9.1” (d)—qualifies as a maximum carry-on main bag on most U.S. airlines. Technically speaking, the Aeronaut 45 exceeds the stated dimensions for carry-on requirements for some European and smaller airlines. That said, the Aeronaut 45 is soft luggage, which means that if it’s underpacked, it can compress to meet those requirements. Many people successfully underpack the Aeronaut 45 and use it on European or smaller airlines, but we can’t guarantee this will work for you.

The smaller Aeronaut 30—with exterior dimensions of 19.7” (w) x 12.6” (h) x 7.9” (d)—qualifies as a main carry-on bag for U.S. as well as European airlines, small airlines, or regional jets.

It’s always a good idea to look up the luggage requirements of the particular airlines with whom you’ll be flying. We’d be glad to help, too: emailus@tombihn.com

Will the Aeronaut fit under the seat in front of me on the airplane?

The Aeronaut 30 will fit under the seat of many airlines. The Aeronaut 45 probably won’t—you’ll need to store it in the overheard compartment.

Is the Aeronaut a good bag for road trips or train trips too?

You bet. Darcy went on a two week road trip and basically lived out of her Aeronaut–she never had to unpack.

Can I use the Aeronaut as a hiking backpack once I reach my destination?

We suppose you could, and some people have and do. We’ve even tried it ourselves and it worked… OK. In short, it works in a pinch, and with the Padded Hip Belt and Internal Frame the Aeronaut is more comfortable as a hiking pack—but most people probably won’t be happy using the Aeronaut as a day hiking pack, so it’s not something we recommend.

Instead, we’d recommend packing an Aeronaut 30 Packing Cube Backpack or an Aeronaut 45 Packing Cube Backpack, or even a rolled-up Daylight Backpack. All three can be easily deployed to serve as great lightweight day hiking packs.

Or, if you’re going on a trip that will, in part, be focused on longer day hikes—for example, a trip to Alaska with three days visiting people and working in Anchorage and 4 days hiking in Denali National Park—you may want to take a Synapse 19 or Synapse 25.

What if I’m traveling to a conference and I want to “one bag” it—will it work to carry my Aeronaut as my Everyday Carry (EDC) bag?

Probably not. Instead, we’d recommend one of these two options:

1. Pack a Daylight Briefcase or Daylight Backpack in your Aeronaut. The Daylight Backpack can fit up to a 15” laptop in a Cache sleeve; the Daylight Briefcase can fit up to a 13” laptop in a Cache. Both are excellent minimalist and light-in-weight EDC options—and they don’t take up much room when rolled up or stowed in the Aeronaut.

2. Take a second bag. The Aeronaut will serve as your main carry-on bag and the second bag—perhaps a Pilot, Co-Pilot, Stowaway, Synapse 19, or Synapse 25—will be your personal item. Of course, at this point, you’re not “one bagging” it — but this method does have some advantages. Namely, once your Aeronaut is stowed in the overhead compartment, you’ll still have a personal item bag that you can stow under the seat in front of you that gives you easy access to your tablet or laptop, phone, books, and other amenities during your flight. Plus, you can use the second bag as your EDC at your destination.

How much of a difference do the optional Aeronaut Internal Frame and Padded Hip Belt make? Do I need them?

That depends on what you carry, the weight you’re used to carrying on a regular basis, and your own personal idea of comfort.

Some people won’t feel they need the internal frame and padded hip belt.

Some people–especially those who appreciate these two features on other packs, like outdoor backpacking packs–will likely enjoy the internal frame and padded hip belt.

Can I use just the Internal Frame or just the Padded Hip Belt, or are both necessary?

You can use one or the other, or both. Using both will likely give you the greatest sensation of reducing the amount of weight you’re carrying; however, using either the Internal Frame and Padded Hip Belt will shift some of the weight of a pack onto your hips.

Some folks just like the way an internal frame feels against their back—it’s less about a perceived reduction in the amount of weight they are carrying and more about the tactile experience of the frame. It’s worth noting that an internal frame can be an especially potent way to increase comfort in bags that beer-barrel out when overpacked/overstuffed; however, the Aeronaut’s design ensures that it hardly beer-barrels at all.

Others may find the additional weight or stiffness of the internal frame unnecessary, but the comfort of the Padded Hip Belt to be essential.

Why not just include the Internal Frame and sew in the Padded Hip Belt?

Not everyone wants to use an internal frame, and it would add both weight and cost to the Aeronaut if a non-removable frame was incorporated into the design. Additionally, the internal frame’s rigidity might make it more difficult to underpack your Aeronaut in order to squeeze it into an airline baggage sizer or get it into a nearly-full overhead compartment.

It’s the same thing with the Padded Hip Belt. And, perhaps worse, if you didn’t want or need to use the padded hip belt, it’d either be flopping about on your left and right, potentially knocking into other people or objects, or you’d have to buckle it behind your back to get it out of the way, which can make for an awkward carrying experience.

By design, the Internal Frame and Padded Hip Belt are optional and removable, allowing you to customize your carrying experience.

I’m trying to choose between between the Aeronaut and the Synapse 25. Help me out here: what are the advantages of each?

The Aeronaut 30 or the Aeronaut 45 offers the flexibility of three carrying options: by hand as a duffle, over the shoulder or cross-body with a shoulder strap, or as a backpack. In various travel contexts, these options can prove beneficial (we talked more about that in Aeronaut FAQ #4). The Aeronaut’s design basically allows you to live out of it as if it were a dresser drawer of sorts, meaning there’s no need to unpack, and you’re much less likely to have to pull out some stuff to access other stuff. It gives you wide, unfettered access to your stuff similar to a clamshell opening (but, perhaps, without what some folks find irritating about clamshell openings—namely, that if you open them all the way, your stuff burps out).

The Synapse 25 is a backpack. It has a comfortable handle at the top, but it’s intended to be a grab handle (say, picking up the bag to move it from one room to another) as opposed to a carrying handle. If you want a travel backpack—and you’re either a current or aspiring minimalist traveler—we’d recommend the Synapse 25. Part of what makes carrying and traveling with the Synapse 25 so great is that its fairly narrow main compartment means you can’t pack too much stuff. This gives you more of a sense of the bag being conformed to you—and perhaps even an extension of you.

Feel free to emailus@tombihn.com with your unique packing list and travel plans. We’d be glad to give you additional advice more tailored to your unique needs. You’re also welcome to share the same information in our Forums and get a wider variety of feedback.

Is a shoulder strap included with the Aeronaut?

No. Here’s our thinking on that one: as we’ve discussed elsewhere, inherent in the design of the Aeronaut are three carrying options — by its handle as a duffel/valise, worn as a backpack with its hide-away backpack straps, or carried over one shoulder with a single strap (such as our Absolute Shoulder Strap). A good percentage of people will choose to carry their Aeronaut via the first two methods only, and including a shoulder strap with the bag means they’d pay for — and have — something they wouldn’t use. Additionally, we offer several options for shoulder straps, and if we did choose to include one with the Aeronaut we’d be sure to disappoint some folks. Also, many folks already have a shoulder strap from some other bag that they’ll want to use. So, we chose to make the shoulder strap optional.

How can I pack my Aeronaut so as to maximize comfort for sustained carrying? ?

In our experience, we have found the best ways to improve your comfort carrying a bag to be:

1. Take less stuff. Do you really need five pairs of pants? Maybe—or maybe not.

2. Replace some items with lighter weight versions. Five pairs of jeans weigh a lot more than five pairs of lightweight travel pants.

3. Take care to pack your bag so that its load is balanced. See our blog post Packing for Ideal Weight Distribution.

4. Adjust the pack so that it fits you. Make micro-adjustments to the sternum strap and shoulder straps (and Padded Hip Belt, if using one) over the course of the time you’re wearing the pack.

5. Shift your perspective. We can at least tell ourselves that carrying a reasonable amount of weight in a backpack can prove to be a good bone-and-muscle-building workout. 🙂

6. Add an Internal Frame + Padded Hip Belt to shift some of the weight of the pack onto your hips.

Are Packing Cubes necessary for packing the Aeronaut efficiently?

No. Tom designed our travel bags to make Packing Cubes optional; that’s why he added tie-down straps (useful for cinching down / keeping flat folded pants, shirts, or even a blazer) to our Aeronaut 30, Aeronaut 45 (and Tri-Star) travel bags.

The Aeronaut is designed to be a bag you could basically live out of and never have to unpack. Its end pockets do a great job of keeping rolled clothes neat and you’ll find that folded clothes don’t shift around too much in the main compartment. Unlike bags with clamshell openings, you can set the Aeronaut on the bed/chair, zip it open, and have full and entirely visible access to your stuff—without worrying about it unfurling or falling out. In short, we think the design of the Aeronaut especially lends itself to packing sans Packing Cubes.

What are the benefits of using Packing Cubes?

See our post Packing Cubes: Frequently Asked Questions.

How do people use the o-rings in the Aeronaut?

Wait, let’s back up for a second for those not in the know: o-rings small, round, plastic rings sewn inside many of the compartments and pockets of our bags to which one can clip and tether additional pouches and organization — such as Organizer Pouches and Key Straps. O-rings are so unobtrusive that it’s totally optional whether you utilize them or not.

Included with the Aeronaut (and most of our other larger bags) is one 8″ Key Strap attached to an o-ring — we figure most folks will clip their keys to this Key Strap.

Here’s an idea of what could be clipped to the o-rings in the Aeronaut:

Left to right: included 8″ Key Strap, Double Organizer Pouch w/16″ Key Strap, 3D Clear Organizer Cube w/16″ Key Strap, Passport Pouch w/16″ Key Strap.

What’s the maximum weight that the Aeronaut can hold?

The Aeronaut is durable and strong enough to hold way, way more weight than you’d ever want to—or should—carry. So, the answer to this question is: how much weight is it comfortable for you to carry? We recommend practice packing and using one of those inexpensive nifty little luggage scales you can get all day long on Amazon. Does 30lbs feel like too much? Remove some items, or replace them with lighter weight versions, and see how much weight you’ve saved and how different that feels.

I use wheeled roll-aboard luggage now. Will the Aeronaut work better than that for me?

Maybe, maybe not. It’s important to acknowledge that carrying one’s one luggage as opposed to wheeling it isn’t possible for every person and every body. And some folks may just prefer traveling with rolling luggage.

That said, we hear quite often from folks who have made the switch from rolling luggage to carrying their own bags and find it liberating. More easily navigating cobblestone streets, saving weight and space, and not risking the impoliteness of taking up double the physical space around you—these are just a few of the benefits people have shared with us.

Does the Aeronaut have a compartment for my laptop?

It does not: the Aeronaut is not intended to carry a laptop. Most people who use the Aeronaut use it as one bag of a two bag system. Clothing and toiletries are packed in the Aeronaut, which is then stored in the overhead compartment on the plane. A laptop/tablet, snacks, phone, glasses, etc. are stored in a personal carry-on bag that fits under the seat in front of you and kept easily accessible in flight. For a true “one bag” travel solution, please see our Tri-Star, Western Flyer, or Synapse 25.

That said, some people choose to work around this and carry their devices in the Aeronaut. Smaller tablets can fit in the mesh zippered pocket in the inside flap of the Aeronaut or the side exterior zippered pockets. If you unzip one or both interior main compartment zippers in the Aeronaut 45, you can fit a 15″ laptop in a Cache in the bottom of the bag. And, if you unzip one or both interior main compartment zippers in the Aeronaut 30, you can fit up to a 13” laptop in a Cache in the bottom of the bag.

13″ MacBook Pro in an Aeronaut 30. Note that underneath the laptop is its appropriately sized Cache. We don’t recommend putting a laptop without a protective sleeve in any bag — we’re just showing the laptop on top of the Cache in this photo so you can see the laptop itself.

Have you considered adding a laptop compartment to the Aeronaut?

We have, and we’ve come up with some options as to how we’d incorporate room for a laptop in the Aeronaut, but we don’t like any of them (so far).

What causes the zippers on the Aeronaut to be a little stiff?

We use YKK AquaGuard water-repellant coil zippers on the Aeronaut because we wanted it to have the greatest possible weather resistance; however, these zippers can be a bit harder to open and close than standard coil zippers. We feel it’s a reasonable tradeoff.

Can I lock the zippers of my Aeronaut?

Yes, the zippers on the main (center) compartment as well as both end compartments feature lockable sliders. Zip any of these compartments entirely shut and butt the two sliders together so the small eyelets overlap, then slip a small luggage lock (or zip-tie) through the eyelets to secure that compartment. If you choose to lock all three compartments you’ll need three luggage locks. Also remember that the TSA requires access to your luggage “without the passenger being present” so even if you’re not checking your bag, you should consider using TSA-approved locks. Keep in mind that any time your bag is not in your sight someone could potentially cut the bag open or otherwise access its contents, locked or not, and that the idea behind locking your luggage is A: to “keep honest people honest,” as they say, and B: so that if your bag is opened you’ll know about it. There’s plenty of on-line discussions about the pros and cons of locking your bag—we provide the lockable sliders so you can choose.

I’m 5’2″ and not so big. Which size of Aeronaut is right for me?

We’d recommend the Aeronaut 30. That said, if you’re used to carrying a bag as big as the Aeronaut 45, that should work just fine too.

I’m 6’2” and pretty big. Is the Aeronaut for me?

You bet. However, if you’re that tall or taller and have a long torso, you may find that the optional Padded Hip Belt rides too high to be comfortable.

Here’s a video we made that shows more people of various heights and sizes wearing both the Aeronaut 30 and Aeronaut 45:

And here’s some photos of various people wearing both sizes of Aeronaut….

Aeronaut 30

How the Aeronaut 30 fits various people

Aeronaut 45

How the Aeronaut 45 fits various people

Still have more questions? emailus@tombihn.com and Kat, Matthew, or Cody will be glad to help.

Packing Cubes: Frequently Asked Questions

Aeronaut 45 Travel Bag with Packing Cubes by TOM BIHN
The Aeronaut 45 with its Aeronaut 45 Packing Cubes.

Below is a list of questions (and answers) that we’re often asked about Packing Cubes. If you have a question that wasn’t answered here, feel free to emailus@tombihn.com If you’d like to see all of our Packing Cube offerings, go here.

What are the main benefits of Packing Cubes?
What are the downsides of Packing Cubes?
How do I use Packing Cubes?
How necessary are Packing Cubes?
Should I fold, roll, or bundle pack my clothes in Packing Cubes?
Are Packing Cubes only for clothes?
How do the Laundry Travel Stuff Sack and Laundry Packing Cubes work?
Travel Stuff Sacks vs. Packing Cubes: can you explain the differences, and which should I choose?
How do the Packing Cube Backpacks work?
What are the differences between All Aether and Mesh/Aether Packing Cubes?
Will you ever make “compression” Packing Cubes?
Could you make Packing Cubes out of the fabric used to make your Pocket Travel Pillow? It’s light and silky.
Some bags have Packing Cubes specifically designed and sized for them. Which Packing Cubes do I use for bags that don’t, like the Synapse 25 or Maker’s Bag?

What are the main benefits of Packing Cubes?

Packing Cubes Help Keep Your Clothes Neat and Tidy

Depending on the bag that you use, you might find that your clothes end up unfurling inside of your bag.  Packing Cubes corral your clothes in a neat fabric cube.

Packing Cubes Organize Open Space in Your Bag: They Are Additional Compartments

Packing Cubes help to divide the space inside of your bag and ensure what you pack doesn’t shift too much (provided that the Packing Cubes you choose are sized to fit the bag that you use). This is especially important if you carry a bag that has a clamshell opening, in which the zipper zips all the way down, allowing the bag to “butterfly.” While clamshell designs open all the way and give you a good look at the contents of your bag, they also tend to allow stuff to fall out.

Packing Cubes Offer You the Ability to Craft a Packing Strategy

Our Packing Cubes are available in a variety of colors, which allows you the option of color-coded organization. Perhaps socks and underwear go in a Small Packing Cube in the color Wasabi and t-shirts/workout clothes go in a Small Packing Cube in the color Island; when you zip open your bag, you’ll see Wasabi or Island, and know immediately which Packing Cube to grab to get the clothes you need.

Ever feel paralyzed by the choices of which clothes to take on your trip? Packing Cubes can help offer structure that makes that decision-making a little easier. Depending on the size of clothing, you may find that you can fit three pairs of slacks and two t-shirts in one Aeronaut 45 Large Packing Cube. In effect, Packing Cubes can serve to curtail the number of clothes you pack. Limit yourself to one Large Cube and two Small Cubes and you might just be amazed at how you were able to take enough clothes (but not too many!).

What are the downsides of Packing Cubes?

The downsides of Packing Cubes that we can think of are:

They add weight to your bag—but not all that much. For example, a pair of men’s size medium cotton briefs weighs 2.8 ounces. The Small Aeronaut 45 Packing Cube weighs 1.8 ounces.

They are an additional cost and you might not find them useful. FWIW, Tom travels quite a bit and hardly ever uses them. Conversely, Darcy always uses Packing Cubes (now, anyway).

You might be convinced you need them because they’re all the rage when really you don’t need them: they’re just one more thing to deal with. Some people use Zip-Lock plastic bags or plastic grocery bags and that works for them.

An Aeronaut 30 using built-in organization; zip-lock bag for toiletries and a plastic grocery bag for packing shoes

How do I use Packing Cubes?

Such a good question! With so many organizational options, it can be difficult to know where to start. Below is a quick guide / our recommendations. We plan to expand this into its very own blog post in the future.

Aeronaut 45

Minimum Packing Cubes: None, or one End Pocket Cube (for running shoes / a second pair of shoes). Use the tie-down straps to secure slacks/shirts and roll t-shirts to put in one of the end compartments. Use a zip-lock bag for toiletries*.

Maximum Packing Cubes: Two End Pocket Packing Cubes (one in each End Pocket Compartment), and either two Large (regular or Laundry), one Large and two Small (regular or Laundry), or four Small. Use a 3D Clear Organizer Cube (attached via a 16” Key Strap) as a 3-1-1 liquids/toiletries bag.

Aeronaut 30

Minimum Packing Cubes: None, or one End Pocket Cube (for running shoes / a second pair of shoes). Use the tie-down straps to secure slacks/shirts and roll t-shirts to put in one of the end compartments. Use a zip-lock bag for toiletries.

Maximum Packing Cubes: Two End Pocket Packing Cubes (one in each End Pocket Compartment), and either two Large (regular or Laundry), one Large and two Small (regular or Laundry), or four Small. Use a 3D Clear Organizer Cube (attached via a 16” Key Strap) as a 3-1-1 liquids/toiletries bag.

Tri-Star

Minimum Packing Cubes: None, or one Medium Packing Cube. Use a zip-lock bag for liquids and toiletries.

Maximum Packing Cubes: One Small and one Medium Packing Cube in the front main compartment, one Large Packing Cube in the back compartment. You can either put another Small and Medium Packing Cube or one Large Packing Cube in the middle compartment, or use that compartment to carry your laptop in a Cache. Use a 3D Clear Organizer Cube (attached via a 16” Key Strap) as a 3-1-1 liquids/toiletries bag.

Western Flyer

Minimum Packing Cubes: None, or one Small Packing Cube. Use a zip-lock bag for liquids and toiletries.

Maximum Packing Cubes: Four Small Packing Cubes (two in each compartment), two Large Packing Cubes, or two Small and one Large.

*The notes on packing liquids/toiletries assume you’re traveling via plane; if you’re on the road or traveling by rail and don’t have restrictions on liquids, check out our Spiff Kits, which offer more space and organization for toiletries than the 3D Clear Organizer Cube.

How necessary are Packing Cubes?

Tom designed our travel bags to make Packing Cubes optional; that’s why he added tie-down straps (useful for cinching down / keeping flat folded pants, shirts, or even a blazer) to our Aeronaut 30, Aeronaut 45, and Tri-Star travel bags.

If you don’t want to use Packing Cubes, we’d recommend the Aeronaut 30 or Aeronaut 45 over the Western Flyer or Tri-Star.  Tom designed the Aeronaut to be a bag you could basically live out of and never have to unpack. Its end pockets do a great job of keeping rolled clothes neat and you’ll find that folded clothes don’t shift around too much in the main compartment. Unlike bags with clamshell openings, you can set the Aeronaut on the bed/chair, zip it open, and have full and entirely visible access to your stuff—without worrying about it unfurling or falling out. In short, we think the design of the Aeronaut especially lends itself to packing sans Packing Cubes.

The Tri-Star and Western Flyer, on the other hand, are designed to be checkpoint-friendly laptop travel bags that offer you the ability to carry up to a 17″ a laptop in a Cache—in addition to your clothes and toiletries.

So, really, it’s up to you: some folks swear by Packing Cubes and others find them unnecessary.

Should I fold, roll, or bundle pack my clothes in Packing Cubes?

Your call on this one. Rolling and bundling are popular methods and with good reason; they’re clever ways to keep clothes neat and utilize space that would be difficult to utilize with folded clothes. Still, many of us continue to use good old-fashioned folding as our primary method.

There are lots of great videos online that offer tutorials on the main packing methods; our video for the original Aether Packing Cubes demonstrates folding, rolling, and bundling:

And we love this video which demonstrates some really clever ways to maximize space with folding techniques.

Are Packing Cubes only for clothes?

Our Packing Cubes are designed primarily for clothes and shoes and are made of light, garment-weight fabrics. Most people put cords/cables/chargers, toiletries, make-up, hair thingies, snacks and the like in our Organizer Pouches, 3D Cubes, or Travel Stuff Sacks—or just in the built-in pockets of the bag itself. That said, there’s no rule about not mixing clothes and those other items; if that’s what works for you, go for it. It can be a smart strategy nestle delicate items or souvenirs in between layers of clothes. However, it’s worth noting that it’s easier for the TSA to screen bags in which items are segregated by type—no mixing of clothes and cords, for example. Theoretically, you can do your part in making the TSA line go faster by organizing your stuff.

How do the Laundry Travel Stuff Sack and Laundry Packing Cubes work?

Tom designed the first version of the Laundry Travel Stuff Sack back in 1981 during a trip hosteling around Europe. A few years ago, we brought the design back from the archives; it’s now available in sizes for the Aeronaut 30 and Aeronaut 45.

People like the Laundry Travel Stuff Sack so much we decided to make Laundry Packing Cube versions for the Aeronauts too.

The idea is this: you’ll start your trip off with the sack full of clean clothes, and as they become dirty, put them in the other end of the same sack. A floating divider midway keeps the clean and the dirty clothes separated. The volume of the clothing doesn’t change, but the ratio of clean to dirty does. You don’t need separate sacks for clean and dirty laundry anymore! Yeahh!

Laundry Packing Cube and the Laundry Travel Stuff Sack

Travel Stuff Sacks vs. Packing Cubes: can you explain the differences, and which should I choose?

Travel Stuff Sacks excel at utilizing little nooks and crannies of space in your bag that would otherwise go unused. They’re great for stuffing (and somewhat compressing, but more on that below…) underwear, swimwear/workout clothes, rolled t-shirts or a rain shell or down or synthetic vest/jacket. Picture this: stuff your down jacket in a Size 2 Travel Stuff Sack and wedge that guy into the far corner of your Aeronaut main compartment (behind a Large Packing Cube).

Packing Cubes are, generally speaking, what you’ll want to use for packing slacks or pants, skirts, dresses, button-down shirts, or any clothes that need to be folded to kept neat.

Travel Stuff Sacks make use of nooks and crannies of space in your bag

Use Packing Cubes for folded or bundled clothes and Stuff Sacks for rolled or compressible clothes

Some people find that a combination of Packing Cubes and Travel Stuff Sacks is ideal.

How do the Packing Cube Backpacks work?

It’s pretty nifty: once insided-out, the Packing Cube Backpacks become Packing Cubes that you pack with your clothes / put in your larger travel bag. Upon reaching your destination, you unpack the Packing Cube Backpack, turn it right-side out, and voila: you have a light, minimalist daypack to use sight-seeing, museum-hopping, mountain or urban hiking, or shopping.

We make three varieties of Packing Cube Backpack:

Aeronaut 45 Packing Cube Backpack

Aeronaut 30 Packing Cube Backpack

Tri-Star/Western Flyer Packing Cube Backpack

What are the differences between All Aether and Mesh/Aether Packing Cubes?

We primarily make All Aether End Pocket Packing Cubes so people can put shoes or other typically dirty items in them; the 100% fabric walls help keep those items separate from everything else and help you keep the inside of your bag clean to boot (ha ha… meh). We also make our Laundry Packing Cubes with one Aether/Aether side for that same purpose; that’s where dirty clothes go so they’re separate from the clean clothes on the other side of the Laundry Packing Cube.

The majority of the Packing Cubes that we offer are Mesh/Aether because Mesh allows you to see what’s inside of your Packing Cube and it potentially encourages air circulation to keep your clothes from getting musty (especially important in tropical or humid climates.)

Will you ever make “compression” Packing Cubes?

If you’re looking for a way to compress certain clothing items, we’d recommend taking a look at our Travel Stuff Sacks. They excel at compressing rolled t-shirts or underwear or items that are big and floofy when not compressed (a down or synthetic puffy jacket or rain shell). Basically, you put your jacket or rolled items in the Stuff Sack and use your brawn to cinch it as tight as possible. Note that when using a Travel Stuff Sack in an effort to compress clothing, it’s important to choose the right size: if you put your down jacket in a Travel Stuff Sack that’s too big, it won’t compress as much.

We don’t have plans to offer compression Packing Cubes. Here’s our thinking on this: first off, it’s seldom a good idea to try to use a zipper to force a bag shut, as you’ll be likely to bust the zipper (or the seam, depending on the quality of the item and its sewing) before its time. This may not matter as much in a less costly and more replaceable Packing Cube as it does in, say, a backpack or travel bag, but we’re a bit stubborn and old-fashioned on this point—we don’t want to make disposable products.

In our humble opinion, the ones we’ve seen and used add weight without adding much function: they allow you to take a stack of clothing and, using a zipper, squeeze some air out of it. It seems like a really cool idea, but in our tests, compression cubes don’t seem to do much more than what can be achieved by loading your cubes into your bag and pushing down lightly before you zip your bag shut. To each her own with compression cubes: they may totally work for you—they’re just something we don’t see worth the added weight. That said, maybe someday we’ll come up with a clever way to better achieve the intended effect.

Could you make Packing Cubes out of the fabric used to make your Pocket Travel Pillow? It’s light and silky.

The uncoated and breathable 20d Nylon Ripstop fabric we use to make our Pocket Travel Pillow is indeed light and silky; it’s exactly the kind of fabric we’d want to use for a pillow. But it’s not the kind of fabric we’d want to use for a Packing Cube.

When we made a sample of one of our Packing Cubes out of the 20d Nylon Ripstop fabric, we found the Packing Cube felt slippery and flimsy—and that made it difficult to pack. Conversely, the Aether fabric is very lightweight while offering a paper-like structure that allows us to make Packing Cubes that provide enough structure to make packing easier yet aren’t overbuilt or over-engineered. Packing a Mesh/Aether Packing Cube is almost like packing a small (and ultralight) dresser drawer:

Structured Packing Cubes Can Make Packing Easier

In effect, we can rely on the natural structure provided by Aether so we don’t have to put a lot of excess material, stitching, or structure into the Packing Cube itself. This is all why we’re so crazy about the Aether fabric (can you tell?)

Some bags have Packing Cubes specifically designed and sized for them. Which Packing Cubes do I use for bags that don’t, like the Synapse 25 or Maker’s Bag?

That’s a great question. We’re working on a guide to which Packing Cubes, Stuff Sacks, and Pouches fit in which bags, so stay tuned! In the meantime, you might want to check out this post which recommends specific sizes of Packing Cubes and Pouches for bags that previously had their own dedicated Packing Cube sizes.

News Briefs

We posted a very early heads-up on our March 1st, 2019 (roughly 6%) price increase in the Forums along with news of Shop Bags in 210d ballistic nylon.

Ben Brooks has published a review of Nik’s Minimalist Wallets and @everydaycommentary posted about his every day carry step up (hint: it includes a Minimalist Wallet!)

Our 2018 Holiday Schedule is up. Check it out for important shipping deadlines and our holiday hours. P.S. Our Seattle Factory Showroom will be open the rare Saturday on December 8th from 10:00am until 2:00pm Pacific Time.

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