Bags

Update on the New Luminary Backpacks


Victor, Fong, Lisa, and Nik discuss the shoulder straps on the Luminary 14.

As we shared back in May, Tom has been working on new versions of the original Luminary 10 and the new size Luminary 14. An update on the progress of the Luminary was included in our recent blog post on the design process. After we posted that update, Tom took additional feedback into account and added yet another feature and another design update to the bag, which added to the bag’s development timeline.

As of today, both the Luminary 10 and Luminary 14 designs are complete. Yay! But not so fast: while the designs have been completed, Tom, Nik, Lisa, and Fong are currently working together to make sure the packs are manufacturable as efficiently and accurately as possible. Given our limited production capacity, ensuring we can make large production runs of this small but complex backpack is essential.

Part of our process of adding a new design to our offerings is to make a PPB (Pre-Production Batch) of the bag prior to making them available for pre-order. The PPB is primarily intended to serve as the first large-scale test of the efficiency of manufacturing the new design. Taking into consideration the time needed to produce two PPBs (one for each Luminary) and looking at our already full production schedule, we estimate that it won’t be until early next year until both the Luminary 10 and Luminary 14 are available for pre-order. Yes, that’s right: 2019. We know that this is going to be a disappointment for those of you who have already been waiting for the Luminary. We never want to disappoint people if we can help it. We find it’s sometimes a fine line between keeping everyone in the loop — so informed decisions can be made — and sharing too much in the way of the progress of a design, providing an estimated timeline (later edited/updated) as we did in this post. This time we were on the wrong side of that fine line and for that we’re sorry. And if you’ll forgive us this: we’re admittedly darn stubborn when it comes to delaying stuff to get the details as perfect as they can be. We want to present to you the best version of a bag we can make.

With the production capacity this decision frees up, more existing designs will remain in-stock, we’ll be able to surprise you with the couple of things long since planned for around the holidays, and when we do offer the Luminaries for pre-order, we will be able to offer a second pre-order soon after just in case they are so popular they fly right out the door.

We’ll share another update once we’re ready to offer the Luminary 10 and Luminary 14 for pre-order. If you’d like, you can sign up on the Luminary 10 page to be notified via email as soon as both the Luminary 10 and Luminary 14 are made available for pre-order. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to post ’em in response here or emailus@tombihn.com.

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!

New: Aeronaut Internal Frame and Padded Hip Belt

We present for your use two new accessories for the Aeronaut 30 and Aeronaut 45 convertible travel bags: the Aeronaut 30 or 45 Internal Frame and the Aeronaut Padded Hip Belt. Tom and Nik designed both accessories to work with all versions of Aeronauts.

Both frame and belt are designed to add comfort and structure to the experience of carrying a more heavily-packed Aeronaut in backpack mode while waiting in long lines (well, let’s hope not) at the airport or choosing to make a long trek across town to one’s hotel on foot.

We figure most folks will pair the Aeronaut Padded Hip Belt with the Aeronaut Internal Frame, but some may use just the Aeronaut Padded Hip Belt or just the Aeronaut Internal Frame. For more about all of that, see our Aeronaut: Frequently Asked Questions post.

Aeronaut 30 or 45 Internal Frame

The Aeronaut 30 or 45 Internal Frames are made of die-cut 0.055” / 1.4mm thick High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), with a nylon webbing sleeve sewn down the center that encases a 1” / 25mm wide 6061 aluminum stay pre-bent to achieve a generic spinal curve.

Both sizes of frame feature four pie-slice cut-outs that save a bit of weight, but more importantly allow the frame to flex/twist with you as walk.

Installing the Aeronaut 30 and 45 Internal Frames is pretty straight-forward; see our step-by-step instructions here.

Both Aeronaut Internal Frames are in-stock and ready to ship.

Aeronaut Padded Hip Belt

The Aeronaut Padded Hip Belt is designed to allow you to carry some of the weight of a loaded Aeronaut on your hips rather than on just your shoulders.

Tom and Nik worked together to engineer a design solution that allows one to add the Aeronaut Padded Hip Belt to any version/generation/era of Aeronaut while offering a truly integrated carrying experience — almost as if the Padded Hip Belt was integrated into the design of the Aeronaut all along.

Note that the Aeronaut Padded Hip Belt will perform best for folks between 5’2″ – 6’0″—depending, of course, on the length of the person’s torso. If you’re on the shorter end of that range and have a short torso, the Padded Hip Belt may hit you a little lower than you’d like. If you’re on the taller end of that range with a longer torso, the Padded Hip Belt may ride a little higher than you’d like.

The Aeronaut Padded Hip Belt is in-stock and ready to ship.

More reading:
Aeronaut Frequently Asked Questions
How to Install the Aeronaut Internal Frame + Padded Hip Belt
Our Guide to Internal Frames
History of Padded Hip Belts

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.

Previously unreleased videos (Part II: Synapse 25 and Western Flyer)

In this series, we’re sharing some packing videos we’ve had but never posted.  In Part I, we featured the Aeronaut 45 and Aeronaut 30.  Today we’re bringing you Part II: Synapse 25 and Western Flyer.

The Synapse 25 and the Western Flyer are organizational powerhouses.  They both have clever internal and external compartments and pockets that make them easy to pack and carry with little forethought or additional accessories.  We show them here with a number of cubes and pouches** to give you an idea of what they can hold and different ways you can use them.

** Click the links below to see updated versions of this item.

Synapse 25

Accessories used:

00:15   Tri-Star Medium Packing Cube **
00:24   Packing Cube Shoulder Bag
01:09   Cubelet
01:34   Side Effect
01:51   3D Clear Organizer Cube

Western Flyer


Accessories used:
00:10   Cubelet
00:22   Key Strap, 8”
00:33   3D Clear Organizer Cube and Key Strap, 16”
00:56   Western Flyer Medium Packing Cube **
01:29   Cache (Tablet) **
01:46   Western Flyer Large Packing Cube **
02:01   Medium Halcyon Organizer Pouch and Key Strap, 16”

If you want more Packing Cube info, check out our Packing Cube FAQs.  For packing-related discussion and banter, head over to the Forums.

Birds, Coffee, and a Limited Edition Cafe Bag

TOM BIHN Limited Edition Cafe Bag for Birds & Beans
The limited edition Birds & Beans Cafe Bag out in the wild.

I grew up on the central coast of California, and remember being particularly excited to see any birds of prey. Mostly I’d see red-tail hawks and sparrow hawks—now called American Kestrels. At the time I didn’t realize that all was not as it should be in the world of raptors; I didn’t know that these were the days when farmers still used DDT, and the paucity of birds of prey was the sad effect of DDT’s biomagnification. Happily DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972, and now these many years later when I return to my old stomping grounds, I see not only my old friends the red-tailed hawks and American Kestrels, but peregrine falcons, ospreys, and bald eagles. Their return is really quite amazing, a testimony that when it comes to wildlife conservation, there is reason for hope.

However, DDT is still used outside the U.S., and habitat loss, light pollution, wind turbines, and feral cats are having devastating impacts on bird populations. With so many challenges, where do we begin? My personal recommendation is to begin as one would with any difficult task: with a strong cup of coffee.

Our friends over at Birds & Beans coffee roasters partner with organic and shade-grown coffee growers in Central America, helping their coffee plantations to not only produce great coffee, but be great bird habitats as well.

Tropical forests in Latin America have been disappearing at an alarming rate for decades. Without these forests as winter refuges, many bird species that migrate to and from North America for the nesting season, like Veeries and night hawks, are suffering dramatic population declines. Traditional shade coffee farming offers a buffer for the loss of these important forests, and scientific studies prove that these types of coffee farms are nearly as good as full forest for the biodiversity that provides both migratory and local birds with the habitats they need to thrive. Organic, shade grown family coffee farms that are Smithsonian-certified as Bird Friendly® are amazing habitats for the birds we love. Indeed, not just birds, but the family farming that supports viable local rural communities in Latin America are under ongoing threat of giving way to large-scale “sun” farms. Sun farms require clear cutting trees and use heavy chemicals to grow coffee, resulting in less work for farming communities. Buying and drinking Bird Friendly coffee such as Birds & Beans helps save birds, family farms, local rural communities and the Earth we all share.

Every bean in every bag of Birds & Beans coffee is certified shade grown, Bird Friendly, USDA Organic and Fair Trade.

To help support the Bird Friendly coffee mission, we made a special edition Small Café bag, available only from Birds & Beans.

TOM BIHN Limited Edition Cafe Bag for Birds & Beans

TOM BIHN supplies Birds & Beans coffee to our production and fulfillment crew here in Seattle. Stop by and we’ll pour you a cup to try.

New Luminary Backpacks Are In The Works


Tom sews one of the new Luminary prototypes in his design studio.

Tom has made a couple of design updates to the original Luminary. Most notably, he’s made the right side pocket large enough to fit phablets such as the iPhone Plus and the HTC U Ultra; the left side pocket is a bit bigger too (wider actually) than the first iteration of the Luminary. The asymmetrical height of the pockets makes the main compartment zipper extend further down one side than the other, which we think looks kinda cool. Yet Tom was able to nudge things around so that the new Luminary’s main compartment zipper still opens just as wide as the older version – about 44 cm or 17.4”.

Concurrent with the redesign of the Luminary was the development of a new, larger Luminary—the Luminary 14. Its shoulder straps and over-all height are intended to better fit taller and/or broader folks, and its padded back compartment can fit up to a 13” laptop. The Luminary 14 can hold noticeably more than the original Luminary (henceforth to be known as the Luminary 10), yet is still quite a modest sized pack. (For those paying close attention: we re-measured the volume of the original Luminary when we were measuring this new size, and the original came in at a perfect 10 liters. Both were measured using our new volume measurement protocol, so we feel very confident abut these numbers — more on that some other time….).

Both the Luminary 10 and Luminary 14 are in the final stages of their creation: pattern adjustments are being made and Tom is working with Lisa, Fong, and Nik to ensure both bags are efficiently manufacturable. We expect the new Luminaries will be available for order sometime soon-ish (emphasis on the ish).

To sign up to be notified when the new Luminary 10 is available, visit the Luminary 10 page.

To be notified when the Luminary 14 is available for order, subscribe to our general mailing list or to our blog posts (that sign-up box is on the right). 


Various Luminary prototypes on Tom’s drafting table.

Previously unreleased videos (Part I: The Aeronauts 45 and 30)

Some months ago, we experimented making some packing videos but never got around to sharing them.  So here they are: a series of videos demonstrating how to pack a few of our popular bags.  Let us know what you think—if people like them, maybe we’ll be inspired to make more.

Part I: The Aeronauts 45 and 30

Besides snacks, dogs, and naps, there’s nothing we like more than the pleasure of packing a well-organized bag.  We’ve designed our travel bags (like both sizes of the Aeronaut) with strategically-placed compartments and pockets so they’ll pack like a dream right out of the box.  At the same time, using a few or several accessories allows you to customize your bag’s organization, whether a little or a lot.  That’s why we offer accessories in a bevy of shapes, sizes, styles, and colors.

These two videos demonstrate packing strategies for the Aeronaut 45 and the Aeronaut 30 using just a few accessories.**  Then the same stuff gets packed again, this time with the help of several more accessories.

** We’ve updated the design of a few items since making the videos; you can see the new versions by clicking on the links.

Aeronaut 45

Accessories Used

Just a Few:

00:50   Key Strap, 16”

A Few More:

03:01   Cache, Tablet **
03:38   Side Effect
04:09   Key Strap, 8″

Aeronaut 30

Accessories Used

Just a Few:

00:44   3D Clear Organizer Cube

A Few More:

02:32   Key Strap, 8”
03:01   Cubelet
03:43   Halcyon Organizer Pouch, Small [**It’s listed as Medium in video but seems smaller to me]
03:51   Key Strap, 8”

 

If you want more Packing Cube info, check out our Packing Cube FAQs.  For packing-related discussion and banter, head over to the Forums.

New Passport Pouches

Passport Pouch that fits four passports

We’ve increased the size of our original Passport Pouch so that it fits passports in protective plastic sleeves, thick passports with many pages, or as many as four passports—without making it too big to comfortably wear cross-body or around one’s waist. (The Passport Pouch can also simply be stowed inside of a bag.)

The previous dimensions of the Passport Pouch were 5.0″ (w) x 6.3″ (h) / 125 mm (w) x 160 (h).
The dimensions of the new Passport Pouch are 5.5″ (w) x 7.1″ (h) / 140 (w) x 180 (h) mm.

We also now offer our Passport Pouch in two versions:

Passport Pouch, Standard
A simple, straight-forward and well-made passport pouch, it gets the job done well. $22. Ships by April 13th.

Passport Pouch, RFID Blocking
Underneath its interior lining of Aether fabric, this version features a layer of a special metalized fabric that will effectively block detection or reading of RFID chips. $25. Ships by around late April.

You can sign up on the Passport Pouch page to be notified via email the moment either version of the Pouch is ready to ship.

Many thanks to Walker, Artdime, pammy, Cristina, and  habanero for providing feedback in the Forums about our Passport Pouch sizing.

Passport Holder by TOM BIHN

Passport and Document Wallet

New Packing Cubes

Our new Packing Cubes combine two of our light fabrics—Mesh and Aether—to achieve our goals of a Packing Cube design that doesn’t weigh much, allows one to see the contents of the Packing Cube without revealing too much and provides enough body and structure to make packing the cube easier. 

They’re available — in-stock and ready to ship — in sizes designed specifically to maximize the space and packing efficiency of our Aeronaut 45, Aeronaut 30, Tri-Star, and Western Flyer travel bags.

Wondering about the differences between our various Packing Cube options? Check out our Packing Cube Guide + Frequently Asked Questions.

Mesh

Our high-quality U.S.-made Mesh fabric offers two main benefits: first off, it allows you to see what’s inside the Packing Cube, but doesn’t make the contents so visible that the person behind you in line at the TSA checkpoint will know if you prefer boxers or briefs. Secondly, it is a fabric that is, like our Aether, light-in-weight.

Aether

Aether is an ultra-light, 100% nylon fabric from Japan. It has a unique and complex construction, combining 30 denier monofilament (warp and weft) with both 100 denier and 200 denier yarns in a micro-ripstop weave to further increase its tear strength. Aether is very light in weight yet provides an almost paper-like structure that we find helps to add some body to our Packing Cubes—which, in turn, makes them easier to pack.

New: Aeronaut 30 and 45 Laundry Packing Cubes
You asked for a Packing Cube version of Tom’s Laundry Stuff Sack, and here it is in two varieties: Small (fits t-shirts, socks, underwear, swimwear) and Large (fits pants, dresses, skirts and shirts). Basically, it’s a Packing Cube with two zippered compartments: one side is Mesh, one side is Aether, and between the two sides is an Aether divider. Clean clothes go in the Mesh side and dirty clothes go in the Aether side.

New: Island Aether
When the color swatches for our Aether fabric in Island came in, we knew we had a winner: not too dark, not too light, yet as vivid and inviting as tropical lagoon. It’s a perfect, utopian blue, and an excellent match to our 200d Halcyon in Island (though it’s worth noting that the Aether Island lacks the white grid of the 200d Halcyon and hence might be perceived as a bit darker). Island Aether joins our other colors of Aether: Wasabi, Violet, and Carbon.

New Packing Cubes: Full List of Colors, Sizes, and Varieties

Tri-Star, Large, Island
Tri-Star, Large, Violet
Tri-Star, Large, Wasabi

Tri-Star, Medium, Island
Tri-Star, Medium, Violet
Tri-Star, Medium, Wasabi

Tri-Star, Small, Island
Tri-Star, Small, Violet
Tri-Star, Small, Wasabi

Western Flyer, Large, Island
Western Flyer, Large, Violet
Western Flyer, Large, Wasabi

Western Flyer, Small, Island
Western Flyer, Small, Violet
Western Flyer, Small, Wasabi

Aeronaut 30, Large Laundry, Island
Aeronaut 30, Large Laundry, Wasabi

Aeronaut 30, Large, Island
Aeronaut 30, Large, Violet
Aeronaut 30, Large, Wasabi
Aeronaut 30, Large, Carbon

Aeronaut 30, End Pocket, Island
Aeronaut 30, End Pocket, Violet
Aeronaut 30, End Pocket, Wasabi
Aeronaut 30, End Pocket, Carbon

Aeronaut 30, Small Laundry, Island
Aeronaut 30, Small Laundry, Wasabi

Aeronaut 30, Small, Island
Aeronaut 30, Small, Violet
Aeronaut 30, Small, Wasabi
Aeronaut 30, Small, Carbon

Aeronaut 45, Large Laundry, Island
Aeronaut 45, Large Laundry, Wasabi

Aeronaut 45, Large, Island
Aeronaut 45, Large, Violet
Aeronaut 45, Large, Wasabi
Aeronaut 45, Large, Carbon

Aeronaut 45, End Pocket, Island
Aeronaut 45, End Pocket, Violet
Aeronaut 45, End Pocket, Wasabi
Aeronaut 45, End Pocket, Carbon

Aeronaut 45, Small Laundry, Island
Aeronaut 45, Small Laundry, Wasabi

Aeronaut 45, Small, Island
Aeronaut 45, Small, Violet
Aeronaut 45, Small, Wasabi
Aeronaut 45, Small, Carbon

News Briefs

The Guide’s Edition Synapse 25, The Truck, and Small and Large Zip-Top Shop Bags will be available for pre-order on 09/10 with an estimated shipping date of late October. Sign up on on any of the linked product pages to be notified the moment the bags are made available for pre-order.

New color of ultralight Aether fabric = Northwest Sky = new Packing Cubes. Sign up on the Aeronaut 30, Aeronaut 45, Tri-Star and Western Flyer Packing Cube pages to be notified when they’re stocked and ready to ship.

The Pre-Order window for The Truck, Small + Large Zip-Top Shop Bags and Original Small Shop Bag has closed. Our factory will now begin making the pre-ordered bags. All but the Original Small Shop Bag (due to low numbers ordered) will be made available for pre-order once again in September.

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