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 supplies Birds & Beans coffee to our production and fulfillment crew here in Seattle. Stop by and we’ll pour you a cup to try.
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 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.
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.
Just a Few:
A Few More:
Just a Few:
00:44 3D Clear Organizer Cube
A Few More:
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.
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.
Wondering about the differences between our various Packing Cube options? Check out our Packing Cube Guide + Frequently Asked Questions.
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 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
We’ve decided to retire the sizes of Packing Cubes designed and sized for the Pilot, Night Flight Travel Duffel, Stowaway, Yeoman Duffel, and Hero’s Journey. Below is a list of our recommendations for alternate Packing Cubes for the aforementioned bags.
Choosing to retire designs is never an easy thing to do, but in this case, here’s why we made this choice: we offer a wide variety of Packing Cubes, Stuff Sacks, and Pouches that work well to organize these bags. Additionally, we’re a small company of 50 people who all work under the same roof here in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A and our production capacity is limited. Retiring these Packing Cubes will help free up production capacity so we can make more of other existing designs as well as new designs.
We’ve also debuted new Mesh/Aether and Aether/Aether versions of our Packing Cubes that replace the previous versions of our Halcyon and Aether Packing Cubes for the Aeronaut 45, Aeronaut 30, Tri-Star, and Western Flyer travel bags. See all of our new and current Packing Cube versions here.
We’ve made a category page that lists all previous-version Packing Cubes: pre-2018 Packing Cubes. At the time of this blog post, some of the previous-version Packing Cubes are still in-stock while others are not.
If you have any questions, or would like packing/organizational recommendations beyond what’s listed below, feel free to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If a laptop or tablet is being carried, a Small Snake Charmer handles the cables in one pocket, while a Size 2 Travel Stuff Sack takes care of anything else in the other. If not, a Travel Cubelet in one side and 3D Organizer Cube in the other provide organization and modularity.
Water Bottle Pocket:
If no bottle is needed, a Size 1 Travel Stuff Sack will fit nicely with some room to spare.
Rear Main Compartment:
Tri-Star Small Packing Cube for clothes
Front Zipper Compartment:
Any combination of Size 1 Travel Stuff Sacks, Cubelets or 3D Organizer Cubes in the pockets on either side of the phone pocket, depending on the little things you need to pack.
Front Main Compartment:
If you’re using the water bottle pocket and have it zipped up, a Travel Cubelet on one side and a Size 2 Travel Stuff Sack on the other gives organization and modularity.
If you’re not using the water bottle pocket and it’s unzipped, another Tri-Star Small Cube fits in here.
Vertical Laptop Compartment:
Plenty of room for a Deluxe Spiff Kit here.
Medium Yeoman Duffel
An A45 Large and Small on the bottom layer, with an Aeronaut 30 Packing Cube Backpack for excursions along with a Spiff Kit (either size) and either size of Aeronaut Laundry Stuff Sack on the top layer.
Large Yeoman Duffel
You could use 2-3 Western Flyer Large cubes on the bottom layer and two Western Flyer Small Cubes to fill in the side. A Spiff Kit of either size fits vertically between the cubes in the center.
Treat it just like an Aeronaut 45! Either 2 large cubes or 4 small ones, or mix n’ match!
For bigger stuff, unsnap the wall between the main and lower compartment, then try a Tri-Star Large cube on the bottom, and either a second TS Large, or an A45 Large and Small on top.
Either size Spiff Kit works great in here and is easily accessible.
Back in 2015 we made the decision to retire a number of designs including the Field Journal Notebook. And then, in 2016, we announced its return. Now, in 2018, we are once again retiring the Field Journal Notebook. This decision was made partly because of two materials supply related reasons: first, the Field Journal Notebook’s three-ring binder mechanism is no longer available, and second, the cost of the specially-produced-just-for-us FJN paper inserts/refills have gone up by a substantial amount that we’d rather not pass on to you.
And so here we find ourselves once again: the Field Journal Notebook is retiring and this time it’s for good. The currently available Field Journal Notebooks, accessories, and paper refills are the last of their kind. No more final batches will be made. (Go here to see the Field Journal Notebook and its accoutrements all in one place.)
Those of you who already own or plan to purchase a Field Journal Notebook may be wondering where you can find paper refills from here on out. The Field Journal Notebook accepts paper that is 5.5 x 8.5” which isn’t a terribly common size but not too rare. Here’s some paper refill options that can be obtained through Amazon:
In addition, unpunched Half Letter or A5 (different but fairly similar sizes) paper can be acquired and an industrious person could make their own custom pages (or find one that works for them on sites like Etsy) and use a Mini 3-hole punch such as this one by Staples or an adjustable punch such as this one by Swingline to print and punch their own replacement pages.
Finally, there have been some helpful discussions about this on the forums, such as the Where to Buy FJN Insides, Field Journal Notebook Hole Spacing, and Field Journal Notebook threads, all of which are worth a look if you’re interested in more information about planners and hole punching for the Field Journal Notebook.
Many thanks goes out to our volunteer Forum Moderators moriond and Ilkyway for the links / information / tips referenced in this blog post.
And, as always… if you have questions about any of this, email@example.com or give us a call at 1-800-729-9607 or 1+206-652-4123.
Watercolor by Dan Bransfield. And the bag in the watercolor? That’s the Shop Bag, one of our go-to bags to give as a gift.
For the longest time, when folks asked us for advice on which bag to get a friend or family member, our response was: “You can’t go wrong with a Gift Certificate!” Since then, we’ve expanded our range of designs to include bags that will be useful to just about everyone — see this list of our favorite bags to give as gifts. And you’ve shared with us your stories of choosing a particular bag to give as a gift and having it be a hit. And we’ve given countless bags as gifts ourselves. So, here’s our guide to choosing a bag to give as a gift.
Our first recommendation remains the trusty Gift Certificate. That way, the lucky recipient will get to choose the exact bag and color they’d like to have. You can choose to have the Gift Certificate emailed to you so you can deliver it yourself, or delivered immediately to the recipient via email.
Our second recommendation: ask us for advice! Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and or give us a call to talk with Mike, Kat, Matthew or Cody. We’re experts in helping people find the right bag for them and would be delighted at the chance to help you figure out the perfect gift! You can also crowd-source a winning gift by asking the kind and knowledgable folks in our Forums.
If you’re going the route of choosing the bag for your friend or family member, here are some things to consider:
Who is the bag for?
Think about your friend, loved one, work colleague or whoever you’re buying this bag for. What do they carry now? Do they pack their current bag to the brim, or do they have a lot of extra space? Do they currently carry a messenger bag or briefcase, or a backpack? Are they ultra-organized, do they wish they were organized, or are they happy with their joyful chaos of objects? Spend some time really thinking about the person for whom you’re buying the gift, and, if this isn’t a last minute thing, make a mental note to watch how they carry their stuff. Paying attention is how you can turn the good intention of a great gift into a “How did you know I needed this?! I didn’t even know I needed this!” kind of gift.
Do some sleuthing!
Ask the recipient of your generosity questions about their current bag and what they like and don’t like, and be sure to use a smokescreen so they don’t get the hint. Example: “Hey, Jennifer—I’m thinking of getting a new bag. Just curious… what would you look for in a new bag?”
What is the recipient’s organizational style?
Some people just throw their stuff in their bag, zip it up, and go. Others may prefer a lot of built-in organization, or modular organizers. How a person packs provides another clue about what bag style might suit them best.
Very generally, bags with larger and more open main compartments are great for people who like to cram or toss in their stuff, or for travelers who use the bundle packing method. Bags with multiple compartments can provide more structure, but may require more precise packing in order to look good and distribute weight evenly. Bags with lots of pockets, pen slots, and the like can keep small items organized. Bags of all types can be further customized and personalized with accessories.
Just sharing the love
If you’re still not sure what to get, or if all you really want is to be able to share TOM BIHN craftsmanship and design, we suggest choosing something that’s simple and widely useful.
The following bags and accessories are cited frequently as ones that Forum members reach for again and again. They’re designs we think many people will find useful and enjoy.
The zip-top Pop Tote is the new tote on the block. People have been requesting that Tom design a zip-top tote bag since, well, since before the turn of the century. He always thought it was a good idea, but none of his prototypes were substantially better than all the other zip totes out there—there were plenty of those, and if folks wanted them, there they were. But in the spring of 2017, Tom again applied himself to the task, and he came up with the Pop Tote, which, if we may say so ourselves, is the best zip-top tote in the world. Many people agreed and the first production run of Pop Totes sold out; more are being made and are estimated to ship by or on December 14th.
We designed the Travel Cubelet to serve as the perfect travel purse, and according to the early feedback and reviews, we just might’ve nailed it. (Shhh: our plan is to pack the Travel Cubelets we plan to give as gifts with our favorite travel-sized toiletries and necessities to create mini-amenities-kits.)
Because it folds up so teeny tiny, Pocket Travel Pillow is a great stocking-stuffer (or tuck it in a Travel Cubelet amenities kit — see above) for anyone who travels or commutes by bus, ferry, or train. The idea is this: take your down jacket or sweater and stuff it into the Pocket Travel Pillow. Voila!
Aeronaut 45 Convertible Travel Bag
Whether they travel by plane, train, or as part of a camel caravan, any astute adventurer will appreciate the durability of our three-compartment Aeronaut, which can be carried as a backpack, shoulder bag, or with the handles as the situation dictates. The 45 can hold a surprising amount of clothing and gear; if your recipient is a bit smaller in stature or wants to travel super light, we recommend the scaled-down Aeronaut 30.
Yeoman Duffel (sizes Mini, Small, Medium, and Large)
Hardworking and good-looking, the Yeoman Duffel is available in four sizes. You’ll be sure to find the perfect size to use for the gym, car or boat, or any time you need to haul gear. Made from 1050d Ballistic nylon, the Yeoman is prepared to survive almost anything, including the cargo hold of a plane.
Buying a gift for a person in your life who is outdoorsy, has dogs, and loves good quality gear? We recommend considering the Skookum Dog Camp Mat, Skookum Dog Citizen Canine and the Skookum Dog Road Duffel. Fun, functional, and Made in USA, these items are loved by canines and the human company they keep.
Cafe Shoulder Bags (sizes Small and Medium)
A quintessential “grab it and go” kind of bag, the Cafe Bag holds all of life’s little essentials. Comfortable to wear over the shoulder or cross-body, the Cafe Bag is available in a pleasing array of colors.
The Sprout Kid’s Backpack
Sized especially for kids between 4–8, the Sprout has all the thoughtful craftsmanship you’ll find in our adult-sized backpacks. It’s just smaller. And very cute.
Made of bright and cheery Halcyon fabric, Shop Bags come in two sizes and are equipped with handy side pockets and comfortable padded handles. Not only for shopping, they make great toy organizers, car totes, and beach bags. (If you think they’d appreciate a beefier bag, check out the sturdy wonder that is the Moveable Feast Reusable Grocery Bag, made of 1050d Ballistic nylon.)
For the hiker on your list, you can’t go wrong with The Guide’s Edition Synapse 25 or The Guide’s Pack. Both are classics and will stand the tests of time in both looks and form. Choose The Guide’s Edition Synapse 25 for the person who you think will also use it as their EDC or The Guide’s Pack for a pack totally dedicated to the trail.
The humble Travel Tray is a favorite of the TOM BIHN Forums: it holds all manner of little things you need when you travel; it’s flexible, squishable, and capacious, making it easy to tuck into your bag; and it’s brightly colored, so you won’t leave it behind on the hotel nightstand. It works well as a catch-all and organizer at home, too. And it’s now available in two sizes: Small and Large.
Travel Stuff Sacks
Available in four sizes, these stuff sacks can be used in any bag or around the house. They’re useful for color-coding different items, and are especially handy for holding things that don’t fit into flat or cube-shaped pouches. Great for stocking stuffers—or even serving as a stocking themselves!
A good friend to anyone who’s got lots of little things to organize, the Q-Kit comes in two sizes to fit any bag. The Q-Kit is good for stuff like earbuds, change, phone chargers, laundromat tokens, kid treasures, and even dog (or human) treats.
A lightweight backpack that fits bigger kids and most adults, the endlessly-customizable Daylight Backpack is great for day trips, overnights, and daily carry.
A small bag that can be carried over the shoulder, worn around the waist, or carried by an optional loop strap. Loaded with pockets, it can be used as a purse or an organizer inside another bag. It’s also great for holding in-flight essentials.
RFID Passport Pouch
Carry up to three passports in this handy pouch, which blocks RFID chips from being scanned or read without your knowledge. You can wear it around your neck or waist, or clip it into your bag.
Still can’t decide? Crowd-source a winner by asking our Forums, send a note to our bag experts Mike, Matthew, Kat, and Cody at email@example.com, or give us a call at 1-800-729-9607 (U.S. & Canada) or +1-206-652-4123 (other countries).
Meet our three latest designs…
The Pop Tote
Click the above links to go directly to the pages for the new designs to see all the details: photos, videos, specifications, full descriptions and more. Or, read on below for a summary of each of the new designs.
All three new designs are in production at our Seattle, Washington, USA factory. They will be available for order on Monday, November 27th at 8:00am PT and will ship the same day if ordered before 12:30pm PT (as long as they’re still in stock).
In Production in Seattle, Washington, USA
Ready To Order / Ships On…
Monday, November 27th at 8:00am Pacific Time
Mars Red, Deep Blue, or Black (all with coyote trim and lining)
Sign Up To Be Notified When The Guide’s Edition Synapse 25 Ships
Go to the Guide’s Edition Synapse 25 page, click on any In Production color combination, and add your email address to the input field that appears below.
The Guide’s Edition Synapse 25 takes all of the same clever features, bountiful organization, and top-shelf build of the original Synapse 25 and walks it all a bit further up into the mountains, a bit deeper into the woods.
Rather than the all-too-common black zippers, hardware and webbing, the Guide’s Edition Synapse 25 has gone terrestrial: it’s trimmed and lined in Coyote brown. The resulting aesthetic might be taken as an homage to another time, but to our sensibilities, bags trimmed in Coyote seem to be a little more at home in the great outdoors. Brown blends in more readily with natural surroundings and doesn’t show dirt as much. When it does get a bit dusty or dirty, it looks like it’s supposed to. You might also find that the Guide’s Edition S25’s rugged good looks solicit more than a few smiles of appreciation when you’re back wandering the canyons of Gotham.
And it’s not just about the practical and handsome coyote trim–we’ve added several features to the Guide’s Edition Synapse 25 that allow you to carry gear specific to slightly more adventurous outdoor adventures:
— Included Removable/Adjustable Internal Frame with Pre-Bent Aluminum Stay
— Ice Axe Loop
— Accessory Strap Holders
See the Guide’s Edition Synapse 25 for more on these new features.
The Pop Tote
In Production in Seattle, Washington, USA
Ready To Order / Ships On…
Monday, November 27th at 8:00am Pacific Time
Mars Red, Black, Olive, Cloud, Deep Blue, or Alphaviolet
Sign Up To Be Notified When The Pop Tote Ships
Go to the Pop Tote page, click on any In Production color combination, and add your email address to the input field that appears below.
People have been requesting that Tom design a zip-top tote bag since, well, since before the turn of the century. He always thought it was a good idea, but none of his prototypes were substantially better than all the other zip totes out there—there were plenty of those, and if folks wanted them, there they were.
But in the spring of 2017, Tom again applied himself to the task. The challenge of making a open-top bag that can zip securely shut is not perhaps self-evident, as Tom explains:
“The zipper and surrounding fabric—that is, all the material that allows the thing to shut up, also gets in the way when you desire a bag with a big, wide opening. Somewhat of a Catch-22. But sitting at my sewing machine with some scrap fabric and scissors, and finally a bit of time on my hands, I was able to create what I think is a successful compromise.”
By the end of summer Tom was satisfied. More than satisfied, he was stoked. Pop!
In Production in Seattle, Washington, USA
Ready To Order / Ships On…
Monday, November 27th at 8:00am Pacific Time
Sign Up To Be Notified When The Synapse 19 or Synapse 25 Internal Frame Ships
Go to the Synapse 19 or Synapse 25 Internal Frame page, choose the Synapse 19 or Synapse 25 Internal Frame in the drop-down selection menu, and add your email address to the input field that appears below.
We present for your use these optional, removable internal frames with aluminum stays for the Synapse 19 and Synapse 25 backpacks. They’re designed to work with any generation of Synapse 19 or Synapse 25 that has rail loops.
The frames are made of die-cut .055” thick High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), with a nylon webbing sleeve sewn down the center that encases a 1” / 25mm wide 6061 aluminum stay that’s pre-bent to a generic spinal curve.
See also: our Guide To Backpack Frames.
As with many things in life, deciding whether to use an internal frame—or if you even need one—is subjective: it’s based on how you plan to carry your backpack, what you plan to carry in it, and how carefully you’re willing to pack it. A lot of folks will find an internal frame useful, but not everyone will, and certainly not everyone needs one, especially those who carry smaller/lighter packs or less gear.
Our Hero’s Journey, Guide’s Pack, and Guide’s Edition Synapse 25 backpacks all come with internal frames included. Versions of the same internal frame are optional for our Synapse 19 and Synapse 25 backpacks. But just because we offer internal frames doesn’t mean they’re required; our goal with this guide is to give you the facts as we know them (experientially, theoretically, and historically) so you can make the decision as to what’s best for you and your carrying comfort.
Before we really dive into this, let’s start off making sure we’re all on the same page with the definitions:
Many of the first “modern” outdoor packs (starting in the 1960s) utilized an external frame made of tubular aircraft aluminum – basically a lighter version of the old Trapper Nelson wood frame. The innovative addition of a padded hip belt allowed the user to transfer most of the load to their hips. The bag was generally packed with the heavy stuff up high, so the center of gravity could more easily shift to be over the hips. The rigidity of the frame allowed a fabric or mesh back panel to be stretched across it, creating air circulation between the pack and the user’s back. These packs were, and still are, very good for carrying heavy loads on relatively even trails. Off trail or cross-country travel was less fun, as that same high center of gravity became unwieldy with any sort of athletic jumping or clambering around.
In the early 1970’s, manufacturers began introducing internal frame packs, hoping they could make something that performed better for high mountain and off-trail travel than rigid external frame packs. Many folks found these new packs to be a happy medium between clunky external frames and completely soft frameless packs. There have been numerous variations of internal frames developed over the years, some made of fiberglass, some plastic, some consisting only of one or two aluminum stays. Our version basically takes a frame sheet (see below) and adds a single bendable aluminum stay. Properly bent and shaped to conform to one’s spine, an internal frame (in this case, internal frame = frame sheet + aluminum stay) provides a degree of vertical stability that a simple frame sheet won’t, allowing one to lift some of a pack’s weight off the shoulders and onto the hips (even with just a 1″ webbing waist belt or a padded hip belt). This is in addition to the two benefits offered by a frame sheet: prevention of an overstuffed bag barreling out and a created barrier between pointy objects and the user’s back. Some users also like the way the stiffness of a pack with an internal frame can make it easier to load, as the pack won’t schlump over when it’s not on your back.
A “frame sheet” is a piece of thin plastic (something along the lines of what a milk jug is made from) that rides inside the backpack, against the back, separated from the user typically by some foam padding. The idea is that with a frame sheet, you needn’t be so concerned about hard or pointy objects in your pack poking through the foam padding and causing discomfort, plus your bag will be less likely to round off and become a beer barrel when over stuffed. Because a frame sheet doesn’t add significant vertical stability or rigidity, whether used with a hip belt or not, a frame sheet won’t do much to transfer the weight of the pack onto the user’s hips.
A pack without a frame sheet or internal frame. A frameless pack might even lack padding on the back panel (ala our Daylight Backpack) or it could have back padding and mesh (like our Brain Bag backpack). Some people choose to carry a large volume backpacking pack that entirely lacks any internal frame or frame sheet – see the Jensen Pack. Carefully and mindfully packing a frameless pack is an opportunity to save weight: the gear you carry serves as the support and maybe even the padding too.
Plate from Light Weight Camping Equipment and How to Make It by Gerry Cunningham and Margaret Hansson.
Original Trapper Nelson wood pack frame, circa 1950s.
Early 1960’s Gerry aluminum pack frame — note the unpadded webbing hip belt.
Early internal frame — this one on an Alp Sport climbing rucksack.
Corduroy back panel of a frameless Jensen Pack.
Tom and Nik work on the internal frame for the Synapse: the evolution continues.
Synapse internal frame with our unique T-bar attachment.
Benefits of an Internal Frame
• On bags with a webbing or padded hip belt, the vertical stability facilitated by an internal frame with an aluminum stay can help to lift some of the pack’s weight on to one’s hips.
• It creates a hard back panel that prevents less-than-carefully packed objects like a thermos or DSLR from poking one in the back.
• It can prevent an overstuffed bag from barreling out against one’s back.
• To some folks, a rigid frame against their back (with padding between the frame and their pack) just feels right.
Why You Might Not Want to Use a Frame
• A frame adds weight to a bag. Our Synapse 25 internal frame weighs 9.6 oz / 272 grams and our Synapse 19 internal frame weighs 6.9 oz / 195 grams. In many cases, you can save the weight of a frame with careful and thoughtful packing.
• The rigidity offered by the internal frame becomes a liability when you’re squeezing your pack into the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you, or when you’re packing your backpack inside other luggage. (This is one of the reasons we design our internal frames to be removable.)
• Some folks simply prefer the feeling of a frameless or soft-back pack.
The TOM BIHN Approach to Internal Frames
Make them true internal frames with an aluminum stay, and make them optional.
In case you’ve just tuned into this station, we here at TOM BIHN have always advocated for exercising thoughtfulness when packing, taking care to pad some objects by wrapping them in clothing, and positioning others inside your pack just so for optimal carrying comfort. While this somewhat monastic approach to packing certainly has some acolytes, there are as always apostates as well, and thus we’ve had more than a few requests to offer a frame sheet option with our backpacks. Each of us pack differently, and paying attention to those differences helps us design options to meet the needs of the user, whether they’re a careful packer (like Tom) or more of a throw-it-in-and-go packer (like Darcy).
With this in mind, we designed a light and simple internal frame, originally for The Guide’s Pack, and then modified for the Hero’s Journey. So far so good. However, some of our customers, who, like us, seem never able to leave well enough alone, requested some sort of similar frame for our other packs. So there you have it: we’ve gone ahead and done it, and are now offering internal frames for the Synapse 19 and the Synapse 25 (as well as the Guide’s Edition Synapse 25).
They all feature the same basic materials and construction as the internal frames we’ve been making since 2015: die-cut .055” thick High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), with a nylon webbing sleeve sewn down the center, encasing a 1” /25mm wide 6061 aluminum stay. In all cases we’ve bent the stay to a generic spinal curve: we recommend you re-bend and/or adjust the curvature to best fit your own back. The stay is removable, in the unlikely case you are still an unbeliever and just want a frame sheet.
Both The Guide’s Pack and the Hero’s Journey are designed specifically to accept their purpose-built internal frames, with “pockets” in the lining to accept the lobes of their respective frames. Because the Synapses were not originally intended to accommodate an internal frame, they lack any particular allowance for the attachment of such a frame, and some modifications to the frame design were required. We took advantage of the loops for the Cache rails system to allow for retaining the internal frame inside the tops of those packs: a clever “T” bar holds the frame in place relative to the loops. (Watch this video to see how it works.)The lower edge of the internal frame floats free in the Synapses—we’ve found this isn’t much of an issue as the contents of the bag tend to hold this lower extreme in place.
These TOM BIHN bags can be (optionally) purchased with a removable internal frame with aluminum stay:
(See also: the Synapse 19 or Synapse 25 Internal Frame page, where those frames can be purchased separately.)
So, do you need an internal frame for your backpack?
Our goal is to provide options in order to do our best to include everyone and help them carry a bag comfortably. In the end of course, it’s your call. We’d recommend considering the information we’ve outlined above and using your own discernment: figure out what’s best for you as opposed to whatever might be the current dogma in the world of outdoor gear. That might be carrying the heavier, classic external frame pack you’ve always loved, or going totally frameless and minimalist. You might mix it up depending on the load, the season, or length of trip. The Synapse’s internal frames are pretty easy to install and remove, so you may find yourself adding the frame for a long hike and removing it for a short weekend getaway.
We’ve made an effort to offer internal frames that provide all of the benefits without requiring a firm commitment: it’s totally optional whether you use one of our included or add-on internal frames. A bunch of us here at TOM BIHN are avid hikers and sometimes backpackers, and we choose to carry frame or frameless packs depending on where we’re going and what we’re carrying.
Perhaps the most important thing of all: going out into the world. The gear we take with us is continually evolving; our experience dictates what we carry.
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.
Subscribe: Blog Posts
You’ll receive an email every time we publish a new blog post. That’s about 3-4 times a week.