Packing Your (Conference) Bag

Packing for a conference should be easy: grab some clothes and a copy of your paper and you’re off to the races. But what if last-minute packing sends you into paroxysms of panic, or if you’re trying to pack lightly enough that you can ditch your rolling carry-on?

If you’ve ever wondered, read on—but first, a quick note: we aren’t going to dictate what specific bag to buy or what clothing or office supplies to bring—that’s up to you. This guide is meant more as a thought exercise to encourage light(er) packing.

Your Bag
The bag you’ll carry is determined in large part by three things:

  • Type of conference:
    Is the atmosphere of your conference formal, business casual, or relaxed? Will all your time be consumed by meetings, panels, and lectures, or are there social and/or team-building activities as well? Will you be doing any sightseeing or personal travel before or after the conference? How you answer these questions will dictate the type of clothing you need to bring with you, and how much.
  • Location and length of trip:
    What is the average weather and temperature of the conference locale during the time you’ll be going? Are there any cultural requirements for dress you must observe? How many days and nights will you be gone?
  • What else you’re carrying:
    Will you have to bring a poster tube, AV equipment, or handouts? Are you carrying something bulky, like complimentary copies of a journal, or an illustrative model? Do you need to carry special medications, or food for a restricted diet? If you plan on carrying all of your stuff by yourself, you’ll have to take into account its relative weight and if you’ll have any difficulty managing it.

Running quickly through these questions might tell you that, for example, you’ll fly into Denver on a mild Wednesday morning in April, and attend informal workshops and a business dinner later that day. You’ll give one presentation and chair another on Thursday before going to a social event at Bronco Stadium. The conference will end with you attending panels as an observer all day on Friday; you’ll use most of Saturday to do a little sightseeing and light hiking before your late evening flight out.

Your Stuff
Having a handle on your activities will not only help you figure out what clothing and personal items to bring, but also get maximum utility from each thing, allowing you to carry less.

Still pretending you’re the conference-goer above: based on your planned activities, it might be tempting to bring up to four pairs of shoes, not counting the ones on your feet—not very practical for only four days of travel.

If you want to make light travel a priority, it may be worth investing in a pair of multi-function shoes that are appropriate for casual wear and light athletic/outdoor use. You’ll then only need to carry your formal business shoes. For very short trips, you may not need to pack extra shoes at all.

Determining what you need and what you don’t should also extend to the briefcase, backpack, or messenger bag you normally carry, and its contents. Conferences aren’t everyday events, and you may be able to leave some of your usual everyday carry items at home. You might even reconsider the bag itself—especially if it’s made out of leather, it could end up feeling very, very heavy by the end of a long travel or conference day.

Electronics can also weigh you down, and it’s hard to resist bringing a bunch of “in case” items. Ask yourself what tech you really, really need. You might find that a smartphone and tablet is enough to get you through. If you must bring your laptop to do work, you may not have time for your Kindle, Nintendo DS, and movie streaming device. Being honest about your conference habits is a great help when you’re stuck on whether or not to pack something.

Honesty is especially important if your packing tends to reflect the habits of an earnest and highly productive aspirational conference self who bears no resemblance to your actual conference self. Armed with the best of intentions, you grab that pile of grading (I can finish it on the plane!), the 800 page book you’re reviewing (I’ll read it between panels!), and the yoga mat you bought in 2007 (I’ll get up early and realign my chakras!). Before you know it, you’re wondering if you should bring the model U.S.S. Commodore Perry you’re building—and you see where this is going.

While a conference might be a great opportunity to catch up on grading/reading/writing, get to the gym, or finally finish up that mammoth knitting project, your own track record will tell you if it’s worth bringing those items with you. Your aspirational self probably doesn’t stand a chance if your actual self hangs out in the hotel bar with friends from grad school or watches the Law and Order marathon.

Finally, don’t discount the power of making a packing list. Upon your return, note all the things you used and didn’t use, or would have liked to have had. Especially if you travel infrequently, this written record of your past will help you make more informed packing choices in the future.

Putting it into Practice
The academics on the Forum have listed their top conference travel bag; here are some additional ideas (not exhaustive by any means):

The Pilot / Founder’s Briefcase / Empire Builder: These are no-brainers for carrying at a conference, but they’re also versatile enough to travel to a conference if you’ll just be there overnight. For inspiration, see how jmoz from the Forum packed his Pilot for an overnight meeting.

The Parental Unit: yeah, it’s a diaper bag, but no one at your conference will know! All they’ll see is a capacious tote-style bag with tons of room for all the stuff you’re bound to pick up at the publishers’ booths.

And here are a few ideas for “bag within a bag” pairings:

Western Flyer / Tri-Star with the Daylight Briefcase: You can use the briefcase as a packing cube for clothes, or you can use it to store your laptop, papers, and in-flight necessities: when you board, you can stash the larger bag in the overhead bin and store the briefcase under the seat in front of you. Or you could just one-bag: see how imperator packed for a 3-day conference with just his Western Flyer.

The Aeronaut 30 with the Co-Pilot / Pilot: This pairing follows a similar logic to the one above.  The Co-Pilot is small enough to slip in and out of the Aeronaut with ease; because of its size, the Pilot may perform better as a packing cube en route to your destination.

The Brain Bag with the Daylight Backpack / Daylight Briefcase: If you need a dedicated backpack, consider using the Brain Bag. While it can certainly work at the conference itself, if you want a low-profile option, either Daylight bag fits well inside.

If you need to pack a suit, here’s how using the Aeronaut (video) and the Tri-Star.

What bags do you carry for conference travel? Which items are invaluable, and which have you learned you can live without? Let us know in the comments.

Accessory Debuts! Small Q-Kit / Luggage Tag + More

Luggage Tag
Once upon a time, we offered a plastic luggage tag with our logo. It sold out, and ever since, people have been asking for a TOM BIHN luggage tag. This time, though, we wanted to make our own Luggage Tag — our own, as in, made in our Seattle factory out of the same materials we use to make our bags. And here it is.

Our Luggage Tag has a generous loop to fit around the handles of all TOM BIHN bags (and many non-TOM BIHN bags as well). One side is made out of our tough 1050d U.S. HT ballistic nylon and the other out of clear Urethane. Flaps on this side keep the included address card secure. Available in your choice of 1050d HT U.S. ballistic nylon colors.

Accessory Debuts! Luggage Tag | TOM BIHN

Q-Kit in size Small
First introduced in size Mini, we’re now making the Q-Kit in size small due to (your) popular demand. The shape of the Q-Kit is reminiscent of the Kit, a retired design that some of you may remember, but the Q-Kit is much smaller. Clever and awesome, the Q-Kit is great for keeping track of very small stuff: coins, keys, phone adapters, as well as charms, hair things, and gewgaws of all kinds.

New Q-Kit in Size Small | TOM BIHN

Cord Zipper Pulls in Ultraviolet
Good things take time and our custom-dyed Ultraviolet Cord Zipper is no exception: we’ve been excitedly waiting to debut this for months! Ultraviolet joins colors Crimson, Coyote, Black and Wasabi, allowing you to customize your bag with a variety of Cord Zipper Pulls (plastic pulls or knotted ends).

Accessory Debuts! Ultraviolet Cord Zipper Pulls | TOM BIHN

Padded Organizer Pouch, Micro
Last, and, well, least (because it’s so tiny) is the Padded Organizer Pouch in size Micro. It’s great for SD cards and other tiny things.

Padded Organizer Pouch, Micro! Accessory Debuts | TOM BIHN

Classic Designs Retiring To Make Way For New

OK, wow. Last year was super busy and this year is already shaping up to be the same. In 2014, we introduced thirteen new designs and accessories: the Pilot, Daylight Briefcase, Daylight Backpack, Aeronaut 30, Travel Laundry Stuff Sack, Q-Kit, Double Organizer Pouch, Night Flight Travel Duffle, 7” Tablet Cache, Synapse Freudian Slips, The Parental Unit, Key Strap Snaphook/O-Ring, and more options of Cord Zipper Pulls. (We’re not counting the Flocculent Swift.) And we updated the designs of two bags: the Brain Bag and Aeronaut 45.

Today, we’re introducing Spiff Kits, Brain Bag Padded Waist Belt, Cord Zipper Pulls in Ultraviolet, the Q-Kit in size Small, and 1050d HT U.S. ballistic nylon in Burnt Orange. And within the next couple of months, the new Citizen Canine will debut as a Skookum Dog bag. Tom’s working on three new designs (one is the cross-body knitting bag) that we are excited to debut as the year goes on. And, of course, you can expect to see a new color or two (or three). Beyond all of that, who knows what else we’ll come up with? We say it often, but we’ll say it again: we’re pretty spontaneous around here and if the inspiration strikes and we can make something happen, we’ll go for it.

This is all very good and exciting news. Designing and debuting new bags is what we love best. (And we get the sense you guys like it too!)

But it’s a reality for us that designing and debuting new bags means some existing bags must be retired. The demand for last year’s new designs tested the production capacity of our factory and we made the difficult decision to choose not to allow backorders for some bags. And we’ve come to the decision that some of those bags must be retired to make way for the new designs of this year and next.

Below is a list of the bags we plan to retire. We figured it’d be the right thing to do to make one more final batch of each of these bags so everyone has a chance to order them before they’re gone for good; these final batches are available for order now.

And yes: this, we anticipate, is the last time we will ever make these bags available for order.

Deep breath. Here’s the list.

The Ego and Super Ego
Two of our classic messenger bags. We’re sad to see them go, but we know that Tom is taking the best features of these bags and is likely to incorporate them into future briefcase designs.

Super Ego Messenger Bag | TOM BIHNSuper Ego

Ego Messenger Bag | TOM BIHNEgo

Ah, the ID! A favorite of ours. But, there’s so many exciting new designs in the works and we won’t be able to debut them unless we retire some existing designs.

ID Messenger Bag | TOM BIHN

The Empire Builder will continue to be around for the time being but we’ll only be making the Zephyr this one last time.

Zephyr Briefcase | TOM BIHN

Field Journal Notebook
The FJN has devoted fans (Tom amongst them) but it’s time to retire it to make way for new.

Field Journal Notebook | TOM BIHN

The Parental Unit Diaper Bag

The Parental Unit is the result of Tom’s resolve to build a “diaper bag” that does more than just assist parents with changing diapers: it’ll help organize and mobilize any parent or parents that participate in the modern world with their young kids. One of our goals in designing The Parental Unit was to make trips to the store, to the in-laws, daycare and even the museum less stressful and just as much fun as they should be. That, and making sure you won’t look like a dork with some huge encumbrance slung over your shoulder, whacking nice people in the face as you navigate the narrow aisles of public transit or cozy restaurants. We particularly eschewed goofy printed fabrics: if you want a bag that screams “I’m a parent!”, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The Parental Unit was designed to be as svelte as possible, and equally stylish for all genders: long after the kids are out of diapers and on their way to college, the P.U. might still be your favorite go-to bag for everyday carry.

As a parent—or, if you’re expecting, you’ve probably heard this from other parents—you know that being organized and prepared (or not) is the deciding factor in what can make an outing with baby a great one (or not). The Parental Unit is loaded with organizational abilities, ready to assist. It is symmetrical front-to-back: both facets have gently curved zippers that open to generous, but not excessive, organizer compartments. Both of these are further divided into three vertical sub-compartments; the dividers themselves are more generous at their tops so that the wearer can easily see down into the sub-compartments. The center of the three is sized to fit most diapers, wipe dispensers (travel or home size both fit) and/or a changing pad; the spaces on either side are good for baby bottles, water bottles, or snacks.

The center compartment opens with a top zipper: we assume you’ll leave that unzipped most of the time for fast access to a toy or a spit-up cloth, but you can zip it shut in bad weather or if you need to stow it during travel. Two billowy open-top pouches are sewn front and back inside this main compartment—you can choose to leave them empty and just take advantage of the large space, or you can use them to further organize changes of clothes and more diapers, or stash food, wipes, rags, etc. The outer surfaces of these pouches have three plastic snaps that allow you to join them together, dividing that one big space into four smaller and complete separate ones (we know that’s hard to picture—watch The Parental Unit video to see how that works).

And we’ll admit it: a TOM BIHN diaper bag was a bit overdue. Thanks for your patience while we worked on designing the best diaper bag that we thought could be made.

The Parental Unit | TOM BIHN

The Parental Unit Diaper Bag | TOM BIHN

Limited Edition Small Cafe Bag Brights

Limited Edition Small Cafe Bag Brights

It’s the time of year when we count on family, friends, and cider to brighten up these darker days. And we wanted to share a bit of brightness with all of you. To that end, we’re making the Small Cafe Bag available in these limited edition colors:

Orange 152/Navy
Red Blend/Olive

We’ll admit we’ve fallen for Azure and Red Blend—there’s a chance those two colors will stick around, though likely just in the Small and Medium Cafe Bags. The other colors? We anticipate they’ll be gone before the first snow.

Limited Edition Small Cafe Bag Brights

Limited Edition Small Cafe Bag Brights

Introducing the Daylight Briefcase and Synapse Freudian Slips

The Daylight Briefcase | TOM BIHN Bags

Following the same “less is more” design philosophy as the Daylight Backpack, the Daylight Briefcase offers superb organization and TSA-friendly laptop storage while remaining lightweight and packable. Featuring a main compartment with room for a Cache in 11” or 13” sizes, the Daylight Briefcase also boasts a gusseted inner pocket with an elasticized top, allowing you to stow and retrieve items with ease. Zippered pockets on either side of the Daylight Briefcase can accommodate tablets, files or magazines, books, or a jacket, and plenty of o-rings allow you to further customize your bag by adding Organizer Pouches, 3D Organizer Cubes, a Guardian Light, and Key or Utility Straps. If you don’t need your Daylight Briefcase until you’re at your destination, it’s easy to pack it flat into the main compartment of the Aeronaut 45 or roll it up and stash it in any of our larger bags.

The Daylight Briefcase | TOM BIHN

Daylight Briefcase. $80. Available in Olive, Grey, Black, Burnt Orange, Plum, Linen, French Blue, Coyote, and Black Dyneema. In stock and ships within one business day.

Synapse Freudian Slips | TOM BIHN

Is there such a thing as being too organized? We don’t think so. The Freudian Slip is an organizational insert designed to add additional pockets and storage to your TOM BIHN bag. And now we’ve made it in two new sizes for the Synapse 19 and Synapse 25 backpacks.

On one side, the Synapse Freudian Slip has two deep mesh pockets with elasticized tops. These pockets are great for holding power supplies, laptop peripherals, bulky cables, e-readers, and/or delicious round fruits. Above the mesh pockets are open-top pockets of various widths, suitable for holding your phone, phablet, notebook, multitool, business cards, and pens. On the reverse side, you’ll find two pockets of an asymmetrical design in which you can store about ½” of  A4 or US Standard Letter-sized paper vertically. Above these two pockets are additional open-top pockets that can fit objects of phablet size and thickness. Additionally, the larger Synapse 25 Freudian Slip has five additional pockets including two zippered pockets (9”x7”), both of which can hold a tablet, a book, or anything else you might wish to keep secured.

Synapse 19 Freudian Slip | TOM BIHN

Synapse 19 Freudian Slip. 10 organizational pockets. $50. In stock and ships within one business day.

Synapse 25 Freudian Slip. 15 organizational pockets. $50. In stock and ships within one business day.

And the last debut of the day isn’t exactly a debut, but rather a hint of one to come:

Due date: in stock/available for order by early December.

The Updated Brain Bag

Before we began our next production cut of Brain Bags, we decided to make a few minor updates to the design. (Just one of the many reasons we have our own factory here in Seattle: we have the power to have a good idea and make it real.)

— You asked for it: six more (nine total) o-rings! Two additional in each main compartment and one o-ring each in the front left and right exterior pockets.

— The best combination of fabrics we can imagine: an exterior main body of 1000d Cordura with a 1050 HT ballistic nylon bottom and an interior of 420d Parapack.

— Reconfigured front left organizer pocket (fits your iPhone better).

And that’s it. The Brain Bag is solid, classic, and true; the longest standing design of our current offerings. We didn’t want to mess (too much) with a good thing.

The Brain Bag. $190. Available for backorder in colors Burnt Orange, French Blue, Olive, Navy, and Black. Ships by early August.

Introducing the Aeronaut 30 and Four More Designs

Aeronaut 30 | TOM BIHN

We’ve been hinting for the last couple of months that we expected five new designs to debut this summer. And you’ve been amazingly patient with us. Before the reveal, we just wanted to take a moment and say thanks for your excitement and support. It’s meant a lot to us as we worked really hard getting these five new designs ready for debut—no small feat for a company our size. Design patterns had to be finalized, names decided, pages built, videos shot, photos taken. You’d be amazed at how much of this came down to the wire; we even decided to change the name of one of the bags on Friday.

And without further ado, meet the five new designs (seven if you count their Packing Cubes) debuting today:

Aeronaut 30
The little brother of the original Aeronaut (now the Aeronaut 45). You know the saying: don’t mess with what’s good, and we didn’t. Mostly, it’s the same Aeronaut people have come to count on as the carry-on bag, just smaller and better suited to travel on North American regional commuter jets, intra-European flights, or for folks who want to pack less and don’t need a maximum carry-on sized travel bag. Though the Aeronaut 30 is smaller in capacity, its fit is the same as the Aeronaut 45. In other words, if the original Aeronaut (45) fit you well, the Aeronaut 30 will as well. It’s no small feat to make a bag that is 20% smaller yet still fits those 6′ and taller (and shorter, of course). All that said, there were a few good things in the design of the Aeronaut that Tom realized he could make great. Design updates in the Aeronaut 30 you’ll find include: both exterior end pockets are zippered, the main compartment snaps have been replaced with zippered dividers, allowing you to turn the Aeronaut 30 into a one or two compartment bag when you need it to be, and the Aeronaut 30’s YKK Aquaguard® waterproof coil zippers have been flipped to be “right side up”, which basically means they’ll last even longer. (If you’re wondering: these design updates will make their way to the Aeronaut 45 in the next 2-3 months.)

The Aeronaut 30 Carry-On Travel Bag by TOM BIHN

$270. Available for pre-order in eight color combinations, including the new Coyote/Steel. First production run ships by mid-August; second production run ships by late September.
Packing Cubes for the Aeronaut 30 are available for pre-order here.

Night Flight Travel Duffle
Tom’s had the Night Flight concept on his (very crowded) design board for some time. So, when United Airlines announced their size new requirements for “personal items,” it was simply a matter of a few adjustments, some late nights, and the Night Flight Travel Duffle was made real. That the Night Flight Travel Duffle looks suspiciously like a scaled-down version of an Aeronaut is no mistake: we took some of the same winning design elements from our most popular travel bag and morphed them into a small yet totally fetching duffle bag. Worth noting: Packing Cubes for the Night Flight are an option, as are Padded Organizational Dividers that allow you to organize and protect stuff like smaller cameras (you can even configure them for a DSLR) and noise-cancelling headphones as well as snacks and other stuff.

Night Flight Travel Duffle | TOM BIHN

$180. Available for pre-order in eight color combinations, including the new Coyote/Steel. First production run ships by mid-August; second production run ships by late September.
Packing Cubes for the Night Flight Travel Duffle are available for pre-order here.

Travel Laundry Stuff Sack
Based on a design from Tom’s archives (circa 1981) and inspired by his time hosteling around Europe, the Travel Laundry Stuff Sack works like this: start your trip off with the sack full of clean clothes, and as they become dirty, put them in 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.

Travel Laundry Stuff Sack | TOM BIHN

Available for pre-order in two sizes —Aeronaut 45 ($45) and Aeronaut 30 ($40)—in colors Steel and Ultraviolet. Ships by mid-August.

Daylight Backpack
Your solid, ultralight, and true companion for hikes, travel, even the daily commute. Similar to the Packing Cube Backpacks, though more pack and less cube. We want to point out a design feature we’re quite proud of: shingled internal pouches/compartments that, when packed with two pieces of clothing, say, a shell jacket and a fleece or sweater, effectively create a padded back panel. We have tested the Daylight Backpack on hikes long and short, hiking up to where the trees are smaller yet older, and then down to secret lakes, and it’s proved itself time and again.

The Daylight Backpack by TOM BIHN

$80. Available in seven color combinations, including Black Dyneema and Burnt Orange. In stock and ready to ship.

One day, Kieu (our Bartack Operator — see her work) surprised June and Darcy with two of these small pouches. Its shape is reminiscent of the Kit, a retired design, but the Q-Kit is much smaller. June and Darcy liked their Q-Kits so much that they thought we should make more and let you guys give ’em a try. Clever and awesome (just like Kieu!), the Q-Kit is great for keeping track of very small stuff: coins, keys, phone adapters, as well as charms, hair things, and gewgaws of all kinds.

Q-Kit Organizer Pouch | TOM BIHN

$14. Various colors, all 1050d ballistic nylon. In stock and ready to ship.

Even after all of that, we bet you have questions. Head over to our forums, post ’em, and we’ll do our best to respond.

The Fur Test

TOM BIHN: The Fur Test
1000d Cordura® after test

TOM BIHN: The Fur Test
We made mittens out of 420 HT ParaPack, 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon, 1050d Ballistic, 1000d Cordura® and 500d Cordura®.

TOM BIHN: The Fur Test
We then rubbed each one on a volunteer office canine (we are opposed to animal testing, but he seemed to rather enjoy the attention).

TOM BIHN: The Fur Test

TOM BIHN: The Fur Test
All fabrics picked up fur.

TOM BIHN: The Fur Test
But not equally so . . .
TOM BIHN: The Fur Test
Both of the Cordura® fabrics collected lots more fur than the smooth nylons.
TOM BIHN: The Fur Test
The difference between 1050d Ballistic, 420d HT ParaPack, and 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon; was negligible (though the fur is better camouflaged by the white Dyneema® ripstop grid.)
TOM BIHN: The Fur Test

The bottom line? If you have pets, or work in a place where people bring dogs to work and don’t vacuum as much as they should (ahem), or simply want your bag to collect as little lint/foozles/dust particles as possible, choose our 1050d ballistic nylon, 200d or 400d Dyneema/nylon, or 420d HT Parapack fabric over bags available in Cordura (500d or 1000d).

See also: Badger’s test comparing the pet hair resistance of our 200d Dyneema/nylon fabric and 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack. Note: our results differed from Badger’s in that the difference between Dyneema/nylon and the 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack was not significant. Neither collected nowhere near as much hair in our tests as the Cordura® fabrics. Results may vary on the breed or type of animal, and probably the amount of ambient static electricity. It’s also worth noting that in our results the hair that did collect on our Dyneema/nylon was quite difficult to see until we looked really closely (hence the close-up photo).

Recap of the new stuff

It’s been a busy week (month? year?) around here…

We introduced The Guide’s Pack and Founder’s Briefcase.

We debuted a new fabric: 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack.

Tom authored several posts about the new fabric and two new designs:
Accessory Strap Holders: Return of an Icon
On Internal Frames and Frame Sheets
The Story behind 420 Denier High Tenacity “Parapack” Pack Fabric
Ballistic vs. Leather Pack Bottoms
On shoulder straps
On the design of The Guide’s Pack
On the design of the Founder’s Briefcase

And we made available for order our new 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack fabric in the Synapse 19, Synapse 25, Small, Medium, and Large Cafe Bags, 3D Fabric Organizer Cube and 3D Mesh Organizer Cube.


News Briefs

EveryDayCommentary, Fatih Arslan, and Living One Handed have new reviews Nik’s Minimalist Wallet. Dominique reviewed the Synapse 19. Shoba Narayan reviewed the Aeronaut 30 + Synapse.

Early reviews of the Luminary 12 / 15 from the Forum community are in. See L15 reviews by logan_g, G42, Lia, anna2222, Quiltmama, and L12 reviews by marbenais, awurrlu and L12/L15 comparison reviews by Cristina, aedifica, bartleby.

The new Luminary 12 and Luminary 15 backpacks + bags in 210d ballistic nylon will be up for pre-order on 02/26. Details here.

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