Leave No Trace

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
– E. B. White

TOM BIHN and Leave No Trace

As outdoors people, we have a responsibility to prepare ourselves for the adventures on which we embark — to do our best to ensure our own safety and that of others. Navigational abilities, common sense and the ten essentials can avoid a situation that’s dangerous for us and the rescue personnel who might be called upon to save us. And carrying a few additional supplies can help us help others on the trail who didn’t plan ahead.

We also have a responsibility to outdoor places and spaces we are fortunate to visit, and that’s where Leave No Trace — an organization we are proud to support — comes in.

The Leave No Trace Seven Principles are the bedrock of the Leave No Trace program. They provide guidance to enjoy our natural world in a sustainable way that avoids human-created impacts. The principles have been adapted so they can be applied in your backyard, the backcountry wilderness, or city, state, or national parks.

Earlier this year, the importance of each of us understanding and taking responsibility for our impact on public lands was highlighted by the government shutdown. With either no or a significantly reduced number of government employees to patrol public lands and enforce policies, the full range of our behaviors was on display — from trees illegally felled for firewood to volunteers stepping up to haul out trash. Leave No Trace issued specific guidelines related to the government shutdown that were shared thousands of times and inspired many to volunteer their time to protect national public lands or avoid national lands to relieve their burden and instead visit state and municipal parks.

Leave No Trace Seven Principles

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
  • Repackage food to minimize waste.
  • Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.


Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.

In popular areas:

  • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
  • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
  • Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.

In pristine areas:

  • Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
  • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.


Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack it in, pack it out.
  • Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.


Leave What You Find

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.


Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the environment. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.


Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.


Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.


A note on our own humanness: none of us are perfect and all of us have made mistakes and will make mistakes. Our personal goal is to keep in mind the principles of Leave No Trace and to strive to uphold them as well as we are able. The principles are a way to care for the natural world we love and there’s a joy in that caring that is beyond a simple sense of duty.

“Do anything, but let it produce joy.”
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

In an effort to help spread the word about the Leave No Trace Seven Principles, we include our own version of the Leave No Trace reference card with The Guide’s Pack. Our version of the card has a snaphook that allows it to connect to an O-ring — so it’s easy for us to pull out and consult or share with someone else. (Various editions of the Leave No Trace Seven Principles Cards are available directly from Leave No Trace for just 0.25 each.)

Guest Post: Hollie’s Thoughts On The Luminary 15

Hollie is a longtime user of TOM BIHN bags, she’s a former employee, and she was the main tester of the Luminary 15 (L15) design. Tom would like to thank Hollie for her valuable feedback — it helped finalize some key details of the fit and features of the pack. – TB Crew

When I first heard that Tom was designing a larger Luminary, I was excited to hear of a new bag (like any Bihnion, I’m always happy when I know something new is coming down the pike), but having been obsessed for so long with my versatile and basically perfect Synapse 19, I wasn’t sure I’d really need a 15 liter backpack. Ohhhhhh, I was wrong. This bag is gold, everyone. Let me tell you.

I feel obligated to say that I’m a former Bag Guru (customer support person) at TOM BIHN. I asked Darcy if it was okay that I disclose this, and she said that it was just fine, since people reading the blog probably suspect that anyone writing a bag review has to be at least a little biased! Am I biased? Most definitely! Am I biased more after my time as a Guru? Yes! I loved my job, and I loved seeing how the bags I use every day were made with such quality (and employee happiness – speaking from experience!).

But the truth is, I was biased before I ever worked there. I’ve been obsessed with travel bags and backpacks ever since I was a kid, and it’s only gotten worse with age (I’m 44 — it’s pretty nuts at this point). I love to travel and have adventures, even just around town, and I love carrying my stuff with me, despite my sincere attempts at minimalism. I discovered Tom Bihn bags in 2009, and have been a groupie ever since. I’ve carried them all, but the Luminary 15 has really blown me away.

The exterior of the bag sets new records in sleekness and minimalism, and I just love that. It doesn’t look or act like a bulky backpack, which means you never feel like you’re hauling around the kitchen sink (even if you are). I can take this thing anywhere. It’s in no one’s way slung over my chair at a restaurant, it’s unobtrusive over my shoulder at the Seattle Art Museum, and it sits happily under my seat at the movie theater. The profile is so elegant and simple, you’d never guess by looking how roomy and functional the interior is. The straps are made of a super comfy foam, that I can wear comfortably all day.

At first glance the main interior compartment, with its three sections, might seem a bit strange. You might be tempted to unzip the center section to open the bag up, but before you do….try it. The center section is perfect for a water bottle, and those of us who love our Synapses know the joy of a water bottle nestled securely in the center of our bag, and I love that we have this feature in a second backpack. If you don’t carry a water bottle, the center pocket is perfect for a stuff sack, or a jacket rolled up.

The side sections are perfect for sliding in a wallet or phone (although my favorite place for my phone is the right side pocket). But where they really shine is for all the other things we might want to carry as we wander about on our adventures, or head to work or school. I do a lot of urban sketching, and I knit, which means that when I leave the house I usually have my travel sketchpad, my travel palette of watercolors, and my stuff sack with the latest pair of wool socks I’m knitting up. I’ve also started carrying a Traveler’s Notebook, and will sometimes even have my handheld ham radio with me (here in Seattle we have a repeater where hams carry on conversations all day).

The Luminary can carry all of this in stride, and the ability to split up the main compartment means that stuff will stay corralled on whatever side of the bag you pack it, and it’s always easy to find. When I took the train down to Portland for an overnight trip, I took only the Luminary, using one side section for a change of clothes, the center for my bottle of tea, and the third section for my toiletries, knitting, and snacks.

Have a larger notebook, or an iPad, and need a place for that? The ingenious rear panel has your back (haha!). A side zipper along the length of the bag reveals a roomy pocket that can handle an iPad, sketchbook, or paperback. I keep a folded sari in mine, in case I get chilled. I love how sneaky this back pocket is – no one watching you grab things out of the main compartment would realize you could have an iPad hidden away in the back.

For the smaller things, the Luminary has me covered. The side zipper pockets are where I keep my phone, my paintbrushes, an ever-growing number of Micron pens (it’s like they disappear and then reappear once I buy replacements), and things like lip balm, my pocket knife, and the one granola bar I need to have on me at all times.

In short, the Luminary 15 has become the everyday carry of my dreams. A light pack, with an elegant and sleek profile, that goes everywhere but still carries everything I need – it’s amazing.

Seattle Snow!

Lisa and Fong (Sewing Supervisors) at our Seattle factory/headquarters checking out the snow as it began to fall on Friday

We closed early at 1:00pm on Friday and good thing: as predicted, the snow started falling just around then and by Saturday morning many of us had as much as 9″ of snow at our homes around the greater Seattle area.

More snow is predicted for Sunday night, Monday, Tuesday and even later in the week; some are estimating we could see as much as 16″ of snow before the week ends. As of today, we don’t foresee any delays in getting to the factory and getting orders processed and shipped, emails answered, and all of that good stuff we usually do Monday through Friday, but we’ll let you know if anything changes. Speaking of which: our production crew had two snow days last week and, if weather predictions are accurate, we expect they may have more snow days this week. That means that production is a little behind schedule. If any of the bags currently in production will be significantly delayed, we’ll let you know.

The snow and ice can be treacherous and it definitely interferes with getting our work done, but we’ve also been managing to have a lot of fun with it. Here’s a few of the photos we’ve taken so far, out and about in the last two days!

Grocery run with Zip-Top Shop Bags!

Friday evening walk in the snow.

The neighborhood coffee place was open!!!

These two photos were shared by NWHikergal in the Forums.

This snowperson deserves a hug.

You know, just a typical Saturday in Seattle practicing with the sled dog team down the neighborhood street…

2018 Knitted Wearables For Our Crew

For several years now the wonderful people over on the TOM BIHN Ravelry group have made us a trove of hand-made gifts — hats, gloves, scarves, shawls and other wonderfully knitted, crocheted, and woven items.

The day of the holiday party is a busy one here at the TOM BIHN headquarters and factory in Seattle, and this year was no exception. We had vegetarian Chinese food (salt and pepper tofu, chow mein, fried rice, vegetable braised dry stir fry chow fun) and egg tarts and gluten-free, vegan red velvet brownies for dessert. It was also the day of our annual employee bag giveaway — when the rare bags with (very) minor flaws collected throughout the year from the factory floor are given away to each TB crew member via a number draw.

The real highlight of our party is when each crew member gets to choose a knitted/crocheted/woven item (this year, it was hats, scarves, cowls and shawls). And new this year, which added a lot of excitement: Forum member G42 gifted our entire crew with hand-made earrings. Each crew member was able to choose a knitted scarf, shawl, or cowl and a pair of earrings.

Photos of the party (taken by Jenny and Joe) — the crew, the food, knitted items, and earrings — are below, as are individual photos of each and every knitted item made for us.

Many thanks goes to the TOM BIHN Ravelry group for their dedication to this tradition. As you can see in the photos, it brings a lot of joy to us. Special thanks to Annie, a knitter and Ravelry member local to Seattle who coordinates the whole effort and delivers the knitted items.









































































TOM BIHN Bags Create Community

“Community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. The question, therefore, is not ‘How can we make community?’ but ‘How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?'” -Henri Nouwen
TOM BIHN Blog - Patti Digh Camel
Photo by Lynn Buckler Walsh on her Moroccan adventure with her TOM BIHN special edition Life is a Verb Camp bag.
First there was the photograph of a camel in Morocco onto which an orange TOM BIHN medium cafe bag was secured. If you look closely, you can see a small grey “Life is a Verb” patch sewn onto the bag as it hangs from the camel’s back. Posted by Australian Lynn Buckler Walsh during one of her global adventures, the community of Life is a Verb Campers immediately responded to the shared emblem of our time together. We felt connected because of that bag, and felt a part of Lynn’s Moroccan adventure. In a sense, she took us along with her in that TOM BIHN bag.

Then, photos of the special edition TOM BIHN “Life is a Verb” bags in different colors started showing up from Iceland, Mexico, Ecuador, Paris, Mongolia, and beyond. Photos of bags from meetups of Campers around the world fill the Facebook stream of the Life is a Verb Camp alumni page, sparking the sense of belonging that comes with being part of a community–all from a bag. But not just any bag. And not just a bag, but something larger.
TOM BIHN Blog - Patti Digh Satyr
Campers have traveled around the world with their TOM BIHN special edition Life is a Verb Camp bags, and included the rest of the community with photos like this one from Mexico.
Since 2013, Life is a Verb Camp has brought together people from across the U.S. and around the world for four days of adventure in the mountains of North Carolina. Since 2014, TOM BIHN has sponsored the conference bags for the Camp, inadvertently and irreversibly creating a symbol of the strong community built around the Camp and its Campers, a signifier of togetherness and commitment, creativity and adventure, an emblem of what Camp is and means.

Life is a Verb Camp was begun as an experiment in community: How can we create a loving, open-hearted, generous, creative, generative community of people who are creative together, who can learn from the diversity in the group and practice being more inclusive, and who support each other through all that life can throw at them? What does it take to nurture giving hearts, to use Henri Nouwen’s language?
TOM BIHN Blog - Patti Digh Madrid
Lynn Buckler Walsh on an adventure in Madrid with her TOM BIHN special edition Life is a Verb Camp bags, a way she took Camp and Campers with her on her travels.
Now in its sixth year, the lessons of Camp are clear. To build community, you must have a shared vision, shared language, shared signifiers, and, paradoxically, a broken heart.
Community Holds a Shared Vision

From the beginning, Camp has focused on Courage, Creativity, Community, and Compassion (including self-compassion). Why? Because it takes courage to be creative; creativity blossoms in bumping up against others in community; being in community builds compassion for self and others; and compassion builds trust, which sparks courage, which helps us be creative, and so on back around the feedback loop.

When I don’t have COURAGE,
I play small and don’t take risks,
Instead, I sabotage my own CREATIVITY by
Minimizing myself and others,
Making it difficult for me to be in COMMUNITY
And when I am alone, I often don’t have COURAGE and….(back to first line and repeat)

When I have COURAGE,
I take risks, am more innovative, and lean into my own
CREATIVITY, which deepens in a diverse
COMPASSION for myself and others thrives,
Creating a community
where I feel the kind of trust that provides me with courage and… (and repeat)

People come to Camp, whether once or every year because they share these values and are actively looking for ways to inhabit them in more significant ways in their life. The people who come to Camp are mothers, fathers, grandparents, teachers, therapists, artists, writers, activists, trainers, musicians, and more. What links them, other than the Camp experience itself–including their TOM BIHN bags–is their attraction to these core values of Camp: Courage, Creativity, Community, and Compassion.

While it is easy for us to sit inside a culture–whether familial, community, organizational, or national–and act as if we are merely visitors to it, Campers know the Camp community is built by everyone there–culture is co-created with every decision and action made or not made. The talents and resourcefulness of Campers is integral to the Camp experience.
TOM BIHN Blog - Patti Digh Lovejoys
Where Campers gather (in this case, San Francisco), so do their TOM BIHN Life is a Verb Camp bags.
Community Requires a Shared Language Built Over Time

Shortly after the first Camp in 2013, a Camper was experiencing a difficult time in her life and posted about it on Camp’s private Facebook page. Within moments, photographs of other Campers appeared in the comments, each wearing their Camp t-shirt from that year. “Shirt on” became code for “I hear you and am sitting with you through this.” Six years later, “shirt on” remains a way Campers signify care and compassion for others.

As with the shirts, our custom TOM BIHN bags signify community in a similar way. When Campers gather, a photo of their TOM BIHN bags together is a given. In such a way, they have become so much more than bags. In carrying these special Camp bags, Campers know they are carrying a piece of Camp and Campers with them wherever they go. The bag is not just a holder of things, but is also a holder of memories, friendships, and transformational experiences.
TOM BIHN Blog - Patti Digh Camp365
Photo by Muse. Some call it #Camp365 because Campers gather throughout the year, always bringing a piece of Camp with them.
Community Requires Relaxing Into Relationship

Parker Palmer said it best: “When we treat community as a product that we must manufacture instead of a gift we have been given, it will elude us eternally. When we try to ‘make community happen,’ driven by desire, design, and determination—places within us where the ego often lurks—we can make a good guess at the outcome: we will exhaust ourselves and alienate each other, snapping the connections we yearn for. Too many relationships have been diminished or destroyed by a drive toward ‘community-building’ which evokes a grasping that is the opposite of what we need to do: relax into our created condition and receive the gift we have been given.”

Just as a “search for happiness” ensures that happiness will elude us, so too “engineering” community-building thwarts our deep need for community. For community to happen, a space must be created that is safe enough and challenging enough for people to bump up against one another, build relationship, and share experiences.

Community Requires a Broken Heart

As Parker Palmer also said, “…leadership for community will always break our hearts. Here, ‘breaking your heart’ (which we normally understand as a destructive process that leaves one’s heart in fragments), is reframed as the breaking open of one’s heart into larger, more generous forms…”

To lead a community, the leader must hone their own capacity for connectedness, their own belief in the resourcefulness of any group, their own ability to relax into community rather than engineer it. Their role is to open the space, hold it, deepen it, and create shared experiences that will tie the community together. Campers co-create Camp onsite because they are more than Campers–they are creative leaders themselves.
TOM BIHN Blog - Patti Digh Alexandria
Campers Alison Campbell, Susan Lucas, and Jeanne d’Orleans on a meetup in Alexandria, Virginia
Community Requires Shared Signifiers

From Morocco to Iceland to Ecuador and beyond, Campers and their TOM BIHN bags see the world and report back to other Campers, posting photos of Camper meetups that simply show all the TOM BIHN bags from Camp, a symbol of community, and an agent of community at the same time. The TOM BIHN bags have become a signifier of the hallmarks of Camp: courage, creativity, community, and compassion.

The signifier is the bag itself. The signified is what it means to Campers–the extra significance it holds because it is representative of a shared, lived experience. It is not just a bag.

Just as the official Camp t-shirts each year have become a symbol of belonging, care, and connection, so have the TOM BIHN bags. As a result of TOM BIHN’s generosity, Campers have started making pilgrimages to the TOM BIHN showroom when in Seattle, and have become TOM BIHN ambassadors around the world. As one does.

Thanks for helping us build community, one great bag at a time, TOM BIHN.
TOM BIHN Blog - Patti Digh Decatur
Photo by Muse. Decatur, Georgia, USA.

An Interview with Chef Simoni

Last year, Chef Simoni Kigweba made his TOM BIHN debut in photos of the Moveable Feast shopping bag, and he kindly shared a recipe with us (the now-famous Tomatoes and Bread).  Now he’s busy cooking in Nashville, Tennessee: he’s the executive chef at a new restaurant that will open later this year.

Chef Simoni’s helping us out again this year by modeling The Truck—and he’s also got another recipe up his sleeve, too.  We sat down with the chef to ask him how he learned to cook, his favorite ingredients, and where he spends his Sundays.

You can follow Chef Simoni — and see his latest recipes — on his blog or on Instagram.

TOM BIHN CREW: How would you describe your cooking style?

CHEF SIMONI: I like to think that I enjoy cooking that is simple and elemental, using incredible ingredients local to Nashville and inflecting them with a simple elemental technique (air, water, fire, earth).

TBC: Who taught you how to cook?  Who were some of your major influences as you were developing as a chef?

CS: Loads of people taught me how and why you should cook. Mom, Dad, friends, and brilliant cooks and chefs. As I continue developing my craft I find inspiration in all the chefs I’ve cooked under, as well as Thomas Keller, Jacques Pepin, Marcus Samuelsson, Alice Waters, and Christian Puglisi.

TBC: Were there any foods or dishes you hated as a kid?  Do you feel differently about them now?

CS: Growing up my dad, an immigrant from Burundi, would cook cow stomach that I couldn’t stomach – I don’t know if that’s changed.

TBC: At what kinds of places do you like to eat when you travel?

CS: I love finding regional cuisines specific to different parts of the world wherever I travel. My wife and I love places like Henrietta Red in Nashville, Here’s Looking At You in LA, or a great food hall like Chicago French Market or Liberty Public Market  in San Diego.

TBC: How do you relax on your days off?

CS: Sundays are one of my favorite days to rest. I start with CBS Sunday Morning, go for a run, read the New York Times, then hit up Little’s, a local seafood market, pick out something for supper—usually clams—and then enjoy a meal at home with friends.

TBC: What’s one dish your family and friends always want you to make for them at home?

CS: It probably goes between chocolate chip cookies and waffles. Both are fan favorites.

TBC: What are your guilty pleasures—those things you consume when no one’s looking?

CS: OREOs. It’s a vice and I should know better.

TBC: Is there an underrated or under-used ingredient, flavor, or cooking technique that you think should be better-known?

CS: Blanching and lemons. When cooking most vegetables, the technique of blanching enhances their natural flavors. Lemons…a squeeze goes a long way, whether it’s a sauce, Sunday roast, or on top of a piece of grilled fish.

TBC: What advice can you give to people who are intimidated by cooking?

CS: Start cooking with the simplest technique and ingredient—roasting potatoes or preparing scrambled eggs. Both will equip you with tools enabling you to be more comfortable in the kitchen.
Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower Steaks with Salsa Macha

Salsa Macha: Adapted from Alex Stupak’s Tacos

12 dried arbol chiles
2 oz. dried guajillo chiles
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup raw, shelled, unsalted peanuts
2 TBSP sesame seeds
3 garlic cloves
1 cup cider vinegar
1 TBSP salt
2 TBSP honey
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast the chiles for 3-4 minutes until fragrant and brown in color.
2. Wearing gloves, remove stems from the chiles and roll them gently to remove the seeds. Discard the seeds.
3. In a 2 quart saucepan, add the oil, seeds, peanuts, and garlic. Toast the ingredients over medium heat until browned.
4. Remove pan from heat. Add the chiles and let steep for 10 minutes.
5. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Add a touch of water to thin if too thick.
Roasted Cauliflower Steaks

2 heads cauliflower
2 TBSP grapeseed oil
fresh ground pepper

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. As soon as it reaches 475, place a baking sheet in the oven and heat for 10 minutes.
2. Remove only the toughest outer leaves from the cauliflower. Trim stem to create a flat base. Resting the cauliflower on its stem, cut it in half from top to bottom, creating two lobes with stem attached. Trim the outer rounded edge of each piece to create two 1 1/2 inch thick steaks.
3. Dress the steaks with the oil, salt and pepper.
4. Carefully place the steaks directly on the heated baking sheet and cook for 12-15 minutes until fork tender.
5. Repeat the process with the other head of cauliflower.


1 sprig parsley, rough chopped
1 spring basil, rough chopped
1 TBSP lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1 TBSP sesame seeds
flake sea salt, such as Maldon

1. Using a spoon, smooth about 1/4 cup of salsa macha evenly over a large platter.
2. Place the roasted cauliflower on top of the salsa.
3. Garnish the cauliflower with parsley, basil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, and sesame seeds.
4. Serve.

Recognition for our Crew from Andrew

Thank you all,

I found you after one of the other coaches for my company showed off his Brain Bag while we were traveling to support a new contract. I subsequently managed to grab one of the last few red Synapse 25 specials and its made a huge difference in my daily work. I’m in a suit most of the time and the bag stands out, in an awesome way. It has literally removed pain from my daily commute, and opened a few conversations that became contacts for my next project. The design and immaculate craftsmanship is wonderful. I used to do theatrical costuming and am envious of your ability to make such excellent work of the materials and designs in your hands.

I’m now hooked. I’ve just received my second bag (a Co-Pilot) and am eagerly awaiting the return of the right color of the Aeronaut 45 to place my next order. I’ve got a trip planned for this fall and have rebuilt my itinerary from the ground up to take advantage of the two bags without wheels options. I fully expect to indoctrinate friends and family in the very near future.

You do great work, thank you,

The above was sent to

As one might expect, we include a receipt with each bag that we ship from our Seattle factory. On the back of the receipt is the usual useful info plus the following invitation:

Appreciating the fine workmanship of your new bag? Feeling inspired to recognize the talented folks responsible? Here’s your direct line to our production team:

We read emails sent to to everyone at our monthly company meetings. It means a lot to us to be recognized for our efforts: thank you. Know too that it’s something we pay forward in our own day-to-day lives.

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.

Some Thoughts for the Prospective Bag Designer

Tom Bihn in the Dave Meeks Bee Barn, Santa Cruz
In my garage, Santa Cruz, circa 1983.

The other day, someone stopped by the factory just as I was leaving – they are learning to design and make bags, and were hoping to look around. I was glad to give them a brief tour and answer some questions. Surprisingly, this request is not that uncommon: we’ve recently had more and more inquiries from people who’d like to start their own bag businesses or become bag designers, and are hoping I might give them some advice or wisdom to help them down their path. Of course, the thing about any map is that, while it can show you where someone else has been, it cannot show you where you’re going to go.

I’ve been very fortunate myself to have had some great mentors along the way, folks who were willing to share their time and their opinions – not so much about the specifics of design or running a bag business, but about business in general, and even more broadly, this bigger thing we call life. Dave Meeks was a big influence, as were many friends, family members and early customers (such as my math teachers Gary Rominger and Randy Smith!)

Tom Bihn Custom Down Jackets
The business card from my days as a student at Aptos Junior High, circa 1972.

Doing my best to be helpful, I first try to dissuade those who want to “follow in my footsteps”: there’s nothing easy about what we do here, and there’s got to be about ten million easier ways to earn a living than by making bags. All that said, if you’re still interested, what follows are a few words of advice, such as they are . . .

Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” Similarly, the best way to find out how to make bags is to make bags.

I’ve been making outdoor equipment since about 1972. I was 11 or 12 years old and I just wanted to spend more time outdoors. I thought all that fancy gear coming out of Berkeley, Boulder, and Seattle was pretty neat, but I was just a kid and all that stuff was a bit expensive. Somewhere in there my parents suggested I try making my own gear. My mom taught me the basics of using a sewing machine, and after that I was just winging it. I started off more or less just copying traditional styles, over time adding my own touches until ultimately I was truly “designing” my own products. I never went to design school; engineering was a bit inherited from my dad and otherwise self-taught, and the aesthetics were largely my own.

Read this book: Light Weight Camping Equipment and How to Make It by Gerry Cunningham

It now seems quaint and somewhat out of date, but it’s a great way to get some basic information about, as the title suggests, how to make your own gear. Gerry Cunningham was the “Gerry” behind the company of that same name, and he had figured out a bunch of stuff already.

Tom in Yosemite
Solo backpacking trip in the back country of Yosemite, 1977. I built the pack hiding behind me; it’s mounted on a classic Kelty external frame.

Learn to sew
Take a class or just get a machine and start tinkering around. Nik (COO/Designer here at TOM BIHN) more or less taught himself to sew over the course of a few months, mentored a bit by Lisa, Fong and myself. It’ll make a world of difference in your designs if you can actually sew them yourself: the cycle of sketch/prototype/test, sketch/prototype/test is so much faster and easier than if you need someone else to make your ideas real. Plus, you might invent a whole new way of making a bag if you do it yourself.

What type of machine, you may ask? I made everything on a walking foot Consew 206RB for years. If you can get one with a servo motor instead of the old clutch drive, you’ll be ahead of the curve as you learn (it’s sort of the difference between an automatic and a stick shift in a car: especially in the learning phase, you’ve got enough other things to distract you).

My Consew 206RB is still in use in our Seattle factory.

Start small. Don’t quit your day job. Not yet, anyway.
Times have changed and this advice may not be as relevant, but here goes: I attribute part of the success of this business to the fact that I had modest expectations and never planned to make a lot of money making bags. For years I held down other jobs and made bags on the side, renting a loft above my friend’s garage for almost a decade while I developed my designs and learned to run my own business.

Tom's letter of recommendation
A letter of recommendation from the Frick winery. I had over 30 jobs before I officially started my own business.

Listen to everyone’s advice, but take little of it.
Everyone will give you their opinion about what you make. It’s important to pay attention to this feedback: after all, the idea is not to just make bags for yourself. But it’s also good to develop a filter that helps you sort through all the opinions before they confuse and sidetrack your own vision.

Remember as well that your designs and skills will evolve: there’s always more to learn from yourself, your critics, your supporters, and often by just watching people use their bags.

I (most of the time) welcomed the feedback of friends and family who used my packs on their hikes and travels. Here, Brooke wears the Sack of Spuds backpack.

And perhaps most importantly…
Though it might just remain an avocation rather than a full-time career, if you love making things, don’t give up. Had Etsy been around when I was starting off, you can bet I would have had an Etsy store. What cooler way to to see what people like and don’t like than to offer your ideas for sale to the whole world?

While living in a loft above a friend’s garage is perhaps a bit glamorous at age 20 or 30 (as opposed to age 50), there were plenty of times I thought about getting a “real job”. I’m glad I didn’t. And frankly, I’d rather still be living in that loft than doing something for work I didn’t really enjoy.

Look at us now: we’re a company of 47 people all working together under one roof here in Seattle. We made it. And you might, too.

Recognition for Our Crew from Henrietta

Thank you to all the hands and hearts that went into repairing my bag for me. I love this bag so much. I wear it everyday no matter where I go. Without it my entire body rhythm was off.

I am proud to know that hard working people make and repair bags that they take pride in. So everyone – mail handlers, admins, folks that sew, wash, fold, package, add handles, sweep the factory floor, clean the break room, pay the light bill, show kindness to co-workers, to all of you I salute you.

most sincerely,

The above was sent to

As one might expect, we include a receipt with each bag that we ship from our Seattle factory. On the back of the receipt is the usual useful info plus the following invitation:

Appreciating the fine workmanship of your new bag? Feeling inspired to recognize the talented folks responsible? Here’s your direct line to our production team:

We read emails sent to to everyone at our monthly company meetings. It means a lot to us to be recognized for our efforts: thank you. Know too that it’s something we pay forward in our own day-to-day lives.

News Briefs

Now available for the first time in 525d ballistic nylon: Aeronaut 30 and Maker’s Bag. Coming soon: Aeronaut 45.

We’re retiring our Road Buddy Duffel 36 and Road Buddy Duffel 60 to make way for new designs. If you’ve been thinking about a Road Buddy, you may want to order soon, as we won’t be making further production runs.

We’ve updated our Planet page with additional efforts: we’re operationally carbon neutral, members of 1% For The Planet, we offer a vegetarian company lunch, and over 80% of our materials are bluesign® and/or OEKO-TEX® certified.

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