Much has been said and written about giving gifts that are not things, and about how experiences ultimately mean more to us than stuff. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve observed that more than ever before, I cherish time spent with family and friends, travel to new and old places, fresh air, wildlife, and nature more than a garage full of objects. With that in mind, I’ve in years past given movie, concert or opera tickets as gifts, or even a gift certificate for a massage or kayak rental. So far, so good.
As we set out to create a 2017 version of our Bags and Beyond Gift Guide, we realized we couldn’t improve much on the list of things already in it, and that some of us were giving other types of gifts this year – food, drink, experiences, and…. books.
I am very fond of books and I’ve begun to give them as gifts. The thing of a book is often more the experience of reading it than the possession of it. Coffee table books of art, wildlife, and photography, as well as illustrated works like Eric Sloan’s A Reverence for Wood or Roger Jean Segalat’s How Things Work series, (and yes of course graphic novels, my dear friend Erin the librarian) are exceptions.
My advice this year is: if you feel compelled to give a gift that is a thing, find your way to your local bookstore and buy books. If you see nothing there that seems appropriate to the person on your list, or if you’re like me and everything looks wondrous and beguiling, gift certificates are there for you. Shopping remotely for an out-of-towner? Go to Indie Bookstore Finder and then call the bookstore closest to your friend and buy a gift certificate. Seriously consider the local bookstore rather than the easy way out of online shopping — remember, if you don’t support your local bookstore, it may not be there the next time you look.
Now, back to where I was headed with this…
These past few years I’ve become rather addicted to audio books. I listen when I drive, while I do housework, and even in my studio as I’m working on a new design. I listened to 57 hours of Sherlock Holmes while designing The Hero’s Journey (though I guess I really ought to have been listening to Joseph Campbell); Anna Karenina and The Boys in the Boat while designing the Luminary; News of the World and A Brief History of Time while designing the Pop Tote; Far from the Madding Crowd and The Heart of Everything That Is while working on The Moveable Feast. When a story has really grabbed me, I’ve even been known to listen, unbelievable as this may sound, as I hike. (One must exercise some reasonable caution: as I listened to Sissy Spacek read To Kill a Mockingbird, I had to pull the car over and wipe the tears from my eyes.) I’ve always a few books in queue loaded on to my smartphone, along with some language lessons to break things up (Cantonese and Swahili: I just want to be able to say “hello” and “thank you”.)
I love my audio books.
So with that in mind, and in the spirt of giving things that are not things, this year I am offering up what is perhaps the simplest gift guide ever: after you’ve pillaged the local book store, give Audible.com subscriptions. Yes, I know they are part of Amazon.com, and are therefore somehow cahooting with Darth Vader, but it’s an amazing service: there are not enough hours in the day to ever make a dent in their selection. [Editor’s note: we sent Tom’s post out to our email newsletter list yesterday morning and reader H.C. wrote back to offer an independent bookstore equivalent of Audible — Libro.fm.]
Best wishes to all of you for a grand holiday weekend with friends, family, dogs, cats, and anyone else who is dear.
We asked around and here’s the books the rest of the crew here at the factory plan to give this year:
Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables by Joshua McFadden
The How Not To Die Cookbook by Michael Greger
The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs by Karen Page
Clean Cakes by Henrietta Inman
Coffee Table Books
Where The Animals Go: Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics by by James Cheshire, Oliver Uberti
Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapesby Thomas Rainer, Claudia West
The Philosophy Bookby Will Buckingham
Hey Seattle folks!
Join us for a rare Saturday opening of our Factory Showroom on December 16th from 10:00am – 2:00pm. We’ll have hot coffee, homemade cookies, and, of course, bags…
4750A Ohio Ave S – Seattle – 98134
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.
Expert Gift Giving Advice
Want help figuring out which bag to give? Give us a call (1-800-729-9607 U.S. & Canada or +1-206-652-4123 other countries) or email@example.com. Our Bag Experts—Cody, Kat, Matthew and Mike—are here and glad to help. Helping people find the right bag is one of our favorite things to do and it’s extra fun when it’s a gift.
Seattle Factory Showroom December Hours
We’re open Monday through Friday from 8:00am – 2:00pm.
We’ll also be open on Saturday, December 16th from 10:00am until 2:00pm.
Available for purchase 24/7, 365 days a year, Gift Certificates can be a great spontaneous “thank you” or last minute gift. You can even choose to have a gift certificate emailed directly—and instantly—to the recipient (with a gift message, and be sure to click the checkbox that asks “Email directly to the recipient?”).
Holiday Shipping Schedule
Orders received by 12:30pm Pacific Time are shipped same day; orders received after 12:30pm Pacific Time are shipped the following business day. Exception: in preparation for the last guaranteed UPS Ground day, we will be working a late shift on December 14th. All orders in by 4:00pm will ship the same day.
Happy Thanksgiving! We’re closed today.
Happy Leftovers Day! We’re closed today too.
After a much-deserved four day weekend, the entire crew is back at work for our last debut of 2017.
International orders: order today with UPS International Expedited delivery as your last best bet for receiving your order by Friday, December 22nd. Note: UPS does not guarantee this service, but it is estimated at 2–7 days.
Last day for folks on the East Coast and in the Mid-West to place an order with UPS Ground ($10) as their shipping method with delivery by or on Friday, December 22nd. Place your order by 4:00pm Pacific Time to have it shipped same day. And remember: you can still place an order and choose expedited shipping ($20 and up) for December 22nd delivery up until Thursday, December 21st.
Contiguous US orders: last day to select USPS First Class Mail (an option for small orders $49 or under) for delivery by December 24th.
US orders: last day to select UPS 3 Day Select with guaranteed delivery by or on December 22nd.
Contiguous US orders: last day to choose USPS Priority Mail (an option for small orders $49 or under and for Alaska / Hawaii / APO addresses) for delivery by December 24th.
US orders: choose UPS 2nd Day Air as your shipping method for delivery by or on December 22nd.
US orders: choose UPS Next Day Air as your shipping method for delivery on December 22nd.
US orders: your very last chance! You can order today before 12:30pm and choose UPS Next Day Air with Saturday Delivery, for delivery on December 23rd.
We’re closed. See you on Tuesday, December 26th! We will resume shipping, and showroom hours at our normal time on Tuesday. 🙂
When I was first learning to sew, I made backpacking equipment for my G.I. Joe. I was about ten years old at the time, and I had already moved on from “playing” with G.I. Joe: he got dragged out of early retirement as a model for my first attempts at making outdoor gear.
He was one of the “up-to-dated” versions of GI Joe, more or less as pictured with the flocked hair instead of plastic, and a matching flocked beard (see this article about the evolution of Joe).
I made a sleeping bag for Joe too. I don’t know what happened to that; I do recall it was a bit snug on Joe and its half-length side zipper barely closed.
Fast forward to 2015. As we embarked on the redesign our Seattle Factory Showroom, we decided to devote the only real wall in the showroom to our history: early designs, a down jacket I made, photos from over the years, and even the collection of letters of recommendation I received from various jobs that I had before starting my own business making bags. (Though you’re always welcome to come visit our factory, there is an online version of the History Wall just in case you can’t make it.)
Darcy asked me if I could remember the very first bag I ever made, and I shared the story of Joe’s pack. She asked if the original might be around somewhere and I said no. Seldom willing to take no for an answer, she then asked if I could make a replica, and I said sure.
When I set out to recreate Joe’s external frame backpack for the history wall in our Seattle Factory Showroom and headquarters, I had nothing but my memory to go on. On eBay I scored a G.I. Joe action figure of the same vintage of the one for which I had made the original. Having Joe back brought more memories of the pack itself, and I was able to re-create something thematically quite similar. I couldn’t help adding the tiny label, which of course the original lacked, and when I found some very small side release buckles, my internal 10-year-old couldn’t say no.
(And eBay yielded another tiny item which I’m pretty sure I never had: a GI Joe ice axe. It was too good to pass up, so it got incorporated into the new version as well. Interesting to note that I was only 13 – a few short years later – when I got my own ice axe for a backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington: it’s an ice axe I still own and occasionally use.)
The 21st century version of the pack is yet an homage to that era as well: I made it from our 420 Parapack fabric, which back in 1970 was becoming a ubiquitous backpack fabric.
From 1990 until 1999, my business was my retail store/workshop in downtown Santa Cruz, California. For not quite ten years, I walked or rode my bike to work everyday (I only drove once!), along with my dog Faux Pas. Initially, I built every bag myself right there in my shop, though I eventually found a contract manufacturer in Minnesota (Battle Lake Outdoors) to do some of the heavy lifting. Those were some great days — did you ever hear the story about the margaritas and the cops? I digress…
At some point in the middle of all that, the artist Rachel Strickland approached me about her Portable Effects project. Her idea was to document what it was we all carried around with us everyday — what folks now call their EDC, or Every Day Carry. She was interviewing a wide variety of participants, as well as building an installation in the Exploratorium* in San Francisco. As someone who made bags, would I be willing offer my perspective on what people carried? Sure I said, though at the time thinking “Hey, I just make bags — what do I know?”
A decade later, at TOM BIHN headquarters, we were kicking around ideas for a new tagline for the labels that we sew onto our bags. I was reflecting upon Rachel’s project, thinking about what is it that we carry with us, and realizing that our stuff, our EDC, is arguably an embodiment of our personal culture. Then, Darcy came up with “Portable Culture” as our way of reflecting that the stuff we carry everyday, including the bag in which we carry it, can be a small window as to who we are.
A few years ago we let the tagline slip quietly off the label, but some folks said they missed it, and we realized we did too. So here it is again: “Portable Culture” is back on the label, and back in our hearts too.
We’re working with Rachel to see if we can recover footage of my Portable Effects interview. In the meantime, you can watch the other Portable Effects videos here (Rachel’s newer work is also on her Vimeo channel).
*The funny thing is, in the years since Rachel’s Exploratorium installation, I have become somewhat of a wonk about what people carry in their bags. I suppose back in the 90s I thought of myself as more of a bag artiste. But I’ve grown up a little bit, and now I see the broader importance of what I do. And part of what I do now is listening to what people ask for in their bags, and even more importantly observing how folks interact with their bags. So it’s evolved: I’m still a bag artiste, but also now a bag engineer and bag anthropologist. More curious still to me is a personal tangent: I’ve become somewhat obsessed with Frank Oppenheimer and his ideas about science, technological literacy and democracy. Just a couple of years ago, while reading American Prometheus, my father reminded me that Robert’s brother Frank was the one who started the Exploratorium. It’s almost as if it’s all related… 😉
A brief history of TOM BIHN logo labels over the years. See also: History of Portable Culture
Expert Gift Giving Advice
Want help figuring out which bag to give? Give us a call (1-800-729-9607 U.S. & Canada or +1-206-652-4123 other countries) or firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Bag Experts—Mark, Kat, Mike and Matthew—are here and glad to help. Helping people find the right bag is one of our favorite things to do and it’s extra fun when it’s a gift.
Seattle Factory Showroom December Hours
We’re open Monday through Friday from 8:00am – 2:00pm.
Join us for our Factory Showroom Party on Saturday, December 10th from 10:00am – 2:00pm. Tom will be there (we might be able to convince him to do some rope tricks like in the old days at the Santa Cruz shop) and we’ll have hot drinks and lots of cookies. Live music by our friends La Famille Léger from 11:00am – 1:00pm.
Available for purchase 24/7, 365 days a year, Gift Certificates can be a great spontaneous “thank you” or last minute gift. You can even choose to have a gift certificate emailed directly—and instantly—to the recipient (with a gift message!).
Holiday Shipping Schedule
Orders received by 12:30pm Pacific Time are shipped same day; orders received after 12:30pm Pacific Time are shipped the following day. Exception: in preparation for the last guaranteed UPS Ground day, we will be working a late shift on December 15. Please feel free to send us your favorite songs for our “working late” play list. All orders in by 5:00pm will ship the same day.
Happy Thanksgiving! We’re closed today.
Happy Leftovers Day! We’re closed today too.
After a much-deserved four day weekend, the entire crew is back at work for our last debut of 2016. For more on the debut: read the debut thread in our Forums or check out the “Coming Soon” pages for our new designs.
International orders: order today with UPS International Expedited delivery as your best bet for receiving your order by Friday, December 23. Note: UPS does not guarantee this service, but it is estimated at 2–7 days.
Last day for folks on the East Coast and in the Mid-West to place an order with UPS Ground ($10) as their shipping method with delivery by or on Friday, December 23rd. Place your order by 5:00pm Pacific Time to have it shipped same day. And remember: you can still place an order and choose expedited shipping ($20 and up) for December 24th delivery up until Friday, December 23rd!
US orders: last day to select UPS 3 Day Select with guaranteed delivery by or on December 23rd.
US orders: choose UPS 2nd Day Air as your shipping method for delivery by or on December 23rd.
US orders: choose UPS Next Day Air as your shipping method for delivery on December 23rd.
It’s still possible to choose UPS Next Day Air with Saturday delivery for delivery on December 24th. Or if you’re in Seattle, stop by our showroom: we’re here until 2:00pm. 🙂
We will be closed. Hope you enjoy the holiday—that’s what we’ll be doing! Orders received over the holiday will ship Tuesday, December 27th.
P.S.: There’s still the option of ordering a Gift Certificate with instant email delivery.
December 25th and 26th
We’re closed. See you on Tuesday, December 27th!
Every person who has ever purchased a TOM BIHN bag is, in a way, an investor: I cannot put into words how grateful I am that you folks allow me and my company to do what we do. You’re helping us create some good jobs, as well as allowing me to have the time of my life. Thank you.
In the early years of my company, in a time before Kickstarter, I relied from time to time on the generous support of my family and friends. I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently. Often that support took the form of help purchasing a new piece of equipment, or a small infusion of cash to meet a shortfall in income. Sometimes it was a piece of advice, an extension on my rent, or simply an encouraging word. Our business is more or less a success now, and it’s often too easy to forget the tough times we’ve weathered and the kindness that got us through those tough times.
Of far more significance than of the actual dollar value of these investments was the faith that was behind them. They reflect the belief that my family and friends had in me and my endeavor; the belief that I was on the right track and that things would work out — even when sometimes I had serious doubts myself.
A big thanks to those who have helped out and whose faith got me here:
Left: Here I am sewing on my Consew 206RB sewing machine, circa 1988. My workshop was in the corner of David Meeks’ bee barn in the Santa Cruz Mountains. My brother Greg helped me purchase this machine in 1980. (Here’s a whole blog post we did on this very same Consew.) On it I sewed miles and miles of seams; and on it I made all of my early packs (excepting those I made before 1980 — those sewn on my Grandmother’s ancient Singer.)
Right: The 206RB is still in daily service in our factory: Tao sews the trim of every Organizer Pouch on it. Every one. It’s like a monument to my family’s belief in me.
We posted a very early heads-up on our March 1st, 2019 (roughly 6%) price increase in the Forums along with news of Shop Bags in 210d ballistic nylon.
Ben Brooks has published a review of Nik’s Minimalist Wallets and @everydaycommentary posted about his every day carry step up (hint: it includes a Minimalist Wallet!)
Our 2018 Holiday Schedule is up. Check it out for important shipping deadlines and our holiday hours. P.S. Our Seattle Factory Showroom will be open the rare Saturday on December 8th from 10:00am until 2:00pm Pacific Time.
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