Guides & How To

Tote Bags: Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of questions (and answers) that we’re asked — or anticipate we will be asked — about our various tote bag designs. If you have a question that wasn’t answered here, feel free to emailus@tombihn.com.

  1. You offer five different tote bag designs (not counting different sizes). Can you tell me a little about each of them?
  2. Which of the tote designs is right for me?
  3. Why do you offer so many different tote bag designs?
  4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a tote bag with a zipper top?
  5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a tote bag with an open top?
  6. How do people typically use their tote bags?
  7. Which of the totes can be carried on the shoulder as well as in hand?
  8. Have you considered making the handles/shoulder straps adjustable in length?
  9. What are the key differences between a tote and a duffel bag?
  10. I want to add some additional organization to my tote. Which accessories fit in which totes?
  11. If I knew I was going to be stranded on a deserted island, which tote bag would you recommend that I take with me?
  12. I’m planning to take Ulysses by James Joyce, a water filter, my pet rock, an antique sugar bowl, a small adze, a picnic blanket, a jumbo bag of salt water taffy, and some antibiotics in case I need them for my pet rock. So, which tote?

Pre-Orders: Frequently Asked Questions

You don’t need to read this FAQ to place a Pre-Order: it’s a pretty straight-forward process, so just go for it if that’s what you’d like to do.

If you’d like to know in advance everything there is to know about Pre-Orders, here you go! Below is a list of questions that we anticipated might be asked. If you have a question that wasn’t answered here, feel free to emailus@tombihn.com.

  1. Can you give me a quick summary of how pre-order works?
  2. How do you define “pre-order”?
  3. When is my credit card charged for a pre-order?
  4. Can I ask you for updates on the progress of my pre-order?
  5. Can I cancel my pre-order and receive a refund?
  6. Can I return the bag that I pre-ordered once I receive it?
  7. Can I change the color of the bag I pre-ordered?
  8. I’ve placed a pre-order that will ship in 2-8 weeks. Can I add bags to that existing pre-order?
  9. I placed a pre-order and it shipped earlier than expected! Nice. How’d that happen?
  10. Will all new designs be introduced for pre-order?
  11. What’s the best way to be notified once a new design is available for pre-order?
  12. Can you accept pre-orders (backorders) for stock items?
  13. Hey, didn’t you used to offer backorders and pre-orders up until three or four years ago?
  14. Is it possible for a pre-order to “sell out”?
  15. How long will a pre-order be open?
  16. If a pre-order sells out, when will you offer the next pre-order?
  17. Why can’t you make enough bags to satisfy all pre-orders?
  18. How, and when, does a pre-order design become a stock design?
  19. When a bag is offered for pre-order, will there be any distinction made between limited run and stock items? That is, will it be clear which items will only be offered for a limited time, vs. those you expect to have on hand for the foreseeable future?
  20. Will the color options for pre-orders be the same as a regular run? For example, say I really want Bag X in Steel/Iberian, but the pre-order colors don’t include that combo. Can I find out if the regular run will have it?
  21. What’s all this about some retired designs possibly being offered for pre-order at a later time?

The Aeronaut Travel Bag: Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of questions (and answers) that we’re asked — or anticipate we will be asked — about the Aeronaut 30 and Aeronaut 45 travel bags. If you have a question that wasn’t answered here, feel free to emailus@tombihn.com

  1. How did Tom come up with the design of the Aeronaut?
  2. What does Tom consider to be some of the more unique features and aspects of the Aeronaut design?
  3. Does the Aeronaut meet with all airline carry-on standards?
  4. Will the Aeronaut fit under the seat in front of me on the airplane?
  5. Is the Aeronaut a good bag for road trips or train trips too?
  6. Can I use the Aeronaut as a hiking backpack once I reach my destination?
  7. What if I’m traveling to a conference and I want to “one bag” it—will it work to carry my Aeronaut as my Everyday Carry (EDC) bag?
  8. How much of a difference do the optional Aeronaut Internal Frame and Padded Hip Belt make? Do I need them?
  9. Can I use just the Internal Frame or just the Padded Hip Belt, or are both necessary?
  10. Why not just include the Internal Frame and sew in the Padded Hip Belt?
  11. I’m trying to choose between between the Aeronaut and the Synapse 25. Help me out here: what are the advantages of each?
  12. Is a shoulder strap included with the Aeronaut?
  13. How can I pack my Aeronaut so as to maximize comfort for sustained carrying?
  14. Are Packing Cubes necessary for packing the Aeronaut efficiently?
  15. What are the benefits of using Packing Cubes?
  16. How do people use the o-rings in the Aeronaut?
  17. What’s the maximum weight that the Aeronaut can hold?
  18. I use wheeled roll-aboard luggage now. Will the Aeronaut work better than that for me?
  19. Does the Aeronaut have a compartment for my laptop?
  20. Have you considered adding a laptop compartment to the Aeronaut?
  21. What causes the zippers on the Aeronaut to be a little stiff?
  22. Can I lock the zippers of my Aeronaut?
  23. I’m 5’2″ and not so big. Which size of Aeronaut is right for me?
  24. I’m 6’2” and pretty big. Is the Aeronaut for me?

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

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

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

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

Synapse 25

Accessories used:

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

Western Flyer


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

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

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 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.

TOM BIHN Crew
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.

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

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

Part I: The Aeronauts 45 and 30

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

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

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

Aeronaut 45

Accessories Used

Just a Few:

00:50   Key Strap, 16”

A Few More:

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

Aeronaut 30

Accessories Used

Just a Few:

00:44   3D Clear Organizer Cube

A Few More:

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

 

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

Packing Cubes: Frequently Asked Questions

Aeronaut 45 Travel Bag with Packing Cubes by TOM BIHN
The Aeronaut 45 with its Aeronaut 45 Packing Cubes.

Below is a list of questions (and answers) that we’re often asked about Packing Cubes. If you have a question that wasn’t answered here, feel free to emailus@tombihn.com If you’d like to see all of our Packing Cube offerings, go here.

What are the main benefits of Packing Cubes?
What are the downsides of Packing Cubes?
How do I use Packing Cubes?
How necessary are Packing Cubes?
Should I fold, roll, or bundle pack my clothes in Packing Cubes?
Are Packing Cubes only for clothes?
How do the Laundry Travel Stuff Sack and Laundry Packing Cubes work?
Travel Stuff Sacks vs. Packing Cubes: can you explain the differences, and which should I choose?
How do the Packing Cube Backpacks work?
What are the differences between All Aether and Mesh/Aether Packing Cubes?
Will you ever make “compression” Packing Cubes?
Could you make Packing Cubes out of the fabric used to make your Pocket Travel Pillow? It’s light and silky.
Some bags have Packing Cubes specifically designed and sized for them. Which Packing Cubes do I use for bags that don’t, like the Synapse 25 or Maker’s Bag?

A TOM BIHN Cocktail for New Year’s

When @icarusrex posted his “TOM BIHN Travel Bar” set-up on the Forums, we had an idea: we could ask him to craft a TOM BIHN cocktail.

We polled the crew here at TB about their favorite cocktails and mixed drinks and shared that with
@icarusrex for inspiration. Here’s the cocktails he came up with (of course, we had to test the recipes, and yes they’re very good) plus a couple of amateur creations of our own, just in time for New Year’s.

Alcoholic Drinks

TB Cocktail (Sweet & Spicy)

1 1/2 oz. bourbon whiskey (@icarusrex used Elijah Craig 12 Year; we used Woodinville Whiskey Company)
1/2 oz. Zirpenz Stone Pine Liqueur (see note below)
1/2 oz. real maple syrup
3 oz. ginger beer (@icarusrex used Goslings; we used Trader Joe’s)

Shake bourbon, pine liqueur and maple syrup with ice and pour in a glass with ice. Top with ginger beer. Substitute honey syrup for maple syrup for a different flavor.

Note: We had difficulty finding the Zirpenz Stone Pine Liqeur, so we got a little creative; we brewed Douglas Fir tea, made ice cubes out of it, and added that to the drink, replacing the liquid with…. more whiskey.

Northwest Sky AKA Seattle Seagull* or “tastes like you’d expect”) (our own amateur cocktail creation)

1 1/2 oz. Tito’s Vodka
Sparkling water to fill the glass

Salt the rim of a small mason jar, camping mug, or whatever you happen to have around. Add ice cubes, packed snow, or icicles. Pour in vodka and sparkling water.

*Years ago when Tom managed the AYH hostel in Santa Cruz, he met a laconic young man from Denmark who claimed to have been raised in Greenland.

“Wow… tell me something about life in Greenland. What do you recall from living there?”

After some moments of thought, the young man replied “I remember we ate seagulls.”

“So… what do seagulls taste like?” Tom had to ask.

After some further long moments of reflection, the young man shrugged and said “pretty much like you’d expect.”

Seagulls, it turns out, taste like you’re expect them to.

Ever since then Tom has used this story to illustrate a situation when something is more or less self explanatory.

Non-Alcoholic Drinks

TB Non-Alcoholic Cocktail

2 oz. apple juice or apple cider
1/2 oz. real maple syrup or honey syrup
3 oz. ginger beer

Mix in a glass of your choice. Garnish with curled lemon or orange peel.

Cucumber and Fir Non-Alcoholic Cocktail

Sparkling water
3 Cucumber slices
Douglas Fir for garnish
Optional: Douglas Fir Ice Cubes*

Combine sparkling water with two cucumber slices and ice in a glass. Cut the third cucumber slice as a garnish and add it to the rim of the glass along with a piece of Douglas Fir. This very simple drink is quite refreshing, especially for those who prefer a less sweet taste.

*Douglas Fir Ice Cubes
To make: brew Douglas Fir tea. Either collect your own Douglas Fir spring tips (the very bright green, new growth of the tree; take care not to collect all of the tips from the same tree, or same section of the tree) in the spring and dry them for use year ’round or purchase this ready-to-go tea from Juniper Ridge. Let the tea cool and pour it in an ice cube tray. Freeze.

Many thanks again to @icarusrex. See also: his article on Mile High Bartending.

Tom’s Simplified and (nearly) Painless 2017 Holiday Gift Guide

Tom Bihn Listening to Audibooks While Designing

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: when we sent this post out to our email newsletter list yesterday morning, 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.

Cookbooks
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
Sohan Qadri: The Seer by by Various (Editor)

Books For Kids
Big Red Barn and Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Matilda by Roald Dahl

Magazines (print or digital) 
Astronomy 
Nautilus 
The New Yorker

How to Choose a Bag to Give as a Gift

How To Choose A Bag As A Gift | Made in USA Gifts | Made in Seattle Gifts

In this guide, we share some of our favorite bags to give as gifts (hey Pop Tote, Yeoman Duffel, Travel Cubelet and The Guide’s Edition Synapse 25 — we’re talking about you!) and what to do if you aren’t sure which bag to choose for the lucky recipient.

News Briefs

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

We don’t have any current plans to make future production runs of The Hero’s Journey or Moveable Feast. You can sign up on their pages to be notified if/when we make more.

Three of our most popular briefcases are back in-stock: the Pilot, Cadet, and Daylight Briefcase.

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