Top-Loader Backpacks: a Blast From the Past

Any sort of bag or backpack that needs to get closed up tight requires, well . . . a closure. It’s likely that the very earliest closure used was a draw cord threaded through holes punched in the top edge of the bag’s material (which was likely animal skin), then pulled tight by the user and tied shut. If Ötzi had carried a backpack, it likely would have utilized a drawcord closure. Things bumped along this way for thousands of years; somewhere along the line some clever person added a flap over the opening to keep the contents of the bag from being exposed to weather – making this flap into a pocket was an obvious next step.

Fast forward to the late the 19th / early 20th centuries, and zippers are invented (finally). Zippers have made their way onto bags and backpacks in the decades since, and mostly we’re all pretty happy about that: zippers provide a secure and convenient closure, and it’s hard to imagine a backpack entirely without them. (We use the very best quality YKK zippers out there, and that means that with appropriate use and care they’ll last a long time. Don’t use a zipper to compress the load, and if something gets jammed in the slider, don’t just yank it harder. Many of the packs I made back in the 1970’s still have functioning zippers, though some are stiff and cranky . . . a bit like me.)

When we set off to design The Guide’s Pack, we were inspired by the simplicity and elegance of backpacks that were made in the mid-20th century; most of these utilized zippers only for their pockets, and relied upon the (even then) very old school technology of a drawcord closure for their main compartment. I started making backpacks long before drawcord closures were “retro”, and appreciate from experience how completely bombproof the system is: not only is it almost impossible to break a drawcord closure, the very act of loading the bag and cinching the cord can be a great way to compress the bulkiness of your load. Packing one of our top loading backpack feels less finicky too: you can stuff away to your heart’s content without fear of buggering a zipper; since it’s not humanly possible to blow out the side seams, have at it.

Now we’ve added a second drawcord closure, top-loader pack to our line-up: the Shadow Guide. It’s a further riff on the simplicity of the drawcord design, plus it’s the only pack in our line-up with Cache loops to accommodate even the largest 17” laptops.

Top loaders aren’t for everyone. Some folks will always prefer the greater access that a well-designed zippered closure can give. It’s sort of like choosing to drive manual over automatic. For those who do appreciate top loaders, here’s some tips on packing a top loader like The Guide’s Pack or the Shadow Guide:

— Stuff the stuff that you may not need access to in the bottom main compartment of the pack. (Perhaps your rain shell or warm extra layer, depending on where you live.)

— Above or on top of that, your lunch and water bottle.

— Laptop (if carrying) against the back of the pack.

— Quick access items in the mesh pockets on the underside of the top hatch: keys, phone, wallet, etc.

— And in the top hatch pocket itself: first aid kit, flashlight, other EDC items, pouch of cords and dongles.

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New: Nik’s Minimalist Wallets, Road Buddy Duffels, Shadow Guide + Tom’s Firewood Carrier


A true test of patience: the dogs wait for green beans as patiently as we’ve been waiting to share these new designs with you. In this photo: the Road Buddy 36 (along with a Yeoman Duffel).

Meet our latest designs….

Click the name to go directly to the pages for the new designs to see all the details: photos, specifications, full descriptions and more. Click “Full Summary” or keep scrolling to read on below for a summary of each of the new designs. You can also sign up on the individual pages for each new design to be notified the moment they’re made available for order.
 

Nik’s Minimalist Wallets
1 elastic strap, 2 halves, 3 wallet designs: everything you need and nothing you don’t.
(Full Summary)
 

Road Buddy Duffel 36 & Road Buddy Duffel 60
An ever-evolving duffel design; successor to the Skookum Dog Road Duffel and heir to the Road Buddy throne. A good amount of built-in organization.
(See also: the optional additional Road Buddy Lash Straps)
(Full Summary)
 

Shadow Guide
If the original Guide’s Pack is a fully realized sketch, the limited edition Shadow Guide is the version of the sketch with several brush strokes removed — what the sketch conveys remains clear, but with an end experience of true simplicity.
(See also: the optional Shadow Guide Padded Hip Belt)
(Full Summary)
 

Tom’s Firewood Carrier
The firewood carrier Tom made for his dad and his friends in the mid-1970’s.
(Full Summary)
 

All of these new designs are in production at our Seattle, Washington, USA factory. They will be available for order on Monday, November 26th around 8:00am-ish PT and will ship the same day if ordered before 12:30pm PT (as long as they’re still in stock).
 

Nik’s Minimalist Wallets

Nik's Minimalist Wallet

Not so long ago, Nik realized he wasn’t satisfied with his old leather wallet. Its exposed stitching was failing and, as Nik repaired the wallet, he realized he could design a new, more minimalist wallet that he’d be happier with overall.

In designing and making his new wallet, Nik’s main design criteria were to keep the design as simple as possible with as little bulk as possible so that the wallet could comfortably be carried in one’s back or front pants pocket (in addition, of course, to being carried in one’s bag).

Nik also wanted to keep the design clean, and to him that meant hiding as much of the typically exposed stitching as possible. He imagined and made real a series of internal folds that — after the final action of turning the wallet inside out post-construction process — created pockets for cards/cash and achieved that seamless look he was after.

Nik made three four versions of his wallets based on the feedback from the crew here at TOM BIHN and the Forums:

Wallet #1
Nik’s original wallet and the most minimalist of them all. Two interior fabric pockets. No exterior pockets.

Wallet #2
Two interior pockets — one pocket is fabric, the other pocket is clear urethane for your ID or any other card you might want to show off. No exterior pockets. 

Wallet #3
Two interior pockets: one is fabric, the other is clear urethane. And this time, there’s one exterior pocket. 

Wallet #4
Nik and Fong worked together on the day the wallets debuted to make this version in response to feedback from members of the TOM BIHN Forums. Wallet #4 is exactly the same as Wallet #3 except for one key (ha ha… meh) difference: a small webbing loop through which gives you the ability to securely and conveniently tether your Wallet #4 to any TOM BIHN bag with O-rings. You’ll need a Key Strap to do this, but given that all of our larger bags come with one 8″ Key Strap in Black, you probably already have one. If you don’t: see our various styles, lengths, and colors of Key Straps here

Status
In Production in Seattle, Washington, USA

Ready To Order / Ships On…
Monday, November 26th at 8:00am Pacific Time

Colors
Black, Viridian, Dawn, Grass, Cloud, Coyote, Island (210d ballistic) and Nordic, Black (400d Halcyon)

 

Road Buddy Duffel 36 and Road Buddy Duffel 60

Tried and proved true over 20 years (with a few updates along the way), the Road Buddy Duffel is our take on the go everywhere, go anywhere duffel bag: tough as nails, easy on the eyes, all with a good amount of built-in organization.

Three main compartments. Seven organizational pockets. Lash straps for securing a tripod, yoga mat, or Camp Mat to the outside of the duffel. Carry by hand or over the shoulder.

Available in two different sizes:
Road Buddy Duffel 36 Liters
Road Buddy Duffel 60 Liters

Status
In Production in Seattle, Washington, USA

Ready To Order / Ships On…
Monday, November 26th at 8:00am Pacific Time

Colors
Black, Navy, Verde, Steel Burnt Orange, and Aubergine 1050d ballistic nylon.

Also Available:
Road Buddy Lash Straps

 

Shadow Guide

Shadow Guide - a backpack with an internal frame

If the original Guide’s Pack is a fully realized sketch, the limited edition Shadow Guide is the version of the sketch with several brush strokes removed — what the sketch conveys remains clear, but with an end experience of true simplicity.

Two minor additions of webbing serve to add major functionality: first, interior loops to which you can secure the optional Cache laptop sleeve. (Note: all existing sizes of our Cache sleeve fit in the Shadow Guide — even the Cache 17B for the Razer Blade Pro.) And second, an unobtrusive webbing loop on the bottom to which one can affix a Guardian Light if biking or walking.

Status
In Production in Seattle, Washington, USA

Ready To Order / Ships On…
Monday, November 26th at 8:00am Pacific Time

Colors
Black 525d ballistic nylon / 1050d ballistic nylon

Also available:
Shadow Guide Padded Hip Belt

 

Tom’s Firewood Carrier

Tom's Firewood Carrier

Back in the mid 1970’s, I made a firewood carrier for my father and a couple extras for friends. The design was nothing new or revolutionary, but it did its job: schlepping 3-5 firewood logs from the woodshed to the hearth. When my father passed away in 2016, I inherited the original carrier I had made all those years before. Now, over 40 years later, I use the thing almost daily in the winter months.

Darcy posted a photo of the original firewood carrier on Instagram and a few people asked us if we’d offer it someday — so here it is. Just like the original version it’s made of heavy cotton canvas — a material I’ve been re-learning recently.

— Tom

Status
In Production in Seattle, Washington, USA

Ready To Order / Ships On…
Monday, November 26th at 8:00am Pacific Time

Colors
Forest/Brown Heavy duty #8 Cotton Canvas

Read more...

New: Freudian Slips in Grass, Island, Cloud

The Synapse 19 Freudian Slip in Grass
The Synapse 19 Freudian Slip in Grass.

Previously available in Black only, our Freudian Slip organizational insert will soon be available in three new colors: Grass, Cloud, and Island*

The new colors make it even easier to see the contents of the Freudian Slip inside your bag and offer you a chance to either match or contrast the lining color of your bag. Keep it neutral with Cloud or go primary with Grass or Island.

You can sign up now on the Freudian Slip page to be notified the moment we add them to the website for order (that’ll be around 10:00am Pacific Time this Friday, October 26th.)

*You may be wondering: why not also offer the Freudian Slip in 210 ballistic colors Dawn and Viridian? We’re saving our Dawn and Viridian fabric to make sure we can make enough of the bags those two colors are most popular in. It’s possible we might offer Freudian Slips in those two colors someday, but no guarantees.

TOM BIHN Freudian Slip in Grass


The Small Cafe Bag Freudian Slip in Cloud.

The Freudian Slip in Island
The Medium Cafe Bag Freudian Slip in Island.

The Freudian Slip in Island

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News Briefs

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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