Review: Tom Bihn Brain Bag – Built for the Road

Posted by:
Date: Friday, July 9th, 2004, 10:20
Category: Archive

Tom Bihn Brain Bag Laptop BackpackWhen it comes to PowerBook luggage I am partial to backpacks. Sure they may not seem as “cool” as shoulder bags or as hip as a messenger sack, but when you travel with your PowerBook as much as I do, you learn to appreciate the value of a pack on your back (like being able to use both hands, for example). Don’t get me wrong, there are several shoulder bags that I like and I usually use my messenger for short trips with a light payload, but today I am reviewing a laptop backpack from Tom Bihn, a company with a pedigree for quality. Read more…

When it comes to PowerBook luggage I am partial to backpacks. Sure they may not seem as “cool” as shoulder bags or as hip as a messenger sack, but when you travel with your PowerBook as much as I do, you learn to appreciate the value of a pack on your back (like being able to use both hands, for example). Don’t get me wrong, there are several shoulder bags that I like and I usually use my messenger for short trips with a light payload, but today I am reviewing a laptop backpack from Tom Bihn, a company with a pedigree for quality.
The Brain Bag Laptop Backpack (US$140) is billed as Tom Bihn’s Professional Daypack. I have really come to enjoy my plum (purple) Brain Bag for several reasons, the first being overall design. Since having the Brain Bag I have used it to commute from PowerPage headquarters in Philadelphia to Washington D.C., New York City and the New Jersey shore – most times using public transportation – all without incident. The Brain Bag was perfect for a quick overnighter to D.C. because it held my PB and all of its associated gear in the main compartment and a change of clothes and small toiletries kit in the second main pocket. The second main compartment easily expands with four side clips so I am sure that it can hold even more. Expanding pockets can be dangerous however, requiring even more pilates classes than normal. Pack with your head, not over it.
I am also impressed with the super-beefy #10 YKK zippers (not the puny little ones) on the main compartments and the #9 YKKs on the pockets. The fit and finish of all the seams is excellent and Tom and Co. have obviously gone out of their way to build a quality product. The bag is aesthetically pleasing, which should be a given, but isn’t in the world of computer luggage. The Brain Bag has three outer pockets, one top and center that is perfect for an iPod and its accessories (it even has a key clip so you don’t lose ’em), two remaining pockets on the left and right have plently of small places and pen pockets to hold all your gear. The middle area between these two pockets is almost perfect for a compact umbrella which is a boon for me because it rains almost every time I travel to New York, ironically today it didn’t.
The half-inch thick shoulder straps are burly and strong and feature a one-inch sternum strap to keep the bag securely on your back. The back area is padded to protect your precious cargo and features a vented mesh cover to minimize perspiration on those long hikes through The Big Apple to Penn Station.
I don’t really use the two-inch waist strap that much but my years in Boys Scouts taught me the value of one. You see, the waist strap takes a good portion of the load off your shoulder tops and distributes it to the area just above your hips. In fact, when heavily loaded you should be able to remove the shoulder straps and support the entire load of the bag on the waist strap alone.
The Brain Cell laptop sleeve is a US$50 option that is available in six different sizes and features hard sides providing lots of added protection to keep your laptop safe. The Brain Cell sleeve fits neatly inside the backpack connecting to two Molex-type clips that keep it in place. The size 4 Brain Cell was designed to fit the PowerBook G4 15-inch perfectly and features 500 denier Cordura and a stretch mesh front pocket. It also has handles for those days when you want to use the sleeve without the bag.
Be careful when wisking a metal PowerBook into and out of the laptop sleeve though, you need to open up the zippers wide enough so that you don’t accidentally scratch the outer sides of your PowerBook on them. This is not really a problem with the bag per se, but more of a problem with my being lazy and sometimes not unzipping the case wide enough.
My only minor nits with this packpack are that I wish that the top handle wasn’t a snap design that obscures the main (laptop) pocket. The top handle of a backpack gets used a lot when picking it up off the ground and closing the strap is a small puzzle of laying one strap over the other just so, then snapping the two snap closed – which takes time. My other problem with the handle is that it blocks the main compartment, coming between me and PowerBook in those times (like in the car) when I need to quickly reach in and grab my ‘Book. I would be happier if they moved to a single top strap with a padded handle.
Overall, the Brain Bag is a high-quality and rugged piece of PowerBook luggage that is stylish at the same time.

Rating: Four out of Five Bolts.
Tom Bihn Brain Bag with Brain Cell insert.
US$140 www.tombihn.com
800-729-9607
Tom Bihn Brain Bag Laptop Backpack
Figure 1. Note the pseudo-umbrella pocket in the middle, a small mesh pouch that will fit a small water bottle and the three outer pockets.

Tom Bihn Brain Bag Laptop Backpack
Figure 2. The top middle pocket that is perfect for your iPod (note the matching iSkin). This pocket also includes a key clip (not visible) a feature that some vendors seem to overlook.

Tom Bihn Brain Bag Laptop Backpack
Figure 3. The expandable clips on both sides of the bag allow it to grow as needed. Perfect for overnighters when you’d prefer to bring only one bag.

Tom Bihn Brain Bag Laptop Backpack
Figure 4. Note the vented mesh backing and the large one-inch sternum strap and two-inch waist strap.

Tom Bihn Brain Bag Laptop Backpack
Figure 5. The top handle, while strong, takes a few extra seconds to open and close, delaying access to the main laptop compartment.

Recent Posts

Comments are closed.