Tom Bihn bags are cool

I got a new Core Duo laptop a while ago, a HP NW 9440, and its been a pretty good machine so far. Its got a 2GHz processor, 2GB of memory and 100GB 5400 RPM SATA drive. It runs Virtual Server really well, which was my main complaint with my previous laptop. I like the 4 USB ports, 2 on each side, the wireless works well, and I particularly like the big 17" screen.

I have a really nice leather laptop bag from Brookstone that I've had for maybe five years. It had all the right sorts of pockets and compartments, and I had my whole airport security dance perfectly mapped to the bag pockets: LAPTOP OUT - tray, WATCH OFF- pocket 1, WALLET OUT - pocket 2, PHONE OUT - pocket 3, CHANGE OUT - pocket 2, SHOES OFF - tray,  BOARDING PASS - pants pocket, BELT OFF - tray, etc. Recovering on the other side of the x-ray machine was easy (except for when I forget to wear my Rockport loafers.)

The problem was that the new laptop was just too big for my leather bag. I had to take out the padded insert so the laptop would fit, and that left only a thin layer of leather between the laptop and all the hard things in world that I routinely bounce my laptop bag off of.

I browsed around a while looking for suitable bags, and didn't really like anything I saw. I'm not a backpack guy, and the shoulder bags I found were either too small, too big (combined with an overnight suitcase), cheaply made, or just plain ugly. But then I found Tom Bihn, a bag manufacturer based in Seattle. The website has a great feel to it, and the reviews I read were uniformly glowing. The company positions their products well... they have a hint of rebel exclusivity, but without the one-true-religion attitude you get with, say,  Apple products. Tom Bihn bags are a bit on the pricey side, but not as expensive as the Brookstone bag I had purchased 5 years ago.

I ended up ordering a bright red Super Ego bag with a Brain Cell padded insert which doubles as a lightweight laptop carrying case, which I've had for about 6 weeks now. The ordering and shipping process was easy and flawless... the bag arrived in my office two days after I ordered it. I've made eight flights with the bag and laptop so far (yeah, its been a busy month), and I have to say that I like it a whole lot. First and foremost, the Brain Cell insert really does the job of protecting the laptop. I have no concerns banging the bag around on the airplane or in the car. The bag itself is built like a NASCAR roll cage... it is  really well put together. Heavy material, thorough and neat stitching, everything taped the way it should be. The main zipper is a Uretek-coated YKK #8 that is absolutely water and snag proof, so there's no way the laptop is going to get wet in there. The pocket arrangement took a little while to get used to, but it works out well, and I've revised my security dance to accomodate them. The big front pocket could use a little more room, but everything I normally carry fits ok. There's even a little clip-on strap to hang my Bose headset case on, something the Brookstone bag doesn't have.

There are only two things I don't like about the bag. The first one is a minor issue... the back pocket covers the whole back side of the bag and is basically flat. It is designed to hold a file folder or a couple of magazines, which it does just fine. But I really want to put a couple of books in there, and the flat pocket doesn't accomodate them very well. I'd love to see the back pocket be expandable to an inch or two. My Brookstone bag has the same problem, by the way.

The other thing is more problematic. The shoulder strap is not very comfortable. First off, it doesn't have an elastic suspension like my Brookstone bag has. I didn't realize how nice it was for the strap to give a little when you throw it over your shouder until I hefted my fully-packed Bihn bag. I could feel the 20 pounds dropping on my shoulder all the way down in my lower back. And although the pad on the Tom Bihn strap is pretty thick, it's covered in some sort of high friction non skid material that will strip the skin off your shoulder before it will slide over it. I may have to resort to some goofy lambskin pad or something. And for some reason, I manage to get the strap twisted up in the pad (the pad slides over the strap with a simple sleeve) at least once a day, which requires some fiddling to undo.

Anyway, I highly recommend the bag and the company. Here's a cool little video clip of an interview with Tom Bihn, and a tour of the factory floor (all made here in the USA).


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