Love this sketch card of a classic Tom Bihn Synik bag and the things you can pack into it. Comes slotted into one of the cardholders in their equally classic Nik’s Minimal Wallet. Both amazing products for everyday and traveling uses.
Evergoods’ Undyed Mountain Pack Performed Like a Champ at the Fair
I was so enamored with Evergoods’ choice to go undyed with a set of their bags to build a more earth-friendly line-up, I had to get one. Notably, this was my pack of choice for the Minnesota State Fair this year... yes, a bold choice for a place likely to amass grime on all who pass through).
Luckily, the Mountain Hip Pack 3.5L performed like a champ. Was there ever any doubt it wouldn’t?
I comfortably packed cash, a wallet, wad of keys, battery pack, a map, tickets, a can of SPAM (you had to be there), sunglasses after dark, a headband, and an 18oz Hydroflask in the outer “sleeve” pocket. With room to spare. It's a great size, though I kept this slung across the chest -- seems like it'd look too big on the waist, but who am I to say.
A lot of customers like the strap on this one, and I can see why — two buckle clips keep it attached to the bag, so you can sling in any which way (waist, right-side or left-side across torso), and it's perfectly comfortable to take on/off and slide around. It also comes with two built-in strap keepers that operate incredibly well.
Overall, it's a very comfortable, functional sling that reliably persevered through a nine-hour maraud through the fair. Shockingly, it didn't get a speck of dirt on it, either.
It. Is. Terrific.
Evergoods' Undyed Collection is Pragmatic Sustainable Manufacturing
One of my favorite bag brands, Evergoods, has announced a new line of products under the banner “Undyed Collection”. This is terrific for a few reasons:
- We all want to put our money where our mouth is – they started down this path with the Solution-Dyed variant for their black-clad bags, and this is a formidable advancement of this by way of not dying materials at all
- They’ve taken a realistic approach to doing this that avoids the common trap of greenwashing – it’s a reduction of process and resources that makes perfect sense for optimizing their current manufacturing process
As they describe:
Once the kinks of solution-dyed were worked out and the program was running reliably, it seemed a natural step to replicate this dyebath-free process with regular undyed yarn. Our mill had already anticipated this and had sample yardage available in short order. We unrolled the first lots on our cutting table in Bozeman.
The dull, off-white raw material had an experimental NASA feeling to it and was somehow more interesting and nuanced than the black we had been staring at for the past year and a half. It also came with a disclaimer from the mill. “Inconsistent color quality, staining, dirt, machine oil and other defects that would normally be washed out or covered over during the dying stage are to be expected and considered unavoidable.”
And as a YKK zipper fanatic, I love this small detail about trying to work with the Japanese company to get a raw cut version of their zipper to reflect their approach for this collection:
We exclusively use YKK zippers, and while they offer a variety of finishes, some of which appear more like raw cast metal, they simply would not supply us with unfinished sliders for this project over concerns about quality and long-term performance. I guess I can’t blame them. Everyone would be bummed if the zippers got weird, and it would all end up a waste anyway. So I respect their position.
Looking forward to seeing the product drop and their photography of the new products, which happens tomorrow (August 15). It’s phenomenal to see a great brand continuing to iterate and improve their processes for the betterment of the planet while retaining integrity within reason.
The Tom Bihn Store
When we were planning our Pacific Northwest crawl and decided to head into Seattle for a few days to visit family, it was an inevitability that there would be a stop into the manufacturing facility (plus embedded retail store) of one my favorite bag brands, Tom Bihn.
Located south of downtown Seattle in the Industrial District, Tom Bihn sits inside a long building housing a number of other functions, like Two Beers Brewing Co., Fulcrum Coffee Roasters, and Seattle Cider. It's a quiet little spot amidst the bustle of trucks moving in and out of the area. All of Tom Bihn's bag manufacturing happens here, so there's significant space in the building to accommodate the materials and sewing of products. But they're also open Monday through Friday from 6:30 am - 3:00pm ("more or less") for walk-ins to check the place out and peruse available goods. All the items in the corner shop are the same ones tied to their website inventory, so you know exactly what to expect.
When we stepped inside, a fellow named Cody emerged from the manufacturing floor and greeted us. He happened to the same person who helped my wife get a faster delivery of her new Synik 30 bag in time for this very trip, so it was perfect that he was there the day we visited. The store is really just a few peg walls and a long table cutting through the middle of the space, where Cody brought in and laid out a few items in which we were interested in seeing various colors.
They've also set up a vertical mirror for you to check the fit and style on your person, and covered the border of it with customers' submitted photos of sporting their bags all around the world. Felt very restaurant 90s, and I loved it.
Ashley decided on picking up a Side Hustle in Ursa Ballistic, which ended up as a perfect travel companion as we marauded up the rest of the west coast into British Columbia. If you're a Tom Bihn fan, it's absolutely worth the trip into their HQ, even if you end up just getting a few more of their endlessly useful swivel double-carabiners. And if you're in the area, curious about quality, USA-built bags for almost any context, it's definitely worth the visit. I only wish we had more time to ask for a full tour of the facility and to check out the really neat fabrics/materials they have on deck (like Halcyon).
The Joy of Using the Tom Bihn Zip-Top Shop Bag
You have to love the Tom Bihn brand of bags and accessories. They make a great portfolio of products here in the USA (Seattle), all produced with a high level of quality, thoughtful design, material options, many many colors, and, of course, have the brilliant O-ring connected ecosystem.
One of their products shines in its utilitarian genius: the Zip-Top Shop Bag. Like you, I've tried a dozen shop totes that either cost me a couple bucks or were handed out free at some event/magazine subscription. I absolutely advocate for deploying re-usable bags for shopping of any kind. But the bag has to be good to be usable. And most tote bags are complete shit. The Zip-Top Shop Bag is not shit. In fact, it is the best tote bag ever made.
The biggest issue most generic tote bags have is the handle. This critical feature of the bag is often the most poorly designed part of the bag. So often are companies fixated on having their logo or some kind of visual slapped on the side of the bag that they forget you're actually going to be using the bag to tote items around from their store (or other stores). Oftentimes you're loading things into this bag, and then commuting with it a short distance back to your car, or a longer distance on a bus or bike. Thus, the handle needs to be comfortable at all times. It shouldn't dig into your palms like it wants to cut them off when you've aptly used the bag and stuffed it full of groceries. It shouldn't feel flimsy, like it's going to shred off its stitches if the load is too much for its inadequately-constructed purpose. It should work like a dream.
You know what works like a dream? The Tom Bihn Zip-Top Shop Bag. Just look at those handles. They are C-U-S-H-I-O-N-E-D. Brilliant idea. Why did no else thing of that? I wish I knew. Most don't care about your enjoyment or ease of use in toting their tote bag around. But Tom Bihn cares. It cares so much that it designed one of the best handles ever made for a bag. What's crazy is that Tom Bihn pitches the bag with the following, simple bullet-point:
"Has comfortable padded handles"
What an understatement. What modesty. This bag's handles do not disappoint in anyway. No matter the load, it feels like you're holding air -- it does some kind of magic in making you feel like the weight is lessened, and you could carry it forever. I would score them a perfect rating. For the purposes of a tote bag, look no further -- the Zip-Top Shop Bag is the best one on the market.
Okay, Aside from the Handle?
What else is great about it? It has a plethora of other amazing features that elevate it to god-like status.
- Zip-top: Obvious, but important to note. This bag zips with a slick pair of YKK zippers centered perfectly at the top of the bag. So you can enclose things in there. It's nice. Also worth noting is a slightly cheaper version of the is bag, called the Original Shop Bag, that does not come with a zipper. But it has the handles!
- Interior Pockets: Kind of important. Maybe. Depends on how or if you care to use them. Two deep pockets line the interior sides of the tote. Nice to have.
- O-Rings: It's got two of them, right under the zipper line inside the bag. The O-Ring ecosystem is great -- you can clip damn near anything to these things, like your keys! or a carabiner!, and Tom Bihn has a plethora of little accessories that natively clip in as well. Endlessly useful.
- You Can Shoulder It: Yeah, the handles are awesome. But Tom Bihn also engineered this bag to fit perfectly on your shoulder. So you have two carry styles: holding it with the handles (and even holding the handles, the bag hovers above the ground), or toss it on your shoulder. It fits nice and snug. Comfortable.
- Materials: Lastly, the material options for this bag are fantastic. Like most of their other bags, Tom Bihn usually offers several materials options when selecting your bag, in addition to a dizzying array of colors. I've seen the Shop Bag featured in several classic Tom Bihn materials, including Cerylon, Cotton Twill, 1000 Cordura, Ruff Stuff, Textured Nylon, and Ballistic. As with most of their products, much of your choice will depend on availability or whether they're doing another production run. I can vouch that this bag rules in both cerylon and ballistic.
So those are the main features of the Zip-Top Shop Bag. It's the best tote bag on the market. Buy one if you truly want to give those other incompetent tote bags a rest, and have this truly be the last tote bag you own. That way, you can finally stop collecting random ones that end up in a landfill.
Aer Travel Pack 2 - A Very Good One Bag Travel Kit
I picked up Aer's flagship product, the Travel Pack 2, last year in preparation of work travel ramping up (note - that link goes to the just-released Travel Pack 3, as they just retired their second version of this bag). Nearly two years into the pandemic, but with waning restrictions (alas, pre-Omicron thinking at the time), I figured I'd want an even more streamlined travel operation than I had prior (usually my Evergoods CPL24 paired with a Goruck Kit, or if I'm ambitious, just the Evergoods CPL24).
As usual, I spent an inordinate amount of time researching my options — and there are a shocking number of options. No longer is the technical material/hardcore design/one-bagging niche a small industry anymore; from my pattern of research, it's massive. There are dedicated bloggers/vloggers, endless kickstarter projects or post-kickstart projects that grew into huge successes, there are niches within niches, and there is shortage of intricate viewpoints on what the preferred array of attributes should be, from size, capacity, opening style, pocket placement, zipper pulls, weight, shoulder strap padding, grab handles/locations, on and on, it's overwhelming. I knew this. You probably knew this. But I continued to research anyway.
Good news, I have a few perspectives on this subject, and in particular, the subject of this review — I selected the Aer Travel Pack 2. Curiously enough, about 6 months later, I'm selling this bag to double-down on the Evergoods CPL version 2, but let me not get ahead of myself. The Aer Travel Pack 2 is an excellent, satisfying choice for being a de facto one bag solution for travel. Let me tell you why.
At 33 liters, this is a few liters short of many similar-sized "carry on" backpacks in the space. Usually you see 35L or 40L. 45L seemed to large, and even 40L was pushing it. 33L is a sweet spot. If you can't set yourself up for a week's travel within the confines of 33-35 liters, you're doing it wrong.
I comfortably fit two loaded Tom Bihn shoulder bag packing cubes, a Peak Design small travel cube, Tom Bihn grab bag (for toiletries), a tech kit, extra batteries, notebook, hardcover book, MacBook Pro, and iPad 11 in in there without a problem, and had plenty of room to cinch the bag with its compression straps. This is my usual 3-4 day load out for work travel or personal travel (in autumn/winter months, given weather conditions), so if it can be accomplished in the bag, we're good. As part of this experiment in using this larger bag, I also had been packing a Tom Bihn briefcase rolled up so I could deploy as my laptop bag upon arrival. This system works well, since you do not want to lug the Aer around as your daily bag upon your destination — it's too big for that.
Material & Build Quality
This is an Aer bag, so you likely know what to expect if you've seen or used their hardware before. It's a very sleek, slick, tough ballistic nylon exterior that deflects lint, pet hair, and debris of any kind. Inner materials and organizing pockets are the same cookie-cutter layouts and style from other Aer bags, but that isn't a bad thing -- it's functional. And there are plenty of pockets and places to stash your stuff.
The best, most thoughtful pocket is the top "access" one right next to the primary handle. The worst, most disappointing pocket is the outer-lower pocket that defines the middle zipline when facing the bag. Another disappointment is the pockets lacking their own capacities. Once you have the luxury of pockets offering individual capacities in Evergoods products, it's hard to adjust to anything but.
Lastly, the zippers are chunky YKKs, and they rule. Aquaguard ziplines on most of the main openings.
Clamshell & Compression
The bag opens clamshell, like all good travel bags (or honestly, EDC bags). So, like a suitcase, if you've never used a bag like this before. It's the best way to load and organize your carry. That's all.
This bag also has compression straps to either shrink the bag for lighter loads (dimensionally), or to shrink down a fully loaded bag. This is both a blessing and a curse: the straps look great and work great. They also block the primary zipper for the body of the bag, requiring you to unclip the straps every time you want to open the main contents of the bag. They do not block the laptop backpanel pocket or the slimmer external front pocket, though, which is a nice design touch — this lets you grab pens/books/notepads/computer/whatever you store there that you might easily need access to while on the go and not at your hotel yet.
The Aer Travel Pack 2 carries like a breeze. It's very cushy, airy, and uncumbersome for most medium-to-heavy loads. I never tired of having on my back, and didn't bother buying the harness straps (though I do realize it's the smart thing to do for heavy loads). I'd say it sits normally on your back — you don't need to ride it high or do anything special. Just toss it on your back.
I really enjoyed using this bag. If I wanted to continue going down the route of one-bag, one trip, screw the luxury of more than 33 liters of space, I would never stop using it. But the siren call of a different kind of load out kit for traveling overrode my enjoyment of the one bag dream here. I have slight regrets in selling it, but at the same time, have no restraint in telling you that it is worth getting if you're stuck on deciding whether to go with this or the plethora of other (probably also good) bags out there, like Peak Design's 45L Travel Bag, the Pakt Travel Backpack, the Nomatic 40L, Evergoods Travel Bag 35L, Tom Bihn Aeronaut/Techonaut, or the Minaal Carry On. This is elite bag culture bullshit, sure, but I did my homework, and there you have it.