If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know I evangelize the benefits of one bag travel. My go-to bag for the last ten years has been the RedOxx AirBoss, but I regularly get questions about Tom Bihn bags.
My 5-11 Rush 24 work backpack was starting to fall apart, and in my quest to find the "best" bag for me, I spend three months reviewing various bags. Here is my review of the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 backpack.
The Tom Bihn Synapse 25 should be considered an Every day Carry (EDC) type of bag. While reviewing the bag, I wanted to evaluate :
- the capacity
- will it last
- the look
- daily use experience
I own many RedOxx products, and they are all made from a super durable canvas like material. RedOxx bags have a particular look and are designed for adventure first and foremost. This comes through immediately when you see the bag's metal clips, crazy strong claw strap, YKK number 10 zippers and the incredible stitching.
Although the Tom Bihn looks more "conventional", the materials are all high quality, and you see this immediately with the zippers. The main section uses strong YKK #10 zippers Aquaguard, which are water resistant. The other compartments use YKK #8 Aquaguard. You immediately notice that every component was purposefully chosen for looks, use, and durability.
Whereas my RedOxx bag zippers' chunkiness is immediately visible, the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 design blends them into the overall bag.
Most backpack manufacturers throw two external size bottle holders, and the Synapse 25 only holds one bottle, but you realize why. The designers created a special bottle holder pocket in the middle of the backpack (it expands outward, so you don't lose packing space). At first, I found this strange until I realized this was done to maintain the proper balance of your backpack. As you use this bag, you realize a lot of thought has gone into every aspect of it.
Right underneath the water bottle pocket is a smaller throw anything type pocket. When traveling, this is a great place to throw keys, your wallet, passport, small bud style headphones at the security checkpoint. When you realize how many personal items people forget at security checkpoints, you stop throwing your stuff in those plastic bins, and you want to shove them in these types of pockets. During daily use, I have a small personal first aid kit I carry here.
Each side has a medium sized longish pocket where I store my beloved Julbo sunglasses. The right-hand pocket has a small organizational sinch pocket. The left one has storage for pens and a small/medium multitool.
There is a bottom pocket that can be used to store (while traveling) packing cubes, small shoes, snacks, a jacket, toiletry bag or other items you may want quick access to. During my day to day use, I store my laptop power adapter and sizeable OmniCharge battery here with an assortment of cables.
Loops, loops, and more loops (aka O rings). All Tom Bihn products are made to work together, and these loops are the key. You can use the countless loops to attack their cubes, caches or organizer bags inside any of the pockets. The Tom Bihn laptop sleeve allows me to pull out the sleeve at a security checkpoint for review, without the risk of forgetting my precious laptop at the TSA checkpoint.
The Freudian Slip
First, you have to laugh at the name and acknowledge these designers have a sense of humor. The Synapse 25 was designed to go from an EDC office bag to a travel system but how do you organize your office knick-knacks without permanently sacrificing space when traveling? You make the office organizer removable.
The Freudian Slip 25 is designed to fit perfectly in your Synapse 25 and has 15 organizational pockets to store all of your stuff. It has two folder pockets, four open top pockets for small electronics, two mesh pockets, two pen pockets and of course a business card pocket.
It costs $50 but can be a real organizational dream for Every day Carry. I use mine every day to carry papers, a notebook, my Skyroam Global Wifi hotspot and more. There are so many pockets most of mine are empty but still a wonderful add-on I highly recommend.
They sell an Action Lights Guardian light on a strap you can hang on the inside of your bag (so you can find your items even at night). I already own a couple of guardian lights and love them for their durability, but I think they chose the wrong light for internal illumination. Don't get me wrong, the Guardian light is good for internal illumination but the GloTube is much better. There is free advice to your Tom Bihn designers.
The bag also comes with an external strap that blends in and is invisible when not used, but allows you to strap an external Guardian light for visibility at night (walking, bicycling, etc.)
Tom Bihn offers dozens of pouches, organizers, and straps that you can add to the Synapse 25 to customize it and make it your own. Evey accessory has a strap, hook or locking system that allows you to use it with every one of their products. These hooks are always robust and easy to use.
It is only after a couple of weeks of use that I started to realize how much thought and care was given to every aspect of the backpack. As you use the bag and realize all of the design decisions they have made to make your life a little bit better, you can't help but fall in love with the product.
In addition to very carefully thought out design, this bag is built durable without looking like it came from an Army Surplus store. I carried this bag into executive meetings and never felt out of place. This is especially surprising when you realize the quality of the components they have used.
Tom Bihn advertises the shell material as 400d Halcyon which is a 420 denier ultra-high-molecular polyethylene ripstop material coated with a light urethane to make it water resistant.
It feels like a soft high-quality nylon that can withstand being overstuffed and force zipped. The stitching is hidden where possible and where you can see it, it is high quality and you know it is going to be durable.
The straps are basic and nicely padded. It feels solid and is comfortable for extended use. Many of the tactical bags have more padding but even when loaded, the Synapse never felt uncomfortable.
This is the type of bag that will probably last for20 years without any issues.
This is a bag designed for techies and not for ultra-modern style conscious turtleneck wearing millennials. Bags like the Minaal are much appropriate for those looking for stylish minimalist bags that can blend into the snobbish New York design scene.
The Synapse 25 isn't "sexy" because it doesn't have a "modern" look. It doesn't have any waxed canvas or leather accents.
The Synapse 25 is an ultra-utilitarian functionality first bag. Now to be clear. I carried the 5-11 Rush 24 tactical bag, so I am more concerned with usability than looks.
Regardless of the "lacking" looks, the bag is so wonderfully designed and put together that I am convinced you will fall in love with it. But look at the pictures and judge it for yourself. You will either love it or hate it.
When using this bag, you realize all of the small carefully thought out design decisions the Tom Bihn team made aligned with their design philosophy. This doesn't just feel like a $40 bag quickly put together to sell in bulk at Costco.
Every time I use this bag, it is like having a conversation with the designers and learning how to use it better. As you use it, you will change your carry model and realize they thought of optimizations you may not realize until you've carried this for a couple of weeks.
To truly rate the usability of a bag, you have to carry it for at least a month. After a month of daily use, I can tell you that the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 is a delight to use.
Even when carrying it for hours across busy airports, it was comfortable.
The external organization pockets mean you can easily store and find your items without having to dig into a cavernous deep main pocket.
The bag is packed with innovation that will make travel and daily use a joy, all packed in a deceptively simple looking bag.
Handles on bags are important when you travel, and although the belt-like carry strap is durable, I wish it was a little more padded. For a bag that is so well designed, this top carry strap felt a little underwhelming.
Like the carry strap, the belt strap (which is removable) is a thin strap of webbing material IT will definitely last but isn't very comfortable to use. Luckily it isn't something I use often, and I disconnect it and leave it at home
As mentioned above, I would replace the internal light (which is back ordered as I write this) to a GloTube instead.
I bought the chest strap upgrade that includes a whistle but it is a pretty useless whistle. They should have made something that sounds more like a JetScreem whistle than a quacking duck.
Using this bag for a month convinced me that this is my new every day carry backpack (and not just something I test, review and forget about).
Every couple of days I slightly optimize my storage strategy and realize that this bag was conceived by incredibly talented designers, with strong knowledge of bag design, and that everything was done with intention.
Using this bag is like having a conversation with the designers. This is the best way I can describe it.
As long as the look pleases you, you will be delighted with this bag. Over the coming year, I hope to get my hands on more Tom Bihn products so I can review them for you.
When I bought my first RedOxx product, I felt like I started a relationship with the company because they had a design philosophy I agreed with and subscribed to.
Most bags since (even the Minaal, Tortuga, AER, etc. ) didn't have this special feeling. They felt like products.
Having used the Synapse 25 for over a month now, I feel the same attraction to Tom Bihn as I did (and do) for RedOxx. These are companies with strong design principles that permeate throughout their entire product line. If you agree with those principles (and you really should), the Synapse 25 may be the gateway drug that draws you deep into the Tom Bihn line.
So do I recommend it? Absolutely without any reservation.