Monday August 15, 2005 1:24 pm
Tom Bihn Brain Bag Review
Recently we had the opportunity to review the Tom Bihn Monolith and Brain Bag. Today we are proud to present our thorough review and impressions of the Brain Bag - Tom Bihn’s carry all rough and tumble backpack. When you need to haul your your stuff in style, the Brain Bag is your friend. Check out after the jump for the full review.
It is worth mentioning again how friendly and knowledgeable the folks at Tom Bihn are. At the beginning of my review process I had the pleasure of going down to their Seattle store and talking to Sunga about their product line. She did a great job of educating me about their manufacturing process and explaining how much care and detail went into the production for all of their bags. I highly recommend dropping by the store if you live in the area rather than buying online, as Tom Bihn hospitality won’t disappoint.
The Brain Bag is a large backpack with over 2200 cubic inches (36 liters) of cargo area and is well suited to an active user who needs to carry a lot of gear. If you just need a laptop and a few small things this backpack is a lot of overkill - consider a smaller Tom Bihn bag such as the Smart Alec. On the other hand if you are an active student with books and gym clothes, or a hip urbanite with lots of “must haves”, then this bag is for you. The Brain Bag features the legendary Tom Bihn workmanship and is constructed from durable Cordura - a strong but light material (the empty Brain Bag weights about 3lbs .). It features two large cargo areas in the back (either of which can accept a Monolith or Brain Cell - or one in each cargo area if you have two laptops to lug around) and has three roomy pockets on the front. All of the enclosures feature strong black zippers that are easy to operate yet will not accidentally swing open. A quick tug on one of the zippers reveals both a reassuring amount of tension as well as a smooth zipping motion.
The front of the Brain Bag is well laid out - the two larger front pockets are designed for carrying gadgets, cell phones, or other miscellaneous gear. They feature internal smaller pockets and dividers for organizing your stuff and carrying pens and pencils. One of the larger front pockets has a mesh pocket on it’s front that I discovered made an ideal place to keep my iPod and phone - you can easily see the contents, and it’s snug enough that I was not worried about things bouncing out. The third front pocket is smaller and located at the top. It seems best suited to keeping things you need quick at hand - in my case my wallet, cell phone, Bluetooth headset, and my keys.
The two large cargo areas to the rear of the Brain Bag are where it really shines. They both feature clasps for connecting a your Monolith or Brain Cell, and both are roomy and well designed. Between the two cargo areas it is possible to carry a mind boggling amount of gear - more information on that below in the section on using the Brain Bag. These main cargo areas are also great for carrying the many accessories available for the Brain Bag - a few of them are mentioned below and check out the Tom Bihn website for a full listing.
Finally the outside of the Brain Bag features a number of straps and clasps for securing your load. When the bag is near empty you can tighten the straps and keep it close to your back for comfort. If you need to cram the bag full for a weekend trip you can loosen the straps for loading, then tighten them to balance you load. The shoulder straps are comfortable padded and make carrying 50-100lbs. of equipment on your back possible. The Brain Bag has two chest clasps - one on the shoulder straps for keeping the bag secured on your shoulders during intense physical activity and the other at waist height for ultimate stability while hiking or carrying a very heavy load.
USING THE BRAIN BAG
What can I say - using the Brain Bag was a pleasure over the last two weeks. I used to carry two or three bags with me at all times - a messenger bag with my laptop, and miscellaneous gadgets, a photography bag with my camera, a few lenses, and some random filters and flashes, and a gym bag for working out after a long day. Now with the Brain Bag and Monolith I am able to carry a single bag. I keep the Monolith in the back cargo area along with my camera bag; a Tamarac Velocity 7; and the Snake Charmer (more about the Snake Charmer in a moment). I use the front cargo area for storing my gym clothes and any random things that I acquire during the day.
The front pockets are well placed and suit the gadget heavy user well. There is ample room and organization ability to store a cell phone, MP3 player, PDA, and pocket-sized camera like the Canon Elf while keeping them all neatly placed and at a moments reach away. The mesh pocket on one side is a really nice touch and I use it to store gadgets in use like my iPod while hiking - the headphones trail up nicely to my ears while the iPod is out of my way while operating a camera.
During my review period I had to take a weekend trip and decided to put the Brain Bag to test as a weekend bag. I packed my PowerBook into the Monolith and placed it in the back compartment, put my camera bag in with it, and then started to pack clothing into the front cargo area. I was able to fit a pair of pants, two t-shirts, and a couple of changes of socks and underwear into the front cargo area. The Brain Bag was very heavily loaded and required a bit of work to balance it all out - but it fit, and due to the well designed shoulder straps, it was comfortable too. I was literally able to live out of the Brain Bag for a weekend on the road - much more convenient than having my messenger bag, laptop bag, and an overnight bag to struggle with the whole way.
Finally, it is important to note some of the great accessories available from Tom Bihn . I got a chance to try out both the Snake Charmer and the Freudian Slip. The Freudian Slip is a stiff foam insert for the Brain Bag with long pockets for storing files or folders on one side, and pockets and compartments for organizing gadgets and small items on the other side. It’s a great way to add some extra organization capabilities to the large cargo areas of the Brain Bag. The Snake Charmer is a small two-pocket bag that can fit loosely into either of the cargo areas of the Brain Bag. It is designed like a toiletry kit with but features mesh sides. While I’m sure that it would make a great toiletry kit for weekend trips it is excellently suited for “charming snakes” - the wide assortment of dongles, A/C adapters, memory cards, and computer accessories on the go. The mesh pockets make it easy to find the item you are looking for, and the Snake Charmer features very sturdy construction. The only minor improvement I could think of for the Snake Charmer would be to include a clasp or other method for securing it to the Brain Bag or Monolith for extra convenience.
The Brain Bag is a well thought out bag aimed at the highly active Gear Live reader. If you are looking for a small bag to carry a laptop around this is overkill (and you should look at some of the excellent smaller bags Tom Bihn has to offer), but if like me, you carry lots of stuff with you in your day-to-day life and don’t want to be stuck with a gym bag, laptop bag, messenger bag with you and want to consolidate, then the Brain Bag is for you. This bag features some of the most durable construction and well thought out design that we have ever seen.
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