REVIEW: Tom Bihn: The Best Bags You’ve Never Heard Of

Made in Seattle, USA.

What Sinn is for watches, or BMW is for cars, Tom Bihn is for travel bags. To put it simply, Tom Bihn has thought of (nearly) everything and designs and manufactures arguably the highest quality travel bags period under his eponymous brand name, and they’re all made in right here in America, in Seattle, WA. Tom Bihn’s meticulous attention for detail and the highest quality materials are self-evident for anyone who’s bought one of his bags, but for those of you that haven’t the company’s video here gives some insight into how Tom Bihn bags are made:

It happened at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. After having used my much beloved Timbuk2 for nearly a decade as my laptop bag/briefcase, and as my travel carry-on bag four continents, I just couldn’t do it anymore. The damn thing kept on falling off my carry-on suitcase. It’s not really the bag’s fault - it wasn’t designed for airport travel and as such doesn’t have a “sleeve” that can nicely attach to carry-on suitcase’s telescopic handle. After it fell for the n-th time at the airport, I began enviously eyeing my colleague’s Tumi briefcase. Although handsome, it screams “Nothing here except business,” and its blandness combined with its ubiquity with bankers and consultants made me look elsewhere. It was at that moment I decided I needed to do something. Having gotten attached to the bag, I initially contacted Timbuk2 to see if I could get such a sleeve added. The folks at Timbuk2 said they wouldn’t be able to do that. At that point I needed to get a new bag.   

Enter Tom Bihn’s Western Flyer. I first spotted this bag at yet another airport, O’Hare this time. I saw with ease how this handsome looking bag transformed from a briefcase into a backpack on a fellow passenger. Having never seen this bag prior, the only thing that stood out was a small red airplane with the letters “TOM BIHN” above it. After spending the next few months extensively researching bags, I opted for the Western Flyer bag from Tom Bihn. One clear advantage given the bag’s backpack straps, for me is that fellow passengers will no longer have to fear me walking down the aisle of an airplane and suffer anymore from my clumsiness with the Timbuk2’s one shoulder strap causing the bag to swing from side-to-side and often enough accidentally hitting someone in the head (my apologies again to fellow passengers).

The first thing that struck me as I got my hands on the Western Flyer is Tom Bihn’s attention to detail. For starters, the bag is made with the highest quality ballistic nylon 1050 denier fabric which “is the strongest and most durable fabric for its denier weight level,” most bags opt for the cheaper 1680 denier which looks similar but does not have the same abrasion resistant properties as the 1050 denier. The bag is moreover, lined with 200 denier Dyneema® nylon ripstop fabric, which is puncture and slash resistant. To give you a sense of the fabric’s strength and resistance, Dyneema also manufactures fabrics for sails, and body armor. The bag’s zippers are the heavy-duty YKK aquaguard zippers, which means that water is not going to get easily get in the bag unless if you decide to go swimming with it. To ease opening and closing the bag Tom Bihn has also thrown in zipper pulls. In short, this is one tough heavy-duty bag.  

The Western Flyer is most often used as a carry-on bag for garments, but also comes fully equipped with accessories that allow it to serve as a great briefcase. I opted for the “Brain Cell” for my laptop, the “Freudian Slip” to throw in pens and other writing accessories, and the “Absolute Shoulder Strap” to use it as a briefcase. I also added on the  “Packing Cube Backpack” which serves as a conventional packing cube, but for traveling light when you reach your destination, can be used as a separate knapsack. But perhaps, my favorite feature of the bag are the shoulder straps that transform the bag from a briefcase, to a fully conventional backpack. Unless most other bags, where the optional backpack straps are not built to the same high-standard as the bag, this is not the case with the Western Flyer.