Today, I want to share with you my review on this very well made Western Flyer bag from Tom Bihn. I am certain that a few of you may not have heard of Tom Bihn prior to this post. So please allow me a short paragraph to give you a quick introduction.
Tom Bihn, the person, is the CEO of Tom Bihn, the bag company/manufacturer. Tom has been designing bags for over 20 years, and he designs ALL the bags that he sells from his factory/retail store in Seattle, Washington. Noticed that I used the word ‘factory’? That’s right! All of Tom’s bags are manufactured right here in the United States, at his Seattle Factory. I have read that you can easily see Tom, himself, walking around the factory all the time, chatting with the sewing crew, to ensure quality standards.
Let’s get back to our bag-of-the-moment, the Western Flyer. I have been using this bag for almost 4 weeks now, and I must say, the love of this bag just grew on me. I admit that I was not that impressed by this bag after the first few days of using it. But the more I put into this bag, the more I like it! The Western Flyer seemed to have the ability to soak in everything that I try to put inside, without any sign of ‘stress’ (or stretched) on the outside. How many times have you seen (mostly at the airport that) someone carrying an ‘overloaded’ bag that the owner simply tried to stuff too many things inside? You can tell because the bag/pockets are all stretched out to the limit; but not for this bag. With a capacity of 1600 cubic inches (or 26 liters for my Readers in Asia), this bag carries everything that your arm can lift! See the Coke Bottles picture below? The bottle in the middle is the 1 Liter bottle. This bag can hold 26 of those... just to give you an idea.
There are 2 primary configurations available for the Western Flyer. Rolling Luggage vs. the Backpack Straps. I opted for the Rolling Luggage Handle so that I can slide the rear opening through the handle of a rolling luggage when needed. The picture below is a shot that I took while waiting to check-in to a hotel.
When you’re not sliding the bag through the handle, you can unzip the bottom and turn the same feature into a large outside pocket.
Otherwise, the Backpack Straps option would allow you to convert this bag to a Backpack (style), as seen from this picture below, copied from Tom’s official website.
Once I have un-boxed the impressively designed shipping/packaging box (I like the box so much that I am keeping the box for future use!), the first thing that told me that this company’s bags are not 'all just looks,' is the zipper! I’ve read all about the zipper on their web-site on how all the external zippers on this bag is ‘weather-proof.’ I did not put too much thought into the zipper thinking that a zipper is a zipper, and how the last thing I would worry about on the bag is the outside zippers. However, not only these zippers look very water proof, they are also very smooth to glide open and close.
After playing with zippers, I started to navigate the various compartments inside the bag. To keep things simple, the bags are divided into 2 primary sections. Front and Rear. And both sections are lined with bright yellow fabric. At this point, what caught my eyes are two things; the ‘clips’ on the Back compartment, and the Divider on the Front compartment.
The Divider in the Front compartment is very straight forward. It allows you to unzip the Divider in the middle to convert the Front Compartment from being Left/Right Sectional to a single wide section to accommodate wide/large items such as a folder or even a second laptop.
Contrary, the Rear compartment is not ‘sectional’ like the Front, but what you will see are two ‘Annex Clips.’ They allow you to clip on the infamous ‘Brain Cell.’
While most of you may be familiar with the concept of a laptop sleeves such as these, the ‘Brain Cell’ takes the laptop protection concept a step further, and integrate its Brain Cell into most of Tom Bihn’s bags. Not only the Brain Cell is heavily padded, once it is hooked onto the ‘Annex Clips’, it suspends the Brain Cell slightly above the bottom of the bag. Hence, an extra protection against impact is created by a space/gap between the bottom of the bag and the bottom of the ‘Brain Cell.’ For those who find the Brain Cell to be costly, I would like to remind you that you are NOT just getting a typical laptop sleeve. In fact, you can use the Brain Cell as-is on its own, as it provides you with two ‘D-rings’ on the side, so that you can attach your own carrying strap and use it as a simple laptop carrier. Now, try this with your typical laptop sleeves and see if you can do the same!
Since I have already touched on the topic of this Western Flyer’s zipper of choice, I would also like to go into a little bit of specifications of this bag. The outside of this bag is made out of ‘1050 Ballistic Nylon.’ Ballistic what? Exactly! Here’s highlight in simpler terms.
- It is originally developed for bullet proof vest
- One of the toughest fabric on earth
- It is very difficult to dye (Hence the limited colors)
- Most manufacturers have stopped using 1050 Ballistic due to its almost-doubled costs over other ‘more common’ materials.
As for the inside fabrics, I was a little skeptical after the first few days of use, that the fabrics that the ‘Annex Clips’ were sewed onto, would hold up to the weight of the Brain Cell and my laptop. So I asked Tom Bihn’s team to provide some more information on this uniquely texturerized fabric that is in use inside of this bag. It turns out that the fabrics that lined the inside of this bag is something called ‘Dyneema/Nylon Ripstop’ material. And upon further research on the Internet...I have learned that:
- The lines that formed the square pattern is called the Dyneema threads
- Each Dyneema thread is 15 times as strong as steal per weight
- An additional X patten of Nylon overweave improves abrasion and tear resistance, making it essentially tear-proof
- This fabric, on average, costs 3 times more than the typical nylon fabric as found in the inside of other bags
- And the bright yellow color of choice inside my Western Flyer makes searching for items in low-lighting situation easy!
There are many accessories available to compliment this Western Flyer. First and foremost, the Absolute Shoulder Strap. In my opinion, other than the Brain Cell, this item is a must have for the Western Flyer, or any bag that you own that would allow you to replace the carrying strap. I don’t know how did the Tom Bihn team did it, but this carrying strap made my fully loaded Western Flyer feeling like it is half the weight it was supposed to be. This carrying strap is so comfortable that I would even take it with me to use on other bags. Yes, it is this comfortable on your shoulder!
Up next is the Horizontal Freudian Slip. On one side of the Slip, are compartments and pockets that allow you to store things ranging from cell phone, pens, business cards, and more. On the other side of the Slip, are divided sections that allow you to store files and papers. Logically, I put all the stationary on one side of the Slip, and my most often used files and paper on the other side of the Slip. One day when I had to do some work at a local Starbucks, I noticed that I only had to pull my laptop and this Slip out, head into Starbucks to find a seat, and I’m ready to work. I didn’t even have to drag my entire bag into the coffee shop with me.
I also put to use on a few other accessories such as the Clear Organizer Pouch for my highlighters, a smaller one for my medication or better yet, cosmetics!
There is a padded pouch for storing scratch-sensitive items such as a cell-phone or an iPod.
I also used the Snake Charmer to store all my cables that go in and out of my laptop.
And for those who have an iPad or eReader, there is also a Cork Organizer Pouch that is made out of real cork!
All these accessories can fit inside the Western Flyer without any issue. More importantly, none of these accessories, including the Brain Cell and Shoulder Strap, is exclusive to the Western Flyer. You can put these accessories to other bags of your choice. Want to throw the Brain Cell inside a suit case? Go for it!
With that said, the point that I am trying to get across is that, the Western Flyer along with its accessories may come to be on the expensive side. However, all of the accessories can be cross-utilized individually, or can be applied towards other (Tom Bihn’s or not) bags of your choice. As for the Western Flyer itself, what you are paying for is truly an exceptionally sourced, designed and manufactured product. It is a bag that is very versatile, sturdy and durable, and most importantly, comfortable to use and to touch. Also, do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a bag that is made in America these days? Knowing that this bag is built in America, by American, with careful quality control under the supervision of the owner himself, makes me really proud to be carrying this bag around town, and around different countries.
I know I will be using this bag for a very long time. Maybe, after a year or so of ‘abuse,’ I will post another update on the condition of this bag, to sort of ‘testify’ my faith on the quality of this bag. P.S. For my Readers who are interested in Camera Equipment Bag, I have been informed that Tom *is* working on a (or more?) camera insert. I will post an update as soon as I hear from Tom’s team.
This giveaway is now closed. Winner will be announced shortly.
Here comes the giveaway details. Tom Bihn’s team has agreed to giveaway one 'The Shopping Bag' and one 'Clear Organizer Pouches' (Up to $49 value), to one lucky Reader of my blog. Now, remember I talked about the super-strong Dyneema fabric that lined the inside of my Western Flyer bag? This Shopping Bag is made entirely out of the same material! It means that you can shop till your shoulder drops, because this bag simply won’t tear apart!
To participate, you must first ‘Like’ Tom Bihn’s Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/TOMBIHN, then leave a comment on this post to tell me that you have ‘Liked’ the Tom Bihn’s Facebook Page, and I’ll pick a random winner using random.org. Please make sure to leave your email address within your comment so I can contact you in case you won. And thanks to the Tom Bihn Team, they have agreed to open this giveaway to my Reader WORLDWIDE! And yes, you can pick your color of choice if you be nice! The deadline to enter this giveaway is September 26th, 2011 by PST mid-night.
For extra chances to win, simply do any or all of the following. Just leave a separate comment for each additional entry.
1. Follow uTry.it on Gooogle Friends Connect. (on the right hand side bar)
2. "Like" uTry.it's Facebook Page, click here.
3. Follow uTry_it on Twitter, click here.
4. Subscribe to my blog via email or RSS feed. (on right hand side bar)
5. Tweet about this giveaway. Please include my Twitter handle @utry_it and the link to this post in your tweet.
6. Share this giveaway with your friends on Facebook. Please include the link to this post when you share.
Good luck everyone!
Disclaimer: I received a Tom Bihn Western Flyer bag, the Brain Cell, and the accessory bags shown on this post free of charge for the purpose of this review. I was not compensated in any other way to write this post. All opinions are 100% my own, and always will be.
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