I have what’s fast becoming a stupid amount of luggage. It seems a little ridiculous that I haven’t discovered the one bag to rule them, what with the tide of carry-on sized backpacks, roll-aboards, and duffels that come through the house. The problem is that each bag has its own idea use scenario, they’ve all got a different mash of features, and some are better for certain types of trips than others.
I had dearly wanted to pack the newest bag in my house — the Tom Bihn Aeronaut ($240 from Tom Bihn) — for my safari trip, but I was vanquished by a sleeping bag. I was able to stuff a shocking amount of gear into what looks like not that much space. With my clothes crammed into packing cubes, I could just get everything I needed to pack into the bag, but the sleeping bag, nope, no dice. I ended up taking my Gregory rolling duffel instead.
The Bihn Bag I saved for a long weekend in bad weather to the Columbia River Gorge, and it was really nothing short of perfect for that. I packed three days of foul weather gear — a down sweater, a rain shell, long underwear, a hat and gloves, a little black dress (because really, you never know) and a pair of chunky knee high boots. I also had two magazines, a book, and the usual socks/underwear/toiletries. Oh, and flannel pajamas. I could easily have traveled for a week on the stuff I had in there, longer, if need be.
Here’s what I like about this bag. It’s got stow away backpack straps and a removable waist belt, so if you’re needing to carry it through town or while you run for the bus, you’re set. It’s got two side pockets that are the perfect size for stowing a pair of low rise hikers. It’s got a net pocket in the zippered top; you could use that instead of a toiletries bag, and it’s perfect for stowing the little things that get loose in your bag — a flashlight, the moisturizer you poached from the hotel… you know. There’s a grip handle on the top and the side and a removable shoulder strap so you can configure and carry the bag in whatever way works best for you. It’s regulation carry on size, so you’ll have no trouble fitting it in the overhead bin on your flight.I’ll admit that I’m partial to Tom Bihn products because they’re made right here in my home town — it’s almost impossible to find American made gear these days. I’ve visited the Tom Bihn factory twice. Both times I noticed how detail obsessed Tom Bihn himself is. You see it in his bags. The hardware is quality stuff, tough and designed to last. The shoulder straps are backed with neoprene so they don’t slide. There are lots of little add-ons and accessories that are designed to work together beautifully. I’ve got a little clip on red light that helps you see what’s in your bag in the dark without waking up your roomie — you can get a white light, instead. I’ve also got a packing cube type bag that doubles as a day pack; this is a hugely useful item for stowing in any bag — it’s great for the beach or for campground showers. Bihn bags are really well considered, you can see it in all the attention to detail.
The Aeronaut is Tom Bihn’s recommended round the world bag and there are lots of testimonials on their site backing this up. I have a caveat on that. I wasn’t packing heavy for my Africa trip, not by a long shot. (See also, strapping lad on my tour hefts my bag and pauses. “Wow, you’re traveling really light!”) I just needed a little more room, just a tiny bit, the size of, oh, a sleeping bag in a compression sack, to make the bag work.
If you’re not carrying a sleeping bag — and really, I had everything else — you’d do well to go with the Aeronaut. It’s not the lightest bag on the market, but I’d wager that it’s one of the best designed and it’s built to take a beating.