Gadling gear review – The Tom Bihn Tri-Star

Let me open with a quick re-introduction to Tom Bihn bags. We first covered them here on Gadling when they announced their Checkpoint Flyer “TSA friendly” laptop bag. That bag was so impressive, that it went on to win a spot in our top 25 travel products of 2008.

Tom Bihn bags are a rarity in the luggage world – they are all designed, and hand made in the US, using many US sourced materials. The Tom Bihn Tri-Star is an interesting bag- it is the first bag that has actually made me excited about a piece of luggage.

When the bag was first announced, only a few details were released, and when the final product was shown, I knew it was going to be high on my “must review” list. So, here it is – the first ever review of the new Tom Bihn Tri-Star bag.

The Tri-Star is, as the name implies – a three in one bag. Previously, we took a look at the Tom Bihn Aeronaut, which offers similar features. The Tri-Star is a backpack, shoulder bag and carry-on bag all rolled into one. Best of all, these three features are extremely well implemented, and allow you to carry the bag in whatever way you want, each providing a ton of comfort. The Tri-Star holds 33 liters and weighs 3.4lbs. It measures 19″x13″x8″.

Folks following Tom Bihn bags will be interested to know that the Tri-Star falls between the Aeronaut and the Western Flyer (the Aeronaut holds 45 liters, and the smaller Western Flyer holds 26 liters). The size of the Tri-Star makes it ideal for a two or three day trip. In an upcoming article I’ll show you just how much stuff I carry with me when I travel!

One of the biggest innovations with the Tri-Star is actually the color. For the first time ever, Tom Bihn used blue in a piece of their luggage. I normally don’t pay much attention to things like fabrics and colors, but when you dive a little deeper into the technology behind luggage fabrics, you’ll be confronted with terms you’ve never used before, including “Dyneema/Nylon rip stop” and “ 1050 denier ballistic nylon”. What it boils down to, is that Tom Bihn spent a ton of time picking the perfect fabric for this bag, and actually had the “urethane coated, 1050 denier” specially dyed for them in the US.

The end result is a combination of abrasion resistant material in an amazing color. Seriously, when I opened the box containing the Tri-Star, the sun made the bag light up unlike I have ever seen in any piece of luggage.

The Tri-Star I am reviewing is a combination of their new Indigo (blue) and Solar Yellow (on the inside). This combination simply rocks, and makes the bag stand out from anything else you’ll find at the airport.

Now, on to the features of the Tri-Star. The basics are quite straight forward – you get 3 large main compartments, and 4 zippered pockets on the front. On the pack is a zippered portion for storing the backpack straps when you are not using them.

The rear compartment is the largest, and is designed to hold large items, like pants or shirts.This portion also features 2 tie-down straps, making it easy to stuff full of clothes and compress. The entire compartment folds open, making it easier to fill with garments.

The middle portion is designed to be able to hold more larger items, including a laptop sleeve (like their optional Brain Cell shown in the photo above). On the top of this compartment are 2 special clips which can hold the Brain Cell in place. Of course, you are also free to use this part for anything you want. This compartment opens on the top and a portion of the sides.

The third compartment is perfect for thinner items, like documents or a newspaper, but is also a great place for the “Horizontal Freudian Slip“, which is an optional accessory, but one that I can highly recommend. It is a removable “office” designed for pens, documents and other office-on-the-road items. The compartment can be split in half with a zippered divider. When you unzip the divider, the entire compartment can fold open.

On the front of the bag are 4 pockets – 3 horizontal, and one vertical. The three horizontal pockets reach to the bottom of the bag, and provide a ton of “give”. The largest of the pockets holds a removable key strap.

The vertical pocket to the right of the other 3 is a smart one – it is designed to hold a water bottle, and is fitted with what Tom Bihn refers to as “bellows”. The bellows prevent your bottle from falling out if you open the zipper. This feature can be “undone” by opening a button.

The zippers on the Tri-Star are as impressive as the bag itself. They are “YKK splash-proof Uretek zippers”, which means you won’t have a puddle in the bottom of your bag if you encounter a bit of rain. The zipper pulls are normal metal pulls, but Tom Bihn include a bag of cord zipper pulls with the bag. These can be attached to the metal pulls, or can completely replace the metal pulls (if you chose to remove the metal pulls, you won’t be able to send it back asking them to replace the pulls under their warranty).

(Photo showing the backpack straps stored inside the bag)

The Tri-Star costs $240
and is available in 4 different color combinations (Indigo/Solar, Steel/Solar, Crimson/Steel and Black/Steel). On its own, the bag does not include a shoulder strap. During the order process, you can pick one of two different shoulder straps. If you add the Horizontal Freudian Slip, a Brain Cell laptop case and a shoulder strap, the total price is $370.

Let’s be honest – this is not a cheap bag, and if you are used to buying $25 bags, then this price may seem quite insane. There is however something to be said for investing in a quality bag, and one that is designed to last for years.

Luggage like this is an investment, and if you treat high quality luggage well, then it’ll travel with you for years and years. If you are on the road a lot, then your luggage becomes part of your “home”. You can be in a different plane or hotel every night, but the one thing that always joins you is
your bag.

All Tom Bihn bags come with a lifetime warranty, and purchases have a 60 day money back satisfaction guarantee.

My conclusion about the Tom Bihn Tri-Star is simple – this is an absolutely amazing bag. Every portion of the bag feels like someone sat down and spent a massive amount of time trying to think like a traveler. The end result is a bag that not only looks great, but also works. With the current trend in airlines charging passengers for all their checked luggage, any bag that is designed to help you carry more of your stuff on board will eventually start saving you money.

In the coming week, I’ll take the bag on a trip and will report back (with photos) on how well it performs in the “real world”.