The Highs: Well made, feature rich, lightweight, versatile carrying options

The Lows: Not a lot to complain about.  No pen slots?

The Verdict: Hard to imagine a better overnight bag

wflyer31

If your travel calls for one or two nights away from home, you actually have a lot of options when it comes to luggage.  There are smaller wheelies, duffel bags, foldable garment bags, and even backpacks.  Sailing smack into the middle of this cluttered landscape is the Tom Bihn Western Flyer, a bag designed expressly with the overnight (or two night) traveler in mind.   The Western Flyer distinguishes itself from the crowd, however, through several clever, quintessential Tom Bihn features.

First:  a few basics

The Western Flyer is a soft-sided, non-wheelie bag targeted at overnight travelers.  Featuring two primary compartments, one of which is slightly wider than the other, the Western Flyer also sports two zippered compartments on its front panel.  An additional pocket with a scalloped opening on that panel accommodates boarding passes, travel guides, maps and the like.   The bag can be carried with an optional shoulder strap, conventional briefcase-style carry handles, or with built-in backpack straps.

Basic specifications:

  • 18″ x 12″ x 7″    (455 x 305 x 180mm) (Contrast these dimensions to those typical of “maximum legal carryon” sized bags:  21″ x 13″ x 8″)
  • Weight: 2.53 lbs.

  • Exterior constructed with U.S. made 1050 denier ballistic nylon
  • Lined with ultra-light Dyneema®/nylon ripstop
  • One main compartment and one secondary compartment
  • Main compartment’s zipper covers 3 sides: bag folds flat for packing
  • Secondary compartment features a vertical divider that zips out of the way if needed, as well as a zipper that also covers 3 sides
  • Two zippered compartments on front of bag for 3/1/1 TSA liquids bag, paperback book, odds & ends; one features a removable key tab/retainer
  • One open pocket on bag front panel for boarding passes, brochures or perhaps a water bottle
  • The back of the bag features a  zippered compartment which houses curved backpack straps
  • YKK #10 Aquaguard (waterproof) zippers close all pockets and compartments
  • Made in Seattle, Washington, USA

A photo tour

wflyer311

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A quick shot of the front of the bag. Although it appears that the two zippered compartments on the left side of the front panel are identical in size and perhaps 4″ deep, the one on top actually runs behind the lower pocket; as a result it’s a full 9½” deep.  So the bottom pocket must be about 4″ deep, right?  Wrong again.  Its zipper is actually located near the middle of the pocket.  Keep in mind that the pocket whose zipper is on top runs behind the lower pocket – and in turn, the lower pocket occupies the space in front of the other pocket – its available space includes the 3″ or so above its zipper.

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Have I confused you?

Then check out this shot of the case and outer box from the Cream 2005 Reunion DVD inside the lower pocket (left photo); my index finger is pointing to the top corner of the box; in the right photo the same DVD is in the top compartment (click either photo to enlarge) -

Tom Bihn Western Flyer front pocketTom Bihn Western Flyer front compartments

Stated succinctlyboth front pockets are larger than they appear at first glance. Clever. The bottom pocket came equipped with a removable key tab.  ALL compartments feature O ring tabs for mounting key tabs or any of the myriad of pouches that Tom Bihn offers.  The top compartment is handy for your TSA 3-1-1 liquids bag; either could easily hold a paperback book, snacks, and the like.

The other pocket on the front of the bag features a scalloped opening and is handy for boarding passes and the like.  It can accommodate a water bottle, but if you are going to carry the bag with its backpack straps, the bottle may very well fall out.  (Personally I wouldn’t leave my boarding pass in this pocket if using the bag in the backpack mode for the same reason.)  You can see the scalloped opening of this pocket plus the key tab in this picture:

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The zippers are all YKK waterproof types and are equipped with robust pulls; the zippers operate smoothly and for some odd reason are considerably easier to operate than are the similar zippers on the Patagonia MLC.  This might stem from the heavier ballistic nylon material used on the Western Flyer; it naturally provides a bit more resistance than the lighter material of the MLC when you pull on the zipper tabs.

The hardware – e.g., the D ring pictured below – is what one would expect from Tom Bihn:  high quality (heavy gauge steel) and flawless in both installation and finish (double-plated):

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Speaking of the D rings:  there are three options for carrying this bag.  The D rings are for securing a strap – Tom Bihn offers three including the superb “Absolute Strap,” available for $30.  The Terragrip strap – essentially the same strap as that which comes with the Red Oxx Air Boss but without the overkill Red Oxx hardware – is $20.  Finally, there’s a basic strap that’s only $10.

The “Absolute Strap” features a grippy material on the side of the strap that contacts your shoulder; I used it while wearing a synthetic wind shirt and it uh, er, absolutely would not slip or slide off my shoulder!  Here’s a close up of its hardware,- again, heavy duty double plated steel:

Tom Bihn Western Flyer Absolute Strap hardware

The second option is a conventional briefcase-type handle which is located directly above the bag’s center of gravity and is quite comfortable.  Finally, the bag’s rear compartment houses backpack straps which can be deployed in a matter of seconds (by the way, you can see the briefcase-style handle on the right in this pic):

Tom Bihn Western Flyer backpack straps

When I first looked at the straps I wondered if they were adequately padded, but they are quite comfortable in use, even with the bag fully loaded; a removable sternum strap also comes with the backpack straps and helps secure the bag for added comfort:

Tom Bihn Western Flyer backpack straps w/ sternum strap

The sternum strap may seem a bit superfluous but if you had the bag on your back and had to hump it through an airport, you’d really appreciate the added security and comfort.  Although I wouldn’t normally opt for using this strap, after using it once I decided to leave it on the bag – it works quite well, weighs practically nothing and would be great for romps through longer concourses.

A plus for any bag like this is that it fold completely flat for easy packing, and that’s the case with the Western Flyer’s two main compartments – their zippers cover 3 full sides of the bag.  In this photo I’ve bundle packed a couple of button down long sleeve shirts along with a pair of chinos, and they fit easily (note the small zippered Bihn pouch with my airline & hotel elite cards attached to an O ring):

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Another unique feature of the bag is the fact that the other compartment is divided by a zippable partition.  Tom Bihn personally designs all of the Bihn bags and one of his requirements is that each travel bag be able to accommodate an extra pair of shoes – and that said shoes shouldn’t “mess up” your other stuff.  With the Western Flyer, this partition is the solution.  Here it is with the compartments empty:

Tom Bihn Western Flyer zippable partition

And here, loaded up with running shoes and shorts on the right, and my Asus Eee PC 1000HA in its neoprene case on the left.  There’s still room in the left compartment for a book or perhaps some travel socks and underwear (click for close-up view):

Tom Bihn Western Flyer compartment with zippable divider

With the Western Flyer you aren’t locked into this configuration, however.  With the partition unzipped you’re afforded a second compartment that is reasonably commodius:

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One other neat feature that’s illustrative of the real-world user experience & clever thinking that have gone into the bag:  on each end there’s a padded “grab handle” that’s perfect for retrieving the bag from overhead compartments or from beneath the seat in front of you:

Tom Bihn Western Flyer grab handle

Speaking of which, in a recent conversation with the Tom Bihn, he pointed out that the 1050 ballistic fabric used on the Western Flyer is a smooth finish nylon which means the bag will slide more easily when you’re retrieving it from beneath the seat or from an overhead compartment than would be the case with 1000 denier Cordura.  In addition, lab testing has shown the 1050 ballistic nylon that’s used in the Western Flyer and other Tom Bihn bags is twice as abrasion resistant as the 1680 ballistic that’s used in many competitive bags.  And when you think about it, abrasion is the ultimate enemy of bags like this, as they’re constantly shoved into and out of trunks and storage & overhead compartments.  This bag’s clearly up to the test.

One thing I haven’t touched upon at length is the wide array of packing cubes, zippered pouches and laptop cases that complement this bag and which are available from Tom Bihn.  There are even removable plastic “annex clips” in the main compartment which can secure one of the Tom Bihn “Brain Cell” laptop cases in the Western Flyer.  You can check out all the Bihn accessories at their website (see below).

How large – or small – is the Western Flyer?

Check out this comparison photo.  On the left is of course the Red Oxx Air Boss; in the middle the Patagonia MLC, and on the right the Western Flyer.  The Air Boss is perfect for 5-6 day or weeklong trips; the MLC taps out when asked to go for more than 3 or perhaps if you travel really light, 4 days; the Western Flyer perfectly fits the 1 or 2 night niche.  The bag weighs a mere 2½ pounds (click for close-up):

Comparison photo:  Red Oxx Air Boss, Patagonia MLC, Tom Bihn Western Flyer

My impressions of the Western Flyer

I can’t imagine a better overnight (or 2 night) bag.  A few observations:

  • With the wide variety of pouches and packing cubes available at Tom Bihn, you can customize the bag so it exactly fits your needs
  • It may seem odd that the bag doesn’t come with a shoulder strap.  Frankly the Western Flyer is small and light enough that you don’t absolutely need it – between the briefcase-type handle and the backpack straps you have a couple of solid carrying options and if they work for you, you’ve saved $10-$30.  If you must have a strap, use one from another bag or order one
  • The “Absolute Strap,” is a fantastic shoulder strap and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it on other bags – it’s that good
  • The backpack straps, although not quite as well padded as those on the MLC or even the Steves Classic bag, were perfectly comfortable.  The rear panel of the backpack strap storage compartment is of course padded for maximum comfort. The backpack straps were added to the bag about a year ago, replacing a sling strap.  Although I haven’t tried the bag equipped with a sling strap, I can’t imagine it’d be more comfortable than this configuration
  • The location of the zipper on the bottom front pocket:  from a functional standpoint, this zipper could be located a bit higher to make it easier to put larger objects in this pocket.  Aesthetically it wouldn’t look quite as good as the current design, however
  • Let’s face it:  the bag has limitations, given its size.  If you absolutely must bring a full size laptop, its power brick and a couple of three ring binders plus some clothing, the Western Flyer will not quite fit your needs; but for quick overnighters with minimal gear, it’s just about perfect
  • There are no pen slots, by the way; Bihn offers a variety of zippered pouches for as little as $6 and as mentioned previously, each compartment has an O ring for securing such accessories
  • It’s obvious a good deal of thought has gone into this bag; I’ve given it the full OCD exam and struggled to find much of anything that I’d change
  • How does the Western Flyer stack up from a Quality Price Ratio standpoint?  Awfully well, in my estimation.  The quality of the materials is right up there with Red Oxx, the bag is loaded with clever and thoughtful details, is manufactured in Seattle, and its price is a very reasonable $160.  (NOTE:  current price is $210.  May, 2012.)  Compared to the  $175 made in Vietnam MLC which features plastic D rings and inadequate zipper pulls, the Western Flyer simply blows the Patagonia bag out of the water

Coming attraction:  road testing the Western Flyer

I don’t have plans for any overnight or 2 night trips in the near future, but I should have an opportunity to give the Western Flyer a more vigorous workout sometime in the next 60 days or so; when I do I’ll add some additional impressions to this review.

You can check out the Western Flyer for yourself at the Tom Bihn website:  Tom Bihn Western Flyer

Please comment if you’ve used the Western Flyer or if you’d like to add to the conversation!

3/23/09 Edit: In response to Michael’s question about the backpack straps on the Western Flyer, I thought I’d post this photo:

Tom Bihn Western Flyer backpack straps detail

3/25/09 Edit: Here’s another photo in response to a comment (#20 below) from John.  In this picture the bag is fully loaded, including the two front pockets; John inquired about whether these pockets impinge upon one another and whether they bulge when loaded…

Tom Bihn Western Flyer - fully loaded


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55 Comments on First Take: Tom Bihn Western Flyer bag

  1. David says:

    Great review! Thank you. Do you have a personal favorite bag?

    Btw, I own a Patagonia Little Brother Carry On. It’s no longer made but seems to be in the same category as the Western Flyer.

    Also, the plastic D rings on the MLC don’t bother me. I’ve never had a plastic part like that break and it makes for a lighter bag.

    [Reply]

  2. Michael W. says:

    Your reviews rock!

    I haven’t found advertising copy (not at Patagonia, RedOxx, or Tom Bihn) that explains the features and functions of “one bags” (carry-on as main luggage) as clearly as you do. Heck, I haven’t found reviews as good at other internet review sites, or in user reviews on the increasingly common user-review sections of retailers and manufacturers own websites.

    With other sites it’s hit or miss, but you nail the important points with both passion and logic.

    Plus the pictures are great!

    I look forward to the day you can include YouTube clips, but recognize that the “project” (your blog) probably already consumes vast amounts of your free time.

    I’m going to spend a few minutes writing up some questions/comments to post later. In the meantime, thanks for the great review, and I’m beginning to see both how the “one bag” concept occupies an important, expanding niche for travelers, and how within that niche there are “micro-niches” which essentially break down into small, medium, and large, with the Bihn, Patagonia, and RedOxx bags all being excellent representatives in those respective categories.

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  3. Michael W. says:

    Are you going to review the full-sized Bihn Aeronaut later? That seems like more of a direct competitor to the Red Oxx Air Boss than the Western Flyer. I’m glad to see Bihn isn’t making the weird “single strap backpack” or sling design anymore. Nowadays I only see single strap “bike messenger sling” bags like that on the geeky bags handed out at software conferences. God gave man two arms and two shoulder and he intended us to make bags with two straps to match. :-)

    It’s cool how the “one-bag” movement (props to you and Doug Dyment for getting me on the “program”) is finding micro-niches – 7 day one-bags, 3 day one-bags, 1 day one-bags! But mainly it’s cool when people pack less and enjoy travel more (mea culpa: I am only starting to get the message in terms of my ACTUAL packing as opposed to my THEORETICAL packing; so far I’ve been an inveterate last minute over-stuffer).

    So here’s my first question:

    How would you compare using the Bihn Western Flyer as a “short business trip” bag vs. your past practice of using a large daypack? That’s key, because as nice as the Western Flyer is, do you think you’d convert from your old large daypack routine for your overnight trips? Why? Better organization? Classier? Won the lottery?

    Here’s my second question:

    Will your Asus ‘netbook fit on the other side of the “shoe compartment” divider? If so, that’s a really, really neat feature, being able to put gym shoes on one side and a ‘netbook on the other.

    And my first comment:

    The Western Flyer is spec’d at 1,600 cubic inches on Bihn’s website, 2.5 pounds by your measurement. For that size (pretty small) I’d almost rather consider (other than the question of appearance) a Patagonia Lightweight Courier (old style was 1,400 cubic inches, 7 ounces) or Patagonia Lightweight Travel Pack (1,647 cubic inches, 15 ounces). I’ve been trying to import my old ultra-light backpacing habits into my air travel routines, and the more I think about it, the less of my available luggage weight allowance (7.5 kg for international) I want to spend on the bag itself.

    But at the same time I don’t want to underestimate the importance of appearance and the value of innate organizing features. After all, the Bihn is way under 3 pounds compared to an 8 or 10 pound wheelie.

    And my second comment:

    One of the main advantages of a bag like the Western Flyer vs. a cheap day pack should be the ability to carry a laptop or smaller ‘netbook safely and comfortable. On that basis, I’m intrigued by the Patagonia Lightwire Briefcase, which is like a mini-MLC with a GREAT laptop slot, suspended against shocks from setting the bag down, PLUS a nice sized clothing compartment with tie-downs (but no shoe compartment) for an overnight change of clothes. And it’s only $100, albeit without the nice materials of the Bihn (Dyneema and ballistics nylon are an awesome combination).

    My third question:

    Are the backpack straps on the Bihn the lightly padded “mesh” type found on some ultralight daypacks and packpacks? If so, that’s a big PLUS, I actually prefer that design over the more common, thickly padded backpack straps used in many other convertible luggage pieces. Those thick foam straps just plain waste too much valuable storage room, they are the “soft sided luggage” equivalent of the carry handle tubes on wheelies that eat up so much interior space. Mesh-style straps have always been plenty comfortable for me, even on a large hiking pack like the now-discontinued Golite Dawn.

    My fourth question:

    Is there any “thin dense foam” padding on any panel of the Bihn, as used on the RedOxx? Or does the ballistics nylon provide the necessary “structure” so the bag doesn’t flop around? This is a win some, lose some, question – I like the foam padding on my Gator and I think you like the thin foam padding on your Air Boss – but it does subtract from available volume and add to weight.

    My third comment:

    I love the fact that BOTH compartments have 3-sided zippers for full opening. It’s really the only way to pack easily and quickly.

    And my final question:

    There are two zipper designs – coil and flat. Which one is on the Bihn? And zippers operate in one of two styles – they either ONLY operate when the pull is moved, not when you pull that opening larger; or they are free to move when you pull on the opening. The “locking” kind is more rare, but imho much better for security – if you leave a zipper partially undone, it won’t open on its own or from pressure from contents. The latter is more convenient – once you unzip a little, you can just pull the sides of the opening apart to finish unzipping. Having lost stuff from zippers that get opened a little and then unzip on their own, I prefer the “won’t unzip unless you operate the pull” style. My RedOxx zippers are the good ones – they won’t budge on their own.

    [Reply]

  4. Greg says:

    Ahhh… That’s what I’m looking for. :)
    Wonderful review. Sounds like a great bag, one that I’d love to get.
    Now… If I could just find a way to justify getting one… ;)

    [Reply]

  5. Kevin says:

    @David: Thanks. As for a favorite, it really depends upon the nature of my travel and for how long I’ll be traveling. As for the plastic components on the MLC, you’re right – they certainly are lighter and no doubt the resin with which they’re made is of high quality. If I were using that bag week in and week out, I’d be a bit more concerned. I still like the MLC – I’m just appalled at the discrepancy between the published specs (dimensions) and the actual dims. Still a nice bag; just not as durable as the Red Oxx and Tom Bihn products.

    @Michael: I think you snuck an extra question in there, but here goes:

    1) The Aeronaut: I’ll review it shortly. I spent some time yesterday poking and prodding it and will do a more in-depth examination this week. My comment about the Air Boss vs. the Western Flyer was in relation to build quality and materials only – not size.
    2) The Western Flyer vs. my old backpack: you can cram a lot of stuff into a backpack but let’s face it, their irregularly shaped compartments are NOT conducive to packing dress shirts and the like. The Western Flyer wins this contest hands down. (I usually used the backpack when traveling to meetings that were reasonably casual – i.e., golf shirts & chinos, etc.
    3) The Asus and the twin compartments: perhaps I misunderstand your question or you misunderstood one of the comments in the post – the Asus IS pictured in the other compartment, beside my running shoes. It’s in its neoprene case. Fits great – still room for other stuff, if needed. (click on that image for a close-up)
    4) The backpack straps: see above – I’ve added another photo. They are not heavily padded, but yet are quite comfortable. (The latches for the straps are hidden in small compartments at the bottom of the bag; as a result the back of the bag has a cleaner appearance – again, he’s thought things through very thoroughly!)
    5) Dense foam: the only foam is in the back panel of the backpack straps compartment, for comfort when using those straps. The ballistic nylon adds a lot of structure to the bag.
    6) Zippers: the zippers are the chain (flat) type. The zippers on this bag, the MLC, the Aeronaut ALL will open under pressure. The only bags in my current arsenal with which this will NOT take place are the Red Oxx Air Boss and Metro. There is no way they’ll open as the result of pressure on the zipper. Try it with your Gator. I don’t know how big a concern this is, but you raise an interesting detail.
    Thanks for your kind words and great comments – and questions!!

    [Reply]

  6. David says:

    Interesting point about the zippers on the Red Oxx. I sometimes stuff my bag so zippers that won’t open under pressure would be of value to me. I may have to reconsider getting a Red Oxx bag.

    About the plastic on the MLC, I don’t travel every week so I doubt it would ever be a problem. The metal on the Red Oxx is highly durable but adds weight where perhaps it isn’t needed. That was my only point.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    David: Totally agree; thanks for your comments. kc

    [Reply]

  7. Paul Z says:

    I’m wondering whether the current MLC is smaller than my 2005-vintage model. I’ve used mine on trips much longer than 3 days, and I don’t consider myself an especially light traveler (despite those 2 weeks in Vietnam with only a backpack that my wife calls a “book bag”…).

    I’ll have to measure and see.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Paul – I suspect you have the earlier version. Check my review: there are a number of photos of the bag as well as the actual dimensions vs. what’s on the Patagonia site. The old version was apparently larger. Thanks for commenting.

    [Reply]

  8. Michael W. says:

    Thanks for answering my questions!

    Yes, bow I see the netbook in there, next to the shoes. That’s a great layout.

    The Bihn sure looks good in black.

    That picture of all 3 bags lined up tells quite a story right there.

    The straps look like the straps on my Black Diamond “Bullet” summit day pack – not thick foam like on a kiddie school pack, not the true mesh – really airy mesh – I was thinking of from my old, now-discontinued Golite Dawn pack.

    If the Bihn straps do indeed match the thin, but solid, ones on my Bullet summit pack, then they should have enough structure so they won’t “fold over” and “bite” they shoulder the way the Golite Dawn pack straps would, when carrying it by a single strap on my shoulder. (BTW single shoulder, single strap carry is one of the reasons I think a shoulder strap is redundant in a “convertible” bag – you just use the backpack straps single or double shouldered in the airport, pack them away in the taxi, and hand your now-suitcase looking bag to the bell cap at your hotel.)

    The Bihn really looks good in black ballistics nylon!

    Did I say that already?

    :-)

    Well just take a look sometime at the Paty Lightwire Briefcase before I plunk down $60 less on that instead of the Bihn – and if you still like the Bihn better, I’ll put the Bihn on my purchase list. I’ve learned to trust your good OCD judgment on these bags.

    Quite frankly it’s pretty amazing what Bihn has done all by himself. Patagonia is a much larger outfit, and while they hit a few home runs now and then, it’s also pretty amazing for all the $$$ they have to spend, that sometimes they still miss the target by (in Don Adam’s voice) “jussst thattt muchhhh!”

    We haven’t had your last word on the MLC yet, eh…and I’m sort of hoping that the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel, their new piece, will prompt you to start dreaming of some ultralight travel, say, to the Carribean or Brazil. Now wouldn’t that be a trip, taking everything on in one 15 ounce bag? (Although I wonder if the Duffel will pack as easily as these square sided, not too deep one-bag wonders – the Bihn looks made for a bundle of clothes on one side, shoes and laptop on the other – toilet kit on top of the skinnier part of the shoes, I suppose. I hear you on the difficulty of packing for the irregular – trapezoidal – shape of a day pack.)

    [Reply]

  9. Morfydd says:

    “The Bihn sure looks good in black.”

    It also looks really really nice in crimson. If I could bring myself to carry a non-black bag I would choose the red in an instant. (Though if they ever brought it out in their sapphire…)

    It is a shame that the WF weighs almost as much as the Aeronaut, which is so much bigger. I also like the layout of the Aeronaut better for non-business packing. The WF is more business-like to me, though, and both look more tailored than most travel gear, which I like.

    The straps are fairly thick, maybe half an inch? They tuck away tidily when not in use and are very comfortable.

    I find it really easy to overpack the Aeronaut to the point that it’s a pain to carry (5’7″ woman in not terribly great shape), so I’m trying to get used to the WF for shorter trips.

    But really, for just overnights, I can pack a change of clothes and a ton of other stuff in the Swift (TB knitting bag) and carry around just what looks like an oversized purse.

    If I want to go ultralight and don’t care about looking professional, I *have* an UL backpack that’s less than 15 ounces. ::grin:: I like the TB bags because they’re indestructible, smartly organized, and good looking all at once.

    [Reply]

  10. Darcy says:

    Regarding the zippers -

    I’ve never had a customer tell us that the zippers on their TOM BIHN bag have opened on their own. I’ve been using just about every style of bag we make (one of the benefits of working here!) for over seven years and I’ve never had that happen either – even with an over-stuffed Aeronaut. That isn’t to say it couldn’t happen, but we’ve never heard of it.

    We use coil zippers with non-locking sliders specifically because locking sliders can damage the coil zipper if you put a lot of pressure on the zipper by trying to open it without disengaging the lock on the slider. This is less true with the plastic tooth zippers. However, plastic tooth zippers don’t go around corners as easily nor are they available in the Uretek “splash-proof” style that we prefer.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Darcy,

    Thanks for stopping by! You raise a good point. When I was yanking on the zipper on my Air Boss it occurred to me that one could damage the zipper by doing, uh, er, just what I was doing.

    One thing that surprises me: you mention that Tom uses coil zippers. I looked at the zippers on the Western Flyer while referring to the page at One Bag where Doug compares zipper types, and the zippers on the WF certainly look like chain or flat zippers. Can you clarify? Thanks again – the bag is a really nice product!

    [Reply]

  11. Darcy says:

    The Western Flyer zippers are definitely coil zippers. Because they’re the YKK Uretek splash-proof variety of zipper, they are reverse installed so that the teeth are on the inside.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    @ Darcy – Thanks for clarifying!
    @ Morfydd – Thx. for joining the conversation; sounds like you are an experienced one bag traveler!!

    [Reply]

  12. David says:

    I think it speaks well of Tom Bihn and this site that Darcy responded on behalf of the maker of the bags. I googled “YKK Uretek splash-proof” and almost all the results refer to Tom Bihn products. Does anyone else use these zippers or is it just that Bihn talks about it more than other makers?

    [Reply]

  13. Darcy says:

    We’re actually one of the few bag manufacturers that use the YKK splash-proof zippers.

    [Reply]

  14. David says:

    Thanks Darcy. Again that speaks well of TB!!!! Does the Zephyr have them as well? I ask because this bag is on my short list.

    [Reply]

  15. KarlJ says:

    Thanks for putting together such a wonderful review and photos. The observations and impressions you share would be of help to anyone looking for the best one-bag overnight solution.

    [Reply]

  16. John says:

    The front zippered pockets are intriguing. How much does filling one influence the capacity of the other? When one or both are filled, do they impinge on the capacity of the compartment behind them or do they cause the bag to bulge?

    Thanks for the great review. I’m looking forward to your review of the Aeronaut, as my wife is now trying to choose between it and the Red Oxx Sky Train.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    @John,

    Thanks for commenting. As for your questions regarding the front pockets, the answer to both is “yes” but I’d quickly point out that I don’t think it affects anything materially. I just loaded the bag up completely – in the main compartment, 2 bulky button down long sleeve shirts, a pair of chinos, with a golf shirt and some underwear as the bundle’s core. In the compartment with the divider, a pair of running shoes, a pair of socks and a tee shirt in one side, my netbook in its neoprene case, its power brick and an extra tee shirt on the other side. The bag was fairly full at that point.

    In the top (or rear) front compartment, I placed my “dry” toiletries – deodorant, razor, earplugs and the like – in the bottom of the pocket along with an eyeglass case. On top of that I put some antiseptic wipes in a ziploc bag; on top of that I put my 1 quart 3-1-1 liquids bag. The pocket was full.

    Did it bulge a tiny bit? Yes. Was I unable to put my Blackberry and iPod shuffle plus a pair of earbuds in the bottom front pocket? Not at all.

    The contents of one of these pockets will impinge on the capacity of the other a bit – but there’s a bit of “give” in the material and I – even though I’m pretty picky – don’t find it objectionable. At all.

    I’ll insert another photo at the end of the post so you can see what the bag looks when packed full – as described above.

    As for the Sky Train, I love Red Oxx and am interested in that bag (I don’t have a sample) but I have to say, I look at those backpack straps and shrug my shoulders. I’ll see if I can get my hands on a sample – I’d love to try one out.

    The Aeronaut has the same build quality as the Western Flyer but it is a completely different design. I need to spend some more time with it… and hope to post a review early next week.

    @KarlJ: thanks for stopping by – and commenting!

    [Reply]

  17. John says:

    Thanks, Kevin. You answered my questions, and the photograph was helpful.

    John

    [Reply]

  18. Jason says:

    I hate using a laptop sleeve because it adds bulk and weight I can do without (I think my thinkpad is study enough as well..)

    Since the WF opens on all four sides, how likely is it that, when I open it to take out something else when it’s by my side, that the entire bag spills open and everything (laptop, shoes, etc) all fall out?

    Thanks for the great review!

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    @Jason: if you simply want to retrieve something, just unzip that compartment only as much as necessary, pull out your item and rezip. Same thing’s true with the Air Boss, MLC, etc. It’s a non-issue. Thanks for commenting! kc

    [Reply]

  19. Matt M says:

    I wonder if the WF could be used as a briefcase and stored under the seat. It seems like it might work but each seat can be different even on large planes. I’m also debating whether it would be good for an everyday briefcase, though it might be a bit large for that.

    Nice review. I like seeing user pictures of the products.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    @Matt M: you could use the WF as a briefcase and I believe it’d fit beneath any seat, but it would look a bit funky as a briefcase. It’s fairly apparent that it’s a piece of luggage… Just my opinion.

    [Reply]

  20. Darcy says:

    I’ll respectfully disagree with Kevin here – I use the Western Flyer as an everyday briefcase when I carry my 15.4″ MacBook Pro, and I don’t think it looks funky or too much like luggage. (You’ll, of course, want to make sure the backpack straps are zipped away!) Just a matter of personal taste, I think. :)

    [Reply]

  21. John says:

    I use a Travelpro briefcase (a now discontinued model) with roughly the same dimensions as the Western Flyer. It has three main sections: one for a laptop, one for laptop accessories, and one for files and such. It also has a smaller compartment on the front for pens, cell phone, and miscellaneous things. I’ve never had trouble fitting it under an airline seat.

    I used to look at the briefcase and think it could work as a very light suitcase if it had two main compartments without the padding for a laptop, dividers for files, and fewer pockets and pouches for accessories. Then I heard about the Western Flyer. It appears to be an appealing hybrid: a bag that can serve either as briefcase, a suitcase, even both, depending on the circumstances. I don’t own it, but am seriously tempted.

    I would guess that if you were planning to use the WF primarily as a briefcase, buying a shoulder strap and accessories such as those offered by Tom Bihn to protect and organize your things would be a must. This would make for a very expensive briefcase. A cheaper and perhaps better alternative might be either his Empire Builder or Zephyr bags. These are traditional briefcases with useful organizational features built-in.

    [Reply]

  22. Richard says:

    For what its worth, I will be traveling cross country later today with the Western Flyer carrying 4 days worth of clothing – 4 dress shirts, I pair slacks, 4 sets of underwear, 4 pr socks, toiletries, workout shirt and shorts, and cross-training shoes. (Admittedly, I will be carrying a brief case for my papers, laptop, kindle and chargers.) The Western Flyer does not look stuffed and there is room in the front pockets for small stuff and the 3-1-1 bag. It can hold a large amount for so small a bag!

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Richard -

    Let us know how you make out; would love to hear about it!

    [Reply]

  23. Richard says:

    Made it to San Diego with no problems. Plane was packed – too many wheeled bags for the space. The Western Flyer easily fit in the space I found overhead that was too small for a wheeled bag. All clothes are in good shape – shirts, slacks hung overnight and no wrinkles.

    More as the trip goes on.

    [Reply]

  24. Matt M says:

    If you can, see how often (if at all) the WF will fit under the seat. I travel mostly on large planes and the WF seems to be nearly the same size as some of my backpacks that can fit under the set in front of me. But you never really know until you try it.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    @Matt: Totally agree with Eric; the WF should fit under virtually any airline seat.

    [Reply]

  25. Eric says:

    @Matt M: I’m quite certain the WF will fit nicely under even a small airline seat. I’ve put my Aeronaut under my seat in coach with only a little smooshing, and the Aeronaut is lot larger than the WF.

    Just a tip, sometimes I will put my bag under the seat, then pull it toward me after takeoff, so it’s sort of under my knees. That way I can extend my legs under the seat. In fact, I’ve even left it there for landing once when the flight attendant failed to notice it wasn’t completely under the seat.

    [Reply]

    Paul Reply:

    You rebel!!

    [Reply]

    Eric Reply:

    I know, right? I’m such a risk taker.
    :)

    [Reply]

  26. Richard says:

    The difficulty I have had with the WF is on a Boeing 757 aisle seat where the space is somewhat narrower than on other planes. The bag will just squeeze in. I have never tried pulling the bag out once in flight to allow me to stretch out – I will have to try that on the way home in a couple of days.

    [Reply]

  27. Richard says:

    Almost home. The WF has been a champ throughout the trip. It has held all I asked and it still could hold a bit, a tiny bit, more. The bag fits nicely behind your legs while in flight giving full leg room – it sort of slips into that narrow niche between the edge of the seat and the bar that defines the end of the under-seat storage of the seat behind you without impinging on the space behind. Very comfortable way to spend a 4 hour flight in coach. The absolute strap is wonderful. I had a chance to switch off between the “suspension” type strap from Waterfield Design and the Absolute strap. The Absolute strap wins hands down – the Waterfield strap does a commendable job but the absolute strap does a better job of distributing the load on your shoulder or when worn bandolero style. Ultimately it is more comfortable.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    @Richard -

    Thanks for your comments about the WF – they’re a big plus for everyone!

    [Reply]

  28. David says:

    Thank you, Richard. Could you let us know about how much your bag weighs with the contents you carried. I would find that helpful.

    [Reply]

  29. Richard says:

    Without the shoulder strap, packed as described somewhere up there, the bag weighed 12-13 lbs.

    [Reply]

  30. Michael W. says:

    After reading your review on the updated Patagonia MLC with your comment responding to a reader’s question on the MLC as a “back up” to a TriStar, I came back here to double check the Western Flyer which might just be perfectly sized for my light requirements (the Steves Classic is too big, so is the TriStar, the MLC is almost right, the smaller Western Flyer might just be perfect for me) – only to discover – gasp -

    that the Bihn website is pricing the Western Flyer at $180 now, compared to the $160 you mentioned back in March OF THIS YEAR. Ouch! The wrong direction on pricing in the current economy. I’d buy it at $160, but at $180 I guess I’ll learn to live with the slightly larger MLC at the REDUCED $160 price.

    Gotta admit, though, the shoe divider idea in this bag is brilliant, and I like the idea of the little o-rings so I can add pouches to customize the organization.

    [Reply]

  31. Ray says:

    Best review of the Western Flyer I have seen online. Thanks.
    Will the Eagle Creek Pack-It 18 Folder (which you previously reviewed as well) fit in the main compartment of this bag?

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Ray:

    Thanks. I no longer have a Western Flyer, so I can’t say for sure, but I believe it wouldn’t fit. Perhaps someone else can comment.

    [Reply]

  32. Eric says:

    I don’t think it would fit. I have a Tri-Star, and the 18″ Folder fits almost perfectly in the back compartment. The Western Flyer is quite a bit smaller. Eagle Creek does make a 12″ Folder too (I have one). I would try that.

    [Reply]

  33. Michael W. says:

    The Pack-It 18 I have won’t fit. The Pack-Its aren’t labelled by size, but mine measured 17″ unpacked (packing board length) so I assume it’s the right one. It’s just a tag too big un-packed and with a typical clothing pack probably wouldn’t come close. The 15″ will work of course but that means a lot of wasted space plus the 18″ is more suited for mens shirts, the 15″ for women’s blouses.

    [Reply]

  34. Ray says:

    That’s too bad. The Pack-it 18 is sized just right for me since my shirts are XXL. Works great with the Air Boss IVe been using the past few years but I frequently have extra space so I was looking for something smaller. I also have an MLC which could fit the bill but I hate that it bulges so easily even when it is not so full. Thanks for the quick replies, guys!

    [Reply]

  35. Eric says:

    I would give the Tri-star a try. It’s smaller than the airboss. I like it because it will also fit under an airline seat.

    [Reply]

  36. Ray says:

    Been thinking the same, Eric..I really like the red one if only because I already have too many black bags, however one reviewer (gadgeteer) regrets his color choice as his has been a dirt magnet. Have you had similar problems – I think you have the red one too, right, Kevin? I can imagine that if needed, with the watertight zippers one can just clean the ballistic nylon exterior with a soapy sponge and wipe the inside dry as needed. Any similar long term observations re the Tristar (or components like the tristar specific packing cubes)?

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Ray,

    My is crimson, and it’s held up very well in terms of not showing dirt. Keep in mind, however, that I’m probably not the typical user – I have so many bags, few of them see rigorous use.

    [Reply]

  37. Eric says:

    I have a red (crimson) Aeronaut, and yes it does get dirty easily. My TriStar is gray (steel?). I have traveled for business with it nearly every week for the past year, and it still looks like new. I also prefer the yellow interior, it makes a nice contrast and easy to see when a pocket gets left open by accident.

    [Reply]

  38. Eric says:

    Other observations about the TriStar: I really like the arrangement of compartments front to back. At first I used my Eagle Creek 18″ PackIt in the back compartment, but I found that using some modified bundle-wrapping and the internal straps keeps things almost as nice and saves some weight.

    The front 3 pockets could use a re-design in my opinion. All three pockets go down to the bottom of the bag, but this make everything sort of pile up down there. I personally would prefer the pockets not be quite so deep, so my stuff is distributed a little better vertically. But that’s a bit of a nit-pick.

    I carry a laptop, magazines, and an iPad in the center along with my chargers and such in a small packing cube. I find that the bag works well this way, but sometimes I wish it had a bit of padding on the bottom! I use a Cache sleeve to protect my laptop, but if I have a lot to take I’ll leave that at home and stick a T-shirt in the bottom of the bag for padding (every ounce counts!).

    [Reply]

  39. [...] The Practical Hacks review of the Western Flyer carry-on continues in the comments section, where reader Richard is posting updates on his road test of the bag. Click here to read the comments and find out how the Western Flyer did on a flight to San Diego. [...]

  40. Ricardo Tavares says:

    Hi there! I am thinking about using the western flyer as a personal itens bag. My worry is that it 1 inch higher and 2 inches wider than the maximum size, but I am hoping since it’s soft it will get through. What do you think?

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    I think you’ll be absolutely fine!

    [Reply]

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