The Highs: High end components, impeccable build quality, feature rich design
The Lows: There’s a price to be paid for all this goodness
The Verdict: An utterly fantastic bag for 3 to 5 day – or longer – trips
There’s something deeply satisfying about using a piece of equipment or product that’s thoughtfully designed and perfectly executed: the positive, precise feel of the switchgear on any Acura; the silky operation of a Kirk tripod head; the perfect heft and balance of a high end chef’s knife; and dare I say, the new Tom Bihn Tri-Star.
The Tri-Star is so well thought out, so beautifully made, its materials so obviously rich, its stitching so perfect, it practically redefines the state of the art for lightweight carry-on bags. Bihn may have a dilemma on its hands: the Tri-Star raises the bar for all soft sided, non-wheelie bags… including the company’s other models. The Tri-Star is that nice.
My wife, who clings tenaciously to her $39 Olympia 22″ expandable wheelie and thinks carrying a bag over ones shoulder or on your back is the dumbest idea imaginable, has never issued a single comment on any of the bags that’ve shown up in my home office. Until the Tri-Star arrived. “Hey, that red bag in your office is really nice,” she commented one night. After picking my jaw off the floor, I asked why.
“Uh, the size of it, and the design – the zippers, the way the pockets are – it just looks a lot nicer than those other bags, which are all sort of industrial looking,” she said, “This one’s just nicer. It looks good for a weekend trip.”
I’m by no means convinced she’s about to convert to a non-wheelie, but I found her reaction interesting. This bag simply oozes quality. Let’s take a closer look…
The Tri-Star (the name is apparently a reference to the bag’s three carry modes) is a mid-sized, soft sided carry-on that fits between the Western Flyer and Aeronaut in the Bihn line:
The Western Flyer is suited to quick overnight or 3d/2n trips; the Aeronaut, for longer, 5-7+ day journeys. The Tri-Star fits the middle of the spectrum. For business travelers, it’s perfect for 3-5 day trips with business casual attire, workout gear, and the requisite folders and laptop; for those who go the minimal, washable lightweight clothing route, it can work for week and a half – or longer jaunts. (For an example – a Bihn customer who went to Europe for 18 days with nothing more than her Tri-Star – click on this link: Europe 2009 on 17 lbs. ) By the way – click on any of the images in this post for a close-up view.
Let’s take a look at the specs and then go on a guided tour:
- 19″ x 13″ x 8″ (480 x 330 x 205mm)
- 3.4 lbs. / 1550 grams
- Volume: 2000 cu. in. / 33 liters
- Exterior: 1050 denier Ballistic nylon. Available in 4 colors: Indigo, Crimson, Steel, Black
- Lined with ultra light Dyneema/nylon ripstop fabric
- #10 & #8 YKK Uretek “splash proof” zippers
- Comes with metal zipper tabs; cord pulls also included, should you prefer them
- Meets domestic and most international airlines’ carry-on size requirements; fits in overhead on CRJ commuters; meets Heathrow luggage requirements
- Converts to a backpack
- Carry handles feature Poron foam for comfort
- Heavy gauge double plated D rings for optional shoulder strap
- Compartments feature numerous O rings for securing key tabs and small Bihn pouches; bag comes with one key tab
- Grab handles on both ends for retrieval from overhead compartments
- 3 primary compartments: front – 19″ x 13″ x 2½”; center – 19″ x 13″ x 2¾”; rear – 19″ x 13″ x 2¾”
- Front compartment is zippered on 3 sides, features the Bihn zippered divider
- Center compartment’s zipper spans the top of the bag and extends 3″ down each side; this compartment features clips to secure a Bihn “Brain Cell” (laptop sleeve)
- Rear compartment is zippered on 3 sides, features compression straps for securing clothing
A quick tour…
The front of the bag features 3 zippered compartments that are 10″ wide and remarkably commodius. As with the Western Flyer, the top pocket runs behind the other two and is 10½” deep; it easily accommodated a 7½” x 9½” soft cover book (a Kindle will easily fit in this pocket, by the way). The middle compartment extends downward behind the bottom pocket and measures 9″ deep; it’s perfect for your TSA 3-1-1 liquids bag and perhaps one or two other small items. The bottom compartment is 6″ deep and is great for keys, snacks, a music player, passport, and other small items. All 3 compartments feature O rings for key tabs or any of the plethora of pouches offered by Bihn.
On the other side of the front of the bag is a compartment with an elliptically shaped, zippered opening. This is a great place for boarding passes. If you prefer, it can accommodate a water bottle, which can be secured with a snap closure. There’s no need to zip this compartment closed when you’ve got a bottle in it and are using the backpack straps; this end of the bag is on top when in backpack mode; the bottle’s weight (plus the snapped enclosure) will keep it safely in place. If using it for boarding passes or documents, they shouldn’t fall out, but zip it up anyway; better safe than sorry. Note that in this picture the pocket is fully unzipped to afford you a better view; in practice it’d be zipped up at least a third of the way:
The 3 main compartments…
The front compartment features the same zippered divider that we saw on the Western Flyer. Tom is a firm believer that any good travel bag should accommodate an extra pair of shoes, and that’s what the right side compartment is intended for. The divider keeps your shoes safely segregated from the clothing or other items stored on the left side. If carrying extra footwear isn’t something you need, unzip the divider and you have another 19″ x 13″ x 2½” deep compartment that unzips on all 3 sides enabling the bag to open flat for easy packing with packing cubes, rolls, or bundles:
The center compartment is a straightforward affair which features “Annex Clips” which secure a Bihn laptop case. Those cases are available in a variety of sizes to handle different laptops; if you’re not going to use the clips, they’re removable. As I use a netbook on the road, I use this compartment for underwear, extra clothing, folders, and the like.
The rear compartment is (obviously) zippered on all three sides and features compression straps for securing your clothing. For the record, the bundle shown here included 4 long sleeve oxford shirts, a pair of chinos, and two golf shirts served as the core. An O ring is visible at the top (middle right in this image) of the rear side; there are two additional O rings in this compartment – more about this in a moment.
And just a quick example of how the bag might be packed for the type of travel I usually do (business casual) – the aforementioned bundle in the back compartment, underwear, my “dry” toiletry items and a few odds and ends in the middle compartment, and my Asus netbook in its neoprene sleeve on the left, and a pair of running shoes on the right in the front compartment. As the bottom of each of these compartments isn’t padded, I put a couple of pair of athletic socks beneath the netbook for cushioning.
Nothing new here – backpack straps deploy as you’d expect. They’re comfortable in use; as you’d expect, the back surface of the bag is padded with dense foam for added comfort. The straps easily tuck away when not in use.
Clever, thoughtful touches abound…
One of the neatest things about checking out any Tom Bihn bag is discovering all the neat features that have been included. The Tri-Star is loaded with such features. Some are new; some are old favorites, like the fact that the latches for the backpack straps are tucked away in little hidden pockets:
The stitching and detail work throughout are impeccable. Kudos to the folks in the Bihn sewing department: these bags are flawlessly sewn!
I mentioned earlier that there’s an O ring on the back wall of the “main” compartment; on the other side, there are two more. These a great for securing pouches with small items or important documents. Another really neat feature: the compression straps are removable via “gatekeepers” on the strap anchors (note the metal clasp, below right) – a really thoughtful touch:
I’ve used a lot of different bags over the years, and this is one of – if not THE most – carefully conceived and executed bags I’ve seen. I find myself going back to certain bags, time and time again, when it comes time to pack. The Air Boss is one of those bags, for instance; there’s no doubt the Tri-Star will fall into that category as well. A few final thoughts and observations as we wrap up:
- A couple of features I haven’t mentioned: the briefcase handles are comfortable and distribute the bag’s load evenly. The D rings for a shoulder strap are offset: one is located on the seam between the rear and middle compartments and the other is located on the seam between the middle and front compartments. Good news: this helps evenly distribute the bag’s weight.
- As I alluded to earlier, this is a great bag for 3-5 business casual trips… or longer, if you go the minimalist, washable clothing route. This is not, however, a bag you’re going to pack a suit in. Some Tri-Star owners may disagree, but if you’re packing a suit, the Aeronaut or other mlc-type bag is the way to go
- Although I’ve totally drunk the Kool-Aid with regard to bundle packing, I should mention that Bihn has designed a set of packing cubes expressly for the Tri-Star; they come in 3 sizes and are reasonably priced
- Unlike many other soft sided bags, the Tri-Star has enough structural integrity to stand upright when empty, adding to its impression of quality and durability
- This is not a bare bones bag with a few simple compartments and little else; rather, it’s fully featured with a lot of built in extras and conveniences. As I mentioned at the top, all these features – and all the associated materials and labor – add up. The Tri-Star costs $240. Is it worth it? That depends on how – and how often – you travel, and the degree to which you’re willing to pay for quality, convenience, and durability. As is the case with all Tom Bihn bags, the Tri-Star is backed by a lifetime warranty and is made at the Bihn factory in Seattle, Washington
- You can see the Tri-Star at the Tom Bihn website: Tom Bihn Tri-Star
I’ll be making a quick trip to the west coast this week, and will use the Tri-Star. I’ll try to take a few photos as I pack, and will update this post as appropriate once I’ve put it to the test. If you’ve used the Tri-Star or other Bihn bags, please join the conversation by commenting!
The Fine Print: I have no connection to Tom Bihn
Follow-up: Traveling with the Tri-Star was a pleasure. The only thing I’d mention to business travelers is that if you’re packing dress shirts using the bundle method, fitting the bundle into the main compartment can be a bit tricky; I had to pack a tighter bundle than normal in order to make it work. Upon arrival, I steamed shirts a bit in the bathroom and all was fine. The Tri-Star will definitely have a place in my regular bag rotation – it’s a keeper!!