Design tweaks ensure it remains the best shoulder strap available anywhere
I was excited when I learned a few months ago that Tom Bihn was updating their Absolute Strap. The winner of our “Shoulder Strap Comparo,” the Absolute Strap has to date offered the best combination of comfort, grip, and quality of any shoulder strap on the market; I was curious to see how Bihn would advance its design.
As you can see from the photos below, the design changes are more evolutionary than revolutionary. Two of the most significant changes are in fact impossible to discern in these photos; but as you’ll see in a few moments, there are actually several changes, some of which aren’t mentioned on the Bihn website. For the record, the new strap is shown in the photo on the right:
First: What makes for a good shoulder strap?
When evaluating shoulder straps, there are really only a few critical requirements.
- First, the strap must be comfortable when you’re standing and walking. Generally, the wider the strap, the more comfortable it’ll be, as the load is distributed over a larger area on your shoulder. When walking, the strap needs some flexibility or “give” – when it flexes under load, that load will seem a bit lighter.
- A second critical requirement is that the strap must resist slipping off your shoulder – it needs to be sufficiently “grippy” so that it doesn’t slip around. If not, you’ll constantly be readjusting its position on your shoulder, which can be a major distraction.
- Finally, it needs to be durable. What good is a comfortable strap with excellent grip if it won’t stand up to daily use?
Another way to appreciate these requirements is to imagine the worst possible strap - something like a 1″ wide, smooth plastic strip. At only 1″, it would tend to dig into your shoulder as opposed to distributing the load across a wider area. Made of a rigid material, it’d have absolutely no “give”, so your shoulder will bear all the stress of the up and down movement of your bag. Finally, the smooth plastic wouldn’t have any grip – and would as a result tend to slide off your shoulder.
The original Absolute Strap had all three critical criteria covered; let’s see how the new strap differs from the old.
A comparison of the old and new versions of the Absolute Strap
The image to the left captures the most important differences between new (left) and old versions of the Absolute Strap. The new strap has an “ergonomic curve” to its design to make it even a bit more comfortable; in addition, this shoulder pad section is longer than that on its predecessor.
This offers two benefits: the longer section affords you a bit more leeway when putting the pad on your shoulder, and it gives the non-slip grippy material (backed with neoprene) a bit more “give” than the prior version had. Using the method described in the Shoulder Strap Comparo, I suspended a 4.4 pound weight with the strap and measured the amount of deflection; I then switched to a 20 pound weight and then measured the increased amount of deflection: with the heavier weight, the strap “gave” a full 1-3/8 inch. The previous version, subjected to the same test, “gave” 1-1/4″ inch… the new strap is a bit more flexible than the old strap. This is a good thing.
One thing which you may be able to pick up on from the photo, but which is not mentioned on the Bihn site: the new shoulder pad is 1/8″ wider (at 2-3/4″ wide) than the old. Again, this will help distribute the load you’re carrying over a slightly wider area on your shoulder, another good thing.
The same thing is true of the webbing used on the strap; the new webbing is 1/8″ wider than the old, and it’s made from U.S.-made nylon, as opposed to the polypropylene which was used for the old webbing. The greater width can only enhance the durability of this component:
The non-slip material used on the underside of the shoulder pad appears unchanged, other than its shape. Something you might have noticed in the photo at the top of this post: the stitching is a bit finer in execution, and as a result there are more stitches used in assembling the pad, again offering a subtle enhancement to durability:
Hardware is unchanged: still double plated U.S.-made heavy gauge steel. The snap hooks are compatible with the D rings you’ll find on most bags:
Shoulder Strap Comparo II: Is there any point?
As I’ve mentioned here a couple of times in the past few months, I’ve been preparing for a second shoulder strap comparison. The likely candidates were the new Absolute Strap, the Briggs & Riley Flexible Shoulder Strap, perhaps the original Claw strap from Quake Industries, and possibly the Daymakers strap recently reviewed here.
Frankly, I see little point in going forward with that test. The Claw strap is like the Red Oxx/Claw featured in the first comparo (came in 2nd to the old Absolute Strap), only with less substantial hardware and in any event, the Claw doesn’t flex worth a damn. The Briggs & Riley strap is a fine strap, but its slightly shorter/narrower shoulder pad can’t quite match that of the new Absolute…
…and in fact in a quick weight test, it flexes only about an inch when the 20 pound weight is added. The Daymakers strap is a fine strap with an interesting emphasis on security, but it too lacks the flex of the Absolute.
Unless one of you can recommend another strap that you think can go head to head with the Absolute Strap, I don’t see any point in going forward with the additional comparison test.
As for the Absolute, it’s an apt name. The best shoulder strap on the market just got better. See it at the Tom Bihn website: Absolute Strap by Tom Bihn.
Weight: 7.97 ounces / 226g. Length: adjustable from 20″ to 52″ Origin: made in the U.S. Price: $30
The Fine Print: I have no connection with Tom Bihn; I was provided a sample of this product to assist in the writing of this post.
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