The Highs: Bihn quality; super lightweight; secure in backpack mode; attractive price

The Lows: Need to compress items before packing to fully leverage its effectiveness as a cube

The Verdict: A double-duty product that doesn’t over-compromise

I’ve always looked at multi-function products with a healthy dose of skepticism.  A Swiss Army knife is a neat little tool, but if you want a good pair of scissors, or a great knife, or a capable screwdriver, let’s face it:  a Swiss Army knife is about the last tool you’d look to.  Yes, it’s handy in a pinch, but the compromises involved in packing a dozen tools into a tiny package are significant, and I’d argue it’s a tool that does nothing particularly well.

What then, to make of a product that seeks to serve as a packing cube and as a daypack?  The direct result of customer feedback on the Bihn website forum, the two available models of Bihn Packing Cube/Backpacks are simple rectangular daypacks which also function en route as packing cubes.  Unlike top loading packs, these unzip practically all the way on 3 sides, making packing them a snap as well as making retrieving items from them when used as a daypack quite easy.

Recently a question arose as to how secure these packs are when used in the backpack mode, so when I shot a simple video overview, I also addressed that specific issue:


Two Versions

As mentioned in the video, the Bihn Packing Cube/Backpack is available in two sizes:  one designed to fit the Tri-Star and Western Flyer, and one spec’d for the Aeronaut.  One clarification:  the cube/packpacks feature an O ring for a key tab, but the key tab is not included; my bad – sorry for any confusion.  They are quite similar dimensionally, and of course will work with a multitude of bags from other manufacturers.

Tri-Star/Western Flyer version

  • Designed to fit into the main compartments of the Tri-Star and Western Flyer carry-on travel bags
  • Simple webbing backpack straps don’t take up much space
  • #5 YKK coil-type zippers
  • Japanese made 200 denier nylon/Dyneema ripstop fabric
  • Overall dimensions:  18″ x 12.25″ x 3.5″ / 460 x 310 x 90mm
  • 1100 cu in, ASTM Standard Measure
  • 7 oz / 200 grams
  • Made in Seattle, U.S.A.
  • $30

Aeronaut version

  • Same specs as above, except:
  • Overall dimensions (as a packing cube): 13.5″ x 13.5″ x 4.25″ / 345 x 345 x 105mm
  • Volume (as a backpack): 16 liters (975 cu. in.), ASTM Standard Measure
  • 9.2 oz / 260 g
  • $40

A photo tour

The reason why the bag is stable in the backpack mode stems from the location of the backpack straps themselves.  At the top of the bag, they’re located near its center, and at its bottom, near the outside edges; as a result, the straps tend to fit snugly beneath your arms:

#5 YKK coil type zippers are used throughout, and there are double pulls on the main compartment of each bag, allowing you to use small locks, if you prefer.  (Both compartments on the Aeronaut cube/pack feature double pulls.)

As you can see in any of these images, the stitching quality is superb, and where required, key seams & attachment points are heavily bar tacked:

The buckles are of high quality, and adjusting them was a cinch (ha, I amuse myself).  The backpack straps are a full 1-7/8″ wide, and are actually quite comfortable, given the relatively light loads the bag will see as a daypack:

The cube/daypack is also fitted with a top loop handle which is fine for occasional use:


Sample Packing

To determine how much I could place in one of these packs, I used the Tri-Star/Western Flyer model and packed the following items:

  • 2 long sleeve turtleneck shirts
  • 5 tee shirts
  • 2 Ex-Officio v-neck undershirts
  • 3 pair Ex-Officio underwear
  • 2 pair athletic socks
  • 3 pair travel socks
  • 1 Capilene long sleeve baselayer shirt

Here’s the cube, loaded with these items; note that I’ve used rubber bands to compress some of the smaller items.  It looks as though everything won’t fit, because the side of the cube has collapsed a bit…

… but here’s the cube zipped shut, and there’s still a bit of room left over for a few additional squishable/stuffable items:

And, just for reference, here’s a shot of the Aeronaut cube/backpack version in my Aeronaut; there’s an inch or two of additional space still available above the cube/backpack:

Wrapping up

Packing cubes serve two functions:  they help organize your packed clothing and items, and they can be used to compress clothing, thereby maximizing storage space.  A “packing cube” as large as these is a bit of an oddity, in that they’re nearly as large as the main compartments they’re intended to fit (see image above).

By compressing individual items (as I’ve done above by rolling smaller items and rubber banding them) and frankly by filling the cube/pack to a point where it looks as though you’ve exceeded its capacity, you can still achieve some degree of compression and thereby help maximize storage space.  One might also consider packing larger articles of clothing in compression bags prior to loading into these packing cube/backpacks in order to maximize the remaining space in the bag.

As a bonus, each of these can also serve as simple yet effective daypacks.  They may not have the cachet of a Black Diamond Bullet or a Marmot Kompressor, but they weigh much less, cost less, are perfectly functional, and are super easy to pack – and unpack.  Moreover, if you’re navigating a neighborhood that’s a bit sketchy, they won’t attract undue attention (unless you opt for the solar color!).  At the price, they’re a solid value.  Both are available in a variety of colors, and are backed by Bihn’s excellent warranty and service.

See them at the Bihn website:

Tom Bihn Packing Cube/Backpack – Aeronaut model

Tom Bihn Packing Cube/Backpack – Tri-Star/Western Flyer model

The Fine Print:  I have no connection with any of the companies mentioned in this post.  I was provided sample packing cube/backpacks to assist in the preparation of this article.

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9 Comments on Quick Take: Tom Bihn Packing Cube/Backpack

  1. Michael W. says:

    Hi,

    I love these packs; I have the Aeronaut version. The Dyneema material they are made from is heralded as ultra-strong but lightweight – it has Kevlar style reinforcing fibers. I know Go-Lite used to brag about using this material (under a different trade name) in their Breeze ultralight long distance backpack, and that material held up to the rigors of long, hard hikes very well indeed.

    Anyway my Aeronaut version is a tremendous value based on the quality of workmanship and use of the ultralight, but super-strong, Dyneema. Really overkill compared to ordinary nylon materials from Eagle Creek etc., but honestly I think the Dyneema has a nicer hand, looks classier. And at 7 or 9 ounces per bag, the weight saving is definitely there.

    Bihn is to be applauded for using simple nylon webbing for the straps without padding. A lot of modern straps are simply over-built – nylon webbing BY ITSELF is often sufficient, but feature-creep over the years pretty much dictates that packs straps nowadays must be padded or they are viewed as “cheap.” Wrong. Padding adds enormous weight and bulk and should only be used when actually needed. These unpadded straps work just fine for this niche use. I often give preference to packs (like the Marmot Kompressor and Patagonia Lightweight Travel Pack) because they have had the good sense to be contrarians and use LESS padding on their straps.

    I believe your pack volume on the Aeronaut version is wrong – doesn’t include the “shoe compartment” on the bottom. The Aeronaut version is designed to be folded inside out when used as a packing cube in the square Aeronaut main compartment, but folded into regular mode for backpack use. The Aeronaut version thus loses part of its volume when in “cube only” mode and I believe that is the volume you are showing in your table as provided by Bihn. Please note that when in “inside out,” cube-only mode, the “shoe compartment” and straps, which are now inside, will reduce the available packing cube space. My preference, if used in the Aeronaut (which I do not have) would be to NOT turn the pack inside out, but just not fill the shoe compartment.

    In short, I believe the Aeronaut version has more usable space AND that the secondary compartment is well worth it.

    BTW I trial packed both the OPEC and Steves Classic convertible packs with the Aeronaut version in “full sized” mode and it works well in both, although it is not sized to fit the main compartment completely (after all these two bags are not Bihns), but the remaining space was easy to fill up with smaller items.

    These are on my “gems” list of bags that are great for travelers but not widely known.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Michael,

    Of course you’re right – I neglected to turn the Aeronaut cube/pack inside out for use as a cube – but it fit anyway, despite the snaps on the floor of the Aeronaut being snapped.

    And the Dyneema – minor point which I forgot to mention! – it’s terrific. Tough, durable, and good looking.

    [Reply]

  2. Stuart says:

    Kevin,

    You call this a quick take? Well and truly above and beyond the call of duty, in response to my question a couple of weeks ago. Thank you for the video and comparison of the two models. It illustrated your written description (not at all inelegant) perfectly. Having taken delivery of the Tri-Star cube last week, my concerns about the straps and the sheen of the dyneema were unfounded.

    Thanks also to Michael W. for chiming in on the discussion as well. All good points.

    Today I one-bagged for the first time, using my new Tri-Star and packing cube/backpack. The latter is huge! Three days’ business casual clothing easily fit inside the cube/backpack, with plenty of room left over for gym clothes. I really like that everything is self-contained in the cube. I haven’t properly field-tested it as a backpack yet, but I can see myself using it around town or through the airport as a second bag if I need extra space. Its negligible weight and packing space when empty means I can’t see a reason for not packing it even on a just in case basis.

    One impression I had is that the cube seems to pack more than the Tri-Star’s rear section can hold if you have a full size laptop and brain cell in the center section. I repacked the gym clothes into the front section, so the back didn’t seem overstuffed. Of course I could have been babying my new travel gear. Now to find a pair of running shoes that don’t take up quite as much space as my current Asics Kayanos. But that’s a topic for another thread.

    [Reply]

  3. Till says:

    Hm, I think this just gave me a really interesting idea.

    Take the Aeronaut cube: 260g, $35
    + the EC 18″ shirt folder: 400g, $27
    + an Incase 13″ (or bigger)nylon computer sleeve/case: 400g, $50
    + The A. Saks 21″ carry-on, 545g, $50

    = superior packing solution which is lightweight, modular, versatile.

    The Aeronaut cube can be used as a daypack or even an overflow bag. It can also be used as a core for bundling other clothes around it because there will still be room around it in the A. Saks.

    The EC 18 folder will give the A. Saks additional structure and stability as well as some “stab” protection.

    The Incase nylons sleeve is a wonderful lightweight computer sleeve that offers enough room for laptop and PSU and files. It can be used with any shoulder strap because it has D-rings. It offers good protection and is one of the lightest in its class. it looks good, too, and is available in several colors and sizes.
    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/....._Plus.html

    The A. Saks 21 bag is the lightest 2.5 compartment MLC carry-on shoulder bag on the market and it is expandable and compressible to boot. Current price at ebags $40!
    http://www.ebags.com/a_saks/ex.....=108281435

    Summing up, you get a MLC bag, a packing cube, an overflow bag, a daypack, a shirt folder, briefcase, and a laptop sleeve for $160 and they weigh quite exactly 1600g.

    Now compare that to a Tristar that weighs practically the same(1550g) even though it’s smaller, and doesn’t offer all these features and all this versatility while costing 50% more ($240).

    I hate to say it but that is an absolutely brilliant combo! I would say that is one of the best luggage recipes out there. You get it all. Modular, versatile, good looking, light, big volume, protection, wrinklefree shirts. Why did I never think of that before??? Thanks Kevin!

    I will order that.

    [Reply]

    Till Reply:

    Just ordered the A. Saks 21 EXP and the TB Aeronaut packing cube. I still find the Aeronaut packing cube a bit expensive at $43 ($35 plus $8 shipping). Ebags charged sales tax for the A. Saks. Darn it. So after all make that $180. Still a good deal. I have the Incase sleeve and the EC folder plus other packing cubes. That should be one very practical combo. I also ordered an Eagle Creek Compass for $17.50. Now that’s a really good price. I may cut the fixed shoulder strap off and use that as my inflight baggie. It fits in the exterior pockets of my travel anorak and coat and also in the exterior pockets of the Valoroso horizontal garment bag. It provides a bit of padding which I like.

    I’ll report back.

    [Reply]

  4. Chris says:

    Till,
    The Compass looks pretty nice – I need to go home & measure my Kindle. Looking forward to your review. Not quite big enough for the iPad though :)

    [Reply]

  5. Till says:

    Yes, darn it. Gonna get an Ipad for sure. You probably read my post on OBOW. It’s about the best netbook out there in terms of size, weight, features, battery life. Love it. I’ll be able to go to a conference and do a presentation with it. No need to carry 2.5kg of Macbook plus PSU anymore. Weight savings of 1.4kg at least. That’s huge! On short trips the Iphone itself will do!

    I got the Compass to put it as an organizer inside my Valoroso horizontal garment bag. It doesn’t have any pen holders and such. It will be a good inflight baggie, I hope.

    [Reply]

  6. Till says:

    I received the A. Saks and the TB cube/backpack introduced in this post. here is a first impression review of the A. Saks and some packing notes:
    http://www.flyertalk.com/forum.....oming.html

    I have even done a quick and dirty test pack of the TB. It will easily fit a pair of jeans, a pair of pants, 3 t’s, a sweater and a pair of shoes size 9 filled with socks. Perhaps one could even stuff some briefs in there, too. I just didn’t try it.

    It fits very nicely in the A. Saks, so I’d say my idea works. Yeah! The yellow and black color scheme looks striking to boot. :)

    The TB did come with a key strap for me. I like it. I do not see any reason to turn it around for packing cube use. Why would one forgo the nice shoe compartment feature just to hide the backpack straps? BTW, those things are looooong. An ogre would slip right into them. I may shorten those.

    The EC Compass bag is nice, too. But I was disappointed not to find a pen loop. I think a pen loop is more important than a key lanyard which it does have. Color and construction are very nice. It won’t be as easy to cut the shoulder strap off because if I do that there is no real attachment point on one of the side for another shoulder strap. The idea is of course, to only bring one shoulder strap along that can be used either on the big carry-on bag, the computer case or the Compass bag.

    In the Compass there are four compartments (all zippered). The main compartment is divided into another slip compartment, its main part and a felt lined sunglass pocket with zip. Nice. From the specs the Ipad will not fit, indeed. There is a headphone passthrough for an mp3 player, though. There is also a handle/loop/hanger that will come in very handy when I want to attach a carabiner to use it as inflight baggie.

    Whether it is very useful as a daypack in town, I don’t know. Perhaps in the summer when I am not wearing any jacket. Otherwise I always have a jacket that is big enough for any maps, glasses and techno gadgets or guidebooks I might carry. For the summer, this might be handy.

    [Reply]

  7. Dave says:

    I came across this when researching carry on bags suitable for ryanair. It’s amazing how much better the American stuff is to that generally available here in the UK. I like the look of the Tom Bihn pack – especially the shoe compartment. Eagle Creek is the brand more available over here and I’ve got some of their two sided packing cubes and the older packable day bag. I tend to pack the day bag over a cube when packing into my carry on bag rather than using the stuff sack it folds into. I then use the two sided cube inside the daybag as an organiser when I’m out for the day – it also gives a bit of padding and helps with organising the bag.

    [Reply]

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