The Highs: .Typical Tom Bihn quality, surprising capacity, innovative design

The Lows:  .Mystifying briefcase handle design

The Verdict: .A bag with a unique design that will challenge your preconceptions about bags and packing

About six weeks ago I contacted the folks at Tom Bihn and asked for a PR sample of their Aeronaut – Bihn’s version of the one bag / maximum legal carry-on theme.   When it arrived a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that they’d sent along not only the Aeronaut, but a Western Flyer and several packing cubes as well.

Although my original interest was in the Aeronaut, I opted to review the Western Flyer first. Why?  It wasn’t because I was fascinated by the Western Flyer; I was simply confused by the Aeronaut.

A totally unique design

Tom Bihn Aeronaut:  Front

The Aeronaut is Tom Bihn’s take on a soft-sided, “maximum legal carry-on” bag.   There’s a plethora of such bags on the market, but most of them – the Red Oxx Air Boss, Patagonia MLC, the Easy Going Carry-On Bag, the MEI Executive Overnighter, and the Tough Traveler Tri-Zip, for instance – follow the same basic convention:  a rectangular bag segmented into two or three compartments defined by lightweight internal walls and zippers which typically run lengthwise and cover three sides of the bag.

The Aeronaut throws convention out the window.  There are three primary compartments, but their configuration is unlike virtually all the conventional “one bag” designs out there:  Bihn has taken a completely different approach to one bag travel…  with surprising results.  Before we take a closer look at just how Tom Bihn has accomplished this, let’s look at the bag’s specs and details...

Basic specifications:

  • Overall dimensions:  22″ x 14″ x 9″    (555 x 355 x 230mm)
  • Weight: 2.71 lbs. / 1230 grams excluding shoulder strap
  • Exterior constructed with U.S. made 1050 denier ballistic nylon
  • Lined with ultra-light Dyneema®/nylon ripstop
  • #10 YKK Uretek splash proof zippers throughout
  • One main compartment; two secondary compartments
  • Two additional pockets on bag ends; zippered mesh compartment on backside of main compartment flap
  • Key retainer tab included
  • The back of the bag features a  zippered compartment which houses curved backpack straps
  • Capacity:  2,700 cubic inches
  • Grab handles for retrieving from overhead compartments on both ends of bag
  • Meets most non-commuter domestic airlines’ carry-on size standards
  • Made in Seattle, Washington, USA

A photo tour…

dsc_0585What’s unique about the bag’s design is immediately obvious:  there are NO zippers running longitudinally on the bag.

Instead, there’s a large main / center compartment access to which is through a trap-door type flap.  This compartment measures appx. 17″ long x 14″ wide x 9″ deep.  This large center compartment is flanked by two smaller ones which measure approximately 14″ x 9″ x 2½”. .

Additionally, there are two document or magazine pockets on the outside of each of these “bookend” compartments. In the photo above (this is the bag in the “Steel” color, by the way) you can see a magazine peeking out of one of these pockets.  This pocket (on the rear of the bag if you’re right handed) is open, i.e., no zipper; its counterpart on the other end of the bag is zippered.  NOTE: click on any of these images for a close-up view.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut interior

Here’s a photo of the main compartment along with the two “bookend” compartments zipped wide open.  The zippers on the end compartments cover almost three sides, so they open quite wide for packing.  The main compartment is quite large, and it can be made larger.  You’ll note four snap tabs on both sides of the floor of that compartment.  Dyneema® walls separate the main compartment from the other two.  At the very bottom of those divider walls, Bihn has built in a two inch expansion panel.  Leave the snaps snapped, and the bookend compartments gain about 2″ worth of capacity at their bottoms; unsnap them, and the main compartment grows by about 2″ on each side.  Clever.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut end pocketThe zippers are all YKK splash proof types and are equipped with metal pulls; the zippers operate smoothly and are easy to operate.  I was a bit surprised that the Aeronaut zipper pulls aren’t equipped with cord zipper pulls as is the Western Flyer; the zippers operate easily however, so corded pulls aren’t an absolute necessity.  In any event, to the right is a close up of the document pocket at the other end of the bag; these pockets are great for boarding passes, travel guides, newspapers, and the like.

The end compartments are fairly large.  They’ll easily accommodate a pair of shoes, or your toiletry items & 3-1-1 bag and numerous odds and ends, and I’m happy to report my Asus Eee PC 1000HA (10″ screen) netbook – in its neoprene case – fits in this pocket very nicely.  (If you’re into the whole Imelda Marcos thing, you could even bring two extra pair of shoes in these “bookend” compartments.) They also are handy for keeping dirty clothes/underwear separate from clean.

In the photo below I’ve put a pair of Bose noise canceling headphones in one side of a Bihn “Clear Quarter Packing Cube” along with an iPod; in the other side, a paperback.  Once on board, unzip the end compartment halfway, take out the packing cube containing your onboard “stuff,” rezip and you’re set for the flight:

Tom Bihn Aeronaut - RH pocket

As with the Western Flyer,  there are three options for carrying this bag.  The bag is equipped with D rings for securing a (1) shoulder 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 Red Oxx hardware – is $20.  Finally, there’s a basic strap that’s only $10.

The second option is a (2) conventional briefcase-type handle which is located directly above the bag’s center of gravity and is reasonably comfortable.

This is exactly the type of configuration used on the Air Boss and other bags which feature zippers which run longitudinally on the bag.  On those bags you must be able to separate the two straps which come together to help form the handle so you can fully unzip the bag.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut briefcase handleOn the Aeronaut, however, there are no such zippers running beneath this handle.  Why then are there snaps on the handle?  There is no reason to unsnap the handle and separate the straps – doing so has no effect on ease of packing. Instead of a snap closure handle, I’d rather Bihn opted for something inherently more comfortable like the large diameter flexible PVC* used on the Red Oxx Sky Train, or the comfy padded handle used on the budget-minded Rick Steves Classic Backdoor bag.  This feature is perplexing.  The good news is that the handle is fairly comfortable.

*(Bihn uses no PVC on any of their bags, as that material isn’t consistent with their environmental policy; my only point is that there are better options out there for this particular feature; it’s the sole discordant note on an otherwise superbly conceived and executed bag.)

Finally, the bag’s rear compartment houses (3) backpack straps which can be deployed in a matter of seconds.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut w/ backpack straps deployed

(One of the things which might not be immediately apparent when you look at a “beauty shot” of the bag is the amount of thought that’s been invested in getting even the smallest of details just right:  the clips that secure the bottoms of the backpack straps are hidden in small pockets in the side seams; curved lines give the bag a more stylish look; and the alternate color trim on the grab handles perfectly matches the gaskets on the zippers — Tom’s put a lot of thought and care into this bag!)

The backpack straps, the same as those used on the overnight Western Flyer 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 sternum strap

As mentioned in my WF review, the sternum strap seemed a bit superfluous at first glance, but if you had the bag on your back and had to hump it down a concourse, you’d appreciate the added security and comfort.  After using the sternum strap once with the Western Flyer, I decided to leave it on the bag – it works quite well, weighs practically nothing and would be great for romps through longer concourses.

So far, so good.  But how does the main compartment work if you bundle pack??

This was the big, “elephant in the room” question I had since I originally saw the bag.  With bundle packing, the bundle ends up as wide as your shirts (or jackets) which is to say, fairly wide.  At first glance I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fit a 4-5 day sized bundle in through the trap door opening on the Aeronaut.

And let’s be frank:  I’ve completely drunk the Kool Aid when it comes to the benefits of bundle packing (as opposed to conventionally folding clothes or using cubes) and at this point there is no way I’m going to change how I pack to accommodate a bag’s design.  So for me, this was a potential deal-breaker with the Aeronaut.

In actual practice, it turned out to be easy.   The bundle naturally has a bit of “structural integrity” as your clothing is interwoven in the bundle.  All I had to do was slide one end of the bundle into one side of the bag…

Bundle packing and the Tom Bihn Aeronaut

…pull the front and other side of the bag out a bit…

Bundle packing the Tom Bihn Aeronaut - step 2

…and the entire bundle fit in just fine:

Bundle Packing - Tom Bihn Aeronaut - step 3

Smooth things out a bit, and you’re all set.  This bundle, by the way, consisted of 5 long sleeve shirts, a pair of dressy chinos, and 2 golf shirts as the core.  If all this talk of bundle packing is confusing or foreign to you, check out:  How to Bundle Pack Clothing @

Tom Bihn Aeronaut - bundle packing - finished

If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll note that there was still quite a bit of room available above the bundle; the Aeronaut’s main compartment is quite large.  You could pack for a week on the road with the Aeronaut quite easily.

As with other Tom Bihn bags, the quality of materials is superb.  #10 YKK Uretek splash proof zippers are used throughout; as mentioned earlier, they feature large metal pulls, but no cord pulls.  All of the key pockets feature double zippers:

Tom Bihn Aeronaut zipper detail

These are coil zippers mounted upside down to accommodate the splash proof gasketing; in this shot I’ve purposely flipped over one side of the zipper so you can see the zipper’s underside:

Tom Bihn Aeronaut:  coil zipper (underside) detail

Another neat feature is a large mesh pocket on the backside of the main compartment’s flap.  You can see that I’d transferred the key retainer to an O ring in this pocket; this pocket would be great for underwear and socks, or perhaps undershirts:

Tom Bihn Aeronaut: mesh pocket on backside of main compartment flap

One other neat feature that’s illustrative of the real-world user experience that’s reflected in Tom’s designs:

Tom Bihn Aeronaut grab handleon 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 (complementing this feature:  the 1050 ballistic nylon used in Tom Bihn bags is incredibly tough & abrasian resistant, yet has a smooth surface that slides out of overheads and from beneath seats more easily than does 1000 denier Cordura).

As you can see in all of these pictures, the quality of the materials & stitching is superb; this is a bag that will last for decades. All metal hardware is heavy gauge steel that’s been double plated; the body of the bag is constructed of U.S. made 1050 denier ballistic nylon; and the internal walls are constructed with Dyneema nylon ripstop.

How large is the Aeronaut?

The Aeronaut is very similar to the Red Oxx Air Boss in size; both are good for packing enough clothing for a 5-6 day business trip, and longer if you’re just going casual:

Red Oxx Air Boss vs. Tom Bihn Aeronaut

My impressions of the Aeronaut:

A few observations:

  • Does this configuration work?  YES. When I travel with the Air Boss, my bundle goes in one of the 3 compartments and fits great – but the other two compartments usually have stuff “floating” around inside with wasted space.  The beauty of the Aeronaut is that it gives you one huge compartment and two other compartments that are actually better suited (and sized) to (at least in my case) the assortment of other things we typically bring along on trips
  • Those “bookend” compartments are great for an extra pair of shoes; that my Asus fits in one is a huge plus from my viewpoint.  Personally, I’d equip these pockets with corded pulls in order to ease opening them at TSA checkpoints
  • The bag is light at 2.7 pounds, but keep in mind this is minus a shoulder strap; with the “Absolute Strap” its weight is ~3.4 lbs. – still more than a half a pound under the weight of the Air Boss
  • That strap, as mentioned in my Western Flyer review,  is fantastic and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it on other bags – it’s that good
  • Tom Bihn Aeronaut top viewNot mentioned on the Tom Bihn site, but hard to miss in person:  the bag is actually trapezoidal in shape. The back is wider than the front. This has the effect of making it easier to pack larger items (shirts, jackets) in the bottom of the main compartment, with smaller items on top.  In addition, when used in the backpack mode, it means that the bag looks less like a huge “box” on your back, as is the case with some competitive bags.  Click on the image to the right in order to see this a bit more easily.
  • 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 comfort
  • What if you need to carry folders, papers or presentations?  Put them in the bottom of the main compartment, or if your printed materials are fairly thin, slide them into the backpack strap pocket (if you deploy the straps this pocket will of course be unzipped)
  • Which leads me to a suggestion:  the backpack straps connect at the bottom of the bag with quick release plastic buckles – this is the convention on all such bags.  What if I don’t care to use backpack straps? Why couldn’t the top of backpack straps – instead of being sewn to the top of the bag – connect in the same way with larger polymer quick release buckles?  That way a user could detach the straps and lose a little (bag) weight in the process – and create – in effect – another fairly large pocket for folders and papers.  Just a thought…
  • The bag is stylish enough to be used by women, but not to a degree that it’d be a problem for most guys; if in doubt, men, opt for black!
  • Overall I’m quite impressed by the Aeronaut.  Its materials and craftsmanship are top notch, and the unusual configuration which concerned me at the outset has challenged my thinking about what’s really needed in a business travel bag.  Viewed in the context of the other “one bag/maximum legal carry-on” bags in the marketplace, the Aeronaut stands apart:   this is an innovative, well made, great bag.

Coming attraction:  road testing the Aeronaut

In the coming weeks I’ll give the Aeronaut a road test and see if my initial take holds up to actual miles in airports and hotels.

Until then, you can check out the Aeronaut for yourself at the Tom Bihn website:  Tom Bihn Aeronaut

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

The fine print:  I have no connection with Tom Bihn; this post contains an affiliate link to (Asus netbook)

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87 Comments on First Take: Tom Bihn Aeronaut travel bag

  1. David says:

    Great images. How would you compare the Aeronaut to the Patagonia MLC?


    Kevin Reply:


    They’re very different bags. The Aeronaut is a true maximum legal carry-on, its construction is more robust, and its duffel-style design is quite different from that of the MLC. The MLC is fine for shorter trips and is durable enough for occasional use; I wouldn’t recommend it for someone who’s traveling 30+ weeks a year. The Aeronaut is certainly capable of that – and more.

    Aeronuat: true m.l.c., duffel-type, 5-7+ day trips, heavy duty yet good looks, 3-way carry options, unique design – for the frequent traveler who demands high quality & durability
    MLC: smaller, book-style (opens like a book), 2-4 day trips, lighter duty, 3-way carry options, some nice features – for the occasional traveler who wants style and a reasonably durable bag


  2. Ulf says:

    Great article! If only all those great gadgets were more readily available here in Germany.

    One reason for the split handle-straps of the bag springs to my mind: you can more easily fixate a jacket or sweater beneath the handle on top of the bag. Open the straps – arrange the jacket on top of the bag – snap the straps back together – presto!


  3. David says:

    Thank you, Kevin for your very helpful comments. Right now if you had to go on a 5-7 day trip, which bag would you use? Red Oxx or Aeronaut?


    Kevin Reply:

    Right now? The Aeronaut.

    Of course, I’ve used the Air Boss a lot – I’d like to gain a bit more experience with the Aeronaut. It’s a very neat bag. I’m traveling in another week or so and I’ll use it then. Thanks for your comments.



  4. Michael W. says:

    The photograph of the Aeronaut next to the Air Boss makes the Air Boss look a little larger. Is that just a trick of perspective? You say the Aeronaut really is “maximum legal carry on size” and I’m pretty sure you didn’t say the Air Boss is oversize in your separate review from ages ago.

    That’s a neat explanation for the split handles from Ulf. Come to think of it, I’ve done that myself on other bags. Stuffing a jacket temporarily under the handle straps on other bags.

    How resistant are the Aeronaut zippers to accidental opening? The other day the non-locking, very free sliding, zippers on my LLBean book pack managed to open themselves and dump some folders on the ground. I had forgotten to completely close the main compartment zipper, and the folders easily wedged that small opening into a large opening when I tipped the bag slightly.

    Now I worry about duffel and other checked luggage zippers. I don’t want some friction against a ramp or other bags during handling to start an easy-opening zipper sliding openm then have the contents “pry” the opening into a dangerously large mouth from which stuff can spill.

    I guess I can use plastic zipper tabs or a luggage lock to make sure those types of zippers stay closed, and admittedly some of the duffels have cover flaps running the length of the zipper track both to keep rain out and to prevent other bags from rubbing against, and catching, the zipper tabs. But more and more I like the use of “naturally locking” zippers such as used on the Red Oxx products (I have the Gator) and, oddly enough, on most of my LLBean fleece jackets. Mainly because life isn’t perfect, and if something hits a zipper pull and opens it a little, I don’t want the contents finishing the job and spilling out into a cargo hold or onto a luggage carousel.

    By “naturally locking” I mean the teeth are designed so the zipper will ONLY separate further if you actually pull the zipper tab, not from pressure applied on the mouth of the opening by hand or by contents to “pull” the zipper sides further apart. (A different kind of locking zipper actually has manually operated locks built into the zipper tabs, which require pushing the zipper tab, which has a little “claw,” into the zipper track.) The “claw” locking zippers are often found on jackets, I’ve never seen them on luggage.

    BTW, it would be great to see a follow up article comparing and contrasting all the great bags you have reviewed to date, from function / value / appearance standpoints.

    You did that a little in your reply above comparing the MLC to the Aeronaut (maybe a comparison to the Western Flyer would be fairer, in terms of comparable size/target audience?) and I think you’ve done some other impromptu comparisons in other comments threads on other bags. Something more comprehensive would pretty much wrap up a lot of your columns on “one bag” travel alternatives.

    Personally I’d love to see how you would compare the Rick Steves Classic, Aeronaut, Sky Train, Air Boss to each other – although I realize you need to cadge a Sky Train from Red Oxx since that came out after you acquired your Air Boss (the Sky Train has the backpack straps – I believe the Air Boss doesn’t).

    On the home front, I trial packed an LLBean medium duffel over the weekend as a potential checked bag for my upcoming trip to Thailand to “rescue” my dear wife and lovely children from the violent revolution (exaggeration) now sweeping the Bangkok capital.

    And I wasn’t happy. A duffel works well if you pack somewhat carelessly and quickly and don’t fill it all the way up so you don’t have to fight to close the opening.

    But the minute you try to pack more carefully to maximize efficiency, and want to actually use all the available space, the more you (I) will hate the single “slash” opening across the top, and the crazy jumble of angles – slopes up from the sides and ends both. The slash opening makes it impossible to really see where stuff is going much less dive in to reorganize or find something. And the sloping sides mean you can’t lay in a square pile of clothing or packing cubes, you have to “build” your stack of clothes to look like a pyramid, more or less, too. (I think that might be why Red Oxx builds rectangular duffels>)

    So I’m going to – heaven forbid – repack the checked items from the duffel into the Rick Steves Classic and maybe use that “carry-on” bag as a CHECKED bag – I like the fact that that the Classic is SUPER light, has many organizing features lacking in a simple duffel (shoe pockets are HIGHLY underrated by certain columnists!), and is a nice RECTANGULAR shape which allows sane packing techniques. It also opens on all three sides, of course, so I can easily see how the packing is going. If this works, I’ll let you know how it stands up to the baggage gorillas and transpacific flight/connections.


    Kevin Reply:


    I think the photo is partly perspective and partly due the fact that the Aeronaut may be marginally smaller. It’s a matter of fractions, however… and I did have the Air Boss stuffed full of bath towels for that photo. The difference in size, if any, is negligible.

    The zippers on the Aeronaut aren’t prone to opening easily. Keep in mind that they all have the Uretek gaskets in place, which naturally resist opening to a degree.

    At some point I’ll probably compile a free pdf of all the gear reviews on the site… perhaps I could develop a chart comparing all the bags. Of course if I want to revisit the Steves Classic I have a problem – I gave it to one of my sons.

    As for your duffel adventures, I’ve been fooling around with the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel (as I know you have as well) – using the same bundle of clothing I used for the Aeronaut review. I won’t spoil the surprise as I’m developing a post/review.

    Have a safe trip!


  5. Michael W. says:

    The Paty LW Duffel definitely has that “duffel” shape I was complaining about so it will be interesting to hear if that is an issue for you too, when you pack. I shangaied my wife into taking the Paty LW Tote to Thailand as her carry-on piece (5 y.o. Alexsi insisted on pulling the LLBean wheelie duffel, much to the amazement of travel bystanders). The Tote has “perfect” rectangular packing shape, unlike the duffel.

    It’s taken me six months, but I’m beginning to understand why you like the Air Boss so much, so it almost comes as “heresy” to hear you say you like the new Aeronaut even better! I thought for sure the “shoes pouches” on the end of the Aeronaut would be a “deal killer” for you but I guess “shoe pouches” can be put to other uses, too.

    (Why do you think the Aeronaut will be “tougher” than the Paty MLC? I think the ballistics nylon/Dyneema materials on the Aeronaut are very classy and “high tech modern,” but will they really be tougher than good old Cordura on the MLC?)

    When I trial pack the Steves Classic tonight or tomorrow, I’m going to see if my beach-destined Crocs will fit sensibly in the shoe slots on the Classic – I’ll try to stuff the Crocs with rash-guards so I don’t waste too much space. Unfortunately, shoes cannot be flattened into nice rectangular bricks for packing purposes….


  6. Eric says:

    Great review! I’ve owned an Aeronaut for a couple years now. I have a few comments and questions:

    Are you afraid of breaking your Bose headphones with them in that packing cube? I’ve always been afraid to carry them outside of their case.

    As for the handles, I’ve found its the ideal place to carry a jacket. For bulkier jackets, its easier to unsnap the handles, lay the jacket along the bag’s length, and resnap. For lighter jackets, you can just pull it through the handles (lengthwise) without unsnapping. Jackets will stay put even in backpack mode.

    One note about bundling: I bundle wrap into a large packing cube (made specifically for the Aeronaut), and it makes loading/unloading the bundle a little bit easier.


    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks. I used to use the Bose case for the headphones but have abandoned it because of its weight and bulkiness. I’m taking a chance, but am careful where I pack the headphones. Finally – I usually bring my Etymotic ear buds vs. the Bose ‘phones.

    As with Ulf, you’ve made a good suggestion for using the handles. I’ve done that myself with other bags – pulling the jacket through the handles. The snaps still seem superfluous to me.


  7. Matt M says:

    Good review. I have been using an Aeronaut for a few years now after my initial try of the Air Boss left me unhappy. I think an Air Boss design is better for bundle packers as you can create more than one bundle and the straps will keep it all together. But you obviously have shown it can work with the Aeronaut. I bought the packing cubes so I don’t bundle method with my bag.

    The quality and durability of the materials is something you just can’t convey in a review. I have the crimson color which is a fairly bright red. Each time I get a small mark on my bag I get sad and say “oh well, it’s a few years old so it’s expected”. Then I am amazed because the smudge will wipe away with hardly any work and it’s back to looking new again. It’s really amazing.

    It’s really a neat bag imo. The side handles are so useful. The additional shoulder strap, while more money, is a gem. The bag never seems stuffed even when you stuff it. And the backpack straps can make it easy to carry.


  8. Michael W. says:

    The Bihn “shoe pockets” on the ends of the Aeronaut may be more appealing than I first thought.

    I trial packed the Rick Steves Classic (hide-away backpack straps, but no shoulder strap, Air Boss Sized but lighter at 2.9 pounds) and it definitely holds more and packs easier than the LLBean medium duffel I trial packed before it, even though visually they look very similar in mass.

    I was very pleased with the nice, compact rectangle that I ended up with, 17 pounds, comfortable handles (as you have pointed out) that aren’t loose and floppy like the one on the duffel. We’ll see how durable the Steves is, when checked, I know the light “build” of the Steves Classic was one of your concerns in your review.

    The zippers on the Classic have storm flaps but no “lock holes” but all-in-all I think by burying them in a corner of their run under the storm flap, it isn’t very likely they will open by accident, even though they aren’t my preferred self-locking type. Let’s hope any baggage inspectors remember to close the zippers all the way….

    As for my hope of packing shoes more easily in the Steves Classic than in the duffel, that’s not going to happen. The Steves Classic isn’t any more “shoe friendly” than the duffel, even though there is a “shoe panel” on the lid over the main compartment on the Classic. Here’s why.

    Simply put, if you have filled the main compartment on the Classic fairly full, fairly symmetrically, there just isn’t any room for the big lump created on the bottom 1/3 of the Classic’s lid by the shoes.

    At least not if you are packing fat Crocs Caymans (the originals) instead of flat flip-flops.

    Yeah, I was able to force the lid shut, but as a result the bag looked like a python stuffed with a pig and there was tons of dead air space on the end away from the shoes.

    I ended up having to cram the Crocs in around the perimeter of my clothing bundle at opposite corners, nudging the clothing bundle to make space for them, which still left some lumpiness along the perimeter, but did not look nearly as bad as using the disappointing shoe panel.

    I’m going to order a set of large Steves packing cubes and see if I can stack two on the end away from the shoe panel, one on the end under the shoe panel, creating a space for the shoes in the panel.

    But this is a lot of work-arounds, compared to Bihn’s pretty brainy (so it appears at this point) solution – shoe pockets on the ends of the Aeronaut.

    Maybe Bihn designed his Aeronaut for “business casual” and other “dress down” travelers instead of old-school “suits.” The Steves Classic’s large main compartment is actually ideal for a sport jacket or business suit in an inner garment holder (the ones that have hangers at the top, and fold in thirds to “prevent” wrinkles).

    I’m pretty sure you couldn’t stuff a suit in the Aeronaut, however, at least not without folding the suit in half, left to right. The Aeronauts much narrower main compartment just looks too small (correct me if I am misjudging).

    On the other hand, the Aeronaut sure takes your “business casual” bundle just fine, with room for gym shoes on one end and “after work” loafers on the other end. As you say, all you need these days for business casual, at the most, if a sport coat you can wear on the flight.

    Honestly, the Steves Classic main compartment is way too wide for my duds. The only thing that really needs the space is the jiu jitsu gi (judo style uniform, jacket is suit-sized). My casual bundle had dead air space along its perimeter, even though I tried to “fold to fit.” My shirts, when bundled, just aren’t that wide, ditto on pants.

    Any thoughts on this, that the Aeronaut is designed more for the way we dress today, the Classic, Air Boss, etc., more for the way we used to dress?

    Of course if you are a pretty large guy, I wonder if the Aeronaut’s clothing compartment will be wide enough for shirts, unless folded in half left to right….


  9. Eric says:

    @Michael W: I have used the Aeronaut to carry a suit, but only once. It didn’t make the trip without some wrinkles, but a little steaming did the trick. I wouldn’t want to do that on a regular basis. I wear a 42 long, and to pack the suit I bundle wrapped it according to the instructions on, ie, the suit jacket was wrapped on the outside. I stuffed socks into the shoulders so they wouldn’t crush as much.

    Most of the traveling I’ve done with the Aeronaut is casual, with one dressy outfit for nice nights out. I’ve had no problems whatsoever as long as the bundle is wrapped properly. As I stated in a previous post, I bundle wrap into a large packing cube, which helps keep things together.


  10. John says:

    My wife just received her Aeronaut yesterday. My jaw dropped when I saw it. I had expected it to appear larger than my Air Boss (based on manufacturers’ dimensions, the Aeronaut is 2″ wider, 1″ taller, and 1″ deeper than the AB). It actually appeared a bit smaller, even when compared side-by-side. And I sure wouldn’t describe its main section as “huge.” Ample, yes, but not huge. But, then, the main section of a duffel bag should seem ample.

    Our trip late next month will be her first with no checked luggage. She let me choose between the Aeronaut and the Sky Train, since I’m the one who enjoys researching such things. I opted for the Aeronaut primarily because of its greater published capacity and consistently favorable reviews. It just seemed like the better bag for her. Looking at it last night next to my AB, I began to wonder whether I made the wrong choice. My wife did too. We will know better once she has rehearsed packing it.

    If she decides to keep the bag, she will be need some pulls for the zippers. Especially on the main section, it takes some effort to slide them. That’s the trade-off, I guess, for their water-resistant design.

    No question the Aeronaut is well made, and I can see why it has such a loyal following. Only time will tell whether my wife will become a fan of the bag as well. Me? I’ll be keeping the AB.


    Kevin Reply:


    I just measured my Air Boss and the Aeronaut. FWIW, I measure the AB at 21″ x 13″ x 8.5″. The Aeronaut, 20″ x 14″ x 8″; the 20″ measurement is across the front of the bag. Measuring across the back of the Aeronaut, it’s about 21″.

    As for the main compartment of the Aeronaut, “huge” is certainly subjective, but for this class of bag (MLC-type) it’s larger than most. I measure this compartment at 16″ x 14″ x 8″; the main (center) compartment of the Air Boss is ~21″ x 13″ x 5″. Which works better for you depends upon what type of travel you’re doing and what kind of clothing is required.

    For a woman, just my opinion, I would think the Aeronaut would be a better choice than the Sky Train. See how her trial packing goes and decide from there. Looking at them side by side isn’t really the issue – it’s what works best for her.

    Please let us know how you make out.


  11. John says:

    Kevin, your measurements for the Aeronaut put it at about 350-460 cu. in. smaller than advertised (2700 cu. in., according to the Tom Bihn website). Now, that’s huge. :-) OK, not huge, but not trivial either, especially if one is buying it partly for its capacity. Overall, given your measurements and assuming an average width of 20.5″ for the Aeronaut, the Aeronaut essentially has the same capacity as the AB. That’s disappointing when one is intending (and expecting) to buy a larger bag.

    I will post again when my wife has tried packing the Aeronaut. It may work for her in the end. From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, she no doubt will like it a bit more than she would the Sky Train. For now, however, the jury’s out on whether the Aeronaut will prove to be the right bag for her. Stay tuned.

    In any case, thanks for a helpful review and, for that matter, an interesting site. Keep up the great work.


  12. Matt M says:


    I highly recommend the Tom Bihn forums. There is a loyal following that can help with packing. I found my Aeronaut to hold more than an Air Boss, but only because I’m not going for ultimate in no wrinkles. I found the AB to be great for wrinkles but that also left too much wasted space (for the sake of wrinkles) for me.The main compartment does seem to hold more than it appears it would but whether it’s enough for what you call “huge” or even “big” is up to you.


  13. Joy says:

    I’ve been using an Aeronaut for about 2.5 years, and wouldn’t travel without it. It’s amazingly capacious.

    I’ve never had a single instance of the zippers opening on their own.


  14. John says:

    I’m familiar with the TB forums, Matt, but appreciate the tip nonetheless.

    As I’ve been telling my wife, the proof will be in the packing. Either she will find a way to make the Aeronaut work for her or she won’t. We’ll know more this weekend.


  15. John says:

    The Aeronaut is on its way back to Tom Bihn today, but not for lack of capacity. It really does hold more than outward appearances suggest, though I’m convinced the Air Boss has greater capacity.

    The issue really isn’t the bag itself, however. My wife suffers from scoliosis (curvature) of the spine. This causes the bag, when packed and donned with the backpack straps, to fall away from her shoulders. This also pulls the straps upward, placing the sternum strap, even at its lowest setting, too high to be useful. The padded back of the bag exacerbated the problem. In short, she felt unsteady with the bag on her back (at a weight of 16 lbs).

    She tried carrying the bag the Absolute shoulder strap instead. Again, she found this uncomfortable, though not for any obvious reason.

    By way of comparison, we transferred the contents of the Aeronaut to my Air Boss. The former had been packed to capacity. The Air Boss had room for more. With the Absolute strap, she found it somewhat more comfortable to carry the Air Boss. (Needless to say, she may not if she fills it to capacity.)

    The Aeronaut is a nice bag, and I had hoped it would work for my wife. Instead, it looks like we are about to become a two-Air-Boss family.


  16. Manu says:


    What is the size of the middle compartment when:

    a) The m.compartment is extended
    b) … is not extended.

    Thanks in advance!


    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks for visiting and commenting. These dimensions are approximate, as it’s difficult to measure soft sided bags. Looking at the bag from the front, when not extended: middle compartment is ~17″ wide (side to side) by ~15″ long (front to back). The compartment is about 9″ deep.

    When extended, the width (on the bottom of the middle compartment) is between 20″ and 21″. The top dimensions of the compartment (~17″ x 15″) of course do not change.

    I hope this helps!


  17. Manu says:

    Hello Kevin,

    Thanks for prompt answer.

    I’m almost ready to order this bag, but there are some size questions that bother me a bit.

    On my business trips, I’d like to fit in my laptop also. It would fit in the Tom Bihn Soft Shell 2S. The exterior dimensions are approximately 15.3 × 11.6 × 2.2 inches.

    But what bothers me is that their site says, that:

    – “At this time the Aeronaut does not have a specific compartment for a laptop. However, most smaller laptops will fit into the main compartment inside a Size 5 Brain Cell or Soft Cell.”. … and the size of that Soft Cell 5 is 12.6 × 10.2 × 2.0 inches.
    – The Large Packing cubes (that you can put 2 in the mid. compartment) have dimensions of 13.5″ x 13.5″ x 4.25″.

    My questions are:

    a) After you put Large Packing Cubes (if you have any of those ;-)).. it would mean that there’s some 2+ inches left on the side?
    b) Do you think that the “Soft Shell 2S” would fit in the mid. compartment if I put it in the bottom?
    c) Regarding b).. so the extension only is at the bottom, right?

    Of course before ordering I will ask this from TB customer service. I just hope to get some answers from somewhere before Monday :-)

    Thanks in advance!


    P.S. A GREAT review of the product!


  18. Manu says:

    After thinking about this myself a lot, I have only one question left. Maybe someone can answers :-). Can Aerolite fit Soft Cell 2S in it (when expanded)? :-)


    Kevin Reply:


    The Bihn site gives the dimensions of the Soft Cell 2S as: 14.5″ 10.8″ x 1.7″. It would certainly fit. (I assume you meant Aeronaut, not “Aerolite.”) If in doubt, try emailing Darcy Hudgens at Tom Bihn (she’s the Bihn VP Marketing) She should be able to field any questions you have.


  19. Manu says:

    Thanks Kevin. Yes, I mean Aeronaut :-)


  20. Mike says:

    I am torn between the Aeronaut and the Air Boss and I am looking forward to the follow-up article.

    My issue is that I carry an EC 18inch folder. Has anyone used these with the either of the bags?


    Kevin Reply:


    If you can provide the overall dimensions of the EC folder (packed), perhaps I could mock up something and try it with both bags. This is the “Pack-It” folder, yes?


  21. mruseless says:

    I have an 18″ EC folder. Yes, it will fit into the Aeronaut provided you unsnap the interior walls and don’t put too much into the end pockets.


  22. Mike says:


    Sorry for the confusion. It is the Eagle Creek 18inch Pack it folder I was talking about. With my clothes,The folder is 18 x12 x5 inches thick.



    Kevin Reply:

    Mike – it looks as though mruseless has answered your question. I pulled out my Aeronaut, and made a few quick measurements. Uour Pack-It will fit, but as he suggests, it might restrict what you put in the end compartments. Obviously, there’d be no issues with the Air Boss. It all comes down to which bag is better suited to the type of travel you do. kc


  23. Richard J Laue says:

    Yesterday I examined the Eagle Creek “Large Tarmac Flight Bag” and was very impressed with the quality and look of it.

    It seems to be a smaller version of the Aeronaut. It’s got the same form factor, as near as I can tell. The Aeronaut is a little too large for my needs — I’m looking for a 2-3 day bag, not a week-long one — and am seriously considering this Tarmac bag.

    Any thoughts or comparisons between the two that come to mind? Here’s the URL for the Tarmac Flight Bag:

    Many thanks for your great work and useful website!
    Cheers and aloha –


    Kevin Reply:


    First, thanks for visiting and your kind comments. It’s a bit difficult to tell how this bag would stack up vs. the Aeronaut, especially viewing it on my netbook (I’m on the road at present). I wonder how large the opening on the top of the bag is… when I get back to my home office and take another look. Per the dimensions, it seems to be reasonably large. …let me take another look tomorrow; perhaps someone else who’s familiar with this bag can chime in.


  24. Gregory says:


    Great site. As with many others, am struggling with the endless Air Boss vs. Aeronaut debate, and was wondering where you were now that you’ve had a couple of months with the Aeronaut. Appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts.


  25. Kevin says:


    Thanks! I think Michael said it well in an earlier comment: the Aeronaut may be more appropriate for business casual travel (or out and out casual use), and the Air Boss better suited (no pun intended) to more formal travel requiring sports jackets and perhaps a suit. I like both bags a great deal, but find myself going back to the Air Boss more frequently than the Aeronaut. You can’t go wrong with either, it depends upon the nature of your travel…


  26. mike says:


    After reading this article and the advice provided, I bought the Air Boss along with a Lil Roy form Red Oxx also. Using the 18inch Pack it Folder I easily was able to fit a suit as well as three days worth of clothing with virtually no wrinkles. I have also taken it for interviews and while the Safari color scheme looks a bit weird with a charcoal suit, I love its functionality and do not for one second regret not getting the Aeronaut. The Aeronaut looks more modern to me, but the Air Boss better suits my needs.

    Hope this helps.


  27. Gregory says:

    Mike & Kevin,

    Thanks very much for your further thoughts. A lot to chew on. My uncertainty, I think, is largely because I have both casual and business needs. I do a fair amount of travel for work, mostly within the US, trips usually ranging from 1 to 4 days. This includes quite a few trips of ERJs, and I don’t want to gate check anything.

    I currently use a Red Oxx CPA (for my laptop, papers, whatever I’m going to need on-site — going so far as to sometimes even stuff a projector in there) and a B&R Boarding Tote (for clothes and personal items — a great little bag that seems to be able to swallow whatever I throw at it, even for four day trips). I’m pretty happy with this combination, although that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be improved — but the clear separation between work stuff and personal stuff, and not having to take all my clothes etc. to client meetings currently makes sense, particularly as I sometimes have to do extensive site tours with my on-site bag. Of course, I’ve thought a lot about how to get this down to one bag, and can see how to do it when I don’t have to take a lot of work papers and sundry, but not when I do. I also travel enough that the thought of having different bags for different kinds of trips doesn’t appeal — I “semi-unpack” after each trip, just throwing some clean clothes in before the next trip, and don’t really want to be switching around too much.

    Then I’ve also been fortunate enough to take three or four leisure trips a year. Mostly just weekends, but there is usually a 1 or 2 week trip in there. For the short trips the B&R Tote normally works, but if not, or for the longer trips, I’ve been using a Red Oxx Beano PR5 — an excellent bag, but somewhat the wrong dimensions for a lot of running through airports.

    So I’m dreaming that there is one bag out there that can cover both needs.

    (And, I hope it is clear, I love Red Oxx, and am a convert to their build quality and simplicity. Don’t currently own any Tom Bihn, but am optimistic given the internet chatter on their reputation.)

    Of course, I don’t really need any more luggage. Then again one more bag couldn’t hurt, could it? Especially if it were the perfect bag …


  28. Eric says:

    I have an Aeronaut, but for short business trip I just purchased the Tom Bihn TriStar. This bag is very comparable to the AirBoss, and I would strongly encourage anyone looking at that style bag to consider the TriStar as well.


  29. Adam Schwartz says:

    Hi yall
    I am new to one bagging, and deeply enjoy what is going on here and similar sites. I bought a rick steve’s convertable (ebay!) and did a trial trip with it, and was not terribly satisfied. I was asked to gate check it several legs, I was also unsatisfied with the side handle on it. The strength seemed not sure enough, and lifting the convertable changed the bag’s shape. The shoulder strap was warped the bag, and I didn’t like how the bag lacked sufficent compression straps. They only sent half way around, which helped, but not enough. The bag also had too many pockets/compartments, which may just be my problem.
    Having said all this, it is better than anything I have used before, but I am strongly considering the aeronaut. I will be doing a 4 month casual trip, mostly europe and israel, and want to know if the aeronaut will fix these problems without finding new ones. I’ve considered a air boss, but the shoulder strap lack deters me. Thoughts? If I get an air boss, I would also get an absolute strap, but probably not the cubes, unless you all strongley recomended them.


    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks for your comments. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but the Air Boss does come with a shoulder strap – the excellent Claw Strap, built to Red Oxx’s specs by Quake Industries.

    If your trip is all casual, a duffel style bag might be best – so the Aeronaut, as you mention, would be a good choice, and so would the Red Oxx Safari-Beanos PR5. The Aeronaut has the added advantage of having backpack straps.

    I don’t believe packing cubes are at all required; there are many packing methods and in the end which method you use is purely a matter of personal preference.



    Michael W. Reply:

    Where did you get gate-checked with the Convertible? Did you have the expansion zipper closed, to bring the bag to “legal” size, or open, which results in a really fat bag? Sounds like you took a lot of “regional” small prop jet flights – or had incredibly bad luck. Or maybe you have a second bag and they are trying to get you to check the larger of the two?

    I like the smaller Patagonia MLC – the smaller size is better suited to my needs, and the dual foam padding (to sandwich the laptop slot) helps give it more structure.

    Still, all soft-sided suitcases are prone to sagging. You can minimize sagging by filling the bag all the way so there is not room for stuff to shift, or by using rigid packing aids like the PackIt18 or PackIt 20. But if you are facing a weight limit as well as a size limit, the PackIts add a significant, but not overwhelming, weight burden – perhaps a deciding factor if you are pushing a 15 pound, strictly enforced, limit already.

    I don’t think the Aeronaut would satisfy the sagging problem; it seems like none of these bags, including the high end ones, have compression straps and with soft sides, they are all prone to losing shape. (Actually an EBags house brand might have compression straps, but it was so awful in every other way I gave it away.)

    In terms of quality, the Steves bags are lightly made to save weight, but mine seems sturdy enough. I prefer the self-locking zippers on the RedOxx products though, they simply won’t slip open unless you grab the zipper pull and tug – side pressure from contents won’t “spill” them open. I believe on the Aeronaut the zippers are weatherproof and hence have more resistance to opening. On the MLC they are “upside down” style and thus a little more resistant to accidental opening as well.

    Honestly it is hard to do MUCH better than the Steves Convertible. It’s not like you started experimenting with a real dog. Those of us who are bagaholics can wax about the advantages of one over another, but they are really, in the big picture, minute differences. Well I think there IS one major difference – shoulder vs. backpack strap carry. I prefer backpack straps, and so I look for bags that have them, but use them efficiently – Eagle Creek convertibles are notorious for using so much space for their carry system, that not much space is left for the contents. Most others use thinner, but equally comfortable, straps.

    Good luck and please report back!


  30. Manu says:

    Hello Adam,

    I bought my Aeronaut in June. Since then I’ve been able to take it as hand bag in the following airports: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Rome, Beijing, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Paris… never had a problem :-)

    At some times I carry quite a lot in my Aeronaut. Then even with the Absolute Strap, it starts to eat into my shoulder. Then it’s time to switch to the shoulder straps :-)

    There’s a new version of the Absolute Strap. I’ve heard it’s great. I’ve got the old one though, which is great as well ;-)

    Don’t forget to buy also some package cubes. I bought 4-5 from Tom Bihn and they make packing so easy!

    Have a nice trip in Europe!


  31. David says:

    The Air Boss and the Aeronaut are really different bags. The AB has no backpack straps but the Aeronaut does. When my Aeronaut is heavy and I am walking some distance I prefer carrying the bag as a backpack. If you don’t then you don’t need backpack straps. I also am not a bundle packer. I prefer the TB storage cubes which are designed to fit nicely in the Aeronaut. I also love the Aeronaut’s dedicated end pockets that can be used for shoes and other items. Finally, having a key tether is really nice; Red Oxx is old school and doesn’t offer this. This explains why I bought the Aeronaut and returned the Red Oxx Air Boss. I love the Aeronaut. I hope this helps you decide which bag is best for YOU.


  32. Adam Schwartz says:

    Ah, I meant backpack straps. I have read that the absolute is slightly better than the claw, so I might just plunk down the cash for one, even with my convertible.
    @Michael W,
    Thanks for the response. The trip was a knoxville to dulles, dulles to jfk, newark to dulles, dulles to knoxville. I was gate checked on dulles to jfk, and dulles to knoxville. The bag was expansion zipper closed, and compression strappe’d. And I only had one bag, although I had several packingcube esq bags inside. And I am giving myself a weight limit, hopefully 4 months on 20 pounds skin out. The aeronaut seemed like it would sag less, due to handle coming from both sides, opposed to just center.
    Thanks! I am rather torn between the 2 bags, but that is why this site, and you people are so great for beginning travelers.
    i think due to the nonbusiness travel and lack of backpack straps, as well as the slightly smaller size, I have ruled out the air boss.

    How can I justify the aeronaut versus the convertible?


    Kevin Reply:


    As to your question, it comes down to how frequently you travel, and how important quality and durability are to you.


  33. Canada Bob says:

    Hi Kevin…

    First of all thanks for the time you have put into the site, and to the other guys who have contributed.

    After lugging one set of Samsonite clam shells and then another around for the last 15 years although they never fell apart they now look like they’ve been shot blasted, and now that I’ve turned 60 they are starting to feel like they are filled with shot, especially when it comes to changing terminals, taking trains or riding the Tube in London.

    It’s not only that though, it’s the lost or damaged luggage, the time wasted at the carousels, not to mention the temptation to pack way more than I ever need.

    My work takes me from YHZ to all points, mostly to LHR & MAN but also to many other European cities, today finds me in ACE, so I do a lot of traveling year round. Most of my trips are less than two weeks, half the time I come back home with half of my stuff having never been taken out of the suitcase.

    So, I was looking for a better way to go, after a few days looking what there was on the www by chance I dropped on your web site.

    I’d already made a short list of three bags that might do the job, the Rick Steves Convertible, but after reading comments on here and on other sites I figured that it might not stand up to the punishment, so it may well have been a false economy.

    That left me between the Red Oxx Air Boss and the Tom Bihn Aeronaut, either one would do the job for me, I don’t need to carry a suit, smart casual works for me. After reading the reviews it was the lack of backpack straps on the Air Boss that made my mind up.

    I’ve had a couple of shoulder strap bags and they never really worked for me, having to constantly control the bag. I much prefer the backpack method, it leaves you better balanced {trekking between Terminals, or jumping on the Tube in London, or on and off trains and buses.

    With a backpack option you are also not only better balanced but also “hands free”, for all the little tasks that life throws at you when on the move.

    So it’s the Aeronaut for me, for the above reasons, but my choice was guided by the comments and experiences I read in here, so it’s a Thanks all round for the consideration that you’ve all put in.

    Before I order the bag I’d appreciate what folks think on the colours ? the bright ones may look great initially, and you’ll always know where you put it down, but do the bright colours start to look a big grubby if you travel a lot ?

    Other than that, who has the best deal on the Aeronaut these days ?

    Canada Bob.


    Kevin Reply:

    Canada Bob,

    Thanks for a well written comment and for your kind words about the blog. Based upon your description of your travel, the Aeronaut sounds like a good match. I have one in the “Steel” color and it’s quite handsome. You may wish to visit the Forum at the Bihn site – I know there have been threads about bag colors.

    As for deals, I believe your only option is the Bihn site, unless you get really lucky on eBay.

    Best of luck – and if you can, let us know how you make out.



    Canada Bob Reply:


    There’s a couple of other bags that would have, could have, should have come into contention but for one reason or another didn’t quite fit the bill, they were.

    The Red Oxx Sky Train, no doubt well constructed etc, but with this on your back I fear you’d look more like Neil Armstrong going for an EVA rather than heading for AC860 at gate 26.

    Then there’s the Tri Star with the neat little side pockets for Passports, GPS, cell phone and my trusty Meizu Mini mp3 player etc. The Tri Star would have beaten out the Aeronaut, but, for extended trips with just one carry on bag size does matter.

    Makes me wonder though why they haven’t scaled up the Tri Star to MLC as it’s such a well thought out bag ?

    As for persuading the wife to travel with just a carry on bag, well I doubt that’s going to happen. I sent her a link to the Tri Star and her response was. “great little bag, I could put my cosmetics in that” :-(

    If women are away for longer than a couple of nights they feel the need to put straps on the wardrobe and take that with them, sigh.

    Canada Bob.


  34. Richard J Laue says:

    Black Aeronaut with 2 large packing cubes up for auction on Ebay.
    Search for “Tom Bihn” and you’ll see this Aeronaut.

    (I have no connection with the seller — I’m just posting this in case anyone here is interested).

    There’s also a Red Oxx Beano PR4 on eBay.

    Cheers –


    Kevin Reply:

    Link: Aeronaut @ eBay


  35. Joan says:

    I hope I’m not intruding on a guys only site, but I could use a little advice. I am spending 6 wks in western Europe from late May thru early July and want it to be one bag, backpack variety, mostly train and foot travel. I am a low maintenance gal who doesn’t mind rotating thru 4-5 simple jersey dresses/skirt,t-shirt combos, with a light sweater or so. I’ll wear walking shoes and pack versatile pair of sandals. Few or no electronics. Can I get by on an Aeronaut? THe only other bag I’ve seen that interests me is an Eagle Creek product supposedly mad for women. Thanks for any help- great site!



    Kevin Reply:


    I have a number of readers who’d disagree that this is a guys-only site! In fact, if you like to see a woman’s review of a bag that might very well fit the bill for you, see Berg’s (Practical Hacks) take on the OPEC:

    Here’s my review of the same bag:

    The advantage this bag offers is its light weight – and a sub $40 price. Berg used it for a trip to Japan, I believe.

    The Aeronaut would work fine; plus there are other options. Do you travel a lot? Would you ever check the bag?

    Thanks for commenting, and welcome to the site!!



    Joan Reply:

    Kevin- I travel a fair bit, but this is my 1st one-bag trip for longer than 2 wks, and also the first time I won’t rent a car; using rail for the most part. Thx for responding – and the welcome to the site. -Joan


  36. Richard J Laue says:

    Here is an excellent YouTube video about the Aeronaut:

    And, going back to an earlier question about packing a suit in an Aeronaut:

    Regarding the lower price of the OPEC and other bags vs the higher price of Red Oxx or Tom Bihn bags, I’ve been following Red Oxx and Tom Bihn on eBay for several months now, and it’s clear that any time you want to sell your bag, you can recover a very high percentage of its purchase price. They really hold their value!

    Cheers and aloha –


  37. David says:


    I think the Aeronaut would work great as you describe your intended use. I love mine and find it works well as a backpack or a shoulder bag and holds a lot. 4-5 outfits is no problem for the Aeronaut.



    Joan Reply:

    thanks David. -Joan


  38. DS says:

    Wanted the Aeronaut, bought the eBags Weekender. Nice enough, but heavy. Still wanted the Aeronaut, bought the OPEC. For the price, can’t complain. It’s light, and I think it will hold enough (inaugural trip will be 9 days in Europe).

    The eBags is going back, leaving me with the OPEC. Still think about the Aeronaut, but it’s expensive. Yes, well made and worth it, according to all who own it. Nevertheless, haven’t convinced myself I need it.

    The OPEC is low key, so I don’t think it will draw attention that would require checking it in. But . . . if it ever does, I worry that it will all but disintegrate, based on some reviews about it not being up to rough treatment by baggage handlers. I’ve also read a few reviews from users that said it made it through being checked with no trouble.

    I haven’t entirely ruled out the Aeronaut, so I could be persuaded either way. Any feedback will be appreciated.


  39. Michael W. says:

    The OPEC is plenty sturdy for check-through. Just make sure the zipper pulls can’t separate (open accidentally) since this is a free-moving, not locking, style of zipper (which is the same design function as the Aeronaut – only the RedOxx has self-locking zippers). Either use TSA approved locks (so they can but them back on without breaking them) or use those tiny carabiner style fasteners or just a paper clip – the easier for a security inspector to replace, the better. You want something that will get put back on after a search.


    DS Reply:

    Thanks, Michael, for the reassurance about the OPEC.

    Although you’re a self-described bagaholic (a direction I may be leaning), you seem to have used the Steves bag most happily. The OPEC seems similar in quality, minus a few pockets. Is that assessment correct?

    I guess at some point I’m just going to have to get on the plane and believe that I made the right choice. But if there is anything else you or anyone can add that would make considering another bag a good idea, please let me know.


    Michael W. Reply:

    The Steves is a superb design, the “root” from which many other bag designers have branched out. But I like the OPEC a great deal simply for its superb carrying handle. I carried the Steves a lot on my last trip by the handle and although it looks and feels well-padded on first impressions, after a while the foam padding scrunches down and the handle is fairly uncomfortable. The OPEC doesn’t have this problem, since it uses a hard, tacky rubber handle that is fat enough and nicely curved.

    But the Steves has compression straps if you are packing lightly. If you are packing to capacity or nearly to capacity, the compression straps don’t matter as much.

    The Steves is also available in colors, which can be helpful in making sure your bag doesn’t disappear off the back of a transit van etc. The OPEC is basic black only. (I avoid the theft issue by lap carrying my bag.)


  40. DS says:

    Again, Michael, good info. Thanks for the reply.

    And Kevin, your site is one of the coolest out there. Filled with insightful feedback from you and from your readers. And the e-mail alert when a question has been answered … great. Keep up the good work!


    Kevin Reply:

    DS: Thanks for your kind words about the site, I really appreciate it! The “subscribe to comments” feature IS a neat one – I’m surprised more WordPress bloggers don’t use it. Thx again!


  41. Till says:

    Hm, once again, not convinced by Tom Bihn. The video is not really in the best sense of light packing. Wooden shoe trees? Come on! Mine weigh 394g each (size 9 Alden). So a pair of shoes plus trees and bag will be around 1800g, 4lb. Great! He also didn’t put the shoes in a space saving 69 configuration.

    Using a wire hanger for the suit but a thicker plastic hanger for the cheap fleece pullover makes no sense. Yes, do use a wire hanger for the suit but use one that has the cardboard shoulders. You can avoid the suit overhang at the bottom by bending the wire hanger at the top, effectively shortening its drop. This will also lift the shoulder pads above the fold line of the garment bag which is very important. In fact, If you do use such a bag, you can use it without the hangers. It also helps to overlap the two front sides of the suit to make it slimmer. This will cause no additional wrinkles. It’s better to have some overlap than to have extra material on the side that gets scrunched up. The pants go on the same hanger (is you use one) as the suit. You can put two pants there. Also two shirts can go on one hanger.

    Basically, this garment bag is a bundle method device and as such not bad but you have to use it correctly to have the best effect. The garment bag itself also weighs close to 2lb I believe. In my packing tips I explain how to wrap a suit around a shirt folder. The shirt folder weighs 1lb and costs less than the garment bag. With this method it is easy to pack a suit and shirts in both the Airboss and the Aeronaut.

    See third link of the compilation, post #15.


    Kevin Reply:

    Yes, there are flaws with some of the packing tactics, but the videos do a good job of showing what the bag is capable of handling.

    Setting aside the tactical flaws (shoe trees, etc.), I’m still not convinced a duffel-style bag is a good choice for packing a suit. Those shirts and suit will arrive rather wrinkled, and the EC packing sleeve barely fits in the bag.

    I know there are users who use the Aeronaut for suits, but I think an appropriately sized bag that opens book-style (unzips on 3 sides) is a far better choice.

    Till, here’s a link to the specific comment to which you refer:

    (If you wish to do this in the future, click on the post/comment number itself.)


  42. Richard J Laue says:

    Question for anybody who actually owns an Aeronaut:

    Have you ever carried the Aeronaut with just ONE of the built-in backpack straps? You know, just grabbing the bag and slinging it over one arm instead of both, for a quick run to the restroom or whatever ….

    How does it handle that way? Does it try to slip off your shoulder, or swing at some really awkward angle?

    I’m wondering if I could get away without buying the optional shoulder strap, and just use one of the built-in straps for occasional short hops. For longer treks, of course, I’d use both the backpack straps the way they’re supposed to be used.

    I just can’t see myself using the shoulder strap — the optional one — regularly, and don’t really want the extra weight of something I won’t use often.

    TIA –


  43. […] take my word for it, here’s a couple other reviews from and One Bag with lots of pictures and info in case you haven’t quite made up your […]

  44. I know this forum has not been updated in some time, though I looked all over for your post-trip feedback about this bag and could not find it. Now, 2 years later, do you still use this or have you switched back or to something else for ongoing travel?

    As I am also considering the Red Oxx Sky Train (as I mentioned elsewhere), I am wondering about the backpack strap on the Aeronaut; they do not look as secure (the buckles or the straps themselves) as I have seen on other bags. Thinking about the long walks through airports and then onto trains to make it into cities, it seems there would be a lot of on-and-off of this as a backpack. Has anybody ever experienced any problems with using these straps ongoing?

    Finally, I am wondering in general about security with using a backpack while walking to and from the train stations from said airports; do people ever feel the need to find a way to lock the zippers so they do not open (accidentally or by thieves)? As that may be where my laptop and travel documents are, wondering how people navigate this. I know the zippers seem tough to open, but thieves are thieves, and one person distracting you can leave another to do all sorts of things.




    Kevin Reply:


    Sorry for the delay in my response. I tend to use the PR bags or Air Boss when I “one bag” it, as they suit my travel a bit better than the Aeronaut.

    That said, in actual use the Aeronaut backpack straps are terrific, and I would have no concerns about their durability.

    Michael has provided some good ideas for security. Zip ties work well, or just put a small, lightweight TSA type lock through the pull tabs. “Split” key rings are also great for this, and cost pennies. Best: when in crowded areas (underground, buses, etc.) hold the bag on your lap or in front of you. You should be fine.


  45. Michael W. says:


    I also share your concerns about luggage tampering, so I usually lock the zipper tabs on my bag (not the Bihn, too pricey for me!) with tiny carabiner clips from REI, or with plastic bag twist ties, or with the locking “zip strips” used to keep computer wiring bundled together (available in a variety of sizes and colors).

    Plastic bag and “headphone” twist ties seem the best compromise in terms of security and ease of removal. The carabiner clips are naturally the quickest to open for removing a laptop through security, but their ease of opening is also their weakness.

    Locking zip strips require a handy pair of nail clippers to get remove – a problem for me once through security.

    This travel spoon comes with a free clip I re-purpose for my luggage zipper tabs:


    Jeffrey Keefer Reply:

    Good point, Michael. Thanks for sharing your process for this.

    Seems nail clippers are allowed through TSA screenings, though I am not sure in Heathrow (where I will be headed).



  46. David says:

    I still use my Aeronaut a lot. I have used it as my only bag other than a small carry on for two week trips with no problem. The backpack straps work great. At home I use the bag as a gym bag — I like the end pockets for shoes. The bag gets thrown in my car and the gym locker and still looks almost like new. The backpack straps are strong enough for long airport concourses. The bag is worth every penny in my opinion.


  47. Thanks, David. Good to know the backpack straps and plastic buckles there are solid; that was a concern of mine.

    Nearing a decision . . .



  48. Ties says:

    Regarding the briefcase handle snaps: I too thought this was an odd design. However after having used the bag several times while traveling with only handluggage and a baby pram, I have come to love to attach the Aeronaut to the handle bars of the pram by using the handle snap.

    Late reaction to an old post, but none the less interesting to share


    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks for your comment; that would nave never occurred to me!


  49. Clint says:

    hi, just found your site and I think you’ve found a new reader here. Great review but since im a little late to the Tom Bihn aeronaut party, would you still recommend this as one of the best MLC on the market? I am a light packer and I think I could get 10 days out of this no problem but I really want to make the right choice. Did you carry this much as a backpack? What was your preferred method of transporting the bag? The shoulder strap looks like what I would use mostly since I often have a backpack devoted to DSLR, extra lenses, MBA, and headphones.



    Kevin Reply:

    Hi Clint,

    The Aeronaut is certainly a fine bag, and definitely one of the top MLC-type carry-on bags on the market. Whether it’s the right bag for you depends in part on the type of travel you do – is it casual, business casual, or jacket/suit & tie? Do you need to bring extra shoes? How long are your trips, generally?

    I am painting with a broad brush here, but if your travel tends more toward the casual side, and you perhaps need to bring along a pair of running shoes, the Aeronaut would be perfect. Dressier, with oxford shirts and a jacket, I’d look at something like the Air Boss.
    Of course I am ignoring aesthetics in this case.

    Let us know a bit more about your travel and I – or my readers – may be able to offer additional comments and help.


    Clint Reply:

    My travel is definitely on the casual side of things and usually to warmer climates when possible. I usually need an extra pair of running shoes and sandals in the bag and like I mentioned bring a daypack for DSLR/laptop. Typically a trip is no less than 7 days and I have no problem with doing a load of laundry in a foreign country(can actually be fun). I like the versatility of this bag but not price is a little high which is why I want to be sure. $30 for a shoulder strap? Seems to me it should just come with the bag.

    My upcoming trip is 2 weeks in Thailand and Vietnam and I don’t want to be rolling a bag around and don’t want to be stuck with a huge backpack with no other options to carry. The aeronaut would allow me to wear my regular backpack and carry the aeronaut on my shoulder. I think it would be a great fit for my travel.

    Thanks for any suggestions.


    Michael W. Reply:


    If you want to make a good impression (traveling on business) the Bihn products are a great investment, perhaps the best.

    In terms of pure maximum legal capacity and “toughness” though, RedOxx (the Airboss, reviewed here on PH) is even better, probably tops.

    RedOxx also makes good “duffel style” one-bags as an alternative to the rectangular “suitcase” style bags we are talking about here. These essentially swap height and width for similar volumes, but generally have more organizing pockets.

    Since you have already allocated your shoulders to your backpack, the RedOxx Airboss is free of backpack straps, a pure shoulder bag, hence doesn’t waste weight or space on the backpack suspension. It’s pricey though.

    If you like to travel a little more like a backpacker – take a minibus instead of a taxi or limousine to your side destinations – you can save a LOT of money by getting one of the budget bags reviewed on this blog, like the Outdoor Products Essentials Carryon, now rebranded as the Campmor Essentials Carryon (you will need to use a Magic Marker to “black out” the splashy new Campmor logo):

    or the Rick Steves Classic Back Door bag (ignore the landing page picture, you can get it in black) http://travelstore.ricksteves......038;id=346

    The two bags linked to above are also reviewed here on Practical Hacks (the Campmor is under “OPEC” if you use the blogs search function). Both of them DO have backpack straps, but they are fairly minimal – don’t waste much space or weight – but if you are a gram shaver, you can cut them out and use the resulting empty zippered slot for storage. They both have an included, albeit cheapy, shoulder strap.

    When I travel with a combination like yours – day pack and shoulder bag – I usually adjust the shoulder bag strap length so I can sling the shoulder bag cross-body, bike messenger style, so it won’t slip off. Hung low enough so I can wear the daypack over it.

    I like travel with a combination like this, esp. in SE Asia, because the main luggage piece will easily fit any taxi trunk, or on my lap in a mini-bus, while the daypack keeps the valuables always handy.

    My only source of amazement is that you can deal with the weight of a DSLR _and_ a laptop. My maximum degree of acceptable pain is a point and shoot (which are getting better all the time, esp. the interchangeables) and a netbook or Macbook…

  50. Clint says:

    @Michael, thanks for the great advice. I seriously can’t believe the Campmor is only $30 and it may be all I need right now. I mean it costs the same as the shoulder strap on the Tom Bihn. If Tom Bihn is more of the business type bag I just don’t need that currently. I use a zero halliburton carry-on for work trips anyway. I definitely travel more like a backpacker on personal time but I’ve put those days of lugging that giant pack behind me and want to keep it basic.

    I agree with you on the shoulder bag messenger style approach. The weight of my gear bag/day pack isn’t that bad actually but I know what you mean. I stopped carrying my 15″ macbook pro on trips and got an 11″ air to make the load a lot lighter. DSLR and an extra lens isn’t that bad plus I usually have it in my hand anyway.

    I actually just ditched my lowepro 250 for a slimmer Kata DR-466i Digital Rucksack and a 11 liter Osprey day pack to switch up depending on the trip type. Not sure if those are reviewed here but I would be happy to share.

    I am going to do a full review on this site but thanks for the tips.


    Michael W. Reply:

    Glad I didn’t overwhelm you. Some of us who read Kevin’s excellent reviews are bagaholics and own way too many bags for our own good. If you don’t mind the enormous Campmor “ad” on the front of the former OPEC bag (which can easily be toned down with a black Magic Marker), it is a terrific bag. I would invest in some small “key ring” size carabiners from REI or a similar outlet to keep the zippers closed (I would make the same recommendation for any bag).

    Enjoy Thailand and Vietnam!


    Kevin Reply:

    Agree: the OPEC/Campmor bag is still a ridiculous steal. If you’re interested in it, Clint, email me – I have a 10% Off code which I think you’ll be able to use to lower the price a bit more.


  51. […] Ahhh, nevermind – I see that these are mentioned in some of the reviews: First Take: Tom Bihn Aeronaut travel bag So they ARE unsnappable – good to know. I'd still worry that the snaps would tear the material […]

  52. […] In this review they are using a clear quarter packing cube for a pair of Bose headphones. First Take: Tom Bihn Aeronaut travel bag […]

  53. […] Practical Hacks (4/13/2009?) […]

  54. Steve R says:

    I have been reading many reviews of the main MLC contenders, as I am looking to avoid checked in luggage. I’m not necessarily after one bag, only when using Ryanair and other similar low cost Eu carriers that insist on this policy. I need to be able to separate out a smart business laptop briefcase, clothes wise I have always used cubes and lived with the new shirt creased look. I always wear the suit so folding/packing it is of no interest, but I do need to be able to pack formal shirts and smart casual evening wear fr up to 4 nights, and also include running shoes / shorts etc for same period. I’ve narrowed the choices down to the aeronaut 45, the sky train and the air boss. I prefer the open designs of the Red Oxx bags, but have read that if overpacked they bulge beyond their nominal dimensions, and that means £££s on some of the EU low cost carriers, so is a complete no-no. I have read as well that the aeronaut pretty much holds its outer dims despite what you jam into it, which is is the case would probably be the decisive factor along with being able to fit a small unstructured leather briefcase into the main compartment.
    For the main carriers (BA, Lufthansa, KLM etc) this is no issue, as you are permitted to take a separate laptop bag onboard in addition to your main bag. Taking a bag this large / style into my business meetings is not an option either, so I am forced to consider the bag-in-a-bag approach. If anyone else has this issue, and it appears that there is no TB solution yet, which Red Oxx has, then I’d be keen to hear it. Ideally something I coulkd purchase in the UK, or at least mainland Europe.


  55. Michael says:

    Excellent Review. I am looking at both Aeronaut 45 and the Air Boss. Did you find Aeronaut to be bulky when carrying as a backpack? Which bag became your go to bag? Did you end up keeping the Aeronaut? Im thinking of writing the review in my blog. How did you go about obtaining the review sample?


  56. […] take my word for it, here’s a couple other reviews from and One Bag with lots of pictures and info in case you haven’t quite made up your […]

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