> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Review: Tom Bihn Synapse



Review: Tom Bihn Synapse

Full Disclosure: This pack was provided to me free of charge for purposes of T&E.

Tom Bihn makes a wide range of travel bags, briefcases and backpacks. They're not tactical, and they may not be a name you're familiar with, but they do make some high quality bags, geared towards the traveler--whether for business or fun. Civilian, airport and office friendly type stuff, with high quality workmanship and materials.They asked me if I wanted to take their Synapse backpack for a spin, and I was of course happy to oblige.

Size comparison with a 1L stainless bottle.
When I received the Synapse, I was surprised at the size--I was expecting a normal sized day pack, but the Synapse is about 2/3 the size of a regular pack.  Of course, if I'd have checked the specs, I'd have seen that the capacity is just under 1200 cubic inches, which is about 2/3rds the size of a 1800-2000 cubic inch day pack.

Materials and build quality are excellent--tough 1000 denier Cordura exterior, lightweight by tough Dyneema lining, ITW Nexus hardware. Sewing quality and seams are impeccable. The zippers are really nice Aquaguard water repellent, rubberized zippers.

Really top notch build quality all around. It's 100% made in the USA, too.

The Synapse has numerous pockets for organizing your gear--the main compartment and 5 others. Plenty of organization and easy access to your gear.

The main compartment is big enough to fit a 13" laptop, papers and rain jacket.  You can see the Dyneema lining. It has a slick/sturdy feel to it.

Pockets abound. Despite the pack's small size, I was able to fit in my baseline EDC kits without too much trouble and the main compartment wide open.

There are two pockets big enough to fit a 1L water bottle - the top/center and the bottom pocket, both pictured below.

The top/center pocket with a 1L bottle inside. Also good for a book or power cable.
The bottom pocket with the same 1L bottle.
Both side pockets feature extra organization - left pocket has pen slots, right pocket has a nice Ultrasuede pocket for an iGadget. Both have o-rings for attaching an included key strap.

The Synapse's suspension is standard shoulder straps and a padded back. There's a removable, non-load bearing waist belt. It works, and the bag just isn't big enough to a more intense suspension system to make sense.

So, all around great build quality, materials and excellent organization.

Which gets me back to the Synapse's size. It's under 1200 cubic inches and firmly on the small size. The Synapse is certainly big enough for a day hike, trip to the office and it would be excellent as an under-the-seat carry on for air travel. The pack will fit where a larger pack will not -- nooks and crannies, inside a larger suitcase or pack.

But, the Synapse just doesn't have the capacity to go beyond that - overnight trip, full sized laptop and so on. It also looks small -- if you are 5'2, no worries. I'm 5'11 and my wife says it looks silly on me. So your mileage will vary there.

Certainly, great quality overall, and I would look at Tom Bihn's lineup if you're in the market for a travel bag or civvy friendly everyday carry pack. Their full sized Brain Bag looks good for this role. They also have a slew of nice cases, organizers, packing cubes, stuff sacks and other accessories.


  1. $140!!!!! Holy poop!!!! Expensive for such a small pack!!!!

  2. I've been using a Tom Bihn Cafe bag (medium sized), almost daily for the last 5 years and the thing still looks and works great. With the waist strap (cost extra when I bought mine) you can strap it to the small of your back and bicycle with it. I hardly notice it when I'm riding, it stays nicely glued in place. Nice organizer pockets and such, very functional, very high quality.

    Load wise: I clip a 16 oz water bottle to the shoulder strap with a carabiner. In the front pocket goes a mini first-aid kit, whistle lighter, travel toothbrush, tooth paste, dental floss, lighter, tin of Altoids, a couple of tea bags, and a small cycling tail light. In the main compartment there's room for a couple of pens, a Tide Detergent To Go Pen (never leave home with out it!) a small flashlight on a retention strap that came with the bag, plus room for a hat, gloves, trade paper back sized novel, and light lunch. Every thing I need for a normal day out and about.

    Works fantastic for everyday carry and blends with everyone around me. No one ever gives it a second look.

    O' and I carry it slung over my left shoulder with the bag just behind my right hip. When cycling I swing it all the way behind me, snug up the shoulder strap, clip on the waist belt and away I go, it takes all of 10 seconds or so to get into "bike mode"

  3. What do you think of this bag/kit as a BOB starter kit? Is it something you guys would purchase to start off with? I didnt know the best place to put it but really wanted a few more opinions before I purchased.....


    1. Like the poster below, I wouldn't do it. While you're getting a lot of stuff, it's going to low quality, borderline disposable stuff, unless this somehow wows with quality - I haven't seen in person, so I can only judge so much. You want to buy stuff that will last you, not that will fall apart on first use.

      I would check out the $40 a week series we've been doing as a start. $129 can buy some quality stuff. MSS sleeping bag, Mora knife, tarp, some cordage, ferro rod/Bic Lighters/dryer lint, cooking container, decent multitool, decent flashlight, all certainly for well under that asking price.

      Raid your house, you probably have several useful things already. Flea markets and gun shows often have deals, too.

  4. I wouldn't do it. The pack wont fit you correctly and will be poorly made, the tent will leak in the rain and blow over in wind, the sleeping bag wont keep you warm. There's just no way you can get all that gear at that price-point and have any of it be any good.

    If I were starting out from scratch I'd start with a 1 quart water bottle, a small thermos, and a messenger bag. All of these are things that you can put to use on an almost daily basis and will be helpful in an emergency.

  5. Very interesting. I find my current EDC backpack a little too big (Osprey Momentum 26 @ ~1500 cubic inches). My car has a bigger kit, so the heavy duty stuff is in a 2000 cubic in. pack, with some other gear in nooks and crannies, so my EDC pack is pretty much my "get to the car" bag. 1200 cubic inches with compartments sounds ideal for my needs. Thanks for the heads up! I'm 5'4, so it may not look as silly on me.

    1. I think it would be about perfect for what you're looking for.