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- Price $360 for 30L and $370 for 45L
- Material Choice of 1050d Ballistic Nylon, 525d Ballistic Nylon, 1000d Cordura, 400d Halcyon for exterior, and 200d Halcyon interior
- Made in USA
I've been reviewing TOM BIHN bags for a while now, and in recent years, I've witnessed a shift in the company.
I remembered the first time I sensed the change was in their update of the Synapse to the Synik. Edgeless shoulder straps, dedicated laptop compartment, full clamshell opening, some of the most requested features, were finally introduced.
At that time, Tom Bihn (yes, Tom is a real person) stepped down as lead designer, leaving the design throne to the hands of younger designers. Tom's designs were the stuff of legends and formed the backbone for many of the evolutions we see these days, but the new designs are just more modern and relevant. This is all thanks to Nik, the prodigal designer responsible for these new designs.
Nik impressed me with Design Lab products, like the TOM BIHN Shadow Guide. The line takes on classic pieces with more experimental features and stealthier designs. Thanks to this new, more modern advent, most TOM BIHN products now come in all-black colorways, down to the iconic brand tag.
As someone who only wears black, I love the new direction, and the momentum didn't stop there. The Techonaut is an update of another TOM BIHN classic, the Aeronaut.
I reviewed the Aeronaut some time back, and to be honest; it's not getting quite as much use as some of my other bags. Long-time users of the Aeronaut can probably guess why. It's a duffel bag that can also be used as a backpack. With no dedicated laptop compartment and minimal organization, there were just too few occasions for me to use it.
It felt like TOM BIHN read my mind when they introduced the Techonaut. This bad boy is made for modern travelers with all the updates we have been hoping for. Let's dive in.
Note: I've only had the bag for less than a week, so please consider this review a first impression. I will be updating the review as I use it for travel.
Techonaut's design doesn't deviate from TOM BIHN's iconic look, thanks to all the same features like the ballistic nylon (or halcyon) and YKK zippers with those zipper pulls that you have to put on yourself.
Good ol' TOM BIHN styling
The look of the bag, compared to others in the market, is distinctive. There's a prominent, vertical U-shaped zipper on the front of the bag and a zipper of the end pocket at the bottom that goes vertically across. The most eye-catching part of the bag is the orientation of the handle on the top that looks like a mini mohawk. You can also find this handle on the Aeronaut, but for some reason, it just stands out more, being on just one side and because of the shape of the bag.
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18 color combination but only one right one
The Techonaut comes in a whopping 18 color combinations, an advantage you get when you control your manufacturing process like TOM BIHN does. For the 45L, I went for the Black 525 Ballistic/Northwest Sky 200 Halcyon version. For the 30L, I went for a halcyon version for the first time, the Black 400 Halcyon/Northwest Sky 200 Halcyon version.
I've been consistently going for the ballistic versions of TOM BIHN bags mainly for aesthetical reasons. The halcyon, while intriguing, comes with a grid pattern that I didn't fancy. I started noticing that recent halcyon bags, while still with the grid lines, were much more subtle, with the grid lines barely visible.
With the backpack in hand, the charcoal gridlines on the black halcyon were still very much visible. Yet, they are subtle enough that they won't draw attention or be considered a design feature.
For both the bags, if you preorder them, they come with the Design Lab brand tag. Design Lab is TOM BIHN's line that pushes the boundaries of creativity a little more. Design Labs could graduate into the permanent line-up or fade into oblivion. For the Techonaut, it has already been decided that it will be part of the permanent offering; therefore, the Design Lab brand tag is only for those who preorder the bag.
The Design Lab brand tag is a little smaller than the regular brand tag, and more importantly, it is totally blacked out. I love the OG vibe of the TOM BIHN “airplane” tag, but it has always bugged me that it draws that much attention as the only color on the black bags. Thankfully, most TOM BIHN bags have been refreshed with either the all-black Design Lab tag or all-black regular TOM BIHN tag.
So, even if the Design Lab version is available only for preorders, there might be a chance you can still get the murdered-out look if they offer the all-black regular tag.
There are three ways to carry this bag, a hand duffle bag, a backpack, and a shoulder bag. As a digital nomad, I know I am only going to carry it as a backpack. Both the 30L and 45L look great in any one of those carry methods. For reference, I am 6 ft and about 205 lbs.
The 45L is obviously too large for an everyday carry. The 30L, being the same capacity as the TOM BIHN Synik 30, is a perfect size for an everyday carry. The 30L is definitely much more versatile in terms of size and seems to be a good size for anything apart from indefinite travel.
I designed a thing.
I found a 100 year old company that would create these heirloom quality canisters for me. They are handmade and will keep your tea leaves, coffee beans or anything that you need dry for years to come.
or read review
Techonaut vs Aeronaut
As with most of TOM BIHN's recent updates, you will not find a big difference with the design compared to the model it's based on, the Aeronaut.
The most immediate difference would be the U-shaped main compartment, as opposed to the rectangular Aeronaut. TOM BIHN achieved this by removing one of the two end pockets that the Aeronaut has. Instead of a duffle bag that could be used as a backpack, you now have a backpack that works as a duffle bag.
I have the 45L Aeronaut, and after packing the main compartment of the Techonaut, I thought that the Techonaut seemed a little smaller than the Aeronaut. It was after stuffing the end pocket of the Techonaut that I could see why. The end pocket on the Techonaut seems to have about 1.5 times the capacity of the Aeronaut, making up for the missing capacity.
The design of the side handle affects the profile of the bag as well. The side handle on the Aeronaut is a full-on handle with straps, while the handle on the Techonaut is flushed into the bag for a more streamlined silhouette.
There are differences between each fabric in terms of abrasion resistance, tear resistance, and durability. But dare I say, in regular, non-extreme use, the difference will be negligible. The only caveat here is that I've yet to experience the 400d Halcyon enough to be sure.
Just based on denier count, the Halcyon is less than half of the other two materials. The halcyon exterior is, without a doubt, less durable than the other two. But it is, by no means, flimsy. It will hold up on its own, but you probably can't abuse it the way you do the other two fabrics. i.e., when lugging my Aeronaut around, I would dump it on the concrete floor while anxiously second-guessing if I got the schedule right for the bus in the middle of nowhere.
While the ripstop grid (the checkered pattern you see) makes it difficult for the bag to cut or tear, it will give in to abrasion easier than the other two fabrics. For reference, 400d halcyon is just half the thickness of 1050d ballistic nylon.
Why choose halcyon then? Well, it is much lighter. I chose it for the 30L because I expect to use it mostly as an everyday carry. I probably won't need Cordura or ballistic nylon for trips to Starbucks or a weekend visit to the in-laws.
1050d Ballistic Nylon vs 1000d Cordura
For the 45L, I went with ballistic nylon. I would have chosen the 1000d Cordura if it was available in black. For some reason, the Cordura version was only available in Red Blend and Beaver Camo colorways. For those who are not as particular about colors as I am, choosing between 1050d ballistic and 1000d Cordura might seem difficult, so let me make it simple for you.
There will be minimal differences between the two regarding durability, tear strength, or abrasion resistance. There are, however, a few practical differences that can help you choose.
Ballistic nylon is smoother and more supple, while Cordura has a rougher, more canvas-like hand feel. Because of this difference in texture, Cordura also catches pet hair and lint.
For most, the obvious choice between the two is down to aesthetics. Even the black versions have a different feel, which might not be apparent from product images but is obvious when you put them next to each other. TOM BIHN made it easier by offering the Cordura in just two colorways, therefore making the 1050d Ballistic Nylon the obvious choice for most.
Usage, Organization and Features
If you are an Aeronaut-owner, the Techonaut is different enough for you to regard it as a whole different bag, especially in terms of organization and features.
Even though I call this a review, the truth is that I've only got about a week to test out the Techonaut. I will continue to update this section as I travel with it, so be sure to check for updates.
The bulk of the Techonaut's capacity is essentially from the main compartment. Since it's a fairly large compartment, there are two straps along the back of the compartment. It lets you strap down a huge packing cube to make sure that you can maximize the remaining space.
If you don't quite need the space of the end pocket and want to fit more into the main pocket, there is a zip near the bottom of the main compartment that divides the main compartment to allow more space for the end pocket. Unzip it, and you'll have one large main compartment.
I have this unzipped by default since it doesn't actually change the space of the end pocket. It gives the end pocket structure such that the contents of the main compartment don't encroach into the space of the end pocket, potentially crushing some of its contents.
Beneath the main compartment (if you are using it as a backpack) is an end pocket. This pocket takes up the entire base of the bag. This pocket is larger than it looks and can fit a fair bit. I think it's perfect for dirty clothing, footwear, or anything you want to keep separate from your clean clothing.
Because the bag stands on this side, the shape of this compartment affects the balance when you try to stand the bag without support. If you can keep this compartment flat, the bag can stand on its own without any support. It will probably fall over in most cases as it's not designed to do so like the Aer Tech Pack is, for example.
One great thing about this pocket is that you can use it as a quick access pocket. It's actually much easier to reach than the other quick-access pockets around the bag. You can sling your backpack on one shoulder and reach into this pocket easily.
This pocket doesn't open all the way, aka clamshell-style, but wide enough that you can see everything in the pocket.
There isn't much else to say about this compartment except that it comes with an O-ring for you to use with one of TOM BIHN's key straps.
There are pockets on each side of the Techonaut. One of the pockets, the one on the left side without the handle, is deeper than the other. The deeper pocket can fit a 1-liter water bottle or a foldable umbrella, but the other one is more of a quick-access pocket for small gadgets like a pair of Apple AirPods Pro.
The 45L Techonaut will obviously fit more in the deeper side pocket. The largest water bottle you could probably get away with is something like the GRAYL GEOPRESS Purifier. For the 30L, something like the Stanley Travel Mug would be a good-sized water bottle for the pocket.
There is a pocket on the top of the bag. Because of the position of the pocket, you can only access it if your bag hangs off your right shoulder. Even then, fishing something out from it requires awkward stretching or bending of your arms. This makes me think that the pocket is best for items that you don't have to access on the move, like tech accessories, like the Satechi 100W USB-C Charger or NOMAD 20W Power Adapter, where you will usually be already seated in a cafe when reaching for them.
The included 8” Key Strap is latched onto the O-ring here right out of the box.
This compartment is padded and suspended. With these specifications, you'll probably be fine without a laptop case.
Unlike bags like the GORUCK GR3, the opening of the laptop compartment is straight across the top only. You can't access it from the side. This means that if your laptop is small, you'll have to reach deep into the laptop compartment from the top to fish it out.
Roller Luggage Passthrough
TOM BIHN has been adding luggage passthrough to their travel bags since the Synik. It's a feature that doesn't take up any extra weight or capacity. Even though I don't usually use roller luggage, it's always nice to have the feature for when I need it.
While I won't be using it regularly, I did try it out on my MUJI roller luggage, which is pretty standard-sized. I noticed that with the 45L, it would pretty much take up the entire length of your roller luggage handle. Your hand will come in contact with the bag pulling on the handle. The 30L is a little better, but it is still uncomfortable to hold.
It's the feeling I got when the Synik was introduced all over again. The Techonaut comes with much-needed updates for more tech-savvy travelers. While the Aeronaut might still be better for duffle-lovers, most of us should probably be going for the Techonaut.
Should you spend upwards of $360 to upgrade from the Aeronaut? The updates and new features are nice but not enough to justify an additional $360 if you already have the Aeronaut. The only feature that could change my mind is the dedicated laptop compartment, as it really opens up the bag to more situations.