Provides: Transportation and protection for laptop (13″ or smaller), iPad, and other accessories, equipment
Developer: Tom Bihn
Minimum Requirements: 13″ or smaller laptop, iPad, other travel/school items and accessories
Availability: Out now
When you review a Tom Bihn bag, there’s no really point in covering the quality; that it’ll be durable and dependable is a given. Rather, it’s better to focus on the functionality, and to determine whether it’s worth the price. Tom Bihn bags come at a premium, but not without justification. The Synapse backpack is no exception. And with the addition of the Cache accessory, you get more functionality than you’d initially expect.
The Synapse backpack is perfectly sized for school. You could use it for hiking or—like I did a couple months ago—for lugging equipment around an expo show floor (in this case, E3 2012), but its compact design is better suited to get your books and laptop and/or iPad from the dorm to classes…for the duration of your education.
The Synapse exterior is made of 1000 denier Cordura fabric, available in olive, indigo, plum, navy, steel, black, and conifer, as well as ultraviolet and Iberian pattern models. The interior is an “ultra-lightweight yet abrasion-resistant Dyneema/nylon rip-stop fabric” made for Tom Bihn in Japan, and I can attest to the the “rip-stop” claim. I jammed the Synapse full of product info, t-shirts, stuffed animals, and a dead zombie hand at E3, and the bag seemed to challenge me to force more in—my back would’ve given out before the bag would. Helping to overstuff it are #8 YKK splash-proof zippers on the five main compartments. The quality materials and craftsmanship means no rips, no loose threads, and no zipper malfunctions.
But the bag goes beyond all of this. Despite the compact design (16.2″ tall by 12.8″ wide), there’s room for a wide array of materials. The top center front pocket is deep enough to hold a water bottle, with a flat bottom so the bottle rests there comfortably. Just below this a smaller pocket that gave me quick access to my business cards and floor pass. It could also be used for a wallet, passport, or a combination of the three if you’re heading through an airport.
The left side pocket has compartments for pens, your stylus, and room for plenty accessories, while the right side pocket has a waterproof, Ultrasuede-lined inner pocket perfect for your iPhone or iPod. Both have o-rings, one with an 8″ key strap.
Finally, the front also has a bottom pocket that extends across the length of the bag, and is good for any rolled up content such as a t-shirt or hand towel. And since this pocket doesn’t wrap under the main compartment, you need not worry about its contents getting smashed. Feel free to hide a banana in there.
Inside, the bag is a little more basic. One main compartment is sized for a 13″ MacBook or smaller, but since it’s not form fitted, some sort of sleeve is a good idea for additional protection. You can also use this for a couple textbooks of whatever hiking gear you need to carry. I don’t own a MacBook, but found the smaller interior area (separated by a flap of the Dyneema/nylon) perfect for my iPad when combining it with Tom Bihn’s Cache padded sleeve ($30.00).
The combination didn’t take up much space, allowing room in the main area for plenty of other items for both airplane carry-on purposes and for just getting around. As with the other pockets, the main compartment features two o-rings for attaching lanyards, keys, or whatever Tom Bihn accessories you decide to pick up.
The back of the Synapse “… is padded with 1/4″, high quality, closed-cell foam with exterior of Dri-Lex Aero-Spacer mesh and 420 denier nylon,” as Tom Bihn states on their website. I found this soft and comfortable, and the overall weight distribution left me without the back pain I usually suffer when lugging around a backpack for prolonged periods. This is aided by wide, comfortable shoulder straps that can be outfitted with additional sternum and waist straps for additional support. When you’re not using them, they can be removed with no hardware left behind.
That, actually is the strength of the Synapse. At first glance, it’s unassuming. It’s not flashy in any way. It’s a backpack. But once you start to use it, you quickly find more uses for it. You’ll shift around use of the smaller pockets more often than you’d think before settling on a general routine that works for you. You’ll stuff more into the main compartment than you would’ve thought possible by looking at the outside, without fear of over-stressing the seams. And as your gadget collection grows, additional accessories can be purchased to accommodate them.
And no matter how bulky the bag gets, it remains surprisingly comfortable to carry. This is good, because a backpack this tough and flexible is going to be carried for a long, long time.
Buy the Tom Bihn Synapse Backpack