Product: Laptop carrying case
Manufacturer: Tom Bihn
Accommodates: 12 to 15″ laptops
Retail Price: $160.00
Availability: Out now
Those of us with smaller laptops, such as my 13″ unibody MacBook, have special needs. Pricing issues aside, most of us bought a smaller laptop because we didn’t want to lug around anything larger. Obviously, this choice carries over to our laptop bag, so we prefer thinner, smaller options. Such bags are easy to fine, but most subsequently don’t provide room to carry much of anything other than the laptop itself. Is it possible to build a bag that offers room for everything a traveller might need without turning that 13″ MacBook into a 17″ PowerBook? The designers at Tom Bihn would say, “Yes,” and they’ve got the bag to prove it.
The Western Flyer is a very sharp looking, very sturdy bag—available in black, crimson and steel—that’s built to be upgraded. This is good in that you can basically turn the Western Flyer into whatever you want it to be. It’s bad in that nearly everything is going to cost you extra, and that’s on top of the already steep $160.00.
So, what do you get for the basic price? You get a fantastic laptop bag. The Western Flyer is built from 1050 Ballistic nylon and is lined with Dyneema/nylon ripstop; YKK #10 Aquaguard zippers. Those terms may nothing to people like us, so I’ll sum it all up with the word “solid.” Is there even stitching on this bag? Because I can’t see it. The stitches and seams are hidden from view, and therefore protected from snags.
The front of the bag sports two zippered compartments that are nearly ten inches wide and up to eight inches deep. The higher compartment features a lanyard to which you can attach your keys, but I used it to attach my USB flash drive. There’s also a pocket compartment that’s perfectly sized for storing a bottle of water, although I imagine most would use it for holding documents, pamphlets, airline tickets and such.
The compartment on the back is the size of the whole bag, but it actually already serves a more important function; the straps for the built-in backpack are stored here. The Western Flyer has basic nylon handles on the top and on both edges, so it’s already easy to cary pretty much any way you want. But for longer periods, you can pull out these straps and wear it like a backpack. When not in use, the backpack straps stay neatly tucked away…you’d never even know they’re there. Even the bottom latches to which you fasten the backpack straps are permanently hidden from view.
But what about the shoulder strap? You don’t get one. Not for the base price, anyway. You can purchase the Absolute Shoulder Strap ($30) or TerraGrip Shoulder Strap ($20) separately, and the Western Flyer does have the necessary hooks in place on the top of the bag. I tested the bag with the Absolute Shoulder Strap, and although I’m not certain most would want to shell out the extra cash for it, I can certainly say it’s worth it if you prefer carrying your laptop bag on your shoulder. It’s as sturdy as the bag itself, with metal clasps and a very comfortable shoulder pad. Unfortunately, the shoulder strap clasps are staggered for maximum comfort.
The front main compartment opens up fairly wide, but contains no individual pockets. Again, this is where you’re paying more money to Tom Bihn, and there’s no shortage of accessories designed to fit this compartment. What you buy just depends upon how you intend to use the bag. I tried it out with the Horizontal Freudian Slip, which offers three business card/cell phone size pockets, four pen holders, two small zippered compartments, and two large notebook size pockets. The Freudian Slip doesn’t attach to the inside of the Western Flyer, but fits comfortably. Any of the smaller packing cubes can also fit in this compartment, and you can divide it into two areas with zippered flap that folds neatly out of the way when not in use.
The back compartment is where you’d store your laptop. Again, there are no pockets here. There’s a small latch on which you can fasten a pouch, and there are two clasps that allow you to hang your Horizontal Brain Cell ($60). This is a completely separate case for your laptop, and it’s where the customization comes into play. You can get the Brain Cell that’s perfectly fitted to your particular laptop, and still fit it in the larger Western Flyer. The hard-sided, memory foam padded Brain Cell is built as solidly as the Western Flyer itself, and includes its own handle and latches for a shoulder strap, as well as a velcro “lid” to keep your laptop secure. A large mesh pocket snaps open on the front, but it doesn’t open wide to accommodate much more than some documents and a magazine. The Brain Cell will pass for a laptop case, but isn’t terribly functional for much more than securely hanging and protecting your laptop within the Western Flyer. Of course, you can use your own laptop sleeve with this case, but you’d lose the ability to “hang” in place with the fasteners.
What you end up getting, then, with the Western Flyer is pretty much everything you want in a laptop bag. It can accommodate pretty much anything. It can be bulky or svelte. I can be a shoulder bag, a backpack or a handle bag. It can carry your 12 to 15″ laptop, or it can carry your lunch, clothes, whatever. Unfortunately, it comes at a hefty price, as you’ll be paying extra for pretty much everything. A hidden benefit to this customizability is that if you have two or more Tom Bihn bags (of different sizes and functions, even), most of these add-ons can be easily removed from what bag and placed in the other…no need to completely unpack and restore. Still, I imagine this is a hard sell online where most of us don’t know what we need in a laptop bag until we’ve tried it. I’d therefore like to see Tom Bihn include at least one pouch and the Freudian Slip, and let us build from there.
Still, with the Western Flyer, you’re getting a bag that’s durable enough and customizable enough to grow along with you, provided you don’t jump too far in laptop sizes. Moved up from the MacBook to a 15″ MacBook Pro? No problem. Don’t buy another laptop case, just buy another Brain Cell. Find you’re carrying more clothes and fewer business tools these days? Replace your Freudian Slip with a Packing Cube. Heck, cram everything into this case for just one flight and you’re already saving yourself $50 in bag check fees on some airlines.
And yet, the Western Flyer still comfortably and securely handles my 13″ MacBook. Well done, Mr. Bihn. Well done.
Buy the Western Flyer laptop bag