So for my birthday recently I received a Tom Bihn bag, a Pilot. And I love it. I was never a “bag” person; I mean, I always had one and I always had stuff in it, but was more about convenience than it was about fashion or utility. I had shit to carry, I needed something to carry it it. My bags could have been grocery bags and it didn’t matter.

Until it did.

When I was a youngster, I had to have pockets on everything. Overalls were my favorite clothing item ever. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to choose my clothing all the time and parents really frown on wearing the same pair of clothes every day. I always had tote bags and backpacks, but I hated purses.

When I was a teenager, I fell in love with a Jansport backpack that was a shell shape and had approximately 74 pockets and, most importantly, wasn’t a purse. Before this I had a soft patchwork leather 2 pocket backpack, and then of course various department store “Back to School” backpacks. But the Jansport was a “real” backpack. I could fill this thing with my school books, homework, drawing notebook (of which I was never without), pens, pencils, kneadable eraser, Game Boy (original, then Game Boy Color, then Game Boy Advanced, dating myself but whatever), sometimes a camera, and various daily ephemera of high school. This backpack served me well, and worked for my entire high school career.

When I went off to college, I needed a new backpack. The old one was dirty, well loved but worn, and of course new stuff is shiny. I bought an upgraded version of my shell backpack, something that could fit all the much bigger textbooks I had to carry around all day. And the backpack already had a laptop sleeve for me to utilize so when I finally got a laptop, I reasoned, I didn’t even have to buy a new bag. This was great! Until I found out about messenger bags about 1.6 minutes into my first semester at school. I’m not really sure why I suddenly decided that my perfectly servicable backpack was insufficient, but I was a poor college student so I bought a cheapo messenger bag at my local big box store to “try out” the concept. While I loved all the messenger bags, none of them lasted more than the $20 I paid for them.

When I worked in corporate America, I needed to take shit with me all the time. It was like a camping trip: take only the stuff you need, and take the smallest possible load. The walk into the office from the parking lot could be so long, but never as long as when I had a laptop, an iPad, two mobile phones, lunch, water bottle, drawing notebook, keys, and various cords and accessories for the electronics. I needed something that could carry all that shit.

Enter ThinkGeek.

I can’t remember when I first saw the ThinkGeek Bag of Holding, but I know I wanted one. The problem was, I had never paid more than $50 for a bag in my life, and the BoH was steep at $75 2005 dollars. Besides, I reasoned, I don’t strictly need one, my backpack works fine, and looks nearly brand new.

Then I met the man that would become my husband. His adopted sister had given him a BoH for his very own. I could try one out! (This is not the only reason I dated him, I promise.) I was instantly hooked. Do you know just how much shit you can fit in a BoH and still close it? Sure, its not comfortable to carry that way, but…that’s normal when you overpack, right? Right. Of course. This was my bag going to and from work for nearly the entire time I was at Bass Pro Shops.

A few years after we got married, we went to California as a family. This was the first time I had traveled outside the state with the kiddo, or experienced the airlines after 9/11. Because there were three of us, and we were staying there for a week, we packed a big rolling bag and then a personal item each; my personal item was the BoH, and it served as our electronics and in-flight bag. It was great at that, but it was an absolute nightmare to carry around, especially with my bum shoulder. Neither of us had a laptop at the time, but the BoH also wouldn’t have held two laptops, and certainly wouldn’t have helped carry my husband’s 15″ monster (he even went back to the traditional backpack for carrying his laptop around campus).

On our fourth wedding anniversary, my husband surprised me with a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I was shocked, and fell in love immediately. When I got home, the first thing I did was try to fit my new toy in my Lowepro Passport Sling III camera bag; it didn’t quite work. It would fit if I unzipped the expansion pocket and didn’t mind the lack of padding or stretching around the zipper area.

Tom Bihn to the rescue.

I’ve been drooling over Tom Bihn bags since I read “A Bag of Holding” by Michael Lopp over at his blog. He writes so well, and might make me feel better about my obsessions. He sang the praises of TB, and I had to go to their website. And boy, my bank account wishes I hadn’t… Of course, when it became obvious that I needed a quality bag for my Surface, there was naturally only one bag website I visited.

My criteria was simple: I wanted a bag that could work equally well for carrying my Surface and it’s accroutrements, my camera equipment, or my drawing stuff, and it had to be something I could use if we decided to travel again. (I hate traveling, but I love travel stuff. I just want to travel someplace for a few hours then come home at night, but that’s impractical at best and irresponsible at worst.) Totally simple. I read hundreds of reviews, I became a lurker in the forums (I have an account now though), and I looked at hashtags for everything from #edc to #onebagtravel to #bagdump. One thing was clear: choosing only a single bag would be the most difficult task.

After much deliberation, I chose a Pilot. Although I was encouraged by a video by a forum member everythingsablur that showed him carrying a Surface, a laptop, and a camera in a specific insert in their Pilot, I opted for the ballistic version for the structure of the bag when not fully packed. I also heard that over time the ballistic can become more flexible, but I wasn’t sure how much time or how flexible. Either way, I figured with our life filled with dirt and animals and mess, I’d be better off with the ballistic anyway.

My husband bought me the Pilot for my birthday, but due to the unexpected winter storms in March it didn’t get here until after my birthday, which was totally fine with me, means I got to celebrate for extra time! It got here, and I was immediately in love. I packed it up with my brand new cache and all the crap I would carry around…but I couldn’t fit my camera in it at the same time as the Surface. Sad day. No worries, I figured I had another few days to try it out before I had to make a final decision.

Ultimately, the Pilot really shone when I had to go get the oil changed in the van. Turns out we also needed to replace the front tires, so I was there waiting for several hours. I had my Surface, so I could draw and get on the Internet and whatever else I wanted, and the Pilot not only corralled everything beautifully, but also didn’t have a visible speck of dirt on it despite hanging out in a mechanic’s office all day long. I decided I was hooked.

However, I soon realized that while the Pilot was perfect when I needed to carry the Surface or my camera around, for those days I’m not carrying either of those things I needed something else. I admit, I’m still as in love with it as I was the first day, but I just don’t get to use it as much as I was hoping I would. I might start using it to have an outside office when it gets warmer, but it will definitely go with me anytime I need to take my Surface off my property. I could also store the Surface in it next to my desk if need be, but I kind of like the Surface just being available for me to use at any point in time when I feel like it. In light of all this, I determined there was only one thing to do: I bought myself a Side Effect.

And that story is for another day.

  1. Tom Bihn Bags: The Side Effect – Smokie Does Stuff
    Apr 18, 2017

    […] in it at any point in time, but purses never appealed to me. I like backpacks and messenger bags (read all about that insanity when I wrote about my Pilot) and pockets, but unfortunately clothing manufacturers and fashionistas still can’t seem to […]

  2. macfly
    May 03, 2017

    The Pilot has three front zippered compartment, a main compartment, seven interior organizational pockets, and an open-top back pocket with a zipper that stops just short of the bottom, designed to allow you to slip the Pilot over the handle of rolling luggage.