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Tom Bihn Forums: Community discussion on travel bags, laptop bags, and backpacks. Tom Bihn has been designing and making bags since 1972. The best materials and innovative construction.

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  1. #16
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2004

    It was good to know you

    I know this is going to sound like player hating, but I've retired the EB and have moved on. I couldn't take the extra weight, hated that I had to carry my wet umbrella in my hand, and all of the contents of the front-under-flap pocket dumped out on the floor when a none-too-careful airport security guard jostled the bag at check in.

    I went with the Maxpedition MPB, and without trying to sound like a gratuitous advertisement, it better fit my needs in terms of weight, internal compartment variety, and external hoops for hanging bottles and umbrellas. I don't think durability, protectiveness have suffered, either. On the downside, I had to deal with a scary army surplus store (recall the scene from Falling Down or the pawn shop in Pulp Fiction). I guess maxpedition draws a different ilk of clientelle than Mr. Bihn.

    Anyway, dcphotoguy, I guess I wasn't all that happy with the EB afterall, but I know there is no accounting for taste.

  2. #17
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2004

    I just did a Google search for the bag you bought. I must say it looks like a HUGE bag. It looks like something a salesman would carry or perhaps for a lawyer a big litiigation bag. The Empire Builder really fills a different need. It's focus is a more professional look in my opinion.

    I remember your initial post about the Empire Bag. I sensed you were trying to like it but deep down you didn't. In my personal experience, first impressions count for a lot.

  3. #18
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    It expands to a very large size, but note (1) the main compartment is small (think like a wide letter sized redwell), and with the outerpockets the whole thing is only slightly larger than the EB and (2) there is no rigid internal frame other than the exterior pockets on 4 sides, so the bag slinks down in size when not full (solving one of my principle beefs with the EB, while still maintaining the ability to stand on its own). With the bag empty, I can actually fit it *inside* my Litigation Bag. For comparisons, when I was looking at the EB and the maxpedition, I also looked at the Waterfield Cargo Bag -large, and the Booq Cobra XM, too. Their exterior dimensions and carrying capacities are all pretty much the same -- they just slice up the interior space in different ways.

    Again, I'm not trying to sell the bag, but you asked about the size. Note: I still use the OpTec Strap on the new bag.

  4. #19
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Spring Lake, MI

    So nice, I bought it twice!

    I have just recently completed my conversion from button-down corporate supply chain consultant to independent professional wrestling video producer (that is entirely a too long separate story).

    Along with this change came the switch from my road warrior IBM ThinkPad to first one, and now two Apple Mac Powerbooks. For years, my road warrior bag has been Victorinox’ Webmaster® bag (Swiss Army Webmaster ). While a bit on the expensive side, it met all of my criteria:

    1) Looks good in a corporate environment
    2) Protects my computer
    3) Rugged
    4) Self-standing
    5) Holds EVERYTHING I need on the road
    6) Organizes well
    7) Keeps handy stuff handy
    8) Keeps everything secure
    9) Travels well
    10) Comfortable to carry

    The Webmaster certainly met all of those criteria with regards to my ThinkPad for a lot of years. When I bought my first Powerbook (a 15” 1.5 GHz Aluminum) the vendor graciously threw in a free Kensington SaddleBag (Kensington SaddleBag ). It missed criteria 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 – but it was free. And since I was still carrying my ThinkPad to presentations & meetings it was O.K.

    But as the new video business grew – we needed more portable computing power. So we added a new 17” Powerbook. This would allow us to cover multiple meetings, multiple live shows for taping, etc. I also decided to leave the ThinkPad at home and conduct the video business solely on the Mac platform.

    The Webmaster bag was out of the running. It was a bit too snug for the 15” Powerbook and would in no way accommodate the 17”. And while it has been a tremendous bag, and I don’t mind paying for quality, it is a tad on the pricey side.

    I started searching for the correct bag for the new 17” monster. After conducting my due diligence search, I decided to give the Empire Builder® a try. I also bought a size one Brain Cell®, the Absolute Shoulder Strap®, a Freudian Slip®, a pair of Snake Charmers®, and a bunch of Strapeez®.

    This worked out beautifully. The Empire Builder holds it all. Starting from the back and working forward:

    Brain Cell with the 17” PowerBook and mouse pad
    Wired USB mouse and Apple power “rectangle” in the outside pockets of the Brain Cell
    Meeting notes, call sheets, etc. paperwork in the file dividers
    A LaCie 1Tb external firewire drive (carefully wrapped in a Domke® wrap – thanks to Ken from the Tom Bihn forum)
    All of the cables, power supply, etc for the drive in a Snake Charmer

    That pretty much fills up the main compartment. Not too shabby. Next, under the flap in the open compartment:

    A RadTech BT mini mouse in its snug little case
    A pair of PostWorX SpeedBalls (nifty little half round, Velcro-on feet)
    Two pens
    A highlighter
    A PCMCIA firewire expansion card
    A Kensington universal power supply adaptor kit

    That pretty much fills up the space under the flap. I could jam more stuff in, especially in the zippered compartment, but that makes the bag look a little too pregnant for my tastes – and I’ve already loaded in everything I need.

    In the flap, when I’m traveling I add a paperback book in the big zippered compartment, my cell phone in the little zippered compartment, and boarding passes in the open compartment.

    It’s a little tricky getting the Powerbook out to go through security – but I’ll gladly trade the minor hassle for the supreme security that the Empire Builder and Brain Cell provide me.

    This worked out so well that I went back online and purchased another Empire Builder, a size 4 Brain Cell, another Absolute Shoulder Strap, a couple more Snake Charmers, and another bunch of Strapeez. My 15” Powerbook now resides in a set-up very similar to its bigger brother. The main differences are that the 15” travels with 2 Maxtor 250 Gb external firewire drives instead of the LaCie and the Airport Express rectangle resides under the flap instead of the universal power adapter.

    Of my ten criteria at the start of this (I’m sorry it’s so long) review, the Empire Builder gets top marks in 8 categories. The handles on this bag are the best I've ever dealt with. Somehow they are magically always where I want them to be and they are very comfortable even under full load.

    While I haven’t seen any problem yet, I have to deduct minor points in category 8 “Keeps everything secure” just because I fear that an overzealous airport security inspector is going to throw the flap open and dump stuff out of the open compartment under the flap. Again, I haven’t seen this happen yet and don’t know that it will. But I still have just the tiniest bit of dread that it will happen.

    The other category where I have to deduct minor points is category 9 “Travels well”. And these few points are the sum total of my dislikes about the Empire Builder.

    1) I want a water bottle pocket! I know that Mr. Bihn has decreed that a water bottle pocket would be sportier than the Empire Builder is intended to be. And I agree – I don’t want to walk into a client meeting with a water bottle hanging off of my bag. But on the way back to the airport after a successful meeting I want to celebrate with a cold, soft beverage that I will probably nurse all the way onto the plane. So I want a discrete, disappearing water bottle holder – like the one on the Webmaster.

    2) I don’t want to suggest outright intellectual property or design theft, but take a look at the back pocket on the Webmaster and make the back pocket on the Empire Builder work like that. Put a zippered slot in the bottom so that I can slide the back pocket over the handle of my rolling luggage. And put a slot in the side of the back pocket so that I can stick an umbrella there – particularly a wet umbrella.

    That’s really it. Score it as a 95 out of 100. My bottom line analysis – if you need to carry a LOT of stuff and look like a professional instead of a backpacker or bike messenger while doing it – the Empire Builder is the winner. For a smaller laptop than the 15” Powerbook the Webmaster might be a slightly better bag – but at nearly twice the cost the Empire Builder is still near the top of the list. And for a larger computer – there is no competition.
    Jim Hall
    Check out the dogs in need at
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    My TB bags: 2 - Empire Builder 1 - Checkpoint Flyer

  5. #20
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2004

    Prodigal Son

    Just thought I'd let folks know that I'm back in the TB fold. I got sick of the fact that the Maxpedition couldn't hold legal sized folders. Now I am a proud owner of a Super Ego bag (Black, Black, Blue) which satisfies nearly all of my gripes about the Empire Builder (more collapsable structure, water bottle pockets, multiple key ring locations, external loops, AND it arrived in a very timely manner -- overnight). While it's got non-office-standard styling, it's all-black exterior makes it fit in well in business environs. I'll keep the Empire Builder and Maxpedition around as backups, but the Super Ego will now be my primary bag.

    With that said, there are a number of things I would suggest to improve with the Super Ego -- largely borrowing from the better parts of the Empire Builder:

    1. Having now experienced the Absolute Strap, and learning to like it, I would prefer that to the messenger style strap of the Super Ego. I like the swivel-ability and replaceability of the Absolute Strap of the Empire Builder. Alternatively, if you want to keep the messenger style strap, it would be good to incorporate an adjust on the fly cam-buckle (such as those found on Timbuk2 bags). Either would be an improvement on the Super Ego strap.

    2. The main compartment of the Super Ego would be improved substantially if it had the shorter height and wider width of the Empire Builder. As it is, the Super Ego can't stand up under the airline seat in front of you, thus taking up precious legroom on airplanes. And I'm not exactly sure what the function of the squarish profile of the Super Ego main compartment -- for people who carry x-rays?

    3. The underflap pockets of the Super Ego are teriffic, but it would be good to have the flap pockets of the Empire Builder, too. Why not both?

    4. Convert one of the Super Ego water bottle pockets to a functional Ipod/Blackberry pocket. I was using one of them for that purpose that way right now, but I found out the hard way that they have holes in the bottom -- lost a pair of earbuds. Anyway, I love having one water bottle pocket, but I think only a camel would need two.

    5. The male part of the seat belt buck could be better designed. It is always slipping when unbuckled,a nd I'm constantly having to tighten it down.

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