This is my first online review of a product, so I hope itís helpful. I first learned about Tom Bihn in September 2012 (I think on 1bag1world.com) while researching other non-rollaboard luggage options and thatís where my search ended. I bought a Tri-Star (black/steel), Absolute Strap, and four Tom Bihn packing cubes (one large, one medium, and two small) a month later.
If you are reading this forum and wondering if a Tom Bihn bag is right for you like I was a few months ago, I recommend getting one and trying it at home (with the tags still attached) before passing final judgment. Itís important to feel the quality of the materials, handle the weight, try the carrying options (buy the optional Absolute Strap), experiment with the packing cubes, and think about different packing strategies or do some practice packing. In the end, I think youíll be impressed.
Before I write more, I want to thank everyone who has posted Tri-Star reviews, photos, videos, and travel experiences on this forum, Flickr, and related travel blogs/forums (FrankII, GadgetFreak, Beers and Beans, Practical Hacks, etc.). You have taught me a lot about Tom Bihn products and the one-bag travel philosophy in a short amount of time.
About the Tri-Star: I read every review of Tom Bihn travel bags I could find, then chose the Tri-Star because I want a light, compact travel bag that will: 1) adhere to carry-on size restrictions in the U.S. and Europe, 2) pull double-duty for business travel and family road trips that range from 2 days to one week, and 3) accommodate my computer bag or a suit if necessary. Overall, I really like the flexibility this bag offersóit covers nearly all of my travel needs. There are numerous ways to pack the Tri-Star, given its multiple compartments/pockets and the wide range of packing products/techniques, clothing options, electronics, gear, and travel needs.
The links to tutorials and discussions on folding a suit in this forum, flyertalk.com, 1bag1world.com, and practicalhacks.com have also been helpful, but I havenít settled on one technique. It seems the most popular is some version of inside out folding that makes the jacketís smooth interior lining face outward, cradles the shoulders together to protect their structure, and allows for folding or wrapping around a packing folder. I was also able to reproduce the technique demonstrated in the YouTube video of the Hong Kong tailor folding a suit and dress shirt, but I canít find a re-sealable bag like the one he uses. Please let me know if youíve found a failsafe technique for transporting a suit in your Tri-Star. Should I switch techniques for folding single versus double vent jackets? Iíd much rather deal with a few creases than wrinkles.
To supplement the large Tom Bihn packing cube, I added an 18-inch Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Folder to transport dress shirts and polo shirts. This is a great way to neatly pack and condense a lot of shirts and the folder weighs only 8 ounces. I also followed one Tri-Star ownerís advice and bought a separate Eagle Creek folding board to help pack shirts, pants, and sweaters in the large packing cube. That works as well and provides some extra structure.
Iím not sure if I prefer the folder or cube method but itís fun to experiment. Right now I use both with the compression/tie-down straps in the back compartment. I can see how a 15-inch Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Folder might come in handy as well. I could use it as the core for folding a suit/pants or pack a change of clothes in my old Brenthaven computer bag for overnight trips.
I rarely travel to destinations that donít have an iron and ironing board, so wrinkle-free travel isnít a top priority at the moment. Most of my shirts and pants are non-iron, but they still need a little touch up after unpacking. Plus my business travel involves meeting with clients or speaking at the conferences I attend, so I need to iron my shirts and pants regardless. However, the Tri-Star packing cubes and Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Folder do seem to reduce wrinkles.
This next part may be unnecessary, but I attached small, black s-biner clips to the zippers of the three main compartments. I thought it might add a little security or deterrence at airports and on public transportation in the U.S. It may not make any difference. I donít let my bags out of my sight, but itís a low-cost attempt to secure the main compartments when I carry the Tri-Star using the backpack straps. I also read that one traveler uses large s-biner clips to attach his Tom Bihn bag to overhead luggage bins on trains overseas to prevent grab-and-run theft. I thought that was a good idea.
At this point, Iím feeling pressure to include the ubiquitous packing list. Thereís a first time for everything, so hereís what I loaded in my Tri-Star for a week-long family trip over Thanksgiving (I didnít think to weigh the bag or take photosórookie mistake): two pairs of shoes (big temperature swings), six undershirts, five boxers, four pants, six shirts, six pairs of socks, one sweater, sleepwear, computer and iPhone in separate bag (see below), one set of cold weather running clothes, two belts, dry toiletries, wet toiletries, and additional small items.
That list wonít fit the definition of light travel, but I wanted to push the Tri-Star to see how it worked. I carried it with the Absolute Strap, but I would not have wanted to carry it for long distances without using the backpack straps, especially with my computer bag in the Tri-Starís middle compartment. That probably adds an extra four to five pounds. I could have easily taken half as much and been fine doing laundryóIím still learning.
I also use an 11-inch MacBook Air (MBA) but was stumped at first by how to transport it in the Tri-Star. Iím a new convert to one-bag travel and want to give it a shot. There arenít many good bags for the 11-inch MBA to begin with (personal opinion) and thereís no Brain Cell option. I like the Ristretto and Cadet, but wanted an everyday bag that looked more ďbusiness-likeĒ than the Ristretto (no offense to Ristretto users) but is smaller than the Cadet.
I decided to get a MacBook Air Wallet by WaterField Designs (sfbags.com) because: 1) it looks appropriate in various work settings, 2) provides good protection for my MBA, 3) holds all of my MBA and iPhone supplies plus more, 4) doesnít have a flap over the main opening, and 5) its compact 13x9x3 size (fully loaded) fits vertically into the Tri-Starís middle compartment, which leaves a 13x10x3 open space to pack anything I want next to it (I removed the Annex Clips since Iím not using a Brain Cell). Thatís where I use the second small packing cube with some room to spare. It seems that you could fit a Ristretto or Cadet for the 11-inch MBA in the Tri-Star as well. I would love to hear how others transport an 11-inch MBA (or similar size small notebook) in their Tri-Stars.
This is more than I was intending to write, but I really like Tom Bihnís Tri-Star and customer service. Itís refreshing to find a made-in-America company that genuinely cares about its employees, knows how to create a top-notch product, and treats their customers the way they would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. Great work!
So, whatís next? First, Iím still experimenting with cubes/pouches for my wet and dry toiletries. Iím currently leaning toward the Tom Bihn 3D Clear Organizer Cube or Daymakersí Small Packies. It seems like a Clear Organizer Pouch or one of the new 3D Dyneema/nylon Organizer Cubes would work well for dry toiletries, medicine, and small items. Second, I think a Size 2 Travel Stuff Sack or Travel Tray would be great for holding small items while going through TSA security and keeping them in one place on the road. Third, I want to try sink washing to improve my one-bag skills. Fourth, the Tri-Star now comes in steel/steel 400d Dyneema/420d nylon ripstop fabric and lighter is better. Fifth, I look forward to sharing one-bag travel techniques with my wife and young kids but it will be a gradual process. Many more possibilities and a lot more to learnóthis is addictive!