Hereís my review of my newly purchased Aeronaut and Co-Pilot, both recently used for the first time on a large family vacation to Disney World in Orlando. My first Tom Bihn experience was a few years ago when I purchased an Olive/Paprika Ristretto for iPad. The bag has served me well, mostly used when I travel for pleasure and donít need to take a laptop.
I have a number of trips lined up for the next 12 months, so I started searching for carry-on bags to help navigate airports and make travel a little easier and stress free. I didnít start at Tom Bihn, but as I researched, all roads led back to this great little company in the Northwest.
I purchased an Aeronaut and a Co-Pilot, both in Black Dyneema/Wasabi. I was a little worried about the Dyneema from a durability standpoint, as I was unfamiliar with the fabric. My previous encounters with ripstop fabric (and even some of the pictures on the Tom Bihn website) led me to believe this was a floppy, unstructured fabric that wouldnít stand up to abuse on the road. My hesitation was unfounded. The 400 Dyneema is lightweight and flexible, but also substantial and tough. Itís just the right amount of structure for the bags.
My first impression of the Aeronaut, was that it seemed to size shift to my eye, depending on what was next to it and the context of what I was doing. When I first pulled it out of the box I thought it looked small. When I first loaded it up and put it on my back, it looked huge. Itís really a remarkable phenomenon that I wonder if others have encountered.
After receiving the bag I did a trial pack (yes, my family thought I was crazy). It was amazing what I could fit into the bag. Then I put the pack on my back and wore it around the house for an hour. I almost sent it back right then. It was heavy. Too heavy for me to imagine having any fun shlepping through airports and across town. This wasnít going to work.
So, I hit the internet and started reading one-bag travel tips. After much research, I had a new plan of action. I bought a few new clothing items, and swapped out some others. I carefully planned each day and what I would wear. Iím not that interested in the extreme one-bag travel I read about (I like clean underwear each day, and washing clothes in the sink doesnít sound like much fun to me), but I was able to shave quite a bit of weight off. The original pack weighed in at 22 pounds, the new and improved bag weighed in at 15. After another hour of wearing the bag, I decided this was a weight I could handle easily.
The first trip was a large family vacation to Disney World. 8 days/7 nights with temps predicted to swing between 80 and high 50s. On the night before the trip I started to worry about packing too light for the varying weather, and threw an additional pair of pants, pair of shorts and long sleeve fleece sweater into the bag. In the end, I would not pack these items again if I could go back, as they were not necessary. I wore everything except two pairs of socks (sandals days) and one wicking t-shirt, but only because it was there. I could have easily wore some pants/shorts/long sleeve shirts more than once or twice without feeling I was wearing dirty clothes.
Wore on the airplane
Light fleece sweater
Packed in Aeronaut - Main Compartment
Aeronaut Packing Cube Backpack
2 pairs of light chinos
3 pairs of shorts (2 simple chinos, 1 cargo)
2 long sleeve button up shirts
2 short sleeve button up shirts
3 wicking t-shirts
Aeronaut Small packing cube
2 cotton t-shirts
2 wicking t-shirts
1 long sleeve wicking t-shirt
Aeronaut Small packing cube
7 pairs of underwear
8 pairs of ankle socks
Left Aeronaut end pocket
Aeronaut End Pocket Cube
Size 4 stuff sack
Right Aeronaut end pocket
Size 3 stuff sack with toiletries
1 light fleece sweater
Absolute shoulder strap in a Size 2 stuff sack
For this trip, my wife and son packed a large suitcase and sent it with my brother who was driving to Orlando. Therefore they only had small personal items to carry on the plane (my son used my old Ristretto for his iPad, DS, charging cables, and other small items). While they werenít part of my one-bag travel adventure, we didnít have to deal with checked bags either.
The Aeronaut performed beyond my expectations. It was easy to handle and made traveling through the airport from terminal to terminal quick and easy. The CRJ-700 regional jet we took from Madison to OíHare was no issue at all. They were gate checking roller bags, but the gate agent only gave a passing glance to the Aeronaut and waived me through. The bag easily fit in the overhead bin of the plane saving valuable time as we exited and headed to the next gate.
Coming home, when we arrived at the airport in Orlando there was a huge line to check in at the United counter. I looked at my wife and smiled as I strolled up to the check-in kiosk and by-passed that whole circus. I think that was the moment I convinced her to get her own Aeronaut for our next trip. For the trip from O-Hare back to Madison we were on a ERJ-145, and again absolutely no problem carrying on the Aeronaut and fitting it into the overhead bin.
I used the backpack straps for most of the trip, followed by the luggage handle, and only used the Absolute strap once (going from the airport terminal in Madison to our parked car. In the future Iím not sure if I will even bring the Absolute strap and save the weight. Iíll probably bring it the next couple of trips to be sure there is not a scenario where I find it handy, but the backpack straps seem to be the best carry method for me.
Side note: the ends of the straps for both the Ristretto and Co-Pilot shoulder straps are nicely sewed down for a neat and tidy appearance and so the loose strap also doesnít rub against your body. Why do the ends of the Absolute strap stick out and look so sloppy? Sewing down the ends doesnít appear to affect the adjustability at all, so why not sew them down on the top-of-the-line strap?
My rating for the Aeronaut is 5 out of five stars. It may be the perfect bag for leisure travel. My only word of warning about the bag is to pack carefully, as it is possible to overpack the bag so the weight makes it too uncomfortable to carry.
My review of the Co-Pilot is a little more conflicted. I like the bag a lot, but I donít love it. First, what I packed into the bag:
Front left pocket
Clear Organizer Wallet attached with 16-inch key strap
Mini Clear Organizer pouch with 16-inch key strap (for park tickets)
Change for tolls (while traveling)
Water bottle (while in the parks)
Front right pocket
Canon S90 in Small Padded Organizer pouch with 8-inch key strap
Key to vehicle parked at Madison airport with 8-inch key strap
iPad Air in Incase padded case
Medium Clear Organizer pouch with travel documents with 16-inch key strap
Small Dyneema Organizer pouch for receipts and change with 8-inch key strap
3D Mesh Organizer cube for cables and charging accessories with 16-inch key strap
2 packs of travel Kleenex
Glasses case with prescription sunglasses
For traveling to the parks and around town, I left the iPad and 3D Mesh Organizer cube in the room and added the light fleece sweater for when it got chilly at night. I used the standard strap that is included with the bag instead of the Absolute strap, because for me the weight of the bag isnít that great, and I prefer the way the strap slides through the shoulder pad on the standard strap. I can easily swing the bag from front to side to back without having to adjust the part on my shoulder. Not possible with the Absolute. I could see switching to the Absolute strap if the weight of the bag became an issue.
The bag is beautifully made, looks great, and easily fit everything I needed to carry while traveling and going to the theme parks. The water bottle pocket is a small bit of genius. Where I became frustrated was with the O-Rings and key straps and things getting tangled and crossed over everything.
My wallet and ticket pouch often became tangled together as I pulled them out at various times. I put the 3D Mesh OC in one of the pockets in the main section, but because the O-Ring is at the top of the middle portion of the bag it crosses over the top of my iPad and everything else. This causes me to have to pull the 3DOC out to get the iPad or do a weird slide of the straps to get to what I need.
Perhaps Iím trying to be too organized. Maybe Iím just trying to use too many straps (or too long straps, Iíll experiment with changing some of the 16-inch straps to the 8-inch style). For me, I would like to see O-Rings added to the outside of each pocket (not on the outside of the bag, on the outside flap inside each pocket) to keep things clipped separately.
In the main section, if the O-Ring stays where it is now, I would prefer to have the two pockets on the middle panel of the bag, instead of the outside. That way things that are clipped and put in the pockets wouldnít have to cross over the contents in the main section. Or simply add an O-Ring to the top outside panel above the pockets.
Again, I will keep experimenting with different straps (or no straps for some things) to see if it improves the situation.
For the Co-Pilot, I would give 4 out of 5 stars. In the end, itís a great bag that easily carried everything I needed for travel and for traversing the amusement parks. It was comfortable to wear and looked great. But, it was not completely frustration free, thus the knock of one star.
Now off to order my wifeís AeronautÖ.