Originally Posted by ShelShel
If you are carrying a mix of binders and books and don't try to carry too many thick, U.S. Letter size binders, then the Pilot may be a good choice. (I'm assuming you use 8.5" x 11" paper, and not A4 paper.). However, if you are primarily trying to carry thick 3-ring binders, then you may have a problem trying to close the zipper of the main compartment of the Pilot without stressing it, while you will be able to close the zipper on the main compartment of a Cadet. The Cadet is taller, so you have more clearance allowance for large binders..
Both bags can handle thick stacks of papers in folders or in thinner, 1/2" binders. It's only if you're using thick binders (e.g. a 2" binder and a couple of 1" binders, especially if these use a slanted D-ring design) that the width of the binders will stress your ability to close the zipper. You can measure the size of the binders you intend to use. If you're using the (longer and) narrower A4 paper, you may have an easier time.
Here are some sample pictures:
Binders in open main section of Pilot. Notice how high they sit compared to the top of the bag and the zippered opening
The Pilot main compartment zipped close. It's possible to close the zipper, but the edges of the binders are pressing tightly against top of the bag,which will stress both the zipper and the material of the bag if you do this regularly. For reference I've put a plastic file box built for A4 paper in the outer pocket, so you can gauge how high A4 (not in a binder) rises relative to the side of the Pilot.
The same binders in the main compartment of the 15/13 Cadet. There's much more clearance between the top of the binders and the top of the bag, as can be seen from the amount of Solar lining.
The Cadet zips closed easily without pressure on the zippers
The trade-off is that the shorter Pilot is easier to fit into the center of other bags like the Tri-Star, but it's not designed primarily for carrying thick binders. The problem is not really the thickness of the binders, but rather that the width of hard binders increases when they are thick. Here's another way to see this. Take a look at the picture of two 1.5" binders inside a Synapse 19 in HYPEractiv's thread asking about which size Synapse he should get.. If the side view of your binders uses a much smaller footprint than is shown there, such that the width of the binder cover is not much larger than the width of the paper (say, 10"), then you won't have a problem closing the zippers of your Pilot.
The shape of the Pilot is more cube-like than the taller, slimmer Cadet, but it is convenient to have the water bottle pocket and front two side pockets, The Cadet has an additional front pocket (shown open in the pictures).
For pictures of the Cadet in the Tri-Star, try jeffmac's picture of "The Cadet gasping for air as it tries to escape the Tristar" or UK-Limey's picture of the Cadet in the Tri-Star. Compare this to a 400d Nordic/Solar Pilot in a Tri-Star that sits much lower in the center compartment.
If you need a briefcase that optimizes for carrying files and binders, consider the Empire Builder or Zephyr.
Love that plastic file box in the back pocket! What a great idea to keep papers from bending and wrinkling - a peeve of mine. I will have to keep an eye out for this. I usually use leftover conference folders till they get worn out, but they get bent over time.
@GoStanford I find that keeping that plastic file box in the back pocket of the 400d Dyneema Pilot keeps the fabric from sagging, even when I'm not carrying a cache with my 13" MacBook Air, and the bag is empty. Although this is sized for A4 paper, the pages inside are U.S. letter size. I wrote about this way of supporting the outer pocket of the Dyneema version when describing the Pilot option to @Scribe in her Downsizing? thread. I just picked a few of these up in the nearby Long's Drug Store that is 5 minutes walk from where I work -- the slightly longer size for A4 paper works pretty well. (I think access to A4 stationary products is pretty common in Hawaii, because this size paper is commonly used by other Pacific countries like Japan, Australia, China, etc., and I assume @scribe has easy access to this in the UK.) You can see an example of one of these file boxes with blue tabs in a post showing the inside of a Cadet.
Originally Posted by GoStanford
The other convenient factor is that if it starts drizzling, the papers you carry in that box in the outer pocket stay dry!
At work today, I tried my thickest (3"?) binder*, and moriond is (as usual) correct; it does NOT fit well. I'd base the Pilot or Cadet decision on how many binders you expect to need; if it's a single 1" binder and books, the Pilot is awesome. If it's more, I suppose the Cadet might be better, though I've never seen one in person.
*Hooray for having been the test case for electronic tenure dossiers and not having a bunch of excess binders!
@jmoz I'm not sure that I'd say the Cadet is "better". I actually like the way that space is used in the Pilot, and the structure of the of the additional pockets. Neither bag is designed to carry heavy loads of files in binders. Something like that is better down with the Zephyr or Empire Builder. But because the Cadet is more conventionally briefcase-shaped, it's tall enough to accommodate big binders a bit better. On the other hand, I think the Pilot transitions more easily to use as a personal item to use for clothes, for instance. Just my opinion. YMMV.
Originally Posted by jmoz