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View Full Version : New to Tom Bihn: Synpase 25, Snake Charmer, Side-effect review and impressions



pott
12-06-2016, 04:36 AM
Hey all, this is going to be a long-winded introduction with a lot of thoughts on the stuff I got from TB :)

tl;dr: the good: quite liking the S25 and the organization I got with it, awesome customer service (really!) and great quality products!
The bad: a little 'too much' pocketing, laptop cache could be more efficiently added to the bag, TSA feature is useless... that's about it. Not very big gripes :)

I am obsessed with finding the perfect EDC/laptop (i.e. commuting/work) bag.

Over the past few months, I have gone through:
* Timbuk2 Zeitgeist. My main laptop bag for 5 years. Fantastic all-around, but very simplistic, and I was ready for a change (...and so it starts)
* Timbuk2 Spire: very nice roll-top. I use it as my grocery shopping bag. It was a little much for a laptop bag
* Timbuk2 Leader: meh
* Timbuk2 Especial Medio: not used as a laptop bag, but as a travel bag. VERY nice! Organizer pocket is too tight though, and the bag is quite large. Otherwise, a success which made a trip to Europe easier
* Osprey Pixel: great laptop compartment, great accessory pouch/pocket, most comfortable bag I ever had. But in the organizer compartment, everything is slightly too small... pen pockets can't take USB stick, field notes pockets can't take a passport (I don't have a US driver's licence so I need my passport with me all the time), the pocket is a little too shallow... a shame
* Ethnotek Raja 46: greaaaat bag, very comfy. But a little large. Also got the 30L version which is fantastic and much better-sized, but the laptop pocket there didn't fit my 15" work laptop :( companies should really stop making mac book-sized laptop pockets...
* Life Behind Bars Peloton: amazing cycling bag, but overkill for commuting. Fantastic design and build though, at a great price. Serious stuff :)
* Chrome Rostov: very good design, carries a lot, comfortable. Weird straps joins to the bag, not enough organization, and some water leaked on my laptop once during a not-particularly bad rain
* Synpase 25... used for about a week so bear with me!

So after I decided that the Rostov wasn't organized or waterproof enough, I figured I'd finally go try the S25, after having read so many raving reviews about it.
I must admit I was quite skeptical. Too much organization kills organization, and the pack is VERY Expensive, as well as the accessories. But at this point, I figured, what do I have to lose :)

So I ordered:
* S25 with laptop cache
* Side-effect (halcyon)
* Snake-charmer (Large, halcyon)
* Clear organizer pouch (Small)
* Q-kit (Mini)
* a couple of key straps
* Also got the RFID passport holder but that is simply a step too much

General bag comments:

The straps are very simplistic, but comfortable. I don't need the hydration clip so will take it off; it caught my jacket once and I almost ripped it because of it. The bag is, again, simple, but not too bad at keeping your back sweat-free.

The small front pocket is where I keep my passport every-day; I've not tested how well it withstand the rain so this may be a little risky, but the large passport pocket doesn't fit in it.
The large front-pocket is mostly empty. If it rains, I'll keep the passport + pouch in it. I never carry water with me.
The side-pockets is where the Q-kit (great accessory!) and organizer pouch reside, along with the usual pen, tissue, USB stick etc...
Bottom pocket has the Snake-charmer with all cables and chargers.

It may be a little unfair to compare the S25 to dedicated laptop bags; but this is what I needed, so I will go ahead with it:
* The bag could do with a little less pockets for my purpose. For example that small front pocket is good for a couple of snacks, but not much more.
* The bag doesn't stand up on its own when empty, and the bottom is quite loose and doesn't feel very reinforced
* The top handle is ok, but not very padded nor heavy-duty. This isn't a huge deal for me but worth calling out if you'll carry the bag this way for extended periods of time

The zippers make a solid, reassuring noise, and overall the bag's build quality follows its price tag. This is a serious piece of carry, very well designed if a little overkill.

Used for EDC/commute:

The bag is comfortable, but the straps tend to slip, particularly when wearing a thermal jacket. Not a problem for my winter coat.
I was worried that the back may be too 'solid' and cause a lot of back-sweat, but it's not that bad. Not nearly as good as the Osprey pixel (amazing system), but simpler and overall, satisfactory.
Laptop cache is nice, I can pull the laptop easily enough. But the cache, being semi-loose, wastes space in the main compartment. I may try it in inside the divider pocket...
The Q-kit contains my small bits and bobs and hangs inside one of the side-pockets. The water-bottle pocket is mostly empty and can take some papers. The other organizer pocket has the clear pouch and a pen

I normally carry two paper bags from the supermarket with me, so I can go grocery shopping on my way from work. Here I keep the bags behind the laptop cache, but that means I have to unhook the cache every time I want to grab these bags.
In general I favor one single, comprehensive organizer pocket (passport, pen, USB, MP3 player, earphones, notepad), a large main compartment (laptop, jacket, papers), and I carry cables etc... in a separate pouch.

So with this in mind, so far, so good. Probably not exceptional for my tastes, but a solidly built, comfortable bag that carries all I need. Could do with being a little simpler, but for some reason TB managed to design a well-sized bag with a bucketload of pockets, which still has space in the main compartment! Nice.

Used for travel:

When I traveled to the airport I wore the jacket on me, and the bag just had a down sleeveless vest instead. Even with the Side-effect in the main pocket, the Snake-charmer in the bottom pocket, the packed vest, headphones, tablet, laptop, snacks, an REI shower kit with toiletries etc... the bag was manageable and comfy enough for the commute to the airport.

The bag overstuffed quickly when I put my jacket into it once there, but since I was stowing the bag it wasn't much of an issue. In fact even when packed with the jacket and it being a little bulky, it was still comfortable enough to carry around the airport. I wouldn't fill it that way for my daily commute though.

I got the Side-effect especially for travels, where I can keep it with me in the aircraft. In it I have:
* MP3 player + backup earphones
* Passport
* Pen
* Field notes
* Kindle Oasis
* when I'm sat, phone + wallet to free my pockets
So I just need to take Side-effect, tablet, headphones out, and I can stow the bag and need nothing from it during the 10 hours flight! If I worried about battery I had sufficient space for an Anker USB charger too.

Overall, a decent experience.

Learnings/downsides:
* Adding organization to an organization-laden bag kills the organization
** I ended up not using the passport pouch at all
** I am still re-thinking whether I need the clear organizer pouch... but the fact that it's so flat does come in handy
* The large Snake-charmer may be overkill for me... My laptop charger + kettle cable is quite bulky and I wanted a pouch that'd compress it down. Rather, I have them strapped with velcro cable-ties and the Snake-charmer is a little loose... Not a huge deal since it's in the bottom pocket, but worth a re-think for me.
* Not yet tested under my dear Seattle rain...
* All my accessories are randomized on color compared to the bag. I have 0 fashion sense but in another world, I may have at the very least attempted to match the color scheme :P

Overall a happy camper so far. Taking this bag on a one-month, 11hours flight trip so soon after getting it was a gamble so far one which hasn't proven misguided.

Special kudos to Kat and Matthew from the TB CS, who were just fantastic and very responsive!

GrussGott
12-06-2016, 10:02 AM
Great write up! Appreciate the detailed review, especially given your experience with other bags. I'm new as of August and I've been through Timbuk2 and Chrome as well, also Mission Workshop ... of course there are pluses and minuses to all bags, but overall I'm liking my Tom Bihn bags the best - something really adding to their use is this forum and the great customer service.

Looking forward to more impressions and reviews from you!

Kshni
12-06-2016, 04:50 PM
"Not yet tested under my dear Seattle rain..."

Well, I've worn mine (S19) through London rain and Essex Rain and it's done mighty fine at keeping my iPad mini dry, as well as my phone, etc. so long as you have the zips fully done up. May I suggest a small Q-kit for your shopping bags and maybe see if your jacket will stuff down inside a small Q-kit or size 2 TSS? It could compress the jacket enough not to bulge out your backpack. Oh, and I use the small Q-kit for my cables, perhaps it might be suited for containing your cables?

pott
12-07-2016, 05:41 AM
The shopping bags are US paper bags, they unfortunately do not crumple into a bag and are more like a thick sheet of paper.
The jacket is way too big to fit into a Q-kit though it may fit into a small packing cube/stuff sack, that's a good suggestion for travels, thanks!

I'm using the bottom pocket exclusively for the snake-charmer with cables, so I think that should be fine for now. In a whim I can put a folded rainjacket in there, or tightly packed down vest.

Yesterday I moved the laptop cache to the inner wall of the main pocket. Space-wise this works better: I can put my grocery bag between the cache and the divider curtain, and the cache fills the space nicely with no wasted space in the first place. However the back of the bag is now noticeably floppier... A price to pay for extra packing flexibility I guess.

Cronus
12-08-2016, 03:18 PM
I too wish there were a(official) way to more securely attach the cache sleeves to a wall on TB bags, perhaps similar to how I imagine the Brain Cell attaches to certain bags using annex clips. Three main reasons - 1) I believe weight is distributed better when it is suspended from the top or wall of the bag rather than rocking around(at least in the case of a lightly packed bag) 2) Visually, I believe it looks nicer, in particular with bags with a thin Halcyon lined bottom where heavier objects tend to droop and 3) It's easier to see inside the bag and find things (again, at least in the case of lightly packed bags).

I also wish this feature were on all of their bags, and not just the ones deemed for laptop use. The Guide's Pack is such a beautiful bag, and there really isn't any reason why it couldn't be used as an EDC bag(for users that carry a laptop anyway), other than the fact that it's missing the loops/hooks necessary to attach a cache and keep it from rattling around in the bag(again, when lightly packed).

pott
01-09-2017, 03:44 PM
The S25 was very nice, and I'm very likely keeping the bag ant the TB ecosystem I built around it. But...

If I put a little things in the front and side-pockets, the main compartment is too small to fit bulkier items like grocery or a folded fleece.
I swapped the legacy Snake Charmer for a Small SC to save some space in the bottom compartment, but it's not sufficient during winter, where I carry an extra sweater with me which only fits in the main compartment.

I did manage to fit a puffy (North Face Thermoball) into a size 2 Stuff Sack, but that didn't fit into the main compartment without bulking it. It fit in the bottom pocket, but that tightened the bottom of the main compartment and meant I had to put the Snake Charmer into the main compartment or central vertical pocket. Still, this is a decent option if I'm ok carrying the puffy over the fleece: I don't carry bottled water, so that pocket can always take a Side Effect (when travelling) or Snake Charmer (when commuting).

While traveling, I got to the airport with a Down vest in the bag (in its stuff pocket) and a larger, warmer jacket on me. I wanted to swap them at the airport, but the S25, even when emptied of the Down vest, had just no space to take a rolled insulated jacket. I forced it but it really made my S25 look bulky and was uncomfortable to wear. On my way back to the US I put the jacket in the overheard compartment instead of in the bag.

I think adding a cache takes up more room in the main compartment than I thought. The loose divider curtain also gives out the impression of less space in the bag, although it does of course fold down to the inner wall if required. Still, I'd prefer a suspended pocket to put in valuables that are not exposed to the outside of the bag.

So I just switched from the S25 to the Wandrd Prvke 21 (https://www.wandrd.com/pages/prvke-21-landing).
The Prvke 21 carries all the S25 did, isn't bulkier, and has a ton of extra space left over, even though it's meant to be of smaller capacity. Actually I kept all my cables etc... in the small Snake Charmer, loaded in the Prvke!
It also stands up better than the S25 (though no perfectly). Something I never expected to care about until my S25 kept sliding around anywhere I put it during my travels recently.
One thing the Prvke doesn't do well: the inside of the bag is all black, and it lacks a little inside organization.

Maybe the Smart Alec is the TB laptop bag for me, in that it carries bigger, looser things, but the SA is also much bulkier and doesn't cinch down. The S25 is more of a summer bag, but then the back panel venting isn't sufficient for warmer weathers.
I also kinda regret going for Navy instead of Black/Island :D but that's just me. Oh one thing I did get to try out: the S25 withstood the rain very well. No issue there!

tebnewyork
01-10-2017, 07:16 AM
Sounds more like you might be a Smart Alec fan. I have both S25 and SA and like them both differently. The Smart Alec will stand on its own it also has a big open space.

I've taken both bags for a 4-5 day trip and both were fine as my main bag. When I travel I try to take clothes that are less bulky so If I take a fleece it is a Columbia one that is thinner but has the Omni Heat lining. I also find sometimes stuff sacks are worse because you end up with an odd shaped item.

I carry both a 13" MacBook Pro and a 12.9" iPad and have them in the S25 main compartment in the inside pocket. I put the Snake Charmer in the bottom first. I have the classic snake charmer and carry a fairly wide array of cables. I put toiletries in a side pocket or the deeper front main compartment. I use 1 big packing cube in the main compartment for my clothing. I can't imagine filling the S25 or the Smart Alec for an EDC.

My antidote to taking a laptop out is to get TSA pre-check.