View Full Version : Which Backpack - million dollar question

12-15-2009, 01:11 PM
I travel on regular basis and I've been doing this for last 10 years. Oh, not really adventure travel, I go to historial places etc. And when I am on the road, I usually like to cary a t-shirt or two, couple of socks, laptop, camera, and maybe maybe a jeans. Not to mention coins and passports, etc.

I tried almost all types of backpack (daypack). From big brands to local store ones. Till today, I'm not satisfied fully. Macpac (from New Zealand) came close, but had issue with their narrow opening. About to go to India and was looking (once again). Was about to buy Smart Alec but it has the issue like macpac (the way top portion opens up on the video tell me its narrow which is trouble in finding things while on the go).

Please please please help me finding a best day back which is not like those mini size boat or not as small that after laptop, you won't be able to carry anything. Help me finding the backpack...

12-15-2009, 01:29 PM
I travel on regular basis and I've been doing this for last 10 years. Oh, not really adventure travel, I go to historial places etc. And when I am on the road, I usually like to cary a t-shirt or two, couple of socks, laptop, camera, and maybe maybe a jeans. Not to mention coins and passports, etc.

hi hasib,

welcome to the forum!

what camera and accessories are you carrying?

depending on the size of your camera, you should be able to carry what you describe in a smart alec backpack (http://www.tombihn.com/page/001/PROD/TBP/TB0103). the laptop can go inside of a brain cell (http://www.tombihn.com/page/001/PROD/TBP/TB0390) or cache (http://www.tombihn.com/page/001/PROD/TBP/TB0350). and the clothes you mention can go inside of a tri-star medium sized or aeronaut large sized packing cube (http://www.tombihn.com/page/001/PROD/TBP/TB091). have a look at the clear (http://www.tombihn.com/page/001/PROD/TBP/TB0319) and cordura (http://www.tombihn.com/page/001/PROD/TBP/TB0317) organizer pouches for things like coins, etc. tom bihn makes a passport pouch (http://www.tombihn.com/page/001/PROD/ACC/TB0931) for you to carry your passport.

let us know about the size of the camera and if you have additional questions.

12-15-2009, 02:14 PM
How long is your trip to India going to be? Are a T-shirt, socks, and pair of jeans going to be the only clothes you're taking? Is the backpack going to be your sole piece of luggage?

As maverick said, everything you've specified (with the possible exception of the camera) will fit in the Smart Alec. It has pockets, and also you can use pouches for quick retrieval, along with clip-on straps. I keep my sunglasses case and a flashlight clipped to o-rings so I can pull them out instead of having to fish around.

Also take a look at the Brain Bag. Fully loaded, it might be a "mini size boat," but compression straps reduce the front-to-back depth to its contents. It is 18 inches top to bottom; the Smart Alec is 18 1/2.

12-15-2009, 02:20 PM

The Smart Alec does not have a narrow opening by any means. It does not zip out all the way down, but it opens wide and is cavernous! It holds more than you can imagine, and I like the fact that you can't access zippers easily....so safer. I think it is a handy pack for travel in India.

12-15-2009, 02:38 PM
Guys, you are great. Thanks for prompt reply.

Let me reply your question first. About Camera, not that big one. Canon powershot G10.

About the accessories, I don't like the adding more (i.e. packing tube) in addition to my backpack. I just want one backpack which can hold my stuff. But I would definitely get cordura, speaking of which, for passport, which size I should get - medium?

About my india trip, I'm going for a month. And backpack is not the only luggage. I will use the backpack all the time with me while touring cities during day with my luggage in my hotel room. Since I stay on the streets whole day, I like to carry those items mentioned.

About narrow opening, as mentioned, I loved the macpac but because of narrow opening, I had trouble taking out stuff -- I mean not juge but it's annoying (in my last trip in Europe).

Shiva, don't you think it's an issue that..not just taking out..but also trying to have a quick look at what's inside your backpack.

12-15-2009, 02:45 PM
hasib, the lightweight packing cube goes into the backpack, to keep things separated. I use one for exercise clothes.

For walking around the city, I'd say the Smart Alec or even the Synapse.

12-15-2009, 02:57 PM
@gmanedit - thanks bro.

I loved Smart Alec when I saw it. But the narrow opening kinda killed my interest. I'm in Sydney. If I was in the Seatle area, I would visit the store to check it out before buying it.

12-15-2009, 02:59 PM
@gmanedit - I liked the Synapse. This is close to my need I guess. Quick question, do think 19 lt is enough to carry, laptop, couple of t-shirts and pants, camera (not big one), passpot, change water bottle...

12-15-2009, 03:13 PM
I haven't carried my laptop in it yet. I'm on my way out the door now. When I get back, I'll try to fit everything in.

Be aware that with any top-opening backpack, so far as I know, you won't be able to see all of your stuff without moving it around. Stuff sits on top of other stuff.

The Smart Alec is a great bag. As Shiva said, it is not a narrow opening.

12-15-2009, 03:40 PM
As you said, Smart Alec is top opening backpack which means I won't be able to see all my stuff - THIS IS THE REASON for me not to buy it. Or else, I would buy it in a heartbeat.

12-16-2009, 03:59 AM
Hasib, did you ever see a backpack called the "cane toad"? It was around years ago, from Kathmandu. 35L. The Smart Alec is very similar to that. I've not seen anything like it in the shops for many years, and it's quite different from the Macpac day packs.

Anyway, the Smart Alec opens like a cane toad (or other large frog) mouth. In a good way.
The opening is much larger than in a normal top-loading pack because the lid is slightly angled from back to front. As a result, the opening is huge. The solar lining really helps as well. I used the zip pockets in the 'lid' to hold small items that would otherwise get lost. Overall, I found the Smart Alec great when I needed to carry lots of gear, like here (http://www.flickr.com/photos/22691278@N06/3945141933/in/pool-57753561@N00), but not so great for my daily commute with much less stuff. I ended up trading it with another Australian customer who had a ..er.. Synapse surplus.

Synapse wins hands down for 'structured' packing. It makes very efficient use of the 19L. Here (http://www.flickr.com/photos/22691278@N06/4135723274/in/pool-57753561@N00) is a photo of the Synapse and a packing list. It wasn't full. In terms of packing, I put my pencil case, umbrella and computer cables in the lower front pocket. Camera & ipod go in one side pocket, sunscreen (not shown) and small hard drive are in the other side pocket. The rest goes in the main compartment. Most days I also add a 'handbag' which is approximately the size of a Small Cafe Bag. It's tight, but isn't straining the zips at all.

Hope this helps


12-16-2009, 04:17 AM

12-16-2009, 09:44 AM
Hi, Hasib.

"a t-shirt or two, couple of socks, laptop, camera, and maybe maybe a jeans": I put in a small MacBook, a T-shirt, a pair of socks, and a pair of jeans. It was a tight fit. Jeans are bulky.

12-16-2009, 11:49 AM
@gmanedit - thanks a lot for your input. I really appreciate it.

@notmensa - thank you! From what you said, the keyword to me was 'structured packing'. This is what my need is. In my last Europe trip, there were many times, I found myself sitting in a rail station and taking out all my stuff as the macpac I had has narrow so I wasn't able to see all my stuff. I had to take out ..it was so frustrating.

I loved the way Smart Alec look. But with front opening, I will have similar experience I think....Synapse looks near about perfect with only issue is that it's 19 lt.

12-16-2009, 11:59 AM
If compact size and easy access are the key issues, I'd go with the synapse. For pure carrying capacity and flexibility, however, I wold go Brain Bag.

I have the Brain Bag, and it's my go-to bag for travel. While it still has the top-loading issue that you dislike, the two compartment system enables you to organize your stuff in such a way that you can keep the "quick access" materials in one compartment.

When I travel that's what I will typically do. I'll keep the change of clothes, light jacket, etc. in one compartment and the books, magazines, laptop, etc. in the other.

It is much bigger than the synapse, but you never know when you will need the size. And, as stated here, the cinch straps allow you to adjust the bulk to fit the load.

12-16-2009, 01:24 PM
Initially, I was excited about Brain Bag. Looking at some pictures, it looked ugly.

12-16-2009, 02:39 PM
I've been looking at backpacks for some time, and still haven't made up my mind or committed any funds (money is really tight now) for a new one. So I'm in the same boat as Hasib.

Bottom line is that if you're looking at dedicated backpacks on the Tom Bihn web-site, your choices are the Synapse, the Smart Alec and the Brain Bag. The Ruk's Sack is currently unavailable, so that's off the table for now at least.

Another possibility would be the ultra-expensive Airborne C-Ruck (http://www.redoxx.com/Backpacks-Daypacks/Airborne-Carry-on-Ruck-Sack-C-Ruck/91054-C%20Ruck/160/Product) backpack from Red Oxx (http://www.redoxx.com). Lots of room and a wide-open mouth on that specimen. There's also a smaller version of it called the Roadster Mini-Ruck (http://www.redoxx.com/Backpacks-Daypacks/Roadster-Mini-Ruck-Rucksack/91082-M%20Ruck/160/Product). Both are more targeted for the outdoorsy, hiker/hunter types. As far as finding a backpack that is not "ugly", that's a very subjective consideration. If you want a hyper-stylish backpack, Timbuk2 has some colorful offerings (http://www.timbuk2.com/tb2/products/backpacks/) on their web-site.

12-16-2009, 03:59 PM
Thanks MtnMan.

I've been not just looking but bought few as well and like I said, not fully satisfied with any. And with Synapse being 19 ltrs, and Smart Alec not great in showing my content (thanks to top opening), I'm to where I was - still looking. Red Oxx, looked onto this. They are overpriced and definitely not close to what Tom did in offering various pockets, etc.

Let me check Timbuk2

12-16-2009, 11:19 PM
Another possibility would be the ultra-expensive Airborne C-Ruck[/URL] backpack from Red Oxx (http://www.redoxx.com). Lots of room and a wide-open mouth on that specimen.
Specimen is correct, I realize that there must be a market for their products, but you could purchase a Synapse AND Smart Alec for a few more bucks than ONE RO: Ruck's.

If you want a hyper-stylish backpack, Timbuk2 has some colorful offerings (http://www.timbuk2.com/tb2/products/backpacks/) on their web-site.

I take exception to the "Hyper-Stylish' backpack comment. I personally think it's hyper-tacky to make a comment like that on TB's super-cool forum, but that's just me..

hasib-Note the TB return policy -->The Tom Bihn Lifetime Guarantee (http://www.tombihn.com/page/001/CTGY/_GUAR)

I would order both bags and actually see and hold them and determine if one of them is right for you.

Honestly I couldn't wrap my head around the Brain Bag until I actually got my hands on it.

Just my $0.02

12-17-2009, 12:45 AM
Hey there, Sailor.

People make decisions I disagree with all the time. Usually, they're wrong and I'm right, but try telling them that.

Somebody is buying Red Oxx, and I see a lot of Timbuktu bags here in New York. And the products on the Timbuktu website do seem to have been designed with style in mind. I prefer the sleek look of the Smart Alec to the outside pockets of the Brain Bag, but I bought a Brain Bag, too, eventually (because somebody here made the point that "you can't buy more space," and someday I may need that space in a hurry). Now I'm carrying the SynapseŚnot as high-concept as the Smart Alec, but better-sized for my needs these days, and tailored-looking in black. MtnMan wants a Ruck's Sack; I hate that outside pocket that sticks out.

For all I know, the Red Oxx is a good value for the money. It has gotten good product reviews. I don't know how long-lasting the Timbuktus are.

I don't think MtnMan's remarks were out of line. I think your advice to hasib is excellent: to order both and then decide. There is no substitute for hands-on experience; hasib has not had that experience with TB products, so he can't appreciate their quality. I wouldn't be surprised if he decided to keep them both. Once you've gone Bihn, there's no going back.

12-17-2009, 03:49 AM
Guys, you are great. let me tell you this.

First, I totally agree with Gman....I hate those outside pocket sticking out and not sure if its worth fork out 200+ for Red Oxx. Liked what I saw on TImbuk2 and probably end up getting one.

Special thanks to Sailor.

Finally, Gman, I was surely going to get Smart Alec if it wasn't the top opening thing. I checked the video of smart alec few times which reminded me all the trouble I had in Europe with my macpac - not being able to see all my stuff, take out everything to find an item..

12-17-2009, 07:59 AM
IMO, Red Oxx stuff tends to be over engineered unless you are visiting some pretty rugged areas of the world for very long periods of time. If traveling light is your primary goal and urban travel even on an international basis is your thing then stick with TB gear.

12-17-2009, 12:29 PM
@hasib - I've sent you a private message

12-17-2009, 01:59 PM

After reading the thread over a couple of times, I am not really sure what you mean when you say you "can't see all your stuff"? The point about having organizer pouches and the O rings is precisely that you do NOT have to fish around for stuff. I find the O rings and pouches totally handy. I sort them out by color and kind and use it to keep passport, money, cards, medicines, basic toiletry, cables, receipts etc. organized and separated. And you can hang two or three from one O ring.

If you are the kind that "dumps" everything into a bag, then I am afraid the only thing that will work would be a suitcase style opening..which is going to make the bag not very sleek. In my experience, if you spend a bit of time organizing your stuff in the Smart Alec, and deciding what you want to access and when, you can pack it very efficiently.

I put stuff that I don't need at the bottom; use organizer pouches for most everything else. You can also put your camera into a pouch! I do not have a Synapse, but that does seem very organized.

For daily use on the streets of India: not sure I would carry anything much bigger than a Synapse anyhow!
Have a great trip.

12-17-2009, 04:39 PM
@Shiva --

I'm getting organizer pouch. What do you mean by O ring?

12-18-2009, 04:14 PM
Hasib: All TB bags have little "O rings" sewed in from which you can hang or attach organizer pouches. Many of the videos by Maverick--including the excellent one on the Smart Alec--show you how to use the O rings. This allows you to attach pouches and to avoid fishing for stuff in the bag.
The bag opens quite wide..and you can easily see into the bag--cos of the light colored interior. In fact, oddly enough, you can see stuff easier in the Smart Alec than a traditional backpack where you have to fish for things. Think of the Smart Alec opening like a "round opening" ---that allows you to look into a hole or something! Did you watch Maverick's video on the Smart Alec?

12-18-2009, 07:52 PM
Also, with o-rings and straps, you can pull items out (e.g., a glasses case) and let them dangle outside, knowing that you're not going to put them down and forget them.

12-18-2009, 08:45 PM
Hey there, Sailor.

I don't think MtnMan's remarks were out of line. I think your advice to hasib is excellent: to order both and then decide. There is no substitute for hands-on experience; hasib has not had that experience with TB products, so he can't appreciate their quality. I wouldn't be surprised if he decided to keep them both. Once you've gone Bihn, there's no going back.

gmanedit -
I mostly agree with your analysis, however, it seems to me that mtnman has a trend of always pointing out the Red Oxx bags with favorable mention, even though he does not seem to purport he owns one, and by reading his own posts only owns an Ego and has never touched a TB Backpack. If I didn't know better, I'd say RO is paying him for promotion ;). (I mean seriously, I just think it is bad form.)

That is all, I'm off my soapbox, I just couldn't overlook it again.

NOTE: Upgrade to 3-Day shipping this weekend for $8.00! WHO HOO!!! Thanks TB! --Great deal folks, get 'em ordered, only 2 TB Shopping days left for cheap shipping, that is of course unless you live closely. :D
See this Blog Post (http://tombihn.com/blog/node/1220)

12-19-2009, 01:50 AM

Hearing your opinion and looking at the videos, it seems Synapse is the closest to what my need is. I

12-19-2009, 07:02 AM
Hey Hasib: great. I think you will be happy with the Synapse for an everyday backpack. It seems less obvious and obtrusive overall. I assume you have travelled in India before; if not, smaller is better! Ask Maverick!
I do possess a Red Oxx --the smaller one. It is HUGE and not small by any means. It is a very different styling: much more "camp like," and very much a traditional backpack design (of the kind favored by Europeans). It holds a ton: the drawstring opening with an extra closure on top is versatile if you are having to bring home a huge loaf of bread and a couple of bottles of wine! I bought it before I knew of TB.
I would say that I find myself taking the Red Oxx when I want a bag that can be used to lug groceries; lots of books from the library; needs to carry jackets and such (lashing straps are nice)--although the Smart Alec does that too.
They have good customer service: both Jim and Amanda there worked a lot with me to customize the backpack straps for me on the Mini Ruck and did not charge for that. I think that is outstanding. I just think it is not a style of bag that I would carry for work, that is all.

They are heavier bags overall, and their quality is fantastic. Be warned: the backpack straps are not modern: they are made like old paratrooper style--so you do carry the weight on your shoulder.


12-19-2009, 10:58 AM
@Shiva - About India, I'm going there for the first time.

Synapse I think is the one which can help you organize your stuff in the bag better than others. This is key to me and I'd buy it for that reason.

12-19-2009, 12:51 PM
Oh, hasib, you're going to love it. Practice-pack with a few small bags and a stuff sack for the clothes. Maybe swap the jeans for lighter pants.