View Full Version : Under-packing the Brain Bag for ultra-light travel. How does it perform?

Novan Leon
01-01-2014, 05:29 PM
Except in special cases I generally shouldn't require more than 26 liters for overseas travel. That said, a larger size bag would be more useful for domestic or business travel after I return home. I've been considering getting a Brain Bag (http://www.tombihn.com/backpacks/TB0104.html), under-packing it, leaving one of the two main compartments empty, and utilizing the compression straps to minimize the size of the bag. This would conceivably keep the bag small and light, but give the bag more versatility after I return home and size/weight is less of an issue.

Are there any ultra-light travelers who've tried this approach or is the Brain Bag still too bulky, awkward or heavy to be considered a good ultra-light travel bag? It appears to sit wider on the shoulders and it doesn't seem as as small or agile as the Synapse 25 (http://www.tombihn.com/travel_bags/TB0111.html) or Western Flyer (http://www.tombihn.com/travel_bags/TB0950.html). Do you think the Brain Bag is still a viable bag in this respect, or are the other two bags clearly superior for this kind of light-weight travel?

Also, would the Brain Bag fit underneath an average passenger aircraft seat? It seems a little wide/large for fit under most airline seats. What about the Synapse 25 or Western Flyer?

How does the Brain Bag perform under long-term carry when fully packed?

To give you a little more insight into my thought process evaluating the different Tom Bihn bags:

Aeronaut - Love the duffel-style design but it's much too large for my purposes and doesn't appear to hold it's shape well when underpacked by as much as 50%. Also, it looks a little too much like travel luggage (A little too touristy).

Tri-star - Good size but definitely looks like travel luggage (i.e. touristy) and probably is a little heavy for consistent backpack use.

Western Flyer - Small size reduces versatility and (once again) looks a little too much like travel luggage.

Synapse 25 - Looks like a regular backpack, avoiding the "touristy" appearance, but the small size reduces versatility.

Brain Bag - Looks like a regular backpack and has a good size, giving it more versatility. I'm just not sure how the bag holds up when underpacked and whether it makes sense for ultra-light overseas travel.

PS. I'm one of those who've been waiting for Tom Bihn to release a smaller Aeronaut-style bag, i.e. the "Aeronette". If it landed near the 30-35 liter mark, functioned well when underpacked and didn't look too conspicuous as a travel bag, I would still be very interested in a bag like this.

01-02-2014, 01:35 PM
I use my BB as an EDC and it will fit under an airplane seat fine unless it is really over stuffed (but it will fit in the overhead). It is my go-to bag because of its flexibility to shrink down or to expand to hold just about anything I need.

I usually lightly fill both main compartments (better organization) and tighten the compression straps which make the bag slim and hug your body more. I have not found any issues with it being too bulky compared to other backpacks I have owned including a Smart Alec, Brenthaven Pro, Booq Mamba Shift, Think Tank Shape Shifter.

The BB is a bit more “square” and less tapered than the other TB backpacks as it is the max width for a carry-on. However, the Synapse 25 is not much different in width (13.4” for the S25 vs 14” for the BB) and is the same depth. The Synapse 25 is also taller by 2 inches but, because of the curved tear drop shape, you probably could not carry as many bulkier, square items, IMO.

In short, I like the flexibility and versatility of the Brain Bag to hold a minimal amount and be slim but also being able to hold a large amount of stuff when needed. When loaded, it is still a very comfortable carry and I have never had issues with it while moving thoughout airports and the places I travel to.

Hope this helps. Let me know if I have missed answering any of your questions. I will try to post some pictures of the EDC version of my BB.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

P.S. You can also use the compression straps to hold a Yoga Mat or other bulky items making the bag even more versatile.

01-02-2014, 11:54 PM
I fully concur with tpnl. I've had my BB as an EDC for 12 years and it still looks almost new (just last year I downsized to a CP). It's amazing at how much it can hold though I rarely have fully loaded it. I usually have it at 50% load and the compression function keeps it compact. I purchased it to carry 25-30 lbs of laptop and equipment all over my Seattle worksites. Weight is weight, but the BB carries it as comfortably as anything could. If you travel "ultralight", this will work great with room to spare.


01-03-2014, 09:03 PM
Hello again

Here is a picture of my Brain Bag (circa 2004) as an EDC (sorry - I am not the best photographer). As you can see, it slims down quite nicely when underpacked and should serve well for ultra-light travel with flexible options, IMO. Note that the top handle is different in the current version of the Brain Bag.


Here is a breakdown of what is in the pictured Brain Bag:

- The back compartment is empty (I find that the bag conforms to your body even more if the back section is empty)
- The middle compartment has my laptop in a Brain Cell and a Vertical Freudian Slip that has my power supply, various adaptors, pocket zoom camera and maybe an inch thick worth of work folders. There is room at the top for my lunch too.
- The front left and right pockets have a first aid kit, some emergency tools, some small business stuff (cards, gum, pens, business cards, etc) and misc. change / receipts
- The top pocket has my keys, cellphone, small flashlight, iPod, earphones - basically anything I would use regularly
- The centre area has my umbrella which I switch with a Contigo spill proof mug sometimes and a Guardian Light at the bottom

dnarud13 - fantastic picture! I have a sense of deja vu - I have the exact same TB bags (Brain Bag, Aeronaut, Co-Pilot) in the exact same outside black color. I also downsized to a CP - black with Indigo blue flap - a year ago for business travel. I have been tempted to get a Tristar too but how can I justify that!


01-03-2014, 11:07 PM
I have the exact same TB bags (Brain Bag, Aeronaut, Co-Pilot) in the exact same outside black color. Cheers!

lol. I call them my "Dream Team".

Novan Leon
01-06-2014, 06:29 AM
Awesome posts guys! Love the photos.

I too would probably go for all-black. Even though the black/olive is tempting, black/black just has a certain understated beauty to it.