View Full Version : Work trip with Smart Alec and Pilot

05-10-2014, 05:42 PM
I have a 5 day work trip to DC scheduled where I will need 3 days of business attire, plus I will be doing a bit of sightseeing, and I need to fit in some running as I am training for a half marathon. So it seems like the perfect opportunity to try out my beloved Smart Alec in combination with my lovely new Pilot to try to travel efficiently, since I will be using the metro extensively and I have a hotel transfer during the trip. While I am normally a fairly efficient packer, the combination of clothes for 3 types of environments/activities means that I am bringing a bit more than I normally would. However, once I got out my stash of packing cubes, it actually is possible to bring all I need in an organized manner with this combination. I took a couple of packed photos, and then I laid out my packing cubes to get an idea of what I think is going to work well.

The last time I traveled with my Smart Alec, I ended up clipping my clear organizer cube filled with liquids to a long keystrap and putting it in the top modular pocket, and that worked great for airport security, so I will repeat that. I am using a small Eagle Creek pack-it folder to pack a suit, 3 dress shirts, and 2 pairs of dress slacks. The white cube holds several short sleeved shirts, 1 pair of shorts, 2 running shirts, 1 pair of running shorts, and running and dress socks. The mid-sized cube that zips in the middle has sport sandals and 1 pair of dress shoes. The small organizer has sleepwear and underwear. I was able to fit all of that in the SA by putting the pack-it folder and white cube in horizontally on the bottom of the SA, then I stacked the shoes bag on top followed by the small bag and hat on top, and the SA fit it all, no problem. While I will wear a light jacket while traveling through the airport, I know that if I get too hot, I can stash it on the front of the SA and confidently know it is secure.

What I am really amazed with though is how much the Pilot can hold! I was able to fit a Side Effect in the front pocket (thank you for that excellent suggestion from the Tom Bihn staff while I was in the store), and it is going to function as a purse that contains normal EDC stuff as needed, plus an Adventure Medical Kits travel medic kit fits perfectly in the suede pocket of the Pilot. In the other front pocket I fit pens, a travel umbrella, and snacks plus Emergen-C. I will definitely be using a water bottle in the middle front pocket. The main back compartment holds way more than I would have envisioned, and I am in love with the two built in pockets on the inner wall. In one pocket I fit my iPad mini with STM hardcase AND my Kindle paperwhite in a Timbuk2 case, and in the other pocket I fit a 6" X 9" spiral notebook. In the main area I fit my Bose headphones, a file folder, travel tray, and another small organizer bag. Wow! I am really amazed with all this can hold.

I cannot wait to try this combination out and see how things go. While I have packed the SA like a chunky monkey for this trip, if I had a trip where I was taking slightly less, I think I might be able to fit one of my bigger organizers in the Pilot and store the Pilot in the SA to streamline things for sightseeing and other travel. Definitely something to consider.

I thought I would list some of the things I fit in the Pilot, since I really had trouble visualizing exactly what would fit where until I had the opportunity to see how the things I generally carry work. While I love my Smart Alec in dyneema, I really appreciate the more structured feel of the ballistic nylon for the Pilot, particularly if I am going to have folders in the back section. When I tried on the dyneema Pilot, the bag tended to fold a bit in the back as it wrapped around my body (I like to wear it cross body) with the less rigid dyneema. Since this is going to serve cross duty as a business, travel, and general purpose bag, the added structure made better sense for me, though I still love the black dyneema so, so much visually.

05-10-2014, 06:09 PM
Here are a few photos of the Pilot that I could not fit in the first post.6185618661876188

05-10-2014, 06:13 PM
Awesome pictures! How comfortable is it carrying a large backpack and a bag like the pilot over your shoulder?

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05-10-2014, 06:30 PM
I think the most comfortable way to wear both is to first put on the backpack, and I use both the chest and waist belt straps. Then I put the Pilot crossbody over that. Trying to wear the Pilot underneath the backpack straps would be uncomfortable in my opinion. To be fair, I do a lot of hiking and backpacking, so this might feel a bit heavy for someone who is not used to carrying stuffed packs. However, I am incredibly impressed with the comfort level of the TB shoulder straps. While the waist strap is not really load bearing, I appreciate its stabilizing properties in hugging the pack close to me. Of course, ask me again after my trip, since this is the first time I will try this combo! :) But I loved the Smart Alec when I took it on a recent trip.

05-10-2014, 08:16 PM
Awesome pictures! How comfortable is it carrying a large backpack and a bag like the pilot over your shoulder?

I think the most comfortable way to wear both is to first put on the backpack, and I use both the chest and waist belt straps. Then I put the Pilot crossbody over that. Trying to wear the Pilot underneath the backpack straps would be uncomfortable in my opinion...

I have carried the Pilot with the Aeronaut, with the Pilot put on first, and then Aeronaut over the Pilot, and it was very comfortable. For me, it was awkward trying to put the Pilot over the backpack straps. Either way, though, it sounds like it would work very well.

05-10-2014, 11:23 PM
@Sacharissa, good point! It definitely makes sense to try both ways, since each person may have a different preference in the way things fit. I recently had an experience double packing both a Smart Alec and S19 back and front through an airport (don't ask), and I went back and forth on the straps over versus under question. So I am very excited to try out the Pilot to see how this works!

05-11-2014, 12:07 AM
Great photos! I'll be interested to hear how you get on, as I have a Smart Alec and Pilot on order and a couple of conventions to go to in London in August - which means a lot of schlepping bags on the Underground.

05-11-2014, 07:13 AM
Excellent post

05-18-2014, 08:34 PM
Great photos! I'll be interested to hear how you get on, as I have a Smart Alec and Pilot on order and a couple of conventions to go to in London in August - which means a lot of schlepping bags on the Underground.

Here is my after trip action report: the Smart Alec and Pilot worked together flawlessly for this trip, and I am now an even bigger fan! For my first flight on a Q400 commuter type plane, my fairly stuffed SA would have needed a fair amount of oomph to get into the tiny overhead compartment, but it fit underneath the seat in front of me beautifully, and the Pilot fit perfectly in the overhead. I definitely appreciated the slim profile of these two bags as I was able to walk down the airplane aisles without touching either side, and I was still able to swing my arms freely.

In Portland when I switched planes I experienced a mini Tom Bihn meetup when I ran into a nice couple with a Tri-Star and Co-Pilot, and we each compared our goodies. As I walked through the airport I became more and more fond of the Pilot as I had concessionaire style immediate accessibility to everything I needed...left front pocket for snacks (check), middle compartment for water (check), right front pocket for SE with essentials (check), electronics in the main compartment (check), and magazines in the rear slot (check). As I relished my hands free experience, secretly wanting to say "Look ma, no hands," I realized just how much effort it is to juggle a rolling bag when certain actions require both hands.

This would particularly come into play when I reached DC at maximum rush hour, and I had to take the metro to my hotel. While I was somewhat daunted when the first train was so full that there was no room to enter, I mustered my courage as the second train pulled up and I gathered my will to hurl my small body into the solid wall of people. Thank goodness for the reinforced stitching on the SA carry handle, as there was simply not room to wear the backpack and Pilot together with the intense press of people. I also appreciated the fact that all of the Pilot's zippers can be gathered near the carry handle, so that I could cover all zippers with one hand, thinking from a security perspective.

During the week, the Pilot functioned beautifully as a work briefcase, and it easily swallowed up two large binders of materials, in addition to other odds and ends I took to my meetings. And the Side Effect worked great as a modular break out system when I would step out for meals. I appreciated how the Pilot's ballistic material both looked professional and enabled the Pilot to stand up straight as a soldier as I was attended my meetings. I even had several people inquire about my bag, especially since they could not believe all that it held in an organized manner.

During my sightseeing day at the end, the SA and Pilot combination allowed me to comfortably and easily travel within the metro and in touring the area. I had both bags packed very full, especially with the addition of the two large binders I carried in the SA upon my return, so I could keep my travel materials accessible in the Pilot. I was glad that I had not brought larger bags, as I think it would have been too tempting to overpack and push the weight fairly high.

While the Pilot was perfect for both business and travel, I can certainly see the advantages of a dyneema Pilot for casual sightseeing, as it would be slightly lighter and less rigid. But for my purposes, the ballistic worked out well.

Prior to this trip I was on the fence about whether I wanted to add on a Western Flyer, for an additional option in the same size range as the SA. Now I think that I would really miss the ability to tuck a jacket into bungee cord outside of it like I do with my SA. I am also curious if anyone who owns both the SA and the Western Flyer could compare the comfort level in carrying both as backpacks.

Overall rating: two thumbs way up!633463356336

05-18-2014, 09:15 PM
@NWhikergal Thanks, that's really helpful! I was wondering how to manage with the SA on a crowded tube, so it's good to know that the grab-handle works well in that situation.

I've decided to take a lightly-packed Pilot (if it gets here in time) plus a tiny rollaboard for my US trip, on the grounds that if I buy too many books and souvenirs I can check the rollaboard on the return trip - wouldn't want to risk a brand-new TB bag! - and use the Pilot as carryon + the PCSB as my personal item. However I'm going to use my WF or SA for my next four UK trips by train (between August and October), so I may have that comparison for you in due course!

As a side-note to anyone visiting the UK: we have great public transport but most of the railway stations were built 150+ years ago, so although there are accessibility options for modern-day legal reasons, they're often tucked away. Stairs and, if you're lucky, escalators are the order of the day!

05-18-2014, 10:09 PM
I find the Smart Alec more comfortable to wear than the Western Flyer in backpack mode. The WF feels longer (though according to the specs it's half an inch shorter), and I think the boxiness of it makes me feel a bit less balanced. I very recently used the WF for a two-night trip and then the SA for a one-night trip (each paired with a Medium Cafe Bag). While the SA might do better on trips where I'd be wearing it for long periods, I think overall I prefer the WF as a main travel bag. I tend to live out of my bags when I travel (rather than unpacking in a hotel room), and I find it's a lot easier to do with the layout of the WF (where overstuffed contents can be temporarily contained) than with the SA (where things need to be stacked to fit, and overflowing items just fall out).