View Full Version : My first 2 weeks with the Empire Builder

11-17-2006, 04:33 PM
About me:

I purchased the Empire Builder with 6 file dividers, Absolute Shoulder Strap, and Brain Cell. I’m in medical sales, so I carry quite a variety of articles, marketing materials, supplies, and presentation binders all the time. When you get a few minutes with a physician, you don’t want to have to say, “I have that in my car”. Their time is scarce (with you, that is), and if they ask a question you really want to have the answer with documentation right there. I see a lot of reps with roll-arounds, but that would be a huge pain, and it marks you as a drug rep (which I’m not). I also carry a notepad, pens, pencils, voice recorder, Treo, keyboard, business cards, breath mints, and other miscellaneous business items. Most of the time, the bag stays on my shoulder while I take things in and out. Occasionally I need to carry a laptop (mostly on business trips), but for my daily routine I don’t, since <begin shameless plug> my Treo does everything I need. <end shameless plug>.


All I can say is Holy #$%! This bag is big! I can carry several inches of papers and folders, with plenty of room for a binder, notepad etc. Even with the Brain Cell inside, there is room for about 3-4” of papers and such. It took a little getting used to, since it is quite a bit bigger than the small briefcase I used to carry, but the benefit is two-fold: I can carry all the stuff I need, and as a bonus, the Empire Builder stands up on its own. No more leaning it against a wall! Surprisingly, it doesn’t really look that big when it’s on your shoulder.


The bag is very well designed, and the pockets are amazingly well thought out. I especially like the vertically zippered pocket on the front flap, the perfect place to stow an mp3 player. The vertical zip allows the cord to come out so you can wear your headphones while carrying the bag. The business card pocket is on the far right side of the bag (as you look at the front of the bag), so you can get to them without opening the front buckle. The pen pockets are large enough for even the fattest highlighters (a big criticism of my other briefcases), and the other pockets are large enough for my Treo keyboard. The section under the front flap has a little extra material so it can hold a lot more stuff than you would expect. I even put a large travel coffee mug in there and you could barely notice the bulge when the flap was closed. When I did that, I discovered that the inside of the bag is also resistant to liquids and stains (sheepish grin). There was a little coffee left in the mug, which spilled into the pocket. It didn’t leak into the adjoining compartment! Instead, it sat in a little puddle until I found a napkin to mop it up. I don’t recommend using the pocket to hold liquids, however :).

The back pockets are great too. The one closest to you is the perfect size for an airline ticket or some more business cards and a pen. The center back pocket is a bit of genius. The bottom unzips to allow a roll-around handle to come through.

The handles are the best I’ve ever seen. They lay naturally together, and are stiff but cushioned.

I’ve also noticed that even when stuffed pretty full, it doesn’t look full. Nice.


The shoulder strap is easily the most comfortable I have ever used. I move it to my other bags when I need to go on a trip (I’m a OneBagger, at least I try). I may end up buying another one, and I’m thinking about buying some as gifts for others I know are carrying bags a lot. Try this experiment: load up the bag, attach any other shoulder strap you own and carry it on your shoulder for 5 minutes. Then switch to the Absolute strap. It will actually make the bag seem a little lighter.

The brain cell is simple but very well suited to its task: protecting a laptop. It has padding and hard plastic inserts. Combined with the Empire Builder, it’s the best protection I’ve seen in any bag (and I’ve owned quite a few). The attachment clips on the inside of the Empire Builder can interfere with getting papers in and out of the bag along that side, but today I noticed that the Brain Cell clips can be removed! This is a nice touch, since I don’t use the BC very often.

The file divider inserts are also quite useful, and ingenious in the way they fit in the bag. I ordered 6, but probably only need 3 or 4. No matter, I’m sure I’ll need them at some point.


There are very few things that could use improvement on this bag. My criticisms are quite minor. First, I would like more options for attaching the shoulder strap. Sometimes the front strap ring interferes with access to the front of the bag. Second, while it’s easy to clip a pen into one of the many pockets, it would be nice to have a designated pen pocket on either the front of the bag or the back.


The best briefcase bag I’ve ever owned, by a mile. Perhaps I’ll write a follow-up review in a few months. This was my first Tom Bihn bag purchase, and it surely will not be my last. Thanks Tom!

11-20-2006, 03:30 PM
Wow! Thank you so much for this in depth review of the Empire Builder! Tom put so much work into designing this briefcase and it is wonderful to know that all of those special details are helpful and appreciated. Please don't hesistate to post further feedback as you have a chance to use your bag some more.

11-24-2006, 07:35 AM
I found something a little disappointing. I removed the front label from the bag (something I usually do to minimize the look, especially on computer bags). Under the tag, there are two small holes in the fabric! I don't know the purpose of the holes, but I was quite dissappointed to see them there.


11-28-2006, 10:50 AM
Those little holes are markers that are made to ensure the correct placement of our label on the bag.

Tom Bihn
11-28-2006, 11:09 AM
As Sunga says, the holes are sewing guides for the label and are quite standard in the industry - I'm surprised you hadn't run into them previously on other products.
They've never given us any problems when they are covered by the label, and I doubt they will be anything more than a cosmetic issue now that the label has been removed.

11-29-2006, 08:04 AM
Thanks for your response, Tom!

Yes, they only bother me because I know they are there :)
Believe it or not, I haven't run into it before. But since you explained the reason, I'm kind of surprised too. I'll have to look at some of my other bags in more detail...maybe I didn't pay close attention to the other bags because I didn't have a strong emotional attachment to them like I do to my Empire Builder. :)

12-02-2006, 12:41 AM
I agree with everything the reviewer said...

I've had my Empire Builder for over 2 years now, and it's still in perfect condition.

I wrote a review a couple years ago, and there was some kind of error that caused my review to be deleted... but nothing has changed.

The inside pockets seem like they were made for me.

They contain as follows:

40 gig external HD, Palm Treo, Pioneer Inno (or smaller cell phone), pen, PNY flash drive, digital voice recorder.

It all fits perfectly. I also have six dividers... and it's amazing how easily they are removable and put back in.

The strap is comfortable. The reviewer is right. In fact... how about this one... I am a teacher. Just before midterm grades were due, I put a bunch of papers in my bag to grade... along with a bunch of memos... lesson plans... all divided up nicely in the bag. I put the bag on my passenger seat and the airbag engaged. The airbag engages at 60 pounds. I was carrying around 60+ pounds and had no idea!

It's amazing how much I can put into it. I also carry around a gateway laptop in a Brain Cell that fits perfectly.

If I had to do it all over again, would I change anything? Yes! I regret not getting some color in the thing! I got a black on black bag with gray interior. How boring! It's a nice-looking bag... but I wish I'd gotten some color!!!!!

I've since bought some beautiful bags for my mother... but I'll always be sad that I decided to go so conservative with my own!