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Brain Bag v. Empire Builder

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    Brain Bag v. Empire Builder

    Hello ~

    I'm looking to draw on the collective guidance of the Binhster community as I work through the decision on which model bag to purchase.

    I travel rouglhy 85K miles a year within North America and work for a high-tech startup based out of Silicon Valley. Here is what I need to carry:
    laptop ( IBM T42 OR 15PB) + power adapter
    product literature
    ledger/notebook for customer meetings/notes
    resumes (I do a lot of interviewing)
    up to 2 WAN emulators (6"x6"x1") plus power supplies
    couple of CDs/DVDs
    Couple of pens/pencils and USB FlashDrive
    CellPhone + power
    Blackberry + USB power
    iPod + Bose Noise Cancelling headphones
    various cables
    Ethernet Cable
    Serial console cable
    Airport Express
    various reading material for the many airborne hours

    I upgraded from a early 90s tumi briefcase 4 years ago to a Briggs&Riley computer backpack for two reasons: 1) the Tumi was a pre 9/11 design where the protection scheme for the laptop was both crude and a big pain in the tuckus at a post 9/11 security checkpoint and 2) it was HEAVY when loaded.

    The Briggs&Riley bag has held up well, but is not large enough to carry the above list, especially after adding a standard trade paperback book and the bose headphones. I find many of the power adapters have to be carried in my carryon and i've never been able to accommodate the WAN emulators in the Briggs&Riley and have to hand carry those into the customer site.

    Another area where the B&R falls short is there isn't a convenient place to stow travel documents/ID.

    I've reviewed the web site and believe that the choice to be made between the EB (or soon to be released "smaller" EB) and the BrainBag along with the accompanying brain cells, snake charmer and possibly Freudian slip.

    I stand 5'6" and and am not a "big" person so I'm interested in the opinion of other folks of this stature about the EB and it's size. Also, I'm curious for the opinions about the BrainBag and whether it passes the "professionalism" test as I see many folks carrying bags through the airports and they appear better suited to schlepping into high school rather than a customer site.

    If I've overlooked another viable bag choice, please don't be bashful and I look forward to the replies.

    Cheers ~

    I don't have either bag yet, but in general a big factor will be if you want the backpack or the briefcase type bag. You've used both types before so that should help. The briefcase style probably is more proffesional, but the black brain bag looks pretty proffesional (to me) as long as that it's a backpack isn't a problem. According to the volumes listed on the site, the brain bag holds more? Someone who owns both could confirm.


      Based on my extensive travel experience with the EB - you are pushing right at the capacity of an EB plus Brain Cell. IMO you'd be really pushing your luck to try and go with the smaller EB.

      I think that you can get everything on your list into an EB. And you'll be able to carry it securely, with absolutely no fear of damage. Getting my Powerbooks in & out of their Brain Cells at security is a bit tricky, but I've gotten pretty slick at managing it.

      I have no doubt that you'd be pleased w/ the EB/BC combination with your present load. Be sure to add an Absolute Shoulder Strap to tote that load. My only concern from your description would be that if your equipment list expands, you might be out of capacity with the EB.

      I really do love both of my EBs, and I'm really jealous that neither of mine have the newly redesigned back. Sorry, but I don't have any first hand knowledge of the BB.
      Jim Hall
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      My TB bags: 2 - Empire Builder 1 - Checkpoint Flyer


        This is a good one for me to chime in on. I have both an Empire Builder and Brain Bag and also a Briggs Backpack.
        I really like the quality and craftsmanship of the Bihn Bags and I think the Briggs is built to the same standards and they are truly worth considering,I use Briggs luggage mainly and really like it.

        My only problem with the Bihn Bags is the lack of organization when it comes to carrying the loads described here. I too work out in the field and carry a lot of interfaces and cables and manuals and personal items and while the Bihn Bags are clearly large enough to carry it all, they lack enough seperate pockets for me to work in an organized manner.

        I have to either let everything sort itself to the bottem of the big compartments or I have to use organizer pouches to keep it all straight.
        For me this imposes more work than I like from a bag which I need to help me not dictate more bags for itself.
        As an example I can not place an Ipod or digital camera or camcorder or even a glasses case in any pocket of an Empire Builder. I carry these items inside cases also so I can carry them independent of the briefcase but if I stick them in the E.B. they just slide around in on of the big open compartments. On the other side there is not enough room in the front flap pockets for much useful stuff for me either.These are the most accessable but the least roomy pockets but the flap is big enough to have a huge pocket.

        I am always torn now as I like the looks and capacity of the E.B. but I have to use other bags with it to stay organized. Other bags take more room too.

        The Brain Bag is even worse that way but I use it for other things and don't even try to work out of it as it is so deep I need a flashlight to fish items from the big compartments. And yes I also have a Fruedian Slip.

        Now don't get me wrong....I love the bags,just not for the reasons I bought them.

        The Briggs Backpack is without question smaller than the E.B. but has three times as many pockets I think and allows more organization though it is not as roomy.

        What I use day to day is a Port Bag from before they were bought by Targus.
        It is built with Ballistic on the outside where it is needed but has lightweight nylon inside where there are so many pockets that I really can not fill them all.
        It also has an ingenius design where the main compartments open in an accordian style and the bag WILL NOT tip over no matter what when opened,in fact the further it opens the more stable it gets!
        It has several zippered mesh compartments and open pockets that will hold routers and large power supplies,CD pockets and a huge file section.
        The main computer compartment is cubes of air-filled rubber and the protection seems 1st rate to me. The computer compart ment even adjusts with velcro straps so it will tighten around each machine.

        The Port looks more like a briefcase than the others and seems to share a more tradional design wich features MANY POCKETS.

        I don't think the pockets need to be constructed like the main walls of these bags as they are protected by the main walls. Making them more flexible allows a lot more of them in the same space and though I am sure there is more labor involved in this type of design I for one would buy them for the added function.

        The other bag I would like to try but have not even seen is from Roadwired.
        They advertise a whole lot of pockets and seem to have a quality construction from what I have read.

        Let me make clear again,No one is taking my Bihn bags from me anytime soon,I just am not using them like I thought I could.

        Good Luck


          I ordered a EB yesterday and have a trip planned next week to Dallas and the west coast. Thanks for the replies ~ I'll post my impressions of the solution upon my return home.


            I realize this is too late to help Shamrock, but thought I'd throw in my 2 cents for anyone reading this thread in the archives.

            I own both the Brain Bag (BB) and Empire Builider (EB). I travel a lot for my job, often international flights.

            I bought the BB first and then added the EB later when I needed a more professional looking bag for the office. I find them to be nice complementary products--- both are good, but with different strengths.

            Brain Bag
            I prefer the BB for real road-warrior travel. It holds more and distributes the weight across your shoulders. Also, you are completely hands free when wearing the BB. If you have to lug your stuff a long way through an airport, train station, etc then this is a good choice. Plenty of room to carry all my adapters, extra cables, and all the other stuff I need.

            There are a few downsides to the BB. Most of them come with the territory of being a backpack.

            I have an all black BB, which is the most conservative look. It is still backpack and a backpack is simply not appropriate in highly conservative business situations. The BB's flexible interior gives you a good amount of space, but the nature of the backpack is that things end up on the bottom. What the BB gives up in organization is gains in sheer carrying capacity. I have carried a small camera bag and video camera bag in one side with my laptop in the other.

            I tried the Freudian Slip. While I appreciate the attempt to organize a backpack, I just found that it didn't work for me. I found that I often had to remove the whole thing to really find what I needed. That isn't so easy if you want to pull out a file on a plane.

            OTOH, the Snake Charmer is awesome. If you travel a lot, the Snake Charmer is an excellent home for your power supply, ethernet cables, power adapters, chargers, etc that you need to carry. Best of all, it keeps all of your "travel essentials" in one spot between trips.

            Another basic backpack thing is that you cannot dig around the interior without taking it off and putting it down. This is really a pain if you need to pull something out and the floor is grungy or wet.

            Empire Builder
            The EB is a step up in terms of professional style, without giving up the things that make a Tom Bihn bag great.

            I use the EB as my daily office commuter bag. It serves delightfully well in this role. Comfortable and spacious without going overboard. The handle is really comfortable. Everything stays organized and is easily accessible. Sometimes I do use my EB for travel, especially for 1-3 day trips. The file dividers make it easy to carry files neatly while still providing easy access to the content.

            As good as it is, there are a few things about the EB that I don't really love.

            First, it doesn't stand up on it's own very well. It tends to flop over on its face. I think this has a lot to do with the placement of the organizer pockets under the flap. Put a few things in there (PDA , iPod, etc) and lopsided weight pulls it over. I haven't found any workaround for this.

            Second, the Absolute Shoulder Strap is a mixed blessing. It is comfortable when you are standing still but, if your bag is heavy, it can bounce up and down when you are walking. The neoprene shoulder pad acts like a spring and the thing bounces. Not a great thing when you find yourself needing to be 40 gates down the terminal before your flight closes in 5 minutes.

            Different bags. Different uses.

            I'd estimate that I use the EB 80% of the time and the BB the remaining 20%.

            Even though the BB only sees 20% usage, it is still has a repectable place in my travel bag arsenal.


              Shamrock....unless they are in another thread I missed your impressions of the Empire Builder...inquiring minds want to know if it met your needs.

              I just received my new Brain Bag. It is my second Brain Bag. I had the first one for over 4 years and it served me well but it had the snap connectors for the Brain Cells so I decided to get a new one. Don't worry....my old one found a good home with someone else and will probably be used by them for decades to come.

              The new Brain Bag is even better than my first one. I really like the addition of the little rings to attach Tom Bihn Organizer Pouches inside of each compartment. The top handle is improved as well. The older version had a two piece handle with a leather snap-together connector. The new handle is a one piece padded affair that is very comfortable and much more convenient (the old one had to be unsnapped to unzip the main compartment).

              As always I got great customer service. The bag was not in stock when I ordered it but the ship date on the web page was completely accurate. We have all had experience with other vendors that promise to ship on a certain date and then fail to deliver so Tom Bihn deserves accolades for their accurate ship dates.


                Originally posted by BillG View Post
                Second, the Absolute Shoulder Strap is a mixed blessing. It is comfortable when you are standing still but, if your bag is heavy, it can bounce up and down when you are walking. The neoprene shoulder pad acts like a spring and the thing bounces.
                I've found, when using the Absolute Shoulder Strap with the smaller Empire Builder prototype, that adjusting and playing around with the length of the Absolute Shoulder Strap can eliminate or at least reduce the bounciness.

                Originally posted by thalweg
                As always I got great customer service. The bag was not in stock when I ordered it but the ship date on the web page was completely accurate. We have all had experience with other vendors that promise to ship on a certain date and then fail to deliver so Tom Bihn deserves accolades for their accurate ship dates.
                Thank you! We appreciate your comments, though we must admit that there have been a few times where products have been delayed.

                I'm glad you are enjoying your Brain Bag. I can't wait for the smaller Brain Bag.
                Have a question? @Darcy (to make sure I see it)

                Current carry: testing new potential materials in the form of Original Large Shop Bags.


                  Originally posted by Darcy View Post
                  I can't wait for the smaller Brain Bag.
                  You and me both! Late next year, eh?

                  I'm small and rather slight, so the big dangly bags (Empire Builder, Super Ego, even the ID) don't quite work for me when I need to carry more (heavy) things than I could comfortably fit in the Imago. The Brain Bag and the Smart Alec are both great backpacks, but the Smart Alec is a little too much on the vertical and the Brain bag is maybe a bit too much on both vertical and horizontal in a squarish fashion (of course, this is in order to better fit all sizes of Brain Cells/Monoliths + Snake Charmer) than what I (and I suspect most people, although there seem to be quite a few packrats about) need to carry about most days... smaller backpacks would naturally give up on the larger laptop sizing options, but I suspect it is an obvious trade-off.

                  Also, the smaller backpacks would fit the spirit of the smaller laptops better =D


                    Feedback on the EB

                    howdy ~

                    I'm currently in the middle of a self-imposed sabbatical from the work world and apologize in advance for the tardy response.

                    Here are my impressions:

                    1) LOVED THE PHONE HELP PLACING THE ORDER. Very helpful lady and she spent a lot of time with me making sure I understood everything about the order. As I am in sales, this was clearly an effort to make sure expectations were understood so they could be exceeded and I wouldn't be disappointed. KUDOs to the counter help in the store.

                    2) WOW ~ what a bag. I love the look and am ABSOLUTELY confident that my precious PB15 is very safe and secure within the EB/BrainCell combo.

                    3) Like the Absolute Shoulder Strap. I also found it could be bouncy but experimented some and for me, the following seems to work well and control most of the bouncing. When adjusting the strap, I experimented with having the "spongy" part of the strap CLOSER to one end of the adjusted length than the other. When I received the strap, it was centered between the buckles. By adjusting the strap this way, it not only helps control the bounce, but also allows me to carry the EB more behind my hip and slightly vertical rather than along my side and horizontal. This is very helpful when sprinting between gates at Denver or O'Hare. I find that given the attach points for the strap, that it generally falls below the bag when I'm using the handles which can make it challenging to retrieve when I want to sling the bag over my shoulder and motor through the airport. I'm not that tall (fit into any commercial airline seat ~ you do the math) so the strap doesn't hang much below the bag which contributes to the challenge in retrieving it.

                    4) Way cool looks. Now that I have a TB bag, I scope out the bags of others I see schlepping around and I have not seen ONE other TB bag. (even though I'm on sabbatical, I'm still out and about quite a bit). Love the SERIOUS zippers, waterproof zipper gasket and the handles are very comfortable.

                    5) Love the mag/newspaper slot pocket on the rear of the bag. ALWAYS in use

                    6) Love the travel docs pocket ~ although since I use my passport to show proof of ID at TSA checkpoints, I have to be careful and use the zippered pocket for the passport instead.

                    a) Mine falls over like many of the others. It always falls over to the flap side which surprises me as the PB is on the side opposite the flap. Must have something to do with the way I pack the bag and the "unstructured nature" of the space underneath the flap. I also have placed a rather full "travel wallet" in the outside zippered pocket of the flap which is quite heavy. This might tip the bag over more easily and i'm sure stowing the variety of power cords, console cables, Aiport Express, flash drives, medication, loose change don't help matters either.

                    b) I seriously doubt that I could cram everything I listed in my "please comment and recommend" post in the EB ~ but I got a very professional bag which I can carry into any meeting I need. I'm considering an Aeronaut and possible one of the "tote" bags for all the other miscellany which I find myself onsite with.

                    c) I would probably line the inside of the bag with a much lighter color. I have the Black/Steel/Steel model and while the padded end caps inside the bag are Steel, the tabbed dividers are black and can make it hard to get the contrast you'd like in lower light situations. White might be too light and show dirt too easily, but a light tan or grey may be better

                    d) CD/DVD Storage? I don't want to carry a seperate container for these. my previous Briggs/Riley had storage sleeves for 4 platters on the front of the laptop suspension system. The EB doesn't have a dedicated place nor does the BrainCell. So, I put the platters I need to carry into rigid plastic sleeves and let them rattle loose in the zippered pouch underneath the flap. I'd add several slots for CD/DVD storage to BOTH the Braincell as well as the inside of the EB on the flap side (the side opposite to where the BC attaches, or include them on one of the dividers.

                    e) Slot designed for business cards doesn't have a large enough capacity. I generally travel for 3-4 days at a time and need to carry sufficient cards for several meetings which can have large numbers of attendees. I can fit 10 to 15 cards in the slot and then a rubber band of "extras" in the zippered pouch underneath the flap.

                    f) Where do I attach my cell phone/blackberry. With my Briggs/Riley, I had gotten accustomed to taking my blackberry holster and cell phone holster and attaching them to the loops on either the shoulder straps or more frequently the ones on the sides of the bag. This was also convenient for attaching a water bottle with a carabiner or the BR water bottle attachment. This was particularly helpful when i had a bag over both shoulders as they would hit my torso at the hips and bounce against the cell/blackberry as well as once seated in a plane so I wouldn't lose one (e.g. leave it behind). The newspaper/magazine slot pocket has two pockets which might work for a BB/cell but they would need to be lined with something which would prevent the devices from sliding out. If this was used, I'd still have to find a place to stow the holster while the devices are the pockets.

                    g) Not sure where I'd put the snake charmer. I see this as a very desirable component and need to call TB to see if the redesigned SnakeCharmer works with the EB.

                    Summary: Love the bag ~ minor tweaks would be great. Will buy more TB bags simply due to the quality. Looking at Aeronaut, Utility Totes and possibly a Brain Bag.