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My Tri-Star Review (with comparisons to the Brain Bag)

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    My Tri-Star Review (with comparisons to the Brain Bag)

    So on another thread I talked about a couple of trips we have coming up in the next few months. One is a 4 night trip in May, the next is a 7 night trip in August. Both are a combo of business and pleasure. For the May trip, my plan was to take my Tumi wheeled carryon and my Brain Bag. For the August trip, the plan was to take my tennis bag and......i wasn't sure what else.

    The first thing I did in this saga was to order some Aeronaut packing cubes and see if I could fit everything for the May trip into the Brain Bag. What I found was, surprisingly, yes, I could. That said, because of the vertical orientation of the bag, once everything was crammed in there, getting ANYTHING out was a major ordeal. The Brain Bag indeed has that capacity, but the more you use all that capacity, the less usable that capacity becomes (in my opinion). For me, the Brain Bag functions beautifully until it's about at 70% of it's max capacity, at which point usability begins to diminish. So, I ruled that out. But I was still very interested in just having one bag for the May trip. Plus, I wasn't sure how well the Brain Bag would carry along with my tennis bag for the August trip. I suspected I could pack a bunch of stuff into the tennis bag, but it needs to be carried as a backpack. I tried putting that pack on as a backpack and then carrying the Brain Bag just on one shoulder, and that didn't work. The Brain Bag strap just slid right off the tennis bag strap and off my shoulder.

    At this point I thought maybe the Tri-Star would work. On the August trip, I needed to have a backpack once I got there to haul my computer and some misc stuff around the resort (my wife and I are guest instructors at an incredible health and fitness resort called Rancho La Puerta, a place I HIGHLY recommend). The briefcase look and feel of the Tri-Star appealed to me in this respect. I could put it on my back and it wouldn't necessarily (I hoped) look like I was hauling luggage around the place. So, I ordered a Tri-Star in Steel/Solar, and one each of the small/medium/large packing cubes, along with an Absolute Shoulder Strap.

    I'll cut to the chase and then fill in some details, along with pictures. The Tri-Star is an incredible bag. The design is as impressive as the reviews I poured through indicated it was. This is a typical Tom Bihn bag so I don't need to go into excessive detail here, you all know the materials, construction, finishing, it's all first rate. Very, very impressive.

    So I did a test pack. I put everything out that I'll take on my May trip and when I woke up this morning, poured a cup of coffee and got to playing with this new toy. Does everything fit? Yes, everything fits! Is it more usable than all that stuff in the Brain Bag? Yes, absolutely. Now the bag is pretty full and weighs in at 26 pounds. But that weight includes a computer, camera, chargers, etc... I'm a healthy, reasonably strong guy so this is well within tolerance, and when worn as a backpack, is very comfortable. I would have no problems wearing this walking through a terminal. I would not, however, wear this with this much weight and use the shoulder strap. It's a great shoulder strap, but that's just too heavy for one shoulder. It's gotta be in backpack mode with this load.

    So, what did I pack in this thing? Here's everything I put into it laid out on a table:

    At the bottom right is a 15" Macbook Pro with a horizontal brain cell. Next to it is a medium TS packing cube, and in that is.....

    - rolled up underwear and socks (4 pairs each)
    - a blenderbottle with some stuff packed into it
    - a pair of Vibram FiveFingers wrapped up in a baggie.

    Above that is a large packing cube. In that cube is...

    - 2 nice shorts (like what you'd play golf in)
    - 3 short sleeve t-shirts
    - 2 long sleeve t-shirts
    - 1 polo shirt
    - swimsuit
    - windbreaker
    - hat

    Next to that is a large clear organizer pouch. In that pouch is what I want to have direct access to on the plane. One concern I had with this setup was that if I can't put the bag under the seat in front of me, or if I don't wish to, how will I get out of this tightly packed bag what I want at my seat. Now, what I want at my seat is pretty simple. I want my iPhone, earbuds, some reading material, a couple of food bars for snacks and a water bottle. Then it hit me, use a large organizer pouch for this stuff. I'll just have the water bottle in my hand and my iPhone in my pocket, and the rest will be in this pouch. I can actually just have this pouch in my hand while boarding the plane, too. So then once I get to my seat, I can just put the Tri-Star in the overhead compartment, slide my water and this pouch in the magazine slot in front of me and I'm done! When we land, I just slide this into the center compartment of the Tri-Star and off we go. In this pouch right now are a magazine, a book, my earbuds in their case, and I forgot to put a couple of food bars in there, but there's ample room for them. It's really amazing what these things hold

    Speaking of large organizer pouches, above that is another one that I'm using in place of a horizontal freudian slip. It'll have the notepad I'm bringing, and on top of that is a travel laptop stand, and then below those are my GTD file folders. They all slip easily into the pouch, and that can be packed more deeply into the case. I don't need it while traveling, and once at our destination, I'll just take that pouch with a few pens in it to our meetings and voilà, instant organization.

    To the left of that pouch are two clear quarter packing cubes. The top one has my nutritional stuff. On one side I have baggies with my morning smoothie powder mix, and on the other, supplements, food bars, that kind of stuff. Below it is another cqpc. On one side of that is toiletries, and on the other, misc tech stuff like chargers, cables, small camera, etc... Neither of these cubes is packed anywhere close to capacity and it keeps all these items incredibly well organized. My concern was where and how well these would pack into the Tri-Star. That concern proved to be unfounded. More on that in a bit.

    And then finally, to the left of that is the 3D Clear Organizer Cube with my liquids.

    Ok, so what does the bag look like with all this stuff in it? Here are some views:

    And you can see in this one, that even fully loaded, I can still fit a water bottle into that side pocket, if desired.

    You can see from these two photos that the bag stands beautifully on end as a backpack.

    Then I mentioned above I was curious to see how the 2 CQPCs fit? Well, they take up basically the same exact space that a small Tri Star packing cube takes up, so, they fit perfectly alongside the medium packing cube.

    So the answer is yes, it looks like I will absolutely be able to 1-bag it to San Diego for our trip in May!

    For the trip in August, I discovered that I can easily fit the medium packing cube and both CQPCs in my tennis bag, which is this one:

    So now I can leave the front compartment completely open and just put in a few large organizer pouches, and now the bag is light enough to carry with the shoulder strap (the tennis bag has to be carried as a backpack), and the Absolute Shoulder Strap plays nicely with the straps of the tennis bag. That's a setup I'm willing to carry through a terminal.

    So there you have it. The average person isn't going to carry all the nutritional stuff I'm carrying, so that would free up even more space for the typical 4 night carry.

    It's really impressive just how much this bag holds, and how impressively it organizes it all. The packing cubes rock. Oh, I should mention, in the medium packing cube I rolled the clothes I put in there, but in the large one, it was all stuff I both wanted to pack compactly, but also wanted to minimize wrinkles, so for the first time I experimented with the bundling method. Basically, I just laid the first item right on the open large compartment of the Tri-Star, then alternated per the usual bundling protocol until all the items were arranged, then started folding them up to fit that dimension. Once I had my bundle, I just lifted it up, put it in the large packing cube, zipped it up and I was done, with room for more.

    If anyone has questions, let me know.

    Congratulations, @conejo and thank you very much for your review and photos.

    I placed an order for the Aeronaut this morning. I am worried about packing it heavy (anything beyond 15 lbs for me). So my challenge will be to pack light. I do not mind a floppy bag.

    If/when the Tristar and/or Western Flyer are offered in Navy/Iberian or Black/UV, I will definitely be in trouble :)


      Originally posted by Walker View Post
      Congratulations, @conejo and thank you very much for your review and photos.

      I placed an order for the Aeronaut this morning. I am worried about packing it heavy (anything beyond 15 lbs for me). So my challenge will be to pack light. I do not mind a floppy bag.

      If/when the Tristar and/or Western Flyer are offered in Navy/Iberian or Black/UV, I will definitely be in trouble :)
      I have an Aeronaut on the way too and am worried about the same thing! My TriStar is ideal for a 15 pound load and my husband's WF well suited to loads just less than that when reasonably firmly packed. I have my own WF on the way as well. It will be interesting to see which bag emerges as the go-to for travel over time. I have a feeling it will be the WF. However, the bags are each so cleverly designed to meet a particular travel purpose or style that I wouldn't be surprised if there is only ever one contender for each trip I make.


        I did not realize how the CQPCs would work in the Tristar. Great idea - I'll have to look into that. Thanks for the detail. Did you put the large packing cube in the center section?


          I put the large packing cube in the rear section. I would've preferred having it in the front section to make more room for the front pockets, but having the CQPCs and the medium packing cube in the rear made it uncomfortable and lumpy to carry. Had the brain cell and the 3/1/1 bag in the middle.


            You peeps are making it very hard for me to resist getting a Tri-Star. I have an Aeronaut for long trips and a Brain Bag and Smart Alec for shorter ones. But this looks very versatile. I'm planning to take the Brain Bag out on a short trip. I will see if i need to make the Tri-Star plunge after that.

            Great review!
            Joi Edwards

            black/steel Aeronaut, black/steel Smart Alec, navy Brain Bag, steel Snake Charmer, Absolute Strap, Vertical Freudian Slip, Brain Cell, Cache, Nook Pouch, wasabi Travel Packing Sacks, steel medium Yarn Stuff Sack, Aeronaut large and end Packing Cubes, Tri-Star large Packing Cube, ultraviolet Travel Tray, scads of different pouches of all sizes


              Originally posted by joiedwards View Post
              I will see if i need to make the Tri-Star plunge after that.
              Resistance is futile.


                That's a great post, Conejo! I chuckled that you still had the Dyneema tags on there. It kind of gave your Tri-Star a Minnie Pearl look. Tee hee!


                  Lani, lol. I didn't want to cut the tags off until I knew this was going to fit my needs. But once I completed the test pack and felt good about carrying it, I was a happy camper and ceremoniously cut the tags off, thereby declaring the bag as having one true owner: me!

                  Oh, and one other piece of info: I mentioned that I use a Blender Bottle on the road. Well the old ones are kinda thick and take up a lot of space. Well they came out with a sports version that is awesome. Thinner and sleeker, but it can also work as a water bottle and fits beautifully into the water bottle pocket of the Tri Star (and my Brain Bag). So now I don't have to pack it, it's just my water bottle AND my blender bottle. Sweet!


                    Hi conejo23, Great Review.

                    I am planning to use the bag for gym or w/e club use. Do you know if big size sport shoes fit in? do you have to use one full compartment for that? do you have any pic? thank you


                      there's another thread here about shoe size in a tri star, might want to check that out. I think I started that one, too, a while ago. I can fit size 12s in, barely.


                        I don't have the Tritar, but I think there are other TB bags better suited for gym use. The Aeronaut, while likely overkill for a gym bag is perfect. There are end pockets that easily hold my size 12 shoes and can also be used for soiled clothes or a damp towel. The large main compartment also gives you lots of space for clothing and anything else you might need. The Brain Bag would also be perfect... easily holds shoes and 2 main compartments allow you to segregate dirty clothing inside. I also think some of the other larger backpacks would work well too.


                          In my opinion, I wouldn't use any Tom Bihn bag as a gym bag. Great pieces of gear that are a pain to clean, and you'll void the warranty putting them in a washing machine.

                          Just get a cheap nylon gym bag at Sports Authority for $20 so you can throw it in the wash with your towels once a week. Gym bags tend to get nasty in a hurry.


                            Skookumdog.com has duffle bags that come in two sizes, and could also work as gym bags, I bet. And they have the awesome coyote color! Love that.