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My new Smart Alec--not love at first sight? (SA v. WF)

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    My new Smart Alec--not love at first sight? (SA v. WF)

    So, I usually travel with a WF and decided to try an SA. I have no problems with my WF--just thought I might want to travel with a very different type of bag sometimes. Also, I pack a DLBP in the WF for hiking/day trips since the WF itself is not ideal for that--maybe if the SA were my main bag instead, it would serve double duty.

    Well, a (beautiful) halcyon SA with matching halcyon UMP is now in my hands, but....I don't know.

    Pros:

    The halcyon SA **with the UMP included** weighs 11 ounces less than my ballistic WF.

    I can fit both my 311 quart bag and all dry toiletries in the UMP, which is convenient for TSA and keeps everything together.

    Even without using the UMP, putting the same load in the SA vs. the WF results in most of the leftover space adding together at top of the SA, instead of having multiple little pockets of leftover space in different places around the WF.

    Cons:

    As I already knew when I ordered the SA, the SA is tricky to live out of. The "lid" of the halcyon SA when opened also pulls down the front of the bag a bit (especially with items in the UMP) and the scrunchiness gets in the way of access too. The WF is fantastic for accessing everything easily with minimal disruption to the other items.

    I don't love the modularity of the UMP--I know that's just a matter of taste. Maybe I'd learn to appreciate being able to keep it on the inside sometimes (attached to the cache loops, I know about that) and being able to attach it outside as needed. But if I always keep it outside, then I'll kind of wish it was integral to the bag, instead of having six clips all around it.

    It is probably bigger than I would want for a daypack (I am 5'1"), so I might not want the SA for double-duty on trips and would pack the DLBP anyway.

    Neutral:

    Comfort--ok, I am finding the SA neither more nor less comfortable than the WF. The straps seem the same, and the SA's back is just as straight up and down as the back of the WF. It is also about the same length on me as the WF. The SA is padded and has mesh, so sure, I would rather hike with it than the WF, but for 1 hour or 1-2 miles in airports or airport-to-hotel, I'm not sensing that the experience would be drastically different. Does the SA's padded back soften up and get noticeably more comfortable with time? (I can't break it in while I'm still testing it with tags attached.)

    (For the record, I also have an S19, so I know what the padded mesh back can be like. But the S19 also fits my short torso really well, better than I expect the WF or SA could ever fit, broken in or not. The SA seems too straight to nestle into my spine curve like the S19 does, which is ok, but that means the SA is not an improvement over the WF?)

    It seems that SA v. S25 has been debated on the forum more frequently than SA v. WF. This is what I found on SA v. WF:

    https://forums.tombihn.com/questions...ern-flyer.html
    https://forums.tombihn.com/general-b...r-carryon.html
    https://forums.tombihn.com/questions...mart-alec.html

    TLDR: Generally, people mention comfort as the reason for choosing the SA over the WF--I guess I'm asking if that's really the case. Or maybe I'm just a WF person and the SA isn't meant to be for me!

    #2
    You mention living out of the SA as less than ideal, my question would be do you sub-load in packing cubes/stuff sacks/other small bags? I find that to be an immense help with the SA. Personally, I'm an SA person, I like the form, the feel and I dig the modular feel of the UMP and LMP. Add the bungie in and I'm savvy.

    I know there are others on the forum who have taken some time to adjust or find their SA groove. Good luck

    Comment


      #3
      I've actually debated the Smart Alec vs. the Western Flyer a lot, because they are theoretically the same volume.

      I have found I prefer the open design of the Smart Alec. I agree that it is not quite as easy to "live out of"--my strategy is to pack in cubes, and remove them all upon arrival at my accommodation. But I find it a lot quicker to pack because it's quite unfussy, and it seems that no matter how much is crammed into that one large pocket, it doesn't change its shape in a way that makes it uncomfortable to wear. Whereas in the WF where everything has to be kept flat or it gets bulgy. The only advantages I see of the Western Flyer is that (1) it looks more professional, and (2) it has two carrying methods so that I can switch off between them if there is a lot of walking during a layover.

      For what it's worth, I gave away the upper modular pocket for my Smart Alec, because attaching it made the opening droop a bit and it was more difficult to retrieve stuff inside. And I never tried the lower pocket. My use case is that it is an auxiliary bag, which I carry, particularly on business trips, to keep my essentials in case the checked bag is lost or delayed. So I don't need that much extra space for my things, as its volume is already sufficient.

      As for TB backpacks in general, I'm 5'2", and for comfort I would rate (from best to worst): Synapse 19 > Smart Alec > Synapse 25. In fact I no longer have a Synapse 25, as it was too long for me. The Smart Alec is ok to wear in transit, but I DEFINITELY wouldn't use it as a daypack -- for me it's strictly travel gear.
      ----
      All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.
      Edmund Burke

      Comment


        #4
        I'm the same height as you, and find that I much prefer the SA to the WF for traveling or for a day/commute pack. Contrary to bchaplin, I also actually find it more comfortable than my S19, even though I have a fairly narrow build and short torso. I refer to it as my "huggy" pack because putting it on feels kind of like a hug.

        As for traveling, I definitely use cubes and stuff sacks inside to make it easier to live out of, and tend to arrange them vertically. I've gotten the pack up to about 15lbs of gear and it has been reasonably comfortable, although I wouldn't go long distances with that. I used to think I preferred the WF for traveling, but I found out the flat packing requirement annoyed me and the backpack straps weren't comfortable enough for the load. Plus, despite a minimal volume difference, the "bucket" style of the SA seems to be a lot more forgiving. I think I have a thread recently comparing my thoughts on a test pack, and the deciding factor was the ability to easily add my noise-cancelling headphones to the SA but not the WF.

        For a day pack, I find that the SA behaves well when under-packed. I used it as a transport bucket not too long ago, and it was nearly empty for half the trip but still held it's shape fairly well (I have the ballistic, this probably helps) and was easy to get in and out of.

        My primary use for my SA is actually as a commute bag, where it replaced my S19 due to both volume and comfort. On an average day, I load the pack with wallet, iPad mini, 2 meals (in glass containers in a neoprene lunch bag,) large noise-cancelling headphones, a travel tray, and an iPhone. Plus a q-kit and small organizer pouch which live in a side pocket. The load is usually 13-16 pounds, depending on what else I have to stuff in on a given day, and I carry it comfortably to the bus stop, on the bus, and the 5 (steep!) blocks uphill to my office. Then it's easy to just pull the pieces out as I need them, and toss them all back in at the end of the day.
        Rambling On. . . . .

        Comment


          #5
          Thanks for the responses. I do use packing cubes and pouches. I guess I'm so used to carefully packing a WF that I didn't realize an advantage of the SA would be how forgiving and unfussy it would be if I have to toss the cubes in there without planning. No whack-a-mole situations with lumps and bulges.

          Funny how different people with similar height will see a bag as too big or not too big for a daypack. I can see how I could *maybe* get used to the SA as an edc type of bag for me, but it'd take time.

          Meglet, I can't tell the difference between the backpack straps of the WF and the SA. What am I missing?

          Still mulling things over. Glad to have TB's generous tryout window. Also, bchaplin, thanks for confirming my suspicions that a S25 is too long and that I don't need to be distracted by it.

          Comment


            #6
            Fluff, maybe I have an older Western Flyer with different straps? But I find them spaced not quite the same as the SA, and not quite as padded. That plus the way a perfectly flat-packed WF tends to collapse into a lump at the bottom when worn as a backpack makes it uncomfortable to me.
            Rambling On. . . . .

            Comment


              #7
              One of the bags the Bihn line up is missing is a serious travel backpack like a Tortuga, Minaal, Timbuk2 aviator, MW Rambler, etc.

              The Hero's Journey looks like it *may* be close, but he might need a smaller version and it looks more mountain-hiking, than escalator hiking, but we'll see....

              Key features would be:

              * Real suspension system with load-bearing, padded, tuck-away hip belt
              * Pack-away shoulder straps if the bag has to be checked
              * Ability to carry briefcase style or with a shoulder strap
              * Duffle-style loading rather than top down
              * External attachment points for bungee paracord
              * External compression straps

              Comment


                #8
                I would say that every TB backpack I own qualifies as a "serious travel backpack."


                Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

                Comment


                  #9
                  Yeah they're nice but light loads only ... I'm defining "serious" as

                  * Capacity (45L+)
                  * Frame
                  * Suspension system
                  * Load-bearing padded waist belt
                  * For globetrotting, hatch-loading

                  Without those features, pounds-carryable is pretty limited, just light loads (say, 30-40lbs max; 20-30Lbs routinely). The Guide Pack has many of these features, but it's a top loader (and mountain design) so more backcountry hiking than globe-trotting travel. I think this is why Tom is building the Hero's Journey and it looks to have all these features except one: a briefcase carry handle.

                  The HsJ looks like the "serious" pack I've been hoping for from Bihn!

                  Click image for larger version

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                  Last edited by GrussGott; 09-15-2016, 07:49 PM.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Grussgott, I hope the HJ will be the bag you've been looking for. I'm excited to see the new design too, but I like my favorite Tom Bihn bags for almost the opposite reasons: they are on the smaller side compared to other travel bags and have fewer bells and whistles. I might just have to accept that the WF may be nearly perfect and stop looking for another bag :-)

                    But the HJ buzz has reminded me of my unfulfilled wish to do a hut to hut type trip (rather than strictly day hiking with only essentials and returning to a base with the rest of my stuff at the end of the day). That would be a great use of an SA for me....

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Originally posted by GrussGott View Post
                      Without those features, pounds-carryable is pretty limited, just light loads (say, 30-40lbs max; 20-30Lbs routinely).
                      An aside: my total backpacking weight is currently about 24 lbs. (although I'd much rather carry that load in a purpose-built bag than an Aeronaut).


                      Originally posted by GrussGott View Post
                      Hero's Journey … looks to have all these features except one: a briefcase carry handle
                      Isn't that on the CHECKLIST? Edit: It's in the timeline too.
                      Last edited by brucep; 09-16-2016, 07:33 AM.

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Originally posted by Fluff View Post
                        Grussgott, I hope the HJ will be the bag you've been looking for. ... I might just have to accept that the WF may be nearly perfect and stop looking for another bag :-)
                        Ha, well I've got the A45, WF and Pilot, all great bags. I actually really like the WF for backpack carry and I don't mind having to pack flat - The A45 is ok for me, I'm fine with the backpack compromise because I only use it in airports and for sub-1 mile walks. For work trips and fancier personal trips, for me, it's great.

                        The missing thing is something I can use for more hardcore city and country hikes. Right now I use a Mission Workshop Rambler ... as a city/bike bag it's fantastic. I've carried a 12-pack of beer, a gallon of milk, a turkey, and full thanksgiving dinner fixings all in one in this bag. The bagger had to help me get it on my back, but from there I hiked 4 miles back to my hotel and I could've gone longer easy. It's a great bag. The HsJ probably won't be quite is nice for that use, but for a full load of clothes and gear to live out of, this bag look to right for that. I'll probably buy one

                        Originally posted by brucep View Post
                        Isn't that on the CHECKLIST? Edit: It's in the timeline too.
                        Briefcase carry handle??? I gotta dig more into that ... great!

                        Comment


                          #13
                          My new Smart Alec--not love at first sight? (SA v. WF)

                          Originally posted by GrussGott View Post
                          Yeah they're nice but light loads only ... I'm defining "serious" as

                          * Capacity (45L+)
                          * Frame
                          * Suspension system
                          * Load-bearing padded waist belt
                          * For globetrotting, hatch-loading

                          Without those features, pounds-carryable is pretty limited, just light loads (say, 30-40lbs max; 20-30Lbs )
                          @GrussGott I think I may have found the perfect bag for you!


                          ETA: sorry, just noticed it's a top loader [emoji6]


                          Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

                          Comment


                            #14
                            Originally posted by ceepee View Post
                            @GrussGott I think I may have found the perfect bag for you!
                            That's only funny because it's true.

                            Comment


                              #15
                              An update. I ended up returning both the SA and the UMP.

                              My first impressions/instincts did not change even after playing with and staring at the SA for several weeks. I decided the cons outweighed the pros for me. I wanted the SA to be a travel bag, primarily, and for me, the WF is far more user-friendly. I could not get over the collapsing or scrunching-up of the halcyon SA's mouth/lid (especially with a packed UMP attached) whenever I tried to access the contents. Also, a travel bag tends to be packed full--if I remember where I pack things, the WF allows me to open it up exactly where I need to get one thing out. A fully loaded SA requires partial or complete unpacking to retrieve stuff from the bottom.

                              I also really missed having side handles. I know now that I want my travel bag to be a travel bag first and foremost, and not be more like an oversized everyday backpack.

                              At first I was pleased that the SA side pockets were so large that I could fit a packed ballistic Side Effect in one, and a big water bottle in the other. **BUT** after I packed the SA full as a travel bag, I couldn't easily remove and replace the SE or water bottle from the side pockets. Does that make sense? I could put the bottle in the pocket, then pack the SA full of my travel stuff, and the SA had the capacity for everything. But once I took out the bottle or the SE (to use it), it was not easy to put the bottle or SE back. All the stuff inside the SA (on the other side of the pocket) would shift slightly and resist my trying to create space again in the pocket.

                              If the SA were a somewhat underpacked edc, the side pocket issue would be reduced or eliminated. But, as much as I liked imagining having the pretty SA at my feet during a long public transit commute, that's not my lifestyle and I didn't want to keep an unused bag for a fantasy life. (I guess only Tom Bihn bags would make me briefly fantasize about a long commute??)

                              Anyway, all the discussion on this forum has been a great help to me, so I hope I've been able to contribute. Based on the current inventory, I see that "my" halcyon SA and UMP are in someone else's hands now, and I hope that person enjoys them fully.
                              Last edited by Fluff; 12-01-2016, 10:33 AM.

                              Comment

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