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Brain Bag or Synapse

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    Brain Bag or Synapse

    Hi folks -

    I am a novice at forum posts (of any kind) so if this is an old question feel free to point me toward the appropriate thread. I did not find anything in my attempt at a search.

    I recently joined the Tom Bihn fan club with the acquisition of a Tristar (black/Iberian) with small/med/large packing cubes as well as the packing cube / backpack (genius design) all of which I admire. Like many of you have stated 'you can't just have one Tom Bihn bag' so I am now in the market for a true backpack for daily use and as a personal item when flying. I am torn between the Synapse and Brain Bag. I have read fine reviews of both bags, but I was wondering if there is anyone out there that has both bags, and would share how/when they use them?

    Some points I should confess too. I will fill any bag to capacity (which is ultimately why I went with the Tristar vs Aeronaut). I generally travel with one notebook computer, slim external hard drive, 2 cell phones and a 5x7 Arc notebook from Staples (also filled to capacity); sometimes I add a netbook to the load. Toss in the power cables, earbuds, small flashlight, pens/pencils/marker, a light lunch and a water bottle usually. I am not concerned about appearances of the bag as I don't get invited into boardrooms.

    I look forward to hearing your opinions!

    Welcome lonestar6!

    You have probably already noticed that the Brain Bag has a bigger capacity (36 liters) than your TriStar (33 liters). So if you don't want to be carrying around a bag that is potentially holding more stuff than you'd put in your TriStar, go with the Synapse (19 liters). But since it might not be big enough, have you considered the Smart Alec (26 liters) at all? Personally I don't like the looks of the Smart Alec so I've never considered it, but many folks love it.
    WhiteStar in Colorado
    LCB (Azalea/Sapphire, Turq/Wasabi), MCB (Plum/Cayenne), Swift (Cork), Co-Pilot (Iberian), Synapse (UV), Citizen Canine (Kiwi/UV), Shop Bag (UV), key straps and pouches galore!


      I had considered the size differences of the Brain Bag and Synapse (but Cu In are often misleading), but not the Smart Alec. Maybe I need to change the thread title :-)

      Prepare for a ramble....

      I went through the same anguish over selecting the TriStar, fortunately I am not in as big a hurry selecting a backpack. My present backpack is still mostly operational, whereas the roller bag I had was destroyed when I was forced to check it in January and I was determined I was going to put the wheels behind me.

      I had looked longingly at the Red Oxx Air Boss for several years, but I really needed a backpack solution. Red Oxx makes great stuff and as a combat veteran, I was drawn to them (former paratroopers) and their products, but I wanted a 3 compartment backpack solution and neither their Air Boss or SkyTrain met my criteria. I was truely sad and then I *really* stumbled across Tom Bihn and my spirits lifted. Both Red Oxx and Tom Bihn make a sincere effort to 'act locally' which is something I admire regardless of where on the globe a company originates. I sent the TB links to another buddy from the 82d, and we agreed That the TriStar was not only awesome but downright (and I don't mean to offend anyone) sexy. Black and red backpacky type bag really, yup, really and it packs amazingly well to boot. Oh yea, and thanks to Katy and her amazing sense of service, (during a *really bad* snow storm that shut down the TB offices but not their customer service) to help me with, "will the TriStar accomodate combat boots", she said yes and it truely does! So now I am a new fan.

      As a new fan, I am looking for a backpack, initial criteria apply, Brain Bag, Synapse, Smart Alec, anything else(?) looking forward to your opinions.


        I own both a Synapse and 3 Brain Bag' and they are really not too alike other than that they both have straps to carry on your back and are born in the same place.
        I carry the Synapse a lot but I obviously also have a "Thing" for the Brain Bag. Actually a "Repeat Thing".

        I guess the first detail you need to consider is that 1 computer.....what computer is it?
        The BB can easily handle anything I have tried and I normally carry a Panasonic Toughbook CF-30 as my Windows machine on the road. It can also easily swallow my 17" Macbook Pro with it and a printer and tons of other stuff.

        In contrast I carry a 13" Macbook Pro in the Synapse but I can also carry an 11" Macbook Air AND a iPad with it all together.

        The initial size of you largest thing will drive the choice from the start.


          Thanks AVService, The primary computer is a 15 inch Lenovo.


            I have no personal experience with a 15" machine in the Synapse. I thought I had read that someone had a 15" Thinkpad in a Synapse but it turned out to be a 13" instead?
            So I just emptied my Synapse and tried my Toughbook CF30 in it which I don't think I had ever done??? Now the CF30 is a 13" screen but to try to compare it with anything else would not be realistic as it is armored literally. It went right in. The CF30 is not a widescreen machine though either so it is somewhat inconclusive.
            I do have another machine that I think is a 15" and I think I have a dead 15" Macbook I can try if I can find them.

            Anyway as a daily carry I know people do with a BB but it just seems way too huge to me and the bigger it is the more likely I would be to load it to excess all the time. I use all 3 BB to store and transport more than everyday carry.

            What I like about the Synapse the most is that for its size it seems to have the most organization of all the Bihn bags. I like having a separate place for things to keep it easier to both find them and not forget to bring them.

            I posted a few times about the amazing amount of gear that the Synapse will hold and I will try to locate those pics so you can get an idea.

            I have never seen much less owned another bag that was so deceptively compact yet could hold so much.....and I have owned some bags!



              Here you go

              and for another perspective I see you have already seen my recent post about the Synapse with Photo Gear.

              Also for the record I have flown the last several trips with the Tri-Star and Synapse too although I also have added a Super Ego to the mix just to really torture myself.

              Hope these help.


                I did not think the Synapse had that kind of capacity. Your camera post was interesting, but your post from last August is more the kind of stuff I haul. Also, thanks for doing some test packing. One of the things I like about the Synapse is the brighter linings that are available, but I did not think I could get a laptop and netbook etc in it. Thanks again!


                  I would suggest that you not rule out the Smart Alec. This time last year, I purchased 3 Synapse', an indigo for myself , an olive for my then 11year old son, and a navy for my then 8 year old son. The boys loved them and they have held up to their abuse and overpacking amazingly well. The problem was that my oldest son has to carry so many books and folders for school that he could barely zip the Synapse closed. So, last month I somewhat begrudgingly ordered him a Smart Alec, wishing all along that I could order a super-sized Synapse. Well, the Smart Alec came and he LOVES it. It easily holds all his stuff and it looks SHARP. I had never seen one in person and wasn't crazy about how they looked online, but felt it would work well size-wise. Bottom line for us, it reallly is a good looking, well-functioning backpack that I expect will serve him well in many capacities for years to come.
                  Happy owner of Steel Tristar, Steel Side Effect, Plum Medium Cafe Bag (my first TB), Indigo Synapse, Cardinal/Hemp/Steel Imago, various pouches and organizer cubes, Cache.


                    I've been using the Smart Alec for classes, because I have too many books to carry to be able to use the Synapse (which is my preference). I have a Brain Bag, which I mainly use for travel, but it's too big for my small frame to work more than occasionally.


                      I too would suggest the Smart Alec. I have not owned a BrainBag or Synapse, but since I have the advantage of living in Seattle, I've tried both on in the store. The BrainBag is very big. Especially it can be very thick when full. The Synapse is very small on me. I think I will go and try one again, just because of all the love that people have for them, but when I tried it, it was small. It looked small on me and the straps were just barely long enough. Not that they would not have gone over my shoulders, but the padded part just barely comes down far enough. I'm 6'1", with a long body and fairly broad shoulders, so I'm not small, but I'm not the size of football player either. I wear a 46 Long jacket if that helps you to figure out how it might fit on you.

                      My Smart Alec though, is just right. I carry a 15" Dell wide screen in a size 1 BrainCell, plus pretty much my whole office (I telecommute 100% of the time). I have a Vertical Freudian Slip, power cords, external drive, pens, paper, ibuprofen, 20oz Klean Kanteen thermos, umbrella, etc. There is still enough room to stuff in a sweater and a light jacket if need be. Very occasionally I could use a little more room, but I would always fill it if I had it. I do recommend the bright lining. I have the Black/Steel/Solar and it is great. My Aeronaut is Steel/Steel, which I bought because they were out of solar and I needed it for a trip, and it is much harder to see things in it. I think the Iberian would be good as well.

                      The only possible criticisms I have of the Smart Alec are that the size 1 brain Cell is very big, I think it is the biggest size, and pretty thick and it makes the top opening a little small. It is still very usable and you can still look inside, but it is a little tight. Also I wouldn't mind if the back was just a little more padded, especially at the bottom edge. Because the bottom edge of the brain cell is hard and right at the bottom edge of the bag it can press in to my back a little bit. But adjusting the straps helps and I think if the brain cell you're using was a little smaller it would not be a problem (the size 1 is the full length of the back, top-to-bottom). BTW this is really not a big problem, I'm just trying to give you the benefit of my nit-picking, since you can't try them on yourself. :-) My bag weighs well over 20 pounds and I can carry it comfortably for pretty much any length of time.

                      BTW they really are made as well as everyone says. I've looked at a lot of the bags at the store, as well as my own and I've never seen a single flaw in any of the bags or pouches. Not even a tiny one. I'm sure it must happen some time, but I think it must be pretty rare.


                        THANK YOU everyone for your information and experiences. I visited with Katy regarding my computer and she graciously advised against the Synapse for a computer the size I am carrying (maybe next time). I then began evaluating the Smart Alec and *really* appreciate everyone sharing their experiences. After buying the TriStar and now looking into backpacks I am getting the feeling that Tom's favorite children's story must have been Goldilocks and the 3 bears :-) The Synapse is too small, the Brain Bag is too big, but the Smart Alec is just right. WF too small, AN too big but the TriStar...

                        I am glad to see I am not the only person that thinks the Synapse looks nicer online, and am heartened to learn the Smart Alec is better in-person.

                        I also agree that a bright/high contrast interior makes for easy identification of your stuff (another negative for the brain bag). My only regret to date is getting a pouch the same color as the interior of my TriStar as I keep 'losing it' in the bag.

                        I did dump my TriStar and take photos on my last trip which I will post if the photos came out well. Not to bore anyone but I also did a pack review of the WF/TS PC/BP which y'all might have noticed, I am totally smitten by.

                        Thanks again. It sure is nice to have a place to discuss and admire such great products.