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Challenge: Help Me Find My Perfect Minimalist RTW Bag

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    Challenge: Help Me Find My Perfect Minimalist RTW Bag

    I am in need of some serious bag advice. I would love any suggestions anyone can offer. Here’s a bit of background:

    I’m a 26 year-old woman who is 5’11” and 135. So, picture tall, skinny, and athletic. But I do tend to have some lower back issues.

    I am working extremely hard to be a minimalist and I play with my packing list constantly.

    I am beginning a RTW adventure with my boyfriend on April 15th. We are both experienced travelers, but this time we have no time frame and no itinerary. The (very loose, yet to-be-determined) plan is to begin with 3 months in Malaysia. We want to cover SE Asia, head down to New Zealand, spend some time in India and Nepal, then make our way to Eastern Europe…and that about covers the next couple years, so I don’t know how far beyond that I can even think. No doubt, we will still be traveling.

    In our time, we are planning to do lots of work exchanges, i.e. planting trees in the jungle, building natural houses, learning boat maintenance, etc. In other words, I’ll be getting really dirty and sweaty! In addition, we might end up with real teaching jobs in Vietnam or Turkey, which would require some level of presentable dress. We plan to SCUBA dive and have lots of beach time. We want to go trekking in New Zealand and go to base camp in Nepal. Etc, etc.

    As you can see, this incorporates a wide variety of activities and environments. It would be easy to just grab a 70L bag and fill it with everything I might need, but that goes against my mindset of minimalism. I’ve traveled enough to have a good idea about what I require in a flexible wardrobe. What I don’t know is what bag to keep it in.

    On my last backpacking trip, I one-bagged it for 2 months with an MEI Voyageur with an Eagle Creek Packing Folder. This is a really nice bag that was just ill suited to my needs.

    I’ve been researching bag options for months and dreaming of my next trip to REI when I get back to the States (I’m teaching in Korea now). But then came that fateful day when I saw a review of the Tom Bihn Synapse, and I became slightly obsessed. I knew I had to ask you good people for advice.

    Here’s my packing list for reference, and please keep in mind that my clothes are really pretty tiny when rolled up. I also have a travel policy that I need high-quality amazing-fitting staples of shoes and bottoms (pants, shorts, skirts), but I can pretty much wear my tank tops, shirts, and dresses out and replace as necessary. (Makes for better trip photos to have a rotation going anyway.)
    Clothes including travel outfits:
    1 dress – dressed up or casual
    1 maxi skirt - can also be worn as strapless dress
    2 leggings – first: thicker black/gray reversible that can be yoga pants, layer for warmth, or regular day-to-day pants; second: thinner black cropped pair for modesty under skirts, or sleeping
    1 skort
    1 capri – workout pant that can be easily dressed up and worn day-to-day
    1 running shorts – working outdoors, working out, sleeping, etc.
    1 long-sleeve tee – basic black
    1 long blouse – breezy ¾ sleeve, can be used as cover up or top
    1 sweater – black shrug, goes over everything
    1 lightweight sweatshirt – [Yet to be purchased, waiting for a trip to Lulu Lemon.]
    1 tee shirt
    6 tank tops – small items, good for layering, working out, sleeping, working outside, etc.
    1 regular bra – multi-strap adjustable
    2 sports bras
    2 bandeaus
    2 socks
    8 or 10 underwear
    2 bikinis
    1 rain jacket
    1 sarong
    1 scarf
    1 thin leather belt
    3 Shoes - black Reef flip-flops, Mizuno trail runners, TOMS classics

    13” Macbook Pro + cord + Incase neoprene cover
    iPod Nano + headphones + cord
    Apple international adapters
    Nikon point and shoot + cord
    Kindle Touch + cord

    Sea to Summit pack towel
    Coolmax sleep sack
    Nalgene water bottle + [Considering SteriPen]
    Molskine notebook + pens
    Important Documents + copies
    [Considering bringing some small utensils and food storage because I’m a vegetarian and some places are tougher than others.]

    1st aid kit
    Diva Cup
    nail clippers
    toothbrush + paste + retainers
    eye drops
    Lush shampoo bar
    coconut oil (as moisturizer, eye makeup remover, conditioner)
    Burt’s Bees lipgloss
    blush gel stick
    waterproof eyeliner
    bobby pins
    wet wipes
    antibacterial gel

    So what are your thoughts? As much as I’d love to have one carry-on bag, I don’t know if it is possible. I like both the Smart Alec and the Synapse; what do you think about the combo used together? If you have experience with other brands, perhaps I should look into a conventional Osprey or Deuter pack in conjunction with a smaller TB bag for a daypack? Maybe I’m being overly optimistic about my space requirements, but I think I’ve got it down to the minimum for as many places as we’re going, as many activities as we’re going to do, and as long as we are going to be traveling.

    However, I have one additional concern that I haven’t seen TB bags address: safety. I know the bags are made of the highest quality material, but are they slashproof? I’m leery of trusting my MacBook and other essentials to a Synapse whenever the zippers aren’t even lockable. I don’t want them to be quiet! Maybe I’ll put bells on there, haha. Have the lack of safety features been a problem for anyone?

    Sorry this is so long, but if I’ve forgotten to include anything that would be helpful, please don’t hesitate to ask any questions. I welcome any input! Thanks, guys!

    Bc of the MacBook Pro, I think the Tri-Star will work best for you. Or a Brain Bag. I don't know that you can fit all of those clothing items, 2 pairs of shoes, AND the laptop into the Smart Alec.

    That said, the TB bags aren't slashproof. These bags have no wires inside the straps. You can get a lock and lock up the zipper pulls, though?


      For the amount of stuff, you'll need to go for the Brain Bag I'm sure. Though I must say, particularly if you have a bad back, that's quite a lot of stuff to lug all the way round the world.

      My other comment would be about the MacBook Pro. I use one myself and, great though it is, the minute you put it in a bag as if by magic it trebles in weight! You might be well advised to swap for a MacBook Air. The weight isn't the only issue of course - a Solid State Drive is much less vulnerable to impact damage than a conventional hard drive. At only 135 pounds yourself, you ought to be aiming for a bag of around 10% of that, but at the best part of 5 pounds for your computer alone, you have less than 10 pounds for everything else. Just a thought.


        Have you thought about the Aeronaut as your main bag? It's very versatile and should hold everything you've listed.

        For security of your laptop, look at the Pacsafe 12L Travelsafe. (Make sure the dimensions will work with the MacBook Pro.) When traveling, you put your computer inside and then put the Travelsafe inside the main compartment of the Aeronaut and lock it to one of the "o" rings inside. Even if your bag is slashed, they won't be able to grab the computer because it is locked to one of the "o" rings.

        Travelsafe 12L Portable Safe

        It should also work with the Brain Bag.
        Editor--One Bag, One World: News, Reviews & Community for Light Travelers.

        Aeronaut(2), Tri-Star(2) Cadet , Large Cafe Bag, Travel Tray, Travel Money Belt, Absolute Straps(3), Side Effect, Clear Quarter Packing Cubes (2), 3D Organizer Cubes (4), Aeronaut & Tri-Star Packing Cubes, Clear Organizer Wallet, numerous Organizer Pouches,, Guardian Dual Function Light, Vertical Netbook Cache, Nexus 7 Cache, RFID Passport Pouch, numerous Key Straps.


          I have to agree with posts above. I have both the Tri-star and the Smart Alec and while you can get more than you might think in them at first glance, they won't hold everything you have listed. A combination of the Tri-Star and Synapse will though.
          Black/Island Synapse 19, Black/Steel, 13" Ristretto, Indigo BB, Island LSB, Black SSB, Sitka SSB, Seapine P.I.K.A, Sitka STT, Sitka SSC


            I've also been researching packs for travelling around the world. If you'd like to see how other people are utilizing Tom Bihn products for around the world travel, you can check out this thread which has a collection of my research so far/
            "It's dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."


              I recommend you buy a Brain Bag now and do some test packing and walking/hiking with it to determine what your other bag should be. You mentioned trekking in New Zealand and base camp in Nepal so you'll need a backpack no matter what else you have.


                Thanks so much for the suggestions!

                julawils, I was trying to figure out if the zipper pulls could be lockable, but from the pictures, it looks to me like the only thing available might be the cord pulls, which could be cut rather easily if so determined.

                Fat Crip, You make an excellent point about the laptop. Believe me, if price were no consideration, I would have an 11" Air already. Before I decided to start a website, I was planning to sell my MacBook Pro and just have an iPad Mini. My boyfriend already went ahead with that plan, and I wish I could do the same, but I'll need a real computer for work. Perhaps I'll just suck it up and upgrade the the Air anyway once I'm back in the States. I would love a solid state drive.

                Frank ll, I've looked into some PacSafe bags before, but I'd never considered bringing along my own safe. This looks very doable and inconspicuous. Definitely an accessory to consider!

                bvp663, Great post! That's definitely helpful to see. Hopefully when I get all this figured out, you can add me to the list. haha

                JohnDel, I agree 100%. I haven't really considered the Tri-Star or Aeronaut to be honest. I feel like I had my try with convertible bags with the MEI Voyageur and it just wasn't what I need. I am a backpacker, so I'm not so much concerned with looking like a backpacker or a tourist or whatnot. I'll own that.

                I'll take a second look at the Brain Bag, but my concern is about the bulk of it. Any ladies out there carry this bag long-term with no problems? It just doesn't look as streamlined to me.

                In the next couple days, I'll also try to do a practice pack in my Eagle Creek Specter Cubes and take some pictures to show how compact my clothes are.

                Although, after doing some more research on these forums, I found the possibility of a bigger Synapse. My trip begins April 15th...I wonder if I can possibly wait long enough for it to be out??

                Thanks again, all!


                  Ok, I couldn't wait to get a visual, so here's my packing list: (Please ignore the obnoxious standard-issue Korean bedding in the background!)

                  First, my travel outfit. I usually get pretty cold in planes, etc, so I picked some bulkier layering items: black tank top, teal t-shirt, reversible leggings with skort over, scarf, rain jacket, and trail runners.

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                  Here is the rest of my clothes list all laid out.

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                  Here's everything from the previous photo packed up into the Specter Cube and Half Cube along with a little wet bag the bikinis are in (can be compressed more than it looks, and my rubber-banded shoes. Sunglasses for size reference.

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                  Here's the packed clothes from the previous photo, plus the miscellaneous items, (left to right on the bottom row): Coolmax sleep sack, Nalgene, headlamp, Molskine, pack towel, sunglasses, majority of toiletries are in the black striped bag. Things that I'd want easily accessible, like wet wipes, aren't included because they'd be elsewhere.

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                  I'm assuming everyone knows how much space the technology takes up, so I didn't put it together. That might change anyway if I upgrade to something smaller. (Now you've got me thinking again!)


                    I think you would need the capacity of the brain bag for your packing list. No one has mentioned that the brain cell clips into the bag and sits against your back so would not be subject to a slash and grab. Alternately if you get an 11 " macbook air you could get one of pacsafe's day bags and wear it cross body. I took one to spain last year and it was great. Well organized, reasonably light for the level of protection and fit my ipad perfectly.


                      jannilee, Did you find that the BB feels bulky at all when you wear it? I love the separated organization of the BB, and the brain cell does sound like it offers a good amount of protection. I'm just concerned about the pack fitting my frame.

                      I have a couple of Pacsafe shoulder bags that I've carried before. One is too tiny to really be functional, and the other could probably hold an iPad or 11" MB Air, but even without one, it tended to give my shoulders and back some pain from wearing it everywhere at all times for a couple months in SE Asia.

                      On another note, I'm ashamed at how often I fantasize about the bigger Synapse. I'm pretty much praying that it will be out before my trip begins. Although...I was already planning a roadtrip from LA to Portland with my boyfriend in early April...I think I have him convinced to drive the extra few hours to Seattle to hit up the TB Store! .....and there goes my budget!


                        I suspect that what you've shown in the photo would fit in a Tristar, without the technology. I find the pockets that organize a Tristar are great. If you downsized your computer, it might all fit. If you want space for souvenirs or a jacket, the Aeronaut might be a good choice.

                        Sounds like it would be worth the trip to try some things out for yourself. ;-)


                          I actually don't have a Brain Bag. I am only about 5'4" and in my 60's. The length of the BB is about the same as my WF. I hardly even notice I have that on. I don't think you would find it too bulky as you are much taller than I am. I travel everywhere with either my wf or synapse. I never travel with more than 17lb and prefer to be in the 13 to 15 lb range for 3 weeks or so. I strongly advise going to the Tom Bihn store. The staff are lovely (waves at Katy) and you get to try out the different bags, all of which are much "bigger on the inside" (TARDIS).


                            Thanks for the responses TavaPeak and jannilee.

                            I think I'll now be banking on the trip to the TB Store to find my bag. Can't wait to try everything on! I'll keep an open mind about the convertible bags. After giving them a second look, I'm sure I would be more satisfied with one of them rather than the MEI bag, just for the organization and separation which would make a huge difference.

                            The funny part will be first flying from IL to CA without a satisfactory bag at all! Haha..


                              Perhaps you could bring,as much as possible,what you plan to have for your trip...Then transfer to the TB bags as a sort of IRL practice pack? Maybe someone on-site could offer a suitable laptop for comparision in that area.