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Questions for Brain Bag Owners

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    Questions for Brain Bag Owners

    I've been the proud owner of a Tom Bihn Super Ego, Freudian Slip and Brain Cell since the Fall of 2009, as well as several pouches and other accessories. (see the signature line at the footer on all my posts) At the time, I needed a high-quality replacement for an aging (and inadequate) briefcase. Money really tightened in the 2008-09 time frame, and has remained tight in my part of the country ever since. I wanted to buy a new, made-in-USA high-quality backpack as well as an Aeronaut but the economy and other considerations delayed those plans indefinitely. Now, with some promising prospects in the New Year on the horizon, I want to revisit my backpack plans.

    Originally, I was looking at the Tom Bihn Smart Alec. I liked the styling, but there's a little too much black on the denier ballistic nylon models. The introduction of the camo Brain Bag and the Camera Insert/Outsert changed everything. In the Fall of 2011, I received a surprise birthday gift: a brand-new Canon Digital Rebel T3 with 18-55 "kit" lens and 75-300 telephoto lens in a Canon 2400 Gadget Bag. Then, this past spring, my MacBook Pro suddenly died on me, forcing me to buy a refurbished late-2012 iMac as an emergency replacement. All of these occurrences muddied the waters and pushed things further down the road. In this thread I discuss aspects of Dan Bihn's Camera I/O YouTube videos and my photography holdings and plans.

    In the past, I carried a point-and-shoot digital camera, a "mobile office kit" (as I would term it), a variety of other personal and items it a cheap backpack. For ages, I've been wanting to find a superior-quality EDC backpack that could serve my diverse needs, be comfortable to wear on hikes in all seasons, and offer superior design, durability and quality. Throwing the Canon and the Camera I/O into the mix makes the Brain Bag the perfect fit.

    Here's what I would like to carry (as standard equipment) in a Brain Bag:
    • Camera I/O, with at least one digital camera
    • Vertical Freudian Slip, to serve as a "mobile office kit"
    • walkie-talkies
    • compact binoculars, in their own pouch
    • Large Clear Organizer Pouch (already own one) with Letter-size clipboard and Letter-size writing tablet
    • my "personal organizer kit", to include things like a checkbook
    • iPod kit in a CaseLogic padded & zippered pouch
    • Olympus LS10 prosumer-grade digital audio recorder
    • DeLorme Earthmate PN-40 GPS receiver

    ...and here are some optional items that I would like to carry on occasion:

    No, I am not talking about carrying all of this stuff at the same time.

    Some activities I have often carried backpacks to in the past:
    • Construction project-sites (when I work there)
    • Meetings on-the-ground with customers, contractors, utilities personnel, or gov't officials
    • Recreational trail work bees (trail maintenance, construction, inspection tours, either on-foot or riding in a vehicle)
    • Recreational hikes (to historic sites, scenic vistas, history lectures, etc.)
    • Meetings in other peoples' offices, residences or vehicles
    • EDC bag for carrying around my gear during public events, such as county fairs, street fairs, historic reenactments, shopping/touring, etc.

    I need a durable, well-designed backpack that will be a constant companion, for work and play. It needs to take a beating, stand up to being tossed around, set in the dirt, hung on a tree limb, carried for hours, and still look great and feel comfortable. I am sick-to-death of cheaply-made backpacks and inferior camera shoulder bags that fall apart, don't work well, lack versatility or don't feel comfortable. I want something that serves my needs without forcing me to either carry additional bags or leave needed items behind.

    Note on the walkie-talkies: the old ones in the Smart Alec forum thread I have linked above have since gone kaput. I will be looking for at least three, possibly four, replacement radios for job-site, hiking and volunteer use. I will need to devise a storage solution so that the talkies can be carried in the backpack and not have to worry about them being sloshed around and accidentally turned-on, resulting in the batteries going dead before they can be used.

    Comments and advice on configuring a solution would be appreciated. Tom Bihn backpack owners, especially Brain Bag owners: please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences. Thanks in advance.
    Owner of: Brain Bag backpack (Black), Field Journal Notebook (Blue), Snake Charmer (Small, Orange), Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.

    Follow-up questions:

    How many Brain Bag owners here have used / do use the Camera I/O?

    How many of you use the Vertical Freudian Slip?

    How many of you use your Brain Bag as a mobile office? In what ways?

    How many of you carry a Brain Bag on an all-day hike, all-day walk through a fair or other event, etc.?
    Owner of: Brain Bag backpack (Black), Field Journal Notebook (Blue), Snake Charmer (Small, Orange), Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.


      Has anyone ever carried their Brain Bag, loaded on an all-day hike? In what season? Ever hike with it in summer? How about a winter hike?
      Owner of: Brain Bag backpack (Black), Field Journal Notebook (Blue), Snake Charmer (Small, Orange), Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.


        I've had a brain bag for years. While I cannot speak to the camera I/O insert, I can speak to general work & recreational use...

        As a bit of background, I spend time between multiple work locations. When I am spending the day with execs or meeting hopping, I use my Empire Builder for the professional look and quick access to my gear when I am running light (computer and basic office stuff). Most days, however, I run my mobile office out of the Brain Bag. I keep the "big square stuff" (laptop, iPad, notebook) in the rear chamber. I keep all my power accessories in a snake charmer in the front chamber, along with organizer pouches with occasional access stuff hanging from a TB key strap at the top of the bag. All of my other loose stuff (such as lunch, jacket, gloves & hat in cold weather) goes in the front chamber, while quick access stuff (iPhone, pens, keys on a key strap, water bottle, etc.) goes in the outside pockets.

        In this setup, the BB is perfect for rolling around in your mobile office. While nothing beats a briefcase/messenger for quick access to your stuff (see comments about EB above), I find the combination of two chambers plus the outside pockets on the BB is just about the right combination to organize my things. And it is much, much more comfortable for heavy loads.

        For recreation, the BB is always my overnight bag for weekend trips and/or camping. I have also traveled heavily with the beastie as a carry on and day bag. I find the two-chamber design and cinch straps to be a huge assets in these situations, because I can quickly and easily tweak the config depending on what I collect along the way. I have overstuffed the sucker shopping in the French Quarter in New Orleans, various markets in Mexico, duty free stores (whisky!), and loaded it with camping tools and gear many times. While my back is often very sorry later, the bag has taken years of such beatings without a pull in a seam.

        One comment I would make on all of this is that configuration is important to comfort, especially in a free form bag like the TB (as opposed to a frame style bag or a bag with a dedicated laptop area). The way to pack the load and distribute the weight makes a big difference. I prefer this design, however, because I tend to change my payload quite a bit and I hate having a bag with an empty laptop sleeve taking up space/weight when you don't need it. Also, it is big... Not exactly a slick, unobtrusive piece of kit for light day trips. I'm shopping for a day bag just for this purpose, but I cannot decide between the Synapse and the Smart Alec for this purpose.

        I love the Freudian slip. I don't currently use one because I try to go paperless as much as possible, but it's a great add for loose papers and extra doodads as an alternative to a bunch of organizer pouches.

        I hope this helps!
        Bob P.
        Magic Tiki Studios

        Empire Builder (black/steel), Brain Bag (steel), Small Padded Organizer Pouch, Clear Wallet, Soft Cell, Snake Charmer (cayenne) and assorted trimmings.


          Thanks for sharing MagicTiki.
          Owner of: Brain Bag backpack (Black), Field Journal Notebook (Blue), Snake Charmer (Small, Orange), Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.


            Decades ago, I had an L.L. Bean backpack (I think it was the Deluxe Bookbag) that carried tons of books and was always used for travel. A few years ago, I tried replacing it by getting another L.L. Bean backpack. I was dismayed when I received some cheap piece of nylon with zippers that kept catching. It was awful.

            I was later introduced to Tom Bihn's bags. I wanted to "grow up" so I got some messenger bags. They're great. I use them. But I missed the ability to jam EVERYTHING into a bag, swing it onto both shoulders, and take off. So I finally took the plunge and bought a Brain Bag.

            Sure, the Ego and the Super Ego look more professional. But, at heart, I'm still a backpack kid.

            After the latest round of surgery/injuries, lugging my work computer in a messenger bag is literally a pain. So I'm using the Brain Bag practically every day. I stuff a Large Café Bag into the front section so I can lug a lot less stuff with me at lunch time.

            I love my Brain Bag. It's versatile. It can carry a ton. The material is strong. The backpack straps don't wear out. THE ZIPPERS DO NOT CATCH ON THE MATERIAL. That's huge for me.

            In the future, I'd like a smaller, lighter backpack for smaller stuff. I guess I'd use it as a daypack when I'm traveling. Again, I'm a backpack-lugging kid. I'm not a briefcase-lugging adult. No matter what that freaking calendar might say!


              Yes, I remember a time, back in the 1990s I believe, when L.L. Bean boasted a large assortment of USA-made, high quality products. Something about their business philosophy changed since then and I became very disappointed in them. I suspect that most, if not all of their wares are now cheaply foreign-made. And I do mean cheaply. If you check out my links upthread, you'll see I'm disgusted with retail chains and other mail-order outfits pushing low-quality, cheaply-made goods with deceptively lowball prices to disguise their severely limited lifespans.

              That's one of many reasons I want to get a Brain Bag with a Camera I/O and a Vertical Freudian Slip.

              Thanks for sharing, pw1224.
              Owner of: Brain Bag backpack (Black), Field Journal Notebook (Blue), Snake Charmer (Small, Orange), Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.


                Yeah, there's no doubt that quality has taken a slide. It seems that the trend is cheap trendy doodads over quality workmanship.

                I've had the same experience with Timbuk2. I've had one of their small messengers for years, and it's indestructible. I purchased 2 different smaller backpacks over the past couple of years, however, that showed signs of wear and tear within months. Disspapointingly cheap materials and components. My BB has been seriously abused over a 3-4 year period and still looks and holds up as well as the day I bought it. I'll look to a synapse or a smart Alec for a smaller bag, and clear the rest of the junk out at the next yard sale.

                I agree 100% with pw1224 on the weight thing. You just can't beat a good backpack for your back & shoulders, especially if you tend to be a pack mule (like me).
                Bob P.
                Magic Tiki Studios

                Empire Builder (black/steel), Brain Bag (steel), Small Padded Organizer Pouch, Clear Wallet, Soft Cell, Snake Charmer (cayenne) and assorted trimmings.


                  Hi MtnMan,
                  I've had my brain bag for a couple years now, and love it. I got the camera I/O soon after it came out, and love it too.
                  I just returned from a trip to Tasmania (from Melbourne where I live), and my wife and I used the brain bag as our overnight bag on the ferry, while the rest of our stuff was down below in the car. The brain bag fit the full camera I/O (canon 60d, flash, several lenses) in the back chamber, and in the front chamber: our toiletries in a full to bursting Clear Quarter Packing Cube, and our clothes in a packing cube (not sure which one). I piled some religious items (I'm a rabbi) on top of the camera I/O and there were some other things in the front chamber, perhaps a rain jacket in a stuff sack. The front pockets held a travel tray, a 3D Clear Organizer Cube with our charger cables, and maybe a few other things.
                  I sometimes took the camera I/O out of the BB and carried it on its own, and sometimes left it in the BB. Sometimes I put some diapers in one side of the I/O (we have a seven month old). Sometimes I freed up one side and slipped in a water bottle.
                  Also, during the week I use it (BB) as my EDC for work, and it always has my 15" MacBook Pro (2011) in a vertical brain cell. Sometimes I have the Freudian slip in it too.
                  And... When I go to the gym I often bring my gym stuff in a red (solar?) packing cube backpack, which I place in the BB front chamber.
                  That help?
                  Ps it's also carried huge amounts of groceries. And I've carried it through airports with well over 10kg and they haven't asked me to weigh it as a carryon (strict in AU), cause "it's just a backpack."

                  Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk 2


                    My Brain Bag is my go to bag if I need to comfortably carry a lot of stuff. As my EDC, I use it as follows:

                    Main Pocket
                    -Vertical Brain Cell: Size 1 or 2S (one is for my laptop with the extended battery)
                    -Absolute Shoulder Strap
                    -Vertical Freudian Slip that holds the following:
                    -Compact Point and Shoot Camera (top left pocket)
                    -Pouch with Business Cards, Gum, Pen (top middle pocket)
                    -Pouch for electronics cables, gorilla tripod, etc (bottom mesh pocket)
                    -3 cup glasslock lunch container (other bottom mesh pockets)
                    -3-4 file folders

                    Front Top Pocket
                    -Large Smartphone
                    -Pouch with iPod and headphones (top right end pocket)

                    Front Right Side pocket
                    -Small First Aid Kit
                    -Basic tools – pocket knife, flashlight, wrench tool, firestarter, etc

                    Front Left Side pocket
                    -Compact Umbrella
                    -Pouch (key electronic): Power supply, network cable, solar battery charger

                    Front Middle section
                    -Water bottle or Mug – up to 24oz is an easy fit

                    With all of the above in it, I have a whole main section completely empty and there still more room in the other pockets to add items. This allows me the flexibility to carry extra books, papers, cloths, shoes or a Camera I-O (which I got recently but have not tried). Note that can actually stack 2 layers of 8.5 x 11 books sideways in the main section. The compression straps really help to keep the bag as slim as possible. I can also stick long thin items in between the compression straps (e.g. sticks, poles). From what you wrote as your carry list, I am sure the Brain Bag will accommodate it easily.

                    Now, for me, the key to using the Brain Bag is to pack and distribute things vertically – use the o-rings to hang things from the top, Freudian Slip that has pockets at the top and bottom to hold things. This way everything does not end up in piled up at the bottom of the bag. If packing clothes, I use 2 medium sized packing cubes in each main section (I am also planning on using the Camera I-O as a protective packing cube if I am not carrying a big camera). The Brain Bag has, for me, just the right amount of built in organization and gives me the flexibility to compartmentalize things as I like it (as opposed to a Synapse which has excellent built in organization but inflexible if you have odd sized items that do not fit easily into the pockets – as in you could fit it in but not have space or awkward space for anything else or it would poke into another section).

                    I use this bag as my main flight carry on for 3-4 day trips. I actually pull out the Brain Cell and use it as my personal item (Brain Cell with laptop in it does go through TSA Checkpoints without issue – but don’t put anything in the mesh pockets). I am always allowed to bring the Brain Bag with me on those smaller commuter plans while my wife’s international sized Tumi roller (even smaller than domestic size) has to be gate checked.

                    I have not had and do not foresee any problem carrying a heavy load as the Brain Bag is highly adjustable with both Sternum and Waist Straps to help support / balance the load. However, I do know that 50 lb is still 50 lbs no matter how good or how well you pack a bag - it is just heavy on your back.

                    I once went back to a regular Swiss Army backpack and could not fit anywhere near what I can in the Brain Bag. You forget that this bag is the next largest item by volume that Tom Bihn has (Aeronaut first with 2700 cu in and 2200 cu in for the Brain Bag which in turn is bigger than the Tri-Star). The 2 compartments are perfect.

                    I find that it is flexible enough to use in a professional office environment on a regular basis. I just pull out the Vertical Brain Cell with the Absolute Shoulder strap for those times I need be very professional in business meetings (I put my key electronics in the mesh pockets and turn the Brain Cell around so people cannot see the electronics).

                    I like the Cordura material very much as it give it a canvas-like look and feel that is natural and not “slick” and “urban”. I have 2 cats and have not had any issues with cat hair – but I also do not put my bag where they can rub and rub it.

                    These days, I use my Brain Bag for more outdoor events – picnics, fireworks, day trips and team building. It carries a lot of bulky items and I will be using it more and more as a camera bag with extra room for blankets and thermos.

                    I hope this answers some of your questions and helps your thought process. I always feel reassured when preparing for a trip knowing that the Brain Bag has handled everything I have thrown at it. I am looking forward to using my Camera I-O with it.

                    Last edited by tpnl; 11-16-2013, 10:48 PM.
                    TB Ballistic Black/Iberian Dyneema backpacks and briefcases for every occasion together with my cherished Nordic and Solar Dyneema!


                      Thanks folks, for posting your very nicely detailed stories and packing lists for your Brain Bags. These are helpful and interesting to read.

                      For those of you who posted your packing lists, I would invite you to re-post those lists in the Brain Bag thread in the "Packing Lists" section of the Tom Bihn forums.

                      Thanks again, and hope to see more stories!
                      Owner of: Brain Bag backpack (Black), Field Journal Notebook (Blue), Snake Charmer (Small, Orange), Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.


                        I know this thread is somewhat old, but I figured I'd ask here first before post a new thread.

                        Does the Brain Bag stand up on its own?

                        I currently own an S25 and I love it, but it doesn't stand up on it's own. The S25 is more of a daypack so I understand it's a much more "pliable" construction.

                        Thank you in advance!
                        Husband | Father | Creative | Photog | Subaru Pilot | Horologist | Foodie | Carryologist


                          Yes, the Brain Bag does an admirable job of standing up as long as you don't have something top heavy leaning to one side. It has a flat base, unlike the Synapse. My son has one that he uses for travel. It's quite a capacious bag and is a little to big for me to manage because I have some weird compulsion to fill every single space in the bags I carry.

                          My son absolutely loves his. It's a great bag!


                            Yes, the BB stands up beautifully.

                            I recently found out how to get the S19 to stand up, make sure you fill the bottom with something almost as wide, like a Large Shop Bags or books that are more square than tall, like coloring books.

                            I have a feeling it also apply to the S25.