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  1. #1
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    Question Smart Alec Vs Brain Bag (Vs Synapse 25) with special attention to groceries

    Hello Friendly Folks,

    I've been cycling in my mind between the Smart Alec and the Brain Bag after spending most of the past 15 years with various messenger style bags.

    Both bags seem like they would do fine with my EDC (along the lines of a 3D Organizer Cube, sunglasses, coffee mug or water bottle) and work/tech needs (15" rMBP, iPad Air 2, plus cords, etc.) as well as a shell or whatever is needed according to seasonal or preparedness for not-so-seasonal weather.

    I walk about 4-6 miles everyday for exercise, relaxation, and also do my grocery shopping and light errands when needed. The tech stays home on these walks, so my bag (currently a 20L Dakine model I had floating around) is blissfully pretty empty most of the time. I've come to really enjoy the way the Dakine backpack -- which doesn't have a padded bottom -- collapses on itself when mostly empty. But it's a bit too small and I swear it's not only that I purchase too much food but also that it can't handle my 15" MBP and it is designed so that even a small shell takes over much of the room of the bag and the side water bottle pockets which were never tall enough ripped open years ago, but it has been good to prove to myself that I've been crazy for years walking home ~ 1 mile from the store with reusable grocery style bags instead of a backpack.

    The Smart Alec seems great for me because it will handle any shape of groceries and the Dyneema lining looks like it would facilitate easy clean-up when needed, but I wonder how it performs when there is nothing much in it? Because for most of my walks, even when I head to the store it is after walking a few miles with bag mostly empty?

    The Brain Bag seems great for me because it will collapse down or be cinched down via the side straps, but maybe it is less than stellar at handling things like yogurt containers, heads of cauliflower, etc.? I know this is awfully specific, so I measured, those tall yogurt containers are about 4.5 inches in diameter and I often buy cauliflower and maybe also cabbage which is larger than that. I also worry that the Brain Bag presents too many things to fiddle with(4 straps and two zippers compared to the single zipper and easy top-loading of the Smart Alec.

    Anyways, so since I could not decide between these two, I thought why not throw the Synapse 25 into the mix -- it will still be able to handle all of my gear, sort of collapses when less than full, has the preferred lining, etc -- but I have not been able to tell from any of the tech/travel/hiking oriented videos and packing lists how this bag might do at the grocery store?

    So to sum upů

    1. How is the Smart Alec when mostly empty?

    2. Does anyone have experience with groceries or oddly shaped hard objects and the Brain Bag or Synapse 25?

    Thanks for any and all tips, suggestions, rebukes, and interpretive dances.



    P.S. These forums are incredible and if for some reason I hadn't already wanted 9 different Tom Bihn bags before, wandering around the archives has made want them all.

  2. #2
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    Dear MKEy,

    I have carried all three of these backpacks, and each has a well thought out design.

    The Synapse 25 looks wonderful full or empty. The Brain Bag, as you pointed out, collapses nicely with the cinch straps on the sides. And the Synapse has a wonderfully sleek design.

    The Smart Alec has webbing loops along the front for either the included bungee, allowing you to compress a somewhat empty Smart Alec, as well as to manage whatever you may attach externally. These webbing loops also allow you to attach webbing straps that offer a different way of securing items external to the Smart Alec. The Smart Alec also looks fine not too full -- here's a picture of some dude with an older Smart Alec that isn't too full.




    Because the Smart Alec has a large main compartment, it will accommodate items of all shapes very well.

    Because the Brain Bag has soft interior (Parapack fabric), you can fill one main compartment more and leave the other less full or even empty. I have packed my bike helmet inside the top of the Brain Bag (my head is not too different from a head of cauliflower), so I think that could work out!
    Last edited by maverick; 11-12-2015 at 05:07 PM.
    -m

  3. #3
    Forum Member Rocks's Avatar
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    I have a Synapse 25 and a Smart Alec (and I walk or bike everywhere too). Smart Alec is definitely better for grocery getting. Unlike the Synapse 25, it has a flat bottom, so it stands on its own. It doesn't look weird unpacked, but if there's just a light load, like a book, it might flop around. That's an easy fix though. The ballistic Smart Alec hold its shape pretty well empty. You could also consider the Dyneema Smart Alec. I have a ballistic steel Smart Alec, but still see the appeal of a Dyneema one.
    I don't have a Brain Bag, but i can heartily recommend the Smart Alec.

  4. #4
    Forum Member adalangdon's Avatar
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    I've used the BB and the SA for groceries several times. Both are excellent. Yeah, the BB doesn't have a cylindrical shape, but it's shaped like a fishtank, so it also can take a lot of bulk. I would load the cabbages in the front compartment and the flatter or rectangular items like yogurt, milk cartons etc in the back compartment. It can take all of that. Regarding BB vs SA for groceries, I would say that it's largely down to size? Both do the job well. The SA is just smaller and shaped differently, but I don't think shape is a material issue here.

    I've used my S25 for groceries like... once. It worked, but it was sub-optimal. Too many cute compartments and not enough storage space for the bulky stuff. I remember running out of space to store the homemade kimchi I'd picked up and had to stuff it in the bottom pocket. It was so squished that the lid of the tupperware containing the kimchi nearly came off (lol).
    Last edited by adalangdon; 11-12-2015 at 06:38 PM.

  5. #5
    Volunteer Moderator tpnl's Avatar
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    I have all 3 backpacks and I have found that the Smart Alec (SA) was the easiest to use for grocery work (and the most protective if carrying a laptop). YMMV, but these are my thoughts on why I prefer it for carrying a lot of non-clothing stuff:

    1) I like to be quick when packing my groceries (so I am not a bottleneck to the cashier). I can just "throw" things in easily without thinking so much about "front" or "back" compartment, etc.
    2) The bungee cord is very useful to "strap in" larger things (compensating somewhat for the larger internal volume of the Brain Bag (BB)). I also bring shop bags if needed
    3) It stands up on its own - easier loading
    4) Built in padding on the bottom - more protection for glass jars / soft items
    5) I have found it the most comfortable of the 3 backpacks (may be just individual preference because of my shoulder / back)
    6) Dyneema interior is easy to clean (BB has Parapack which is more a weave that Dyneema which looks like laminated - ie waterproof fabric)
    7) You can use an Upper Module Pocket (UMP) to hold phone / wallet, etc without impacting interior space
    8) It can hold the biggest items

    Now, having said that, the Brain Bag, by virtue of its 2 compartments is good to separate Meats or Chemical items (Laundry detergent, etc) and of course has more interior volume. It looks better IMHO than the SA if not full (does not "look" angry as @Ilkyway funnily commented in the past).

    The S25, if stuffed full - gets to be more of a beach ball and not as comfortable to wear (as is with most backpacks) and does not naturally stand up on its own always as @Rocks stated.

    I would be remiss if I did not say that it is good to take some care in packing a lightly loaded SA to keep it from looking strange IMHO. There are some good techniques to keeping the SA's shape if there is little or nothing in it.
    First off, the Ballistic Nylon version holds its shape well as @Rocks wrote earlier. The current Ballistic Nylon for the past few years seems to be stiffer than in previous years (@moriond - any past history info on this?) making it even better. TB has also slightly altered the shape of the top flap over the years to make it better to.
    Secondly, I find using the top flap pockets to hold light to medium light items helps to keep the angry "grumpies" away Smilie.
    Thirdly, cinching the Bungee as @Maverick said helps too.
    Finally, packing vertically really helps the most with the SA.

    BTW - @maverick - it looks like you were ahead of the TB color curve by wearing a "Burnt Orange" shirt!

    As a side note - I was for a while thinking of selling my SA (note - now I have two!). But, one day, I needed to carry a small subwoofer and other bulky items for a outdoor event and ONLY the SA could do this - not the BB (which I thought could), not the S25 and not any other backpack I had on hand - not even the wide Empire Builder. This is what really clued me into the benefit of being a Smart Alec .. I mean using an SA. Here is my pic from this:




    IMHO, the SA is the cleanest and sleekest looking of the TB backpacks (in this picture, I have my EDC stuff in it - laptop, etc):



    Finally, I just love this TB picture of how the SA looks:



    Hope this helps

    Cheers!
    Last edited by tpnl; 11-13-2015 at 11:45 AM.
    TB Ballistic Black/Iberian Dyneema backpacks and briefcases for every occasion together with my cherished Nordic and Solar Dyneema!

  6. #6
    Forum Member bchaplin's Avatar
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    I think the Smart Alec is a great bag for groceries. It has a sort of ledge on the bottom, which limits how small it can scrunch when empty, but that provides support when you are carrying a lot of items. I have a picture somewhere (though I can't see to find it right now) of mine with an incredible number of toys and stuffed animals from a shopping trip. My favorite thing about it is how unfussy it is in accepting irregularly shaped items. I prefer this bag in dyneema, because it seems so light.

    Here is a photo of it empty, as when I took this photo, I was taking it to work and intending to carry home some items inside.

    Smart Alec Vs Brain Bag (Vs Synapse 25) with special attention to groceries-951223c2-7718-47ad-a84f-41048e55af7c-jpg
    Last edited by bchaplin; 11-14-2015 at 04:42 AM.
    ----
    All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.
    Edmund Burke

  7. #7
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    Thanks for all the comments. A Smart Alec has been ordered!

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