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  1. #1
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    Luminary 15 Review: A Small Bag Grows Up

    In this version of the review I have omitted some of the basics, which are covered on the product page, or in the other great reviews in the forums. I have not tried a pantheon of Tom Bihn bags like many of the members of the forums, partially because of a small bag budget and partially because I tend to only buy something if I am >90% certain it is right for me after hours of extensive research (aerospace engineers are the worst). As such, I will also not be comparing the Luminary to any other bags, but rather detailing why I was counting the days until I could buy one, and what my impressions are now that I've used it for a week.
    I would also like to start by thanking Kat and the rest of the Tom Bihn crew for arranging for review units to be sent to forum members. That is an incredibly awesome gesture and it really goes to show what a quality company this is. Not to mention the fact that they were willing to delay a long-awaited launch to ensure their employees safety in dangerous winter weather. I wish more companies and people in the world were like this!

    My Road to the Luminary 15
    My first Tom Bihn bag was a Pilot a few years ago, and boy did I love it. It was just about perfect in every way and had a couple features I instantly wished all bags had: the center mounted water bottle pocket and the cache laptop storage system. (As an aerospace engineer I spend lots of time thinking about centers of gravity, and yet I'd never applied it to bags I carried before). After more use and seeing how the bag held up, handled every day life, and adapted to virtually any scenario.
    So naturally, when we began planning our honeymoon and realized we didn't have any luggage, I knew where to look. An Aeronaut 45 joined the family, followed quickly by the A30. These have been our go-to travel bags and accompanied us on many great adventures.
    But times change, and eventually I found two issues with the Pilot: I wasn't using the laptop cache feature as much, and I needed a backpack to evenly distribute weight and help resolve some ongoing back issues I've had. Of course I turned to Tom Bihn.
    I'm ~6'2"-6'3" (depends how recently I've done my back exercises), so I knew I'd need something designed for a larger frame. But I also know myself well enough to know that if I have a big bag, I will overfill it, which is just as much of a problem. The Synapses looked promising, but seemed like they would awaken my inner over-packing demons. The Luminary looked perfect, but I worried about it looking like a child's bag on my larger frame.
    I waffled and waffled, and even got as far as adding the smaller Luminary to my shopping cart before seeing that they would be releasing a larger one soon (at that time called the Luminary 14), so I decided to wait it out. I checked back regulary, occasionally added the old Luminary to my cart before wimping out again, read the forums constantly (I've never been much of a poster on anything, but I read constantly), and begrudgingly used a North Face Recon that my uncle had given me as a gift.

    Priorities and Use Cases
    Since I first started looking for a backpack, I put a lot of thought into what I want in a bag. (Too much? Maybe. But these forums are a safe space). So here are the requirements I came up with:
    1. I wanted a backpack that had a center mounted water bottle pocket; I often carry a 40 oz water bottle, and if it is off center I might as well just have a shoulder bag.
    2. I wanted something not too large so I couldn't overpack it, but also big enough that it didn't look ridiculous on my relatively large frame.
    3. I wanted something that could be my go-to bag for everything: work, class, the gym, hiking, bike rides, going to town with friends, etc. And my wife had very clearly disallowed anything resembling a man purse.
    4. I wanted something with limited built in organization, but lots of options for add-on expansion. From the Pilot and Aeronauts, I learned that I love the Tom Bihn style of organization: when you don't need much the bag stays out of the way, but when you need to do more it supports whatever caches or packing cubes you want.

    Only one bag looked like it would fit all of these requirements: the upcoming larger Luminary. So I kept neurotically checking every part of the website, wallet in hand.

    Description of the Bag
    In terms of overall dimensions, the Luminary is a bit longer than the Pilot, although much more streamlined and sleek looking. But as a backpack, it is actually small; I can fit it, fully packed, inside the North Face bag I have been using.
    I opted for the Nebulous Grey/Island variant and I have to say it is a great looking backpack. I've always been a fan of the pop of color on the inside of Tom Bihn bags, which contrasts nicely with a more professional exterior color. If you don't know any more details of the bag, I highly recommend looking at the product page, but a quick summary:
    • One large main pocket with a zip away water bottle holder in the center and a small pocket near the top
    • Two zipped side pockets
    • One padded back pocket with a side access zipper

    The zippers of this bag are very elegantly designed: the large pocket and two side pockets are in-line while the back pocket zipper is tucked along a seem; at first glance this gives the bag the impression of only having one zipper. (The blog post announcing the bag clarifies: it is one zipper, but with 3 pulls attached. Very impressive design skills.) Overall this bag looks very professional and elegant, while also packing in enough pockets to provide ample organization.
    Luminary 15 Review: A Small Bag Grows Up-img_0157-2-jpg

    Does this Luminary Meet My Requirements?
    1. Center mounted water bottle pocket: ☑️ The ability to attach/detach it also adds an extra bit of utility in cases where I might have something large and flat I want to slide into that pocket at some point (more on that later)
    2. Not large enough that over packing is a concern: ☑️ I've spent the last week experimenting with how much it can hold comfortably. The biggest stress was probably on Tuesday: temperatures were ~20F leading me to pack hat and gloves, and I had class right afterwork so I needed to carry 12 hours worth of meals & snacks, along with my water bottle and a tea cup. This bag has been able to fit enough for any single day/activity. I'll go through my examples with pictures shortly.
    3. Not so small it looks ridiculous on someone my size: I think so, but I'll let you be the judge of that: as previously mentioned, when the tightness in my back allows me to stand up straight I'm 6'3", so I feel comfortable recommending this bag to taller individuals. Here's a couple pictures of me wearing it while loaded.
      Luminary 15 Review: A Small Bag Grows Up-img_0147-2-jpg
    4. Organization: 90% there, it'll probably be all the way once I buy a Q-Kit for the top portion of the bag. I've settled into this organization:

    • Right pocket: phone & sunglasses
    • Left pocket: wallet, keys, headphones, a pen
    • Padded compartment: 11" iPad and any papers I happen to have (I avoid using paper because I always lose or destroy it. In the rare circumstances I have a sheet or two, keeping them near the iPad prevent crumpling and crinkling)
    • Small Interior pocket: "emergency" fruit bars & protein bars
    • Large pocket: whatever it is I need for that day/outing


    Use Cases Now here are some pictures of use cases I've experimented with in the last week. In all these shots, the right and left pockets are filled as described above.
    A note for all these pictures: my phone is not in the bag or the contents because, well, I needed it to take pictures with. It is the iPhone XS Max, and fits in the right pocket with my sunglasses easily, unless there is something especially bulky and stiff behind that pocket.
    1. 1. Lets start with what the bag looked like when I got home from work today: 40 oz water bottle, 11" iPad, the remains of my lunch, sunglasses, hat and gloves (it warmed up a lot during the day). The 3D Organizer Cube is the same one I use as a 3-1-1 bag for travel, just with things I may need on any given day: chap stick, tissues, hand sanitizer, and deodorant.
      Luminary 15 Review: A Small Bag Grows Up-img_0151-2-jpg
    2. 2. Here's what I imagine taking on a typical day to town or a coffee shop or a day I pack my lunch into a separate bag: similar to today, minus tupperwares and plus a light jacket and a hat (note: I forgot to take the iPad out for the "everything taken out" shot)
      Luminary 15 Review: A Small Bag Grows Up-img_0149-2-jpg
    3. 3. Gym bag: water, workout clothes, and my gym shoes. I was honestly shocked the bag fit my gym shoes, especially with room for anything else. I wear 13s or 14s and they barely felt like they fit in my old 30L North Face bag. Note: I've used this when I go to the gym from home. If I am using the gym at work, I still tend to take a separate gym bag so I can leave it in the locker all day.
      Luminary 15 Review: A Small Bag Grows Up-img_0153-2-jpg
    4. 4. Tennis bag (this is still hypothetical, I haven't had much time to play since summer): Two racquets, old hat, towel, two water bottles (40 oz & 18 oz). The only thing that doesn't fit is my tennis shoes and/or a can of tennis balls. However my tennis shoes can smell pretty gnarly and I only need a can for ~25% of matches. But for a match or longer practice I probably would still rather use my tennis bag to accommodate more hydration, snacks, and layers. But it is nice to know this bag will work for a quick hitting session or for Cardio Tennis.
      Luminary 15 Review: A Small Bag Grows Up-img_0148-2-jpg


    Miscellany
    • For science, I tried to fit my Nintendo Switch into the side pocket and I am happy to report that it does fit! The JoyCons need to be removed from the sides and put in after the main console. This is not a big deal, but nice to know that it fits in case I want to take it on a plane ride or to a family gathering.
      Luminary 15 Review: A Small Bag Grows Up-img_0154-2-jpg
    • The two side zippers are slightly different heights: this is nice for fitting different things into different compartments. I have noticed one slight drawback, although it may be specific to me and my currently-limited mobility: the right zipper is a bit too high to unzip while wearing it. This doesn't present much of a problem, as I pull my phone out while walking far less frequently than I do my car keys.
    • I never intended to carry the 40oz water bottle in this bag, but when I saw how handily it fit, I immediately changed my mind. You can see the outline in the bag a little bit, but I can easily drink that much water in a day and the larger water bottle helps the bag stand upright unsupported.


    Summary
    I had high expectations of this bag, especially given that all I had seen was its smaller sibling. But despite that, I am impressed with the Luminary 15 and think it is perfect for 90% of my situations. The few areas it falls down are areas it was never designed for (i.e. a tennis bag or multi-day bag).
    If you are looking for a large bag to carry gym clothes, a laptop, and food for a full day, you may want to look elsewhere. But, if you are looking for a bag to carry just the bare necessities for a few hours or a day, this is the right bag. Its been too snowy to hike much lately, but I expect in summer it will get a fair bit of use on the trail for day hikes. If you are like me and like to have separate gym and work bags, this is also a perfect choice.

    When my wife got home from work the day I received my review unit, she was prepared to tease me endlessly for how excited I was. But by the time we got to the gym, she had stopped teasing and actually said how nice a bag it is. By the time we got home from the gym, she said that she wanted one of her own. So now I am once again counting down the days until the preorder opens up. And because of the generosity of the Tom Bihn team, my bag budget has room for me to finally upgrade my gym bag to a Yeoman Duffel at the same time!

    It's 4 days by the way.


    PS, for those of you with cats, Cheeto reviewed it as a meditation cushion. I think he approves:
    Luminary 15 Review: A Small Bag Grows Up-img_0156-2-jpg

  2. #2
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    @logan_g, what a fantastic bag review!!!

    And welcome to posting at the Forums
    :)


    Maybe @Darcy can add 'cat meditation cushion' to the product description...


    ETA - @logan_g, there is a slight delay when you post for the first time so that TB and/or the Mods can ensure that you're not spam... sorry for the delay!
    Last edited by G42; 02-22-2019 at 10:59 AM.
    I like all the blues and greys...and all the happy citrus colours too!

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by G42 View Post
    @logan_g, what a fantastic bag review!!!

    And welcome to posting at the Forums
    :)


    Maybe @Darcy can add 'cat meditation cushion' to the product description...


    ETA - @logan_g, there is a slight delay when you post for the first time so that TB and/or the Mods can ensure that you're not spam... sorry for the delay!
    Thanks, I'm happy to be posting for once instead of just reading!

    Sorry for accidentally spamming :P I'm in an area with pretty bad internet access right now, so I assumed I was having errors on my end.

  4. #4
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    Hi logan_g, thanks for that in-depth review, I really like your thorough engineering approach and the different uses of the Luminary you already tried out within just a couple of days! Seems that Nebulous becomes a number 1 color maybe because it brings out the sleek look of the Luminary so nicely!
    ...spread joy in your neighbourhood
    current bags: Smart Alec, Guide's Pack, Guide's Edition S25, Luminary 15, Daylight Backpack, Aeronaut 45, Tri-Star, Road Buddy 36, Daylight Briefcase, Small Yeoman Duffel, bits and pieces

  5. #5
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    Hey, @logan_g, did your wife try on the bag? How tall is she, and is she planning on the 12 or the 15? Thanks for the great review.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by logan_g View Post
    PS, for those of you with cats, Cheeto reviewed it as a meditation cushion. I think he approves:
    Now there are TWO pictures of orange and white cats sitting on Nebulous/Island Luminary 15s! :-D (My Oliver being the other one.)

    I enjoyed your review, thank you for posting it!

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by luvdabags View Post
    Hey, @logan_g, did your wife try on the bag? How tall is she, and is she planning on the 12 or the 15? Thanks for the great review.
    She did try it on! She is 55 and it fits well enough that she is waffling between the 12 and 15. Right now she is leaning more towards the 12 because that is small enough that it could replace a purse when we are travelling or on days were out hiking.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by aedifica View Post
    Now there are TWO pictures of orange and white cats sitting on Nebulous/Island Luminary 15s! :-D (My Oliver being the other one.)

    I enjoyed your review, thank you for posting it!
    I saw that in yours! You’re a trend setter; I might not have snapped a picture if I hadn’t seen Oliver

    Cheeto usually ends up in most bags we have in the house too. I haven’t seen him in the luminary yet, but its just a matter of time

  9. #9
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    This seems like a really nice bag! Thanks for the review! Does anyone know whether the Luminary 15 would fit a 15 inch Macbook Pro in the main compartment with a cache? Thanks!

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by res View Post
    This seems like a really nice bag! Thanks for the review! Does anyone know whether the Luminary 15 would fit a 15 inch Macbook Pro in the main compartment with a cache? Thanks!
    I think that it would if you're talking about the recent Touchbar models, but I've only tried this with the laptop itself (someone else's -- who doesn't have a cache) in the Luminary 15, and am extrapolating from my laptops with caches.

    Take a look at the pictures in @anna222's THE LUMINARY 15 BACKPACK: A Star Is Born! thread and post:



    My guess is that there is enough room to clear the interior with the cache, but some other forum member who has used this configuration may be able to post.

    HTH

    moriond

  11. #11
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    Thanks for the response! Looks like the 2018 (touchbar model) shouldn't be a problem without the cache. With a cache, it might be a bit of a squeeze, but maybe not. Thanks!

  12. #12
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    Compared to the Recon

    I see you've got a North Face Recon in your comparison photo. I was wondering if the L15 is actually comparable in what it can hold to that bag or is it about half the space? The Recon is about 30 liters so by pure measurements the L15 should fit half the stuff a Recon can. The recon is too big for a day bag for me, so now I'm curious how they compare in what they hold.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by TravelGearJunkie View Post
    I see you've got a North Face Recon in your comparison photo. I was wondering if the L15 is actually comparable in what it can hold to that bag or is it about half the space? The Recon is about 30 liters so by pure measurements the L15 should fit half the stuff a Recon can. The recon is too big for a day bag for me, so now I'm curious how they compare in what they hold.
    Hi, I am hoping to help you get a response from the person you are asking, so I would like to suggest doing one of these two things when trying to get the attention of a particular person:

    1. Use "reply with quote", "quote" or possibly something similar depending on what platform you use to access the forum, instead of just "reply" or "reply to thread".

    2. @ the person you're speaking to, like this: "@TravelGearJunkie how did you like that bag etc etc"

    Both of those methods should generate a notification for that person, if they have those set up on their account and the email address they used to sign up is one that they actually check. The notification settings are really not something I know about, but whenever someone quotes a post I've made or @s me, I get an email. Sometimes two emails if they've done both.

    Hope this helps, and @logan_g I believe @TravelGearJunkie's question was for you!

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cristina View Post
    whenever someone quotes a post I've made or @s me, I get an email. Sometimes two emails if they've done both.
    Really? Weird that our experience is so different--I never get a notification when someone @s me! And I don't get emailed when my posts are quoted, either--I just get a notification at the top of the Forums page. I just checked all my settings and can't find a place to enable it, either.

    The only thing I know that's different between how you use the Forums and how I use them is that you use Tapatalk and I don't, so that makes me wonder if this is something Tapatalk does for you. I'm going to go install their app and poke around in the settings there, I'll report back what I find.

    Later:
    Yes, it's a Tapatalk thing! It looks like Tapatalk's default setting is to email a notification in any of those circumstances, as well as doing a notification on the device where Tapatalk is installed. So that means we can't assume that forum members will or won't get notifications for that sort of thing, since we don't know who uses Tapatalk--but at least if you quote someone's post, the next time they visit the Forums they'll see a notification at the top of the Forums page.
    Last edited by aedifica; 06-08-2019 at 03:33 PM. Reason: add results of Tapatalk exploration

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