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  1. #1
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    Guide’s Pack — early, not-so-smitten impressions

    Since this forum amounts to something of a love-in for Tom Bihn products, I don’t think one critical review will hurt. I would not want to steer you away from Tom Bihn products; I would simply steer you toward other ones.

    The Guide’s Pack is my second Tom Bihn bag. The Synapse 25 was my first and my experience with that bag was very positive. Hence, a return customer, I count myself among the many TB admirers. But I’m sorry to say that I don’t think the Guide’s Pack meets the standards set by the Synapse in terms of the coherence of its design.

    The big positives, before anything else, are the materials and workmanship — what Tom Bihn is known for. Nothing to criticize here. The following, though, are the things I’m not so pleased with…

    1) There is NO quick access on this pack. Anyone who tries to use this pack for daily use will notice, after one day, that the zipper opening to the flap pocket is on the wrong end. More often than not, the flap is going to be hanging down. If you want to access your wallet, say, while still holding the pack, you’ll have your work cut out for you. You have to set the bag down, unfasten the clasps, and upend the flap. I don’t see that there would be a disadvantage to having the opening on the other side even when the bag is packed full. I’m still trying to understand this. It seems like such an unforced error to me.

    2) Some bags seem to make their contents feel lighter. This bag, I would say, make things feel heavier — in a way that the weight of the bag itself doesn’t account for (as nonsensical as that sounds). I put an agenda, a book, an umbrella, and a t-shirt in the main compartment, and my usual pens, keys, glasses case, etc. in the flap. It felt like a ton of bricks. And this load is basically what I would consider a regular everyday load — not a big load. I can’t imagine putting a laptop in it. A better everyday bag would perhaps have a simple plastic frame sheet in it, without the metal stay. In short, if you plan to use this as your EDC bag, I would reconsider it.

    3) Which brings me to my next point: if it’s not an EDC bag, what is it? Contrary to the advertising, which shows it being used on hiking expeditions, I don’t think this bag is really made for that either. Weight and weight distribution is an issue. There are no load straps or side cinches. (I tried bending the frame at the top in order to be able to tighten the straps and have the pack more snug to the shoulders, but that doesn’t really work.) It’s basically a sack with a heavy frame sheet and a purse attached at the top. The straps are quite nice but 1) the nylon on the inside of the straps is thin and just loose enough that I worry it could easily rip if snagged on something, and 2) the straps alone are not enough to make this bag comfortable when carrying full loads. Granted, I wasn’t using the hip straps, but if you’re really going to be hiking or backpacking, I think you’d want to go with a more modern backpack from the likes of Deuter or Arc'teryx or what have you. Fully packed and with the side pockets they want you to buy and with a sleeping bag fastened to the bottom? Like, upwards of 45 L? For longer than an hour? No, it’s not happening with this backpack.

    4) Price. I know good workmanship is not cheap, good materials are not cheap, but for what it’s worth, I don’t feel satisfied that this pack is worth $270 US (plus overseas shipping) the way I felt satisfied with my Synapse 25 at $200 US. Next time around, I would probably go with a Synik, based on my good experience with the Synapse and my initial response to the Guide’s Pack.

    These are my first impressions. I hope the positives outweigh the negatives over time because I don’t want to regret the purchase. If they do — if its shortcomings prove easily forgivable, I’ll report back.

  2. #2
    Volunteer Moderator bartleby's Avatar
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    Location: Germany / Hobbies: Photography & Guitars
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    Hi @del , thank you very much for your honest review, which I consider as very important! So sorry, that the Guide's Pack seems not to be working for you so far and I hope it will change in the future! Although my experience with this backpack is much different from yours I think I do understand some of the points you're struggeling with.

    Regarding the orientation of zippers on the top pocket: In this blog post TB gives some information on why the design of this pocket is rather complex and why the zipper ended up on the front end, which does indeed seems counterintuitive at first (and was certainly for me too when I used the GP for the first time). However, after using the GP a couple of times I got used to the orientation of the top pocket and I do think that it is helpful for packing the bag since you can access all pockets when the bag lies flat on its back which you couldn't if the zipper was on the other side of the pocket.

    A similar blog post discusses the issue of load straps or load lifters and why they are not used on TB backpacks (mainly because they are still rather small backpacks).

    Regarding its potential uses: I use the GP primarily for hiking and travelling. And you're right: The GP is a rather non-technical backpack. But: that is one major reason why folks - including me - love it. Despite that, I still think that it does carry quite comfortably and I have used it for hikes up to 25 miles fully loaded (but without additional things straped on the top or botton except for a light jacket). When I use the GP for hiking (I have the pre 2019 edition) I do use the hip belt and it does indeed help lifting some weight of your shoulders.

    I would certainly not use the GP for EDC because of the lack of organization and a couple of much better suited backpacks in the TB portfolio for that purpose. However, many folks are enthusiastic about the Shadow Guide for EDC which has the same main features as the GP except for the attachment point for side pockets etc.

    Overall, I do hope that you'll have some more positive experiences with the GP over time!

    Cheers!
    ...spread joy in your neighbourhood (and not Corona!) Smilie Rainbow Cheers
    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

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