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  1. #1
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    Large Cafe vs Maker's Bag

    Hi all,

    Longtime Tom Bihn customer, first time poster. I currently use a Small Cafe Bag as my pocketbook, and I love how it holds WAY more than it looks like it could. My travel laptop bag (holds a 15" retina MBP, was a parting gift from an internship 5+ years ago) has turned into my everyday work bag, even though I don't take the laptop with me most days, and it's starting to fall apart. I'm looking to find a replacement everyday bag to get more life out of my laptop bag for work travel. I'm torn between the Large Cafe and Maker's Bag, and I'm hoping you all have some opinions to make it easier to choose.

    The item I'm most concerned about fitting is a 3-ring binder. I often carry a .5" binder for music rehearsals in addition to typical everyday items (18oz water bottle, wallet, iPhone, lunch items, snacks, maybe a light sweater, sunglasses case, a book, and various other small sundries). I'm considering the Large Cafe or the Maker's Bag, but I'm curious if anyone out there has experience fitting a binder in either. Also, I'm a pretty small person 5'4" and thin. Will either of these bags feel overly large on my small frame? I once had a Timbuk2 Medium laptop bag and it was ridiculous on me. Way too big and heavy to carry comfortably.

    If you have other recommendations asides from these two options, I'd love to hear them, too. I picked out my Small bag at the factory store by filling it with all my stuff, and I'm sad that I won't be in the area anytime soon to do that again for this bag.

    Thanks so much!

    - Erin

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by erincarly View Post
    Hi all,

    Longtime Tom Bihn customer, first time poster. I currently use a Small Cafe Bag as my pocketbook, and I love how it holds WAY more than it looks like it could. My travel laptop bag (holds a 15" retina MBP, was a parting gift from an internship 5+ years ago) has turned into my everyday work bag, even though I don't take the laptop with me most days, and it's starting to fall apart. I'm looking to find a replacement everyday bag to get more life out of my laptop bag for work travel. I'm torn between the Large Cafe and Maker's Bag, and I'm hoping you all have some opinions to make it easier to choose.

    The item I'm most concerned about fitting is a 3-ring binder. I often carry a .5" binder for music rehearsals in addition to typical everyday items (18oz water bottle, wallet, iPhone, lunch items, snacks, maybe a light sweater, sunglasses case, a book, and various other small sundries). I'm considering the Large Cafe or the Maker's Bag, but I'm curious if anyone out there has experience fitting a binder in either. Also, I'm a pretty small person 5'4" and thin. Will either of these bags feel overly large on my small frame? I once had a Timbuk2 Medium laptop bag and it was ridiculous on me. Way too big and heavy to carry comfortably.

    If you have other recommendations asides from these two options, I'd love to hear them, too. I picked out my Small bag at the factory store by filling it with all my stuff, and I'm sad that I won't be in the area anytime soon to do that again for this bag.

    Thanks so much!

    - Erin
    Hi @erincarly and welcome to the forums,

    From your description, it sounds as though you want to be able to carry along your 15" Retina MacBook Pro (rMBP) in your bag, along with your sheet music (in binder). That sounds problematic for the Maker's Bag, which can fit in the 15" rMBP if you're willing to give up it's ability to carry thick binders and other items in the depth direction. I'll point you to @brendabethman's post #7 with picture from the Makers vs Pilot vs DLBC vs Cadet thread
    Quote Originally Posted by brendabethman View Post
    Just FYI, I tried my 15" rMBP in my Maker's Bag this morning (just to see -- I never carry it around as it's too heavy) and it's tight, but it fits. You do lose a side pocket and this is without a cache, so there's that. Might squeeze into a Dyneema bag with cache, though.

    Attachment 17864


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    Basically, the Maker's Bag is designed to fit 13" and some 14" laptops. You can carry a 15" laptop if you take advantage of the fact that the sides can bulge out farther, at the expense of decreasing the effective depth of the bag for carrying items. Also, notice that the picture shows the 15" laptop with no protective shell or cache -- you'd probably want at least a shell to protect the laptop while you're carrying it, and thicker protective options will further decrease the available depth space.

    The issue with carrying thick binders in many of these bags is that holding everything in a single, thick 3-ring binder, takes up more space and puts more constraints on the space usage than carrying the same amount of paper in folders or pouches, or in thinner binders. Thick binders are not only going to push on the thickness of the designed bag, but also the compartment's height The Maker's Bag may work for you as long as the 3" binder is the main item you want to carry with no laptop.

    The Pilot is actually better suited to your 15" rMBP, both because it wide enough to fit the laptop and because it is taller, too. But the fact that you can only use the main compartment at the back, means that you definitely can't carry a 3" thick binder there, although the front compartments easily swallow water bottle, lunch, etc. And, again the maximum binder size even without a laptop was probably 2.5" (I think the most I could get in was a 2" D-ring binder, and a 0.5" binder, if these were filled; I'm not sure you could fit in a 2.5" 3-ring binder if it were the slant- or D-ring type, and completely filled). See, for example, my picture in the Books/binders in pilots? thread

    Quote Originally Posted by moriond View Post
    @ShelShel
    If you are carrying a mix of binders and books and don't try to carry too many thick, U.S. Letter size binders, then the Pilot may be a good choice. (I'm assuming you use 8.5" x 11" paper, and not A4 paper.). However, if you are primarily trying to carry thick 3-ring binders, then you may have a problem trying to close the zipper of the main compartment of the Pilot without stressing it, while you will be able to close the zipper on the main compartment of a Cadet. The Cadet is taller, so you have more clearance allowance for large binders..

    Both bags can handle thick stacks of papers in folders or in thinner, 1/2" binders. It's only if you're using thick binders (e.g. a 2" binder and a couple of 1" binders, especially if these use a slanted D-ring design) that the width of the binders will stress your ability to close the zipper. You can measure the size of the binders you intend to use. If you're using the (longer and) narrower A4 paper, you may have an easier time.

    Here are some sample pictures:
    Binders in open main section of Pilot. Notice how high they sit compared to the top of the bag and the zippered opening

    The Pilot main compartment zipped close. It's possible to close the zipper, but the edges of the binders are pressing tightly against top of the bag,which will stress both the zipper and the material of the bag if you do this regularly. For reference I've put a plastic file box built for A4 paper in the outer pocket, so you can gauge how high A4 (not in a binder) rises relative to the side of the Pilot.

    The same binders in the main compartment of the 15/13 Cadet. There's much more clearance between the top of the binders and the top of the bag, as can be seen from the amount of Solar lining.

    The Cadet zips closed easily without pressure on the zippers

    The trade-off is that the shorter Pilot is easier to fit into the center of other bags like the Tri-Star, but it's not designed primarily for carrying thick binders. The problem is not really the thickness of the binders, but rather that the width of hard binders increases when they are thick. Here's another way to see this. Take a look at the picture of two 1.5" binders inside a Synapse 19 in HYPEractiv's thread asking about which size Synapse he should get.. If the side view of your binders uses a much smaller footprint than is shown there, such that the width of the binder cover is not much larger than the width of the paper (say, 10"), then you won't have a problem closing the zippers of your Pilot.

    The shape of the Pilot is more cube-like than the taller, slimmer Cadet, but it is convenient to have the water bottle pocket and front two side pockets, The Cadet has an additional front pocket (shown open in the pictures).

    For pictures of the Cadet in the Tri-Star, try jeffmac's picture of "The Cadet gasping for air as it tries to escape the Tristar" or UK-Limey's picture of the Cadet in the Tri-Star. Compare this to a 400d Nordic/Solar Pilot in a Tri-Star that sits much lower in the center compartment.

    If you need a briefcase that optimizes for carrying files and binders, consider the Empire Builder or Zephyr.

    HTH. moriond
    I'm pretty sure that the Large Cafe Bag cannot fit both a laptop and a 3" 3-ring binder, since the depth of the bag is only 3.3".

    The recently retired bags that would be suited to your requirements are either the ID Messenger Bag or the Ego., but I don't see anything in the messenger format that would work for you now. The Empire Builder would carry the load, but is heavy for what it is.

    You might consider the Small Yeoman Duffel, which can handle the 15" laptop, and all the music whether in binders or not, but you'd have to add organization for the other items.

    I show a pack-up of the Small Yeoman Duffel with an instrument roll, music stand, sheet music (not in a binder, because the original parts are larger than U.S. Letter Size paper, so you get an idea of the how these are handled), and laptop, with some assorted items starting at post #47 in the New sizes to the Yeoman SOOO cute thead. I'll excerpt a few pictures:







    There's a forum limit on the number of embedded images, so you should look at the original threads and posts that are linked. Although the laptop shown there is a 13" rMBP, a 15" rMBP will easily fit. (I can't take pictures because the new 15" rMBP is off being configured and not available to me right now, but it works fine in the Small Yeoman Duffel). There are some later posts showing the Mini Yeoman Duffel packed up for laptop usage.

    If I were trying to carry this in a messenger style bag, I'd look for/use a recently retired ID Messenger or Ego bag -- both of which also have water bottle pockets at the side of the bag. For the most room (15" laptop, 3" wide 3-ring binder, lunch and other items), I'd look for a retired Ego. Note that both the ID Messenger and Ego had capacities above 20 liters -- about twice the volume of the Large Cafe Bag or Maker's Bag.

    HTH

    moriond

  3. #3
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    I use a LCB as a work bag. I carry Dell that is similar size to the 15" Mac. I carry a MCB Freudian Slip which is similar in width and thickness to a 0.5" notebook. It would fit. However, the laptop will poke up a bit and the buckle doesn't have much play. So the flap is tight and can be hard to click shut. But it does fit and it's very light and easy to carry, even with laptop.


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  4. #4
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    Hi moriond,

    Thank you so much for your detailed response! I hate to say it, but the assumptions you based it on were actually backwards. I'm looking to carry a small .5" 3-ring binder and not carry my laptop at all. I'm trying to find a new bag to use for work so I don't kill the only bag I have to carry my laptop in that fits me. My laptop only comes on my travel trips, not day to day. I hope this clarification helps!

    - Erin

  5. #5
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    @erincarly,

    Sorry, I somehow read that as a 3" 3-ring binder, rather than a 0.5" thick 3-ring binder. The 0.5" wide binder size should work well for you. But if you want to carry "(18oz water bottle, wallet, iPhone, lunch items, snacks, maybe a light sweater, sunglasses case, a book, and various other small sundries)", I'd opt for the Pilot. The main reason is that the organization of the Pilot comes with a water bottle pocket in the front center of the bag. Having that separate pocket built into the bag makes carrying a water bottle easier. In the Maker's Bag, the dedicated water bottle sleeve at the side make it difficult to fit in both the laptop and the water bottle. If you have a narrow diameter water bottle or thermos, like the Zojurushi models, then you can slip one of these into one of the interior pockets instead of using the end pockets of the Maker's Bag, and fit things in that way.

    With the Large Cafe Bag, if you're carrying the water bottle inside with your laptop, you need to be more careful about how it is supported. Though I've found that the Zojurushi models are really good about being leak-proof compared to others I've used.

    What's nice about the Maker's Bag (compared to the Pilot) is that if you're not carrying much inside, it can achieve a really nice, slim profile against your body. I'm about your height, and I carry the Small Cafe Bag more frequently than the larger models.

    @sujo's comments should help you evaluate the Large Cafe Bag. I think that as with the Medium Cafe Bag with the 13" Mac laptops, the 15" laptop fits inside, but extends a bit above the designed top of the bag, although you can close the flap.

    Please ignore the comments about the Yeoman Duffel and Ego -- you're not going to be carrying a thick binder with your laptop to require those bags. I still Kind of like the idea of the retired ID Messenger, which can compress in thickness, too, when carried, but which is designed for laptops up to 15" in size.

    HTH

    moriond
    Last edited by moriond; 04-22-2017 at 08:27 PM.

  6. #6
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    While others have spoken to the laptop and binder capacity, I want to point out that vertical vs horizontal orientation of the bag can make a really big difference, especially for those of us of lower height. I love my Small Cafe Bag, but I find even the Medium Cafe Bag is too long at my height and prefer the horizontal orientation of the Maker's Bag or Daylight Briefcase when I'm carrying messenger style instead of a backpack.
    Rambling On. . . . .

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Meglet View Post
    While others have spoken to the laptop and binder capacity, I want to point out that vertical vs horizontal orientation of the bag can make a really big difference, especially for those of us of lower height. I love my Small Cafe Bag, but I find even the Medium Cafe Bag is too long at my height and prefer the horizontal orientation of the Maker's Bag or Daylight Briefcase when I'm carrying messenger style instead of a backpack.
    @Meglet,

    I agree with this comment, which is why I most frequently use the Small Cafe Bag out of the Cafe Bags, and am also a fan of the Daylight Briefcase (and the retired Imago). However, I don't think the Daylight Briefcase can fit the 15" rMBP. If I'm not carrying a lot, I personally like the Daylight Briefcase better than the Pilot, because it hugs the body better, and the zippers are easier to open one-handed while the bag is on the shoulder. I also really like that I can stash sweaters or bulkier garments in the back pocket. But if I'm going to need more room, particularly for a water bottle along with a laptop and notebook, among the present bag options I'd have to move to Pilot or Maker's Bag. And if I'm not using a smaller diameter water bottle and I need to carry a 15" rMBP laptop and a binder as well as other items, I'd probably select a Pilot.

    moriond

  8. #8
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    Meglet,

    That's a really great point. I'd be walking a lot with it and want it to sit comfortably. Do you find that the Maker's Bag feels like too much bag if it's not full? I won't be stuffing it to capacity on an everyday basis.

  9. #9
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    I actually prefer the Maker's Bag slightly under-packed, that way it "hugs" properly when worn. By the time I fill it up, it is too heavy for my shoulder and I switch to a backpack anyway. Big Grin
    Rambling On. . . . .

  10. #10
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    I think you got all of the info that you needed, but I will add my two cents.

    I opted for the MB vs the LCB. The horizontal vs veriticle was a HUGE deciding factor. I like to see everything without removing everything. That said, the back zipper pocket in the main compartment should be able to hold your binder which will allow for a more rigid bag, or you could put it in the main compartment for a more slouchy style. I would still be carrying my MB if my husband hadn't decided he had to have it. I typically had a packed folder in the back zipper part and it worked well.
    S19 Black Halcyon/Northwest Sky .... Maker's Bag Black Halcyon/Wasabi .... Side Effect Aubergine/Wasabi .... Med Cafe Bag Steel/Navy

  11. #11
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    So, I ended up getting both to do a "stick all my stuff in it" test at home. Previous comments were correct: the LCB was a great size... until I put it on. I couldn't get the strap short enough to carry it properly. It would have flopped against my legs when walking, and that's not cool. (Side note, my husband really liked the look of it and he'll be trying it out for himself. He's 6'2".)

    The MB, I'm heartbreakingly in love with it. The pockets are perfect. It fits me really well length-wise. It's lightweight (I opted for the black/gray halcyon with wasabi interior) and holds a ridiculous amount of stuff AND a tiny amount of stuff equally as well. But I have two concerns. One – RAIN. I'm so concerned that because the flap is true-sized and not slightly wider than the opening that all my stuff will get wet if I take it in the rain. Two – my husband said because the flap doesn't velcro closed like my current bag, it looks visually too large for my small frame. That part is really getting to me, because it doesn't FEEL that much bigger than my current bag.

    I did find that forum post about the rain thing, and I think I'd opt to do the keyring/o-ring hack to ensure it stays closed. But does anyone have experience with the bag in the rain? Does everything get wet? Do you use the hack, and does it work? Do you feel like the bag looks gigantic if you are a small person, too?

    Hoping to make a decision in the next few days on whether to keep or return the MB. Gah. I thought testing would help. Now I'm just more torn.

  12. #12
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    I live in Seattle and have carried my Maker's Bag through winter rains with no issue. I don't even use the keystrap hack, I just snap the flap closed when walking outside and haven't had any issues with either an under-packed or a full bag. At most, I think I've taken a bit of care to keep my iPhone in a more center-front pocket in the main compartment, but generally I just don't worry about it.
    Rambling On. . . . .

  13. #13
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    I have carried the Maker's Bag daily for maybe a year. Nothing has gotten wet. Except when I consciously overstuff the bag, the flap clips and covers nicely.

    In response to your earlier question, I really think the bag is great when it isn't full. Don't get the wrong -- Ive stuff it with papers, a thermos and lunch. But I don't think it looks too big when it isn't full. I've even carried it into court.


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