This is the first review in my “What I carry” series. It is appropriate that the Tom Bihn Tri-Star is the first travel accessory I review, because the Tri-Star is my go-to bag for traveling. It is an extremely versatile carry-on bag, with a tremendous amount of room and great organization. The Tri-Star allows me to focus on everything other than my baggage when I travel.

The Tri-Star is available in either a 1050 denier ballistic nylon fabric exterior or a 400 denier Dyneema nylon ripstock fabric. I bought my Tri-Star before the Dyneema exterior was an option, but I’m not at all unhappy with the ballistic nylon exterior. The interior of both bags features a 200 denier Dyneema nylon ripstock fabric. You can choose to have a complementary color on the interior, for example I have steel on the interior and black on the exterior, or you can choose one Tom Bihn’s bright colors to easily see the contents of bag against the interior fabric.

The Tri in Tri-Star is carried through the design in two ways. There are three main compartments in the Tri-Star bag, which are each roughly the same size, and three horizontal zippered pockets on the front of the bag, which all go to the bottom of the bag allowing you to carry a surprising amount in them.

The main compartment closest to the front of the bag zips completely open and has an internal divider roughly 1/3 of the way through the bag that can be zipped or unzipped as needed. I keep this divider zipped, which allows me to conveniently store a few different items without having them shift around. If I’m bringing a second pair of shoes, they will go in the smaller section. If I’m not, I’ll usually put my toiletry bag and a bag which holds some electronics odds and ends in that section. The larger section will then get a packing cube which holds a mix of socks, underwear, and shirts depending on the trip duration.

The front compartment with the two sizes of packing cubes and an accessory bag attached to one of the two O-rings. The fabric divider is unzipped in this picture.

Tom Bihn makes packing cubes sized for both the divided sizes and a full-size packing cube which fits in any of the main compartments. I originally used another packing cube in the larger divided section, but the Tom Bihn cube allows me to fit much more clothing into that area than I could before.

One of the great features of Tom Bihn bags is that they sew O-rings into their bags in strategic locations. Tom Bihn sells a variety of accessories which attach to the o-rings either directly or using their 8” or 16” key straps. There are two o-rings in each main compartment and one o-ring in each horizontal pocket on the front. I use the o-rings to attach several accessories throughout the Tri-Star. I would like an o-ring in the horizontal front pocket as well, but I make do without it.

I have two Tumi pouches which I use to hold my cables and electronics odds and ends. I keep the accessories I regularly use in one pouch and I use the other pouch to hold travel power adapters, so I only bring that along when I travel internationally.

The Tumi pouches have metal o-rings that allow me to attach them to the Tri-Star using the 8” or 16” key straps. The pouches are attached to the o-rings in the front compartment and can either sit on top or alongside the other items I place in the compartment, depending on how full it is. Having them attached allows me to easily access them in the overhead bin without worrying about them dropping on top of someone.

I also have two Tom Bihn Organizer Wallets. I use one to hold a home-made First aid kit and I use the other to hold some lounge access and credit cards I only use when I’m traveling. One of these lives in one of the front zippered pockets and the other lives inside the front main compartment with the two Tumi pouches. I also have a Tom Bihn Mini Clear Organizer Pouch which I use to hold business cards and a Tom Bihn Dyneema Mini Organizer Pouch that I use to hold my Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10vi earphones.

The back compartment features two compression straps to hold down clothing.

The compartment on the other side of the bag also zips entirely open. This compartment features two compression straps to keep clothing or other items in place. I usually use an 18-inch Eagle Creek Pack-It folder to hold my shirts, and then use the compression straps to hold the folder, a pair of athletic shorts, and an extra pair of pants. On a one-week trip, there is still enough room in this section that I can put a fleece jacket if I decide I want to bring one with me.

The center compartment only zips open a few inches down either side of the bag. There are two Annex clips in this compartment, which work with Tom Bihn’s line of laptop cases to keep a laptop secured. This is a nice design feature, but I removed the Annex clips from the bag since I don’t use a Tom Bihn’s laptop case. The clips are easy to reattach if I decide to use them in the future.

I use the center compartment to hold my 13” Macbook Pro with Retina in a Waterfield Design Laptop SleeveCase, along with my iPad, a couple of magazines, my laptop power block, and my toiletry bag (if it isn’t in the front compartment). A larger 15” or 17” laptop would easily fit in this compartment as well.

The four zippered pockets on the front of the bag.

The front of the Tri-Star has four pockets. Three horizontal zippered pockets on the left hand side and one vertical zippered pocket on the right hand side. As noted above, each of these pockets has an o-ring sewn in to attach accessories.

I use the smallest horizontal pocket to hold a small roll of gaffers tape, some zip ties, and a Maratac AAA flashlight attached to the O-ring with an 8” Tom Bihn Key Strap. I use the middle horizontal pocket to hold the organizer pouch with my business cards, and the largest pocket is usually kept empty to hold receipts, boarding passes, and other papers I collect during my travels.

The vertical pocket has fabric segments which snap together, allowing you to carry a water bottle in the pocket when it is open. You can also unsnap the fabric segments and use the pocket to hold other odds and ends. I keep the organizer pouch with my earphones in this pocket to allow me to quickly access them when I get on the plane.

Fold-away backpack straps on the rear of the bag add a great carrying option to the Tri-Star.

When the Tri-Star is fully packed, there are three ways to carry it. There are a pair of handles on the top of the bag, which are comfortable to use as long as the packed weight is no more than 10-15 pounds. There are also a pair of attachment points on the top of the bag to allow you to add a Tom Bihn Absolute Shoulder Strap to the Tri-Star. The Absolute Shoulder Strap can be used to carry the Tri-Star on either one shoulder or across your body. I find it comfortable for up to 15-20 pounds of packed weight.

The last option is a pair of backpack straps that zip into a pocket on the very back of the bag. These straps are permanently attached at the top of their zippered pocket and clip into hidden attachment points on the sides of the back. The backpack straps feature a horizontal sternum strap and a removable waist strap. The backpack straps are padded and are very comfortable. This is how you will want to carry your bag for long distances or if you pack a particularly heavy load in your bag.

I usually pack the bag around 15-20 pounds and I alternate between carrying it with the handles and using the backpack straps. I don’t usually use the Absolute Shoulder Strap with the Tri-Star because I find it much more comfortable with the backpack straps, as it balances the bag on my shoulders and allows me to have both hands free.

Since I’ve switched to the Tri-Star last year, I haven’t missed my wheeled suitcase. There is no situation where I prefer a wheeled bag to using the Tri-Star, and I’ve had many situations where it is easier to use the Tri-Star than a wheeled bag. My worst wheeled bag experiences have been going down escalators with a spinner suitcase that barely fits on the treads, and trying to wheel the same suitcase on thick carpets in the Las Vegas hotels. There are no comparable situations with the Tri-Star and it is always a delight to carry.


25 February 2013


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