Review: Tom Bihn Synapse
I purchased the Synapse with the hope of using it as both an under-the-seat bag on long flights and a day pack when I’m at my destination. When I unpacked the Synapse, I was surprised at just how small it was. However like all Tom Bihn bags, every feature has been carefully designed and the end result is that the Synapse doesn’t need to be larger to hold everything I wanted.
There are five exterior zippered pockets on the front and sides of the Synapse, and one main pocket which has an internal pouch as well. The Synapse has a good balance between the size and quantity of organizational compartments, and I wouldn’t want to change the layout of the compartments at all.
The side pockets are mirror images of each other, but they have slightly different features inside. The left side pocket features three pen/pencil holders, while the right pocket has an Ultrasuede inner pocket to hold a smart phone or pair of glasses. Both side pockets have O-rings sewn in near the top. Tom Bihn sells a variety of accessories which attach to the o-rings either directly or using their 8” or 16” key straps.
The top-most center pocket is deep enough to store a 1-liter water bottle. Since Tom designed the bag to hold a water bottle in this pocket, the space in the other pockets is not affected when you fill it up. Just below that pocket is a small pocket you could use to hold change, keys, or a small wallet. I wish Tom had decided to put an O-ring in this pocket as well, as it would be a convenient place to strap on your keys.
The pocket along the bottom of the bag is surprising large. I could easily fit my two Tumi utility pouches with all of my electronic odds and ends, along with the charger for my laptop. There is an O-ring sewn into this pocket as well.
Interior of the Synapse's main pocket
The main pocket in the Synapse is fairly spacious for such a small bag. The pocket is wider at the bottom and narrower at the top, which follows the contour of the bag. The internal pouch is a little odd as it isn’t large enough to easily fit a laptop in a protective case, but it is too loose to hold smaller items in place well.
I did a test fitting of all the items I’d want to pack into the Synapse for a long flight:
- Two Tumi pouches filled with cables and electronics odds and ends
- 13” Macbook Pro with Retina in a Waterfield Design Laptop SleeveCase
- Apple iPad
- Charger for the Macbook
- A few Tom Bihn accessory wallets and pouches
- A water bottle
As you pack a Tom Bihn bag, you begin to really understand the careful thought that went into the design. It was easy to find good places for everything I was packing. The water bottle went into the top center pocket, the Tumi pouches were attached with 8” key straps to the O-ring in the bottom pocket, and the accessory wallets and pouches where attached to the O-rings in the side pockets.
I put the charger for the Macbook at the bottom of the main compartment and the 13” Macbook Pro with Retina in a Waterfield Design Laptop SleeveCase barely fit into the pouch inside the main pocket. There was enough space left in the main pocket that I could have also put in my Eagle Creek toiletry bag and a change of clothes for an overnight trip.
One advantage to this configuration is that my Tom Bihn Tri-Star travel bag was much lighter. While I would normally travel with the Synapse packed inside the Tri-Star, I could see using the Synapse with my electronics as I packed above and only putting my clothes and toiletries in the Tri-Star. I could easily do a two or three-week trip with that setup.
After I unpacked the Synapse, I test fit it inside the Tri-Star. When it was empty, the Synapse easily fit into any of the Tri-Star’s compartments. I’d probably keep my laptop and iPad in it if I planned to pull it out for a long flight, and the Synapse fit fine with those inside the Tri-Star’s center compartment.
I bought the Steel Dyneema version of the Synapse, which meant it weighs a svelte 1.5 pounds, or 15% lighter than the alternative 1000 denier Cordura fabric. This was the first bag I’ve seen with the Dyneema exterior, and I like it a lot. It is smoother than Cordura, but it feels like it will hold up perfectly fine in normal use. The Dyneema is also less bulky, so that might be important to you if you sometimes want to carry it in another bag like me.
The rear of the Synapse with padded backpack straps and an adjustable sternum strap.
It might seem as if the Synapse was a perfect fit for my needs, but I ended up returning the Synapse. When I packed the Synapse with all of my items, I put the Synapse on my back. While I could see using it for personal trips, I couldn’t see myself using it to carry into a business meeting. I have no problem bringing a backpack with me, but the Synapse looked too small for my frame.
Tom Bihn has a generous return policy for exactly this situation. They encourage you to pack it with the items you plan to travel with and try it out inside your home. They give you up to 60-days to return any unused bag for a full refund, and in my experience they are lenient on this if you tell them in advance that you need more time for some reason.
Tom and team have announced that there is a larger version of the Synapse in the works, and I plan to try it out when it comes out. The only details they have given is that the new Synapse will be approximately 20” long versus 18.5” for the existing Synapse. The Synapse fit everything I possibly wanted to put into it quite well, so a slightly longer and wider version that fits better on me would be a winner. The new larger Synapse will not replace the existing Synapse in the product line, so it will be additional option for potential buyers.