By: Peter Joselyn
Is travel easier with the right luggage? No question. Tom Bihn is a Seattle-based manufacturer that wants you to be organized on the road so you can enjoy the scenery without worrying about anything else.
Before the pandemic, I took their Aeronaut 30 travel bag for a test drive, putting it through the paces on business and pleasure trips.
The Aeronaut comes in two versions: the maximum carry-on sized 45 and its petite sibling, the 30 (the numbers refer to their volume in litres). Priced at $300 USD and $290 USD, respectively, the Aeronaut 45 the maximum carry-on size for most American airlines, but the Aeronaut 30 is closer to the international standard size.
On the inside of Tom Bihn bags, you’ll find a motto in Latin that translates to: “if it doesn’t fit in your bag, leave it behind.” Their range of products is almost exclusively carry-on sized luggage and personal bags for daily use or hiking. If you’re looking for a pack-it-all steamer trunk, look elsewhere. These products cater to nimble travellers who don’t want literal baggage weighing them down.
Tom Bihn’s bags are extremely well made. The exterior is ballistic nylon that makes every other bag seem inferior and flimsy. The inside is lined with a lightweight nylon, making it easy to see objects you’ve packed. The zippers are exceptionally high quality and the other bag hardware is sturdy. The attention to detail on sewing, seams, and structure makes everything about this bag seem well-designed and purposeful.
There are three ways to carry the Aeronaut: as a backpack with straps that can be put away as required, with a shoulder strap, or with the handle.
I’ve had a number of bags with optional backpack straps and never used them, because they did not work that well. This bag is an exception. The backpack works extremely well and it’s comfortable, making the Aeronaut 30 easy if you need to get around an airport or even a quick walk.
I was surprised how much walking I have done with it and appreciate how it works. It has an optional internal frame that gives the bottom of the bag–which becomes the part next to your back–more structure, which is useful when you’re packing loose items. An optional padded waist belt also helps to shift the load from shoulders to hips.
As someone who is about average height, I found the bag to be about as much as I would want to carry on my back without it feeling like a trek. It was comfortable without being comic or clumsy.
My only complaint about carrying the bag as a backpack was the noise–the zipper pulls would jangle. This was easy enough to fix with the included paracord and plastic pulls. I threaded through the zipper in three places and not only did it make the zipper easier to open, they make almost no noise.
The Aeronaut is organized into a main centre compartment and two smaller compartments accessible from either side. It’s sort of like a duffel bag that has been made to fit airline carry-on requirements.
On the road, it’s designed to feel almost like a chest of drawers, where it has all the internal organization that it needs, with or without any of the many optional accessories.
I’ve tested this on short business trips and it easily fits a carefully folded suit , dress shirts, and shoes without any special packing techniques. Included interior straps hold everything tight, and toiletries and shoes each in a side pocket. The first time that I packed a suit, I ended up doing a lot of walking, and I was impressed that my clothes stayed relatively wrinkle-free.
Packing cubes can be helpful, so long as it does not get needlessly complicated. As someone who lived out of a suitcase for years, I know that packing is the sort of task that will take as long as you give it. You can fret about a packing list for days or just put the essentials in a bag.
Packing cubes should not, in my opinion, be used to jam more into your suitcase, but they can give you added organization to make your travel routine easier and closer to what you have at home. In my books, that translates to better travel.
The Tom Bihn packing cubes are all specially sized for their bags. They are feather light so there is no added bulk for being organized. Using them did not add appreciably to any time spent packing (I pack in under ten minutes) and reduced time spent looking for that errant pair or socks while away.
A minimalist packer could easily pack everything they needed into the Aeronaut, with perhaps the addition of a small personal bag.
Wondering about the best way to pack? Tom Bihn has developed a devoted fanbase whose love of the brand is only rivalled by a love of organization. The online forum is a surprisingly active place with reviews and suggestions about how to get the most out of your bag. The enthusiasm for the brand and underlying philosophy is infectious.
Lastly, a review of the bag would not be complete without a mention of the company. Tom Bihn represents the best of the business world: you will feel good about this purchase, which was made in a Seattle factory by a company that cares about its staff and the world.
From carbon offset shipping to the built-in sustainability of a product that you’ll only ever have to buy once–because even the most ardent traveller would have a hard time wearing out one of these bags–Tom Bihn delivers the goods with the Aeronaut 30.
Photos courtesy of Tom Bihn and Peter Josselyn.