I’ve always loved the style of the vintage mountaineering packs but I’m not willing to sacrifice the comfort or organization that my other packs provide in order to carry one on a regular basis. They’re cool but not THAT cool. Fortunately, seeking inspiration, some gear manufacturers have been delving into the past to create modern interpretations of classic designs. A prime example is the new Tom Bihn Guide’s Pack.
Unlike most Klettersack style hiking packs, the Guide’s Pack is large enough at 1,900 cubic inches/31 liters to be a true 24-hour bag. The capacity is split between a large top pocket and a top loading main compartment. Not much functional space is wasted due to the simple layout. The downside is you’ll spend some time rooting around for stuff in the bottom of the pack if you’re not smart about how you arrange your gear.
Fortunately, all Tom Bihn packs have some organization for small items and that’s been carried over to the design of the Guide’s Pack. On the underside of the floating top pocket are two zippered compartments. One is large enough to hold my Samsung Galaxy Smartphone…
And the other can hold a point and shoot camera or a wallet. It also includes an O-ring with a key strap which is perfect to tether a set of car keys or an organizer pouch (a nice feature in case the pocket is inadvertently left unzipped).
With the top pocket secured, by design you can still reach into the smaller zippered compartment without undoing the buckles.
Still not enough organization? The top pocket is large enough to hold even the largest admin pouch. Here it swallows up a Zulu Mega Admin and my TAD Watch Cap with room to spare.
Same with Tom Bihn’s own Side Effect. Based on my measurements, it would probably even fit a Spec Ops Packrat.
If additional capacity and organization is needed, then matching side pockets are available for the Guide’s Pack. Each add 165 cubic inches/2.7 liters of storage capacity. The regular side pocket is a dump pouch large enough to hold a 32 ounce Nalgene bottle.
It can also fit a taller 24 ounce Polar insulated bottle.
The Lead’s pocket is designed primarily for small item storage. It features three zippered compartments on the interior of the pouch and four nylon loops to secure knives, multi-tools, flashlights, etc. I wish they would have made the loops out of elastic versus thick nylon webbing. I couldn’t fit my Zero Tolerance 350 folder under one of the loops and had to opt for a smaller knife instead.
Both side pockets have backside zippered compartments that contain another O-ring and a key strap. They rest against the side of the pack making them an ideal location for storing items that you want to keep more secure (like travel documents). Each pocket attaches to the Guide’s Pack side lashing points via Annex Clips.
The main compartment is secured via a drawstring run through eight #00 spur grommets and cinches via a cord lock. There’s another small carry handle under the top floating pocket.
The top pocket fastens down tight via two buckles and long nylon compression straps. There’s also another diamond lash point on the front of the pack. Tom Bihn sells an Ice Axe accessory strap for it.
The bottom of the pack is made from 1050 Ballistic nylon, which is probably my favorite Tom Bihn material due to it’s texture and abrasion resistance (it’s also used on a version of the Tom Bihn Smart Alec). There are two additional attachment points that can be used with the optional lash straps (pictured below) to secure a small sleeping bag, sleeping pad, or other similar item.
The rest of the Guide’s Pack is made from 420d HT Parapack nylon, which is a throw-back material you don’t see used in a lot of packs these days. Tom Bihn did an extensive write-up on his rationale for using the material. It is more pet hair resistant than Cordura, strong, lightweight, seems to shed water, and cleans up well. My initial impressions are positive but time will tell with extended use.
The zippers are all YKK. I used 550 paracord weaved through the larger zipper pulls but Tom Bihn does include red and coyote cord that I used on the smaller zippers. I alternated between them in some cases to color code the pockets.
When I field test gear from any manufacturer, I always try to provide constructive feedback on what improvements could be made to make it better. In the wake of my Synapse 25 review, one piece of feedback I gave to Tom Bihn was I thought the pack’s ability to carry a heavier load-out would be enhanced if they had included a removable frame sheet.
I’m pretty sure Tom already had this pack on the drawing board when I provided the feedback but thankfully the Guide’s Pack does include a high density polyethylene (HDPE) frame sheet. And in fact, he took it one step further – it also has a single stay of 1″ / 25 mm wide 6061 aluminum.
Six interior pockets in the main compartment retain the fins of the specially designed frame sheet, which holds it in place and provides some flex as the wearer moves. Tom Bihn provided a video on how the frame can be adjusted for a more tailored fit. The stay is also removable.
As a testament to the overall quality, which has been consistently flawless on every Tom Bihn product I’ve reviewed, the interior of the main compartment of the Guide’s Pack is just as finished as the exterior. No loose threads anywhere or a stitch out of place. Amazing.
The backpanel and shoulder straps are identical to those used on the Synapse 25 and the Smart Alec. I wish they’d taken my other piece of advice and included wider, beefier shoulder straps. Even the .5″/12mm straps from the Brain Bag would have been welcomed here given the size of this pack. A removable sternum and waist strap is included.
The 1″/25 mm waist strap is attached via Gatekeeper clips. There are two loops so the position of the strap can be adjusted based on the length of the user’s torso. It’s a nice touch by the designers of this pack. Also, according to Tom Bihn, a padded load bearing waist belt is also in development that will attach using the two loops. Given the price, it probably should have been included with the pack upon release but it’s good that they’ll eventually offer one.
As expected, the internal frame makes all the difference in the world when dealing with heavier loads. I need to do more extensive field testing, but based on my first couple of outings, this is hands down the most comfortable pack I’ve carried in Tom Bihn’s lineup.
As you can tell, despite a few small complaints, I really like the Guide’s Pack. It probably won’t appeal to everyone. It’s now the second most expensive bag in Tom Bihn’s lineup (after the Tri-Star), not really setup for laptop carry, and some Dyneema/Cordura diehards will initially question the new material choice. But, in my view, it’s now the best outdoor/expedition travel pack that Tom Bihn produces. The retro styling is cool, it has great modular organization with the addition of the side pockets and non-proprietary diamond lash points, and in general it’s great to have choices depending on different carry requirements.
The Tom Bihn Guide’s Pack retails for $240 and is sold exclusively from Tom Bihn’s website.