If you’re a dedicated one bag traveler or simply hate paying airline baggage fees, then you should probably check out Tom Bihn. The Seattle, WA based company makes world class backpacks, briefcases, and travel bags. One of it’s most versatile designs is the Tom Bihn Tri-Star, a mid-sized carry-on bag suitable for both business and personal travel, that features tons of flexible organization that is sure to appeal to even the most seasoned jet setter.
The Tri-Star, at 19″ x 13″ x 8″, is slightly smaller than the maximum legal carry-on size for most domestic carriers but compliant with the more conservative size restrictions in Europe and Australia. It easily fits under an airline seat.
Or in an overhead bin…
In 1050D High Tenacity Ballistic Nylon, the bag weighs only 3 lbs, 6 ounces empty. Most newer spinner luggage, even the ones claiming to be ultra lightweight, have weights approaching 10 lbs or more.
I opted for the Steel/Ultraviolet color combination, which is truly stunning. I constantly get compliments on it. The interior features Tom Bihn’s imported 200 denier Dyneema nylon rip-stop fabric, which is extremely durable and lightweight.
The Tri-Star is aptly named because the bag is divided into three main compartments. Each is accessed via YKK Aquaguard® water-repellent coil zippers. The top of the bag also features padded foam grab handles and offset attachment points for a shoulder strap.
The forward compartment, which is behind the organizer panel, can be separated into two sections by a zip-out divider. One side is a perfect fit for the Small Tri-Star Packing Cube, which I use for socks, undergarments, and ties.
The other can fit a pair of shoes (which I usually put in a shoe bag, but I was lazy here). If your shoes are larger than 11.5 EE’s then you might need to unzip the divider and organize differently. Mine barely fit this way. Sometimes I envy smaller humans.
The middle compartment can be used for clothes or as a laptop compartment. I carry my laptop along with a Small (Size 2) Stuff Sack for the laptop charger, my phone charger, and a wireless mouse.
In this new 2013 model, Tom Bihn added the popular “Cache with Rails” feature carried over from their backpack line. With the optional Laptop Cache, the Tri-Star becomes TSA checkpoint friendly, allowing the laptop to be X-Rayed without having to take it out and place it in a separate tray (see the pic below). If laptop carry isn’t needed, then the Cache with Rails can be removed from the main compartment via Gatekeeper Clips, freeing up space for clothes or other items.
The back compartment is open and includes tie downs which can also be removed via Gatekeeper Clips.
It can accept a Large Tom Bihn Tri-Star Packing Cube. A quick side note – I’m a huge fan of packing cubes. They help organize your clothes and help keep them wrinkle free since they don’t move around as much in the bag. I highly recommend trying them out if you don’t use packing cubes currently.
The front of the Tri-Star features four zippered organizer pockets. The top pocket runs the full length of the bag and can fit an iPad in a keyboard case or a newspaper or magazine.
The pocket below it runs half the length of the bag. It’s where I store my toiletries in a 3D Clear Organizer Cube for easy access when going through security. Tom Bihn includes hard plastic rings called “O-Rings” in nearly every compartment of the Tri-Star. They can be used to tether items to the bag, which is what I’ve done with the Organizer Cube (the 8″ Key Strap shown in the pic below is included with the bag).
The bottom pocket is shallow and is meant for travel documents and other smaller items. Here I’ve stored my passport.
The curved zipper pocket can be used to hold a boarding pass or a water bottle.
The backside of the Tri-Star has a zippered compartment that hides two backpack straps including an adjustable sternum strap.
This one of my favorite features of the bag. In an airport the size of Chicago O’Hare International, getting to the gate can require a fair amount of walking. This is no problem with the Tri-Star. Just take out the straps and snap them into the hidden buckles.
And you’re on the move.
If you want to shoulder carry the Tri-Star then I’d suggest purchasing the Absolute Shoulder Strap.
You can use any shoulder strap with the Tom Bihn Tri-Star, but the Absolute Strap is the best I’ve ever used. It has a patented “control-stretch” neoprene pad that handles heavy loads extremely well and the strap length is fully adjustable. I’m 6’4″ tall and the strap was long enough for single shoulder carry and then some.
Overall, with the Absolute Strap and built-in backpack straps, the bag is comfortable to carry in both modes and it’s great to have options.
The Tom Bihn Tri-Star has become my go-to option for short business trips and personal travel up to a week in duration. If everything I wore wasn’t XL or XXL, then I could probably be good for a week or more with the Tri-Star. Unfortunately, my clothes take up more space to the point where longer trips would require the larger Aeronaut or another option all together depending on the gear I was taking. Your mileage may vary… especially if you have a knack for traveling ultra-light (my skills in that area are admittedly still a work in progress).
The build quality was consistent with what I’ve come to expect with Tom Bihn which is to report it was flawless. Tom’s gear is pricey but considering the abuse that most travel gear endures, spending a little extra is well worth the investment if you’re buying kit that will last. And this bag is definitely built to last.
The Tom Bihn Tri-Star travel bag retails for $280 and is available directly for purchase from Tom Bihn.