I like bags. Specifically, black bags. Bags that help me have a better experience, when traveling, or simply living. I like versatile bags, that might be excellent for a single purpose, but generally great for all purposes. Tom Bihn’s Synapse seems like it is one such bag. After using for a few weeks now, here are my thoughts with the Synapse 25.
I’ve done my time with Goruck’s GR1 and GR2 so I’ll be making some comparisons. I haven’t had a chance to travel with the Synapse 25, but I have been using them everyday to carry my laptop and work essentials, whether is it to the office or when I’m on the move working remotely.
Shallow but true, this is maybe the most important factor to me when making a purchase. From the pictures and reviews, the main problem a lot of people have is with the look of the bag. It’s kinda a “dad” bag. Imagine polo t-shirts, faded straight-cut jeans, new balance sneakers. That dude would look perfect with the Synapse, was what I thought before I had the bag in hand.
After using it for a few weeks now, I find that it matches most of my outfits that mostly fall into the “techwear” category. It might be also due to the fact that I only wear black most of the time, so it matches pretty well. Also, I like that compared to Goruck’s GR1, it is significantly less military-looking (no MOLLE or velcro). While it’s not the most fashionable-looking of bags, I kinda like that old-school cool look it exudes. It’s well-designed for a host of purposes, from the office to mountains.
The amount of zips and visible external branding makes it a little less minimal than I like it to be, but overall, the less boxy shape and simplicity of the design is great for blending into new environments and not getting unnecessary attention.
The reason Tom Bihn has sort of a cult following is because of their quality, which is a result from decades of experience, deep knowledge of fabrics and the drive for customer satisfaction. I’ve previously used Tom Bihn’s Daylight Backpack and was very impressed by the details and enjoyed daily use during a month-long trip.
This time, the model I chose is the one with 525 denier ballistic nylon. This results in a lighter bag (compared to 1050d ballistics) and great hand feel because yarns are thinner and thus more tightly weaved together, and at the same time, ultra-durable. It is also dust, pet-hair, lint and water repellent.
With Tom Bihn’s quality and customer service, I don’t have to baby my bags, which is the last thing I want to do. I know they won’t fail no matter what is thrown at them or in the worst case scenario, they can be fixed. With the Synapse, it’s no difference. The YKK Aquaguard® water-repellent zippers also feel extremely sturdy. Everything just feels really tough and it would be hard to single out or even discover a weak point.
Unlike the GR1, which has only one large compartment and a front pocket, the Synapse 25 spared no effort in creating the perfect organizational monster. To be honest, I prefer organizing with packing cubes but for those who can’t spend anymore on cubes, Tom Bihn does a pretty good job with their compartments.
In the front, there is a total of 5 pockets. Right in the middle, there is a long pocket for your water bottle. This pocket is one of the more unique design points which prevents your bottle from moving around your bag and better balances the weight compared to side pockets.
There is a shallower pocket layered on top of them for easy-access small items. There are pockets on both sides of the middle one, identical to each other. I use them to put in two pouches of my daily carry items. Below those, there is a horizontal longish compartment which I use to put my sunglasses and a foldable umbrella.
With those pocket filled up, you start feeling the limitations with the main compartment. I could fit my laptop with it’s cover, Tom Bihn’s cache, and jacket and a few clothing item like my scarf and hat. Naturally, having this many compartments makes it feel like there’s a lot less space than the GR1 despite the difference being only 1 litre. So with just those items, I feel like my bag has basically reached the limit since I don’t like to overstuff my bag.
They also have a total of 9 o-rings around the bag. The only one that I use is the one in the main compartment where I attach Tom Bihn’s medium-sized Clear Organizer Pouch to store work-related receipt to expense later on.
One little gripe I have is having to attach the zipper pulls myself. It was okay when I did it with the Daylight Backpack with just two zipper pulls, but putting them on the Synapse 25 took a bit of effort that I wish could be done for me.
I also wished that they could have one with an all black interior and no brand tags. But, I know that’s very specific to my taste and probably asking for too much.
The Synapse 25 is a bag that has grown on me over the past few weeks. The value of the bag goes beyond the surface, so while you probably won’t get compliments on it, but you would probably be able use it for a very, very long time. Also, this is nearly half the price of the GR1, so with that in mind, I find that this bag is a great bang for buck.
You can buy the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 here.