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tom bihn paragon review

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Tom Bihn Paragon Design Lab and Guide’s Edition Review

by , March 5, 2021
7.6
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The Tom Bihn Paragon provides an updated take on an old-school Tom Bihn design. Take a closer look…

Tom Bihn is a remarkable brand. A small Seattle-based operation with less than 50 employees making incredibly functional, durable, and fun bags for over four decades. With COVID hitting hard, the company has decided to completely shift its operations to focus on producing reusable face masks. These are generously donated to tribal nations, essential workers, public schools, health care, civil servants, farm workers, low-income communities, and our country’s elders. To date, over 200k have been manufactured and donated which is not only very impressive but also inspiring. 

Apart from the brand being very active in bringing a positive change, there is something special when the founder, Tom (yes, Tom Bihn is a real person) puts his name on the front line and stands behind everything that his company does. Not just designing, prototyping, and sewing the bags, but taking ownership of quality, production conditions, pricing – all aspects of the company. Not many founders do that.

Tom Bihn Paragon Design Lab

Unsurprisingly, over the course of all these years, TB bags have become very recognizable but also gathered a cult following. A small army of fans who obsess about collecting specific bags, scoring a rare color combination, or who go nuts over the latest shade of green added to the color options. I have recently joined the Tom Bihn community and can testify that it’s a passionate, positive-minded, and extremely supportive group of people.

Consequently, the strong brand ethos and enchanting community elevate the experience of using TB products to the next level. 

I was fortunate enough to receive two versions of the latest bag introduced by Tom Bihn. Namely, the Paragon in both the Guide’s Edition and Design Lab options. Perhaps “introduced” is not exactly accurate. You see, Tom has been designing bags since 1972 (the company itself was officially founded a decade later in 1982). The Paragon is actually a revisited old design that Tom designed back in the ’70s, named the Simplex. So the team essentially wanted to bring back to life a classic, timeless piece and modernize it in the process.

After using the bags for over three weeks, here’s what I have to say about them.

Tom Bihn Paragon Design Lab and Guide’s Edition

Specifications

  • Name: The Paragon
  • Brand: Tom Bihn
  • Format: Half-zip backpack
  • Measurement: 13.4″ (w) x 17.9" (h) x 6.8″ (d) / 340 (w) x 455 (h) x 175 (d) mm
  • Capacity: 1200 cubic inches / 19.8 liters
  • Weight: 1 lb 7.6 oz / 670 grams
  • Zippers: #8 YKK coil zipper with metal sliders, #5 YKK coil zipper with plastic sliders
  • Material: 525 ballistic nylon
  • Price$160 DL, $170 GE

BUY THIS ITEM

Who It Suits

Anyone looking for a simple, minimal, and supremely comfortable everyday backpack would appreciate the Paragon.

Those already invested in the Tom Bihn ecosystem would dig the Paragon’s somewhat unique niche in the current lineup. The Paragon is larger and more comfortable than the 16.5L Daylight backpack. Yet more compact (and noticeably cheaper) than the Shadow Guide V2 23L.

Anyone in search of a straightforward adventure bag would quickly grow to love the heritage look of the Guide’s Edition that’s also optimized for external attachments.

If you need to carry a bigger laptop (16″ MacBook Pro and Dell XPS 17) yet don’t want to haul a large backpack. The Paragon would surprise you with its laptop capacity in the compact overall size.

Who It Doesn’t

Those who need sophisticated built-in organization might find the Tom Bihn Paragon too simple out of the box. This however is completely rectified by the rich and diverse Tom Bihn ecosystem that would integrate well with the Paragon using built-in O-rings.

If you absolutely need to carry your water bottle on the outside the Design Lab version would leave you wanting. However, the diamond-shaped tab (also known as a lash tab) present in the Guide’s Edition can be used to attach a bottle with a carabiner.

Anyone who needs the bag ASAP. The pre-order approach taken recently by Tom Bihn coupled with limited bag production (the company is committed to make and donate reusable face masks) means that you can’t just order this bag and have it mailed within a few days. The wait can potentially take months which is a serious consideration for any buyer.

Tom Bihn Paragon Design Lab


Design

Looks

The Tom Bihn Paragon is basically as simple as a backpack can be. A boxier, rectangular shape pays homage to the old-school hiking bags from the ’70s. Especially the Guide’s Edition thanks to the three added lash tabs and a gear loop at the bottom.

Tom Bihn Paragon Guide’s Edition

The Design Lab version is a perfect modern take on a no-frills urban backpack. It easily accommodates large laptops and blends into the crowd.

Tom Bihn Paragon Design Lab

ConstructionMaterials and Hardware

Despite looking very simple and minimalistic, the Tom Bihn Paragon throws a serious punch when it comes to materials and build.

The Design Lab Paragon comes in two fabric combinations – 525 Ballistic Nylon/200 Halcyon and 400 Halcyon/200 Halcyon. The color combos are unique for the Design Lab version and don’t carry over to the Guide’s Edition. For instance, the gorgeous golden (Solaris 200 Halcyon) interior of my review unit is only in the Design Lab version. So if you’re serious about your colors it can steer you to the pack version that is right for you.

Tom Bihn Paragon Design Lab and Guide’s Edition

The Guide’s Edition Paragon comes in one fabric combo, 525 Ballistic Nylon/210d ballistic with multiple different colors to choose from for the outside of the pack but only one universal liner color – Coyote. Basically, if you really love the simplicity of the Paragon but can’t stand the Coyote color, look into the Design Lab version.

The straps use EVAZOTE® OEKO-TEX® foam which might not sound sexy but in reality feels magical.

Tom Bihn Paragon Design Lab

Do not be deceived by the simple look of the Paragon. Tom Bihn proudly uses some of the best materials on the market so the bag feels and performs exceptionally well.

The zippers are from the industry-leading YKK. A #8 coil zipper with metal sliders is used on the outside of the pack while a #5 coil zipper with plastic sliders is used for the interior pockets. In my experience, the zipper pulls are mandatory on the Paragon mainly due to rain flaps covering the zippers completely, so it’s not easy to grab and pull them.

Tom Bihn Paragon Design Lab

The bag also has a removable sternum strap and waist strap featuring tried and true Duraflex®, Nexus, and Woojin buckles.

Overall the materials and hardware are top-notch, as to be expected from TB.

Tom Bihn Paragon Guide's Edition


Features

The Paragon is a minimalist bag. Imagine streamlining it even further and you get a Design Lab version of the Paragon. A stealthier, ever more simplified bag that I found to be ideal in the city and short trips. Even though there might not be much difference between the Guide’s Edition and Design Lab it can actually tailor to very different groups of people.

The Design Lab perfectly fits urban aesthetics. It blends in great with techwear, office looks, etc. thanks to the toned-down logo (on my black version it is barely visible which I appreciate a lot) and a lack of external attachment points or additional design elements.

Tom Bihn Paragon Design Lab

The Guide’s Edition, on the other hand, is almost begging to be taken on an adventure with its unmistakably heritage and outdoor-inspired look. Thanks to the additional diamond-shaped tabs on the top front and on the bottom of the bag you can easily secure an ax, foldable hiking poles, a folding chair, wet jacket, or even a yoga mat/sleeping bag. Many brands use lash tabs for cosmetic purposes (quickly revealed when you add pressure on them, making them tear away). But the Guide’s Edition Paragon intentionally makes these diamond-shaped strap holders super durable and thus very functional. Just don’t forget to get the optional lash straps, since they don’t come out of the box.

Tom Bihn Paragon Guide’s Edition

Another ace up the GE Paragon sleeve is an included gear loop at the bottom. It will probably not be used 90% of the time. But when you need to attach something to it, having this loop will feel like magic.

Tom Bihn Paragon Guide's Edition

Last but not least, the GE Paragon has an official Leave No Trace tag with a TOM BIHN Coyote Key Strap Snaphook. As shared on the TB website “the tag lists the 10 principles of Leave No Trace. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is one of the organizations we support through our commitment to 1% for the planet.”

Tom Bihn Paragon Guide’s Edition

I would not be fair to the bag if I did not mention the O-rings. The Paragon has four O-rings (two in the main compartment, one in the interior pocket, one in the front pocket). They allow you to seamlessly integrate a wide range of TB accessories – from minimalist wallets to mesh organizers, passport holders, tech pouches, etc. Only after you start taking advantage of these O-rings can you truly discover the full potential of the Paragon (and any other TB bag for that matter).

Tom Bihn Paragon Design Lab

I should also mention the excellent lifetime warranty for all TB products. It’s very reassuring and confidence-inspiring when the maker commits to the promise “If something goes wrong and it’s our fault, we’ll fix it for free.”


Performance 

Space and Access

At 19.8L the Paragon confidently wants to be your default grab’n’go EDC bag. It’s big enough to fit everything you need to carry throughout the day. And even capable of being your daypack on a trail or during travels.

Tom Bihn Paragon Guide’s Edition

In essence, the Paragon is a half-zip bag with one external horizontal pocket. The shape of the bag maximizes the usable space inside.

Opening up the main compartment is straightforward, granting enough visibility and access to the bag. When putting in larger packing cubes that take up most of the internal space, I found myself wanting a bit wider zipper opening. But for most of the time, I was fine with it. The rain flaps do get in the way sometimes. I wonder if the team at Tom Bihn has considered removing them altogether to allow the zippers to move without anything getting in the way. Personally, if I were designing this bag I would remove the rain flaps altogether and make the zippers go to ⅔ of the side of the bag.

Tom Bihn Paragon Design Lab

Pockets and Organizing

In itself there is very little organization to speak of and I find it refreshing. 

The front outer horizontal pocket actually has some volume and can be used to store not just flat items (I am looking at you, GR1). At the same time, it can also become tighter depending on how full the main compartment is.

The main compartment has one zippered pocket and an integrated laptop sleeve which is sufficiently padded to protect your precious machine. I did find the laptop sleeve to be suspended. But since the bottom of the bag is not really padded I would not advise dropping the bag with your laptop in it on the ground.

Tom Bihn Paragon Guide’s Edition

Comfort

A very light, compact bag coupled with the best straps Tom Bihn has made to date equal unquestionable comfort. The fabled Edgeless straps, introduced recently in the Synik line (one of the most recognizable and famous bags made by TB) almost feel like overkill on such a small and lightweight bag like the Paragon. However, I would argue that there is no such thing as too much comfort when it comes to backpack straps. Unlike many bags, these straps feel incredible even when rubbing against the skin, not an easy feat to achieve.

Tom Bihn Paragon Guide's Edition

The straps are not too thick or too thin. They feel just right and can carry a heavy load without a problem.

No wonder that TB is scaling up and using the same strap design in more and more bags (Synik, Synapse, Shadow Guide V2, and now the Paragon).

If I were to nitpick, I could mention the straps are somewhat slippery but you get used to this quickly. The sternum strap also helps to keep them in place.

The back of the Paragon features a closed-cell foam that gives the bag structure. It also prevents the stuff inside from poking you in the back. There is no air ventilation on the back because it is just a flat nylon surface with no air channels. But in my experience using the bag it was not an issue.

Tom Bihn Paragon Guide's Edition

Weatherability

Ballistic nylon used as an outer fabric offers excellent weather protection. All external YKK zippers (to the main compartment and the front pocket) are protected with the rain flaps so you can be sure your precious contents are safe inside.

Tom Bihn Paragon Design Lab


Alternatives to Consider

The Able Carry Daily Backpack is a great, relatively inexpensive bag that features a bit more built-in organization compared to the Paragon. It also comes in more technical colors and fabrics (for example Dimension Polyant X-Pac). 

The GORUCK GR1 21L is a bag that needs no introduction. Compared to the Paragon it has a full clamshell opening, external access to the laptop, and a hydration port. The GR1, however, is not as comfortable out of the box. It does require the straps to break in which can take months depending on your use. Also it is double the price and the weight of the Paragon which is a serious consideration for a bag that is worn all day, every day ($325 for the US-made version, weighing 2.9 lbs or 1.32kg). 

The Mission Workshop Sanction is a 20L backpack made in the USA and geared towards cyclists. The straps are very comfortable and feature something the Paragon is missing – the load lifters. They allow you to pull the top of the bag closer to your shoulders. This distributes the weight better and also secures the bag tighter on your body. The Sanction, however, weighs twice as much as the Paragon mainly due to extremely weather-resistant materials used across the board.

The Trakke Bannoch is also a very simple bag with a heritage look handmade in Scotland out of lovely waxed canvas. Priced considerably higher than the Paragon, the Bannoch has a smaller capacity. But it features external water bottle pockets, a top-loading design, a playful orange inner liner, and cool metal buckles.

The Topo Designs Daypack Original is basically a cousin of the Paragon Guide’s Edition with the same heritage outdoor vibe. It also features the same half-zip opening, has a similar capacity, lash tab, gear loop, and fits up to 15-inch laptops. How are they different? The Paragon will win points in comfort (it’s hard to match Edgeless straps) and customization/personalization thanks to seamless integration with the entire TB ecosystem.

Tom Bihn Paragon Design Lab


The Good

Simple, durable, non-complicated bag that can last generations

Lifetime warranty applied to the product itself. This is not a very common practice but it is definitely welcome. TB will honor the warranty of the bag even if you are not the first owner.

Absolutely insane ecosystem of items that elevate the Paragon to unreachable heights of usability, organization, and convenience.

Exceptional comfort thanks to the signature Edgeless straps carried over from heavy hitters like the Synik and Synapse.

Not So Good

Tom Bihn has been shifting production towards creating face masks which impacts the stock and production of all other products. The Paragon, as with many other items on the website, is available for pre-order which means you can’t just get it. You have to wait, sometimes months, until you can get your hands on one.

The integrated laptop sleeve is suspended. However, the lack of a padded bottom made me cautious when using the bag with my laptop in. I would feel much more comfortable if there was more prominent padding at the bottom and/or higher suspension.

Investing in the TB ecosystem is a fascinating journey but it can quickly get out of hand. Be prepared to spend more than just the asking price of the Paragon.

The lack of an external water bottle pocket will be noticeable for those who like quick access to their hydration. If the GE version of the Paragon mitigates this somewhat with the lash tabs, the DL version has no alternative but to store the bottle inside the main compartment.

Tom Bihn Paragon Design Lab


Verdict

Go deeper, not wider – this seems to be the mantra Tom Bihn had in mind when revisiting the old design that inspired the Paragon. In a time when most brands are taking a “the more the better” approach by adding features, pockets, and even gimmicks to attract a wider audience, Tom Bihn has achieved an impressive feat. They’ve created a very modern yet completely timeless bag that can be recommended as a default option to anyone. Teenagers, grandparents, your significant other, or anyone who could use a backpack in their life.

To sum up, the Tom Bihn Paragon is a backpack concept taken to perfection. The Guide’s Edition can be easily recommended to anyone who wants a compact adventure pack (or who’s just into the outdoorsy look of the pack, we don’t judge!).

The Design Lab edition is ideal for city dwellers and also great as a small destination bag for any travelers.

Fairly priced, outstandingly built, and well-integrated into the rich Tom Bihn ecosystem of accessories, the Paragon is highly recommended as an exceptional EDC bag as long as you are okay to wait for the next production batch.

Tom Bihn Paragon Guide’s Edition

This article was written by new contributor, and self-proclaimed bag whisperer, Alexander Dotsenko. You can check out his work here and here.

The Breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Geek (Performance)

Space & Access
7
Organization
5
Comfort
10

Style (Design)

Look & Feel
9
Build, Materials & Hardware
9
Features
5

Stoke (Experience)

Warranty & Support
10
Brand experience
8
Value
7
X Factor
6

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