- Buyer's Guide
Tom Bihn Shadow Guide 33 Review
For most carry aficionados, Tom Bihn should be a rather familiar name. But for those who might not know, they are a maker based out of Seattle, Washington that specializes primarily in travel and daily-carry bags. Today we’re looking at the newly updated Tom Bihn Shadow Guide 33L backpack which is the first release from Tom Bihn’s Design Lab label – a new design tier dedicated to experiments and new materials that would otherwise not be found in their traditional lineup.
The Shadow Guide is a minimalist endeavor, sheathed here in solid black Ballistic Nylon. It features 525d on the exterior, 1050d on the bottom, and a 210d nylon interior. It’s designed to pack fast and be mobile in urban / travel settings. That being said, it shares the core of its design with the Guide’s Pack (sans any external lash points). So it could also serve in a day-hiking role should you desire to take this city-slicker off-road. I set out to see how it could handle use in an urban setting carrying my daily tech essentials, but also using it to run errands and carry my shopping.
Who It Suits
Anyone seeking a fast-packing grab-and-go type bag. If you need to carry a laptop or tablet along with a tech pouch and have room for extras to drop in quickly throughout the day, this is a great option.
Who It Doesn’t
Someone who needs a pocket for everything or extensive organization options. Meticulous packers may also find its simplicity frustrating.
Tom Bihn’s Edgeless Straps premiered last year (2019) with the Synik 22 and 30. Since then, they’ve begun to incorporate them into their other bags and they now prominently feature here on the Shadow Guide. The reason they’ve made a big deal about them is that they carry weight considerably better than the earlier bound style of straps. I happen to like the earlier style myself but primarily for light-to-moderate loadouts.
They updated the brain pocket from the style on the Guide’s Pack and the previous version of the Shadow Guide. It now opens from the top, rather than the bottom. This makes it easier to access without having to get inside the main compartment of the bag. Functionally speaking, that is a big usability improvement. Additionally, the pocket can hold a considerable amount of stuff inside. It’s entirely possible it may be the equivalent of the Bag of Holding as it never seems to fill up.
The simple structure of the Tom Bihn Shadow Guide makes it an excellent pack for grab-and-go utility. It’s very easy to throw some groceries inside or even a fair amount of shopping if the need arises. I can appreciate the utilitarian functionality when utilizing the pack outside of an exclusively travel-oriented role. Though the bag itself is very simple there are still some signature Tom Bihn touches. Namely the available O-rings throughout, which allow you to attach pouches and other accessories as needed. Additionally, having an external laptop access panel is new for this version. This is a big plus for those who carry their laptop daily and need quick access.
Not So Good
Given the floppy nature of the bag (I mean it is basically a large stuff-sack) it has a tendency to cave in on itself while you’re trying to pack it up, especially if you have anything inside of the brain pocket. This can unfortunately make it a bit inconvenient to pack and unpack if you’re in a hurry. The simple design can be both a blessing and a curse depending on your personal packing preferences. There’s really no organization to speak of outside of the brain pocket, which itself is pretty much a large open space with no interior organization.
Though Tom Bihn put a lot of effort into redesigning the back panel of the Shadow Guide to lighten it up and improve airflow to your back, I found that it is just too floppy for my liking. The aluminum stay is only in the lower lumbar area (which is by design as it is meant to transfer the weight to your hips). But I would have personally preferred it if they kept the previous style of internal frame which was rigid throughout. It provides a bit more structure when desired and is completely removable when you don’t need it.
Simplicity is the name of the game with the Tom Bihn Shadow Guide. I find that it is at its best when you throw your laptop (or tablet) in the external access compartment, your tech necessities up top in the brain pocket, ideally in a pouch of some sort, and a jacket or whatever else you might need for the day inside the main bucket. It’s both simple and uncomplicated to use. There’s an emphasis on “grab-and-go” rather than a meticulous packing system (for example, Tom Bihn’s much-loved Synapse & Synik line). If simple works for you, the Shadow Guide might be your bag.