- Buyer's Guide
Tom Bihn, a household name amongst savvy travelers, has long had a wide variety of bags focused on making travel easier and more organized. They produce their bags in-house in Seattle from quality materials and everything they make features a lifetime warranty which puts the traveler’s mind at ease. The Techonaut is a relatively new design of travel bag from the company that features two distinct sizes, a 30L and a 45L. We will be focusing on the 45L for this review but other than differences in dimension, the features and pocketing between the two packs remain the same.
For the new Techonaut, Tom Bihn sought to take cues from two of their longest-running and most successful product lines, the Synapse/Synik and Aeronaut, and find a way to combine the features of both into one pack design. I would be remiss to not also mention the Hero’s Journey as a design inspiration for the Techonaut; if you had them side by side, it would be easy to see functional ideas they took from that pack. As a long-term owner and user of both the Synapse and Aeronaut, I was thoroughly curious to see if they had successfully merged the two into one do-it-all travel solution because I have come to rely on the two previously mentioned bags as a nearly unbeatable travel pair for my needs. Could I do more with less?
- Name: Techonaut 45
- Brand: Tom Bihn
- Format: Travel Backpack
- Measurement: 21.9" (w) x 14" (h) x 9.1" (d) / 555 (w) x 355 (h) x 230 (d) mm
- Capacity: 45L (2745cu. in.)
- Weight: 3lbs (1.3Kg)
- Zippers: YKK RC
- Material: U.S. high tenacity 1050 denier ballistic nylon (other options available)
Who It Suits
If you’re the type of traveler who prefers the one-bag setup, you like to bring your own organization (Tom Bihn or otherwise) and can efficiently pack inside one primary compartment while also needing to carry a laptop or tablet in the same bag, this could be a potential option for your next trip.
Who It Doesn't
If you’re the type of traveler who prefers to carry multiple bags (for example: a backpack paired with a duffel or roller bag), and you find that a 30L or 45L is either too big or too small for your needs, there’s no other choice here as neither size has compression or expansion options. This also wouldn’t be the right bag for someone who requires tons of internal/external organization or multiple external water bottle pockets.
As mentioned in the intro, the Techonaut was intended to be a curated “best of” list of features from the Synapse and Aeronaut lines, but I would say that’s an ambitious goal to try and achieve. The Synapse and Synik are both well-regarded daily carry and travel packs that are thoughtfully organized, which allows them to carry much more than one would expect. The Aeronaut has been around for a long time in Tom Bihn’s product lineup and it has always been a duffel bag first and backpack second, though when you add in the frame sheet with its full metal stay, it becomes a perfectly viable travel backpack. Additionally, since all of your kit and clothing can be neatly divided between the three internal compartments, the Aeronaut makes it easy to travel.
The Techonaut looks to pull from each and features a large primary compartment which gives you about 2/3 of the bag’s real estate and a lower compartment that gives you an area to separate shoes, dirty clothes, toiletries or whatever you see fit. Another new addition is the inclusion of a separate top-loading laptop compartment that is accessible near one of the top handles, which is lined in a different material (Cerylon) than every other compartment of the pack (Halcyon). I don’t totally understand why they chose to do this from a design perspective as the traditional Halcyon liner would not be damaging to a laptop.
The back panel of the bag should look familiar if you’ve seen Tom Bihn’s Shadow Guide. The design is intended to introduce airflow across your back, and hopefully keep you cool whilst on the move. This new back panel is one of the most distinct departures from the Aeronaut visually and functionally and positions the Techonaut as a “backpack first”. The stowable shoulder straps are Tom Bihn’s newer Edgeless design, first seen on the Synik, and comfort is going to come down to the individual wearer’s preferences. I just so happen to prefer the original strap designs as they fit my body better, but your mileage may vary here. Earlier, I mentioned that with the Aeronaut, one could add in the optional frame sheet (as well as padded hip belt) and convert the bag into a supportive travel backpack. The Techonaut also features an optional frame sheet, but it is vastly different from its predecessor. The earlier Aeronaut design featured a full-length metal stay which can be comfortably shaped to the wearer’s back, and the Techonaut’s is primarily a HDPE sheet with a 1/4 length metal stay which unfortunately does very little to increase load stability and (when using the also-optional padded hip belt) transfer weight to the user’s hips. Additionally, it’s incredibly difficult to insert due to its flaccid nature and it truly feels like an afterthought, rather than an intentionally designed feature of the pack.
I’ve also mentioned that the Techonaut is designed to be “backpack first” when it comes to the method of carry, but the straps can be stowed and it does still feature the anchor points to attach a shoulder strap (Tom Bihn or otherwise) if you would prefer to use it as a duffel. But given the generally saggy nature of the bag and the lack of a supportive frame, the Techonaut will “cave” in rather than maintain its shape as the Aeronaut does. The major downgrade from the Aeronaut I want to call out here is unfortunately the side handle. The Aeronaut features a very comfortable handle which is sturdily anchored to the bag via webbing loops and secured together with a padded wrap which snaps together. This comfortably distributes the weight and keeps the bag from deforming too much. It also serves as a temporary place to stash a jacket when you’re in transit and I’ve personally found this very handy on multiple occasions.
The Techonaut completely changes this approach by moving to a very thick, padded handle directly attached to the side of the pack. This handle is part of their Edgeless design just like you’ll find on their shoulder straps, and while this does reduce some bulk, I have never found it comfortable to hold. It always seems to fold or deform in your hand in a way that’s unnatural and unpleasant when trying to carry the bag for any length of time. I understand they wanted to keep the design a bit more trim and sleek, but in this reviewer’s opinion, this was unfortunately a big step back in the overall user experience. Speaking of handles, why they chose not to just keep the same top handle as the Aeronaut/Synik is another mystery to me. The Techonaut’s top grab handle, while still comfortable (unlike the side handle) feels so loose and floppy rather than the nicely controlled versions on the previously mentioned bags. Overall, I can’t say that I was all too happy with these features of the Techonaut from the perspective of a loyal Synapse and Aeronaut user.
Tom Bihn packs historically have a distinct-yet-understated look about them which some people love and others are strongly opposed to. Don’t forget that this always has been and always will be a deeply personal decision and my opinion stated here is highly subjective. Generally speaking, I like many of Tom Bihn’s designs; I find them to be organic in shape, utilitarian in nature and almost always dependable in use. They rather unfairly get pigeon-holed into being called “dad bags”, but I view the Tom Bihn aesthetic as one that’s ideal for travel. They historically have featured a wide array of vibrant tones and materials to choose from, allowing the user to express their personal taste across an entire spectrum. Nowadays though, they have been focusing more on earthy neutrals and darker shades overall, minimizing their expressive options and focusing on what sells to a broad audience. Either way, Tom Bihn bags are great at blending into any environment and allowing you to focus on traveling comfortably.
All that being said, I find the aesthetic of the Techonaut to really only work in certain materials and patterns. My example here is finished in 1050D Coyote Ballistic Nylon, which if you know me is one of my favorite combos, especially when there are contrasting black elements featured in the bag’s design (such as the zippers or harness). Yet despite that historically being something that always works for my tastes, it didn’t here. If you were to choose one of their Halcyon options, the bag would have a much softer shape which you might prefer, as that material is naturally less rigid and more pliable which can also allow some “overpacking”. Personally, I think the design works better with their darker materials (or even their Woodland camouflage, aka “Beaver Camo”) as it kind of hides the lines of the pack. Again, this is my subjective opinion as one reviewer who generally favors Tom Bihn’s different aesthetic.
One area where Tom Bihn rarely falters is construction quality. They produce all of their products in-house in Seattle in their own factory so they have total control over the quality of production. In my time using the Techonaut it has felt largely up to the standard I’ve come to expect from Tom Bihn. I’ve observed a stitch or two that have come loose, but nothing has actually come apart or been damaged. This is also a good moment to call out Tom Bihn’s excellent warranty; because they control every aspect of their production, they are able to guarantee their products for life, and they make every effort to repair (rather than just immediately replace) your bag if you do develop a problem, which I really respect about them as a company. Reducing waste is such an important aspect to the softgoods industry, and I hope that more brands follow Tom Bihn’s example.
Materials and Hardware
My example of the Techonaut is constructed of 1050D Ballistic Nylon, which is a hard-wearing and fairly weatherproof material that will hold up to years of use (I have the same material on my well-traveled Aeronaut, which still somehow looks new). The interior of my bag features their Halcyon liner. I’ve personally always been a fan of this material as I find it holds up well to use. It is pliable enough to allow you to “stuff” a bag, but also sturdy enough to keep its structure. The zippers are super smooth YKK RCs throughout; this is a small thing to call out as Tom Bihn has been recently transitioning away from their typical YKK AquaGuard zippers on their primary bags based on customer feedback. I happen to prefer the older AquaGuards myself, but your mileage may vary here.
Additionally, the laptop compartment features a different material from the liner of the pack. It’s called Cerylon and it’s a new alternative recycled material that Tom Bihn has been starting to incorporate, in place of their typical Halcyon or Ballistic liners. Though I generally am all for utilizing recycled materials where possible, I have to be honest here in that the Cerylon fabric does not feel nice to the touch. In fact, it feels cheap compared to the materials used throughout the rest of the pack. Additionally, this compartment is the only one to have its zipper tab already removed, and a “silent” zipper pull installed. While I am often one to modify my bags by removing zipper tabs or making custom zipper pulls, I would prefer to make that conscious choice rather than have it made for me. They’ve used this type of pull before, on the Shadow Guide and other Design Lab offerings, but I didn’t care for the way it feels in use. It has less positive grip than their standard pulls offer and as a result I find it makes the zipper action feel less smooth to operate. Personally, I would swap this out for one of Tom Bihn’s standard paracord zipper pulls (like they include with the bag).
I’ve mentioned earlier that the Techonaut sought to be a merger of two different Tom Bihn product lines, looking to create one pack for travelers to live and work out of. There is ample space to pack within the main compartment, even for the largest of packing cubes. For example, I was able to easily fit the 20L “full” packing cube from GORUCK, which is positively huge when filled. The lower compartment also has ample space with the ability to flex a little one way or the other depending on your packing needs by zipping / unzipping a small divider panel on the interior; a carryover feature from the Aeronaut. Where I feel the bag falls short is in the exterior pocketing.
Of course they feature Tom Bihn’s signature O-rings throughout to help you locate things quickly if using one of their attachment leashes. But unfortunately the flat style of pocket for these just becomes very difficult to utilize effectively if the pack is fairly full. Now these pockets are indeed inspired from the side pockets found on the Aeronaut line, which I’m also not the biggest fan of to be perfectly fair, but it’s just a bit cumbersome to get things in or out of them. The shallow side pocket is an adequate place to stash your keys and wallet but not much else. The “top” pocket has more depth and might be a decent place to stash your travel snacks (gotta have your travel snacks!).
There is one more side pocket which goes down much further and this is intended to house a water bottle or perhaps an umbrella. The caveat I mentioned earlier about utilizing the exterior pocketing when the pack is full is especially true for the water bottle pocket. Unfortunately none of the water bottles I like to travel with fit comfortably inside when the bag is well loaded, so it’s more ideally suited to a tall and narrow style bottle or intentionally underpacking the bag.
The final exterior pocket is one we’ve touched on, the dedicated laptop compartment. This design choice came about from trying to give travelers the opportunity to better carry their tech and clothing in one pack rather than having to work with multiple. In use, I found the compartment did its job, with relatively unimpeded access, but depending on the type of device you store in there, it will slide around freely, so one would need to take a bit of care while in transit. I was able to fit everything from an iPad all the way up to my 16” MacBook Pro with room to spare. So I would say it’s safe to assume your extra-large laptops will fit in here fine.
Space and Access
At 45L, the Techonaut provides you with ample space to pack, and its more rectangular shape allows you to truly utilize more of the pack; I did appreciate that aspect. You gain access to the main compartment which occupies about 2/3 of the bag via one large horseshoe-shaped zipper and then it’s just open space. The lower third is also accessed via a zipper and opens up comfortably to allow you to stuff it full of whatever you need to carry. I mentioned it a moment ago, but having that adjustable divider for these two compartments is a useful feature to accommodate your packing needs and being able to adjust that quickly is a positive user experience. I find that this lower pocket is reminiscent of the one found on the Synapse/Synik, just considerably larger.
Tom Bihn brought over their newer Edgeless straps to replace the older bound-style straps found on the Aeronaut and when you’re carrying a good deal of weight in this pack, they are a welcome change in my experience. As is the updated back panel design, which improves airflow and is sculpted in such a way that it conforms naturally to your body. Where I feel the bag is lacking is with the optional frame sheet. It lacks the rigidity required to make it actually effective and honestly the pack is better off without it. Had they chosen to keep the overall frame design from the Aeronaut, it would be a vastly improved situation as that would provide the additional support I was looking for. I must admit, I find this design choice to be a bit perplexing.
The Ballistic Nylon used throughout the pack will do a good job of protecting your stuff while traveling, but it’s not a truly waterproof material. It features a DWR coating to prevent water from soaking into the material and in mild to moderate rainy conditions (Tom Bihn is based in Seattle, after all) you should still be reasonably well protected. Also, while the move to YKK RC zippers removes the “AquaGuard” portion, they are still DWR coated and are still quite resistant to water seeping through. To summarize - this is not a waterproof bag, but it will still be largely water-resistant with some care.
- Material and color options are plentiful, which should suit most users’ tastes
- Great capacity and access to compartments which are easy to fully utilize
- Improved straps and back panel which are more comfortable under weight than the older Aeronaut style
- Excellent warranty which covers the entire lifetime of the product
Not So Good
- Exterior pockets seem limited in use (too deep for flat pockets)
- Side handle design is too thick/wide to grab easily. You have to fold it inwards to make it comfortable. It doesn’t feel natural to the hand and never felt secure to hold.
- Laptop compartment liner material, cerylon, feels inferior to halcyon and “cheapens” the bag
- Frame sheet doesn’t add enough rigidity, similar to the Shadow Guide
- Tom Bihn’s most expensive bag, yet it feels like a step backwards in many ways
I want to preface this conclusion with the fact that I love Tom Bihn as a company. I have relied on their products for numerous years and continue to do so, so it pains me when I encounter a product from them that I ultimately don’t enjoy using. The Techonaut feels like too much of a regression from either the Synapse, Synik, or Aeronaut lines. Though it isn’t a direct replacement for any of them, it was meant to be a “best of” compilation, and in my opinion, it falls short of their very high bar. Though there are no issues with construction quality, it has their excellent warranty, and is available in a variety of safe color options that should suit most tastes, it didn’t make me want to replace either my Synapse or my Aeronaut. As Tom Bihn’s flagship product (according to price), the Techonaut fell just a bit short for this fan.
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Space & Access
Look & Feel
Build, Materials & Hardware
Warranty & Support