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The new Tri-Star - up close

Here are some pictures and thoughts on the new Tri-Star carry-on convertible from Tom Bihn (Click on photos for a large version)

The Tri-Star outfitted with my preferred method of carriage - the essential Absolute Strap.


The Tri-Star (19” x 13” x 8” / 480 x 330 x 205mm) and its older and slightly smaller cousin the Western Flyer 18” x 12” x 7” / 455 x 305 x 180mm). The Tri-Star has three compartments, the WF has two. Respective volumes are 2000 & 1600 cubic inches (33 & 26 liters).


This view shows the Tri-Star’s double handle shows the relative size of the three zippered copartments.


The Tri-Star has hide-away contoured backpack straps with a sternum strap. Carrying comfort at 15 pounds is similar to most other convertibles I’ve tried.


Beginning with the rear compartment we see something that’s never before appeared in a TB travel bag - hold-down straps. They’re well-positioned and have nice, thin buckles. My bundle had two pairs of pants, two l/s shirts and one s/s shirt. I’m working on a sort of modified simple bundle method that works well with this compartment and its straps.


The middle compartment is a good place for a computer. You can see my netbook stowed vertically in an over-sized sleeve on the left and a small Tri-Star cube holding a pair of size 10 shoes (pretty thin and flexible dress shoes - much larger or thicker shoes would not fit - not for Sasquatch, a neighbor of Tom’s).


A better view of the shoe situation.


This end view shows that the middle compartment zips only across the top and few inches down each end, making it more secure for a computer. This compartment also has buckles that work with Tom Bihn Brain Cell laptop sleeves. Also note the nifty pull handle found on each end - for quick extraction from the overhead compartment.


Here’s something else the TS shares with the WF - the zipper-divided front compartment. My wife, who uses the WF almost weekly, likes to drop her hair stuff in the divided pocket. For folded clothing large printed material you can unzip it for a large compartment that can be opened flat like the rear compartment.

By now you’ve noticed the nice light-colored interior. The interior dividers are semi-translucent so you can even see well down into the middle compartment. I’ve always preferred a llight/bright interior material.

To the front - we see the three horizontal pockets with the new 3D Organizer Cube (which can reputedly pass a 3-1-1 baggie) peeking out of the top one. (See the bottom of this post for a video demo of the 3D Cube) This pocket layout was first seen on the WF which had only two.



Here’s the water bottle pocket. I’m not much on water bottles but I can see using this pocket for tickets, iPod, or snacks. You might see a slight tendency to bulge here. If you pack the front pockets heavily you need to under pack the front compartment to allow a little sacrificial space for the pockets to bulge inward rather than out.

This close-up of the water bottle pocket shows the TB attention to detail and a texture view of the bag’s most important quality: excellent-quality ballistic nylon which wears like iron and fights bulging. Also note the water-resistant gasketed zippers - just what you’d expect from Seattle.


The TB system approach - four new cubes just for this bag. The full-size half-mesh (large), the 2/3 size half-mesh (medium), the 1/3 size half-mesh (small), and the 1/3 size solid (which I used for shoes).

I packed this bag, which weighs about 3.5 pounds, to 15 pounds. This load included more clothing than I take for a long European trip and a netbook.

At $240 this bag is definitely not cheap, but it looks like a very labor-intensive bag to sew and the materials are top-notch. A great deal of thought has gone into its design. More to come about this bag.

Reader Comments (18)

I just got one in steel/solar and I'm very impressed. Great quality and workmanship.

While many of my Eagle Creek folders, cubes and sacs can be made to fit in the Tri-Star, I'm thinking of getting the TB mesh packing cubes and clear pouches/cubes that are made for it just so it's easy to see what's in them. How transparent are the mesh cubes?

June 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBuzz

So, if you could have only one bag... this or the Air Boss, which would it be?

Also, is the bottom of the center compartment padded for netbook protection?

June 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlordhamster

Well, the Air Boss is too big for the way I travel now. If I traveled with a suit I might have to choose the larger Air Boss. For now it would be the Tri-Star because of size. The center compartment is not padded anywhere. A netbook would need to be sleeved or wrapped in clothing. I believe some bags add padding mainly for structure. This isn't necessary with the ballistic nylon. Come to think of it there is padding on the outside wall of the rear compartment to make backpack carriage more comfortable. This adds a little structure. The straps stow fairly flat - you don't really notice a bulge. I believe this is apparent from the pictures. The back zippered compartment is very flat so the most you could stow in there would be a couple of newspapers or magazines.

June 22, 2009 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW

Buzz, I don't know how to judge the transparency - I don't have much to compare them too. The photo at the end of the post may allow you to judge if you click on it for the larger view.

June 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

Lordhamster...Tom Bihn makes padded laptop sleeves in all different sizes. These sleeves have clips on them that attach to similar clips sewn into one wall of the center section of the Tri-Star. If you look at the seventh picture down you can see one of the two clips on the left side of the internal center pocket.

In a sense, you put your laptop/netbook into one of these padded sleeves, then clip the sleeve into the center section. This keeps the sleeve, and the computer, from sliding around.

They're called "Brain Cells."

June 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBuzz

Brain Cells are mentioned above, under the eighth picture.

June 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrad


What's the total cost with the packing cubes?

June 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeff W

The cubes are $15-$18 each (doubtful anyone would need all four) and the Absolute Strap is $30. The $240 is for the bag only, with backpack straps of course.

June 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

I know that the Tristar is only an inch bigger all round but it looks so much larger than the Western Flyer in your photos.

June 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSco1t

This might be what my wife wants. I'll stick with the Air Boss - it's larger but you don't have to cram if full, either.

June 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

My wife has taken this one on four-night trip. I'll do a post on her impressions in a few days.

June 23, 2009 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW

Outside North America carry-on bag size limitations are often lower than the giant bags that US carriers allow. In the UK, the two main low cost airlines seem to agree that 55 x 40 x 20 cm (about 22 x 16 x 8 inches) is the standard size. (They don’t agree on much else.) I believe that Swiss Air and Lufthansa are other examples of airlines that adopt this size.

The Tri-Star meets this size limitation – indeed it is smaller in length.

Which leads me to wonder why. Why make it 19” long when it could be 22”? The extra 3” could be useful when packing a jacket. And it would still be small enough to comply with the vast majority of international size standards, which is an important consideration for a European.

I also don’t understand why the compartment with the hold-down straps, which is where the clothes most likely to crease will probably be stored, is the rear compartment.

If the bag is stored on its side in an overhead bin, it will usually rest on the rear compartment so that the weight from the other compartments will press down on the clothes – making creasing more likely. This seems such an obvious design flaw to me that I must be missing something!

Other than that the Tri-Star looks like a good bag. However, I personally will not be buying it because its $240 price tag would become closer to $400 by the time it reached the UK if international carriage, import duty and VAT are added.

June 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCall London

Valid comments, indeed, Call London.

I particularly agree with the 22 inch thing. They could have made a bag that was still in line with all regulations yet allowed to carry a suit.

Probably the decision to forgo that opportunity was based on the line-up of bags the company already has. It needed to be sufficiently different. Secondly, they probably think that the target group for this bag will not travel with suits anyway.

As for why the clothes go in the bag compartment the answer is easy. The idea behind that is that clothes go in the back and toiletries and shoes can go into the divisible front compartment. When the bag is carried either on the shoulder or on the back the shoes and toiletries, which are hard, would be pressing against the body and make the bag uncomfortable to carry.

The solution would be to simply put the bag down on the other side or to actually but it in not flat but upright standing on its long side. It should fit in the bin like that while saving space for other things.

I also agree for the price. It is probably calculated fairly but a lot of travelers from Europe and Asia will not be able to justify it once shipping and all the other things are included. If a traveler really wanted it, I'm sure one could have it sent to a hotel or business partner/friend and pick it up there on a trip to the US.

June 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTill

The rear hold-down compartment layout is identical to the Air Boss if my memory serves. The padding in the back wall might help it work better for clothes since in provides structure. The center compartment is for computer or bulky items and front is more catch-all and provides inward expansion space for the outer pockets. As for the 22" versus shorter length issue, I think present length is just big enough for folding if you're a men's size42/44 or less. I like smaller bags because they're easier to maneuver, though maybe there's a place for a bag that is max length but smallish in the other dimensions. The shorter length may help it better fit in overhead compartments in some cases (no pun intended). I for one am thankful that we now have some variety in carryon sizes. The used to all be max-sized (45" combined).

June 24, 2009 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW

Thank you for the terrific pictures of the new Tristar. But now I wish to point out the obvious: I wish you would do a one-on-one smack down of the Tristar versus the Skytrain!!! And tell us which you prefer and why. Thank you

June 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlan

I'll take that under advisement - I have both bags and have never reviewed the Shytrain...

June 27, 2009 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW

Thanks to Till and yourself for your earlier clarifications.

I had always assumed that you never posted your earlier promised review of the Skytrain because such a review would have been less than positive ...

June 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCall London


You said "I’m working on a sort of modified simple bundle method that works well with this compartment and its straps."

Could you share with us what it is? How is it different from the "onebag' method?


August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

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