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Gear Review: Tom Bihn Cadet

A couple of weeks ago, Tom Bihn introduced a new bag called the Cadet.  Just prior to its release, the company gave me early access to their website so I could see the bag before most others. I so hoped this bag would finally be the first poorly designed Tom Bihn bag. The one I could tear apart. The one I would find fault with. The one that would allow me to belittle a Tom Bihn creation.

But that didn’t happen. In fact, just the opposite. The faults I found with some of his other bags—flaps, lack of zippers—weren’t there.

Then they sent me one for review. I opened the box. I gave the Cadet a once over. I quickly realized that my hoped for creative, harsh, critical review would have to wait. This was a nice bag.

Darn you, Tom Bihn.

The Cadet is a sleek, stylish, no-nonsense, mini-brief designed specifically for Apple Macs and Tablets but will fit many PC’s. It comes in two sizes: the 15/13 designed for the larger Macbooks  with dimensions of 16.25” x 12.3” x 4.5”. It weighs 1.7 lbs empty.

The smaller version, the 11/Ipad, is 13.5” x 10.5” x 4.5”. It weighs 1.4 lbs  empty. (I have the smaller one and that’s the one I’ll be reviewing. )

The exterior of the cadet is made of 1050 denier ballistic nylon while the interior is specially made Japanese Dyneema ripstop nylon. All zippers are YKK with the main ones having a splashguard. Foam padding is sewn into the front, bottom and back of the bag giving it its shape and added protection to any contents carried within. There are two clips to add a  shoulder strap which is included. Mine came with an upgraded Absolute Strap which is available for an additional $20.

Each bag has three compartments. The front compartment is shallow and lined with ultrasuede. It was specifically designed to carry an iphone without scratching.

The second compartment has two iphone/camera pockets and three pen pockets. There are also two “o” rings with a removable key strap attached to one. (Photo of center compartment is of the larger bag with three iphone/camera pockets.)



It’s in the main compartment where the fun begins. This compartment, the largest, is divided into to open sections. The front section is empty and a good place for papers, a journal, book, etc. The rear portion contains two “rails” made of webbing. Attached with gatekeeper clips is a cache to hold your computer or tablet. This rail and cache design makes the bag checkpoint friendly.

Everyone knows when  you go through airport security, you have to remove your computer. Not so with this bag. Rather than take the computer out and expose it, all you need to do is slide the cache out of the Cadet until it is fully exposed. It is, however, still attached to the bag. There is no chance of leaving it behind or having someone with sticky fingers make off with it. Once through security, just slide the whole thing back in. For a good series of photos to see how this works, go to the Cadet website.

My Cadet came with an Ipad size cache. I don’t own a tablet, yet, so I tried putting my netbook in. Its dimensions are just under one inch longer than an ipad, about the same width, and twice the depth. It didn’t’ fit. I could have ordered a slightly larger cache in which it would fit but since I no longer take my netbook with me while traveleing this was not a problem. (I am  planning to get a tablet.) This main compartment also has two “o” rings. (Oh, I did put my netbook in it’s own cache that wasn’t part of the bag and it all fit nicely into the Cadet. I was able to fit my Kindle and my folding Bluetooth Keyboard into the Cadet Ipad Cache at the same time.)

If you don’t need the cache, it is easily removed. You can even order the Cadet without the cache and save $30.

On the rear of the Cadet is an open pocket for a newspaper, magazine or book. Should you be traveling with……..a wheeled bag…….there, I said it…….this open compartment has a zipper at the bottom. Unzipped, it becomes a sleeve and slides over the handles of your wheeled bag.

As most of you know, I prefer to travel with just one bag meaning my smaller day or business bag must fit into my main carry on.

I tried putting the Cadet into the center section of the Tri-Star. It wouldn’t fit.  (To clarify, while technically the Cadet will fit into the center section, My Cadet was filled to the point is was pushed to its widest thickness. So thick that when placed in the center section it pushed the dividers out taking away most packing space from the outer sections.  My Cadet had a netbook, charger and writing portfolio.)

The Cadet did fit snugly into my new Aeronaut.

BTW—the larger Cadet, which will technically will fit into some carry-on bags, will take up so much room  it’s not practical.

About the flaps and lack of zippers I mentioned earlier. I personally find the flaps on bags make it difficult to get into them while being worn. I also didn’t like the fact that many of those “flapped” bags didn’t have zippers for their main compartments. Easy pickings for a thief on crowded public transportation.

But the Cadet has no flap and not only does it have zippers, but ones that are easily locked or secured.

All in all, the Cadet is a great bag for someone looking to downsize their current laptop bag or briefcase yet keep a professional appearance. It can also double as a leisure day bag should you be combining a trip for both business and pleasure.  In reality, this is an every day work bag and not just one to be used for travel. Personally, I’ve replaced my Large Cafe Bag with the Cadet as my daily around town work bag. (The LCB now just comes out for fun.)

Pricey at $170 but you’re paying for quality. I believe it’s worth the investment.

The Cadet is made in the USA.

I used photos in this review that were made available by Tom Bihn because most people here know that I rank as one of the world’s worst photographers.

Reader Comments (12)

Thanks for the review, Frank. I'll definitely consider this bag after I get a smaller, lighter laptop in a couple of months. I've been thinking of a two-bag strategy using a light weight computer bag and my Civita backpack, and this may be just what I'm looking for.
December 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRuss
hi. would you know where in London can I buy this bag? I'm going to London in March 2012 and am hoping to get my hand on a Tom Bihn bag;)

December 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterseqiah
The bag is only available from the manufacturer. It can be ordered from their website.

December 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW
"I tried putting the Cadet into the center section of the Tri-Star. It won’t fit."
Are you sure? Today I asked Tom Bihn customer support and they said it would fit..From looking at the pictures I would agree.
December 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichi
Well, techinically, you could get it to fit. However, if you have anything in the Cadet thicker than just an Ipad it will be thicker than the middle compartment so it pushes the dividers into the outer compartments making packing those outer compartments very difficult. I had a netbook, charger and writing pad portfolio. Too thick to make the outer compartments useful.

I have clarified that in my review.
December 14, 2011 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW
Anyone know how the Cadet fits inside the Air Boss? It appears to be a streamlined design along the lines of the Red Oxx Metro, so I'm leaning towards a yes, but I'm unsure. Like you, Frank, I'm looking for a small day bag/laptop bag that will fit inside my main travel bag.
December 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStacy
Stacy, if you tell us what you need to carry, we might be able to give you some suggestions. The more specific the better. (Don't just say laptop, tell us what size laptop.)
December 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW
The bag looks great. Just what I need. Everyday I bring my 10' HP Netbook, my iPad 2, my HP iPaq phone, one planner and lots of pens. I bring a lot, I guess, this will all fit based on the reviews. I'm actually excited to see the bag. Thanks for this great review, very detailed.
December 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElysse Parsons

Sorry about the delay in response! I somehow completely missed your answer.

I currently have a MacBook Pro 15.4", but for arguments sake should probably include that I'm considering downgrading to either a 11" or 13" Macbook Pro or Air in the next year. I'm not a business traveler, but I'm looking to streamline my travel needs to make it easier to get up & go!

Thanks again.
January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStacy
The Cadet would work for either computer; you'd just have to order the correct size Cadet. I'd also look at the Tom Bihn Ristretto which comes in different sizes. Much more "compressionable."
January 13, 2012 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW
This would be a great article if you have the actual dimensions of your netbook.
May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGregoire
I wrote in the article:

"My Cadet came with an Ipad size cache. I don’t own a tablet, yet, so I tried putting my netbook in. Its dimensions are just under one inch longer than an ipad, about the same width, and twice the depth. It didn’t’ fit"

10.75 x 8 x 1.75
May 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW

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