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Gear Review: Tom Bihn Aeronaut--updated

Four and half years ago, Brad, the founder of this site, did a review of the Aeronaut. You can find it here:

 OBOW Review of the Tom Bihn Aeronaut.

Please read that review because much of what I would say was already said in that  review.

Go ahead. Read it. You will be tested.

Okay, now that you’ve read it….You did read it?……No…..go back and read it. I’ll wait…………

All right, I’ll take your word that you read it. (But I know some of you are cheating.)

I agree with just about everything Brad said. (Oh, you’ll note that it seems like I respond in the comment section. That’s not me, that’s Brad. When I took over the site all of the webmaster postings were changed from “Brad” to “Frank@OBOW.”  It’s a technical problem with no fix from Squarespace. Sorry.)

First, let me update a few changes to the bag since that review:

—there are the famous Tom Bihn “O” rings in every compartment of the bag including the mesh pocket on the main compartment flap. (The pocket on the inside of the main compartment flap is now mesh.)

—the Breve is no longer available. (There is a “Breve” but it’s not a junior Aeronaut. The name is now used for a streamlined Ipad case.)

—prices on everything have gone up. The Aeronaut is now $240.

—two compression straps have been added to the main compartment.

—-some colors have changed.

—an optional waist strap is available.

I, too, give the Aeronaut 5 stars. To be honest, I’ve wanted this bag for a long time. And even though the good folks at Tom Bihn have sent lots of items to review, I paid my own, hard-earned, much coveted, personal money for the Aeronaut, associated packing cubes, and a few other pieces of “Tom Bihn bling.”

I haven’t regretted spending one cent.

I own eight carry-on bags. (While that seems like a lot, when you run a website like this one, lots of “light travel” products seem to arrive at my door.)

But this will soon change. At least half of those bags will be sold. Why bother keeping them to collect dust? With the Aeronaut, I can’t imagine too many scenarios when I will need anything else.

The Tom Bihn Aeronaut is now my number one go-to bag. It is the King of my carry-ons.

Need I say anything else?

Okay, I will say something else. Unless you are restrained, it is possible to put so much stuff in this bag it will weigh as much as a baby elephant. I don’t know if Tom took a weekend course at Hogwarts or something, but this bag just continues to take more and more stuff. And to some that’s dangerous. Especially to those whose packing philosophy is to keep going until the bag is full.

But on the bright side, if you don’t pack it to the gills, and leave a little “breathing room,” the bag can be “molded” to fit almost any airline sizer or overhead compartment. (With the square main section, I find rolling clothes to work better than folding.)

I should mention, since receiving the Aeronaut, my Tri-Star has been giving me the cold shoulder now that it has been relegated to second place. I don’t own a Western Flyer—well, at least not yet. Or a Co-Pilot, or a ……oh, no, here we go again. Some people collect stamps, others snow globes, I collect travel gear.

I admit it,  I’m a travelgearaholic.


Reader Comments (17)

Selling old bags? *grins* Do we get first dibs? PS, I think Tom Bihn puts that Hogwarts magic on all of his bags, even my little pouches hold way more than I think they should. Great review. Now I'm going to the Tom Bihn site to drool a little.
January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDarbi
My Aeronaut has been to about 30 countries with me. (Well, sometimes just offshore sitting nicely in the cruiseship). Between that and my Checkpoint Flyer, I'm totally covered for a few weeks of clothes (with carefully timed "wash days" of course).

I have the waiststrap, although I don't use it unless I have to hoof a half mile or more, and most airports are a bit under that at a stretch.
January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRandal L. Schwartz
I have a black Aeronaut and a Black TriStar. I really like the Aeronaut, especially if have to carry an extra pair of shoes. But I typically "gold star" and have my laptop within my one bag. For me, thats the reason I don't business travel that often with the Aeronaut. I have a Dell E6420, vs say a small Mac, and I need a 'sleeve' with handles and large enough for the charger and some paper etc. Right now I use a REI tech sleeve inside the middle compartment of the TriStar and this works fine. That sleeve, and any of the small sleeves with handles don't fit into the Aeronaut unless I unclip both sides, but I need that side space as well. When I do use the Aeronaut, I use a handleless sleeve (Tom Bihn), and a REI flash 18 backpack. The sleeve barely fits, but the flash is very light and doesn't take much space in the bag.
January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames
What's in Frank II's new Aeronaut?? I would love for Frank II to give us a detailed list for, say, I week long casual trip to Europe in late Spring.
January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlan
Frank would love to give you a packing list of what he would take to Europe in Spring but the list is constantly changing. I'm always replacing one item with a new, lighter alternative.
But, I'll do my best to give you a generic one as of today:

European Packing List

--hand sanitizer
--Tide stick pen
--Shaving Oil
--Toothpaste (small)

Twister Razor
Trac II Blades
Hairbrush, (folding)
Deodorant (solid)

Emery Board(1)
Immodium (2 sheets), Pepto (sheets), Alleve (roll), Tums(roll)
Anti-Bacterial Wipes (wiping off tray tables)
Prescription Meds
Eyeglass Repair
Sewing Kit
Splenda Tablets
Insoles/Odor Eaters

Inflatable Hangars (2-3)
Sea to Summit Laundry Leaves
XL Ziploc Bags to do wash in
small ziploc for liquid soap

Immersion Heater
Eye Mask
Ear Plugs
Moleskine Notebook
Business Cards

Canon Camera
SD Cards
ipod Touch
Adapters (1 of each)
Folding Headphones
Ipod Microphone extension
Gomadic Retractable & Tips
Lenmar 2x USB Charger
PPU Clip
Retractable cords and plugs
Folding Keyboard

Guidebooks, Maps, Phrasebook, Trip Info

Passport, Driver’s License, Health Card, Insurance Info, Credit Cards, ATM Card, Cash, Photocopies, (In my moneybelt)
Moneybelts--Hidden pocket, Tom Bihn Passport Pouch,
Wallet--Pacsafe Wallet

compass (attached to Bag)
Umbrella--small travel kind
Laundry Bag,
Luggage Locks (3)
Flashlights (micro-LED)
Glasses Case (DB)
Tom Bihn Travel Tray

Jacket (w)
Pants (3) (w1)
Shirts (4) (w1)
Gym Shorts
Sweater--microfiber (2)
Socks--Smartwool (4) (w1)
Undershorts--exofficio (4) (w1)
T-Shirts--exofficio (2)
Shoes (w)
Tom Bihn Travel Belt (w)

I use a large and end Aeronaut packing cube, two TB quarter packing cubes and a couple of TB clear organizer pouches.

This is actually a packing list for a planned three week trip. Some of these items might be removed depending on where I'm going. If just the UK/Ireland, I'd leave home the immersion heater as most hotels have tea/coffee maker. I guarantee the above list will change before this trip.
January 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW
I too have the Aeronaut and a Tri-Star. For me it was just the opposite. For some reason I never came up with a good way to smoothly remove my laptop from the center compartment of the Aeronaut for going through security. Never mind tucking it back in when I made it to the other side. I wish Tom Bihn made an Air Boss sized Tri-Star.
January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndy
Great review update - thanks!

I've been looking at Bihn bags for some time now, and have been going back and forth between the Aeronaut, Tri-Star, and Western Flyer for some time now.

For the last 16 years I've been using an original Patagonia MLC, which has been fantastic, but is really pretty beat-up now, as you can well imagine. It's been a fantastic bag, though, and has been with me on quite a few adventures, including a single trip that lasted a year! I spent quite a bit of time selecting the MLC, and that turned-out to be time very well spent. Alas, now it's time for a new bag.

The Bihn TS seems to be the right size for me, but is on the heavy side for its size and the compartments seem too small for shoes, despite what people say (including the TB people). I know that there is a lot of give because the nylon is not rigid, but I don't like bags that bulge. The WF looks great, and I could live out of it for months on end, but it is too small for picking-up books and trinkets along the way, which I like to do, even though the compartments are large enough to comfortably pack a pair of shoes. The Aeronaut is pretty much perfect, but might be a bit big. That's been an issue with the MLC on recent trips as well, and that bag isn't great when it's not full due to its lack of structure.

To complicate things, I plan on moving to Germany at the end of the year, and the Aeronaut might be on the large size for travel there as well, though it meets Lufthansa's maximum carry-on size of 158 cm (H x W x D). Once living in Berlin I expect to be taking more frequent but shorter trips, making the WF a great choice. The obvious answer is to buy an Aeronaut plus a WF, but of course that would be really expensive, especially with a few packing cubes thrown in.

So, I have a couple of questions:
1. For those with TS experience, is it really large enough to pack large running or traditional dress shoes?
2. Is there another bag with hideaway backpack straps I should consider, other than those made by Red Oxx, MEI, and Patagonia?

I'd appreciate any input that you might have. This is a really big purchase for me, and I want to get it right; if my purchase lasts as long as my MLC has it may well be the last bag I will ever need to buy. I'd like to order one each of all three bags and check them out at home before sending two back, but TB never seems to have all three in stock at the same time, at least not in colors that interest me - frustrating!

Again, thanks for the great review update!
January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhillip
"With the Aeronaut, I can’t imagine too many scenarios when I will need anything else"

There are plenty of such scenarios if you use some of the European airlines. The Aeronaut is oversized for many of them, and they can be extremely officious about implementing the rules. It's the only reason I haven't bought one.
January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Except for a few of the airlines that utilize turboprops, or have a strict weight limit, the Aeronaut works just fine.

Remember, this is not a rigid bag. It is soft sided and .if not packed to the brim can fit into most European airline sizers: BA, Lufthansa, Easyjet, Ryanair, and the like.

I have a luggage shipping box that I use as a sizer. It measures 21.5" x 14" x 9". I can easily fit the Aeronaut into it with room to spare. I tried it and I'd estimate it's about 21 x 14 x 8--will within the standard European size limitations.

I've found that most of the airlines are mainly concerned with wheeled carry-ons and not our wheel-less bags. In most cases, again if not backed to the brim, the Aeronaut will be ignored.

There will always be one or two exceptions, but for one flight, I'm not going to change bags. More than likely, I'll ask for my bag to be gate checked or I'll avoid that airline.
January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFrank @ OBOW
My size 13 running shoes fit into the bottom pocket of my Aeronaut without a problem and can layer in a few more soft items into that same pocket as well. I live in Europe and the size of the bag fits all the carriers I fly, big or small. It's only when I am asked to have the bag weighed that I may have to check it.
January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSectionChief
This is killing me.... I've been researching and reading reviews now for WEEKS trying to decide on a new bag. My #1 requirement is the bag needs to be born & bred in the good ol' USA. #2 is I really want a convertible bag (w/backpack straps) so I have as many carry options as possible. #3 is I don't want to ever check a bag on a flight - no matter what.

I'm a tech/business traveler so I need business casual clothes and a good bit of tech gear. That includes, not only a laptop, power brick and various cables, but also sometimes the need for a screwdriver, a cable labeler, cable ties, velcro and other such things. I'm not opposed to carrying a 2nd bag as a "personal" item for tech stuff, but I'd rather not whenever I can help it. My typical trip is 2-4 days, I'm rarely away from home for a week or more. I drive a lot, and fly maybe 2 or 3 times a month.

Having said all that, I REALLY REALLY love the Aeronaut, but it doesn't seem like it would be as flexible/versatile for my needs. For instance, looking at the TriStar, it seems like I could just carry that into a customer site with me, and nobody would think I was just carrying my luggage around with me (especially if it was black or steel). Or, I could check into my hotel, hang up my clothes in the closet, and then carry the TriStar as my computer briefcase. With the Aeronaut, it seems like I would need some other means of carrying my laptop and tech gear with me after I've checked into the hotel. I don't think the Aeronaut seems like a good "briefcase"/tech bag to lug into a business casual situation with a customer.

I really wish I could justify spending the money on BOTH bags right now :), but I can't. And I just read the TB blog post yesterday about the Aeronauts selling out, and being on back-order! C'mon folks, I'm dyin' over here!!!

So, for all you folks out there with experience using both bags, can you help me make this crazy tough decision?? Am I wrong on my thoughts about the Aeronaut?? Can it double as a tech/computer bag in a pinch? I really like the style and extra space of the Aeronaut, and I worry that I won't be able to get everything I need in the TriStar.

I never thought buying a new bag would be such a hard decision.....
March 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave M
Dave....when I was reading your post, and before you got to the part about the Aeronaut, I was thinking "three compartment bag." The Aeronaut is a great bag, I love it, and it could probably carry everything you need, but it's not as "professional" looking as a three compartment bag like the Tri-Star. If you needed to take it directly to a meeting, there isn't enough room to keep your personal and professional stuff separate.

But the Tri-Star might be too small. There are two other bags like that made in the USA with backpack straps: the MEI Executive Overnighter and the Tough Traveler Tri-Zip.

Both have been reviewed on this website:


March 24, 2012 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW
Thanks for the response Frank! BTW, I LOVE your site and the detailed reviews you provide.

I've looked at the MEI EO and the Tough Traveler Tri-Zip, but to be honest I don't get a very good feeling about either company. The web presence of each company seems a bit "lame" at best, and I can't even find a way to make a purchase from MEI even if I wanted to. The TT Tri-Zip looks like a pretty nice bag, but I don't feel nearly as good about it (or the company) as I do about Tom Bihn (or even Red Oxx).

The more I think about this, the more I seem to be leaning toward the Aeronaut. I like the idea of the additional room it has which would be nice to have when needed, such as for casual/vacation travel. I could always get a nice smaller bag (messenger or briefcase style maybe) to carry as a 2nd personal item when I fly for business. I really don't fly that often, so it wouldn't be a huge deal. And if I packed light enough, I could probably put the messenger bag inside the Aeronaut until I get to my destination. In your experience with the Aeronaut, do you think that would be do-able??

I was also thinking the backpack packing cube from Tom Bihn might work too. I could just throw my laptop in the Aeronaut in a neoprene sleeve, along with my few misc tools & cables in other packing cube/organizer pouches, and then use the backpack packing cube to lug those things around as needed after arriving at my destination - leaving the Aeronaut in my hotel or car. It might not seem totally "business like", but I'm usually just working around a bunch of computer geeks in a data center anyway. :)

So, what do you think? In your last post about the Aeronaut on 1/25/2012, which was awesome by the way, you pretty much convinced me that the Aeronaut was my bag of choice. I was ready to order it today when I noticed the color I wanted (Navy/Solar) is on back order (Steel/Solor looks pretty nice too, and is still available!) Then I started waffling again about the TriStar possibly being a better choice for my needs.

My wife is just about to kill me over this whole bag ordeal. If don't make a decision soon and just place an order, I fear she is going to do something drastic. She thinks I'm crazy! :)
March 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave M
I have the "Packing Cube Backpack" for my Aeronaut. Most of the time, it has my pants and shirts in it, to keep them down to half of the inside space of the center compartment of the Aeronaut (the other half filled with two smaller packing cubes for socks and underwear, and shorts and t-shirts).

But I have frequently used it as a "backpack" to hold my laptop and camera gear for a cruise shore excursion. The 17-inch MacBookPro barely fits in there, but at least it fits. The "backpack" is just barely functional as a backpack, but it does work, and has both a large interior section, and a small miscellaneous section at the base. No waist strap either, but you won't be carrying enough to worry. :)

I also have the "Packing Cube Shoulder Bag", which fits in one end of the Aeronaut, and normally holds my toiletries, but I can dump those out and use it as a fanny pack or small shoulder sling bag.
March 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRandal L. Schwartz
I just bought an Aeronaut due, in a big part, to the reviews that I read here. We've just returned from a 'test' trip to Playa del Carmen and the bag work out perfectly. The backpack straps were great at our plane change in Atlanta, moved from one terminal to another with ease. NO worries about lossed luggage either which is as important on a short trip as it is on a long one. Can't wait for our next trip in the fall and our return to GB in 2013. Thank you all for the great info & revues!
May 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBob W
Any thoughts on working a macbook air in a sleeve (13") into some part of this bag? Will it fit in one of the ends? Or I would it need to go in the main central compartment?
August 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDasher
I carry my Acer netbook in the main central compartment. The padded sleeve is 13" x 9 1/2" x 1 1/2". This fits and removes easily from the main compartment and is about 2" too large for the ends. IMHO it is better protected in the main with less chance of banging the bag into something!
August 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBob W

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