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Gear Reviews: Tom Bihn 400d Dyneema/420d Nylon Travel Bags

A couple of months ago, we announced that Tom Bihn would begin making their travel bags out of a new lightweight material.—400d Dyneema/420d ripstop nylon—in addition to its regular 1050d ballistic nylon.

The manufacturing has begun and two of their most popular bags, the Aeronaut and Tri-Star, made of the new material, have found their way to OBOW Global Headquarters. You might want to get yourself a cup of coffee—this is a long review.

Previously, I’ve reviewed both the Aeronaut and the Tri-Star.  Since the design,  workmanship and quality of each bag hasn’t changed, rather than go through another complete review, I’m going to focus in on the differences between the two materials. For lack of better terms, I’ll refer to the newer Dyneema/Nylon bags as the “newer” model and the ballistic nylon as the “older” one.

(From l. to r.—Tri-Star in Steel, Tri-Star in Steel Dyneema, Aeronaut in Black, Aeronaut in Steel Dyneema)

The first thing I noticed about the  newer bags when I unboxed them was of course, the color and the checkerboard pattern. Both of my new bags are Steel/Steel. (They’re also available in Nordic/Steel.) When I looked at the bags online, they seemed much lighter in color than the steel Tri-Star I currently have. However, once put side by side, the steel in the newer bag is the same as the steel in the older bag—much darker than onscreen. What makes them seem lighter in color is the white Dyneema material.

(As a reminder, the reason the newer bags are not solid color is that they are a blend of Dyneema and Ripstop nylons. While the ripstop nylon will accept dye, the dyneema won’t and it stays its natural white color.)

The next thing I noticed was the weight. The newer bags  are much lighter. Each bag is 10 ounces lighter than its older sibling. (The Aeronauts weigh in at 3 lbs vs. 2 lbs 6 oz. The Tri-Stars are 3 lbs 6 oz vs. 2 lbs 12 oz. ) While 10 ounces may not  sound like much, we onebaggers know better, don’t we?

Next came the feel. The newer bags are smoother and slightly thinner than the older bags but no slouch. Don’t confuse this newer Dyneema/Nylon material with the lighter, thinner Dyneema/Nylon currently being used as lining in many Tom Bihn bags. This is definitely tougher.

What I believe concerns some people is the following statement on the Tom Bihn website:

It must be noted that while our new 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon ripstop is a very durable fabric, there is a compromise in choosing it over 1050 ballistic or Cordura® nylon: your bag will be lighter, but it won’t stand up to the all-out abuse these heavier fabrics can handle. You will need to exercise care and not drag or otherwise mistreat a bag made from 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon ripstop. It’s a compromise many will feel worthwhile, but it’s a compromise to consider.

I want to address that. Yes, the newer material is not as tough or abrasive resistant as the older material. The reason is simple: 1050d ballistic nylon is a double weave and therefore a much stronger material that can take more abuse. The Dyneema/Ripstop combination is a single weave. But don’t think this new bag is a wallflower, it will be able to handle quite a bit as long as the bag is not abused. (The ripstop nylon is very tear resistant. After all, the material was developed during World War II to prevent tears from growing in parachutes.)

What do I mean by abused? If your travels include taking the Congo Railway from Pointe-Noire to Brazzaville, or three days in a hammock on a ferry along the Amazon from Tabatinga to Manaus, then you’re probably going to want to get the  ballistic nylon bag.

But if your biggest adventure is taking the RER from CDG airport to central Paris or a cab from LGA to midtown Manhattan, then the newer, lighter, Dyneema/Ripstop bag will do just fine.

And that takes us to the big question: which bag to get?

This is a tough one. You really need to think about how you travel. If, as I mentioned above, you’re a true adventure traveler  where the bag may get extra rough handling, then go with the ballistic nylon. But if you’re basically an urban adventurer where you go from plane to taxi to hotel, or something similar, then the newer bag will be fine.

Consequently, ask yourself what methods of travel you use. If weight and size are a factor due to carry-on restrictions for the airlines you take most often, then the newer bags would win.

You have to also decide if you prefer a three compartment bag like the Tri-Star or a one compartment bag like the Aeronaut. There are pros and cons to both and it is strictly a personal preference—one is not better than the other.

I’ll give you an example of how I see myself using the newer bags. I’m planning a trip for sometime in 2013 to an area near the Arctic Circle. It will be cold. I want to, of course, take only one bag but the airline I’m flying—the only airline to fly where I’m going—has a limit on both size and weight of carry-on bags. I was able to figure out a way to do this with my older Aeronaut. But with the newer, lighter one, I can now pack an extra microfiber sweater and still stay under the weight limit. I might even be able to take the newer Tri-Star. I like having a choice.

Let’s talk about packing for a moment. I was concerned that the newer bags would bulge more than their stiffer siblings. But I’m happy to say each model, regardless of the material, held about the same and was prone to the same amount of bulging if overpacked.(Sorry, I forgot to take photos of each bag when packed and I was too lazy to redo them all.) Of course, no regular OBOW reader packs their bags to the gills. As we say, just because you CAN take more doesn’t mean you HAVE to.

Empty, the newer bags seem to keep their shape as well as the older ones. Not too much floppiness. (In the following photos, the older bags seem to sag more. They’ve both been used and sadly, were stacked underneath some other bags for awhile so they got “compressed” down.)

A better structured bag is also more comfortable when carrying it on your back. I found all the bags to be comfortable while wearing although the lighter bags made me happier. As I get older, lighter is better.

 Personally, I was skeptical about the look of the newer bag. I have a severe allergy to non-dark color bags. I like to blend in. I thought the Dyneema bag would be too flashy for my taste. But I was surprised to find myself actually liking it. Yes, I’ll be using the new bags.

And if I can change, anyone can.

If you’re really not sure about the color, contact Tom Bihn. If they have some available, they’ll send you a swatch of the material. That should help you see their real color and not just a “monitor” color.

Have I answered your questions on which bag to buy? No? I’m not surprised. Every one of you has different criteria for bags. Some will be weight, others will be durability, and for many it will come down to color. Whichever way you go, you’ll get a well built, well designed bag. Go with the bag that speaks to  you, the one that fits your needs, the one that excites you. Or better yet, if you can’t decide which material to get, buy one of each. You know you want to. (Bag acquisition syndrome?)

A side note….I just received these bags in the last couple of days. I was fortunate enough to get some of the first ones to come off the line.  I haven’t had a chance to actually travel with them. I wanted to get these reviews up in case anyone here is thinking about getting any of these bags for the holidays and wanted to make the shipping deadlines in place for Christmas arrival. I think I’ve tested enough bags over time to give them a good review without taking them on the road. If I find, in the future, that something is different, I’ll note that in a separate posting. But I doubt there will be a problem.

I can honestly say I like both of these new bags and the continuing trend of using lighter material. In all of my reviews, I try to find things I don’t like. Except for the fact that I can’t get the lighter material in a solid color, there really isn’t anything I don’t like about these bags.

Because of the material’s popularity, Tom Bihn has announced it will not only make bags in the new Dyneema material, but many accessories as well. A review of a couple of new ones will be up in a few days.

If you have any specific questions about the new bags and material, let me know and I’ll answer them if I can.

The Aeronaut is listed at $250 and the Tri-Star is $280. Both are available directly from Tom Bihn.

All Tom Bihn bags are made in the USA.

If you see a “d” after a number referring to a type of material, the “d” stand for “denier” which is a unit of weight used for different types of material. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a measurement of strength.

Tom Bihn supplied the Aeronaut and Tri-Star in 400d Dyneema/420d Ripstop Nylon for review. The Aeronaut and Tri-Star in 1050d ballistic nylon were purchased with my own hard earned money.

Reader Comments (6)

great review. i got the aeronaut and the western flyer in the new dyneema too. traveling light makes so much sense. easier on your back and shoulders in the long run. we are not getting younger and i just hurt my back so anything to make carrying luggage easier on you is most definitely appreciated by us. i just wished that the bags came in solid colours. i am like you, i prefer to blend rather than stand out in a loud colour. this is why all my other tom bihn bags are in the black 1050 d nylon and i got quite a few of them.

take care.
December 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertheo
I have the'old' Aeronaut in Steel Ballistic and love it, but I have just come back from my first trip with a Steel Dyneema Aeronaut and my wife had the Steel Dyneema Tri-Star. We loved them both and both came to love the Dyneema material. It slid better when I put my Aeronaut under the plane's seat and is noticeably lighter in weight.

As an aside, yesterday on our return flight my wife put her Tri-Star in the overhead bin. It sat upright, end on and you could easily have sat two more in beside it, but the hostie moved it to another bin and put one wheelie bag where the Tri-Star had been - it filled the whole space! Shortly after that they took 10 cases down to the hold. How different would it have been if everyone had had Tri-Stars or Aeronauts?
January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFat Crip
Six weeks after posting your initial impressions, are you still enamoured with your 400d Dyneema bags? Given your predisposition toward dark bags, would you consider the steel Dyneema Tri-Star as suitable for business travel as the black or steel ballistic versions? My clients expect attire on the more formal side of business casual. I like the lighter weight but the handful of photos I've seen don't seem to do the bags justice.
January 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterlotuseater
I still like the bag and continue to use it. However, I don't see clients so I can travel with whatever I like.

If your business travel mean dealing with clients who prefer a more "professional" look, then go with the black or steel ballistic nylon. While it's nice to save a few ounces, it's not worth jeopardizing your job.
January 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterFrank@OBOW
Nicely done as usual Frank! I am perilously close to pulling the trigger on a Dyneema Aeronaut and I think your "seal of approval" has pushed me over the edge!
February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Mac
Great review!! The most amusing thing is that I planning to take my bags on june on a ferry along the Amazon river from Manaus to Parintins! So the review served me perfectly!! LOL
April 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRicardo Tavares

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