Impeccable build quality. Well designed with a wide range of accessories to customize it to your needs. A great pack to hold electronics and serve as a carry-on bag.
Still a bit pricey for most people — and pricier still if you opt for some of the add-on features.
Finding the perfect bag can take awhile, even when you review satchels, backpacks, and courier bags for a living. It took me a long time to find something that was versatile enough to keep me happy (the GoRuck GR1). Is the less spendy Tom Bihn Synapse 25 bag enough to replace the pack I’ve relied on every day for over a year? Probably not. But it’s the first backpack I’ve put through its paces that seriously made me consider hanging up the GR1 for good.
Available in a number of color combinations, the Synapse 25 is a 25-liter pack with a 1,000-denier Cordura nylon or 420d nylon ripstop exterior and a 200d Dyneema/nylon ripstop lining. That makes it tough enough to stand up to years of daily use and light enough to take it anywhere you go.
The pack’s exterior openings are secured by YKK Aquaguard zippers, which offer enough liquid resistance that you can feel safe hauling around your laptop and other sensitive electronics in it. As for strapping, the Synapse 25 features a top-mounted grab handle, Evazote foam shoulder straps, and a removable sternum strap. When we loaded it up with a MacBook Air, a 4th generation iPad, an external laptop battery, a number of assorted cables, a 40-ounce Klean Kanteen full of water, and a DSLR camera, the pack was still comfortable enough to carry around all day on a recent trip to New York City. All day.
The Synapse’s 25-liter capacity is split up among numerous compartments. The main compartment uses up the lion’s share of its volume, boasting enough space to fit a pair of running shoes and a change of clothes for the gym. There’s a pocket that runs the length of the compartment built into its back panel that’s large enough to hold a tablet or perhaps a small binder. However, the most interesting feature is the pack’s Cache on Rails system. When you order a Synapse 25 from Tom Bihn, you have the option to add a Cache on Rails — essentially a soft, padded case designed to fit an 11- or 13-inch MacBook Air, 13- or 15-inch inch MacBook Pro, iPad Air or last generation iPad — to your bag’s loadout.
The cache is attached to the Synapse 25 with a set of sliding straps. So, instead of being forced to yank it out and set your hardware and case in a tray for agents to eyeball when you pass through airport security, you can simply slide it out and leave it attached to your bag, making it easier to replace and get on your way again once you’ve passed through the security check. The Synapse 25 also has a central zippered pocket on the outside of the pack that’s large enough to hold a 1-liter water bottle, two zippered side pockets and a long, slash pocket at the bottom of the bag that’s ideal for holding cables, power adapters, and/or battery packs.
But aside from the proprietary Cache on Rails system, there’s nothing here that you won’t find featured in any number of other backpacks. And $170 is a lot to pay for a backpack.
What makes it worth it? First, it’s the high-quality materials, clever design, and comfort it affords. But most of all, we like this pack’s adaptability. Inside of most of the pack’s compartments you’ll find a series of O-rings and attachment hooks that can be paired with optional key lanyards, stuff sacks and packing cubes, all of which are sized to fit the Synapse 25?s dimensions. You can even pick up a sternum strap that doubles as an emergency whistle or a detachable bike light that clips into the pack’s strapping. Of course, as attractive as these options are, the cost of the add-ons quickly adds up, making what is already an expensive piece of kit into a purchase that you might lose some sleep over.
That said, the Synapse 25, like all Tom Bihn travel gear, is built to last. All of the bag’s pros should take some of the sting out of its one major con — the price. And, mind you, this is coming from someone who bought a $300 backpack and loves it.