Best. Laptop Bag. Ever.

Back in January I blegged for help to select a new laptop bag. My ancient one was finally coming apart at the seams, and I was sad to see it go. It had been the ideal bag for me, and I have very particular preferences.

I got good feedback on the post. I also got a note from the Tom Bihn luggage folks, asking me whether I’d like to give some of their stuff a spin. They first suggested their carryons, but since I had a specific need for a laptop bag they sent me a couple at no charge: the Checkpoint Flyer and the Empire Builder. (I kept the Checkpoint Flyer, and made a charitable donation equal to its purchase price.)

I haven’t given the Empire Builder a spin yet, on first inspection it’s probably too big for me. I carry a small laptop for a reason. But the Checkpoint Flyer has been just perfect. And I do mean perfect.

It’s much better than I’d have expected. I didn’t think the TSA-approved designs would work for me, most of the ones I’ve seen look and feel cheap and my sense was that they don’t provide sufficient protection for a laptop. Or they don’t let me haul all the crap I take along with me in my bag. But this one satisfies on both counts.

With this bag, instead of removing the laptop at the Kingdom of the Smurfs and putting it into a bin, the bag unclips and lays flat and goes through the x-ray machine without being taken out. This is considered ok because the laptop portion of the bag is free of obstructions.

I much like this, both because it cuts down on a few seconds going through the checkpoint (I needed those seconds last weekend on the way back from Miami, massively delayed on the way to the airport by a big accident on I-95) and because it protects my laptop.

Last April I was traveling non-stop for a couple of weeks, laptop in and out of bins, and I must have banged it around a little too much because the battery fell off. A clip broke. The computer was more or less toast as a laptop, it was more than 3 years old so as far as work was concerned time for a replacement. This bag, on the other hand, does a great job protecting the laptop. Obviously not having to take it out going through the checkpoint is a huge plus. In addition, it’s in a different container from the rest of my stuff, so it doesn’t get crushed by everything I shove into the bag.

I’ve read the enthusiastic comments at Flyertalk about Tom Bihn bags. They generate fierce loyalty. To me I always saw the bright colored bags and thought they were a bit campy, too touristy, I prefer a low profile when traveling and I also want to be able to bring my laptop bag at least into meetings without seeming like a teenager trekking through Europe. I didn’t realize that the bags came in black and in grey. Those colors aren’t as good at the baggage carousel, but they’re a must for me in a laptop bag (and I don’t like bright colors at the carousel, except perhaps my luggage tags which rather stand out).

The bag’s storage is great without really being bigger than my previous bag that could never have on its own worked as an overnight bag (IMHO this one would if I wasn’t carrying a bunch of other stuff, and if it were a casual weekend overnight).

I fill the front two pockets with phones, a pocket camera, my keys, cables, noise cancelling headset. Laptop in the middle. Tom Bihn Freudian Slip in the back filled with papers, magazines, pens. I also carry my travel wallet with membership cards, coupons, discount certificates. In the middle of the rear a small packing pouch with wireless pocket router, travel power strip, and Kensington Empower Adaptor. Pretty insane, sure. But I have everything I need at my fingertips and my laptop bag has to support that.

Since the center of the bag isn’t where the because the laptop goes, I have plenty of space. And since the laptop compartment is solid, with the two portions of the bag bulging around it, there’s no risk to the computer when the bag is overstuffed.

The bag is high quality and price reflects that. The Tom Bihn folks advertise that their bags are made in the USA, as though that’s a strong positive. The materials are very good, but my particular partisan predilections are such that I actually value a bag made in a less developed country where the workers can use the jobs, the income, the economic growth much more than in the US. But wherever the bag is made, it’s great construction. I’ve been in the rain with it and the snow with it and no moisture seeps in. I’ve stuffed it with regulatory filings for a dozen states. Once that zipper closes it stays closed, and the seams seem more than solid.

The bag has a briefcase-like handle, and needs a shoulder strap — which is extra. The $220 bag really becomes $250, then, without packing cubes or other accessories like the Freudian slip. The laptop portion of the bag is quite customizable, they have a different size to fit most laptops so you don’t have one larger than what you need.

One complaint I’ve seen about the design is that unclipping the bag to get the laptop out is annoying in everyday use, that it’s a great bag at the checkpoint but not for every day. I disagree. I don’t like unclipping the bag to take out the laptop, so I don’t. I just unzip the side of the laptop compartment and slip the laptop in and out.

Ultimately I’m very satisfied with the bag both for carrying my laptop and as my everyday briefcase. It’s not too large and it has plenty of room for everything I carry. I think investing in a high quality bag makes sense. I carry my laptop to and from work. I carry it on countless flights. It’s expensive but I use it every day so it seems worth the price. If you see your bag as a tool on the road, well then not much has impressed me as much as this bag.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Looks pragmatic, but any such functionality and protection is not worth how absolutely unstylish one must look when carrying the bag.

    I’d sacrifice the TSA-approved laptop sleep and some functionality for the privilege of not looking like a schlub on his first day at a management consulting firm.

  2. I’ve had the Tom Bihn Smart Alec for over four years, along with the Vertical Brain Cell. They’ve both flown may flights to Europe, countless domestic flights, many Amtrak trips, countless road trips, 6 one month long concert tours, and many bike rides. They have held up extremely well. In fact, they still look almost new (no threads coming apart, both straps still completely intact, etc). In addition to my macbook, I can fit my Canon 30D with a 28-135 lens, and a set of Sony NC-60 headphones. I highly recommend them!

  3. I’ve had the checkpoint flyer for a while now and I must say it is a great, great bag. Mine has held up well, looks just like new, and I always get compliments on it. I am in sales and I work with everyone from engineers to VPs and they all say “well that’s a cool bag” when I’m bringing out my laptop to do a presentation.

  4. How about get a stylish messenger bag, with a laptop case inside, such as a Timbuktu? That bag is your ticket to corporate tooldom.

  5. So you are using the Freudian Slip and packing cubes in this thing as well? Can you show a pic with everything you are packing into this thing?

  6. To In_Media_Res, I suspect Gleff is concerned about functionality over looks. And that’s not a bad philosophy.

    Having said that, there’s always some tradeoff between beauty and personality. Are there any bags out there both functional and with a bit more, umm style?

  7. Hi,

    Darcy from TOM BIHN here.

    The Checkpoint Flyer isn’t going to be the bag for every single person (and there’s other choices out there for folks who decide it’s not for them.) Interesting, though, to read comments on style vs. functionality – in our company, our belief is that there doesn’t have to be a trade-off, that one design can have both. The compliments I receive when I carry my Checkpoint Flyer have forced me to remember to always have business cards to give out to folks who ask where I got my bag. 🙂 And, in my travels, I haven’t seen a bag that resembles the Checkpoint Flyer – but maybe I spend too much time staring at what bags people are carrying. To each his own.

    If one is looking for a brightly colored messenger bag – which Gary basically said in his review that he is not – we have six different options.

    Readers might also find this video of the Checkpoint Flyer in action interesting:

  8. “my particular partisan predilections are such that I actually value a bag made in a less developed country where the workers can use the jobs, the income, the economic growth much more than in the US”: So Americans can’t use the jobs or the income? Have you looked at the unemployment numbers lately? Does “race to the bottom” mean anything to you? My whole division was laid off—half of us on the wrong side of fifty—but we still have to pay rent and utilities and eat. What would you suggest we do? Move to a less-developed country?

    PS: I have several Tom Bihn backpacks, in always-stylish black. Would that all products were so well made. The Vertical Freudian Slip is the best backpack accessory ever for carrying paper.

  9. @gmanedit respectfully, my comment isn’t that people in the US *shouldn’t* be employed!

    I just am not persuaded by Buy American as a moral imperative, that it is BETTER to employ people in the US than people otherwise living on scarcely more than $1 a day.

  10. Hey Gary!

    I must say that’s a very interesting and eye-opening review. You managed to discover a remarkable find: a piece of laptop luggage that both looks stylish and offers unique functionality and ingenuity in its design. (Despite some negative comments already posted here, this Checkpoint Flyer does not look “corporate”. I agree wholeheartedly with you: this laptop bag is, in fact, so stylish that it makes me wonder if it isn’t a little too fashion-oriented. No, I do not own one.)

    It’s strange, however, that you would go to the trouble of publishing this review and yet you failed to do two important things: (1: provide a general link to the company that makes this bag, instead simply offering a direct link to the bag itself, and (2: proofread your review before posting it for public consumption. If you had proofed your hard work, you might’ve noticed the spelling of the name of the company two different ways (is it “Binh” or “Bihn”? I doubt it is both.) Look at it this way: if I’m planning a trip or maybe a series of trips, and I wanted to get a checkpoint-friendly laptop bag, I’d Google reviews and I might find yours. Assuming I found your review first, what if I liked what you said and I wound up Googling the misspelled name? I might find the Bihn web-site, or I might not. Mistakes like that undercut the credibility of your review. And if I’m interested in learning about what kind a laptop luggage is on the market, and I want to read reviews about bags that emphasize design over price, why would a reader like me be interested in political rhetoric? Perhaps the lesson learned here is to get back to basics and make sure everything in the article is correct before embellishing with commentary which may or may not be useful to the reader.

    Food for thought. Have fun publishing on the web and watch your typing.

  11. Thanks for responding Darcy; the video was informative. Utube mentioned 13″, 15″ and 17″ varieties IIRC. Do you have netbook versions of the bag?

  12. @MtnMan

    “Perhaps the lesson learned here is to get back to basics and make sure everything in the article is correct before embellishing with commentary which may or may not be useful to the reader. Food for thought. Have fun publishing on the web and watch your typing.”

    Excuse me?

    Gary doesn’t need to be lectured to as if you’re his condescending high school journalism professor. He must be far more polite than I to simply reply the way he did, but I am sure that the rest of us who understand what a blog is and enjoy this one tremendously would appreciate you keeping the snark to yourself.

    Have fun with trolling elsewhere, and watch the tone.

  13. The Checkpoint Flyer is a nice bag, no doubt, but I’m not sure if it would be the first choice of professionals who always have to dress formally at work. I feel much more comfortable carrying my Briggs & Riley business laptop case to work and official meetings out of town. Besides, this brief also meets the TSA checkpoint friendly guidelines for quick security screenings and has lots of pockets in the organizer compartment.

  14. most of the ones I’ve seen look and feel cheap and my sense was that they don’t provide sufficient protection for a laptop. Or they don’t let me haul all the crap I take along with me in my bag. But this one satisfies on both counts.

  15. I second MtnMan’s comments about proofreading, especially the fact that typos et al undermine the writer’s credibility.

    There’s still more to clean up. Paragraph 4 needs some punctuation help, and paragraph 11 begins, “Since the center of the bag isn’t where the because the laptop goes, I have plenty of space.”

    What’s the fix here? Delete “because the”?

    ** **

    I’m a professional proofreader and copy editor. I admire your blog, and I’d be happy to discuss working with you as your editor. Feel free to e-mail me. Or PM me at noneemac on FT.

  16. Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It in fact was a amusement account
    it. Look advanced to more added agreeable from you!
    By the way, how could we communicate?

  17. Don’t know when you wrote this post but this bag is discontinued. I wanted to upgrade to 15 inch laptop sleeve.. It is not available and my bag is now useless. Will sell cheap.

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