The Tom Bihn ID Messenger Bag Review

Back in 2003 I reviewed the Tom Bihn Absolute Shoulder Strap, and while I may have thought that it was a nearly perfect bag at the time, Tom Bihn and company were not content to rest upon their laurels. The ID Messenger Bag has recently undergone some major renovations, and now we’ll get to decide if the updated version is a worthy successor. While some things have definitely changed since 2003, other things have thankfully remained the same. Most of Tom’s products are still manufactured in the Pacific Northwest at their Seattle factory. But don’t worry: those that aren’t made in Seattle are not shipped to China for final assembly. They are instead shipped to Minnesota and Montana, where they are manufactured under contract by people who have been fairly compensated for their labor.

Tom Bihn bags are still composed of 1050 Denier Ballistic Nylon, 500d Cordura Nylon, and they use YKK zippers. These bags are not only built to last, they are also functional and good looking. One of the first noticeable changes is the addition of several new color combinations. In the past, the ID was only available in two choices, but it can now be had in Steel / Wasabi, Steel / Crimson, Steel / Steel, Sage / Deep Blue, Crimson / Steel, Kiwi / Steel, Grape / Wasabi, and hunter / Steel.

I asked for and was sent the Grape and Wasabi combination, and while the front panel looks blue in these outdoor photos…it’s purple – I promise! The ID bag measures approximately 15.75″ wide x 12″ tall x 5.5″ deep, and it weighs about 2 pounds 5 ounces. The bag is predominantly black, but depending upon the color combination you choose, it may have a vivid splash of color on the front like mine does…

The front of the bag has a 2.5″ wide heavy plastic pinch clip attached to its adjustable 2″ webbed strap. There is a 7″ tall x 8″ wide pocket worked into the front flap that would be perfect for plane tickets, passports, or other documents that need to be kept easily accessible. The pocket is lined in 200 denier nylon Dyneema ripstop fabric, which the Tom Bihn site describes as “a tough, impossible-to-tear fabric,” and it is held secure with a #8 YKK Splash-Proof zipper. The zipper head has a 2.25″ plastic tabbed cord pull so that it can be easily grasped – even when wearing winter gloves.

Here’s a close-up of the pocket’s ripstop lining and the nearly 2″ long x 0.5″ Tom Bihn name with a Farman F-121 Jabiru airplane logo.

The ID bag comes with a standard 1.5″ wide nylon webbing shoulder strap with a sliding 11″ long x 3″ wide pad, and while this strap is adequate, I would seriously recommend upgrading to the Tom Bihn forums (MSRP $25) which is a real shoulder saver when carrying a heavy load.

Tom Bihn included their so new (it’s not even logo’d) Quick-Adjust Messenger (Q-AM) Strap with my ID bag; while it’s a little bit tricky to figure out at first, it does add quite a bit of comfort if you are using the bag as a true messenger would – hunched over the handlebars of a bike.

Notice the way the strap cuts through the middle of Alex, a Tom Bihn Shipping Associate’s chest. I bet I can hear the groans rising from all the women reading right about now…looks mighty painful, right? 😉

Tom Bihn Q-AM Strap
photo courtesy of the subject of its own Snopes entry

Don’t worry though, there are other ways to comfortably wear this 1.5″ wide nylon shoulder strap which is topped by its wonderful 20″ long x 2.5″ wide x 0.5″ thick shoulder pad. As a matter of fact, it sits quite comfortably on wearer’s shoulder when worn either as a traditional shoulder bag or bandolier style.

Here’s a picture showing how thick the Q-AM’s shoulder pad is…

This loop is part of the quick cinch and release system used with the Q-AM, a tug tightens everything and lifting the buckle quickly releases the strap.

This is a shot of the 7″ long x 1″ wide x 0.5″ thick handle on the bag’s top. While it is meant to be worn as a messenger, the handle gives another comfortable option when the wearer would prefer to keep his or her clothes from rumpling. The plastic clip shown is part of the Q-AM strap system.

The back of the ID bag has a lovely 15.75″ wide x 9″ deep open pocket, perfect for magazines, files, and other flat items. There are two loops on the back of the back to which the included adjustable waist strap can be attached. I never wear those, so I appreciate that they are easily removable.

This is a feature that I wish every bag included…a cinchable water bottle pocket! It’s common for bags to include a pocket that can hold a plastic water or soda bottle, but when you aren’t carrying anything in that pocket…it will just flop around limply. The addition of two adjustable nylon straps to cinch the right side pocket in when it’s not being used is genius. According to the Tom Bihn site, this pocket can also be used to carry a portable umbrella. That must be a Seattle thing, there would be no need for it here in dry and dusty West Texas. 😉

The left side of the bag is left plain.

As you probably glimpsed in the precious photos, the interior of the bag is wasabi…which other sushi lovers will instantly recognize in this electric mustardy green hue. It really adds a flash of color when the flap is raised. :-)

note the removable key clip which is attached to one of the three interior metal rings

On the front left is one of two special side pockets which measure approximately 7″ tall x 3″ wide, which are lined in Ultrasuede and meant to carry “portable electronic devices such as cell phones, iPods/MP3 players or PDAs.” These pockets are closed by #8 YKK “splash-proof” Uretech zippers, and they are a safe place to store sunglasses. “Both pockets feature a tiny opening at the beginning of the zipper for your iPod/MP3 earbuds cord to feed through without getting scrunched,” which basically amounts to a small overlay of fabric which wouldn’t let water in, but will allow a headset cable out.

In the center of the two device pockets is a 10″ wide x 6.5″ tall ripstop nylon lined, front panel pocket which closes with a #8 YKK zipper.

Here’s a close-up of the right Ultrasuede lined side pocket.

Directly behind that zippered front panel pocket is a large, open, wasabi colored, Cordura lined pouch. This pouch measures approximately 15″ wide x 9″ tall x 2.5″ deep. There are five open pockets sewn into the back wall, so we’ll start on the left and work out way over: First up is an approximately 5″ tall x 5″ wide x 1.5″ deep pocket which can hold a laptop’s power cable. The next pocket is approximately 5″ tall x 3″ wide x 1″ deep pocket which perfectly holds wider PDA phones such as the HTC Universal or the Palm Treo in a Vaja case.

We just covered the first obvious pocket in the following picture, so we’ll pick up with the two pen pockets and the last open slot on the right, which measures approximately 5″ tall x 2.5″ x 1″ deep. It would be great for a thinner candy bar style phone. Not counting the organizational panel, there is still quite a bit of room in this open compartment. While it is designed to provide open and easy access, its wide mouth is slightly tapered so that all edges will fit well underneath the flap when the bag is closed. This will not only keep the contents secure, it will also help keep them dry.

The last area to cover is the large zippered main compartment. Conveniently located behind its yawning 20″ opening which is accessed by double #9 YKK zippers is a 1.75″ wide x 12″ tall x 3″ deep open area which features a padded back wall to protect the wearer from bumps and bruises as the bag is carried. A nylon loop handle is sewn into the back wall so that the bag can be easily picked up and moved while open. However this is not a padded handle, so don’t plan on carrying a fully loaded bag in this manner for long.

Should the wearer decide to use the ID as a laptop bag, there are a couple of easy ways to do so. The most obvious would be to attach a Tom Bihn which would attach directly to the two removable Annex clips on the back wall. Many people already have a laptop sleeve which could also be thrown inside this compartment, though (speaking from experience) most sleeves are nowhere near as protectively padded as the Brain Cell.

Oh you noticed the white Tom Bihn tag hanging on the back wall. Well flipping it up reveals the and if. Yes, there is a hidden message in French, and translated it reads: “Yes we know our president is an idiot. We didn’t vote for him.” Heh heh 😉

Okay, here are the live action shots of the bag. Once again – I’m 5’10”, so use that as a size reference while you’re looking…

…and here’s the bag from the side.

I’ve reviewed quite a few Tom Bihn bags in the past, to read any of those past reviews Tom Bihn ID Messenger Bag excellent lifetime warranty, it should be quickly evident that I’m a fan. Their bags are thoughtfully planned, designed for real world usage, and made with pride from only the best materials. Of their bags that I have owned and still own, I have nothing but good things to say; these are bags that do exactly what they are needed to do, they hold up over many years of hard use, and they will look great while doing it.

The Tom Bihn ID Messenger Bag is available directly from the manufacturer; be sure to check out their excellent lifetime warranty.
MSRP: $130
What I Like: Great looking bag in several color choices, quality materials and excellent craftsmanship, all zippers have pulls & are “splash-proof”, the ability to add a “Brain Cell” to transform into a laptop bag, lots of pockets
What Needs Improvement: Nothing – it’s a great bag that will last for years

Categories: Reviews

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12 replies

  1. Great review! A question: does the shoulder strap attach with clips, or is it sewn into place?

    And yes, the umbrella pouch is a Seattle thing… though true Seattleites just ignore the rain! 😉


  2. Argh – just when I think I got it all! 😉

    The shoulder strap loops through an adjustable clip on each side.

  3. I’ve seen thsoe tags before! XDD They make me laugh so much XD (and they say “We are sorry that our president is an idiot,” not “we know” XD)

    Nice bag =) I need to find a good messenger bag…

  4. Elodie, just as a heads-up: We’re going to be doing a massive give-away soon…and this bag will be one of the items included. :-)

  5. Oooo, I will DEFINITELY keep an eye out for that! 😉 Although, I think I’ve used up my winning-luck on here, I already have wonderful bluetooth speakers magnetized to my lamp thanks to you 😀
    Won’t stop me from trying though xD

  6. Love it, great looking geek bag! Thanx


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