The Tom Bihn Western Flyer Travel Bag Review

I have always read the reviews Judie has done on Tom Bihn bags, and have always wanted one.  Judie recently gave me her Aeronaut; I used it for my vacation and I really like the packing cube idea. I also think that the construction of the bag is top notch.  However, the Aeronaut is simply too large when you just have to stay one or two nights.  Also, the Aeronaut may have some issues with smaller ERJ-145 overhead compartments; that’s where the Western Flyer comes in.

photos by Kevin

The full specs of the bag are:
Made of 1050 Ballistic nylon; lined of 200 denier nylon with a Dyeema (like Spectra) ripstop.
#10 YKK Aquaguard zippers
Overall dimensions: 18″ x 12″ x 7″ / 455 x 305 x 180mm
Volume: 1600 cubic inches / 26 litres
Weight: 2.53 lbs / 1150 grams
Designed to accept optional Tom Bihn Packing Cubes
Made in the TOM BIHN Factory in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

The Western Flyer is built with the same quality of construction as the Aeronaut.  The bag is also made from the same 1050 Ballistic nylon.  It’s very resistant to abrasion, and water repellent as well.  I also love the water proof zippers on both this bag and the Aeronaut; my number one pet peeve about bags is that the zippers usually leak, letting water get on you cloths or other equipment you are carrying.  Tom Bihn’s use of the best zippers in the industry, YKK Aquaguard, keep the contents of your carry-on nice and dry.

The front side of the Western Flyer is dominated by the two horizontal zippers that seal the two main pockets on the side of the bag.  The top pocket goes all the way down to the bottom of the bag.  The bottom pocket is shorter, and good for things like batteries or your legally allowed liquids ziploc bag.  On the right of the bag is a vertical pocket with no zipper,  that’s perfect for holding your boarding pass and other travel documents.

The top of the Western Flyer has a briefcase style handle, and it’s very comfortable to use even when loaded down.  This handle is also handy for grabbing your bag from the overhead compartment.

One nice thing about the Western Flyer is the bag converts into a sling style backpack; to do this you pull the clip out of the velcroed side pocket.

Where’s the rest of it?  Well you see the zipper below?  That’s where it’s hiding.

Unzipping this zipper reveals a traditional handle like what’s at the top of most backpacks.

Then the sling strap is revealed.  The strap is very well padded and comfortable to wear.  There’s also a pocket built into the strap where you can stick your cellphone.

The front compartment has a divider in the middle which can be zipped down to make a bigger compartment if the divider isn’t needed.

When divided, each side of this compartment can hold a pair of shoes.  Tom Bihn recommends putting your shoes in a fabric packing cube before doing this, and I think this is a great idea.  The packing cubes keep things like shoes hidden, and yet allows easy access if needed for  further inspection by the TSA.  The great thing about the cubes is that they make it a snap to get everything back into place after security has had their way with your carry-on.

Tom Bihn makes several packing cubes that are designed to work well with the Western Flyer.  I was sent the Large Cube, the Small Fabiric and the Small Mesh packing cubes, which are all designed to work with the Western Flyer.

When you order the Western Flyer, remember to also order a shoulder strap as Tom Bihn does not include one.  Some might call this a minus, but I like it because this way you can select whichever model strap you would like to order.  Tom Bihn sent me the best strap (in my opinion), and it’s the same strap that I use with my Aeronaut: the Absolute Strap.  The Absolute Strap is designed to help take the weight off of your shoulder as you sprint through the airport between connections; it is VERY well designed and connects to the steel D-rings on the Western Flyer.

This brings up another favorite feature of Tom Bihn bags.  These D-rings will not rotate, as other D-rings do.  This prevents the strap that the D-ring is attached to on the bag from wearing out prematurely, which is a big deal for me, as this is where I usually wear these bags out.

This is what the Western Flyer looks like with the Absolute Strap attached.

The back compartment is large and undivided, and it includes clips which can be either removed or used to attach a horizontal or a vertical brain cell.  You should make sure your laptop and its correspondingly sized brain cell will fit in the Western Flyer before ordering.

This is a Horizontal Freudian Slip slipped into the Western Flyer.This is an “insert that gives you eleven extra pockets to provide total organization of your files and accessories.” Adding one to the Western Flyer would allow it to function as a travel briefcase.

Tom Bihn has come up with a winner.  This bag will likely last longer than any cheaper bag that you might pick up at your local Walmart.  It’s also made here in the USA, which is a rarity when it comes to travel or laptop bags.  The best part is this can be your daily driver laptop bag if you want it to be, just by adding a Brain Cell.  Tom Bihn continues to impress me by coming up with some very inventive designs; the Packing Cube way of packing is better, and I can attest to this as that’s exactly how I traveled for the first time this Christmas.  If you need a very well built travel bag that will last for years, then Tom Bihn is the answer.

The Tom Bihn Western Flyer is available directly from the manufacturer. It is made at the Tom Bihn Factory in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

MSRP: $160.00

As tested(The Western Flyer, Absolute Strap and included Packing Cubes): $238

What I Like: Very Well Built.  This bag might even outlast ME!  The other part is the packing cubes.  This is THE way I will pack when using these bags from now on.  I may even order some Packing Cubes to use with my non Tom Bihn bags.

What Needs Improvement: One thing that concerns me a little is one of the zipper pulls must of fallen off between Judie’s and my Mom’s (where I had Judie send it, so it wouldn’t arrive at my home in Columbus while I am on holiday).  I am sure this isn’t normal for Tom Bihn, and I am sure that they will make it right.

Categories: Reviews

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6 replies

  1. Interesting review, Joel. I've been looking for a potential successor to my Proporta Gadget bag, which has been a very nice bag to port my mobile gizmos around as I like to corral my PDAs and their cables and such, but as my mobile stable has grown a little since then, I need something a little larger. The Flyer is probably a bit too large at 18", so maybe something no greater than 12" wide. I'll keep my eyes peeled.


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