The Tom Bihn Ego Messenger Bag Review

In 2005 I reviewed a king-sized bag from Tom Bihn called the Super Ego. While that bag was extremely well made, versatile, and could carry even the largest laptops, the trade-off was obviously that the bag was huge. Measuring approximately 17″ wide x14.5″ tall x 6.75″ deep, the Super Ego could seem a bit overwhelming for smaller framed people, or anyone that wasn’t toting a desktop replacement sized laptop. For laptop bag aficionados that appreciated the highly personalized style of the Super Ego but that didn’t need such a plus-sized carrier, Tom Bihn has recently introduced The Ego. According to the Tom Bihn site, this approximately 15.3 wide x 13.3 tall x 6.3″ deep bag is “bigger than the ID [which I recently reviewed here], but smaller than the Super Ego. If you’ve desired a Super Ego but found it to be just too big, the Ego is the bag for you.”

Available in quite a few striking color combinations including black/crimson/steel, black/steel/crimson, black/black/olive, black/steel/deep blue, black/steel/wasabi, black/grape/wasabi, and the black/hunter/steel combination I was sent, the colors can be explained as the first being the main body color – always black, the second being the color of the messenger flap and the two pockets underneath it, and the third color being the bag’s contrasting interior lining and its under-flap color.

As if those colors weren’t enough, the Ego also has one of 19 different removable and interchangeable strips of fabric attached to the buckle receptacle, which allow the bag’s color combinations to be further personalized. I’ll talk more about these strips further in the review. In the meantime, feast your eyes on my black/hunter/steel combo with the Mod Italian strip. It’s lovely, isn’t it? ๐Ÿ™‚

The Ego’s exterior is composed of ballistic nylon which has been treated with water-repellent, and the interior is composed of 500 denier Cordura which has been treated with urethane to help. While the fabrics used are “waterproof”, and the bag is certainly designed to keep rain from reaching the contents held within, the bag should not be considered waterproof, as “seams and zippers will leak if exposed to significant weather.” That seems pretty reasonable to me. The Ego bag is made in the Tom Bihn Factory in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A, so I am sure that they know a thing or two about rainy weather and trying to protect a laptop bag’s contents.

On the back side of the Ego there is an approximately 14.5″ wide x 9.75″ tall open slash pocket to hold newspapers, magazines, files, or other flat items. There is a removable 1.5″ wide nylon web waist strap to add extra stability for those that ride bikes or motorcycles.

Yeah, I see you looking at that comfy-looking shoulder strap shown above; that is the Absolute Shoulder Strap which is ordinarily $25 on its own, but can be substituted for the bag’s standard shoulder strap for $15 more. The Absolute is an incredibly comfortable strap with a 2.75″ wide x 9.5″ long? x 0.2″ thick stretchy neoprene pad. Those that need to keep their bag comfortable, close to their body, and with the bag’s contents easily accessible mY want to invest the extra $10 to get the Q-AM (Quick Adjust Messenger) Shoulder Strap instead of the standard version. It’s all about choices and personalization, but of all the Tom Bihn strap styles I’ve tried, the Absolute is definitely my favorite.

So let’s take a tour of the bag, starting at the top – where we find the 0.5″ thick ballistic nylon handle which is wrapped around?a Poron? foam core. This handle allows the bag to be carried like a briefcase when the user is either tired of lugging it on their shoulder or when a shoulder bag just seems too casual.

The front flap of the Ego is secured with a? 2″ wide plastic “Duraflex Warrior” pinch-style buckle. This buckle is easy to operate one-handed, and the bottom (male) portion can be tightened or let out depending upon how empty or full the bag becomes. The top (female) portion of the buckle is attached to the interchangeable strap, which is basically a 2″ wide x 12″ long hook and loop fabric backed swatch that threads through the elastic hoops on the front of the bag’s flap.

Here are all of the available strap colors, as you can see the look of the bag can be significantly changed by the addition or deletion of a particular strap.

photo courtesy of Tom Bihn

You get one buckle strip in your color choice when ordering the Ego bag, and additional Ego Strips can also be ordered at that time for $5.00 each. I was also sent strips in “cork” and “snow leopard ultrasuede”, but I must say that the green swirly Mod Italian is my favorite. ๐Ÿ™‚

Moving on with our tour of the bag…each side has an approximately 6″ tall x 4″ wide water bottle pocket with attached “compression straps” so that they can be ratcheted down to fit nearly any size beverage bottle or made nearly unnoticeable when a bottle is not being carried. Nothing irritates me more than a dedicated beverage pocket flapping around on a bag when it is not in use, so I like that these are collapsible and can be stowed away neatly.

Each shoulder strap end is finished with a 0.5″ folded over and sewn end, which allows the strap to be attached then sized to the users needs with the built in heavy plastic sliders without fear of the strap ever unintentionally coming off the plastic slider. The nylon straps ends have also been cauterized to prevent the weave from ever unraveling.

Undoing the pinch-clip and flipping back the messenger flap reveals and organizational compartment with a plethora of pockets. There is a YKK #8 Uretek “splash-proof” zipper on both right and left which secures and protects? the contents of each 8″ tall x 5″ wide x 1.5″ deep gussetted pocket. Notice that the double pulls on each zipper feature 2.25″ long nylon cord pulls capped with a 0.75″ long plastic plug; these pulls are very easy to grab and manipulate – even while wearing gloves; these pockets may be accessed when the flap is up or down.

On the front of the zippered pockets are 5.5″ tall x 5″ wide open slash pockets. These pockets are a great size for a PDA phone such as the Universal or the Treo – anything that the user might want easier access to – although the pockets are not padded, which may be of concern to some.

On the outer edge of each side are 2.5″ wide x 4″ tall stretchy slash pockets which the Tom Bihn site says would be great for storing pens. They’ll also work for other thin items such as smaller bundled cables or sync & charge cables.

Behind the bank of pockets is a 11.5″ wide x 10″ tall bin which is constructed so that the bag can be placed on the floor with the top flap open and the bin will hold itself open. This allows easy access by the owner’s hand to access either the bank of pockets on the back interior wall, or the deep interior pocket. The pocket panel has, from left to right: an approximately 5″ tall x 4.5″ wide x 1.25″ deep gusseted pocket, a 5″ tall x 4.75″ wide x 1.25″ deep gusseted pocket, and three 5″ deep x 0.5″ wide pen pockets.

On both the right and left side are plastic rings which can be used to attach the included 7″ long detachable key lanyard or one of the Organizer Pouches I’ll talk about later on.

Accessible via a #10 YKK Uretek “splash-proof” zipper with two pulls is the main compartment of the bag, which can either function as a laptop compartment when paired with an optional Horizontal Brain Cell hard-sided case. When a laptop is not being carried, this 0.25″ foam backed and bottomed compartment can be used to stow books or files.

The Brain Cell is kept in place with easily operable and removable “Annex clips” located on the back wall which clip to loops sewn into the laptop case’s back.

Here is a shot of the Ego’s main compartment with the Brain Cell removed. Yep, that’s the infamous Tom Bihn tag which has it’s own Snopes entry. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Let’s take a closer look at the optional Horizontal Brain Cell ($50) for a moment…

Available in crimson, olive, steel, deep blue, black, or wasabi, this laptop case is composed of 500 denier DuPont Cordura, and it is available in nine different sizes to fit a 17″ MacBook Pro on down to a 13″ laptop – any anything in between. Of course, a 17″ laptop and Brain Cell would require the larger Super Ego bag.

According to the Tom Bihn site, The Brain Cell cradles your laptop in “8mm thick soft foam padding, your laptop hangs suspended in a 4mm hard corrugated plastic insert that protects from the front, back, and bottom. The sides are protected by dense cross-linked closed-cell polyethylene foam. This offers the toughest protection you can get for your laptop in a case that is still light and minimalist. It closes on the top, like a cereal box, with two padded flaps that seal with Aplix? strips (like Velcro, only longer-lasting.)”

The brain cell can be clipped inside a larger bag, or it can be carried on its own as a minimalistic laptop bag, simply by slipping a shoulder strap to the D-rings on its sides. For those who like to keep their gear segregated and organized, Organizer Pouches?($5 – $11) are available in mini, small, medium, and large sizes.

These pouches “zip shut with a #5 YKK coil zipper with a plastic slider which is less likely to damage sensitive electronic gizmos.” The pouches are “made from 500 and/or 1000 denier Cordura? in combinations of your favorite TOM BIHN colors ? Wasabi, Kelly, Navy, Steel, Crimson, Plum, Deep Blue, Sapphire, Olive, Black ? and vintage colors such as Grid, and Cocoa. The Mini Organizer Pouch is currently also available in these limited edition colors/fabrics: Purple Antron/Cordura, Periwinkle Ripstop, and Plum Ripstop. Colors are “as available”, which means [they] choose the colors and you don’t. You can indicate a color preference in the comments field during the checkout process, but there is no guarantee you’ll receive the Organizer Pouches in the colors you requested.”

Each pouch has a plastic clip on its end which can be attached to one of the rings in the Ego (or other) bag, or the plastic hook can be separated from the ball-swivel on which its mounted.

Tom Bihn’s bag reviews are ones that I look forward to, as they are consistently good. Only the best materials are used, attention is paid to every detail, and the bags that I’ve owned have stood up to years of abuse – while still managing to look great! This smaller version Ego bag is a great addition to their line, and it should definitely be considered by anyone that needs a mid-sized laptop bag.

The Tom Bihn Ego Messenger Bag is available directly from the manufacturer.
MSRP: $130 for the basic bag, add extra for the various options
What I Like: Extremely well made with quality materials; can be accessorized to hold a laptop safely; choices of colors and front strips allow many personalization options; The interior is well thought out with many pockets and zippered compartments; the beverage pockets on the side can be condensed when not in use (I love that!)
What Needs Improvement: Nothing – it?s a great option for those that want a smaller version of the Super Ego

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.

13 Comments on "The Tom Bihn Ego Messenger Bag Review"

  1. Nice review! I know what you mean about those shoulder straps. I have one on a Belkin bag I bought a while back, and it is just brilliant!! Most comfortable shoulder strap I have ever used.

  2. An excellent review which makes me think twice about getting the Empire Builder. Judie, will you have a chance to review the Empire Builder?

  3. Hmmmm, I can see. ๐Ÿ™‚ Just looking at the two, I like the looks and personalization possiblities of the Ego better, but that’s just me.

  4. I’m eying “The Buzz” slimline backpack. They have a new version for the 15″ MBP!!

  5. Judie, how will you rate the Ego against the Timbuk2’s Commute? While your review of the Ego sure tempts me to get one but the Commute is much easier to get here in Singapore.

    Or should I just get the Commute and also get Tom Bihn’s Absolute Shoulder Strap?

  6. Randius, Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of experience with Timbuk2’s bags, so I really am not in a position to compare them. If you can get a Tom Bihn Strap in Singapore, you should get the whole bag! I’m just saying! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Another option to consider (since you were asking about the Empire Builder) would be the slightly smaller Zephyr, a brand new Tom Bihn bag made in the Empire Builder’s style.

  7. I certainly wish I can get any Tom Bihn stuffs right here in Singapore ๐Ÿ™ Looks like I can only settle for Timbuk2 bags as my choice of ID + Brain Cell + Absolute Strap (not to forget the shipping charges) will set me back around 300 USD, OUCH! That’s quite a pinch for a poor student like me…

  8. Well Randius, if you would like my green one — I would be happy to send it to you. $300 is too much to pay. ๐Ÿ™‚ Send me a private email.

  9. datahoss | May 7, 2007 at 5:58 am |

    Randius — I have both the Timbuk2 Commute and the Tom Bihn Ego, and there really is little comparison despite the fact that the bags are comparable in market terms. The Ego has, in my view, a superior design, and is also better made with better quality materials. I don’t have a general ax to grind with Timbuk2 as I regularly use a couple of their items, but in this case the Ego is clearly superior and is worth every additional $. Everyone I know who has tried a Commute has had to continue their quest for the perfect bag of this type.

  10. datahoss – it is good to hear comments from someone who owns both bags and it certainly helps me in making the decision. I do see that Tom Bihn uses a mix of materials compared to Timbuks which uses one kind exclusively. Perhaps this contributes to the better quality? Oh yes, I must say that I like the Absolute Shoulder Strap just from the look of it. It is definitely way superior to the shoulder pad option offered by Timbuk2.

    I am only in favour of Timbuk2 as it is readily available in Singapore and at a cheaper price. If situtaion (and financial status) permits, I will definitely go for a Tom Bihn bag.

    Thanks for your comments ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. I just received this email from Randius, and he has promised to post further impressions of the bag after using it for a while.

    Hi Judie,

    After a tired day, I am so surprised to find out that Satarina came full 7 months earlier and her name is Judie! ๐Ÿ™‚ I had just received the Tom Bihn Ego and now I understand the fetish about Tom Bihn bags and why you have been recommending every one of their products in your reviews. The Ego, Brain Cell and pouches are so well constructed and the Mod Italian strip simply exudes style unlike any other bags I have seen. Oh yes, I have never felt a shoulder strap this good. I cannot imagine what the Absolute Shoulder Strap will feel like. I will take good care and make good use of the bag. Drats, I should have asked for your autograph on the strip :-p

    Thank you so much for the generous gift ๐Ÿ™‚

    Best regards,

  12. Hi Judie, today is my first day out with the Ego and Brain Cell, loaded with my Acer TM3002 laptop with extended battery and power adaptor, two books, a digicam, portable HDD, a fully-filled 1-liter water bottle, umbrella and stationeries. For the first time, I do not have knee-jerk reaction to shrug my shoulder to keep the strap from slipping due to the weight (> 6kg). All thanks to the Absolute Shoulder Strap ๐Ÿ™‚

    The stock Acer laptop bag will not be able to store so many stuffs, the strap will dig into the shoulder and it sure feels heavy! Not to mention the rather poorly sewn velcro on the back pocket. The velcro on my first bag came apart when I tried to pull the pocket open.

    The padding of the Brain Cell sure is thick! The laptop with extended battery fit in snugly. I am convinced that my laptop will be well protected.

    However, I do find the opening for the front wide-slash pockets to be a bit small. I think the problem lies with my palm size, rather than with the pockets :p I won’t be worrying too much about the lack of paddings here as I put my cellphone in a protective casing.

    The abundance of pockets with the option to clip on the pouches means I will hardly be out of storage space. The design has also make everything well within reach.

    I will continue to post more comments as I use it more.

  13. Thanks Randius! ๐Ÿ™‚

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