The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review

One of the many conveniences I’ve encountered while owning a MacBook Air has been the ability to slip the ultra-slim laptop into almost any bag for a quick carry solution; this includes larger laptops bags as well as some of my roomier purses. There are times however, when I’ve wished that I had a bag made to specifically transport the Air: something slim, streamlined, but still large enough to carry any peripherals and doo-dads I might need.

Tom Bihn has released just such a bag; similar in style to their Cafe line, the Ristretto Messenger Bag is built with different proportions, and “an interior compartment padded at the front, back, and bottom,” “sized specifically for your MacBook Air, 13″ MacBook or IBM-Lenovo Thinkpad X300.” It is available in several flavorful color combinations including: olive/cayenne, steel/sapphire, plum/wasabi, black/olive and black/steel.

The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review

I was sent the plum/wasabi version, which is a lovely deep purple with black accents and a shocking green interior. The bag measures approximately 10.5″ wide x 12.5″ tall x 3″ deep, and its exterior is composed of 1000 denier Cordura, which is basically a dirt and stain repellent material that allows for easy cleanup when accidents happen…as they always do. The Ristretto weighs approximately 15 ounces, so it’s not quite an extra pound.

An asymmetrical front flap is secured by a 2″ wide heavy plastic squeeze clip, which can be tightened or loosened with its attached 1.5″ wide adjustable nylon strap.

The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review

An approximately 10″ wide open slash pocket is on the back of the bag, as well as a 1″ wide nylon webbing handle. Since the Ristretto is meant to be carried on the shoulder, I won’t dock points that this handle has no padding; I am just happy to see it there.

The Ristretto ships with a Standard Shoulder Strap, which “is a 1-1/2″ wide heavy nylon webbing strap and features a comfortable, wide foam pad that won’t slip off your shoulder and is designed to conform to your shoulder and back.” My Ristretto came with the Q-AM (Quick-Adjust Messenger) Shoulder Strap, which can be added for an additional $15.

The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review
photo courtesy of the Tom Bihn site

With the Q-AM (Quick-Adjust Messenger) Shoulder Strap, you can wear your TOM BIHN messenger bag slung conveniently low on your hip at one moment, and with a quick tug, cinch the strap up snug so that the bag rides high on your back the next moment.

Another option is the soft and springy Tom Bihn Absolute Shoulder Strap, which can be added for $20 more.

The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review

Since I generally don’t wear my messenger bags with any additional strappage across my chest or waist, I totally appreciated the clever loops used to attach or unattach the bag’s waist strap. Take a look…

The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review

I simply unfastened each locking U-hook…

The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review

…and slipped it out from the nylon loops on either side. Not having to cut the straps from the bag (yes, I have certainly done that before on other bags) is a huge bonus.

The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review

Here’s another shot of the 1″ wide nylon handle and the rear slash pocket, which is the perfect size for a magazine, files, or other papers.

The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review

Undoing the off-center pinch-clip…

The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review

…reveals the bag’s highly contrasting 500 denier wasabi Cordura interior. The front compartment of the bag has an approximately 10″ tall x 9″ wide #8 YKK zippered pocket on the rear wall. This pocket is perfect for holding flatter items that need to be kept safe. Nothing is on the outer inside wall of this compartment, and there is a bit of room for cables and other, flatter items.

The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review

On the inside front wall of the bag’s main compartment there is an organizational panel composed of five pockets: two of which are gussetted and approximately 3″ wide x 5″ tall; perfectly sized for PDAs, MP3 players, mobile phones, a slim wallet, etc.. There are also three loopy pen pockets.

The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review

Yep; Tom Bihn is still using their infamous label!

The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review

Also in this main compartment are two O-rings; one comes with an 8″ Key Strap attached, but you can order shorter or longer straps (depending upon your needs), or use something entirely different – like one of the Organizer Pouches I recently covered.

We’ve designed a size of Padded Organizer Pouch created specifically to fit the SuperDrive. The Superdrive Padded Organizer Pouches can be purchased with the Ristretto Messenger or separately.

The laptop portion of the bag is located in a rear padded compartment, which is separated from the front by a padded gray nylon divider with a top flap; the flap folds down over the laptop to protect its top when a laptop has been inserted.

The interior padded compartment, located in the main compartment of the Ristretto Messenger, protects your MacBook inside the bag — it’s made from .25″ (8mm) open-cell foam laminated with durable 500 denier Cordura® on the outside and an interior of super-soft brushed nylon (just like our Soft Cell). The back side of the Ristretto is padded with 1/4″ closed cell foam.

This compartment is perfectly sized for the MacBook Air, 13″ MacBook, or the Thinkpad X300, and it can easily fit my Air even when it’s encased in the Agent 18 protective shell I usually use (thanks Dan!). When I am not carrying my Air, I can carry a nice selection of magazines, files, or other similarly sized materials.

The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review

The Ristretto is a fashionable, slim, and completely functional bag that allows me to carry the MacBook Air and other peripherals without adding a ton of unnecessary bulk. As always, I appreciate and admire the fact that this bag (and all other Tom Bihn products, for that matter) are made in their Seattle, Washington, U.S.A, by people who are earning a living wage. Love’s it!

The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag is available directly from the manufacturer.


What I Like: Unique style; easy to attach or unattach the waist strap; three different types of shoulder straps will work with it; comes in fashionable colors; it is made at the Tom Bihn Factory in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.; does not add a lot of bulk to the slim laptops it is intended to carry

What Needs Improvement: Nothing, this fab is absolutely fabulous!

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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.

1 Comment on "The Tom Bihn Ristretto Messenger Bag Review"

  1. I like this bag I might get me the medium sized one.

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