Review: Tom Bihn Ristretto Bag for 11″ MacBook Air

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When I got my iPad last spring I began carrying it with me pretty much everywhere. But I had a problem. Most of the laptop bags I had were just too big for the diminutive tablet. Sure they worked just fine but they were overkill. Moreover, the compartments designed for the laptop were often so big that the iPad often flopped around inside. I was happy to see Tom Bihn release one of their Ristretto bags that was perfectly sized for the iPad and had the pleasure of reviewing it for the site.  I still use the bag constantly when I need to carry my iPad and just a few other items.

Fast forward to last month. When we went on vacation I brought my iPad AND my 11” MacBook Air. Elana spent some time using MBA and said she wanted one. (She had been using my old 24” iMac.) A week later her desk looked like this…

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She loves the tiny Mac and could not be happier. It offers all the speed she needs, has enough storage for her (she doesn’t use her computer for music or videos) and she like the flexibility of being able to bring it with her when she is out. Which begs the question… what is the best bag for using the 11” MacBook Air on the go?

Once again Tom Bihn has the answer. They recently began shipping a Ristretto bag that is size perfectly for the 11” MBA. The aptly named Ristretto for 11″ MacBook Air.

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It doesn’t look any bigger than the Ristretto for iPad that I have but that bag is just a teeny bit too small for the MBA.

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It gets close to fitting the MBA but misses by about an inch.

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The new Ristretto is… Just right.

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Here’s what the company had to say about it:

The Ristretto for 11″ MacBook Air is a vertical messenger bag (similar to our Cafe Bags though different in proportion) with an interior padded compartment that protects from all sides and is sized specifically for your 11″ MacBook Air. (Also available are the original Ristretto — sized for the 13″ MacBook — and the Ristretto for iPad.)

The built-in interior padded compartment, located in the main compartment of the Ristretto, protects your 11″ MacBook Air inside of the bag. The padded compartment is made with .25″ (6mm) open-cell foam laminated with durable 4 Ply Taslan® on the outside, and features an interior of super-soft brushed nylon. The back side of the Ristretto is padded with 1/4″ closed cell foam.
The main, open-top compartment and front zippered pocket of the Ristretto are covered by an asymmetrical flap that closes with the distinctive TOM BIHN off-set buckle.

Under the flap, you’ll find a #8 YKK zipper pocket spanning the width of the bag. It’s the ideal place for securing your wallet or other small items. The zippered pocket has one o-ring. The main compartment of the Ristretto features three o-rings. Attached to one o-ring is an 8″ Key Strap. (Additional and extended length Key Straps can be purchased separately.) The Key Strap is useful for keeping track of your keys (many folks leave their keys attached to the key strap.) It can also be used to clip a pocket watch or Swiss Army knife to the bag. One can also clip a Guardian Light, Clear Organizer Wallet, or Clear, Padded, Cordura, or Cork Organizer Pouches to the interior o-rings.

In front of the zippered pocket is a open-top compartment with a deep curve designed to facilitate easy access to its contents. The open-top pocket features four organizer pockets: two sized for pens or pencils, and two sized for the iPhone, iPod, or objects of a similar size.

The back of the Ristretto has a slanted, open-top pocket ideal for storing papers, a magazine or a newspaper. Included with the Ristretto is a removable waist strap – great for use if you ride your bike while wearing the Ristretto (motor bike or push bike). The waist strap attaches to two of four available points on the back of the Ristretto: you can attach the strap so that one end is high and the other low, or both high or both low, whatever is comfortable. If you don’t plan to use the waist strap, it is easily removable and leaves no hardware behind.

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The style, design and features of the Ristretto of 11” MacBook Air is pretty much unchanged from the Ristretto for Apple iPad. It has the same pockets, offers the same great protection thanks to the interior padded pocket but is sized for the slightly larger device. Here is a quick rundown.

• Built-in padded compartment is sized specifically for Apple 11″ MacBook Air

• The padded 11″ MacBook Air compartment measures: 11.8 x 8.2 x 1″ / 300 x 208 x 25mm

• The padded compartment is made of .25″ (8mm) open-cell foam laminated with durable 4 Ply Taslan® / interior of super-soft brushed nylon protects from all sides

• You can choose from two shoulder straps (Standard or Absolute, that attach to snaphooks via d-rings

* The overall measurements: 13.25 x 10.5 x 4.75″ (335 x 265 x 120mm)

* The exterior is made of 1000 denier U.S. Cordura® Lined with 500 denier U.S. Cordura®

* Weight: 13 ounces

* It’s made in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

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What really stood out when I had Elana use the bag and give me her thoughts for this review was the degree to which Tom Bihn “nailed it”. I asked Elana to use and discuss the bag without having looked at the Tom Bihn web site and its description of the Ristretto. Here’s what was rather amusing, Elana summarized the bag in this way…

The bag is just the right size for carrying the laptop, a pad and a cord but not much else. If you are looking for something bigger that can be used to carry a lot of stuff with you look elsewhere. This bag is not pretending to be something it is not — it is intended for the MBA and a few extras but that is it.

And this is how the company ACTUALLY summarizes the bag:

The Ristretto is designed to allow you to carry just the essentials: 11″ MacBook Air, wallet, keys, iPhone or cell phone, notebook, pens, business cards, and a small water bottle.

Either Tom Bihn executed EXACTLY what they planned for this bag or my wife is brilliant and insightful. (Okay, both are true.)

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Overall, Elana was impressed with the build-quality of the bag. “It is VERY well constructed. The fabric, in and out, is nice and is strong and the construction is great; the quality is excellent.” She went on to praise the shoulder strap (this is the absolute strap which is an additional $20) saying, “I like the shoulder strap. It is exceptionally sturdy, nice and thick and really comfortable. Excellent.”

She also liked that the main buckle/clasp is large, secure, has a “satisfying click” when it is closed, but it is easy to open. “That’s not always the case with bags and is something that is really worth noting.”

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From a functional perspective Elana really praised the bag.

“Unlike a lot of other bags which have a sleeve into which you put the laptop and THEN you put the sleeve into the bag this has a padded pocket area built into it. That makes things much easier and convenient, although I wasn’t sure exactly where to put the laptop initially. I really do like the fact that you don’t need to put the laptop into a sleeve and then into a bag… It’s very convenient!”

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She also commented on the degree of flexibility you get with regard to how the bag can be worn/secured thanks to all of the straps.

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From a style perspective Elana was a little bit less glowing. As she put it:

“It has very messenger-type styling and is a bit on the utilitarian-looking side. It strikes me as being a bit on the masculine/tech side of things. It certainly isn’t the most stylish bag I have seen…” but quickly added “But it is very functional!”

That left me a bit unsure as to what Elana’s conclusion was with regard to the bag so I asked her if it was something she can see using. “When I need to take the Air with me? Absolutely.”

I guess I’m not getting it after all.

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Elana was quick to comment on the shoulder strap, so it is worth nothing that while the Ristretto comes with a functional enough shoulder strap, for an extra $20.00 you can switch out the Standard Strap for the Absolute Shoulder Strap. My suggestion is to spend the extra $20 for the super-comfortable Absolute Strap when ordering the Ristretto. It is worth the up charge.

As the company explains:

You can choose between two different shoulder straps to use with the Ristretto. The Standard Shoulder Strap, included in the price of the Ristretto, 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. For an extra $20.00, you can switch out the Standard Strap for the Absolute Shoulder Strap.

Most people will be satisfied with just one kind of shoulder strap, but, should you choose to do so, you can purchase more than one kind of shoulder strap and switch between them.

In addition you can add a good degree of organization by purchasing some of the various pouches offered by the company on the web site.

The Ristretto has an MSRP of $110 and is available directly from Tom Bihn.

What Elana Likes: Well built; shoulder strap is excellent; quality of fabric; size; built-in laptop protection; good organization

What She Thinks Needs Improvement: The bag can get pricey very quickly with add-ons

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.

17 Comments on "Review: Tom Bihn Ristretto Bag for 11″ MacBook Air"

  1. Via @SkyGrid – Review: Tom Bihn Ristretto Bag for 11? MacBook Air

  2. Jessica Fritsche | January 23, 2011 at 9:02 pm |

    Great review, Dan! I think I have the original Ristretto, which I love. I used to use it for my netbook but it’s even more perfect to hold the iPad, my ebook reader, a few files or magazines, and personal stuff like my phone and wallet. It is my go-to travel bag–I used it for a conference trip back in October and it was great as both my carry-on and my daily conference bag. Tom Bihn really gets it right!

  3. Review: Tom Bihn Ristretto Bag for 11? MacBook Air #gadgets

  4. Review: Tom Bihn Ristretto Bag for 11? MacBook Air #gadgets

  5. Review: @tombihn Ristretto Bag for 11? MacBook Air Ordered this for my MBA 13". Already have small Cafe + iPad version.

  6. RT @gadgetfreaks: Review: Tom Bihn Ristretto Bag for 11? MacBook Air #gadgets

  7. Review: Tom Bihn Ristretto Bag for 11? MacBook Air | Gear Diary: The Ristretto for 11? MacBook Air is a vertical…

  8. Review: Tom Bihn Ristretto Bag for 11? MacBook Air:
    When I got my iPad last spring I began carrying it with me …

  9. RT @geardiarysite: Review: Tom Bihn Ristretto Bag for 11" MacBook Air

  10. RT @trhall: Review: @tombihn Ristretto Bag for 11? MacBook Air Ordered this for my MBA 13". Already have small Cafe + …

  11. Thanks Jessica. They are one of those companies that really thinks about what people need and how they are going to use their bag/devices when designing their things. Love that!

  12. @dmcohen: Review Ristretto for 11 MacBook Air. Could you use it for just an iPad or is it too big? Same $$ more room?

  13. Thanks for the very useful review of this bag.  I’m in the market for a bag to carry my iPad, but wonder if this slightly bigger bag might be a better option.  It looks to be tad taller than Ristretto for iPad.  I want to be sure that I can still easily carry a few more items with me, and it seems like the Ristretto for 11″ Air might give me that extra bit of space to work with.  Any thoughts?

  14. I LOVE the bag. Well made, holds up great and is super-useful. Personally I would go for the larger one. It isn’t too large for the iPad and it does give you the added flexibility!

  15. Thanks.  Now for the hard part:  choosing a color combo!

  16. Victoria Luhrs | December 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm |

    I’m looking for a bag that can hold my macbook air and my ipad in a small case. Think it would work in the 11 inch or do I need a bigger bag? Think the 13″ might work?

  17. Alexsandro Batista Tavares Gui | April 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm |

    I have one. I find where to buy??

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