Tom Bihn Synapse 25 Backpack Review – Bigger and Better!

Tom Bihn Synapse 25 Backpack

The Tom Bihn Synapse 25 Backpack and the Tom Bihn Synapse 19 Backpack

It’s been a while since Tom Bihn released the original Synapse backpack.  I liked it very much except that it does tend to look a little silly on a big guy like me, and sometimes it’s just a bit too small to hold the things I want to bring along.  Apparently I am not the only one who has said that, which led Tom to design a bigger version of the Synapse, called the Synapse 25.  The original Synapse is still being made, and is now called the Synapse 19.

What’s New?

Tom Bihn Synapse 25 Backpack

The Synapse 25 is 30 percent bigger than the Synapse 19, and it looks a lot better on my back than the Synapse 19 did. Tom hasn’t just taken the original design and made it bigger, he redesigned parts of the pack so that it would work more efficiently with the newer, larger design.  For example, the water bottle pocket used to go the whole length of the pack, but now it only goes to the top of the bottom compartment.  If that feature had remained the same as on smaller version, then you’d have to dig deeper in the bag to extract your water bottle.  This had the side benefit of making that bottom compartment larger than it would have been if he just made the over all design larger.

Tom Bihn Synapse 25 Backpack

Tom also has attachments in this pack to add a Cache on Rails for carrying a iPad, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro or MacBook Pro Retina.  I was sent the Cache on Rails for the 11 inch MacBook Air, which I use to carry my Asus EeePad Transformer.  The Cache on Rails is made of neoprene; it has two rails on the back which are straps of fabric, and these rails attach the Cache on Rails to the pack.  This easily allows the Cache to slide out, leaving the rest of your bag’s contents in place.  This also allows this pack to be checkpoint-friendly, because you can leave your laptop or iPad in the cache and attached to the bag as it goes through the x-ray machine.  My only concern with doing this is that were you to have things in your bag that were sitting close to the top, they could spill out as it goes down the conveyor.

The only 15″ laptop that appears to fit with the rails system is a 15″ MacBook Pro; with that said, I tried to fit my Dell XPS 15 in the Synapse 25, and it did fit.  You could try using the cache for the 15″ MacBook with your 15″ laptop and see if it works for you.  If not, then some other sleeve should be used for padding while carrying it in the Synapse 25, as the backpack itself has built-in no padding for any device.

Tom Bihn Synapse 25 Backpack

The Synapse 25 has a sternum strap and a waist strap along, with the normal backpack straps, just like the 19.  I was sent the whistle sternum strap half.  This replaces half of the sternum strap hardware, and it adds an integrated whistle in the strap.  When the pack is worn, all you have to do is bend your head down to get to the whistle without removing the pack. This would be a great way to get attention quickly.

Tom Bihn Synapse 25 Backpack

I was also sent a Guardian Dual function light in red.  This light will light up or flash, depending upon which side of the battery is up.  This light clips on to the strap, and it makes you more visible when you are hiking near a road at night by using the flashing function.  The steady light in red can be handy for astronomers in the field, as it keeps eyes from being dilated and thereby affecting night vision.  For non-astronomers, you can get the Guardian with a clear lens so it will function, more or less, as a hands free flashlight.

What is still the same

Tom continues to use the durable 1000 denier Cordura® nylon or ultralight 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon ripstop fabric on the exterior, with the interior being lined with 200 denier Japanese Dyneema®/nylon ripstop fabric.  I have yet to have one bag or backpack from Tom Bihn tear.  My Aeronaut has been through two owners and many camp-outs, and it still looks brand new.  My wife took the Synapse 19 off my hands when I was done with it, and she carries it everywhere; other needing an occasional cleaning, it still looks great.

This is a testament to the quality of all Tom Bihn bags and backpacks.  They may sound expensive, but when you come to realize that they will outlast any bag you might already own, you’ll find that it’s worth the extra money.  If you buy a new Tom Bihn backpack or messenger bag for your next laptop purchase, I have no doubt that the bag will not only outlast the laptop you carry inside it, but the bag will still look pretty good well after your laptop has seen better days.

Other than the new attachments in the main compartments to accommodate the rail system, all of the rest of the compartments continue to have rings for attaching things like the keystrap and other Tom Bihn products, like the clear organizer pouches and the clear organizer cube shown below.  Of course if you have anything else that has a clip on it, then you can attach them to the ring in the bag as well.

Tom Bihn Synapse 25 Backpack

The pocket where the pens go is identical to the one in the Synapse 19; the only difference is that each slot is bigger, and the pocket itself is bigger; you may be able to keep a pocketknife or something similarly sized in that pocket.

The pocket opposite of the pen pocket is the same as the one on the 19, and it also includes the same soft lining.  I keep my digital camera and my video camera in the same pocket, since at this time I have small cameras.  I can even throw my portable tripod in there, because it is much more roomy than the same pocket on the Synapse 19.

Tom Bihn Synapse 25 Backpack

Tom Bihn is also well-known for the colors offered in their products.  The Synapse 25 has many different color combos available, including Olive with Steel Dyneema Interior, Black with Steel, Iberian, or Wasabi interior, Navy with Steel or Ultraviolet interior, Steel with Steel, Wasabi or Ultraviolet interior, and the last color choice is Nordic Dyneema exterior with Steel interior.  All backpacks use Codura on the outside with the exception of the Nordic Dyneema option, being made from Dyneema, of course.  I was shipped the Olive and Steel color combo.  It looks a little military-esque with the Olive color, but I like it.

Tom Bihn Synapse 25 Backpack

Finally, all zippers are waterproof, so this should keep any gear you put in the backpack dry as a bone — unless the bag itself takes a swim.


Since it came, I have been using the Synapse 25 to carry my EeePad, some of my radios,  various chargers and cables, my still and video camera, a moleskine, a 4G hotspot, and a few other items that I carry back and forth to work.  I carried the Synapse 25 throughout the Dayton Hamvention to see how comfortable it would be loaded with gear.  So far, I’ve carried it for 5-6 hour stints at Hamvention with no aches and pains in my shoulders like I might have had from some packs.  I appreciate and use both the sternum strap and the waist strap; these help distribute the pack’s weight while keeping the main straps from slipping off my shoulders.  The straps themselves are well padded and comfortable.

The Synapse 25 has enough pockets, without there being too many; I like that, as it keeps everything easy to find without having to do too much digging.  As always, Tom has thought of just about everything with this backpack.

This backpack is also an ideal carry-on when you’ve checked your bigger bags; the rail system makes going through security a breeze.  Just keep the device in its cache, and pull it out laying it flat on the belt.  Since it’s checkpoint friendly, you shouldn’t have to remove your laptop from the cache, making it easier to collect your things at the other end.  Just slip the cache and its contents back in the pack, zip it up, and you’ll be on your way.

Tom Bihn Synapse 25 Backpack

It’s really hard to make one backpack to rule them all. The Tom Bihn Synapse 25 is great as a day pack; it’s also great for carrying your iPad, Tablet, Netbook or MacBook Air, along with a bunch of other things to and from the office.  The extra room is very appreciated in this bag, plus it looks lot better when a big guy like me carries it.  The only thing I’d suggest Tom Bihn do, is to bring out an even larger version.  How about a Synapse 31? 😉  I am kidding of course!

If you need to step up, I’d look at the Brain Bag, which can hold 2 laptops or a laptop and your iPad with other gear.  The Smart Alec is a bit bigger than the Synapse 25, but it has a totally different design which accommodates strapping on modular pockets for even more organization.

So while it would be nice to have this same design offered in an even bigger size,  it’s not really needed.  $170 seems like a lot to pay for a backpack, but I guarantee you that you won’t find a backpack in this size that will be as durable or as well-thought out as the Synapse 25.

MSRP: $170

What I liked: Looks like the Synapse 19 but is larger, and has a slight redesign; same Tom Bihn quality I have grown to love

What Needs Improvement: More Cache on Rails options; not everyone has a MacBook; pricey

Source: Manufacturer provided review sample.

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About the Author

Joel McLaughlin
Joel is a consultant in the IT field and is located in Columbus, OH. While he loves Linux and tends to use it more than anything else, he will stoop to running closed source if it is the best tool for the job. His techno passions are Linux, Android, netbooks, GPS, podcasting and Amateur Radio.

1 Comment on "Tom Bihn Synapse 25 Backpack Review – Bigger and Better!"

  1. I really like the pocket layout and all the attachment points on this thing. Clips can be found all over the place, so you won’t be dumb and leave something behind as long as everything is clipped to the inner pocket rings. Great for organization-obsessed types.

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