Three days with the Aeronaut

Friday, January 23, 2009

I was really pleased that my Tom Bihn Aeronaut arrived in time for my 3-day trip to Montreal this week. I wanted the chance to travel with the bag on a real trip, to test out how it performs, see how much I can get into it, feel what it's like to carry, and find out what it's really like to travel with just one single carry-on sized bag. (Not even a carry-on and a "personal item").

My order from the Tom Bihn website was for one Aeronaut (in steel grey), an Absolute Shoulder Strap, a Convertible Packing Cube/Shoulder Bag and a Large Aeornaut Mesh/Fabric Packing Cube. That came to a total of $283.00 US, but after exchange, shipping, GST and duty, it was $369.16 CDN. Not cheap. Not cheap at all. However, it just doesn't make sense to plan a year long trip around the world with only one piece of luggage, and then cheap out on the luggage you choose. I'd hate to end up strewing my dainty underthings across Asia because my cheapo bag blew up. My first impressions of the Aeronaut were really good, and eveyone I showed it to agreed that it seemed exceptionally sturdy, well-designed and well-made.

Packing the Aeronaut was pretty easy - and I laid out everything that went in so you could see what will fit. Here's a picture of that, but if you click on it and go to the Flickr page you'll see notes on what's in all those little piles.

Here's what went in:

Centre Section:

Large packing cube:
  • fleece sweater
  • jeans
  • long sleeved t-shirt
  • t-shirt for running/sleeping
  • socks x 2
  • undies x 2
  • bra x 1
  • thin running gloves
  • fleece windstopper running gloves
  • long underwear
  • fleece neck warmer
  • running pants
  • long sleeved running shirt, half-zip
  • long sleeved running shirt #2
  • running shorts
  • running socks
  • running toque
  • wind pants
Meshy pocket under the top flap:
  • chequebook
  • business cards
Smaller packing cube:
  • cell phone case
  • heart rate monitor (for running)
  • more snacks
  • digital camera charger
  • Eee PC charger
  • iPod cable
  • iPod remote control
  • travel two-fer
  • USB cable
  • USB charger
Rick Steves Toiletries Kit

On top of everything else:
  • Eee PC in soft sleeve
  • Digital camera, in case, with spare battery
  • 3-1-1 bag o' dangerous liquids and gels
Left side pocket, in Convertible Packing Cube:
  • magazine
  • trade paperback book
  • notebook, 11cm x 17cm
  • Haulite cutlery set
  • Big ziploc bag of snacks: banana, mini oranges, Luna bar, fruit bar, tamari almonds, 2 pieces of dark chocolate
  • water bottle, empty
  • MP3 player and headphones
  • 16GB flash card
  • 8GB USB drive
Right side pocket:

So it was a lot of stuff. It was a bit tighter squeeze than I expected but everything did fit, though in a different way than I'd planned. Here's a shot of everything packed up:

I used the Absolute Shoulder Strap for the first little while and it was good, but it was not magic. It did not make 25 pounds feel like 15. (I weighed the bag at the airport when I got home on Thursday, and it came in at 24.5 pounds, or 11.1 kg.) It was a bit weighty for comfort, and thus a bit worrying. Wandering around in the Winnipeg airport with the shoulder strap convinced me to break out the backpack straps once I hit the ground in Montreal. I did this as soon as I got into the arrival gate and things immediately got better. I found it quite comfortable moving around with the fully loaded bag on my back. On Thursday after I checked out of my hotel I carried the bag comfortably for the ten or fifteen minute walk to my meeting, and then onto the Metro for a quick stop before grabbing a cab to the airport. And, as I was negotiating the packed snow, slush and puddles in the street, I felt pretty smug about my choice to reject wheeled luggage and schlep everything on my back.

One thing I'm really happy with is the convertible packing cube, which is designed to fit perfectly in either of the Aeronaut's end pockets. It's made from a material Tom Bihn calls "Dyneema", a sort of ripstop nylon. My impression from the website was that it would be very thin and floppy, though strong. In fact, the material is thicker and stiffer than I expected, and I like it very much. The cube is also bigger than I expected, which is good. My intention was to pack this with all my "in flight" goodies - books, magazines, snacks, computer, ipod, water bottle, etc., so that I could pluck the whole cube out of the side pocket when I got to my seat and shove the main bag up in the overhead bin. This worked beautifully, though I ended up packing the computer in the centre section of the Aeronaut, partly because it was a tight squeeze getting it into the convertible cube along with everything else, but also so that it would be easier to extract when going through security at the airport. This worked pretty well, and it wasn't a bit deal to grab it out of the main compartment of the bag when I retrieved the convertible cube from the side. This is definitely a system that can work. Also, the convertible cube has attachment points for a strap, so it can double as a small shoulder bag for times when I don't want to use the Civita day pack.

The large packing cube was ok, though when it was stuffed with all the clothes listed above it bulged somewhat, making it tighter to pack other things on top of it. I got the cube that's part Dyneema and part mesh, though now that I've seen the Dyneema in real life, I think I'd prefer the option that's all Dyneema; it might be less susceptible to bulging. I thought I'd put my toiletries kit and other packing cube on top of the large one, but because of the bulginess they ended up fitting better alongside. However I think that I'll be packing fewer clothes for the real trip (outdoor running in the winter requires an annoying amount of gear and clothing) so I'm not too concerned about this.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the Tom Bihn Aeronaut. The grey colour is different enough from black to be interesting, but subtle enough that it doesn't stand out. The multitude of straps and handles make it really easy to grab from almost any angle, especially when retrieving it from an overhead bin or the back of a cab. The backpack straps make a heavy load quite comfortable to carry, and I'm actually debating whether I really need to take the shoulder strap at all (though it would be handy for the convertible packing cube/shoulder bag thingy mentioned above). I did find it a bit tricky to keep track of the "top" and "bottom" ends of the bag, so I may try to find a subtle way of marking one end to be able to stay oriented, but this is a minor quibble. I think the Aeronaut if definitely worthy of being my "One bag to rule them all" for this big adventure, and the obvious quality of the design, materials and workmanship make it one of those kind of object that's simply a pleasure to own and use.


Phonella said...

Well done!

The little mouseover notes on the image at flickr are really nifty.

jst1203 said...

I was going to ask, where is the pouch for your spare glasses. Then I remembered.

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