Building a better carry bag for your Mac -- Tom Bihn

About a century and a half ago I received a PM from halfbaked pointing me at Tom Bihn as a possible supplier of carry bag to fit my MBP 17" that would protect it from more than the occasional bump. For those of you NOT keeping tabs I managed to plan my oversized American arse on top of my precious while walking across an icy parking lot. Apple fixed the book and lots of booze fixed me … eventually. I am here today to report on the quickest way to lighten your pocket by a significant amount of cash while providing an excessive amount of protection to you backside … I mean Mac.

Let’s start off with a very important fact – Tom Bihn does not make “Mac” bags, but LAPTOP bags. Keep that in mind. While our precious Macs SEEM flimsy go take a look at a Dell. Those things are like paper plates when compared to a Mac. Also there are a many more sizes of winblows laptops than Macs. This makes 2 things that you need to remember

  1. these bags are built to protect cheap systems
  2. getting the sizing right can be a major PITA

#1 – Well that was the goal. That and a diet (good news on that as I am down 40lb for the year).
#2 – Tom Bihn helps with a handy sizing chart. He doesn’t make it painless, but he tries.

That out of the way let’s talk turkey, or in Wock’s case bread crumbs.

The Tom Bihn method of protection is interesting. It consists of a reinforced laptop cell called the Brain Cell (not to be confused with the biological cell missing in pigeons and three-legged pirate dogs) and the exterior bag that we all see. This allows you to purchase “parts” to mix and match. Think moving from a Dell to an Lenovo to a Mac. All you would need to replace is the Brain Cell if it didn’t fit the new system (assuming that the bag was big enough to hold the new cell). Kind of nice when you stop to think about it.

Lets talk common things first.

  • Fabric – Read the specs. Then consider that the specs are not properly describing the actual toughness of this stuff. Think military grade and you will have the idea.
  • Stitching – The fabric seems to be the week point here. Each seam is triple stitched on my bag and piped. I wish I could buy clothes put together this well.
  • Fasteners – They match the rest of the bag. Solid, positive, industrial. Again, military grade and worth every penny
  • Look – Surprisingly light and contemporary. With all the heavy grade components you would expect a heavy, industrial look, but Bihn creates a very contemporary, modern appearance.
  • Weight – Moderate. Here is where your expectation of substance will be fulfilled. While not excessively weighty, there is a significant heft to the items I purchased. Not oppressive, but noticeable.

On to the individual components that I purchased…

The Brain Cell is a functional bag on its own. You can read the specs on the web site (link latter, keep your pants on – especially you clangybangy) but I think they are a little misleading. While the Brain Cell IS reinforced it isn’t going to do much for serious crush forces. At least not the “size 1” required for the MBP17. Don’t get me wrong, it is built like a tank and is pretty substantial, but it is NOT a hard sided case. If you buy the Brain Cell only you are getting the same level of protection that you would get from a basic carry case. It will cover you decently. I will use mine alone when I travel and don’t need the rest of the stuff in my bag.

The giant “size 1” cell doesn’t fit all the bags offered by Bihn. Because Snort loves me and I just received a promotion she permitted me to buy the “Empire Builder”. This is the equivalent of the BMW 7 series in the Bihn lineup. Same excessive quality, but with a surprise or 2. First was the LOCKING cell holders. This keeps the cell attached to the case and makes removing the laptop easy. The second was the additional HARD SHELL reinforcement in the side and end panels. I did not expect the actual bag to be reinforced, but it is. I sat on it. The same fat arse that I noted above (minus 40lb) did not crush the bag. If I were a pigeon or less fearful of failure I could actually put the MBP in the bag with no cell and it would be very likely to survive another winter. I don’t recommend this for the record, but I think you could.

I was a bit disappointed in the accessory pockets in the front compartment. There were just enough to cover my needs, but not enough to get everything I wanted in the front. I was able to utilize some of the external pockets and am satisfied enough to not really complain (I would buy the add on organizer next time). Also the fit is a bit tight (kind of like the waist line of my pants which got me here in the first place…). Nothing too bad, but noticeable when the bag fills up.

Another minor surprise in the “Empire Builder” is the file area. Think of a mini file cabinet on your shoulder. I am able to keep several folders and documents organized just like in the office. Very nice.

Last point on the bag/cell that I should make note of. You will lose a bit of bag space to the cell. in my case a 1" MBP turns into 2" of red lost space. Not a big deal to me, but someone who might need to carry a large number of files might find this a problem. Keep in mind you can always take the cell out and use it independently if needed.

The last thing that I want to mention is the “Absolute” strap. Buy it. Don’t think, just resign yourself to it now. The neoprene provides a reassuring no-slip connection to your shoulder while absorbing an enormous amount of shock. I debated the extra $$ and am so glad that I did it that I might buy an extra to use on other bags.

That covers the technical. Now comes the hard part. Is it worth it? Let me break down the prices for you before I pass judgement.
• Brain Cell $US60
• Empire builder $US160
• Absolute strap $US30
Yes, I spent $250 on a laptop bag. It still hurts me to see that.

But, is it worth it? Yes. The bag will last, I am certain of that. The system is now better protected than an oil tycoon’s wallet and I can comfortably leave the walker at home. The cost seems excessive until you consider that is it less than 10% of the cost of the laptop (and it is the most expensive set up you can buy).

If you want to look at Bihn’s lineup head over to You can buy from them directly. I received my bag in 5 days (opposite coast) using ground shipping.

[size=85]This review is not sponsored by Tom Bihn, Literature & Latte, or any of their affiliates. The opinions expressed in this review and this very disclaimer are the sole responsibility of Jaysen O’Dell and do not reflect the opinions of Literature & Latte, Keith Blount, or anyone else for that matter. If you are dumb enough to put an expensive laptop in a bag and sit on it don’t expect it to turn on. You got what you deserved. Notice that when I did that the laptop was NOT IN THE BAG at the time. I am not dumb, but if you did sit on the bag with the laptop in it and then give me or Keith or even Tom Bihn a hard time about your busted laptop… then YOU are dumb. Go whine to someone other than us. And please ensure you don’t procreate. We already have enough politicians over here doing dumb things and getting the worls all up in arms over … damn. See what you did? Wock! where’s the 'shine[/size]