1. Travel
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Ultralight Carry On Bag Review: The Tom Bihn Tri-Star

What's Different in this version of the Tri-Star

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating



The Tri-Star Carry On Bag from Tom Bihn

James Martin, Europe Travel

When we last took a look at my favorite carry on bag (which I use as our "technology bag"), the Tri-Star weighed a bit more than it does today; without changing dimensions, the bag has slimmed from 3 lb 6 ounces to 2 lb 12 ounces due to the use of high-tech ultralight 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon ripstop, used in applications requiring a tough and light fabrics.

So, What's a Tri-Star Anyway?

The new Tri-Star is an ultralight carry on bag you can shoulder or throw on your back. It's got lots of ways to sort your stuff.

It's about the threes. The Tri-Star has three main compartments in the main body--and three zippered pockets layered on the outside along with a curved zipper pocket that can hold a water bottle or boarding passes. The bag can be carried on a shoulder strap or as a backpack. When it's not in backpack mode, the straps can be hidden in a zippered pocket on the back of the bag.

I've made many trips to Europe carrying the older Tri-Star. It's rugged. It's made of fine materials. The zippers are protected from moisture and are still easy to zip and unzip. This isn't a bargain bag; it's made to last you a lifetime. I use the center compartment for my laptop and iPad, and it's easy to pull them out when the bag is shouldered for the security theater at the airplane gates.

The compartment next to your body when you shoulder the bag is used for your clothing. It has straps to keep it all in when you unzip the compartment, which hinges at the bottom so you have full access when the bag is sitting upright.

The front compartment is divided into two slots. You can slip in a couple of packing cubes as we do, one with bathroom stuff and one with all the tech stuff like chargers and spare drives and cellphones and things. The front compartment divider unzips so you can remove it and use the space as one larger space.

What's this Dyneema Stuff Anyway?

tri-star carry on bag

The Tri-Star Open

James Martin, Europe Travel

You can find out all about Dyneema® on their website. In short, they tell us it's a "Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMwPE), and we manufacture and sell products in several forms including fiber, tape and uni-directional (UD) sheets."

It's used for cycling clothes, for example, protecting a rider's legs in a crash. Italian motorsport company OMP Racing will use it in racing safety belts, claiming a 40% weight reduction while increasing strength of the harness.

Mostly, it's light and strong. It doesn't fray. It stands up to temperatures, salt and sun.

But, the Tri-Star is expensive!

Sure, you can go to a discount store and get a cheap bag stitched together by political prisoners held in an undisclosed purgatory and fed bread and water and slapped around when they can't stitch up 60 bags in an hour. But do you really want to trust that cobbled-together monstrosity on a vacation that's going to cost you thousands before you even lift off?

Our appetite for cheap has run its course. Shouldn't we put our hard-earned cash into something good, something well-designed using the latest materials? After all, for a bag that should last you a lifetime, you'll spend half of what you spent on that device that you only use to get your email and play games on. That's a fair price, isn't it?

Bottom Line

organizer cube

An Organizer Cube made by Tom Bihn in Wasabi (color)

James Martin

I travel for a living. I like having Tri-Star with all my valuable tech stuff at my side. And my side won't hurt as much now that it's a bit lighter. And yes, when I lift the old and new Tri-Stars by themselves, I can tell the difference. It's quite noticeable in fact.

If you're looking for a quality carry on bag with lots of organizing features for a variety of things you might need to carry on vacation, the Tri-Star is a very fine choice. If most of what you pack is clothing, you might consider an Aeronaut.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.