The perfect laptop bag for business travel

In the post What we want but can’t yet have, I bemoaned how I had yet to find a decent laptop bag for business travel:

The perfect laptop bag has a pocket for everything you need to carry with you, has a comfortable shoulder strap, is made to last, is professional in appearance, and doesn’t scream I’M CARRYING A LAPTOP FOR YOU TO STEAL. This bag is so perfect that you want to name your pets after it. We have found many bags that come close to meeting these requirements, but none that is perfect.

The day after this post ran, I got an e-mail from a lovely woman at Tom Bihn bags explaining that the reason I hadn’t found the perfect laptop bag was because I hadn’t tried her company’s top-of-the-line product. Fair enough, I hadn’t tried the exact bag she was referencing in her e-mail. I told her I would take it out with me on a few trips and see how it handled. My expectations were low; I’d been let down so many times in the past that I assumed I would be let down again.

I’m not one to eagerly admit when I’m wrong, but I was. This bag is amazing. It meets my qualifications for a perfect laptop bag for business travel — and more. I’ve since taken it out four times (three of those involved air travel), and feel comfortable singing its praises.

The Checkpoint Flyer:

The best part of the bag is that you don’t have to take the laptop out of it to go through security checkpoints at the airport. You flip the pouch that holds the laptop out when you lay it on the conveyor belt, and then flip it back in after it has gone through the x-ray machine. I didn’t time the event, but Tom Bihn’s website says it should only take three seconds. The laptop pouch sits on little hinges that move it far enough away from the contents in the rest of the bag so that it meets TSA requirements:

Closeup of hinge:

There are different pouch sizes you can order based on the size of your laptop. It also has pockets for all of my cords, cables and wireless peripherals, enough space to hold two days’ worth of business casual clothing and work papers (I put these in what they call the Horizontal Freudian Slip), and has the best shoulder strap I’ve ever had on a shoulder bag (it’s springy, like a wet suit):

My only complaint is that it is obviously a laptop bag to anyone who sees it. However, it’s attractive and professional, and I can walk into any meeting with it. And, it doesn’t really scream its laptop-bag status, it says it casually, as if having a conversation with friends over a couple beers. The fabric on the bag is very sturdy and the stitching is impeccable. My bag showed zero signs of wear after my trips. Yes, it’s pricey. But, I sincerely believe you’re getting what you pay for. On trips longer than three days, I’ve put my clothes in my Zuca bag and wheeled it around with this bag resting on top.

The bag is made in Seattle and Tom Bihn, the guy with his name on the company, actually designs the bags. I was sincerely surprised to be so impressed by it. My search for a perfect laptop bag is complete. (Could I gush more? Probably.)

First two images snagged from the Tom Bihn website, the other two are mine. I drastically need a nice photo setup in my house.

42 Comments for “The perfect laptop bag for business travel”

  1. posted by Joe Ganley on

    That looks nice, but I find laptops too heavy to use a shoulder bag. I have a laptop backpack made by eBags that works great, and as an added advantage it looks pretty much like a regular backpack; it’s not at all obvious that there’s a laptop in it.

  2. posted by xo on

    i got and like their western flyer.

    it converts from briefcase, to backpack (with good quality straps,) to carry on secondary luggage with laptop in less than a minute.

    it’s fun to change from backpack to briefcase on the way to work!

  3. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Joe — Maybe it’s just me, but I feel silly walking into a corporate meeting wearing a suit, skirt, heels, and a backpack. I think in a business casual or casual work environment a backpack can work great … but not in a more traditionally clad business situation. So, I don’t consider backpacks as being valid options since I would feel very uncomfortable using them in all situations.

  4. posted by FupDuckTV on

    I really like the look of this bag in the gray and black. I’m not sure I’d pay $220 for this bag, but I’d grab it up at a over-stock store for around $60.

  5. posted by Jesse on

    I guess those of us in Seattle should stop trying to keep Tom Bihn such a secret! My family has been using their bags for years now…I currently carry an Imago as my daily shoulder bag. It’s perfect for water bottle, book and Moleskine…plus the small retail outlet is right across the hall from the production facility. As a bonus, when I went in to pick up my bag, I was met there by Tom himself…it was employee pizza day after all!

    I may have to look into this bag to round out my trifecta of perfect bags, one for daily, no computer, use. One for daily computer use, and one backpack for weekends away and hiking…Right now my daily computer bag is a Seattle by Overland Equipment (discontinued), which I love because it looks like a canvas satchel, not a computer bag…

  6. posted by AddiesDad on

    I think there are much better options, even ones that (shockingly) INCLUDE the shoulder strap with the price of the bag! The cost of the Checkpoint Flyer can easily reach $300 if you include all the “suggested” accessories. Stylish? Yes. Innovative? Perhaps. Worth the cost of decent netbook? I don’t think so. Bag: $220. Shoulder strap: $20 for the “Terra Grip, $30 for the “Absolute”. Freduian Slip: $35. Total: $275 – $285, and this doesn’t include the “packing cubes” for another $15 – $30.

    Just sayin’ that for $220, I want my bag to come with a strap and place to hold my pens, papers, etc. I probably want it to do other things too, but this is a family blog.

  7. posted by Leah Weiss Caruso on

    We love Tom Bihn! He has a knitting bag I covet called the “Swift”. My husband has the Brain Cell and my brother has the ID. Enjoy your bag! Love your site, btw. Lurker for a while – used many tips and ideas!

  8. posted by globug on

    Tom Bihn has been around a long time. I was using his bags in college when he was in Santa Cruz. But his Seattle establishment has been producing some of the most high-quality bags around. There is nothing cheap about his products. And are they pricey compared to other products? you bet! Have I ever had one fail in the 20 some-odd years I have been using them? Never! i still have all of his bags in use full-time today. Best ever!

  9. posted by Sony on

    Tom Bihn’s bags are worth every penny. I had my laptop in one of their hard case inserts (similar to the one that flips out in this bag) in a backpack (Smart Alec, doesn’t look like a laptop bag, and I ran over it with my car in a dirt parking lot (long, dumb story). The laptop itself came through with a minor crack in the corner of the case and otherwise worked fine for several years, all I had to do was brush the dirt tire marks off the backpack. In 30 seconds the pack looked like nothing had ever happened.

    I use their bags every day and have for years, and don’t see even the most minor signs of wear and tear. I fully expect to still be using my Aeronaut carryon and various totes and shoulder bags for the next 10-20 years. Not an exaggeration.

    Products built this well, of top quality materials, and backed by a small group of dedicated people are a great value.

  10. posted by Sue on

    Most people I’ve seen traveling or commuting with laptops pull them out at every opportunity, so why seek out a bag that doesn’t look like a laptop bag? I can see the point if you’re going somewhere with high crime and are going to keep it put away until you are in the safety of a private area.

  11. posted by April on

    I would love to hear suggestions for a good work bag that is NOT designed to hold a laptop. I have one I love that is about 15 years old and showing its age, and I’m having a tough time finding a replacement. I want something lightweight, sturdy and presentable for work that has plenty of pockets of various sizes (so I can keep my life organized and uncluttered!) but does not have a built-in laptop sleeve I don’t need. And preferably does not cost $220. 🙂 (But hey, if that’s what it takes …) Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

  12. posted by Jon on

    I went with the all-black model, which is more subtle. I like it. Two big outer pockets for gadgets don’t look like much at first, but they’ll take a lot of stuff and look good empty or full.

    All in all, it’s not as comfortable as a good backpack–but as others have pointed out, backpacks just don’t look that professional. This one’s got clean lines, holds a lot of stuff, and is comfortable for a messenger-style bag.

    Yeah, and you can flip out the laptop in airport lines, but there’s a side benefit (literally): the rigid case allows easy laptop loading and unloading without opening the entire bag.

  13. posted by Amy Stewart on

    This looks like a very nice, high quality bag, and while I agree that backpacks don’t look as professional, my back can’t take a lot of airport walking without good distribution of weight, which only a backpack-style bag provides. I ended up going with the BBP bag which rides low and can be configured as a messenger bag or low-slung backpack. Here’s my review:

    I do like the fact you don’t have to remove the laptop when going through security. However, the BBP bag gives you 1-zip access to the laptop which isn’t too much of a hassle.

  14. posted by freecia on

    I have a Wise Walker brand bag purchased from the Container Store that works well as an everyday bag. It isn’t TSA friendly but I don’t fly much. What it does have is brilliant orange lining with black outer, convertible backpack and long shoulder strap, and a compartment along the bottom for long items like an extra battery or umbrella. There’s even an insert to hold your ethernet cable. I’m a bag freak and other than the fact that it looks a bit more geek than urban, it is the best bag I’ve ever had.

    If I posted this bag to the “whatsinmybag” pool on Flickr, you’d never believe how much I can fit in there without it showing. The nylon is really light, too.

    Mine was about $70 with a coupon and flight001 has them here;sid=448

    I love the Bihn bags but they are a bit pricy for my budget. Also, I’m a bit of a bag nut so have to discourage myself from buying more bags. That leads to clutter 🙂

  15. posted by Karyn on

    Reading the comments, I’m SO glad I don’t have to Look Professional for my current job. 😀 Don’t miss corporate culture one teeny bit!

  16. posted by Khürt Williams on

    @Joe, I have to agree with Erin. A backpack has “unprofessional” written all over it.

  17. posted by Khürt Williams on

    @Joe, I have to agree with Erin. A backpack has “unprofessional” written all over it.
    Ooops, should have added good post! Waiting on your next one!

  18. posted by Mark on

    $220 is a deal breaker for me.

  19. posted by JC on

    I’ve been eyeing TOM BINH for a while…

    But the TIMBUK2 HACKER backpack might be a good possibility too. It has a shoulder-strap and the backpack straps tuck away.

  20. posted by Teresa on

    I have Tom Bihn’s brain bag. It was pricey, but it’s held up perfectly for more than four years, and I really load it down with papers, laptop, workout clothes and other stuff on a daily basis. I figure it’ll cost me less in the long run because I won’t be replacing it as frequently as other backpacks.

  21. posted by Christy on

    I have four Tom Bihn bags. Two of them are several years old and they still look new. You can’t beat the quality on Tom Bihn bags! The Swift holds all of my knitting supplies, the Smart Alec is great for the occasional trip and the Cafe bags are great for everyday use. I’m not surprised the laptop bag is so fabulous. I’m hoping they make a netbook sleeve soon so I have something for my Aspire.

  22. posted by Pat on

    BBP bags are great too. A more stylish bag that swings from shoulder bag to backpack quite quickly and easily. Offers lots of storage room and comes in many stylish colours and boring corporate colours too.

    I’ve been using my Hampton model in tangerine and Blue for 4 years with no complaints. Laptop protected in a waterproof padded pocket (in Portland it rains a bit), big pocket for lots of junk, well thought out pockets, umbrella loops, newspaper pocket that doubles and roller slot. Have it as backpack on the way in on bike and convert to over the shoulder for trips to corporate land.

    It is the bag I was looking for in all those years past. I’ve given enough to Goodwill. 🙂

  23. posted by caro on

    Check out the Aussie “Crumpler” bags. Good selection, and the messenger bag I bought has been through the wash, had soup spilled in it, and has been kicked around a nurse’s station for soooo long now -still looks like new. They have plenty of lap-top bags/backpacks in great colours, and you can on-line order.

  24. posted by Mary on

    Have to say that upgrading to the Tom Bihn bags has SAVED me money. I used to think I was being frugal by using LLBean tote bags as my work bags. But I was going through 2 or 3 a year! They just got looking too worn out for my workplace. I got a Swift knitting bag for Xmas and it has held up beautifully for two years now. Looks as gorgeous as the day I got it.

    Got an Imago this year. The pockets and pouches are so well designed that it has cut way down on the stress getting out the door in the morning. Pat for the cell phone on the side and the wallet in the zip pouch. Keys and thumb drive are on a lanyard tucked in an under flap pocket with my glasses case. The inside pockets hold my Moleskine and my Tom Bihn Shop Bag.

    The Shop Bag is a bit of an indulgence, but the padded handles mean it handles a load of library books as easily as farmer’s market purchases. I don’t have a car and end up hauling stuff all over town.

  25. posted by Joe on

    I absolutely LOVE my Tom Bihn bag, the Aeronaut ( I took it as my only bag (carry on!!) for a month-long trip to Europe, and it was fantastic. It’s the absolute maximum capacity that airlines will allow as a carry-on, and makes so much more sense than a rolling suitcase. Yes, it is pricey at $180, but when you get one, you realize the amazing quality that it is. The bag was also really comfortable. You don’t have to buy their expensive packing cubes, btw. I bought a bunch of Eagle Creek ones at the Container Store on sale.

    For ideas on minimalist travel, check out (I’m not connected with the site at all; it just helped me learn the joy of traveling simply)

  26. posted by Larry Wright on

    I don’t own this particular bag, but I am the very happy owner of a Tom Bihn Brain Bag (their largest backpack). It goes all over the place with me, and in spite of daily use for nearly two years, shows almost no wear. It’s large enough that on an overnight trip, I can avoid carrying an additional bag. It is an amazing, well constructed bag. I can’t recommend Tom Bihn enough.

  27. posted by Gena on

    I’m a long-time Bihn bagger. I’ve got one of his backpacks that’s running almost 20 years old and is still in great shape. They’re seriously built to last. Yeah, maybe a little more expensive than some, but if you’re not having to replace them every five years, you end up saving in the end. Glad to hear that Tom still comes into the store. He was a fixture in the Santa Cruz location and is an all-around nice guy.

  28. posted by meri on

    I’m yet another long-time fan of Mr. Bihn and his bags, and have done a great deal of evangelizing of his products. Yes, they’re a bit spendy, but goodness do they last. I’m also completely enamored with the dual facts that Mr. Bihn himself designs the bags, but is completely open to user requests and suggestions. (Not to say that he’ll actually incorporate all of them, which would be impossible, but he actually listens to them.)

    I have yet to meet someone who has started using a Bihn bag and failed to love them, or to be impressed by their quality and design. And, oh my, is that shoulder strap incredible.

    Congratulations on your find, and I know you’ll be enjoying it for years to come.


  29. posted by LaptopBags on

    I love the hinge. Looks like great quality. Thanks for the post!

  30. posted by leslie on

    Take the $$$ you’d spend on this, get a netbook and throw it in your purse or backpack.

  31. posted by Matt M on

    To anyone who thinks the price for Tom Bihn bags is too much, you only have to ask yourself how long you want the bag to last and look like new. If you are fine with your cheaper bag wearing out in a year or two then yes, these bags are too expensive for you. But if you want your purchase to last, you can believe everyone who says these bags last a very long time with no visible wear. If you like having to buy a new bag every year or so then keep buying cheap. I hate taking time to shop so I would rather my purchase last once I’ve made a choice. I can’t help but think in the long run it save me money too. Saving time and money with good products made by a small business owner seem to fit nicely with a family blog imho.

  32. posted by Sean on

    Maybe this bag is good quality, but it seems disingenuous to call it a laptop bag or a briefcase when all the features that would make it so are offered a la carte. Without the laptop case (+$70), the Freudian Slip (+$35, and no less of a gouge for the cute name), and the shoulder stap (+$20), it’s just a small, inordinately expensive tote bag.

  33. posted by all network on

    thanks for information this use

  34. posted by Fantastic, Fun Laptop Bags | Designer Laptop Bags on

    […] The perfect laptop bag for business travel […]

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  36. posted by Jeff on

    I’ve had a Tom Bihn slingpack, the Buzz, for years and love it. It’s great for commuting with or without a laptop. Last summer my family took a trip to Seattle and I had to make a pilgrimage to the Tom Bihn store. Turns out it’s also the factory. And I got to meet Tom who was in the middle of testing out this new bag. He brought it out and showed me.

  37. posted by Lanyard on

    It’s a bit expensive for me so I’ll think twice before before buying it. Still, good “performance”.

  38. posted by Perfect Laptop Bag for College Students | Funky Laptop Bags, Unique Laptop Bags, Purchase Your Own on

    […] The perfect laptop bag for business travel | Unclutterer […]

  39. posted by Bob Smith on

    Sean, the Flyer comes with one laptop case of your choice included. I believe it comes with a shoulder strap too, just not the wizbang Absolute strap.

  40. posted by Mike on

    A little late to the party here, but nice review. I think that Tom Bihn bags are actually reasonably priced considering the quality and the fact that they’re made in the USA. If you think they’re expensive, check out the competition, Waterfield Designs at Nice bags, also well designed and made in USA, but add nearly a hundred to the price for equivalent sized laptop bags.

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  42. posted by g. on

    Is this thread still open?

    I own several Tom Bihn bags, most recently the Synapse, which is a backpack and hence off-topic here but is fabulous nonetheless. I want to comment on the Freudian Slip.

    This is the best bag accessory ever for anyone who carries papers, magazines, etc. It has pockets deep enough for file folders. (The other side has smaller pockets for pens, pads, electronic gadgets, whatever.) You can carry your papers without worrying that they will curl, crease, tear, or sink down to the bottom of the bag. You can put your papers in or take them out without having to remove the FS from your bag. I’m eagerly awaiting the day the company announces that a Freudian Slip for the Synapse is available.

    Also, I second Mary’s recommendation of the Shop Bag. The first version has a home in one of the Synapse pockets, for unanticipated toting. The new large bag is what I grab on my way out to the fruit cart or the supermarket. They both go over the shoulder, so my hands are always free. Love those padded handles!

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