Tom Bihn Synik 30
Fully clamshell and fully equipped - Tom Bihn's next flagship backpack.
Tom Bihn was kind enough to give me this bag in exchange for an honest review of the product. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support 😄
The Synik 22 and Synik 30 are the latest offerings in Tom Bihn’s backpack lineup. The Synik line are the first backpacks made by Tom Bihn with a full clamshell zip as well as an integrated laptop compartment, but these are not the only changes they’ve made. By all accounts, Tom Bihn took the already-successful Synapse line and made it better – the Synik 22 and Synik 30 are simply Synapses that have been rounded out with more premium features. I wouldn’t be surprised if they became the new flagship backpacks for Tom Bihn.
As more Synik reviews trickle out over the next few months, I’m sure it’ll be compared to the Synapse – so it makes sense to compare their differences. I’m going to try to make that the focus of a separate article and talk about the merits of the bags itself – that frankly make for a bag that is hard NOT to compare with the Synapse because they’re cut from the same cloth (pun intended). The Synik will likely be a hit, because each individual change has created a bag greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Without further ado… let’s dive in!
The Main Compartment
Of course the main star of the Synik is the clamshell zip. Fully opened, it feels more like a spacious travel bag — yet closed it maintains the tight, Synapse-like shape. It’s unusual, but for EDC the extra space just kind of disappears into the rest of the bag. If you fully open it, you can really see how much room it has – I can’t describe it very well but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. The removable tie-down straps emphasize the bag’s versatility – it’s just as at home being an EDC bag as it is being a travel bag. Compared to the Synapse, the Synik is more suitable as a travel bag, simply because the layout of the bag affords it extra room and makes it much easier to pack. I’ve used it as my EDC for the last couple of weeks and have found it to be delightful – I love being able to open it all of the way up to get to my stuff, something that I didn’t know I needed until I had it.
My EDC isn’t anything super special, but is enough to make anything Synapse 19-sized impractical:
- 15” MacBook Pro w/ Retina Display
- Bose headphones
- Freudian Slip w/ pens, papers, spare battery, keyboard, and mouse
- Snake Charmer
- Standard Spiff Kit w/ all of my toiletries (you never know when you need to freshen up)
- Large Travel Tray
- Small Shop Bag
- Water bottle (anywhere between 20 and 40oz)
- Change of clothes
The bottom line: compared to my previous-favorite-EDC Synapse 25, the Synik 30 is much easier to pack, much easier to get stuff out of, and - as a bonus - more stylish.
Internal Laptop Compartment
Let’s talk about the integrated laptop compartment. Ever had something that you didn’t know you needed until you had it? For me, this is the integrated laptop compartment – it’s far more welcome than I expected it to be. If you’ve read or watched my other reviews, you probably know I’m a fan of the Cache system, mainly because a) I appreciate the modularity and b) like that my laptop is stored inside of a protective sleeve designed to work with the Tom Bihn bag line. (I’m not as big a fan of the rail system – mostly because I have TSA Precheck and don’t need to slide my electronics out that often.) However, after testing for a few weeks, the internal laptop compartment makes the Cache system irrelevant for your main laptop's carry.
Firstly, I REALLY appreciate the extra room inside the bag without a Cache sleeve – the Cache took up way more room than I thought. (For those of you who don’t normally carry a laptop, no problem - you won’t notice it’s there since it doesn’t take up any additional space.) For padding, the laptop compartment boasts a false bottom, which is (IMO) a requirement for backpacks with built-in laptop compartments. Essentially, the bottom of the laptop compartment doesn’t touch the bottom of the bag itself, which means that you can drop your backpack and the laptop will be “caught” by the sleeve, protecting it from damage. Further, there's enough padding sitting between the laptop to help protect it from damage. Finally, the laptop has a side zipper next to one of the backpack straps – it’s welcome since it’s there when you need it but “disappears” when you don’t.
Laptop compartment or not, I’m SUPER glad they retained the cache loops on the other side of the bag since I also carry an iPad. I would have been sad if those had been left out!
The Synik 30 and 22 retain the incredible organization capabilities of their predecessors, but they’ve sprinkled in several minor improvements. The top pocket – capable of holding even a 40oz water bottle comfortably – has a halcyon and mesh lining that tapers in as you dive into the pocket. I’ve never found much use for this pocket except as a carrier for a water bottle, which the tapering is perfect for. The smaller pocket just below it doesn’t hold much – but is useful for carrying a few wires or your wallet.
The side pockets have been internally enhanced with what must be black magic – they don’t look like much on the outside, but looks are deceiving as they add a good amount of space to the inside of the bag. I’m able to fit in my Standard Spiff Kit into a side pocket with only a tiny bit of maneuvering – and the kit is not tiny by any account! The usual suspects – pen holders and small sleeves for tools/cards/whatever – are still present. The bottom pocket feels more spacious, though I can’t tell if it actually is. (I usually don’t put much there except for my Snake Charmer.)
The backpack straps are noticeably superior to ANY other backpack strap offered by Tom Bihn. They are simply the best backpack straps that Tom Bihn have ever made for their backpacks (as far as I can tell – I mean, after all, I own a bunch of Tom Bihn bags, but my oldest one is only about 10 years old)! I’m able to tell every single time I reach to pick up the Synik 30 – the straps feel really nice as you grab them. The underside of the strap is surrounded with a very soft outer material that simply feels and looks high-end. After you touch it, no other strap offered by Tom Bihn will feel the same – the Synapse and Brain Bag have a comparatively rough, almost industrial texture in comparison. Similar to the difference between silk and rough wool – both feel great but one feels soft AND strong.
The insides of the straps themselves are constructed with a thicker foam that is incredibly firm and squishy. Ever step on a carpet with a standard carpet pad and then step on a carpet with a really thick carpet pad? That’s what it feels like on your shoulders, and after several minutes of wear, you can really feel the difference. The straps sit really comfortably on my shoulders, especially when I’m carrying a heavy load.
Internal Frame and Luggage Passthrough
Speaking of comfort… I don’t know that the Synapse [Internal Frame] gets enough love, but a frame does make carrying it that much more comfortable. However, Tom Bihn felt the Synapse internal frame solution – which used the cache loops to hold the frame in place – was less than ideal, even if it was better than having no frame at all. I can agree with this – the internal frame being attached of the cache loops has always been a little awkward even if the final result was a nicer carry. By integrating the internal frame into the back part of the bag, Tom Bihn has combined the best of both worlds, giving the comfort of carrying a backpack with an internal frame while giving us a little more room inside the bag to put stuff.
Peering at the top of the bag, you can’t help but notice the nice looking grab handle, the looks of which were lifted straight from the side grab handle of the Tri-Star. Previously, on the Synapse, the handle was sewn where the backpack straps are sewn in and was simply a piece of webbing strap – not beautiful but certainly strong and functional. The Brain Bag, on the other end of the spectrum, has a grab handle with a thick piece of foam padding – makes sense for a backpack designed to carry a large amount of stuff. The Synik grab handle sits in between these two extremes, but closer to the Synapse – it doesn’t have a ton of padding but looks really nice and is better integrated into the bag in comparison.
What I Like 👍
- The clamshell backpack style makes getting stuff in and out of this thing much easier.
- Love the integrated laptop compartment.
- It's better looking than the Synapse - it just looks more squared off. Dunno how else to describe it.
What I Don't Like 👎
- I honestly can't say - this is probably the greatest backpack Tom Bihn has ever made. Really.
Use This If
- You travel with backpacks frequently as your one bag.
- You carry a laptop with you always.
- You want the extra room the Synik offers compared to the Synapse.