Tri-Star travel bag

The man-bag that Morphs

The context

There are two conflicting theories about packing. The crockpot theory would have you believe that a suitcase is no different from a slow cooker or crockpot. You simply throw every ingredient into the container, in whatever sequence or fashion that you want to. In the end, magically, it all fits in, holds together and works out. One size fits all. This view believes that a carry-on is a tabula rasa. You fold and stuff clothes, shoes, wires and water bottles in a flexible fashion—as you like it. 

The opposing theory views packing as a bento box. There is a place for everything, which puts everything in its place. This view believes in compartments and mini compartments; about nesting clothes into compression cases. There are specific locations for shoes and underwear, designed to make them easy to access later on.

The former theory is more forgiving. The latter, more elegant.

The Tom Bihn Tri-Star does not have wheels. If you are someone who drags your stuff, this bag is not for you—which leads to the second theory of packing. Do you view your bag as an appendage or as part of yourself? Wheelies are an appendage. Backpacks are a part of your body. This is probably why men prefer to carry backpacks. This is probably why men with backpacks look more rugged and men who wheel look elegant if slightly effeminate.

The fantasy

The fantasy comes from all those YouTube videos of people packing. They aren’t late for their flight. They don’t look frazzled or crazy. Heck, they even have time for a relaxed cup of coffee before they leave the hotel for the airport. Tom Bihn’s promotional videos play to this fantasy. They are relaxing to watch and offer hope in times of chaos. They make you think you can achieve this unhurried life. In an ideal world, your packing would be done in ten minutes—just like the man does it in the video.

The reality

You race into your hotel room half an hour before you need to be at the airport. You do cartwheels and spins to get all your belongings into your bag and still forget indispensables like your belt or phone charger cable in the hotel room. 

Like one housekeeper said, “I could draw a line from here to Fiji with all the left-behind wires I have collected while cleaning rooms." 

One of the unstated goals for bag designers is to help people remember the objects that they have scattered throughout the room. Well-designed bags prod you to find your things and pack them in.

The product

The Tri-Star is a muscular bag meant to be carried by muscular men—although it fit rather well on my birdlike shoulders. What differentiates this midsize carry-on bag from the others are the compartments—over a dozen of them--to pack everything from toiletries to a water bottle to pressed shirts or blouses. 

This can be a problem if you are forgetful like me. Keeping track of where you put what requires discipline and can become a chore for the poorly organized who think of themselves as spontaneous packers who simply “bung it all into a bag and go". 

If you are somewhat organized, you will love this bag. Space appears almost magically for all the stuff that you foolishly overpack for the trip.

In order for compartments to work, they need to fulfil a paradox. They need to nudge reluctant packers and provide the visual equivalent of, “Hey bud, this wire goes here, not there." Through shape, size, zippers and hooks, the Tri-Star’s compartments suggest you put your folded shirts in their correct place—the inbuilt hooks for hangers offer the visual cue. The shoe compartment is capacious enough for large sneakers. The front three smaller compartments fit all the small gadgets without a problem. There is room for wires and a hook for keys that make pulling them out in the dark much easier.

In the middle are two sections—one for clothes and one for gadgets. Both are spacious, easily fitting an iPad and a laptop in one section, and a couple of shirts, pants or dresses in the other. The final result satisfies even the most meticulous person. Even the slackers who don’t care about packing feel in control after putting things in their place, which, I guess, is the point of all organization. In the end, it is about control.

The best compartment is the one that has two flaps inside. You pull out the flaps, hook them into the side, and voila, your duffel bag becomes a backpack.

The details

https://www.tombihn.com/products/tri-star

The Tri-Star retails for $330. They ship worldwide.

The verdict

Made with high quality canvas, the Tri-Star does not have the natural stylishness that comes easily to leather bags. But if you are looking for a superbly utilitarian bag with a lifetime guarantee, you could do far worse than owning a Tri-Star. 

Spacious enough for a two-day trip and flexible enough to pack a variety of objects, this is one bag that you will want to swing on your shoulders when you travel overnight.

Disclosure: this product was loaned for purposes of this review.

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