Review: Tom Bihn's Techonaut is a travel backpack with tons of versatility
Tom Bihn's new travel bag is incredibly versatile, with three ways to carry all of your essentials.
Like a lot of things in life, when it comes down to travel bags and backpacks, it's all very subjective. I mean, it's not just aesthetics, but capacity, comfort, and also value. Personally, one of my favorite brands when it comes to bags in general right now is Tom Bihn (it started with the Synik 22), and I was given the opportunity to try out the new Techonaut 30 travel bag.
While my travel has been fairly limited in the past year and a half, I had made plans with the husband to go to Las Vegas this past week. I normally use the luggage with wheels on trips, but since we were hitting the road instead of flying, I saw this as a perfect opportunity to put the Techonaut 30 to the test.
For those who are unaware of the Tom Bihn brand, it has been around since 1972, and everything is handmade in the factory in Seattle, Washington. The Techonaut is actually a variation of the brand's original (and popular!) Aeronaut bag, which comes in 30 and 45-liter capacities. I was given a 30-liter bag to test out, but the Techonaut also comes in a 45-liter capacity if you need more space.
Tom Bihn Techonaut 30
Bottom line: The Techonaut 30 is a spacious travel bag that has multiple ways to carry but primarily focuses on the backpack element. It has plenty of room for essentials, including an iPad or up to 16-inch MacBook Pro, and is comfortable to wear.
- Plenty of space and organizational pockets
- Three carry methods: backpack, duffel, or shoulder bag
- Dedicated device compartment
- Breathable, supportive back panel
- Uses Bihn's edgeless shoulder straps
- Very expensive
- 30L size not enough for more than 3-4 days
- Side pockets can eat into the main compartment capacity
- May look bulky on smaller people when fully packed
- Shoulder strap, other accessories sold separately
Tom Bihn Techonaut 30: Price and availability
Like all other Tom Bihn products, the only place you can purchase the Techonaut 30 (or Techonaut 45) is directly from Tom Bihn's website. The Techonaut comes in a variety of different colors and fabric types, including 525 or 1050 Ballistic Nylon, 400 Halcyon, and even 1000 Cordura materials. The Techonaut is also debuting with the new Night Walk 400 Halcyon fabric, which will also be making its way to other Tom Bihn bags.
Tom Bihn has offered two pre-order runs for the Techonaut already, but the bag will be in stock in November, which will be the next opportunity to purchase. However, only the pre-order bags will feature the Tom Bihn Design Lab label. The Techonaut is one of the pricier bags at Tom Bihn, at $360 for the 30-liter and $370 for the 45-liter size.
Tom Bihn Techonaut 30: A versatile, spacious, and comfortable travel backpack
Since I already had a road trip planned recently, I figured that it would be the best time to test out my Techonaut 30 in Aubergine 525 Ballistic with a Northwest Sky 200 Halcyon interior. The trip was from California to Las Vegas, Nevada, and would last four days and three nights. For this purpose, the 30 liter capacity of the Techonaut was perfect for the duration of the trip — however, if you're going away for longer than that, I'd probably say that the Techonaut 45 is a better bet. Of course, if you are a more minimalistic packer, which I am not, then you may get away with more days out of the 30-liter.
The Techonaut is more of a backpack that you can carry as a duffel if you so choose.
Since my Techonaut 30 has the 525 Ballistic nylon exterior, it is a bit more stiff and tough compared to the Halcyon fabric. However, while I don't have a bag with the Halcyon material myself, from my understanding, Halcyon does have a bit more flexibility to it, so it's easier to pack more stuff inside. But circling back to the Ballistic fabric, again, it's very durable and should be able to withstand pretty much all elements and whatever else you can throw at it. I have several Tom Bihn bags in Ballistic, and they all continue to look brand new.
While the Aeronaut travel bag is more of a duffel-style bag that you could carry as a backpack, the Techonaut is more of a backpack that you can carry as a duffel if you so choose. A key feature of the Techonaut is the U-shaped main compartment, which is a little more than six inches deep. There are tie-down straps inside the main compartment that allow you to use the Techonaut like traditional carry-on luggage, but I found it easier to use packing cubes, just so everything is neatly organized and separated. The zipper flap of the main compartment also has a bit of give to it, so you should have issues zipping it shut even if you're packing a little more than necessary.
Towards the bottom of the main compartment is a fabric zip-in/out divider — releasing this adds more vertical space to the main compartment, but at the cost of the end pocket space. I chose to leave this divider zipped up, so I have more space for the bottom pocket, but you could technically leave it unzipped as well. Regardless, it's there for you, whether you need more space or not.
The end pocket is designed to hold things like a pair of shoes, but I found it to be a perfect size to hold my Nintendo Switch. I also ended up using it to hold my laundry bag on the way back home, but only because I couldn't exactly fit that in the main compartment with my packing cubes. Regardless of how you use that bottom pocket, it's versatile and quite spacious — just make sure you don't mind it holding the weight of the rest of the bag if you have it standing upright.
Tom Bihn made the Techonaut roomy and spacious for all of your traveling essentials, including electronics with the dedicated device compartment.
There are also three other slim pocket compartments along the exterior sides of the Techonaut, which serve as quick access. The one along the side with the edgeless duffel handle is a bit shallower than the other side, but it can hold your passport, phone, wallet, keys, and other small objects. I personally used that pocket to fit some small bottles of vitamins and medications. The other side pocket (opposite of the duffel handle) is larger, designed to hold water bottles, umbrellas, or even a lightweight jacket. For me, I used this to stow away some larger capacity portable battery packs. The top pocket can also fit a smaller water bottle, umbrella, jacket, or other miscellaneous objects. It also has a snap hook key strap for attaching your keys or small organizational pouches. I loved how easy it was to get to items in these quick-access pockets, but be warned — they do eat into the space of the main compartment if you pack them up too full.
I mentioned earlier that the Techonaut is basically an improved version of the Aeronaut, and that's because the Techonaut has a dedicated device compartment. This can be accessed through a zipper opening at the top of the backpack, closest to the back panel. This laptop sleeve section is slim but incredibly deep — it will hold up a 16-inch MacBook Pro with the 30-liter version, but the Techonaut 45 can pretty much hold any size laptop out there. I chose not to carry a MacBook on my trip, but I did stow away my 11-inch iPad Pro in the device compartment, and there was plenty of space to spare.
By default, the Techonaut does not have the traditional internal frame for back support. Instead, it uses a new Skeleton back panel, which has a spine-like shape to provide comfort with less weight and better airflow thanks to the soft and durable mesh panel that it's enclosed in. The back panel also has a rolling luggage handle pass-through, so you can easily slide it over the handle of your rolling luggage if you're taking along more stuff.
Thanks to edgeless straps and a Skeleton back panel, the Techonaut is very comfortable to carry as a backpack even when fully packed out.
My bag ended up being quite heavy once I had it all packed up for my Vegas trip, but the Skeleton back panel helped alleviate the weight enough so that it was fairly comfortable. Tom Bihn claims that nearly everyone at the factory who tried a Techonaut with and without an internal frame actually prefers it without, but there is an optional Techonaut Internal Frame that you can purchase separately if need be.
With the Techonaut, there are three ways to carry it: backpack, duffel, or shoulder bag. Unfortunately, if you want to use it as a shoulder bag, you'll have to purchase a strap separately. For backpack mode, which is what the bag was primarily designed for, you have the super comfortable edgeless shoulder straps. The edgeless design lets the straps conform to your shoulder, which increases the level of comfort. I have had several Tom Bihn backpacks with these edgeless straps, and they are by far my favorite — I can barely feel that the straps are there. The duffel mode for Techonaut is best for shorter durations of time, but the duffel handle is also edgeless, like the shoulder straps, for more comfort. There are also two extra grab handles at the top of the bag (in backpack mode) for convenience when pulling the Techonaut from under a plane seat or overhead compartment or just hanging the bag on a hook.
Overall, I'm finding the Techonaut 30 to be a great travel backpack. It has plenty of space for your traveling essentials, has multiple carry methods, is comfortable, and you can even take all of your electronic devices with a roomy device compartment.
Tom Bihn Techonaut 30: Expensive, bulkier on smaller folks
My biggest issue with the Techonaut is the fact that no matter how you pack it, the bag will look a bit bulky on your back if you are on the smaller side. I'm about 5'2" and feel like it's pretty much taking up my entire backside. If you're larger, then this should not be a big issue. However, I enjoy the practicality of the Techonaut too much, so I'm going to continue using it when I travel.
If you have a smaller build, the Techonaut may look a little bulky on you. It's also very expensive, but you get what you pay for.
Another small issue is the fact that if you overpack those quick-access pockets, you will be taking away from the main compartment. Of course, you probably won't be putting too much stuff in those pockets, to begin with, but it's just something to keep in mind.
I also found the 30-liter size to be barely enough for a four-day road trip with just the essentials. If you are planning for a longer stay, or need to pack things like a pair of headphones (and aren't going to have a checked bag or carry-on), then you should consider the 45-liter size instead.
Lastly, the Techonaut is very pricey, even by Tom Bihn standards. As much as I like the Techonaut, the price is definitely a big negative, especially when you consider that it doesn't come with a shoulder strap. But Tom Bihn bags can last for years and years, so keep that in mind — you get what you pay for.
Tom Bihn Techonaut 30: Competition
Tom Bihn isn't the only one who launched a travel backpack recently. One of our other favorite brands, Waterfield Designs, just recently released the Air Travel Backpack. This bag can act as a backpack or a briefcase, it's made with ballistic nylon or waxed canvas with leather accents, and it also has many organizational compartments for your stuff. However, it's even pricier than the Techonaut 30 at $419.
Tom Bihn Techonaut 30: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You prefer versatile and spacious travel bags
- You value comfort when traveling
- You want something that'll last several years or more
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You're on a budget
- You don't like using backpacks when traveling
- You want a bag that includes all accessories with purchase
Even though my traveling has been sparse lately (even more so with a baby coming into my life in a few months), I'm thoroughly enjoying the Tom Bihn Techonaut 30. The 30-liter capacity is great for a trip that's just a few days and especially nice for road trips — I think I'd still prefer rolling luggage for flights, though the Techonaut does have rolling luggage handle pass-through, so it works either way.
The main compartment has plenty of room for your essentials, and the zipping divider for the bottom pocket makes the entire bag more flexible for your needs, whatever they may be. The device compartment is slim but gives you plenty of room for up to a 16-inch MacBook Pro, so you'll never have to be without your laptops or tablets. Quick-access pockets on the sides make it easy to get to your smaller items that you'll need to pull out frequently, and there are enough grab handles to cover pretty much any situation. And if you value comfort, then it's pretty hard to beat Tom Bihn's edgeless shoulder straps, which you'll find on the Techonaut. They're incredibly comfortable, and when you combine it with the Skeleton back panel, you'll hardly notice how heavy the backpack is, even when fully packed.
If you are on the smaller side like me, then the Techonaut may look a little large and bulky on you when fully packed out. Also, it's important to keep in mind that the quick access pockets will take away from the main compartment if you put in bulkier items, as they're designed primarily for flat and lightweight items. The Techonaut 30 may also be too small by itself for longer trips, and if that's the case, you'll want to look into the Techonaut 45 instead.
However, there is no denying it — the Techonaut, both the 30 and 45-liter versions, are pricey. And if you want to add accessories to it, such as the Techonaut Internal Frame or a shoulder strap, that will be separate. But keep in mind that Tom Bihn bags will last a very long time (at least several years or more from what I've noticed from other Tom Bihn fans and bags), and they tend to hold their value, like Apple products.
Tom Bihn Techonaut 30
Bottom line: Tom Bihn's Techonaut 30 is a versatile travel bag that focuses on backpack carry. It has plenty of space for your devices and essentials while being extremely comfortable.