For a little more than a year my daily home/office commute bag has been the Tom Bihn 11″ MacBook Air Ristretto. This afternoon, I switched to the Tom Bihn Co-Pilot and this article talks about that decision.
The following image illustrates what I carry in my bag each day:
- An 11″ MacBook Air, with charger
- An Apple Bluetooth keyboard, in an Origami Workstation case
- An iPad mini, in an ACME MADE neoprene sleeve
- A Moleskin planner
- A Sony RX100 camera in an ACME MADE case
- A Waterfield small cable pouch
- An energy bar and some Advil (just in case)
- An iPhone 5
- My wallet
- The case for my glasses
- A pen and a stylus
- A chess book (that I wish I read more).
The vertically-oriented Ristretto has two compartments:
- The main compartment in the back, containing a built-in padded sleeve specifically sized for the 11″ MacBook Air.
- A U-zippered front pocket.
The bag has 10.6 liters of volume and weighs 560 grams.
Here’s what all that gear looks like in the Ristretto:
So why change bags?
Although I loved the Ristretto—and like all Tom Bihn bags it’s very well designed and constructed—the bag presented two problems for me:
- First, its vertical orientation. When all my gear is packed in the bag, it’s quite tight in depth (from front to back). However, since it’s tall, there’s still a lot of unused (and unusable) volume in the top of the bag.
- Second, offering only a single additional compartment, getting to my varios bits and bobs wasn’t efficient, requiring quite some “digging around”.
Although the Tom Bihn Co-Pilot is labled as a “carry on” bag, you’ll find it listed in the “laptop bags” section of their website, and that’s where I discovered it in my search for a Ristretto replacement.
The horizontally-oriented Co-Pilot has four compartments:
- A large, open compartment in the back, suitable for laptops and tablet devices. In addition, this compartment has two, largish inner-pockets, suitable for cable pouches or headphones. (The compartment is not padded, and so I’ll need to start transporting my MacBook Air in its own protective sleeve.)
- One medium-sized front compartment, located on the right side of the bag. In this compartment you’ll find a storage slip for four pens, along with a keystrap attached to an O-ring.
- One medium-sized front compartment, located on the left side of the bag. In this compartment, you’ll find a soft-lined pocket suitable for an iPhone, along with another O-ring.
- Finally, there’s an interesting center-located pocked, with a vertical zipper, sized for a water bottle.
The bag has 9.6 liters of volume (9% less than the Ristretto) and weighs 385 grams (30% less than the Ristretto).
In addition, I paid $30 extra for the “Absolute Strap”, which I’d read good things about, and turns out to be quite comfortable.
Here’s what the bag looks like, both closed and open with my stuff inside:
- In the main compartment, I pack the 11″ MacBook Air in its own ACME MADE sleeve, the iPad mini, the bluetooth keyboard (in its Origami Workstation cover), and the Moleskin planner.
- In the front-left compartment, I pack my iPhone, wallet and have a small Tom Bihn clear-cover pouch connected to the O-ring, containing some Apple ear buds, a pocket knife and a couple of USB thumb drives.
- In the front-right compartment, I pack my pens and stylus, my keys, my energy bar, Advil and a micro-sized Tom Bihn clear-cover pouch (connected to the O-Ring), containing loose change.
- In the center-front compartment, rather than a water bottle, I keep the Sony RX100 camera and the case for my glasses.
- Finally, my chess book slides into a slip (which I didn’t mention earlier) located on the very back of the bag.
Ristretto vs Co-Pilot considerations
I’ve only had the Co-Pilot for a little more than a day, but here are some considerations I’ve already noted regarding the switch from the Ristretto.
- Volume. Even with nearly 10% less volume, I can actually pack more stuff into the Co-Pilot than the Ristretto. This is due to its horizontal orientation. And with all my gear packed, there’s still room for more; it’s not a tight fit at all!
- Material. The Ristretto is made of 1050 denier high tenacity ballistic nylon, which is the default material option for the Co-Pilot. However, with the Co-Pilot, you also have the option of choosing 400d Dyneema ripstop nylon instead. I chose Dyneema due to its light weight—about 30% lighter than the 1050 Co-Pilot option, and still 30% lighter than the Ristretto. I was initially concerned about Dyneema’s durability, but now that the bag has arrived and I had a chance to touch and feel it, I have no concerns whatsover. Perhaps if I planned to drag the bag behind the jeep on dirt roads, durability might be a consideration; but for my usage, the Dyneema should last forever.
- Efficiency. With four compartments, my gear is accessible with far greater efficiency. And that’s even further improved with the use of the clear-cover pouches. Now, I only carry cables in my Waterfield cable pouch, and then keep my pocket knife, earbuds, and other frequently accessed items in two O-ring clipped Tom Bihn pouches.
- Flexibility. Whereas the Ristretto was pretty much only useful for supporting my home/office commute, the less-specific and more-open design of the Co-Pilot will allow me to use it in a broader variety of situations. The obvious one is as a carry-on when traveling (including my tickets, passports, water, small jacket, etc.) and I’m pretty sure I’ll even consider it for the shorter day-hikes our family often do on the weekends.
As you can probably tell from this review, I’m optimistic about the choice of migrating from a Tom Bihn Ristretto to a Co-Pilot! The Co-Pilot is light, spacious and very well designed!
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll try to answer them as soon as possible.
“the Dyneema should last forever” – how would you ever get to know how durable a bag is? No bag ever lasts long enough with you to have its durability tested 😉
That unfortunately is a fair point, Niall. 🙂
Thanks for the great review of the bag, there aren’t too many recent ones out there these days 🙂
I saw that you wrote this after you’d owned it only 24 hours or so. How are you getting on with it now you’ve had a chance to live with it a little?
Hi Chris, I’m still very happy with the bag!
In the meantime I went ahead and bought one too. Apart from the ridiculous shipping charges to Europe (totally out of Tom Bihn’s hands though), I’m also extremely happy with it.
It’s not only more practical than my Ristretto for exactly the reasons you mentioned, but it also seems to hold more stuff. I almost regret buying the Ristretto now, as I suspect this will become my full-time EDC AND “personal item” on planes.
The only downside is I have a 13″ MBA which won’t fit, but I knew that before I bought it,
Thanks again for the quality review, it really helped me make the decision 🙂
Chris — Yeah, shipping costs to Europe suck. I usually have things shipped to my family in the US, who forward to me here, resulting in slight savings.
Really great review. With all your everyday carry and the overall size of the bag does it feel too dense for the contents, or too tight for a few more things?
Austin, the bad doesn’t feely densely packed at all. And somehow the springiness of the “absolute strap” makes the bag feel lighter. For that reason, I’ve also started carrying a couple other things I sometimes need, but previously didn’t fit in the Ristretto.
Hi Matt – great review! Does this bag work as a casual bag or does it look too much like a briefcase?
I want to be able to carry a MacBook pro 13″ (2017) or the iPad Pro at the weekend.
Also, if I’m travelling, will this bag be suitable as my bag for sightseeing?
– I like the dedicated water bottle compartment and zipped sections compared to the Tom Bins Makers Bag, which is also a consideration.
Whether or not it works as a casual bag: I use mine as a casual bag. I got the cross-hatched light-weight material (forgot what it’s called; I can’t see the article here in this WordPress commenting interface), and I think that looks pretty casual. And I also use it all the time as a daytime-carry when traveling. (That light-weight material, by the way, is still holding up great!) Hope this helps!