Empire Builder.

Design, Gifts, Useful Things by Richard

I’ve been in New York for the past few days (thanks for holding things down around here, Chris!), but before I left, I received the top-of-the line bag from Tom Bihn; the Empire Builder, so I took it on my trip to give it a real road/plane test. The first thing I noticed about this bag was that it was larger than I’m used to (I usually run around with a messenger bag that holds my laptop, a few papers, maybe a book, and all of my gadgets.) If you don’t have a ton of things to carry around, this bag is probably overkill, as it is quite spacious and has more pockets than I could fill (I definitely tried.) If you use this bag for any length of time, it’s hard to miss all the thought that went into its design. It’s got external pockets for your cell phone (it fit my Treo like a glove), has another external pocket on the front for easy access, and an open pocket behind the cell phone pocket that I didn’t even realize was there until I got back home.

It’s got a “roll-aboard” slot that I made good use of . It lets you set it on top of your rolling luggage without the fear that it’ll slip off. It also features built in files in the inside for those important papers you’ve got to keep in order, a full array of individual device pockets and a very large, zippered pocket underneath the flap.

To ensure a custom fit for your particular laptop, Tom Bihn includes clips for a Brain Cell, which is a padded laptop sleeve that you can use by itself or inside of the Empire Builder. I fit about 30 things in this bag and still had room for more. The handles are surprisingly comfortable and make your load seem lighter. It rained on this trip, so I was really glad that the bag is coated and the zippers are designed to be water repellent. It got wet, but the water just rolled off of it.

A few slight issues I had with the bag: It doesn’t fit lengthwise underneath a plane seat, so if you’d like to use your laptop in flight and don’t do some planning, you might not be able to get to it very easily. Also, the strap running through the buckle in the front of the bag seems to slip a bit and loosen every now and then (that could just be my particular bag, though). Other than that, this bag rocks!

The Empire Builder is available in an array of different color configurations and costs $150. Brain Cells that fit/protect your laptop run $50.


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