Laptop Luggage

pilot250I found out just how much of a geek I am today after spending most of the day looking for laptop luggage on line. On my last trip to Mexico, I noticed that my standard Tumi leather, over-the-shoulder bag was starting to fray and was showing its age. Since I have been using this bag for over 20 years, and I have some travel coming up, I thought it was time I looked for a replacement for a new under the airplane seat, laptop bag. Little did I know, but the art of making luggage has significantly improved in the last 20 years, and so has airport security, and airline allowances for luggage that you don’t have to check.

My ideal luggage set up is to have a over the shoulder bag that I have all my valuables and electronics in that I put under my airline seat for use during the flight, and a wheeled carry-on that I place in the overhead bin. I try not to check luggage. I decided my wheeled luggage needed a replacement also, so I want the two pieces of luggage to work together. The wheeled carry-on I’ll save for another article.

First, let’s talk about restrictions in size. The restriction on U.S. airlines for carry-on bags is becoming a standard at 22 x 14 x 9 inches. Be aware, depending on the particular European airline, restrictions are a little tighter by an inch, or so, on European airlines.

You're allowed to carry on a personnel item, like a purse or briefcase. United has just put out a limitation for the size of your personal item set at 17 x 10 x 9 inches, or not to exceed 36 linear inches when those three dimensions are added together. I was looking for an under-seat personnel bag that would carry my laptop, tickets, ereader, and a jacket for when it got cold in-flight. So, my restrictions were 17 x 10 x 9 inches.

Let the fun begin. There are so many companies making luggage and so many different bag designs, it becomes a nightmare to try to find the bag that was just right. The size of the bag is a good place to start, cut all the bags that don’t make the size restriction. That still gives you plenty of bags to choose from.

First decision was how to carry the contents of the bag. There are three ways to carry the bag, you can get a wheeled bag and roll it, you can have a leather strap that goes over one or both of your shoulders, like a purse, or you can have a day pack with two leather straps, like a book bag. Since, I want to wheel my in-the-overhead-bin carry-on, the wheels were out for my personal bag. I've been using the single shoulder strap now for years and I was comfortable with that, and two straps didn't bother me either.

Next decision was cost. There are so many bags. You can opt for the cheap bag, that will most likely wear out quickly, rip, have the zipper break, and need replacing, or the high quality expensive bag that will last and take punishment. Since my last bag went for 20 years, I decided I was willing to pay extra for “the best.”

Who makes good luggage? I am going to name a few, but there are so many manufacturers, I’m sure I missed a few. There are companies that specialize in tourist trip luggage, like Samsonite, American Tourister, Briggs & Riley, and TravelPro, who mostly make blah suitcases on wheels, which I avoided. I was looking for specialty luggage. There are companies that got started making backpacks for wilderness trips, such as: North Face, REI, High Sierra, and Eagle Creek. I liked Eagle Creek, and Jessica’s bag demo videos, but I found them more suited for the wheeled carry-on luggage. There are companies that try to cater to the sophisticated traveler with lots of pockets and places for things, like Tumi, Tom Bihn, and Rick Steve’s. My list, after much looking, gradually narrowed to two companies Tumi, and Tom Bihn for an under the seat bag.

You think that it would be easy to make a choice from there, but both companies make many different types of bags of many different sizes. So the choice was not easy.

Let’s pause, and let me go over what I require in an under-the-seat bag, besides making the size restriction.

The bag must have an outside sleeve that I can slip over the handles of my wheeled carry-on so I can wheel my bag with the personal bag on top of the wheeled carry-on and not worry about it falling off.


It must be able to fit my laptop. My laptop is a Lenovo Carbon X1, who’s dimensions are 13.03  x  8.94  x 0.79 inches, about the same  size as a 13" MacBook Air.  I love this laptop, its touch screen, and it comes in at only 2.83 lbs.

In addition to fitting my laptop in a pocket, it would be nice to have that laptop enclosure TSA friendly, so I don’t have to pull out the laptop and put it in one of those plastic bins. This is done in one of two ways, either the bag opens up completely in the middle and the laptop is on one side and the rest of your stuff on the other, or you have a special enclosure. Tom Bihn calls it their “rail system” where the laptop enclosure slides out of the bag, but is still attached to the bag. In both cases, you lay the bag flat on the belt for scanning.

It would be nice to have a place for a water bottle on the outside that won’t get my internal things wet and has a way to get rid of water bottle condensation.

Which brings me to, it has to be waterproof. PacSafe makes traveler safe luggage, except its not waterproof. Who wants wet on their laptop. When it rains on my shoulder bag, I don’t want to worry about the contents getting wet.

It has to have D-loops sewn into the bag, where I can attach wallets and my keys, so when I open a pocket and pull something out, nothing else will fall out, because it’s attached to the bag. I like the feeling of attaching my car keys inside my bag and not worrying about them until the trip is over.

There are cases for credit cards and passports that attach to these loops.  By the way, I recommend getting special RFID protected cases for your credit cards and passport so they can’t be scanned as you walk by in the airport, and your identity stolen without you knowing about it.

It has to have lots of pockets, for my ereader, my iphone,  my chargers, etc. I like having a pocket for each type of article. That way when I’m looking for something, I know right where it is.

I like having light colored material inside the pockets, so I can see what’s in the bag. Black interior pockets makes it difficult to see into the bag.

Finally, I want a big enough area to fit my light jacket. It usually goes next to the laptop. I like carrying a jacket in my under-seat bag in case I get cold in flight, and it saves me packing room in my carry on. It it rains while I’m outside, I can quickly pull the jacket out without opening up my wheeled bag.

That’s a lot of wants, but there all reasonable and I narrowed it down to two bags that meet all of my above requirements.  Both are made by Tom Bihn.  They are shown below with a link to both the bags description, and a video about each bag.

Tom Bihn Synapse 19  (video)



 Tom Bihn Pilot  (video)

The video is of the Co-Pilot, the Pilot is the same only bigger.



I haven’t made up my mind yet. I’m sure my readers have other favorite bags and luggage systems that I’d like to hear about. And if you own any of the above bags, a word or two about them would be much appreciated. I’ll let you know what one I picked in a later article, when I figure out which wheeled luggage to buy.


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