Tom Bihn Smart Alec Day Pack Review

One of the best things about being a Gadgeteer is that I get to play with
some of the coolest accessories that come onto the market, but then sometimes
that can backfire. For instance, right before we took our
Spring Break trip to Scotland,
I was sent the new Tom Bihn

Smart Alec
bag with the

Monolith
laptop protector insert. No sooner was I was admiring the clean
lines of the daypack and thinking how handy it would be for the trip, when my
thirteen year old daughter, Sarah, started giving me the hard-sell…

"Mom, remember how I told you that I need a new backpack…and it needs to be
bigger than the one I have now."

"Mom, the straps on that bag are more padded than my Jansport, and you know
how I have to carry so many books. That’s really bad for my back."

…and then of course the clincher, "Mom, you already have a computer
bag!"

I mean, as a parent, what are ya gonna do? She did have several good points:
This bag is bigger than the one she already has, the straps are better padded (1/4"
thick!
), and I do already have a bag of my own. In further
discussion, she also revealed that the looks of the bag were right up her alley.

Personally, I have to agree with Sarah, in that I think this is one of the
best looking backpacks I have ever seen. Instead of having an exterior cluttered
with pockets and zippers, the designers at Tom Bihn decided to keep the outside
as clean and streamlined as possible. The Smart Alec is available in solid
black, black with grape, black with crimson, and black with charcoal. I received
the black with crimson, which is absolutely beautiful. Amazingly enough, there
is no exterior branding on the wide back of this daypack. Instead, there is just
a small Tom Bihn patch on the inside mouth – only visible when the bag is
unzipped.

Sarah, in all her 13-year old glory, has already decided that this wonderful
open area on the back of the pack will be perfect for attaching some of the
embroidered patches we picked up for her in Scotland.

   

The exterior of the Smart Alec is composed of 1000 denier Cordura and 1050
ballistic nylon. It is water, dirt, and scuff resistant – which I can personally
attest to. The daypack measures 18.5" (47cm) high x 11.75" (30cm) wide x 7.75"
(20cm) deep. According to the Tom Bihn website, this translates to 1475 cubic
inches, or 26.16 liters. What that means to the end-user is lots of room for
those with lots to carry!

   

There is an extensive system of removable sternum and waist straps for those
that enjoy that type of extra support and security. Since Sarah prefers just the
shoulder straps, I was able to easily remove the extras. As with the
Tom Bihn ID bag I previously reviewed,
the straps came off neatly and could go back on should she ever change her mind.

Here you can see the back-side with the sternum and waist straps removed. The
shoulder straps are completely adjustable so that you can obtain a comfortable
fit, no matter how short or tall you are.

       

On either side of the bag, there is a deep zippered pocket. Were I using this
backpack everyday, it would be crammed with cables and other loose items. Sarah
uses it to store her markers and pencils.

The zippers on the bag are of the highest quality, Tom Bihn uses
#10 water-resistant zippers on main compartment and #9 YKK
zippers on the side pockets. Every zipper has a quality pull attached to its
end.

Unzipping the double pulls at the top of the bag reveals a wall of pockets!
You would never guess when looking at the outside of  the Smart Alec that
the inside would be so well organized!  On the wall, you will find 5
pockets: one large enough for a PDA in a case, one for a cell phone, and two pen
pockets. Underneath these is a nicely sized pocket that could hold a CD player
or other similarly sized item.

 

In this configuration, the Smart Alec is already one of the nicest and
streamlined day packs I have seen yet. But if you have a laptop that needs
transporting, you will really appreciate what makes this bag shine…

Along the back wall of the SA is a strong nylon "ribbon", for lack of a
better word. There are clips affixed to the ribbon that attach to a similar
ribbon on the back of the

Monolith
vertical laptop bag. When attached, the Monolith is secured to the
padded back wall of the Smart Alec.

  

I was sent the #2 Monolith, which is easily big enough to carry the
Gateway
DS Solo 9550 XL
or other similarly sized laptops. This bag is made of 500
denier Cordura. It is tough, über-padded,
and while I wouldn’t recommend slinging any backpack around that was holding a
laptop – if anything could protect a laptop in such a circumstance, it would be
this bag. The Monolith can also be carried separately by the two loop handles at
its top, and it zips securely shut with two #9 YKK zippers. Each zipper has a
quality pull attached to its end.

  

Now, as you can see, adding the Monolith to the inside of the Smart Alec does
cut down quite a bit on your interior room. But since the Monolith is removable,
you don’t always have to leave it in – unless you are always carrying your
laptop.

The only, and I do mean only, real quibble that I can find with the
Smart Alec is that the padded handle on the top still feels a little bit anemic.
I like a thicker padded handle because I like to be able to switch between using
the straps or the handle – depending on how heavy the bag is and how badly my
shoulder is hurting after a long day. Otherwise, this is easily one of the
best
day packs I have ever come across. Not everyone will even care about
the padded handle issue – so I almost hesitate to list it as a "con," but since
this is my review and a feature I prefer, I will mention it.

Since returning from the Edinburgh trip, Sarah has been carrying this as her
school back-pack. She is extremely rough on bags, and it is normal for holes to
"magically" appear in as short a time period as a week, under her
"normal" usage. I am pleased to report that the Smart Alec may be a little bit
broken in, but it is certainly holding up well: no scuffs, tears, or other
"funky" spots, as of yet. If you are a parent, or if you just happen to be as
rough as a teenager on your gear, I know you will appreciate that.

Price: $95 for the Smart Alec backpack, $40 for the
Monolith Insert
The Smart Alec is available in solid black, black with grape, black with
crimson, and black with charcoal
Made in Port Angeles, WA, U.S.A.

Pros:
Extremely well made
Very padded shoulder straps
Lots of interior pockets
All zippers have pulls
Ability to add a "Monolith" insert to transform into a laptop bag
Added stability of  removable sternum and waist straps

Cons:
Bag has no interior padding except for it’s rear wall
I wish the top handle was better padded

 

Product Information

Price:95.0
Manufacturer:Tom Bihn
Pros:
  • Extremely well made
  • Very padded shoulder straps
  • Lots of interior pockets
  • All zippers have pulls
  • Ability to add a "Monolith" insert to transform into a laptop bag
  • Added stability of  removable sternum and waist straps
Cons:
  • Bag has no interior padding except for it's rear wall
  • I wish the top handle was better padded
Posted in: Gear, Laptops and Gear

6 comments… add one

  • Judie April 3, 2003, 10:29 pm

    Post your comments on the Tom Bihn Smart Alec Day Pack here.

    http://www.the-gadgeteer.com/tom-bihn-smart-alec-review.html

    Just click the POST REPLY button on this page.

  • highdiver_2000 April 8, 2003, 1:20 am

    Nice diamond ring.

  • Judie April 8, 2003, 1:27 am

    Why thank you! Someone really special gave that to me. ;)

    Judie :0)

  • laptopshowing April 22, 2003, 4:25 am

    Great job on this review.

    I’ve been shopping around for a bullet-proof bag for my laptop and before I read this review I was 90% sure that this bag was it – and now I’m probably going to get it.

    One worrying detail…I didn’t realize how much room the monolith takes up. I am a student with plenty of books to carry around. That overhead photo makes it look like my chem text book would never fit in there.:x

  • Judie April 22, 2003, 12:12 pm

    I would say you could fit about a 4″ thick book in there – but not much else when the monolith is installed.

    Judie :0)

  • maverick April 8, 2004, 6:15 am

    i received my smart alec, outfitted with a size 4 monolith and a freudian slip this week, and i am absolutely thrilled with it. i am using it to carry my apple powerbook 15″ (aluminum).

    i had some concerns about the bag when i first received it — about the padding in the shoulder straps and the back, but after using it for a couple of days, i find it very comfortable to carry.

    the size 4 monolith provides a tight fit for my powerbook, and i hope that future revisions of this product will be modified to accommodate the larger aluminum powerbook design. and i do wish that the main zipper extended down the length of the smart alec to provide easier access to the gear at the bottom of the pack.

    overall, an excellent backpack. i have not looked at solutions from other online vendors like booq, spire, and waterfield — the smart alec sounded better than the solutions from these other companies. and the smart alec is better than anything i’ve seen in the stores from brenthaven, tumi, incase, or briggs & riley.

    maverick

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