When I think of Tom Bihn bags, I think of laptop and gear bags. There are several Tom Bihn bags in my house, including an 8 or 9 year old Empire Builder that has been used every day since its purchase and still looks almost like new. I don’t typically think of knitting or purses when I think of Tom Bihn, but that’s exactly where my thoughts were when I was checking out their website recently. Tom Bihn had actually designed a bag for knitters some time ago. He worked in conjunction with the readers of Knitty magazine to design the Swift tote bag that could carry around a knitter’s work-in-progress, yarns, needles, and other supplies. I’m not a knitter, so I didn’t really give it much thought when I first saw it. They’ve recently introduced a smaller version of the Swift, called the Little Swift, which is exactly the same design but only 80% of the Swift’s size. They also had the bag in a new fabric that caught my eye. The Little Swift in Vulcana Hemp/Recycled Rubber was on its way to my house as quickly as I could get my credit card out of my wallet.
Most of the photos in this review, including the top photo, can be clicked for an enlarged view.
The Little Swift, like all Tom Bihn bags and gear, is made in the US in their Seattle location. The bag measures 13″ at the widest point X about 11″ tall (not including handles) X about 5″ thick fully loaded up with my stuff. It weighs about 1 pound when empty. The bag has no Velcro nor magnets for closures. Instead, it buttons with a metal button like the ones used on button-fly jeans and a belting tab. This tab is made from a 0.5″ strap that’s been folded in half and sewn, as seen in the picture above, to leave button holes. Even fully loaded with my daily-carry stuff, I can close the bag at the tightest position. I don’t need to worry as much about things falling out or someone sticking their hand in to pilfer from my bag with this tight closure.
The bags were originally available in the ballistic nylon that Tom Bihn uses in many of their bags, but the line has expanded to include a cork bag and the Vulcana Hemp/Recycled Rubber bag that I purchased. I love the look of the hemp bag. It reminds me of the look of some “straw” purses, and someone on the Tom Bihn blog had remarked this hemp fabric looked a bit like raw silk. I loved the look, but the recycled rubber scared me. I was afraid it would smell like the new-tires section of Sam’s Club, but the blog also said the fabric has only a very faint scent when new. I decided I’d take a chance, knowing I could return it if I couldn’t tolerate the smell. They can also send you a sample of the hemp/rubber fabric so you can smell it before you buy, if you’d prefer.
I was very pleased when the bag came. It was as beautiful in person as the pictures looked. It really doesn’t have a smell unless I put my nose right against the bag. The smell is no stronger than any other new bag I’ve owned. The hemp has a rough texture, but it’s not as prickly and scratchy as I feared. I had never seen a hemp fabric before, so I was afraid it would feel like a burlap sack or hemp rope. This fabric has a really open weave, but it’s been adhered to the rubber to form a solid surface. You won’t have to worry about snagging loose threads.
There are no external pockets or decorations on the Little Swift. There’s only a small Tom Bihn logo ribbon sewn into the binding on the front of the bag (seen in the top photo).
The body of my Little Swift is made of the hemp/rubber fabric, and the bottom of the bag, the straps, and the edge bindings appear to be made of ballistic nylon. Apparently all colors of the bags are trimmed with black. There’s no stiffening or padding in the bag itself. The seam around the bottom of my bag is a bit puckery. I think this is because of the stiffness of the ballistic nylon used for the bottom and the rounded shape of the bottom. The bag can sit on its bottom, but that depends on the contents of the bag, too. If you have an uneven layer in the bottom of the bag, it can tip over.
The straps are about 22.5″ long and have about a 9.5″ drop, so they fit comfortably on your shoulder, or you can hand-carry the bag. The center portion of each strap is padded with Poron® foam, and they are very comfortable on my shoulder, even with the bag fully loaded.
And load it I do. These are the things I’m carrying in my Little Swift. Starting at the top and continuing clockwise, I have a Sony PRS-T1 ebook reader in the lighted case, the small Stuff Sack included with the Little Swift, the Dooney & Bourke wallet with my iPhone 4 inside, a card case with the extra cards that don’t fit in my Dooney, a checkbook cover, two x-small Eagle Creek Pack-It Sacs loaded up with toiletries, pens, iPod nano and earbuds, etc., and finally my fleece gloves. My keyring is in the center of the picture.
The interior of the bag is lined with gray Dyneema/nylon ripstop fabric made for Tom Bihn in Japan. Combined with the black bottom, the interior of the bag is a bit dark, but it’s not impossible to find things in there. It’s a bit difficult to see in the picture, but both front and back sides of the bags have clear polyurethane zippered pockets. The polyurethane is very flexible, so it shouldn’t crack or tear easily. The zippers extend the full width of the pocket, so it’s easy to fit things inside.
There are several rings sewn inside the bag where you can clip the Stuff bag or your Key Strap that was included with the bag. Red arrows point out three of the four rings. The one at the top of the picture is for the Key Strap; there’s another ring in the same position on the other side of the bag. The two rings located in the middle of the bag are for the Stuff Sack or for any of the other small organizer bags and pouches made by Tom Bihn.
Here you can see the Key Strap a bit better. You’ll also notice that my Sony PRS-T1 ebook reader fits perfectly into one of the zipper pouches. Specs say the Little Swift is also big enough to hold an iPad or small netbook in Bihn’s Cache or a Kindle in Bihn’s Kindle Sleeve.
Here you can see that I have my checkbook and the red card case in the other zipper pouch. I have the two Eagle Creek bags and my Dooney wallet laying in the bottom of the bag. It may be hard to see, but my keyring is clipped on to the Key Strap.
Here’s a closer look at the Stuff Sack that’s included with every Little Swift. It’s a drawstring bag originally designed to hold a ball of yarn. The drawstring has a clamp closure, so I don’t have to worry it will accidentally open. The yarn fits inside and the free end can come out the opening in the drawstring to feed yarn as you knit; there’s a clip inside the bag that I assume is part of the yarn guidance system. I don’t knit and I don’t intend to use my Little Swift as a knitting bag. I stuffed some of my smaller things inside the Stuff so I don’t have to worry they’ll fall out the open top of the Little Swift.
I forgot to photograph them, but my bag also came with two little plastic rulers that knitters would find handy.
I have 5.5″ X 3.5″ X 1″ zipper pouch, a folding hairbrush, 2 large packs of chewing gum, and a velvet pouch holding two purse hangers inside the Stuff Sack. There’s still room for more inside.
I love the Tom Bihn Little Swift bag. I think the bag is very pretty in the Vulcana Hemp/Recycled Rubber. It looks more like a lady’s handbag instead of a gear bag. The bag is organized inside, so it’s easy to find my things. The Stuff Sack holds all my small things that I don’t have in other pouches, so I don’t have to worry they’ll fall out. And the button-closure keeps the rest of my contents securely inside the Little Swift. I can’t speak for how it performs as a knitter’s bag, but I think it works beautifully as a handbag. Now I need to start thinking about the cork version…