Tom Bihn Ristretto Bag for iPad Review

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tombihn ristretto 00So you just bought an iPad.  What do you carry it in?  Thinner than most netbooks, much smaller than most laptops, you are no longer confined to gi-nor-mous bags if you want to carry just the basics.

When the iPad was announced, I immediately set out to find a suitable bag.  As it turns out, the folks at Tom Bihn have a bag that carries the iPad, a few accessories, and that’s it.  Sometimes, that’s a good thing!

The Ristretto for iPad/Netbooks is a smaller variant of the regular Ristretto.  Let’s take a look at the specs.

  • Built-in padded compartment sized specifically for iPad, Netbooks and Kindle DX
  • Padded iPad/Netbook compartment measures: 10.86″ x 7.59″ x .98″ / 276 x 193 x 25mm
  • Padded compartment made of .25″ (8mm) open-cell foam laminated with durable 4 Ply Taslan / interior of super-soft brushed nylon protects from all sides
  • Choose from three shoulder straps (Standard, TerraGrip, Absolute, that attach to snaphooks via d-rings
  • Overall measurements: 12 x 9.25 x 4.75 / 305 x 235 x 120mm  Exterior of 1000 denier Cordura®
  • Lined with 500 denier Cordura®
  • Weight: 11 oz.
  • Made in the TOM BIHN Factory in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

I chose the Olive / Cayenne color scheme and the Absolute shoulder strap for an additional $20, which gives you a more padded strap.

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Rear view. Not shown is the detachable leg/waist strap that attaches to the four tabs.
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The bag is slightly wider towards the bottom.

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Use the supplied strap, or use your own. Or remove it completely.

I wasn’t sure about the color scheme until I opened the flap and was greeted with a brilliant, chili-pepper “cayenne” red!  I love it.

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There is one zippered pouch inside.
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A peek in the accessory compartment. There are two pen slots and two medium pockets

The main compartment contains a permanent padded area with a flap.  What isn’t obvious is that the flap has no velcro, no magnets, no snaps, nothing.  It simply folds over the top of your device.  Quick and silent.

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Looking down the main compartment
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No velcro here! Yay!
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Flap pulled up, iPad inside it's padded cozy home
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iPad halfway out...
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iPad out of the pouch

You may be wondering why I’ve got the iPad inside the Apple case.  Well, the iPad plus case fits the Ristretto just fine.  I imagine it would fit in the bag with other aftermarket cases as well as long as they’re not too bulky.

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Not too much, not too little. Just right.

The Tom Bihn Ristretto for iPad/Netbooks holds just what I need:  iPad, keychain flashlight, USB flash drive, zippered pouch with basic first aid supplies, second pouch with various loose items (eye drops, screwdrivers), Verizon MiFi 2200 EVDO device, Bluetooth headset, Leatherman, two pens, headphones, and a ThinkOutside fold-up bluetooth keyboard (which works with the iPad).  $110 isn’t cheap, but the built-in sleeve makes it worthwhile for me.


After a few requests, I tried slipping in the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard.  It fits!

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I don't know why I didn't think to try it at first, but it fits!
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Main compartment with iPad
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iPad screen on inside main compartment
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Alternate view of iPad in main compartment

Product Information

Price:$110 (strap as shown add $20)
Manufacturer:Tom Bihn
  • Very well built vertical-style bag with built-in padding for the iPad or other netbooks.
  • Relatively pricey

58 thoughts on “Tom Bihn Ristretto Bag for iPad Review”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. I’ve noticed reviews of Tom Bihn bags were good, but never looked into the details because they seem so expensive. This review got me to look into their products online in some detail. Wow, some great stuff. This mini-Ristretto would probably work really well for my Fujitsu UMPC. Their Brain Cell is really close to my ideas for a hard sided notebook sleeve. If it wasn’t just rather expensive…. do they have sales or clearance?

  3. I’ve never seen them go on sale. Keep in mind they ARE made in the USA so I’m not surprised they’re pricey. I don’t mind paying more knowing it’s made right here.

  4. Andy I didn’t know that thinkoutside’s Bluetooth keyboard works with the iPad! I need to go root around in my gadget draws to see if I still have mine!

  5. @Sam: Yes, these bags are unquestionably expensive. But my seven-year-old Empire Builder looks exactly like it did when I took it out of the shipping box. I, too, thought it was crazy expensive, but my wife talked me into it – and I’ve never regretted it. The Brain Cell gives me peace of mind every day. My Empire Builder is considerably bigger than the mini-Ristretto, but then I use it for a different purpose. And Andy isn’t kidding about packing these bags – I’ve used my Empire Builder as a laptop carrier AND overnight bag on a couple of business trips. Sometimes you really do get what you pay for… 😀

  6. I don’t think their price is all that high considering the quality of bag. Mine have last for years, while cheaper alternatives ended in the recycling bin.

    I only wish he would try different materials like leather or waxed canvas.

  7. Butch: Glad to hear that your Empire Builder has served you well!

    Clark: We’ve considered it, but leather is very heavy and canvas just won’t last as long. That said, we are now working with materials similar to but not those materials – stay tuned for more on that in late 2010.

    Rick Roberts: All of the materials we use are treated to be water-resistant – that includes the exterior layer of 1000d Cordura and interior layer of 500d Cordura on the Ristretto for iPad. Be wary of other manufacturers claiming “waterproof” just because the fabrics are coated: if the seams are not RF-welded or heat sealed, they are probably not waterproof.

  8. Rick Roberts: Tom Bihn bags are coated on both sides for water resistance. They sell Nikwax in case the outside coating needs touching up. Zippers on most bags are protected by “splashguard” zipper tapes.

    I don’t begrudge them their prices. I like the peace of mind that no strap will pull out or seam give way and send my computer crashing to the ground, and I expect to use the bags (three sizes of backpacks, a travel pack, and a vertical messenger bag) for the rest of my life. I have a lot of very nice bags I wouldn’t have bought if I had found Tom Bihn sooner. That would have saved a lot of money.

  9. This bag is just what I’m looking for to transport my new iPad. In fact, I just ordered mine last night from the Tom Bihn website. Too bad the color I want is on backorder and I’ll have to wait for it 🙁 But, I’m sure the wait will be well worth it.

    Kind of off topic, I was wondering were Andy got those zippered pouch bags, I’ve been looking for something like that to transport misc items.

  10. Can anyone tell me what the dimensions of the main compartment are? I can’t seem to find that anywhere. For that matter, I wouldn’t mind the same dimensions for the full size version. I’m trying to balance size with carrying capacity, and there are a few things I really need to have with me.

    Bag makers never seem to detail the interior dimensions of the pockets and compartments on their bags. I can’t fathom why, that’s far more important to me than the exterior dimensions.

  11. @ John: The particular zippered pouches are from Conterra, also made in Washington State. Makers of some nice EMS and rescue gear.
    (Oddly enough, I’m personally made in Washington state, born in Pullman. I see a pattern emerging!)

    @ J Clark: I measure approx. 11-1/2″ deep by 8″ wide for the padded compartment. (Height will vary.)

    As for the OTHER interior pouches, you can kinda guesstimate off of that.

    The FRONT pouch is about 8″ wide at the top of the U-shaped cutout. It’s 7″ tall from the bottom of the bag to the lowest part of the “U” cutout.

  12. Just got my Ristretto Bag yesterday and I have to say that I am really impressed. I was a hesitant at first to spend that much on a travel bag, but in the end it is well worth the money. Right away you can notice the high quality level in the construction of the bag. I havnt found one single random loose threat sticking out anywhere, which I often do find in most products produced overseas. The bag is a perfict fit for the iPad. It fits snugly into the protective pouch and doesnt “swim around”. There is plenty of extra room for books and whatnot. In this case you really do get what you pay for.

    On another note, I would like to thank Andy for introducing me to the Think Outside keyboard in this review. I managed to find one on eBay and I have to say this keyboard is great. It works perfectly with the iPad and I also discovered it works great with my PS3. Why did they discontinue this product? It is so versitile, not just for smartphones and PDA’s anymore.

  13. Tom Bihn bags have the best quality of fabric, workmanship and style.
    Tom Bihn and his staff know the meaning of customer service, they are very responsive to customers questions and suggestions.

    When I buy something, I divide the number of time I will be using the item from the price.
    When I was a student, I bought a $30 nylon backpack, the closure unraveled the same day.
    I had to find an alternative to carry my books and paper so I bought another backpack for around $60.
    It was a big dent on my budget.

    I bought my first Tom Bihn Bag, a Brain Bag backpack in late 2005. A Brain Bag is $140, I know that in those 4 years and 4 months I used it more than 140 times which means its cost is less than a dollar a day.

    My second Tom Bihn Bag, bought in 2006, is my Large Cafe Bag, a $60 messenger bag with north/south/portrait orientation which can hold letter size notebooks and paperwork.
    I use as an every day purse, a personal item carry-on, an essential car trip bag.
    Way cheaper than the backpack disasters I bought as a student.
    The Large Cafe Bag is unisex, my husband carries the second one I bought in 07, as a personal item.
    In the same order was a Small Cafe Bag, the $50 cute and small answer to quick errands, girl lunches and romantic stroll at the park. It can be scrunched up in the Brain Bag and unfold looking new.

    I also own multiple Swifts, Tom Bihn knitting bags.
    the bags are pure genius to organize knitters, needlework enthusiasts and other crafters supplies.
    I also used this bag on library and bookstore trips. It is comfortable to carry due to its Poron handles and sturdy enough that I don’t have to be scared of loosing my books to bag failure.

    I also own plenty of accessories but not any of the briefcases or east/west/landscape orientation messenger bags.
    I plan my orders carefully to fit my needs and budget.

    I don’t work for the company but, I think, in this economy, it is very much worth supporting made in the U.S.A products.

  14. @ Tom B:
    I measure the zippered pocket is 7″ wide when you factor in the zipper pull itself. In other words, 7″ is the max opening width.

    It’s about 7″ deep to the zipper’s “mouth”. Add an extra 1″ above the zipper.

    If the Kindle 2 is 8″ tall, it MIGHT fit assuming you could tuck the top of the reader under the space above the zipper. Plenty of room though in the padded compartment, either inside or outside the pouch.

  15. hey, I really dig this amazing bag to tote around my iPad . It is backordered till May but I would like to ask a question…With the iPad in can u fit a moleskine notebook and say a textbook ? tu in advance 🙂

  16. Any luck with the Apple Bluetooth keyboard into the bag?

    I was just about ready to order it and then someone asked the question about the keyboard and it stopped my in my tracks.

    Thanks for the review!

  17. It fits!

    I am a little dumbfounded as to WHY I didn’t try this before. But it does. I tried it in the main compartment, in the non-padded half.

    Wow. I may stop carrying the ThinkOutside keyboard.

    Addendum: See new photo of bag with keyboard.

  18. That was fast!! Thanks for checking and reporting back. I putting in an order — and apparently I am not the only on as EVERY single color is out of stock…

    Oh well..!! I’m patient!

  19. Another question: Will 8.5 x 11 letter-sized stuff fit inside? (spiral notebook, file folder, 9×12 envelope, etc.)?
    Thanks for the great review!

  20. Yes; a standard 8.5 x 11 will fit. I shoved in a smallish report and it fits just fine. Anything bigger like a 9×12 probably won’t.

  21. Sal,

    I actually own TWO of the other Waterfield iPad sleeves:

    iPad Suede Jacket Sleeve
    iPad Slip Case

    They both fit inside the Ristretto perfectly with the iPad. Now the Suede Jacket has nearly no thickness at all, so that’s not surprising. But the Slip Case (I have the blue one just like in the photo) also fits well. It starts getting a LITTLE snug, but not bad at all.

    I think the more expensive Ultimate Sleevecase might fit, but it’ll be equal to if not tighter than the simpler Slip Case.

  22. No problem. Although I do find it entirely disturbing that I own two Waterfield sleeves that I don’t use. That’s just for the iPad. You oughta see my orphaned Waterfield sleeve collection.

  23. Thanks for following up on all of our questions Andy. Super appreciated in helping to make a purchase decision!

  24. Glad I could help! By the way I have been carrying the Apple Bluetooth keyboard now, and it fits just fine.

  25. Mine is on its way, a good 3 weeks sooner than I had expected since the website said that it was backordered until mid-May. Should arrive Monday or Tuesday and I just can’t wait! I ordered (and received) Radtech’s STM Scout XS, but the iPad compartment is just too large – I think I could fit 3 or 4 stacked iPads in there. I think the Ristretto will fit my lifestyle much better! And I think that there will be quite a few more Tom Bihn bags in my very near future.

  26. Does someone know how to actually reach Tom Bihn customer service? I tried e-mailing them several times to no avail. I want buy that Ristretto bag for iPad but can’t because their “worldwide shipping” doesn’t include Russia as a country.

  27. Would a iPad in a marware Eco vie case fit in this bag or would the regular Ristretto bag be a better fit?


  28. Jrho: I see no reason why it would not. The Apple case fits, with room to spare. The Eco-Vue appears to be fairly close, maybe slightly thicker.

  29. Hello! What a great review! I’ve been pondering what bag I should get for a couple days now and I keep coming back to this bag. You even bought the color I was interested in! lol
    Anyway, I do have one question. Is the front pocket big enough to hold a bottle of water? I’m talking about one of those 9oz bottles. I have a camcorder that is a bit smaller than that, and I was wondering if it would fit. In advance, thanks!

  30. Shon,

    As luck would have it, I have a smallish camcorder as well. The camcorder measures 2.5 x 2 x 5 inches, and fits inside the front pouch, where the pens and other items go. This is WITH all the other items you see in the review above, minus the items in the front pouch.

    It’s not pretty, but it’ll do.

  31. Can anyone comment on whether or not they think if a bulkier iPad case could fit, say one that’s 1.25″ thick? Does the padded compartment stretch at all to accommodate slightly larger cases?

  32. @ Jordan
    It is unlikely you could fit such a thick case. I have found that the WIDTH makes a huge factor. Once you slip the iPad inside, the usable height goes down. I can put the iPad in a cushy HP netbook case (from Best Buy) and it will barely fit in the non-padded portion. It won’t fit in the padded compartment. Hope that helps.

  33. Great review. I just received my bag (black with wasabi interior). Also picked up a few of the padded organizer pouches that Tom Bihn sells which connect to the built in D rings on the inside of the bag. There are some good videos on You Tube showing the bag with the pouches. The bag is great and even better with the pouches for organizing small items like ear phones, glasses, cables, etc. I also picked up the keyboard sleeve from Waterfield for my Apple wireless keyboard. The pouch and keyboard fit perfectly into the bag and the pouch provides some extra protection for the keyboard. I now have a near perfect mobil office in my bag.

  34. Just a note on keyboards. I’m using my old Palm wireless keyboard with my iPad and it works fine. Nothing against the Apple keyboard, I just didn’t want to spend the money when I already had something that worked.

    By the way, the keyboard fits (just barely) in the pocket of a Tom Bihn Buzz sling pack.

  35. If it’s a plain ol 16.9 “bottled water” bottle, then yes, as long as you don’t stuff much more than an iPad in it.

  36. I’m afraid I don’t understand the question.

    Are you asking how much you can fit into TWO bags?

    If you don’t have the Apple Keyboard, you could fit one iPad in it, and one hardcover book, in ONE bag. But this depends on how large your book is.

  37. Great review Andy, I ordered the “Breve” from Tom B, just came today looks great, love the quality. Can’t wait to use it tomorrow and as my everyday bag. I have been watching and reading the reviews on the Ristretto and this is by far the best. I believe I will go ahead and place my order and use this as my major travel bag when I need everything with me. Dave thanks for the info on the Waterfield keyboard bag, looks like just what I was looking for.
    Now I must go convince my wife that I need these to “protect the precious”.

  38. Wow I realize it has been one YEAR since I wrote this review. I no longer have an iPad (and I have no plans to buy another tablet unless it drops out of the sky) and I’m STILL using this bag. That’s how good it is, folks.

  39. Great review! I’m seriously considering this bag, and hoping my iPad2 with SwitchEasy Canvas case will fit in the iPad compartment ok?

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