Tom Bihn Shadow Guide 33 Review, Photos

The folks at Tom Bihn were kind enough to send over a model of their upcoming Shadow Guide 33 backpack.   

If you're stumbling across this via a google search - I am NOT a very good blogger or whatever... as you can tell from the general lack of updates.  I posted this to reddit's onebag community and thought I'd drop the review on the website.

I've never really carried a klettersack style bag like this so this is a neat chance to try this out.  

My TL;DR - Shadow Guide has dethroned my Synik for two-bag travel along with an Aeronaut 30.  Will still carry Synik on work travel with a rolling suitcase.  I can't figure out how I'd possibly EDC this bag though.

First, photos:

This thing looks huge right? 

Pictured on my 5'4" beautiful, amazing wife.  Shocked at how well it fits folks of any build.

Lid flipped up to see the pockets.  Very minimal!

Rear view to see construction.  Sturdy zippers which is to be expected.

Shot to show both types of fabrics used.  Bulletproof construction.

About me, so you have a frame of reference.  I fly between 80 - 100k miles a year in non corona times. Mix of work and personal.  I'm a big believer in two-bag travel.  For personal travel I carry an Aeronaut 30 in duffle mode and either a Synapse 25 or a GR1 26L.  For work travel I roll a BR Baseline carryon and use the Synik 30's luggage passthrough.  I've found Synik isn't great to carry but it makes a great bag in conjunction with a suitcase.  

My personal loadout is TB heavy but this is only after trying and selling the vast majority of popular bags in  the travel and EDC spheres.  On the travel front, I hate the 'one size fits all' model that companies like tortuga try to sell, and have found TB makes the best gear for my particular preference.  For EDC the only non-TB bag I've found I love is the Evergoods CPL24 which I sold to try the A19 Evade and regret very much.

Anyway, on to the review:

Aesthetics - the bag is cool as fuck, shockingly un-tom bihn like. Even the logo patch being minimal is so very un-TB.  I could see this fitting in well with the outlier bros.  What was shocking to me is how small it looks on your back.  Above I have photos of my wife trying it out - she's 5'4" and tiny and it still fits great on her fully packed out.

I feel like these type of bags lend themselves to having a bunch of dangly bits and I am probably going to try and roll or cut the strap fabric a bit to reduce this.  What I love about the bag is that it comes off as very minimal (again, NOT tom bihn's usual aesthetic) but has the practical functionality you expect from TB bags.  

Usability / Comfort - Again, shocked by how comfortable it fits against my back even when fully packed out.  The back is rigid and structured, moreso than my Synapse 25 and Synik bags, which I think makes the laptop compartment feel more protected.  There's also more room for laptops for you men and women who carry bigger laptops.  They're making a smaller model size and I'm very curious to see how tiny that would be in practice - this 33 size is really solid.

I've always had an issue with my Synik - the straps felt too spaced apart and were weird on my shoulders.  Happy to say that the Shadow Guide has completely fixed it.  I'm not sure if the straps are different than Synik (they are a bit narrower) but the straps + weight distribution lead to one of the most comfortable bags I've ever carried.

From an EDC usability perspective: can't figure out how I could use this daily.  It's a great looking bag but it's a big empty cave inside.  This is the first time I've used this style of bag before, so maybe a learning curve for me but even with my work stuff (laptop, notebook, pens etc plus occasionally a hardhat and equipment) it's still empty looking.  I found myself putting most of my stuff in the top 'lid' portion of the bag, and then I'd grab a raincoat to drop in the main compartment just to pad it a bit.

If I were a student carrying books I'd be ALL OVER this bag.  If you have a heavier load daily and can organize yourself into a big cave of a main compartment this thing is a dream.

For one or two-bag travel I anticipate that this will entirely replace my Synik or Synapse 25.  The 'lid' of the Shadow Guide gives you more than enough storage space for everything you need on a plane.  I'm already expecting to not even have to pull my bag out from under-seat storage, instead being able to flip down the 'lid' and access stuff there.  The big main cavern is perfect to load up with whatever you need for your journey, but again it's a BYOO situation as you'll want packing cubes etc to make sure everything fits.  One thing while test packing I realized is you kind of have to tetris everything in.

One usability quirk I noticed:  before arriving I expected this to have a flat bottom that would allow the bag to stand vertically.  Always helpful in an airport. The bottom of the bag  slants to keep your gear positioned against your back.  It makes it WAY more comfortable to carry but it doesn't sit flat on the ground. I agree with the choice here.  I tend to think about bags in terms of how I will feel carrying it halfway through a customs line when I just need a nap and ultimately the comfortable carry way offsets any annoyance of having to prop the bag up against something.

If you are coming from the Synapse or Synik, there is no elegant water bottle storage.  This may be a deal breaker for some.

Conclusion - This thing is going to be my partner on all non-work travel, when I'm not rolling a suitcase.  It is awesome to carry and I am already mapping out the 'lid' storage for easy access when I'm moving around the country.  I didn't think I'd like the form factor but I've been super impressed by how comfortable and easy it is to carry, even when fully packed out. 

It isn't going to be an EDC bag for me but I'm totally sold on it as a partner along with my Aeronaut 30.  Great bag.

Ultimately I hope TB makes a 'traditional' backpack  in a 24ish liter size with these same aesthetics.  The minimal styling is a nice change from their normal aesthetic and I think they did a great job of keeping usability a prime consideration.