Tom Bihn Paragon Backpack Review
The Tom Bihn Paragon Backpack updates a classic design with modern amenities and a comfortable harness system, though it’s unstructured and sparse on organization.
- Simple, customizable interior layout
- Comfortable harness system with thick, padded straps
- Amply padded laptop compartment
- Not many built-in organization options
- The laptop sleeve has little to no false bottom
- Bag lacks structure
1.48 lb (0.7 kg)
for Ballistic Nylon | 400D for Halcyon | 420D for Ripstop Nylon
17.9 in x 13.4 in x 6.8 in (45.5 x 34 x 17.3 cm)
Ballistic Nylon, Ripstop Nylon, YKK Zippers, Duraflex Hardware, Woojin Hardware
Laptop Compartment Size
Tom Bihn has had a great deal of experience with bags of all shapes and forms, not least of which is in the daypack category. So what happens when Tom Bihn takes its existing design and updates it for the modern era? After all, around 20-something years ago, we didn’t have tablets or laptops to lug around.
The result is the Paragon Backpack, which comes in two different flavors: Guide’s Edition and Design Lab Edition. In this review, we’ll be taking a look at the more serious-looking Design Lab edition and see what their idea of a modern daypack is like.
Materials & Aesthetic
This being the Design Lab Edition, the backpack forgoes any colorful design cues and instead goes for a minimalist aesthetic, with even the Tom Bihn badge being blacked out. If you’re looking for something with a bit more flair, the Guide’s Edition might pique your interest with its heritage styling. But this design is more distilled—more raw in a way. The Black 400 Halcyon and Original 400 Halcyon colorways have a checkered pattern that makes the Paragon look like it was lifted directly from a designer’s drafting paper. In contrast, the Black 525 and Nebulous Grey 525 both look all-executive in shades of grey.
Regardless of which colorway you choose, they all look classy and wouldn’t be out of place in a professional setting. Just keep it out of sight if you take the Halcyon versions to an actual lab, lest your scientist friends start to graph a bell curve on it.
The exterior material on this sample is 525D Ballistic Nylon that’s suitable for daypack duties. It’s a heavy enough denier to take on everyday wear and tear, but not too heavy that it feels like you’re lugging a shell around. Tom Bihn designed the Paragon without a ton of structure intentionally, and it can feel a bit floppy during use, which we’ll talk more about later on.
We threw on some of Tom Bihn’s zipper pulls to the quality YKK zippers for added grippy-ness. As you can see, the main compartment is fairly shrouded by fabric, so putting on some optional zipper pulls isn’t a bad idea. More of this superb hardware includes Duraflex and Woojin—all excellent credentials for a daypack and keeps things easily adjustable and tactile for the foreseeable future.
Tom Bihn has made it a point to equip their Paragon daypack with an above-and-beyond harness system. What do we mean by that? Just look at these shoulder straps. They’re quite thick—thicker than what you’ll find on most daypacks in this size or capacity. But more so than the thickness, they’re also soft and comfy with the added benefit of Tom Bihn’s edge-less strap design so it won’t feel sharp and harsh against even bare shoulders.
A sternum strap is included, completely removable, and adjustable via sliding adjusters on both shoulder straps. The top handle/loop is noticeably softer than what Tom Bihn usually provides on their packs, and it just feels better to carry using this softer material. To note, the Guides Edition uses standard nylon webbing for the top handle, which is a little rougher and less seatbelt-like. The back panel doesn’t have any fancy air channels or breathable mesh material to speak of, though it features just enough padding to keep things comfortable.
Think 20-something liters is a tad cumbersome? The Paragon’s got you covered in that department as well in the form of a waist belt. One rarely sees a waist belt or strap in compact daypacks such as this one, and it’s a massive bonus if you really want to keep things tight. Those who like to bike a lot will appreciate this, as you’d want to bring a relatively small backpack but still want some extra straps to keep things locked down against your body.
The Paragon is very easy to wield and comfortable to carry. One might think it’s over-built for the Paragon’s class, but all the components here serve a purpose and add more functionality that does not harm the overall carrying experience—especially since the bag is so minimal to begin with.
Unfortunately, those who love to carry around a water bottle will have to put it inside the main compartment as the Paragon does not feature any side pockets. You’ll have to invest in an insulated bottle like the YETI Rambler or the Hydro Flask Bottle to avoid getting condensation on your other stuff. Silver lining: it keeps the Paragon’s overall profile clean and streamlined, so there’s definitely a trade-off there.
Inside The Pack
Okay, it’s an all-black design on the outside. Do you know what we didn’t expect from the inside? A bright yellow interior. If you listen closely, you can hear the sounds of our delight. We absolutely dig bright interiors because they make finding stuff and digging around inside so much easier.
We’re glad to see this kind of bright fabric inside the front quick-grab pocket. It’s not uncommon for pockets not to have the same bright liner fabric found inside the main compartment. But we’re happy to see Tom Bihn make a compromise and at least cover the backside of the pocket with this fabric. The front side forgoes any liner fabric—a trait we’ll see in the main compartment later on.
As for the pocket itself, it’s more than spacious enough for everyday carry items and even some small pouches. There’s a built-in key leash for your house or hotel keys too. Overall, the organization is sparse, with only a single liner pocket inside to keep things separated, but nothing a pouch or two can’t solve.
Heading over to the main compartment, it opens up horse shoe-style. As previously mentioned, the zipper elements are quite shrouded by the fabric, so you’ll have to feel around for the zipper pull unless you’ve also put on some accessory paracords as we did. The front can immediately fall down depending on how heavy you’ve loaded the top interior pocket.
It’s just a pouch-style pocket that doesn’t have any extra liner pockets of any sort inside, so you can just chuck small tech items or stationery inside. It has a wide opening that spans the Paragon’s width, though we do wish the opening is a little higher so that it acts more like a small sack than a side-opening pouch.
Since the flap is top-heavy due to the interior pocket, it can fall over easily, but not enough that it will drop straight to the floor. Likewise, when closed up, it makes the Paragon somewhat forward-biased as well, causing it to tilt in that direction. Something to keep in mind when leaning it against a wall or leaving it on the floor at a coffee shop.
There is no separate tech compartment for this daypack, as the laptop sleeve is directly integrated into the main compartment. No worries, it’s a well-padded sleeve that can fit up to the current 16″ MacBook Pro. It’s even flanked by O-rings where you can attach some additional Tom Bihn accessories or a carabiner to keep your water bottle upright.
There is little to no false bottom for this sleeve, though. In fact, if you look straight down, there’s only the bare black fabric with none of the bright yellow liner fabric to be found, which can make it harder to see darker items within the bag. On the plus side, once you get your laptop in, it gives the Paragon more structure. We’re not too sure about using a precious laptop as structural support in a backpack, so just be sure to handle it extra carefully when setting it down on hard surfaces.
With minimal organization comes our usual recommendation of packing cubes and pouches to make the most out of the 20-liter capacity of the Paragon. The rather soft structure will really allow you to cram stuff without being boxed in by walls. In our testing, the Paragon easily fits a 20-ounce water bottle, a packing cube, and a sizable tech pouch inside.
Tom Bihn’s updated daypack has a good aesthetic appeal for both the Paragon’s Design Lab and Guide’s Edition. Both go for a distinct look, but either feels just right for today’s backpack scene.
In terms of the carry experience, it’s commendable for a compact daypack at 20 liters. The robust but comfortable harness system suits a wide variety of situations with its inclusion of a waist strap, easily adjustable sternum strap, and edge-less shoulder straps.
We just kinda wish it featured more in terms of organization and structure. It’s no issue if you already have your own tech pouches or dopp kits, plus your laptop can act as a makeshift panel insert. So if the minimalist structure and organization play into your gear ecosystem well, definitely take the Paragon into consideration.
- The Guide’s Edition heritage styling is on point and the Design Lab edition is super minimal
- The well-padded laptop sleeve is big enough for a 16-inch MacBook Pro
- Robust yet comfortable harness system—complete with removable sternum strap and waist belt
- Loving the overall look and styling of the Design Lab edition of the bag
- Added Tom Bihn’s signature zipper pulls and digging the added grab-ability
- Bag uses some excellent materials, but it’s a little floppy and can lose its shape easily since no interior liner is used in some areas
- Shoulder straps are beefy and maybe overkill for a big of this size, but that does nothing but add comfort to the carry
- Organization is almost too simple—we wish there were a little more
- Enjoyed testing this bag