TOM BIHN Zeitgeist Review
The Tom Bihn Zeitgeist brings back 90's styling with modern-day features to form an easy-to-carry backpack for day-to-day use.
- Lengthy key clip let us use our keys without detaching them
- Well-padded integrated tablet sleeve
- Has a number of O-rings for attaching accessories inside
- Main compartment’s zipper is difficult to access
- Compact space requires some strategizing
- Gets easily warm to wear on hot days
15.3 oz (433.7 g)
1000D CORDURA Nylon | 14.6 oz (400D Halcyon) | 15.2 oz (525D Ballistic Nylon)
CORDURA Nylon | 400D Halcyon | 525D Ballistic Nylon
12.8 in x 9.8 in x 4.7 in (32.5 x 24.9 x 11.9 cm)
CORDURA® Nylon, Ripstop Nylon, Ballistic Nylon, YKK Zippers, Duraflex Hardware, ITW Hardware, Woojin Hardware
Tom Bihn is a brand with a substantial following, and for a good reason. They make a lot of great gear based on their years of experience, and they’re not afraid to bring classic ideas into the modern age. A quick read-through of their website, and you get a sense that every design feels personal and has a history behind it. It’s no wonder the legion of Bhinions (that’s what Tom Bihn fans call themselves) grows in number each day.
We’ll admit, just looking at their Zeitgeist is already a treat for our eyes. Yes, yes, don’t worry, we haven’t lost our objective side, but far be it for us to dismiss good styling when we see it. Besides, everything that makes Tom Bihn gear great is still here: durable materials, tons of colorways, O-rings, and a purposeful design with a goal in mind. What goal is that? To create a Purse-Like Object. What is that exactly? Well, let’s find out together.
Materials & Aesthetic
There’s no beating around the bush with this one; the Zeitgeist is one good-looking backpack. According to Tom Bihn themselves, it has a heritage styling that harks back to their old classic designs from the ’90s. We do see the design cues that are definitely vintage; it appeals to the 90’s kid within us.
Check out the diagonal exterior pocket. The opening is bordered by the Coyote-colored grosgrain ribbon that delivers just the right amount of trim to give the bag a unique personality. The skewed logo even runs parallel to it, with its moon label that paints a small, minimalist moon-draped landscape—it’s little details like these that give travel gear a fun twist. To top it all off, the Mars Red-colored fabric is nice and punchy and can definitely turn heads on a bright sunny day. We even dig the tall trapezoidal profile that adds a touch of modernity to an otherwise classic design. No filter is needed here; this bag can hold its own.
The exact colorway on our sample here is a combination of Mars Red, Coyote (brown), and Northwest Sky (gray). Not to your liking? That’s okay because the chances are that Tom Bihn’s whipped up the perfect colorway for you. At the time of writing, there are a total of 19 unique colorways to choose from, including the dark and classy black colorways and all the way down to the super bright Canary one.
Colorways are one thing, but what about materials? As per usual with Tom Bihn, they used a variety of ingredients to really nail the looks, feel, and function of the Zeitgeist. First off, the Mars fabric here is made of 525D ballistic nylon, while the interior Halcyon ripstop is 200D. The zippers are #8 YKK racquet-coil water-resistant zippers. They come with an included set of cord pulls, which you can swap out with or tie to the pre-installed metal pulls. Lastly, the hardware is from Woojin, which is just as reputable as YKK in our books.
One important thing to remember is that the materials change depending on what colorway you choose. For example, while the Mars Red colorway uses 525D ballistic nylon, the Canary uses 1000D CORDURA Nylon. You’ll have to keep an eye on what materials you’re getting paired with.
We rarely encounter any quality issues with Tom Bihn’s gear, and, spoiler alert, the Zeitgeist isn’t an exception. We’re not ones to take a good combination of looks and reliability for granted, so kudos to the brand for keeping up the good work.
It’s easy to get wooed by the Zeitgeist’s good looks that you might forget that it’s “just” a 6.7-liter backpack. The exact term Tom Bihn uses to classify this bag is “PLO” or Purse-Like Object. According to their own forums, PLO refers to any bag that one might use as a purse. They’ve definitely had their sights focused on a particular niche, and we think the size is about on par with that.
Anyway, the 6.7-liter capacity isn’t demanding of a complete harness system, complete with load-lifters, compression straps, and a hip belt. No, the humble Zeitgeist instead settles for a simple pair of padded shoulder straps. We’re actually quite surprised that Tom Bihn even included a removable sternum strap because, honestly, the size and use case doesn’t warrant it. That said, we can’t possibly cover every use case scenario, so at the very least, the sternum strap is there for those who might need it. On the other hand, we elected to leave it at home to preserve the Zeitgeist’s clean looks.
We’ll show you the exact load-out we used to test the Zeitgeist in the next section of the review. We can tell you right now that it’s nothing too crazy, though, not enough to push the shoulder straps to the limit. The dense padding copes well in day-to-day use; they’re very cushiony for the job.
Where the Zeitgeist struggles is with temperature. We’re not exactly sure of the main culprit, but the bag got easily warm during hot days. Perhaps it’s the lack of breathable mesh material or the fact that both the back panel and the straps are all-black. Either way, the Zeitgeist got sweaty under the sunny skies of Detroit. Fortunately, the small size of the Zeitgeist means that it doesn’t cover as much area on your back as a larger daypack does, so some areas remain cool.
Lastly, there is a top handle for quickly grabbing the bag and taking it along short distances. Because the Zeitgeist is relatively small, it’s not unreasonable to use this handle for long periods. The way it’s stitched gives it a wide stance that’s easy to grab and hold onto. Plus, the material isn’t bad either, which only adds to carrying comfort.
That’s all of the Zeitgeist external components. Tom Bihn’s kept the features to a minimum, apart from the removable sternum strap. If we were to add anything, it’s perhaps an external water bottle pocket. However, that would’ve spoiled the clean lines and overall aesthetic of the bag. Would that be a worthy tradeoff? We’ll let you decide that one.
Inside The Pack
The signature feature of the Zeitgeist is arguably the diagonal front pocket. We’ll admit, it doesn’t look like the most practical design for a pocket’s opening. Fortunately, there is some logic to Tom Bihn’s design decision here.
Open up the pocket, and you’ll find a key clip tied to a lengthy leash at the upper end of the opening. Whenever we swing the bag around to take out our keys, this placement of the clip puts them nearer to us. Plus, thanks to the long leash, we don’t even have to detach our keys to unlock doors.
The pocket does have a fair amount of space inside, enough to take in our wallet, smartphone, bulky keys, plus a few other items. That said, it’s worth noting that bulky items visibly bulge out at the front. Since the pocket runs all the way down to the base of the bag, reaching down there can be a bit tricky. But thanks to the diagonal opening, the floor of the pocket remains relatively easy to access. It also helps that the liner fabric is a light gray, which helps keep the compartments easily navigable.
The main compartment’s opening is well-shrouded by fabric, and this makes fishing out the zippers somewhat tricky, especially without the cord pulls installed. Eventually, we developed a habit of folding the fabric over before opening the compartment. Apart from this small quirk, the horseshoe-style opening is relatively wide for its size. Remember, this is a 6.7-liter backpack, so even a horseshoe-style opening like this grants you great accessibility.
It’s not a Tom Bihn bag without a few O-rings scattered around the interior, and the Zeitgeist is no exception. Two O-rings flank the tablet sleeve at the back, while one O-ring is located at the front near the zippered pocket. You can attach whatever accessories you want to these O-rings. For example, you may want to relocate the front pocket’s key clip to the main compartment. Another good example would be to anchor your water bottle in place since there’s no built-in water bottle pocket inside or outside.
At the front of the main compartment is a zippered pocket for small everyday carry items. This one’s for items you need quick access to but feel are too important for the front pocket. There’s a fair amount of space for accessories or EDC items. However, it’s worth noting that this pocket and the front pocket are located back-to-back, so bulk from either of these pockets cut into the other.
Unfortunately, our 13-inch MacBook can only fit in the main space of the compartment itself, without even enough room to dress it up inside a separate laptop sleeve. However, the Zeitgeist isn’t really designed for carrying a laptop; instead, it’s made with a tablet user in mind. The rear tablet sleeve fits up to an 11-inch iPad Pro and, we have to say, it’s a rather nice tablet sleeve with more than enough padding for protection.
Overall, there’s not a ton of space inside the Zeitgeist, but we were able to fit a tablet, our 13-inch MacBook, a packing cube, plus a tech pouch inside. That’s in addition to some accessories in the interior and exterior pockets. It fills up fast but is not too shabby for a 6.7-liter backpack that’s this good-looking. As a purse-like object, we’d say they’ve achieved what they set out to do here.
- Designed as a PLO (Purse-Like Object), which is a bag that one might use as a purse
- Fits up to an 11″ iPad Pro
- Front pocket’s opening is positioned relatively high
- Back panel and shoulders lack ventilation, so it gets hot quickly during extended wear
- Can get tough to really load gear inside because of the low profile—it’s best for smaller or flat items
- Key leash in front zippered pocket is long enough to unlock doors without detaching keys
- Easily removable sternum straps give you the option for a cleaner look