Tom Bihn Ristretto – My New Favorite Tech Gear Bag

Ristretto FeaturedLaptop, tablet and gear bags are something almost every geek owns and every geeks seems to have an opinion on. I’ve gone through my fair share of bags over the years  (Waterfield, Chrome, Timbuk2, L.L. Bean, STM and others) but this Tom Bihn Ristretto bag I’ve been trying out for the past month has quickly become my favorite all-around bag…

The Ristretto...ready to go at a moments notice (Photo By Skip Owens)
The Ristretto…ready to go at a moments notice (Photo By Skip Owens)

My bag needs are similar to those of most geeks. I have to carry a mix of work and personal tech gear with me pretty much wherever I go. Between a job that required heavy travel and working from home and then with running my 3 kids around from place to place, I have learned to be productive anywhere I go. This means having to carry a laptop, tablet, smartphone (in my case two smartphones), cables, chargers and VPN tokens to be at the ready.

I recently moved from using an iPad Air to a 12.9″ iPad Pro and will soon be going from a 13″ MacBook Air to a 13″ MacBook Pro for work, so this resulted in a need for a bit more carrying capacity than my current bag could provide…the perfect opportunity to geek out over a new bag.

So I reached out to a company that I have heard a lot of people talk about but never owned a bag from…Tom Bihn. I explained to them the type of bag I was interested in and they sent me a Ristretto bag with the following accessories to review:

  • Absolute Shoulder Strap: This is an upgrade to the standard shoulder strap that normally comes with the Ristretto. It is a wider and slightly heavier strap that contains a stretchable outer material that redistributes the weight of the bag more evenly across your shoulder. This is a must have if you spend a lot of time walking with your bag.
  • Double Organizer Pouch: A really convenient way to carry several different types of small items and keep them separated so they are easy to find.
  • Padded Organizer Pouch: Offers a bit of padded protection to some of your more delicate items. I keep a pair of high-end in-ear headphones in mine.
  • Corded Zipper Pulls: These nylon ties can be added to the front zippers to make them easier to pull and the keep them from making noise while you walk.

One of the first things I noticed when I started carrying the Ristretto was that it had a handle. How have I survived for the last several years with my previous bag without this? Right there on the back side of the bag just above the rear pouch was the handle. Going from meeting to meeting and getting in and out cars, taxis, trains and airplanes makes having something as simple as a handle an absolute necessity.

I didn’t realize how much of a pain wrangling the shoulder strap in lieu of a handle really was until I actually owned a bag that sported one. I’ll never own another general purpose gear bag without one. I suspect many bag manufacturers omit the handle for design aesthetics, but I now know that is a design trade-off that I can no longer tolerate.

The Ristretto I have been using is the Black/Northwest Sky color pattern and it’s plain enough to pass as both a weekend bag and professional-looking enough to take to any work meeting. But if black isn’t your thing there are some additional color options for the Ristretto coming soon.

The Ristretto exterior is made from a nice quality nylon (U.S. Made 1050 denier high tenacity ballistic nylon if you want to get really technical) and the interior is made from an ultralight rip stop fabric (200 denier Japanese Halcyon/nylon…sorry, I can’t help myself). Tom Bihn is a U.S. company that was started by Tom Bihn and his desire as a 10-year-old boy to make his own outdoor adventure equipment. I won’t go into all the details here, but seriously check out the “about us” page because these bags are not being mass-produced out of some factory and it shows as the fit and finish of the bag is exceptional.

So how about the function and capacity of the bag?

The main padded compartment in the bag (which measures 12.8″ x 9″ x 1″ / 325 x 228 x 25 mm) is meant for a laptop and this is currently housing my 13″ MacBook Air and will soon be used for my 13″ MacBook Pro. The one unique aspect of this compartment is that it provides 360 degrees of protection, even across the top where the laptop is slid in and out. This is accomplished by having a padded flap that is folded over the top of the laptop after sliding it into the padded compartment.

The plus side is that your laptop is protected from all sides, but the downside it that now you have to fold the flap down and back out each time you slide your laptop in and out. Considering I have never carried my laptop in any kind of protective case or padded sleeve before, I don’t mind this extra bit of work as the protection in now built into the bag.

The second main compartment is forward of the laptop section, as the padded laptop section makes up the back portion of this section and the rip stop fabric is the forward divider. I use this second section to carry my iPad Pro (which already has an Apple Smart Cover and a rear case for protection) so the padded compartment is not needed. I also use this section for the double organizer pouch and the padded organizer pouch, which are tethered to two o-rings that come built into this part of the Ristretto bag.

Tom Bihn accessory pouches (Photo by Skip Owens)
Tom Bihn accessory pouches (Photo by Skip Owens)

I use the two organizer pouches to carry things like:

  • In-ear headphones
  • Extra Apple Watch bands
  • Business cards
  • Extra IDs (ID cards & badges I need, but not on an everyday basis)

Even with the iPad Pro in a separate case (which added some bulk), this 2nd compartment still has enough room to allow both of these pouches to be tethered and hang freely without causing any issues. Tethering pouches like this in a bag has been very handy. It allows for quick access. Just grab the tether, pull… and out comes the pouch. No more fishing around in the bag looking for what you need.

The front compartment of the bag is zippered, but it is also covered by the main flap, which covers the entire top and front of the Ristretto and latches with a Duraflex® Warrior buckle. Inside the zippered section of the bag are several built-in sleeves for things like pens, pencils, smartphones, etc. I carry my work iPhone, several pens, and a USB battery pack (the Nomad Roadtrip Battery Pack I reviewed here on GeekDad).

This compartment also has a built-in tether that I use to secure my car keys (now I just un-clip my key ring from the tether when I need my keys). With everything else tied down or inside separate compartments I can easily reach in and instantly find my wallet and badge. Every other bag I have owned has not had the right combination of pre-built compartments and tethers to allow me to allow my most common items to be stored freely like this and I am loving it.

Ristretto front pouch internal view (Photo By Skip Owens)
Ristretto front pouch internal view (Photo By Skip Owens)

The final compartment is the external sleeve in the very back of the bag. This is sized to be able to hold a thin folder of documents or a few magazines. I use it to carry a GRID-IT organizer case to hold all of my cables and VPN tokens.

In summary, the Ristretto bag offers a very interesting balance of being sleek and compact while still delivering a significant amount of storage volume ( 9 Liters or 550 cubic inches). The Ristretto will easily fit under the seat in front on you on an airplane and still allow you to stretch out your legs. I like being able to fully load the Ristretto or just simply toss my iPad into it and it and the bag is equally designed for both of these situations.

The Ristretto is not a bag for someone who has an unusually large carrying capacity need but, for most of us, the Ristretto will suffice while still maintaining a slim profile. Perfect for when you need to slip through a crowd to get that last autograph at a comic book convention.

Disclaimer: The author received sample units for review purposes.

A rocket-scientist, father of 3, amateur astronomer, piano/keyboard player and soon to be sci-fi author who wears his geek badge with pride.