Tri-Star vs Aeronaut 30: A Tale of Two Travel Bags

Geek Culture Reviews

This is a tale of two Tom Bihn travel bags…the Tri-Star vs the Aeronaut 30. Both are excellent bags but only one would become my go-to travel bag at the end of my testing. When Tom Bihn contacted me about reviewing more of their products I was very interested in testing out a bag that could replace my roller luggage for shorter 2-4 day trips. I convinced myself that the Aeronaut 30 was the way to go, but my Tom Bihn rep convinced me to also try the Tri-Star. Turns out she was right… for me personally the Tri-Star was the better solution, but which one is better for you?

The two bags:

– Tri-Star (in Black/Northwest Sky)
– Aeronaut 30 (in Black/Steel)

Aeronaut 30 on the left and the Tri-Star on the right (Photo by Skip Owens)
Aeronaut 30 on the left and the Tri-Star on the right (Photo by Skip Owens)

The accessories:

– 1 Absolute Shoulder Strap
– 1 Freudian Slip
– 1 Cache (vertical 13″ MacBook Pro Retina)
– 1 Cache (horizontal iPad Pro 12.9 w/Smart Keyboard)
– 1 Aether Packing Cube (Tri-Star Large Carbon)
– 1 Aether Packing Cube (Tri-Star Medium Carbon)
– 1 3D Clear Organizer Cube (Grey)
– 1 Key Strap (16 inch, Snaphook/Snaphook, Black)
– 2 Packing Cubes (Aeronaut 30 Large Carbon)
– 1 Travel Laundry Stuff Sack (Aeronaut 30, Wasabi Halcyon)
– 4 Gatekeeper Rail Clips

Before we get started, let me explain what kind of stuff I take with me on a 4-day business trip. I try to work out at the hotel gym every day so I take workout clothes and tennis shoes. I also pack 2 days of dress clothes (pants and a dress or polo shirt) for each of my 2 days of meetings. I tend to wear the same pair of jeans on my flight out and back so then all I need to complete my clothing needs for the trip is a 3rd shirt, socks and underwear, and a light jacket (which I carried and did not pack). I also needed to pack my work laptop (13″ MacBook Pro) and my personal 12.9″ iPad Pro and the corresponding set of cables and adapters that go along with them. Everything I packed for this 4-day trip (1 travel day out, 2 days of meetings and 1 travel day back) is shown in the picture below:

4 Days Worth of Stuff to Pack! (Photo by Skip Owens)
4 Days Worth of Stuff to Pack! (Photo by Skip Owens)

I evaluated two options for my first trip with this new Tom Bihn gear. Option 1 was to use the Aeronaut 30 alongside my existing Tom Bihn Ristretto messenger bag.

Option 1: Take the Aeronaut 30 along with my Ristretto Messenger bag (Photo by Skip Owens)
Option 1: Take the Aeronaut 30 along with my Ristretto Messenger bag (Photo by Skip Owens)

So my iPad Pro and 13″ MacBook Pro would be carried in the Ristretto (like it is daily) and all my clothes for my trip would be carried in the Aeronaut 30. So I used the two Aeronaut 30 packing cubes for all of my clothes and they went into the main compartment of the Aeronaut 30. In the left hand side pocket went my tennis shoes and in the right side pocket I put my TSA-compliant 3D Clear Organizer Cube with all my liquids and the empty Travel Laundry Stuff Sack (to put my dirty clothes on at my destination).

Tom Bihn 3D Clear Organizer Cube - TSA friendly travel bag (Photo by Skip Owens)
Tom Bihn 3D Clear Organizer Cube – TSA friendly travel bag (Photo by Skip Owens)

With all of this packed into the Aeronaut 30 I still had quite a bit of room to spare, so it looks like Option 1 would work for even some of my longer 3 or 4 meeting day trips… good to know.

Now on to Option 2… carrying just a single bag, the Tri-Star.

Option 2: A Fully Loaded Tom Bihn Tri-Star (Photo by Skip Owens)
Option 2: A Fully Loaded Tom Bihn Tri-Star (Photo by Skip Owens)

This option is all kinds of attractive as one of the biggest headaches associated with travel is juggling all the stuff. If it is even remotely possible to just carry a single piece of luggage for a trip then I’m game. So here goes nothing. First things first, both my 13″ MacBook Pro and my 12.9″ iPad Pro go into their own cache padded cases and into the center section of the Tri-Star. The front compartment of the Tri-Star is configurable as either a single large compartment or can be sectioned off as 2/3 and 1/3. I chose the latter and put my tennis shoes (with adapters and my workout headphones packed inside) in the 1/3 section. In the 2/3 section I put the Grit-IT that I carry every day in my Ristretto, the TSA-compliant 3D Clear Organizer Cube with all my liquids, my Absolute Shoulder Strap and the Travel Laundry Stuff Sack. In the very front of the Tri-Star are 3 horizontal pockets with their own independent sections of varying depth. The most shallow one is on the bottom and that will hold my wallet and car keys (already has a key clip and tether installed). The middle pocket has a little more depth than the bottom and I plan to use that to store my paper receipts from the trip. Finally the top pocket (which is the deepest) I used to store my work iPhone (I carry my personal iPhone in my pocket) and two clipped-in Tom Bihn organizer pouches. In one pouch I store my corded Scoshe headphones (perfect for noisy airplanes) and in the other I store my extra Apple Watch bands and all my various ID cards and badges I need for work. The 3rd main compartment of the Tri-Star is where all my clothes went. First I secured my pants and shirts with the built in straps and then on top of those I put in the large Tri-Star packing cube with all the rest of my clothes.

There is no doubt that the Tri-Star was a much tighter fit. Definitely not enough room for a coat or leather jacket, but I could have fit a thin jacket into the bag (I chose to carry it separately). For travel during winter you pretty much have to plan on carrying your coat outside the Tri-Star (you will probably want to wear it anyway). Granted I could have fit a few more articles of clothing if needed but the real tight space was the center section where I stored my iPad and MacBook Pro. They fit but they *just* fit. I should also note that I have a bit of extra bulk on my iPad Pro. I use a Cover Buddy case which included an external Apple Pencil and then over the screen of the iPad I have the Apple Smart Keyboard. But even with all of the extras on my iPad they still fit in the center compartment and because they were in the center I know they are well protected by all the surrounding clothes.

From the time I left my house until I reached the hotel to unpack I used the Tri-Star in backpack mode. It has been years since I traveled with backpack so I had forgotten how nice it is to have two free hands at all times. This makes navigating the airport so much easier. You now have both hands free to hand the TSA agent your ID and boarding pass. You can also now easily grab some coffee in one hand and hold your breakfast in the other hand (no more trying to pull your luggage behind you with the same hand as your food or coffee). Bathroom navigation was of course easier and even boarding the plane was nice… coffee in one hand and my electronic boarding pass on my smartphone in the other. Walking down the aisle of the plane with the Tri-Star strapped on my back made it so much more civilized than trying to either carefully steer a wheeled back down the aisle or sideways carry a bag in one hand. When I got to my seat I just simply slid the Cache with my iPad Pro out and stored the rest of the Tri-Star in the overhead compartment. For this trip I was on Southwest and this plane and some relatively small overhead bins, but the Tri-Star fit without even breaking a sweat.

When I got to the hotel I unpacked the Tri-Star and hung up or put in drawers all of my clothes. I then stored the backpack harness in its rear zippered compartment and pulled out and attached the Absolute Shoulder Strap so I could now use the Tri-Star as my messenger bag for the next 2 days of meetings. In this mode, the Tri-Star is relatively thin and light and works well as a messenger bag. It is quite a bit bigger than my Ristretto bag but I’m very spoiled with the thin and sleek design of the Ristretto. Even with all the carrying capacity that the Tri-Star has it is still relatively average-sized when compared to other laptop bags people carry.

When it was time to pack up and go home I folded up my dirty pants and shirts and secured them with the straps just like I did when I packed to come out. Since I brought along the Travel Laundry Stuff Sack I had been using it to collect all my dirty laundry (socks, underwear, workout clothes) and left it sitting in the room as a little travel clothes hamper.

Tom Bihn Travel Laundry Stuff Sack (Photo by Skip Owens)
Tom Bihn Travel Laundry Stuff Sack (Photo by Skip Owens)

It worked really well and then when it was time to pack I just literally dumped the contents of the laundry stuff sack into the packing cube (because who wants to fold dirty clothes) and zipped it up. Everything fit back into the Tri-Star just as well as it did on the way out. So I converted the bag back into a backpack and I was off to the airport.

In summary, I was very surprised by just how much I like the Tri-Star. I was concerned that it is just going to be too big and bulky but it really wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the Tri-Star is no small bag but it wasn’t too big. I wouldn’t want to walk around all day with a fully loaded Tri-Star on my back, but for normal treks to and from an airport (even with a walk between gates at a layover) the Tri-Star is quite manageable and very comfortable. Having three very sturdy handles built into the Tri-Star was beyond helpful. Between pulling the bag in and out of airplane overhead bins and out of rental car seats and trunks, having several different handle orientations from which to choose was very handy. If you are like me and pack reasonably light then the Tri-Star is an excellent candidate for you to get away with just carrying a single bag for shorter trips. On the other hand, if you don’t have a need to pare down your luggage to a single bag then the Aeronaut 30 might be a good fit for you as a very versatile carry-on piece of luggage. It just depends on how much gear you need to carry to your meetings at your destination and whether you want to attempt to carry everything in a single bag. Either way, the Tom Bihn Tri-Star and Aeronaut 30 are worth considering. And if they hold up to wear and tear like my Ristretto messenger bag has then they are both bags you will own for a very long time.

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7 thoughts on “Tri-Star vs Aeronaut 30: A Tale of Two Travel Bags

  1. One of the best and most detailed review. This is the kind of review most of the customer are looking for. I love how you elaborate the differences between the two articles and how you present each benefits. It will help a lot to your future readers.


    1. Thanks for the kind words Daisy! I wrote the post based on points that were helpful for me to decide which bag was better for me. Glad to hear others thought it was helpful.

  2. Thanks for the comprehensive review. My business trips are very similar to yours, and I am really keen on having just one bag. I like that your travel experience is evident in the review i.e. bathroom challenge (filthy floors and potential thieves), coffee and breakfast juggle, etc. I think I am becoming a believer.

    Thanks for the great review.

    1. I’ve traveled now with the Tri-Star on at least half a dozen trips and I love it. Another benefit of traveling like this is that when airlines cutoff bringing on “roller bags” because they think the overhead bins are getting full they will sometimes let you still take on a backpack. I have been in this situation a couple of times and it has saved me from having to check my Tri-Star. But if you do have to check it, it holds up very well as checked luggage.

  3. Thanks for your great review. One question: since the Aeronaut 30 has roughly the same volume as the Tri-Star, why couldn’t it work as a one-bag solution as well? I find a compartmentalized duffle much easier to use than a divided suitcase like the Tri-Star–the three zippered compartments are all immediately accessible when the bag is on the floor. You don’t have to flip the suitcase around and unfold it to open the main compartments, as you do with the Tri-Star. The Aeronaut still has a number of separate compartments for organization, and the lack of a laptop compartment isn’t a big deal if you already have a padded case.

    1. Yes, the Aeronaut 30 works really well as a 1-bag solution as well. In fact, that is why Tom Bihn sent me both bags for the review. For the, the Tri-Star ended up working better only because I generally travel with both a 13″ laptop and a 12.9″ iPad Pro and the Tri-Star center compartment will fit both side by side. I also tend to use the Tri-Star as my messenger bag when on work travel once I arrive at my destination and unpack all my clothes and the 3 separate compartments work better for that use case. But you are right, if you like the design and access of a duffle then the Aeronaut 30 will work just as well for you.

      My son and I just got back from a trip together and he used the Aeronaut 30 and I used the Tri-Star and we both carried about the same amount of stuff. Both bags worked really well.

  4. I own Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 and Western Flyer bags. Like you, I like both.

    The Western Flyer (a smaller version designed like the Tri-Star) suits me when I fly alone (no kids!) and have my laptop.

    I use the Aeronaut as a family (full size/maximum legal) carry on to stow in the overhead bin. For three of us flying together, we have three under-seat personal items, plus clothing in the Aeronaut.

    I prefer to pack clothing in the Aeronaut style bag. It works with my system. It’s natural for how I organize clothes.

    But nothing beats the sub-divided organization of the Western Flyer for a minimalist trip INCLUDING LAPTOP.

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