Gear Review for Dads: Tom Bihn Synik 30 Backpack

Since becoming a father, I’ve learned to never leave the house unprepared. Being prepared means I often need to carry tons of things my kids might need at any given moment. And dads need a dependable bag to carry all of those things–simple as that. I found myself unhappy with the bags marketed towards dads that were either too big or too focused on carrying bottles and catering to early days of parenthood. So, I found myself using a commuter-focused backpack I used before becoming a parent. That is until I came across the Tom Bihn Synik 30.

A quick note: I am not sponsored by Tom Bihn, and I was not paid for this review. I am just a dad who happens to be a backpack enthusiast.

What I Was Looking for in a Bag: Bags for dads have to be many things: portable, spacious, rugged, dependable, versatile, and aesthetically pleasing. I was looking for a bag that could do all those things, but I was also looking for good quality—something that would last me a long time.

I was specifically on the hunt for what I call the “in-between bag”: basically, a bag that I can use for my commute to work, quick weekend trips—to Walt Disney World, of course—and for day-to-day errands with my kids. Based on those criteria, I narrowed it down to either backpacks or messenger bags, if only for size and function. Basically, I did not want a cumbersome bag, and I wanted straps, so I could hypothetically hold a kid (or two) in one hand, and reach for whatever I need with the other, while still wearing the bag.

What is Tom Bihn? Tom Bihn is a sort-of-under-the radar (depending on who you ask) company focused on designing and making American-made bags and accessories. Their products range from backpacks, work bags, duffels, and their very popular knitting bag. They are a small company based in Seattle, Washington, with a unique company policy.

What is the Synik 30? One thing you will learn about Tom Bihn is that each bag has its own history. The Synik 30 (the larger of the two Synik model options, the other being the 22) is a spinoff of a another, smaller backpack called the Synapse. The backpack comes in a range of color options, and it retails (at the time of this writing) for $320. (My backpack, pictured throughout this article, is the Wilderness 525 Ballistic/Northwest Sky 200 Halcyon color option.)

Description of the Backpack: The Synik 30 has a rounded shape that contains a main compartment, dedicated laptop slot, and five front pockets. The main compartment is good-sized, with one large pocket for storage. The main compartment is a full-clamshell, which means the zippers can open the entire length of the backpack, allowing the backpack to fully open like a suitcase. The dedicated laptop compartment is technically suspended in a net-type material that sits just behind the main compartment. It can hold up to a 15 inch laptop and it features a dedicated side zipper.

The lower front pocket is accessible by a zipper that moves horizontally across the backpack–this pocket is deeper than it looks, and I was pleasantly surprised with its storage capacity. The two vertical pockets on the front of the backpack are also quite spacious, and easily accessible. The last two pockets are towards the top of the backpack with zippers that move horizontally. One contains a long, shallow pocket for miscellaneous items. The other is much larger, and is actually where your water bottle is stored–that’s right, there is no water bottle compartment on either side of the bag.

My Thoughts on the Look: The round, classic shape is what initially drew me to further explore the backpack. It has wide profile when looking at it from the front, and it has a definite curve towards the bottom when looking at it from the side. This gives it a distinct, tear-drop shape that allows it to expand based on its contents. The zippers are thick, black, and distinct without detracting from the look of the bag itself. The backpack straps are black, wide (but not too wide), and without frills. The back of the backpack (that touches your back) is also black, with cushions that contour to your back–almost like the seat of a new car. The backpack manages to simultaneously have a crunchy, 90s vibe, but also a clean, subtle appearance. In my opinion, the bag looks at home both on a hiking trail or in an office.

Now, initial research about this backpack quickly revealed that many feel its look is dated, aimed at an older crowd; for the dad crowd, to be exact. As a dad, this is not a deterrent, but I see where those people could be coming from. It is not boxy like many modern bags, it’s not leather or marketed as a luxury bag, and it doesn’t attempt to wow you with any sort of designs, or efforts at modernity. Essentially, this bag is the epitome of function over form; it’s simple; it’s unassuming. And to me, it is attractive in its own, understated right. Maybe that’s the dad in me talking.

Testing Conditions. I have now had this bag for two months. To prepare for this review I tested the the backpack in day-to-day conditions: I used it on a weekend trip out of state, for work, and when running errands. Here are my thoughts based on each scenario:

  • Running Errands with Kids: This bag has more than satisfied during quick trips to a grocery store or to a doctor’s appointment with the kids. And that is likely because of its storage capacity. When I run errands I usually take my work laptop with me, and my backpack is usually filled with other work needs: laptop, charger, water bottle, notepads, pens, headphones, and more. When it’s my turn to take the kids places, I simply add their necessities to what’s already in my backpack–and that is simple with this backpack. I usually grab a few of each child’s toys (I have a toddler and an infant), a couple of books, snacks, several diapers in each child’s size, and if it’s a longer drive, an extra set of clothes for each kid. All of that fits in the main compartment of the backpack with room to spare, however, I use the larger bottom front pocket to store snacks and diapers for easy access–a must-do with two kids in tow. One note concerning water bottles: because there is only one pocket for a water bottle–and I don’t want to put my toddler’s water bottle inside the main compartment—I usually make sure to pack a large water bottle and fill it up so I can share with the kids.
  • Work Commute: Before this bag, I briefly used a messenger bag, and then a smaller, tech-focused bag for work. Despite having more space then those bags, the Synik 30 doesn’t feel noticeably heavier. I am happy to report that this backpack fit all of my snacks, my water bottle, and can even my lunch box–although I opt to carry my lunchbox separately. As I mentioned above, the water bottle compartment is a large pocket in the front of the backpack—not the side—that is accessible via a zipper. This initially gave me pause, and I hesitated to make the purchase because I was worried my beloved Nalgene wouldn’t fit. Oh, how I was wrong: not only does it fit my 32oz wide mouth Nalgene bottle with ease, but its location actually makes walking with, and carrying the bag easier, without a water bottle making one side of the backpack heavier than the other. I have also taken the backpack on the train to work, and I was impressed with the cushioning on my back, which is not only comfortable, but breathable–which is all-too-important for hot summers in the south.
  • Airport for Weekend Trip: I recently traveled with my family to a wedding in another state, and we elected to fly. Parents to small children know the hell that is navigating an airport with kids, bags, strollers, car seats, and more. The trip was perhaps the ultimate test for the backpack, which needed to hold all my things, be accessible at security checkpoints, and be comfortable. This backpack performed well in every category, especially with regards to comfort and spaciousness. For the trip, my backpack hosted my work laptop, chargers, water bottle, toiletries bag, wipes, diapers, books for my toddler, toys, and various snacks. The straps felt sturdy yet comfortable, and they did not once feel hot during trips through multiple terminals and concourses. (I tend to get hot easily, and nothing is worse than dreaded backpack sweat when waiting to board a plane.) The unique pocket set up allowed me to plan for what would potentially be needed in an instant: my water bottle when my toddler was thirsty; the lower bottom pocket with all of my electronics and chargers; the side pocket with my keys, wallet, ID, and boarding passes (we use mobile passes but also print them for safety); and, of course, the separate laptop compartment that came in handy both at security checkpoints, and on the plane when I had to reach below my seat to grab my laptop.

Any Cons? One potential con is the lack of pockets in the main compartment. The backpack prioritizes its clamshell capability, which does offer flexibility when traveling; however, I am used to bags with dedicated spaces for pens, notepads, chargers (and more) in the main compartment. With only one sleeve that is often occupied by diapers, wipes, and toddler things, my personal items can sometimes sink to the bottom of the main compartment. Is this a dealbreaker? No, especially considering the fact that most of those items can be housed in the front pockets. However, a sleeve may be helpful for you if you prefer those items be in the main compartment. (Tom Bihn appears to have anticipated this issue–it sells such a sleeve, called the Freudian slip. I have not purchased or tested that sleeve, but I may do so in the future.)

Bottom Line: The Synik 30 is the perfect bag for me and I would recommend it to other dads. It is clear that functionality was in mind when this bag was crafted, and it shows when I need it most, often when I am on-the-go. The materials feel durable, the designs intentional, the space, ample. Perhaps its greatest strength is its versatility, which is essential for busy fathers. This backpack serves several purposes–often in the same day–without the bulk of a duffle bag. This bag allows me to use one bag for work, travel, and day-to-day errands, without wasting time switching bags for each scenario. This saves me time, which is the most precious thing to a parent.

Sure, some may take issue with its dad-like design: for some of us, that is actually an attractive, practical aesthetic. So, embrace the dad vibe. Embrace the dad life. Embrace the Synik 30.

Are you a backpack enthusiast? Check out my review of the Tom Bihn Bummer hip bag.

Want to follow-along on my Disney (and other travel) adventures? Check out my latest blog post.

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