Lets start this review out by saying that when anyone asks my opinion on bags, whether they are laptop bags, messenger bags, carry-on bags or briefcases, I always tell them that the best high-end bags made are from Tom Bihn. Over five years ago I received my first Tom Bihn bag, the Empire Builder. It’s still going back and forth to the office with me every day. It looks as good as it did the day I got it. Then last year Tom Bihn sent me their Checkpoint Flyer bag for review. It was a tough decision, but the Empire builder had too many good years left in it, so the Checkpoint Flyer is being used by my wife everyday and by me when I travel and need an airport bag for my MacBook Pro.
After all these years, the only negative thing I have to say about my Empire Builder is that it carries too much gear and I’ve packed it full of over thirty pound of “stuff” that I cart back and forth to the office. I only use about 10% of the gear I packed in it, but it’s always nice to have it near in case of an emergency. I know that’s a pretty weak negative, but it’s the absolute truth. I never thought there would be a better daily use bag made for me then this Tom Bihn Empire Builder. I was wrong.
When Tom Bihn heard I was looking at iPad cases and bags on the podcast, they asked if they could send me their new Ristretto for iPad. Needless to say, I was looking forward to getting my hands on it to compare. Unfortunately, I had to wait. Since the day that Tom Bihn announced the Ristretto it’s been sold out and back-ordered. Finally, late June, the bag arrived. The love affair began.
First let me try to describe this little masterpiece of design to you. I’ll steal some of the specs from the Tom Bihn Web site.
The Ristretto is a basic messenger bag design. Tom Bihn makes an iPad/netbook version and a version for your laptop. It has an interior padded compartment designed to fit your device with a flap that folds over the compartment to protect your little precious on all four sides.
The main, open-top compartment and front zippered pocket of the Ristretto are covered by an asymmetrical flap that closes with an off-set buckle. Under the flap, you’ll find a zipper pocket spanning the width of the bag. It’s the ideal place for securing your wallet or other small items. The zippered pocket has one o-ring. The main compartment of the Ristretto features three o-rings. Attached to one o-ring is an 8″ Key Strap. (Additional and extended length Key Straps can be purchased separately.) One can also clip a Guardian Light, Clear Organizer Wallet, or Clear, Padded, Cordura, or Cork Organizer Pouches to the interior o-rings. All are available from Tom Bihn for an additional cost.
In front of the zippered pocket is a open-top compartment with a deep curve designed for easy access. The open-top pocket features four organizer pockets: two sized for pens or pencils, and two sized for the iPhone, iPod, or objects of a similar size.
The back of the Ristretto has a slanted, open-top pocket ideal for storing papers, a magazine or a newspaper. Included with the Ristretto is a removable waist strap – great for use if you ride your bike while wearing the Ristretto. The waist strap attaches to two of four available points on the back of the Ristretto: you can attach the strap so that one end is high and the other low, or whatever is comfortable. If you don’t plan to use the waist strap, it is easily removable and leaves no hardware behind.
You can choose between three different shoulder straps to use with the Ristretto. The Standard Shoulder Strap, included in the price of the Ristretto, is a 1-1/2″ wide heavy nylon webbing strap and features a comfortable, wide foam pad that won’t slip off your shoulder and is designed to conform to your shoulder and back. For an extra $10.00, you can switch out the Standard Shoulder Strap and replace it with the TerraGrip Shoulder Strap. For an extra $20.00, you can switch out the Standard Strap for the Absolute Shoulder Strap.
Most people will be satisfied with just one kind of shoulder strap, but, should you choose to do so, you can purchase more than one kind of shoulder strap and switch between them. The base cost of the Ristretto is $110.00.
The Ristretto is designed to allow you to carry just the essentials: iPad or Netbook, wallet, keys, iPhone or cell phone, notebook, pens, business cards, and a small water bottle. There lies the secret to this perfect design. I really do not need to carry thirty pounds of gear with me every day. I can leave all those extra cables, cords, adaptors, power bricks, and papers in the Empire Builder and just take the Ristretto with me as an everyday bag. Along with my iPad, the Apple wireless Bluetooth keyboard fits perfect in the padded compartment. I’m able to put my paper notebook, office supplies, basic wires and chargers and more in the Ristretto, sling it over my shoulder and neck. All that under five pounds. Perfect!
I would never be so presumptuous as to say that the Ristretto bag would be the perfect bag for your needs as it is for mine, but I can be certain that if you go to Tom Bihn’s Web site and spend some time, you’ll find the perfect bag for you. I am also certain that you’ll be very happy with the quality and the customer service that a Tom Bihn bag will give you.