Nearly four years ago, I reviewed Tom Bihn's Synapse, a fantastic and versatile compact backpack for those times when you don't need to carry everything but the kitchen sink. I liked it so much that bought the review sample. The Synapse remains my everyday backpack, and apart from looking a little worn, it's in nearly as good condition today as when I reviewed it.
The Synapse is now called the Synapse 19, because Tom Bihn has since introduced a version with 30 percent more volume for all those people who loved the original's design but complained that they needed more space (or — true story — felt that the 19 simply looked too small on them). The result, the $170 Synapse 25, maintains the Synapse 19's versatility and clever design touches, but adds the company's popular "rail" feature (more on that in a bit), making the Synapse 25 perfect for those who want a larger bag that they can use all day, every day — whether they're carrying a laptop, an iPad, both, or neither.
Built to last
Like the original Synapse, the Synapse 25 uses exceptionally sturdy nylon on both the exterior (your choice of either 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack or ultralight 400d Dyneema/420d nylon ripstop fabric) and interior (200 denier Japanese Dyneema/nylon ripstop fabric). Tom Bihn offers ten different color combinations of olive, black, navy, or steel on the outside, and steel, wasabi, Iberian, solar, or ultraviolet on the inside. It's not going to win any fashion awards, but the Synapse offers classic backpack style, and it doesn't scream "laptop inside!"
The Synapse 25 also uses the same straps and padding as its smaller sibling. The straps are comfortably shaped and include 10mm of closed-cell foam with "an underside of ETC knit to keep you cool and comfortable." The company says that the back of the bag (the side that sits against your back) is covered in "Dri-Lex Aero-Spacer mesh and 400 denier nylon" that won't snag clothing, with a quarter inch of closed-cell foam for padding. When empty, the bag weighs roughly 1.7 pounds, which is fairly light for a well-made backpack.
Over four years of use, I've found the Synapse 19 to be quite comfortable, even when loaded, and in my testing of the Synapse 25, it feels much the same. You also get adjustable sternum and waist straps that are removable if you don't want to use them, along with a nylon handle at the top of the backpack. The bag's zippers are all water repellant.
The Synapse 25 is roughly 20 inches tall, 13.4 inches wide, and 9 inches thick, with its 25-liter (1526-cubic-inch) capacity split across a large main compartment and five exterior pockets. That main compartment is where the 25 gains most of its additional space over the 19, although the bottom pocket (described below) is also larger. Inside this main compartment, towards the front of the bag, is a full-width pouch for large items; you also get a couple O-rings for attaching keys or other similar items.
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