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Man bags: BaileyWorks Pouch vs. Tom Bihn Large Cafe Bag

We're carrying more devices these days, but in my line of work I don't need a formal briefcase. A small messenger-style bag suffices for most things. Below I've made some obervations about two such bags, the BaileyWorks Pouch and Tom Bihn Large Cafe Bag. This isn't a direct comparison because they are different sizes and each serves a somewhat different purpose in my day-to-day life. Instead, I've provided some thoughts and observations about how each functions in my work and travel.

BaileyWorks Pouch

Having owned a BaileyWorks 253 Courier bag (medium size) for about 10 years, last year I picked up their Pouch model, which is a shrunken down version of their larger messenger bags. The goal was to get a bag that would accommodate my iPad and a lunch or camera along with a few odds and ends, so I got it with the add-on padded tablet compartment, water bottle holder, and padded strap options. There's an exterior pocket on the back (for small papers or a book), a zippered interior pocket on the front, some dividers as a function of the tablet sleeve and interior back pocket, an external pocket with a velcro-secured flap for pens etc, and a main interior compartment that holds a couple of bagels and a drink or a camera (e.g., something from the Fuji X system) and spare lens (stated capacity = 420 cubic inches). I ordered it in navy (and their standard yellow waterproof lining), and it's dimensions are 10" (height) x 8" (width) x 5" (depth; note that the Pouch is similar in height and width to the Tom Bihn Small Cafe Bag, but nearly twice its depth).

Some comments:

  • It has a somewhat rigid structure (i.e., can stand up on its own) when empty, due mostly to the tablet sleeve. Great for functionality and use, not as handy for packing down (i.e., stuffing it in another bag/backpack for travel).
  • The downside, due to it's sizing, is that doesn't easily accommodate an 11" MacBook Air or a file folder full of papers to grade well. This isn't a fault of the bag, and I knew that when I purchased it. But it's less useful now given that I'm working from coffee shops more these days and have the MBA.
  • The sizing is perfect if one doesn't need to carry a laptop or papers (i.e., an iPad, drink, and lunch).
  • I'm generally not a huge fan of velcro (which secures the flap on the exterior pocket). I'd prefer a zipper there.
  • There's not a chest strap or some way to keep the bag from sliding around while your on a bike (their larger bags have straps for this); I've rigged a couple of carabiners coming from the strap that can hook to my belt, but it's not a perfect solution.

The Tom Bihn Large Cafe Bag

I recently decided that I needed a slightly bigger bag that would carry an 11" MacBook Air and double as a bag for a Fuji X camera when traveling. The Tom Bihn Ristretto is more comparable to my Pouch than is the Cafe Bag because it includes a sewn-in padded compartment for a tablet or MacBook. But after much deliberation, I went with the Cafe Bag because I wanted to move between carrying my iPad and/or 11" Macbook Air (or neither), and/or a camera and spare lens. In short, the Cafe Bag seems more flexible than the Ristretto. I got it in the olive color (both exterior and interior); I was hoping for olive/red, but that wasn't available. The Large Cafe Bag is sized at 13.3" (height) x 12.9" (width) x 3.3" (depth; 675 cubic inches). There's a front exterior zip pocket, an exterior pocket on the back for papers or a magazine, and the interior pocket has some slots for pens, electronic devices, etc. There are also several interior O-rings for attaching organizer pouches and a Gatekeeper waist strap.

Some comments:

  • The Cafe Bag has no internal structure; it won't stand up on it's own. I'm hoping that it will fold up, or at least lay flat, in a backpack or other bag when traveling.
  • The bag is deep enough for a MacBook Air and iPad (in sleeves), and a notebook or papers, but not much else. I'm hoping to put a Fuji X camera and a spare lens or two in a padded pouch in there. It will probably be okay, and maybe an iPad could get in there at the same time, but that's it.
  • The Large Cafe Bag isn't as big as I thought it would be, in a good way. An 11" MacBook Air in a sleeve fits perfectly (vertically). I wouldn't go with the Medium Cafe Bag for an 11" MBA.
  • The Large Cafe Bag (but not the small or medium) can be customized with different strap options. I got the Q-AM strap since I'd like to be able secure the bag while on my bike. I'm on the big side of the curve (5' 11", ~210lbs, 36-38" waist) and the cross-body strap is just barely big enough to work for me. If you're any bigger, you'll have to find a way to extend the strap.

Other thoughts/comparisons

  • Both are made in the USA and available via the respective companies websites. BaileyWorks bags are also available at a limited number of dealers.
  • Both come in a range of colors. The Pouch has a black body, yellow waterproof lining, and your choice of any ~20 colors for the top flap and back. The Cafe Bag comes in a range of different color combinations (exterior and interior colors), but is only available in the combinations that are listed on the Tom Bihn website at any particular time. Both are made from Cordura, although the Cafe Bag is available in some other types of fabric.
  • The Pouch runs about $100, plus options like the water bottle holder, pad for the strap, padded tablet sleeve, etc. The Cafe Bag starts at $70, plus upgraded strap options, sleeves for your iPad and laptop, add-on interior pouches that can be clipped in, etc. The Cafe Bag will probably be a bit cheaper, outfitted with similar options (note that the Tom Bihn Ristretto is significantly more than the Cafe Bag and similarly priced to the Pouch).
  • Both bags are open at the top (i.e., no zipper closure for the main compartment) and use a large flap and buckle to secure the top. At first I had two concerns with this design. First, if the bag falls over, will stuff fall out? Secondly (especially when traveling), could pickpockets get their hand into the bag to grab stuff? After using these bags, unless we're talking about loose change floating around in the main compartment, I don't have too many concerns about stuff falling out. In addition, in a crowded area one could wear either of these bags with the buckle/flap facing your body for added security.
  • The Cafe Bag has a few other features that make it seem even more secure. First, since it's less deep (at only 3.3"), it's pretty hard to squeeze your hand into/around the top flap. Second, with the O-ring and organizer pouch system, it's possible to tether most of the small things to the bag (i.e., other than the laptop/iPad) so that they can't easily be removed or fall out.


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