Best Carry On Travel Luggage – Tom Bihn Tri-Star Bag

Let’s think for a minute about what we want in a great travel bag. Sturdiness, of course, comes to mind. A dainty, pretty piece of luggage may look nice in the store, but will be useless as we drag it from place to place. For me, the best travel bags are small enough to be carry-on (those fees for checked luggage are so annoying), yet designed well enough to expand with my travel needs, look nice, and hold up under the vagaries of travel. In short, the best luggage for me are Tom Bihn travel bags.

Best Cary On Travel Luggage

Carry-on luggage at Lihue Airport Hawaii

Lihue Airport, Kauai. That's the Tri-Star on the left, Western Flyer on the right

Now, let’s be perfectly clear here: Tom Bihn is the official luggage of The Vacation Gals, and the company generously supplied my family with review travel bags.  That being said, The Vacation Gals want everyone to have great travel experiences, and would never recommend destinations, types of travel, or gear we don’t value for ourselves. Tom Bihn travel bags are a case in point; I received my Tri-Star in August, but thoroughly tested it out on three separate trips before writing this review.

The Tri-Star is like the Western Flyer (which I also have), in that there are two sides that zip open, and straps to convert the bag easily into a backpack. The Tri-Star also has a third middle compartment, perfect for – and meant for, in fact – laptops. I took it from Los Angeles to Hawaii and to Syracuse; both trips involved layovers, and switches to smaller planes. At no time was the size of the Tri-Star questioned by airline staff; it’s a carry-on, even on those little island-hoppers that take us from Maui to Kauai.

Best Carry On Travel Luggage at the Airport

Bihn Bags also make for good play forts, in a pinch

I also crammed it in the trunk of our car for a Santa Barbara road trip. In all cases, it held up perfectly. My similarly-sized Travelpro wheelie, to compare, is now looking quite a bit worse for the wear, and it had to be checked and stowed on the smaller airplanes. No exaggeration: The Tri-Star is so well made, it’s hard to tell the bag has suffered the indignities of being sat on/bounced on by bored children, hauled across the Pacific Ocean and the United States, and stuffed with what is likely the legal limit of wine bottles to be driven across county lines.

Tom Bihn is steadily making a name for itself as a maker of reliable, solidly constructed travel bags. Both the Tri-Star and the Western Flyer have more pockets than I could use – this is a huge positive, by the way, as they lay flush when not in use. Made in Seattle, USA, the Tri-Star repels water, has a key clip and water bottle pocket, and besides backpack straps, there is a handle and a long Tom Bihn Absolute Strap for lugging around on one’s shoulder: This is enormously versatile luggage.

At $240, the Tri-Star is something of an investment. However, you get what you pay for: The reliability and durability that the Tom Bihn name represents, indicates that the Tri-Star carry-on travel bag will last for years longer than its cheaper, less well-made competitors. This Vacation Gal heartily recommends the Tri-Star as just about the best carry-on travel luggage on the market.

7 Comments on "Best Carry On Travel Luggage – Tom Bihn Tri-Star Bag"

  1. Hey SoCal Gal!

    I just followed a link from the Tom Bihn blog to your article on the Tri-Star.

    Do you know of anyone who used the Tri-Star for business air trips, and used a packing folder or garment sleeve to carry business attire in a Tri-Star as a carry-on? This last March, I had a garment bag’s zipper fail while I was in a hurry to get ready for a return flight at 3:30 AM. Were I closer to awake, I would have screamed! I’ve been searching for a great, multipurpose carry-on-type luggage ever since.

    Also, has anyone tried unpacking their Tri-Star and using it as a daypack/urban backpack? I’d be curious as to how well it works for business and casual use, especially when it’s not heavily loaded. I usually carry one or two digital point-and-shoot cameras, a small notebook, checkbook, a couple walkie-talkies, flashlight, folded shopping bag, and maybe an iPod and a few other personal items in my cheap backpack/daypack.

  2. Hi SoCal Gal,
    Another good thing about the Tri-Star is that it is pretty lightweight (when empty) – I think it’s just over 3 pounds. So, that is also a real plus to consider. I love the idea of the Tri-Star because when my husband & I vacation (and we’re with you guys – we go with carry-on & avoid checking luggage whenever possible), we really like the option of the bag-turned-backpack.

    Also, thinking about Walt’s question above – even though I haven’t tried the Tri-Star (yet!), I was just at the Tom Bihn site, and they have a LOT of photos of the features on this bag. Just from looking at it, I would bet it would be a great way to organize and carry the stuff you mentioned. But, I would go to their site and look at those photos so you could get a decent visual.

    It definitely looks like a real high quality bag, and we appreciate your in-depth review.
    (PS: Love the play fort!)

  3. You know what, Walt? The Tri-Star, with it’s third compartment for laptops, wouldn’t be as good to convert into a backpack as would the Western Flyer. The Western Flyer is a little easier to sling around, but is also highly water-resistant. I’d recommend that Bihn Bag for your backpacking travel needs.

  4. Hey Walt, I am the proud owner of a Tri-Star, and have found that Eagle Creek’s 18″ Fold-It fits perfectly in it! I have used the Fold-It for dress shirts, dress pants, sport coats, and occasionally a suit. I carry it as my only bag whenever possible, but I find that I usually have to trade my gym shoes for a pair of swim goggles. Tennis shoes just take up too much room with my laptop and other business crap I have to carry.

    I have also used the Tri-Star as a daypack, but it’s a bit large for what you described.

  5. Luggage selection usually depends upon how frequently you travel and the period you are traveling. I have been lucky with the samsonite luggage , as I found better quality bags of them.They are often on sale at online shopping mart and at times it’s things like buy one get one free.

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