The Tom Bihn Hero’s Journey backpack is a solid choice for all backpackers heading off on a gap year adventure or short city exploration. It’s hybrid status means that you can use it as a backpack, a holdall or even take it apart to have a separate, smaller daypack, and all in one handy carry one sized pack!
Every backpacker goes through their own trial by fire on their gap year, with many emerging from the experience stronger, more independent, more confident and a better, more worldly person than they were before. In essence, world travel turns you into a superhero version of yourself, and for each of those personal Odysseys the right backpack is essential. This is where the aptly named Hero’s Journey comes in.
In essence, the Hero’s journey is a convertible hybrid pack that is the perfect size for carry on only, always my preferred way of travelling! In practice the Hero’s journey is taking the trend for modular pack systems started by the military and making it it’s own. This pack is the Transformer of the backpack world, with a host of zips, tricks and clip on attachments to turn it from one type of bag to another dependent on your needs or your environment.
Need a backpack for lugging your gear up a hiking trail or from hostel to hostel? Done. Need a small daypack for your essentials? Done. Need a holdall or a carry bag for getting through the airport or to look more professional in an urban environment? Move a few zips and add an accessory or two, and done. And like the best Transformer, it can even come apart and separate into two different things, with the main pack the perfect carry on size and the smaller top pack the ideal size for a personal carry on item.
The pack has an adjustable capacity of 45 to 65 litres, depending on what configuration you have it in and what accessories you use. The main pack itself is 45 litres, the top pack (whether attached or used as a separate bag) has an extra 10 – 15 litres depending on if you use it as a backpack or a shoulder bag, and each of the two optional side pouches (these for some strange reason do not come with the pack) are an extra 2.5 litres each.
The pack is quite lightweight and comes in at just under 4.9 lbs, and comes with a ton of accessories including removable hip belts, carry straps and shoulder straps, and a really handy little bag (that can double as a stylish wash bag) filled with cord zipper pulls.
For a carry on backpack, the Hero’s Journey handles itself well and it is extremely impressive in the way the modular systems take the available space up to a possible 65 litres in total. The clever design and the handy way you can expand or compartmentalize the pack as needed means that you should have more than enough space to handle the majority of trips.
It has a fairly large main compartment – enough for a couple of good sized packing cubes and a stuff sack or two – with a holdall style zipped opening which makes it really handy for getting to your stuff easily and is preferable to a top loading backpack in many ways. There is also a separate compartment at the ‘bottom’ of the bag (when viewed as a backpack) which is large enough to stow a compressed sleeping bag in.Alternatively, if you find you prefer one large compartment, the internal divider pops open and allows you to have one large space which I can see being extremely useful in some circumstances and is actually quite clever.
There is a handy internal zippered pocket at the top end of the main compartment and another one in the lid. These aren’t large by any means, but they are adequate enough. I personally would have liked to have seen at least one more internal zippered pocket, but that is just me as I am a big fan of compartmentalising my kit when I pack.
The top compartment, which zips off to become the personal carry on or the day pack if you turn it inside out (which I thought was a bit of pure genius once I figured it out!) is even more impressive.
When used on its own there are two main zippered compartments, each with enough room to hold all your essentials and important gear that you would want to keep close to you, although you do have to share one compartment with the attached backpack straps if you want to carry it as a holdall. If you keep it as part of the main pack, the second compartment is hidden between the main pack and the top compartment, making it an ideal place to keep your important documents, emergency stash of cash and anything else you would want to keep hidden. I’m not sure if this was intentional design or a happy accident but as someone who is pretty security conscious, I loved it. There is also a zipped external pocket at the top, which is essential to get hold of any important documents quickly as you breeze through the airport.
The quality and features.
This is a very stylish pack, there is no denying that. It currently comes in two colours, black and grey and black and dark blue, although grey and salmon and light blue and wasabi are coming soon.
The pack itself is made from a nylon ripstop fabric and is extremely well put together, it is essentially a very well crafted, quality pack. The zips are chunky and tough YKK zips with the interlocking space for a small padlock to keep each one secure. It is a huge bugbear of mine when I see packs without these, and this is one more testament to the attention to detail in the Hero’s Journey.
Given the fact that this is essentially a modular pack, I was genuinely impressed at the quality and toughness of the main pack itself. To simulate the rigors of life on the road, I even gave it an impromptu destruction test by seeing if I could rip or tear any of the handles, seams or zips. I couldn’t.
The overall quality of the main pack really impressed me, which is why I was a little surprised and a little disappointed by the optional side pouches. Now personally I think side pouches on a backpack are essential, and I do think they should be included, but what disappointed me slightly was the way they were fastened to the main pack.
Each side pouch has for gatekeeper clips, which are similar in a lot of ways to a D Ring, for those of you who are familiar. Now these clips are pretty sturdy and well made, and incidentally are the same way the handles, hip belts and straps are attached, which for that purpose is absolutely fine, but when attaching the side pouches, these left them with a noticeable gap between the pouches and the main pack that you could easily get a hand through. They really just felt like an afterthought as opposed to an integral part of the design. Now this may or may not bother you, many of you may not think it is even an issue, but personally it just never really sat well with me and I wouldn’t feel wholly comfortable carrying them on an extended trip.
One thing that the Heros Journey is missing is an internal waterproof cover, which I was a little disappointed by. But this isn’t too much of an issue as you can get them easily enough.
Fit and comfort.
This is an extremely versatile backpack, that can be used as a backpack and daysack, a large and small holdall, a main pack with a hip pack, or any combination of the above. I have to say that the holdall and hip pack variations are perfect, and are great as options for those who can’t or don’t like carrying backpacks for too long for whatever reason. The grips are comfortable and easy to manage, and the shoulder grip on the holdall strap is comfortable without being cumbersome.
It does feel like this pack is a holdall first though and a backpack second, as it is when it is used as a backpack that the comfort level lets it down slightly. This is completely normal with hybrid style bags unfortunately, and comfort and fit is always sacrificed for the functionality of being able to tuck the backpack straps away into a pocket.
There is a slightly padded back panel with aero spacer mesh, removable hip pads that are okay but not remarkable, and it does have an internal, spine curved aluminium frame that can be removed. This does bring the comfort level of the Heros journey above the absolute majority of hybrid packs out there, and does give it a pass in the comfort department as a backpack. But there is no real contoured padding for your hips and back, no real air flow system or any other backpack specific design to help assist with comfort and load bearing.
This doesn’t mean that the Hero’s journey isn’t comfortable, far from it. Provided you aren’t lugging around heavy bricks in your pack it is perfectly adequate to carry normal loads of up to 30 lbs, it just doesn’t have the extra comfort or load bearing technologies that are specifically designed for non hybrid backpacks.
This again is not an issue if you prefer hybrid packs and want the versatility of carrying different bag styles, but if you want something more technical you will need to look at specific backpacks.
What will be a real issue, for some of you at least, is that the pack is designed to fit the frames of people who are on average between 5″8 and 6″2, and although the straps can be adjusted slightly there is no real back or spinal adjustable system in place, so anyone taller or shorter than that this pack may not be a good fit for your individual frame. Of course everyone is individual and you may be able to push it if you are slightly smaller or slightly taller (backpacks are measured on your overall frame and back length as well as overall height) but you may need to look elsewhere if your frame doesn’t fit the dimensions of the pack.
I genuinely do like the Hero’s Journey and really enjoyed carrying it with me on a short camping trip. It served my needs for that trip perfectly and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any of you.
Would I carry it on an extended expedition through a jungle or desert? Probably not. (Although I do admit I am very sentimental for my own lucky pack for those types of trips). However I would not hesitate to use it for city hopping around Europe, an average backpacking trip island hopping around south east Asia or any other type of gap year adventure.
Overall this is a great bag, solidly built and extremely versatile, and depending on your needs on your own trip this pack could suit you perfectly and could be a perfect sidekick on your own Hero’s journey.
Ready to buy? You can get your very own Hero’s Journey here.
This review was possible with a product supplied by Tom Bihn. The views and opinions expressed are the authors own and are honest and factual without any bias. No incentives are ever accepted in return for positive coverage, and in the instances where assistance or products has been given by travel industry professionals and services, full editorial integrity is maintained and all reviews will remain honest and forthright.