The Tom Bihn Synik 30 backpack is a solidly built, ideally versatile carry on backpack that will serve backpackers on most types of gap year adventure for many years.
The Synik 30 backpack from Tom Bihn is an evolution from their previous designs that has taken advantage of years of tried and tested development and traveller feedback to become a standard bearer of excellence in the carry on backpack market.
I have put this pack through a lot in the short time I have had it and it really feels like a solid workhorse with a lot of features long term travellers will appreciate and a solid quality that will ensure it will last through a lot of travel adventures.
Whilst it is not a pack designed specifically for world travel, and is equally at home in the business world as the everyday travel world, it is this versatility that gives the backpack a huge advantage over its rivals and makes it absolutely perfect for backpackers and world travellers of many persuasions as well.
Okay, it has a weird name, let’s just get that one out there and move on.
The Synik 30 is a full 30 Litre backpack. It has a main clamshell compartment and a separate sleeve, a dedicated padded laptop compartment that fits most laptops and tablets up to 14 inches, compression straps inside the main compartment and five external pockets.
This is a heavy duty, solid backpack with quality materials and a very high manufacturing standard which I would expect from Tom Bihn.
The exterior of the pack is made from ultralight 400d Halycon and 420d ripstop nylon and ballistic nylon material, which has a good balance of durability, robustness and lightness. The chunky YKK water repellent aquaguard zips feel tough and robust and the straps have a 13mm foam interior.
I really do not have anything negative to say about the quality of the Synik 30, I haven’t put it through my usual level of jungle trekking and throwing it around a mountain or two yet, but I have no doubt that this is a pack that can keep up with the most arduous adventures and last a very long time. The previous bag I used from Tom Bihn, the Hero’s Journey, is two years old and still as strong as the day I got it.
The Synik 30 has thin but fully padded panels at the back which make the pack very comfortable to carry even when fully loaded up and also provides extra padding for the laptop panel, so that’s a bonus. It isn’t the most padded I have seen on a backpack but frankly the 30 litre pack will generally not be heavy enough to require more than that.
The top two thirds of this padded back have stitched air panels with what they call their ‘Air Propel Moisture Destroyer’ technology. Since I tend to be in south east Asia or south or central America a lot, you know, generally really hot, humid and sweaty places, I always look for anything to help cool my back down and this did to a small degree. I have to say it was no better or worse than most backpacks with similar cooling functions, but the fact they have it at all is a big plus because frankly it should be expected in any modern pack now and packs that don’t get an automatic black mark.
The shoulder straps are the curved S shape variety which is infinitely superior and far more comfortable to many backpacks which have the straight straps, and they have a 13mm foam interior making them extremely comfortable to carry for extended periods of time, especially useful if you are hiking long distances or walking around a city looking for your hostel. Another feature of these straps that I think may get largely overlooked or underappreciated is that they don’t have an edge to them, the straps hav a curved, rounded edge which means far less digging in if you are carrying a heavy load for a long period. Nice touch there!
The Synik 30 comes with a webbing waist strap attached, but also has an optional padded hip belt that you can buy separately. To be honest I didn’t personally get much benefit from the hip belt at all. There is nothing specifically wrong with it exactly, I just don’t think it really adds all that much when it is attached. The only exception to this that I can see is if the pack is being used by someone who is particularly petite who may get a bit of extra comfort or support from it. The good news is that at 30 litres, the backpack isn’t of a sufficient size or weight that it will make much of a difference either way for most people, and the pack on its own is pretty comfortable without it.
The Synik 30 has a full clamshell opening which means that it opens up fully like a suitcase, and this has been an increasingly popular design feature of many backpacker backpacks in recent years as opposed to the traditional top loader. I have to say as a backpacker of 20 years experience I love this trend, it makes it so much easier to pack and find things when you are rummaging for something in the hostel.
The main compartment is a good, open space for a 30 litre pack, and honestly this is really one of the major points many smaller carry on backpacks fall down on. The Synik 30 is deep enough to carry what you need (I managed to fit two stuff sacks and two packing cubes in) but not so deep that it becomes cumbersome on your back. The main compartment itself is lined with quality material and it has decent compression straps for folded clothes, personally I think it is the perfect space for using a few stuff sacks and packing cubes which is my preferred way of organising my kit.
Another great feature of the Synik 30 backpack that I really love are the O rings inside the main compartment. Pouches are available to buy separately that can attach to them via snaphooks. They just seem like those simple little design features that make you think why have these not been on every pack ever made? These are a great way to help organise your gear inside your pack and have quick easy access to various things dependent on your needs.
The laptop compartment is located at the back of the pack so will be between your back and your packed clothes, and the best part is that it has two access points, one from the top of the main pack and one at the side. This is a small detail but a really useful one.
I was impressed at how secure my laptop felt in the pack. At 14 inches it fit like a glove with its foam sleeve, and unusually for this type of backpack the Synik 30 has an internal yet removable frame which ensures that when a laptop is being carried in its compartment it is suspended away from the bottom of the bag and creates a second barrier between it and the back of the pack.
The one problem with the laptop compartment is that it is internal to the main compartment itself and not a section in its own right. This means that when the pack is really stuffed full – which it will be if you are travelling with just this pack on its own – you struggle to squeeze a laptop into the remaining space and I wouldn’t feel happy with so much potential pressure on my laptop. This shouldn’t be a problem in most cases as with a second personal bag you shouldn’t need to cram it so full, but it is something to keep in mind.
Is the Synik 30 Backpack good for travelling carry on only?
Travelling carry on only is a fine art that travellers take years to hone and get right, and requires not only an impressive set of minimal packing skills and a ruthless attitude to your own belongings, but also – most importantly – the right pack. But is the Synik 30 the right pack to fill that perfect Goldilocks space in the travel backpack market?
Well yes and no.
Personally for carry on only travel with a single backpack (and a secondary grab bag that can fit inside) I would usually recommend a 40 or 45 litre sized backpack. This can carry everything you need, still give you a little room left over and still fits into overhead bins easily. A lot more easily than the hard wheeled cases most flyers have.
But the Synik 30 is not 45 litres. It is 30. Size wise it conforms to most airlines carry on standards and fits easily in the overhead compartment and even under the seat quite well when not overstuffed, so in that sense yes it is a perfect carry on size, but that isn’t the issue.
On it’s own the Synik 30 is just a little too small to be comfortable carrying on a long term adventure by itself, especially if you need to travel with tech like a laptop and a camera, so it wouldn’t be suitable for taking a long trip without a supplementary pack.
It would be perfect on its own for a short break with just a few changes of clothes and some toiletries, but you would have to really stuff it full if you wanted to take just this pack on a backpacking adventure or a gap year, and that makes carrying a laptop or a good camera plus the associated chargers a little difficult. It isn’t impossible, but you would have to be one of those Olympic standard minimalist travellers to make it work comfortably, and let’s face it those people are often crazy. Yes you can travel with one pair of underwear and a toothbrush, but why would you?
But when you couple it with another bag, whether that is a larger backpack and you use the Synik 30 as your smaller carry on for those backpackers who don’t want to travel carry on only and don’t mind checking one bag, or – my personal favourite way of travelling – alongside a smaller personal size backpack or bag for travelling carry on only with both packs, then it becomes absolutely perfect.
I have personally been using the Synik 30 for my main gear and my laptop, and then a smaller personal pack for my camera and other absolute essentials (passport, one change of clothes, etc) for that perfect carry on travel experience. The Synik 22 Litre (the smaller brother of this pack) would be ideal.
Overall this is a perfect backpack for world travellers who need a good quality carry on pack. It is good quality, solidly built and will last a long time through any gap year adventure.
Ready to buy? You can get your own Synik 30 here.
This is a paid article written in partnership with Tom Bihn with products or services supplied by them. Full editorial integrity is maintained at all times. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.