Saturday, October 31, 2015

Tom Bihn Parental Unit Review

This is a review of the new Tom Bihn bag.


Its a diaper bag.


So, welcome to the blog all you Yoga Moms, Minivan Chauffeurs, and Working Mom Superheroes, here we usually talk about knives, flashlights, and other gear.  You may have passed through for a review of a water bottle.  Feel free to look around and comment.  And who knows, you might stay, fall in love with EDC gear and put a Microtech UTX on your Want List.  Or not.  Either way, welcome those of you that found this review via Google.  We are a friendly bunch, a bit odd, but friendly nonetheless. 

Its ironic that I have been slow to get this review out, in large part because of the increase in household work due to having a second child.  Bihn sent me the Parental Unit just before Thing 2 was born and now, holy shit, he is almost 8 months old.  Reviewing bags is a much more time consuming thing than reviewing the other gear I review here (especially pens...I write enough to review two pens a week).  But still, 8 months is a long time.  Think of this as my most thorough review ever.

Also, there was another person using and evaluating this bag--my wife.  She is, well, 100% more practical than I am--she is, after all, a working Mom of two.  Here is her take:

First, she loved the accordion pockets on either side of the bag.  She also liked the Bihn-style attachment points (which, frankly, everyone does).  She thought the strap was very well made and was quite comfortable.  The material was something she also liked.  She did not like the fact that the bag's bottom was smaller than its top because this caused the bag to fall over in use.  She was also not thrilled with the fact that the bag lacked a changing pad or a space for a changing pad.  She did note that while we never carried bottles in the bag (we did the au naturale feeding method), the side pockets would have been ideal.  Finally, I explained to her the notion that the bag could serve two purposes--one as a diaper bag and one as a messenger-style bag post baby.  She thought this was a dumb idea because, as she correctly pointed out, by the time you are done with one or two or more babies your sick of that bag and its probably not the cleanest thing in the world.

I am not sure I agree with all of her sentiments, but there were some very salient points in there.

Here is the product page.  As with all Bihn products, they are sold exclusively through the Bihn website.  Here is a review of the Parental Unit.  Here is the review sample (which I will be sending back to Bihn): 


Twitter Review Summary: Capable during and after doodoo duty

Design: 1

Why the hell would I review a diaper bag?  Well, number one, I needed one and as you can imagine I went down a research rabbit hole.  Number two, Tom Bihn asked me to take a look.  And number three, this is a diaper bag with a trick.  Bihn designed the Parental Unit to be a great diaper bag AND to be a very good messenger bag after you no longer need it to do doodoo duty.  Thing of this as a way to get that Bihn bag you always wanted, but have it paid for by family members on a baby shower registry. 

Its certainly a step up from the dreadful, ugly, cheap garbage that is sold at Babies R Us and the like.  Unlike the horde of shit from those stores, the Parental Unit doesn't look like a diaper bag.  Also unlike those bags, this one is very well planned.  Making a diaper bag from the perspective of making bags in general is very helpful.  You know the importance of straps and zippers and the like.  While, if you just make diaper bags, you have no knowledge of these things and instead, seemingly, are making something to look cute on a stroller.  Obviously, one of these approaches produces better products.

The major drawback is something the Mrs. nailed--the fact that the bag is wider at the top than the bottom.  Often the bag would not stand up on its own, making it hard to retrieve contents when on the go or you know.   Straightening out the lines to make it a rectangle or even better, reversing its trapezoidal shape would make the bag better, though probably not as good looking.  

Fit and finish: 2

Tom Bihn's stuff has always been impressive when it comes to fit and finish and the Parental Unit is no different.  Compared to messenger bags, like the one in the picture below, it is nicer with better stitching and a more substantial feel.  Compared to normal diaper bags, the difference is dramatic.  The Babies R Us diaper bag is wretched, with material that feels like its thinner than a dinner napkin.  These flimsy bags lose shape over time and become hard to use, everything seems to flop around and get in your way at the least opportune times and when diaper bags, there are some VERY inopportune times.  

Carry: 2

I found the bag carried well for what it was.  Thanks to the more rigid form, it was less likely to snag on stuff getting in and out of a car or being moved through various storage compartments on godawful contraptions like strollers. 


That said, the tear drop shape was a bit awkward to re-position on the body.  I'd much prefer something like the Cadet's (review and update) shape.  

Materials: 2

Bihn's choice of materials, from the lining to the straps to the padding to the all important exterior fabric is, has been, and hopefully always will be top shelf.  Just looking at the three bags above you can see that the Parental Unit just looks better.  The reason is simple--it is better.  And it all starts with the choice of materials. 

Accessibility: 2

The Parental Unit's special design purpose requires tremendous accessibility, something that allows instant, sightless access to things and here it succeeds in spades.  The two side accordion pockets are awesome and the main pocket is very nice.  The shape allows for good access even when the bag is being carried. 

Ease of Packing: 1

Huge, open pockets, lots of room and plenty of organization make the Parental Unit capable of holding a lot.  The only issue was that the shape made the bag fall over quite a bit.  Its not a huge deal, but one that I think is worth a point.  


That said, once the Parental Unit transitions into being a messenger bag where you don't need to cram every cubic inch full of stuff, I think this problem will go away.  As a diaper bag, I want it to stand up on its own. 

Pockets/Organization: 2

When my wife comments on how well a bag is organized you know it is awesome.  This from the lady that once suggested we take a garbage bag on vacation to store things in (the pack rat in me died a little that day).  Her favorite bag is the giant shapeless, organization-free LL Bean tote.  She is not someone that needs pockets, but here she loved the Parental Unit.  


Not only are there well-designed pockets, but they seem to be right where they should be when you are frantically dealing a poopocalypse on a quick trip to Target.  Good lay out Mr. Bihn.

Snaps/buckles/zippers: 2

Only the best.  Don't even think about using something cheap or junk.  I love and have always enjoyed Bihn's doodads.  Always, always good. 


Straps and belts: 2

After running the Absolute Strap on my Cadet for years I was not used to this slipperier strap.  


The one thing that the slipperier strap allows for is the spin move, rotating the bag from behind you to in front of you.  This was helpful when using the bag as a diaper bag and I imagine it would be helpful when using the Parental Unit as a messenger bag.  Its different but its comfortable and allows for lots of access.  Very, very good.  

Modularity/expansion: 2

Bihn's system of attachment points, straps, and accessories is impressive.  Not only is it versatile, but is not as "tacticool" as the MOLLE straps that deck out many of the bags that appear on this site.


There are quite a few loop attachments for things like the key strap accessory and other smaller pouches.

Then there are some excellent triangle gated loops like this one:


As usual, all of the attachment points are good.  My wife has a Bihn purse that she carries and while attaching it does throw off the balance of the bag if it is sitting on your shoulder, it is an excellent way to make sure you don't forget things if the bag is wedged under a stroller or in a locker in a public space.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

There is no question that this is the best diaper bag I have seen.  It is also bag that will make the post-baby transition to a messenger bag pretty seamlessly.  I am not sure it will be better than a purpose-built messenger bag, but I am sure that it will be close enough that have the Parental Unit pull double duty.  This is another in a long line of Bihn bags that shows an attention to detail and thoughtful consideration of use uncommon in mainstream consumer products.  This thing decimates the Babies R Us junk.  And even as an enthusiast messenger bag it works well.  Oh and by the way these pictures were taken after months of use.  The Parental Unit, like all Bihn products wears incredibly well.

Thanks for reading Mom from the Mom Blogosphere.  Stay tuned, I have a review of the Microtech UTX 70 coming and there is nothing that says "prepared minivan mom" like a knife that you can open with one hand so you can handle those gummi snack emergency on the highway with aplomb. 


  1. needs more jimping 0/20

    Nah, this was great. You fit a nice amount of baby stuff in there. I see blanket, toy; can you fit in a spare outfit?

    We use a big shapeless day pack from LL Bean or something. I can tell by looking the Bihn is much better made.

    As the frequent diaper mule, I will say this, I like a conventional backpack for this duty, because it leaves both arms 100% unencumbered and lets you move fast if you need to, e.g., to stop Slightly Older Kids from eating that thing they picked up off the ground.

    PS: Visiting mom-blogger, you might try putting "Fenix E05" into the search function on this site. $20. I could line up testimonials.

  2. I should probably be embarrassed to even post this, but:

    A friend of mine who likes gear and loves Tom Bihn bags sent me a link to this bag after we had our second baby. After reading about it, my first reaction was, "How can it be a diaper bag it it doesn't have a changing pad?" So I'm with your wife on that one. Especially since far too many men's public restrooms don't have a changing table (it pisses me off to no end when I see that stupid koala on the door of the women's restroom and there is no changing table when I walk into the men's).

  3. I get that it doesn't have a changing pad. But they'd have to have had one that's removable without causing unnecessary bulk(TB could do it but they may not choose to do so); otherwise you'd have a tough time cleaning it. I'd rather it not have one, and allow me to use my own portable pad which, at least for me, seems like it'd fit in there no problem. I'd say you could even wrap many supplies in it and it wouldn't take up too much room. The changing pad might also have compromised the post-baby utility. A compromise might've been creating a Cache-like attachment and attachment points, and it be a cheap optional add-on like the Cache. Or have a changing pad that's designed to attach to the outside at two points that tuck it out of the way. How about it rolls up and attaches on the bottom and acts as a fall-over prevention? Much like how the Synapse 25 is better than the 19, I'd bet they'll make this one better on the next version.

  4. Patrick - I like your points about the changing pad

    But really I'm posting again just to point out how much I love the fact that this discussion is happening on this site among this group of people at all...

  5. I've been interested in this review for some time, and I'd go 19 of 20, because I find ease of packing a snap, but that probably has to do with exact load out. When it came time for my son to be born, I went looking for a manly diaper bag, and there were a few options but mostly khaki or olive drab, and I hate the MOLLE'd up tactical style. As always when buying bags, I took my time and went through every review I could find on many different bags (Diaperdude, Dadgear, etc). I also looked at re-purposing a Maxped shoulder bag or backpack, but see above.

    Only this one fit the bill, and I knew from my Synapse and CoPilot how great Tom Bihn is. I got the same color combo you have (only interior they had in stock with the navy exterior).

    I've emptied it of baby gear and carried it to work as a messenger bag a few times (my wife has her own designer Petunia Picklebottom diaper bag) and if you wear it with very short straps high up on the back, like a bike messenger would, rather than at your side, it is very comfortable and wraps around your torso.

    I just wish they had one of the pockets on the front side with built-in pen pockets, which would add to its ability to serve as an EDC messenger bag. It holds a 13" laptop just fine when the center divider is unsnapped.

  6. I stumbled across this blog because I was searching for a review of the Topo Designs backpacks, as I am looking to find a practical substitute to all the flowery diaper bags out there (thanks for saving me from that purchase). I am so glad that you actually have a review of a diaper bag, and I hope that you consider doing more reviews because HALP! There have to be other options outside of those baby stores, right?

  7. What is the strap in the photo? Is that the standard, Q-AM, or absolute strap?