By Casey Liss
The Tom Bihn Cadet

I made a joke a while back, but as with all jokes, it’s funny because it’s true:

Unsurprisingly, I just bought a new laptop bag: the Tom Bihn Cadet.


I’ve been through several bags over the years. My most recent daily use bag was the InCase Nylon Sling Sleeve. Though I’d classify it as a bag, it’s so slim that InCase called and treated it as a sleeve.

I loved that bag, because it was extremely light, and didn’t carry much. I consider that an advantage, as it forced me to travel light.

Regardless, after two or three years, it was starting to fall apart, and it was time to upgrade to something built better and a little larger.

Casey, Meet Tom

I can’t remember how I stumbled on Tom Bihn bags, but my first was a year or two ago, when I got a Co-Pilot. I love my Co-Pilot, and it’s my go-to murse satchel bag when traveling with only my iPad Mini. I recently took it on a trip to Florida for a week, and it was perfect. Plenty of space for my iPad, Go Pack, and other miscellany.

Speaking of my Go Pack, that pack is itself a Tom Bihn Organizer Pouch.

Last year, for Christmas, Erin gave me a Parental Unit. It has become our go-to diaper bag. Though a touch small for my taste, it’s built exceptionally well, and we really love it. You can read more about it in our baby stuff review.

Enlisting the Cadet

Much like my videos, I prefer my bags in landscape. Thus, I love messenger bags. Messenger bags aren’t for everyone, but outside of WWDC, I never typically carry a bag more than a few minutes at a time. That, and I try to travel as light as possible, so back pain is never an issue. (For WWDC, I rock a super-lightweight Targus backpack.)

When my InCase Sleeve finally gave up the ghost, I knew I was going to get a Tom Bihn bag. I knew I wanted a messenger bag, despite having heard great things about the Ristretto through the grapevine. I considered a Pilot to match my Co-Pilot, but it won’t hold a 15" laptop. After looking at a few other options, I felt like the Cadet would fit my needs the best.


The Cadet has a number of zippered pockets on the exerior; I’ll refer to them as:

  • Front mini-pocket
  • Front pocket
  • Main pocket
  • Back pocket

The mini-pocket is, well, mini. It’s not too much bigger than a few USB keys. The front pocket is for cables, a power supply, and other miscellaneous items. The main pocket is for the laptop, and the back pocket is for papers or magazines.

A nice touch, shared with my Co-Pilot, is that the back pocket has a zipper on the very bottom of it. This seems a curious choice, at first, but it allows the bag to be looped over the extended handle of a rollerboard suitcase.

Cadet with luggage


If the Cadet has an Achilles’ Heel, it’s the Cache. The premise is solid, but the execution is dubious.

The Cadet doesn’t have a padded, laptop-specific section, like most laptop bags do. Instead, it has a very clever system to make it checkpoint-friendly. At the top of the main pocket of the Cadet are two Gatekeeper Rail clips, which are clips on either side of ~1" straps. This seems… peculiar… at first.

Included with the Cadet is your choice of Cache; the Cache is a foam laptop (or iPad) sleeve that has two “rails” of nylon webbing on the back of it. By connecting these rails to the 1" straps with a second set of Gatekeepers, you end up with a sleeve that is secured to the inside of the Cadet, but can be pulled completely out of it. Thanks to the Cache being able to pull completely out of the Cadet, the Cadet is considered checkpoint-friendly.

My issue isn’t with the rails. It’s an ingenious system to allow for the cache to quickly and easily be slid in and out of the Cadet. The problem I have is with the Cache.

Main Pocket

My brand-new 15" MacBook Pro is a very tight fit in the Cache. At first, that struck me as an advantage, since the fit will keep the laptop from jostling. However, it’s tight enough that it’s somewhat difficult to get the laptop out of the Cache. This is compounded by having no leverage when lifting the computer, since, by design, the Cache wants to slide out of the Cadet.

A minor issue, in the grand scheme of things, but a regular annoyance nevertheless. I’d much prefer it if the cache had another mount point for a Double Gatekeeper at the bottom. Most of the time, I’d keep the Cache mounted to the bottom of the Cadet. When traveling, I’d allow the rails to do their job.

Cache Rails


I try to travel as lightly as possible, but I also like to be prepared. Thus, I do keep a number of things in my bag.


In the main area of the Cadet, and shown at the top, are my iPad Mini, my MacBook Pro, and the Cache.

Below that, stored in the front pouch, is my Magic Mouse, a small bottle of hand moisturizer, extra batteries for my mouse, my MagSafe 2 Power Adadpter. Additionally, I keep a Tom Bihn Organizer Pouch (not included with the Cadet) holding a HDMI cable, iPhone charger, and Mini-USB charger. Finally, a spare pen, nail file, and my bluetooth headphones.

Finally, in the grey box, are the items that go in the front mini-pocket: some USB keys and breath strips.

Front Pocket

In general, I love how much the bag stores, and the pockets that have been provided. It’s also super-useful to have rings at the top of the front pocket that allow me to clip a Key Strap or the organizer pouch to. I have my ID attached to the key strap, but that isn’t pictured.

Though Tom Bihn sells a specialized pouch for the Magic Mouse, one of the pockets within the front pocket is perfect for it.

The pen, batteries, and file go in the pen holders. The lotion goes into one of the larger pockets. My headphones and the power supply hang out in the bottom of the front pocket.

The main pocket is plenty big, and opens wide. The back pocket is large enough to hold a standard 8½" x 11" sheet of paper without it peeking out over the top of the pocket.

Mini Pocket

I have mixed feelings about the front mini-pocket. On the one side, it’s really shallow, and I don’t see any obvious reason why it couldn’t be deeper. On the other side, I can see a reason why it shouldn’t be deeper: I suspect items may get lost in there. All told, I think I’d like just a smidge more depth.

The front mini-pocket does do a great job for holding USB keys and my beloved breath strips just the way it is.

Having used the Cadet for a couple weeks now, I’ve definitely fallen in love with it. I don’t suspect that I’ll be seeking a new laptop bag anytime soon; in fact, I doubt I’ll even have a wandering eye.

It was a lot of money. Tom Bihn bags do not come cheap. However, you do get what you pay for, and the bags are very well constructed. Furthermore, a lot of thought goes into the way the bags are laid out. Everything in its right place, I never find myself hunting for anything.

In both my old InCase bag, and my Targus backpack, the pockets ended up being wastelands where my belongings went to get lost. Every time I reached in, I half expected to find missing socks in there. In the Tom Bihn, I always know exactly where to reach.

Aside from price, there is one other penalty for this sturdy construction and thoughtful layout: weight. My InCase bag was effectively negligible. The Cadet weighs just over 2 pounds, but that is still very light.

If you do what I did, and spring for the Absolute Shoulder Strap, you’ll be thankful. The portion of the strap that is on your shoulder is made with neoprene. That seems to be another odd choice, but ends up being a brilliant idea, as it’s quite a bit cushier than you’d expect. Additionally, it’s anti-slip, which instills more confidence.

The Tom Bihn Cadet is spendy, but so very worth it.

Modellin' Man