Product Review: Smart Alec

Blogger: John Gresko, Senior Project Architect | Chicago, IL, USA
February 07, 2012

I spent quite a bit of time researching backpacks when I started commuting to the city by train. I didn’t want a backpack that had tons of zippers, pockets and gadgets – something too outdoorsy. I wanted a backpack that was stylish, secure, and made in the USA. Thankfully, I found the Smart Alec backpack by Tom Bihn. It’s been through five months of use and abuse now and I am ready to review it.

The distinguishing feature of the Smart Alec is its minimalistic design. The body of the backpack is devoid of countless zippers and slots seen on most commuting backpacks. It was cleverly designed by someone with an appreciation for design and art. The backpack has a sculptural body which tapers in two directions to be slimmer and narrower at the top – while not sacrificing any functional space.  The backpack can hold a 17” laptop inconspicuously. The materials are top quality. The zippers are covered with a gasket that makes them splash-proof which also adds aesthetic value – not permitting the zippers to be visible. The shell and interior lining are made from high quality nylons, which show no signs of wear and tear thus far.

The Smart Alec has one large central compartment in which I store my lunch box, extra clothing, folders, and my laptop. The single compartment works best for commuting because what I carry changes each day and a single large compartment is the most flexible. The central compartment is closed by a zipper along the top which allows for easy access on a train or plane when kept on the floor in front of you. I like a single entry into the compartment so I don’t have to worry about anything falling out as I run to catch a train. On each side of the backpack there is a long zipped compartment. One has small slots for pens, a wallet, notebooks, etc., as well as and leash to put my keys on. The other side compartment holds my umbrella and water bottle (it’s sized to accommodate 1.5 liters). This compartment even has its own drain hole just in case of a leak. Most backpacks have external netted water bottle holders, which looks tacky in a business application. Plus the nets stretch and water bottles fall out… especially while running to catch a late train.

The made in America criteria was the hardest part about finding a backpack. I have found that among the many dozens of commuting and daily use backpack brands only two manufacturers make their complete line of backpacks in the USA: Tom Bihn (made in Seattle) and Red Oxx (from Billings, MT).  I was tempted many times to purchase backpacks that were a lot less expensive and made in China… however Tom Bihn is known for their quality, and I don’t have a problem spending money for quality. The backpack even has a lifetime warranty. An added plus is Tom Bihn’s sense of humor: the care tag in the backpack says in Chinese language, “Made in USA.”

I am happy with my purchase and will be a repeat customer for Tom Bihn products. The Smart Alec is stylish, secure, and is very functional for daily commuting. I highly recommend this backpack. The bag has lived up to its name.

Images courtesy of John Gresko

Reader Comments (3)

Pretty cool backpack!

It is always great to find quality products that are made right here at home!  Rickshaw and Timbuk2 also offer American made bags and products (from San Francisco), AND, they offer a 10% discount to anyone who rides their bike!  Depending where you live, there might be a local organization that connects consumers with local manufacturers...for me, its the non-profit SFmade (

I actually spoke with Timbuk2 on the phone and almost purchased one of their bags.  Only their custom line is made in SF.  All the other ones are made over seas.  I am not familiar with Rickshaw, they seem to be new.

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