Bottom line: The Paradigm is roomy enough to hold up to an 11-inch iPad Pro and your other small essentials. The 3D front pocket also has its own volume that's separate from the main compartment, and it features three useful organizational sections.
Spacious 9.4-liter size
Padded device compartment fits up to 11-inch iPad Pro
3D front pocket has separate capacity and organization
Comfortable shoulder straps and convenient grab handle
Drain grommet at bottom center of front pocket
Cannot fit 11-inch iPad Pro with keyboard attachment or case in device pocket
Only holds up to a 9-inch tall water bottle in front pocket
No additional pockets in main compartment
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Tom Bihn is a bag brand that has a cult-like following, and for good reason. While these bags may not suit everyone's aesthetic tastes, they are some of the toughest and most durable bags you may come across, lasting years at a time, and they take organization seriously. Everything from Tom Bihn is handmade and sewn in Seattle, Washington, which also means products may sell out until they get more fabric stock again.
It also seems that Tom Bihn has been on a roll lately with new bag designs in 2021, starting with the Techonaut, which I reviewed a few days ago. While I normally use a Small or Medium Cafe Bag (also from Tom Bihn) as my everyday carry, sometimes I like to switch it up and use a small backpack instead.
Many people have been asking Tom Bihn to create a small backpack Purse-Like Object (PLO), and the Paradigm is one of two brand new designs that fit that bill. If you're looking for a small backpack that can carry your best iPhone, up to an 11-inch iPad Pro, a water bottle, and other small essentials, then the Paradigm is an excellent choice to consider.
Tom Bihn Paradigm: Price and availability
The Paradigm will be launching sometime in early November. The first round of pre-orders for the Paradigm have already closed, but there will be at least two more restocks for the Paradigm this year. Whether or not the Paradigm will continue to be available after that depends on how popular it is — if it does well, then expect it to stick around for a while.
Like a lot of other bags from Tom Bihn, the Paradigm comes in a variety of different colors and fabric choices, from brights to neutrals, and in 525d High Tenacity Ballistic to 400d Halcyon to 1000 denier Cordura materials. I chose the Alphaviolet 525 Ballistic exterior with Northwest Sky 200 Halcyon interior for my Paradigm, but this is one of many different colors. Regardless of the color and fabric you go with, the Paradigm will cost $140 and is only available directly from Tom Bihn.
Tom Bihn Paradigm: Small but spacious, and then some
While I am mostly a crossbody bag kind of girl, there are some situations where I prefer to carry a small backpack instead of a shoulder or crossbody bag. Those times are usually when I'm at places like Disneyland, where it can be tiring carrying weight on one shoulder. But I don't always need a full-size backpack either — that's where small backpacks like the Paradigm come in.
As I mentioned, my Paradigm is made with the 525d High Tenacity Ballistic Nylon fabric. This means that while it's soft and supple, it's still tough enough to handle pretty much anything, whether it's at work, the mountains, or just at home or a hotel. The nylon material won't collect pet hair or be abrasive against clothing. A lot of my Tom Bihn bags have been in the 525 Ballistic Nylon fabric so far, and I've been quite satisfied.
However, those who prefer a more lightweight material that won't collect pet hair should choose 400d Halcyon. If you don't mind a more durable, canvas-like, and natural-feeling fabric that feels a bit rougher, then 1000 denier Cordura is the way to go — just don't mind if it collects pet hair or lint because it will happen. Regardless of the material you choose for the Paradigm, the back panel only comes in the 525d Ballistic Nylon fabric in black. The result of using the nylon material for the back panel is to create a smooth but stiff frame that helps the backpack retain its shape and stand on its own.
The layout of the Paradigm is very simple, as it consists of just two zippered compartments: the main compartment and the 3D front pocket.
Inside the main compartment, you'll find a padded device pocket, which will hold up to an 11-inch iPad Pro, as long as you don't use a keyboard case or attachment like the Magic Keyboard or Logitech Folio Touch (more on that in a bit). As long as you just use a slim case or cover on your iPad, then it should fit in the device pocket without an issue. I'm not 100% sure if an 11-inch MacBook Air would fit in this device pocket, though, since I do not have that size.
The front 3D pocket is my favorite part about the backpack because it has its own volume of 2.7 liters, separate from the main compartment. Once you unzip and open it up, you'll find three separated compartments. The center one starts out wide but tapers inward as you go down — it's designed to fit a water bottle up to nine inches tall or even a compact travel umbrella. If you use it for the latter, the drain grommet at the bottom is perfect, as you won't end up with a pool of water at the bottom. It's also handy if your bottle tends to sweat. Remember, Tom Bihn designs its backpacks to have water bottles fit in the center for a more balanced load. The two sections adjacent to the bottle pocket also have small fabric dividers that act as pockets for minimalistic wallets and your iPhone.
There are a total of four O-rings in the Paradigm: two are in the main compartment where the device pocket is, and the other two are in the front 3D pocket flap, in the sections neighboring the bottle section. The O-rings are great for attaching key straps and other organizational pouches, which are sold separately. The benefit of using key straps to attach your things is that it makes it harder for those smaller items to fall out of the bag or get left behind. Ever since I started to purchase some of the organizational pouches from Tom Bihn, like the Handy Little Thing for my diabetic supplies, I've grown to appreciate having the O-rings in my bags to make it easier to attach and customize.
I admit that I'm used to the edgeless shoulder straps that you'll commonly find on the full-size Tom Bihn backpacks. However, the Paradigm uses Contour Backpack Straps, which are thinner with minimal foam padding. This is an upgrade over basic webbing straps, and the foam adds to the comfort factor while remaining light and proportional for the smaller size of the Paradigm.
I did take the Paradigm with me on a recent Disneyland trip, and I found the size to be perfect for what I needed. Since the main compartment doesn't have any organizational pockets itself, I used a Tom Bihn Side Kick pouch to organize all of my essentials: battery packs, cables, lip balm, mirror, extra masks, hand sanitizer, and other small items. I was also able to fit my Handy Little Thing (Size 1) on top of the Side Kick in the Paradigm. I didn't bring my iPad Pro with me since I didn't need it, but it would fit perfectly in there if I used a slim case like the Smart Cover or something similar. I also fit a 16-ounce water bottle in the front pocket, along with my wallet and keys without an issue.
The Contour Backpack Straps felt comfortable after a full day, and it was nice to alleviate my right shoulder from the usual weight of a crossbody bag. The size was perfect and didn't get in the way while I waited in lines.
If you are someone who prefers to use a small backpack for everyday carry with an iPad, then the Paradigm fits the bill nicely.
Tom Bihn Paradigm: If only it were ever so slightly bigger
One of my biggest issues with the Paradigm is the fact that I can't fit my 11-inch iPad Pro in the device pocket if I'm using a keyboard case. I tried with the Magic Keyboard and the Logitech Folio Touch — both of these were incredibly hard to get into the compartment, and then it became almost impossible to remove without a lot of force. So it seems that while you can fit up to an 11-inch iPad Pro, it's only if you are using a slim case or cover only and not a keyboard attachment.
I also wish that the Paradigm was slightly bigger enough to fit a 13-inch MacBook Air or similarly sized device. Technically, you could fit up to a 13-inch tablet or laptop in the main compartment, but then you'll miss out on the padding, which defeats the purpose. I've tried to fit my 13-inch MacBook Air — I couldn't even get one end into the sleeve.
The other thing I wish that the Paradigm had is a zippered stash pocket on the inside of the main compartment or some organizational pockets. But if that matters to you, you're going to need to bring your own organizational methods because the main compartment is just a big empty space. And because of the size of the Paradigm as a whole, the 3D front pocket can only hold up to a 9-inch water bottle — if yours is taller than that, it either won't fit or will stick out.
Lastly, as much as I love the Paradigm, it's a little pricey at $140. However, like other Tom Bihn products, I expect it to last for years to come because it's so durable, so you get what you pay for.
Tom Bihn Paradigm: Competition
Since the Paradigm is a small backpack, I was instantly reminded of the Loungefly mini backpacks that are quite popular at Disney theme parks. These come in a huge assortment of designs and patterns, usually of licensed franchises and properties, and you can find them at stores like Hot Topic and Disneyland/Walt Disney World, and more. There are even some designs that you'll find exclusively at certain locations. But these backpacks are even smaller than the Paradigm and just have a main compartment and a front compartment, with no real organization whatsoever. They do cost less than the Paradigm, though, with a starting point of about $40, but do go up depending on print.
I would also consider the Paradigm to be similar to the Waterfield Designs Mezzo Laptop Backpack, which is mid-sized. If you think the Paradigm is too small for your needs since you have to carry a laptop, the Mezzo may be a good fit. It can carry up to a 16-inch MacBook Pro, and it's made with ballistic nylon or waxed canvas with leather accents. You get two water bottle or umbrella pockets on the sides, and there is plenty of organization inside. However, the Mezzo is considerably more expensive at $299.
Tom Bihn Paradigm: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You want a small EDC backpack with some organization
- You have up to an 11-inch iPad Pro
- You like having tough and durable bags
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You want to carry an 11-inch iPad Pro with keyboard attachment or laptop
- You need even more organization in your backpacks
- You are on a budget
The Paradigm is a great small backpack for EDC purposes, especially if you plan on toting around an iPad up to 11-inches. The 9.4-liter size is spacious enough for all of the essentials, and the 3D front pocket (with separate capacity from the main compartment) is cleverly designed for organization, especially when it comes to a water bottle or umbrella. While the Contour Backpack Straps look thin, they're quite comfortable even after a full day at Disneyland. The Ballistic Nylon back panel is also smooth, and while it's not as breathable as mesh, it's not too bad considering the size.
I had hoped that the Paradigm had a zippered or open-top pocket in the main compartment, though, along with some pen holders. It would help with organization since it's just a big space to fill. But if you have your own organizational pouches and accessories, then this won't be an issue. I also wish that the overall size for the Paradigm was slightly bigger, enough so that you could fit a 12.9-inch iPad Pro or 13-inch MacBook Air. This could have also helped alleviate the problem with using a keyboard attachment on an 11-inch iPad Pro because, at the moment, the iPad Pro won't fit if you're using a Magic Keyboard or other keyboard case.
And there's no denying it — the Paradigm is a bit on the pricier side for a small backpack. However, keep in mind that Tom Bihn bags will last you at least several years, so again, you get what you pay for.
Bottom line: The Paradigm is a small backpack that still has enough space for your 11-inch iPad Pro and other essentials.
Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.
When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.
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