Bottom line: Synik is an upgraded Synapse backpack, now with a full clamshell style design that makes it easier to pack like a suitcase. Your laptop is safe and secure in the suspended compartment with two points of access. The straps are comfortable, there are plenty of pockets for your stuff, and it the chunky, premium YKK zippers are heavy-duty.
Very spacious, even the 22L capacity
Super comfortable straps and high quality design
Clamshell design is easier to pack
Tie-down straps inside make it like a suitcase
Two point access suspended laptop compartment
Rolling luggage passthrough with grab handle
Zippers can be hard to pull with one hand
The 22L's laptop compartment can be a tight fit
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When it comes to bags and backpacks, it always seems to be subjective, but from what I've observed, there are usually some favored and preferred brands. Even though I have gone through several different laptop bags and backpacks over the years, I'm always still searching for "the one." I can pretty much work from anywhere, so I need a backpack that's able to keep up with me, not the other way around.
The last backpack that I used was the HEX Patrol Backpack, which I reviewed favorably and thought "hey, this is it, it's great!" But then I got lucky and was sent a Synik 22 from Tom Bihn.
I'll get straight down to it: while I've heard of the Tom Bihn brand from other big name tech bloggers, I never had any of their gear before. I knew that the Synapse backpack was a popular bag, but the price was a little high, which kept me away.
But now that I've been using the Synik 22, I must say, these backpacks are well worth the money. The Synik 22 is my new everyday carry backpack.
I was sent a Synik 22 for this review. However, Tom Bihn also sells the Synik 30, which is slightly larger capacity, for just $10 more.
Like the Synapse, but better
Tom Bihn Synik 22: Features
I never had the Synapse, but from what I've heard and seen, it's a popular choice among backpack enthusiasts. If you have a Synapse backpack, think of the Synik as an upgraded version of it.
Design wise, the Synik looks similar to the older Synapse, except the bottom front pocket is now more towards the bottom of the bag. The new clamshell design on the Synik also means that you can fully open the main compartment of the backpack, similar to a suitcase, or go panel-loader style — it's completely up to you how to pack it.
Inside the main compartment are two tie-down straps. If you're packing clothes for a trip, this lets you secure clothing or other items, such as their Packing Cubes, so they don't fall out when you fully unzip the main compartment clamshell style. For those who frequently go to airports, this is nice for security checkpoints.
Take your mobile office on the go It fits your laptop and so much more
The laptop compartment is inside the main compartment on the side closest to your back, and features a zipper to keep it in place. It features minimal padding, so you have less bulk, less weight, and it stays out of the way if you don't need to bring a laptop with you. This laptop compartment is made from a slightly stretchy material, but it provides a very snug fit. It will only stretch enough to get your laptop in there and protect it from scuffs and scratches. Tom Bihn also designed the compartment to be suspended off the bottom of the bag, so your laptop won't ever touch the ground, giving you more peace of mind.
The Synik 22 that I received can fit laptops up to the size of the 13-inch MacBook Pro (but not the older, non-Retina MacBook Air). Synik 30 can fit up to 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina Touchbar or Microsoft Surface Book 2 15-inch.
While you could take your laptop out from the compartment from the inside, I prefer using the second access point on the side. It's quicker, though you need to pull the laptop out at a slight angle due to the snug fit. The company designed it this way so you can get your laptop out no matter what scenario: if you're in an airplane with the Synik stowed under the seat in front of you, it's easier to get the laptop out from the main compartment. If you're in the office, it's easier and faster to pull it out from the side opening.
Make it work for you Pockets that respect other's space
Also inside the main compartment, across from the laptop compartment, are two o-rings that you can use for attachments on carabiners and the like. Underneath these metal rings is the interior banded open pocket, which has been carried over from the Synapse, and it's useful for storing any extra things you may want to keep separated from the rest.
The exterior of the Synik 22 features five pockets that are designed and patterned in a specific way so that they don't steal space from each other. There are two pockets on the sides, two in the center of the backpack, and one at the bottom.
The deeper center pocket is actually designed for holding water bottles, so the weight of the water is centered, and not on one side. Of course, you could also use it for other things if not a water bottle. The bottom pocket may not look like much, but it is actually pretty spacious and can fit battery packs, small accessories, or even a Nintendo Switch console. All of the pockets have o-rings in them, so you can take the included keyring attachment and hook it up to whichever pocket you prefer.
Comfort and form Unique designs and customization
When it comes to backpacks, the straps matter in terms of comfort. The Synik 22 uses edgeless straps that will conform comfortably to your shoulder, but the straps themselves aren't too soft either. They're a nice in-between, and honestly, they're so comfortable (for me) that I forget that they're there. There are also waist straps and that come attached, but you can remove them if you don't use them, and it doesn't leave any trace of hardware if removed.
Another big improvement in the Synik over the Synapse is the addition of the rolling luggage pass-through slot. Since there is an opening already on the bottom of the back panel due to the removable internal frame (more on that in just a bit), they decide to add a top opening on the panel so that the backpack can just slide over the handle of your rolling luggage. This is convenient and something that was missing from their previous backpacks. A grab handle at the top of the backpack is angled perfectly to make it easy to carry or lift from your rolling luggage handle.
Note that for Synik 22, the handle's dimensions must be 400mm / 15.75-inches in length and at most 160 mm / 6.25-inches wide. Synik 30 can handle 470 mm / 18.5-inches in length and at most 185 mm / 7.25-inches wide.
To keep the Synik in good form, Tom Bihn put an internal frame into the backpack, but what differentiates it from the Synapse is the fact that it is now removable. You won't notice the frame unless you're taking it out because you don't want to use it, and this is done by sliding the frame out from the top opening of the back panel. The purpose of the internal frame is to assist the suspension of the laptop inside, as well as ensuring a firm barrier between the laptop and rolling luggage handle inserted through the pass-through slot.
The Synik is a big improvement over the original Synapse thanks to many new features and design changes. Even if you've never had the Synapse, the Synik is a backpack made to impress.
It's my new everyday carry
Tom Bihn Synik 22: What I Like
I've used many backpacks in my life, from my schooling days to work and travel. However, the Synik 22 is my new favorite, as it can carry my 2018 MacBook Air Retina and so much more, without ever feeling like a burden.
It does take some time to get used to getting your laptop in and out of the compartment, but I love how snugly it fits inside and pretty much disappears into the backpack. And the two points of access mean it's easy to get your laptop out when you need it, no matter what situation you're currently in.
Another thing I love about the Synik are the exterior pockets. There are a total of five, so that means a lot of space for your stuff that isn't going in the main compartment. The way that each pocket is designed to hold stuff without intruding on the space of another pocket is amazing, and helps the pack retain its shape even if you have it fully packed. I especially enjoy the central water bottle pocket since it means the water weight is evenly distributed on your back.
The edgeless straps are also some of the most comfortable straps I've found on a backpack. When I first put the Synik on my back after receiving it and putting my daily carry items in it, I was truly impressed. It didn't feel like I had a backpack on me, which is something I don't usually say about backpacks, since I don't get the same feeling from others.
Speaking of straps, I appreciate the options that the company gives you when it comes to the Synik. There are waist straps for it, but if they're not your thing (I don't need them right now), then they're easy to remove and leave no traces of hardware behind. The interior tie-down straps are also removable, though I like to keep them in there for securing my 12-inch iPad Pro in the main compartment should I choose to bring it with me sometimes (I use my 2018 Retina MacBook Air more).
Finally, even though I didn't have the Synapse, I am grateful for the new clamshell opening and rolling luggage handle pass-through. I went on a trip to Vegas recently with my Speck Travel Carry-On luggage, and the Synik 22 glided easily over my luggage handle, so I was able to roll around my Speck suitcase and Synik without issue. The clamshell design makes it possible to use the Synik as a one bag suitcase if you are taking it on a hiking trip or the like. The clamshell full-access style is also great for just making it easier to get your necessities in and out.
I was sent a solid black backpack with cloud (gray) lining on the inside, but there are several different color combinations that you can order from Tom Bihn. As of right now, only a limited selection of colors are available to order online — the rest are currently "in production," so they may take a bit longer before you can order them.
The chunky YKK zippers can be hard to pull
Tom Bihn Synik 22: What I Don't Like
My biggest qualm with the Synik right now is just the fact that those chunky, premium YKK zippers can be a bit hard to pull with just one hand sometimes. I usually end up needing to use both hands to get the main compartment open fully, and sometimes they require a bit more force. But I can't deny that these are some heavy-duty zippers and pulls, because they are.
And if you were looking for a backpack that is fashionable, well, you won't exactly get that with the Synik. It will always look like a business backpack, no matter how you try to spin it. For me this is not an issue, but for some, it may be a bit off-putting. However, the functionality and features of Synik far outweigh that, in my opinion.
A well-balanced backpack
Tom Bihn Synik 22: The Bottom Line
As my first Tom Bihn bag, I'm thoroughly impressed with what the Synik has to offer. It's one of the most comfortable backpacks I've ever used, and even the smaller 22L size can still hold quite a lot! There was a lot of thought that went in to the clamshell design and exterior pockets, and this backpack can double as your luggage if needed on a trip with those main compartment tie-down straps. I just wish that those chunky zippers could be a little easier to pull at times, but at least I know my stuff won't be falling out unknowingly.
Overall, if you had a Tom Bihn Synapse, the Synik is a worthy successor and upgrade. And if you've never had a Tom Bihn bag (like me), then the Synik is a great starting point.
Your new EDC
Built to last a lifetime
Tom Bihn Synik 22 is the smaller size, but it still holds plenty with the new clamshell style, five thoughtfully designed exterior pockets, and a snug laptop compartment with two access points. It's also super comfortable with the edgeless straps, removable extraneous straps and tie-downs, and has a rolling luggage handle passthrough.
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.