Review: Tom Bihn’s Guide Edition Paragon backpack is simple but practical

The Tom Bihn Paragon merges simplicity with functionality for a timeless classic.

Even though I upgraded to an iMac just a few months ago and equipped it with the best mechanical keyboard, I still have a MacBook Air for the sole purpose of working outside the home when I need to. For those times when I need to work on-the-go, I prefer to take my mobile office with me in a great laptop backpack.

Tom Bihn is a recognizable brand with a popular cult following, and while I've only started using Tom Bihn bags a few years ago, it's become one of my favorite brands. I've previously checked out the Synik 22 and Shadow Guide V2 33, so when I had the opportunity to check out the new Guide's Edition Paragon backpack, I couldn't refuse.

The Paragon comes in the standard Design Lab version or the Guide's Edition for slightly more. For this review, I received a Guide's Edition Paragon in Wilderness 525 Ballistic/210d Coyote Ballistic.

Tom Bihn Guide's Edition Paragon review:

Price and availability

What I Like
What I Don't Like
The competition
Should you buy?
Tom Bihn Guide's Edition Paragon Backpack

Bottom line: The Paragon backpack comes in either the standard Design Lab or Guide's Edition. Paragon is a simple everyday backpack, but don't be deceived by its minimalism — it's incredibly comfy and functional. The Guide's Edition has extra gear holders on the exterior for all of the necessities.

The Good

Spacious 19.8 liter capacity
Simple and minimal everyday backpack
Built-in laptop compartment with padded back panel
Super comfortable edgeless shoulder straps
Weatherproof with protective rain flaps

The Bad

No organizational pockets (i.e., Synik)
Only one size for both Design Lab and Guide's Edition
Currently in production, not in-stock

$170 for Guide's Edition at Tom Bihn
$160 for Design Lab at Tom Bihn

Tom Bihn Guide's Edition Paragon Backpack: Price and availability

The Paragon backpack from Tom Bihn comes in two variations: Design Lab and Guide's Edition. The Design Lab is the standard version, and it costs $160, while Guide's Edition is more geared for the great outdoors and is $170.

However, both versions are still in production at the Tom Bihn factory in Seattle, Washington. They have done one round of pre-orders, with another round coming later. The current estimated ship date for pre-ordered Paragons is late March to early April 2021.

As with other Tom Bihn products, availability may be limited since everything is hand-sewn in Seattle. More may be made at a later point, and the best way to check is to sign up for email notifications on the product you want at the Tom Bihn website.

Tom Bihn Guide's Edition Paragon Backpack: A simple everyday backpack that you can make your own

The Paragon is designed to be a simple and minimal everyday backpack. In fact, the Paragon is actually a throwback to a design that Tom made back in the '70s, which was the Simplex (one main compartment) or Duplex (two main compartments). With both the Design Lab and Guide's Edition of the Paragon, you have exactly that — one main compartment for all of your stuff, with a smaller compartment in the front, as well as a small zippered storage area in the main compartment. It only comes in one size, 19.8 liters, though it's quite spacious and should fit all of your gear without a problem.

The Tom Bihn Paragon is a great everyday backpack that harkens back to one of Tom's original designs from the '70s. The Guide's Edition is especially great for outdoor enthusiasts.

Tom Bihn's Guide's Edition Paragon is made with bluesign® certified 525 denier Ballistic exterior fabric, and bluesign® certified 210 denier Ballistic lining fabric on the interior. The premium YKK coil zippers are tucked away under a protective rain flap, which means this backpack is fairly weatherproof.

On the outside, you get a timeless and classic aesthetic with the Paragon, thanks to the boxier, rectangular shape reminiscent of old hiking backpacks. Unlike the Synik 22 and its clamshell design, the Paragon is a half-zip backpack, so the two zippers for the main compartment will only reach the halfway point of the bag's height when fully opened. Depending on who you ask, this could be a good or bad thing (clamshell backpacks are easier to get through airport security), but it also means that it is less likely that stuff will fall out in case you don't fully zip it up. There are also four O-rings (two in the main compartment, one in the interior pocket, and one in the front pocket) that integrate nicely with other Tom Bihn accessories, such as wallets, mesh organizers, tech pouches, and more. Of course, these are optional, but it's nice to have them if you decide to go with more Tom Bihn accessories.

The external front compartment is also basic — there aren't even any organizational pockets to separate styli or pens from everything else. However, you do get a key strap snap-hook, allowing you to safely secure your keys (or other small objects on a carabiner or keychain). The other hidden zippered pocket in the main area is shallow enough for glasses, cables, and other similarly sized objects.

The Paragon's edgeless straps conform to your shoulder for ultimate comfort.

The back is padded, which means you won't feel your stuff while wearing the backpack. And even though the Guide's Edition is probably best suited for hiking and other outdoor adventures, there's still a laptop compartment inside the main chamber that is suspended a little above the bottom of the bag (but careful, since the bottom of the bag isn't padded). It's a pocket that is made from foam laminate (the same material used in Tom Bihn caches), and it can hold up to a 16-inch MacBook Pro. If you don't need to bring a laptop or tablet with you, this means additional back padding and comfort. I would have preferred if there was a kind of velcro strap to secure your laptop in the pocket safely, but it's able to snugly fit my MacBook Air inside my Waterfield Designs VERO Sleeve without issue, so I'll let it slide.

One of my favorite things from the Synik 22 were the edgeless straps, which made another appearance on the Shadow Guide and now the Paragon. Because of the edgeless straps, they're able to softly conform to your shoulder, making the Paragon super comfortable. However, while soft, they're also firm and robust enough to carry a heavy load when necessary. By default, the Guide's Edition Paragon also comes with a waist strap and sternum straps attached, but these are easily removable if you prefer.

The Guide's Edition Paragon differentiates itself from the Design Lab version with a coyote brown trim and lining. This gives it a full-on outdoorsy vibe that is better suited for blending in with natural surroundings, and dirt and dust don't show as much. There is also a diamond accessory strap holder at the top front, an ice-axe loop, and two diamond strap accessory holders on the bottom — these are suited for equipment like an ice-axe, tripod, folding hiking poles, folding chair, jackets, and other hiking gear. You also get a "Leave No Trace" tag on a Coyote Key Strap Snaphook in the external pocket. This tag has the 10 principles of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, an organization Tom Bihn supports through a commitment to 1% for the planet.

Tom Bihn Guide's Edition Paragon Backpack: It may be a little too simple for some

While I understand that the point of the Paragon is to be simple and minimal, I think having some organization in the front pocket would have been nice. At least something like two slots for storing a pen and a stylus would have been great.

While simplicity is the name of the game, the Paragon may be too simple for some people.

I even think that a strap to secure your laptop would have been a good addition, as well as a little padding on the bottom. If you think your bag may get jostled around, then I would recommend having it inside of a sleeve while in the Paragon, just for good measure.

Lastly, while I think the 19.8-liter capacity is fine for a backpack of this caliber, some people may need more. Most Tom Bihn bags have two sizes (Synapse 19 or 25, Synik 22 or 30, Shadow Guide 23 or 33, for example), so I was a little surprised that the Paragon is just one-size-fits-all. Of course, the Paragon is supposed to be simple, so offering two different sizes would defeat the purpose.

Tom Bihn Guide's Edition Paragon Backpack: Competition

If the Paragon's simplicity is too much, and you want something with more organization, then the Synik 22 is a good alternative. The Synik has a full clamshell design that makes it easy to get through airport security, and there is a side access zipper panel to pull your laptop out from the pocket. It's loaded with pockets so that you can organize all of your belongings on-the-go.

For those who prefer a top-loading backpack for day trips and hikes, then the Shadow Guide V2 may be more your speed. It comes in 23 or 33-liter capacities, and the main compartment is basically just a big ol' pit — there are no organizational pockets, but the top-loading design with drawstring pull makes it easy to load bulkier objects. And the fold-down top is spacious enough and gives quick access to things like jackets.

Tom Bihn Guide's Edition Paragon Backpack: Should you buy it?

You should buy this if ...

You want a simple, everyday backpack with a laptop compartment
You want easier ways to carry extra gear and accessories (Guide's Edition only)
You value comfort

You shouldn't buy this if...

You need organization built-in
You need greater capacity than 19.8 liters
You are on a budget

If you're in the market for a premium but simple backpack with a lot of flexibility and a fantastic lifetime guarantee, then the Paragon is definitely one to consider. Tom Bihn makes excellent quality bags, and the Paragon is no exception. The Guide's Edition also packs in some more ways to carry your outdoor gear and accessories, it's comfortable, and the colorways look fantastic. But if you prefer something more subtle and not so outdoorsy, then the Design Lab version is the way to go.

out of 5

The Paragon is overall aesthetically pleasing (especially the Guide's Edition) and gives you plenty of room for all of the everyday essentials, whether you're working or going on your next hiking adventure. It also has seamless integration with other Tom Bihn accessories you may already have or want to purchase. However, if you need organization built-in without relying on accessories, then other backpacks may be better.

Tom Bihn Guide's Edition Paragon Backpack

Bottom line: The Paragon is a simple backpack with a timeless and classic design. The Guide's Edition is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, or those who want a spacious, everyday carry.

$170 for Guide's Edition at Tom Bihn
$160 for Design Lab at Tom Bihn