Review: Ristretto Netbook/iPad Case from Tom Bihn

Posted by Zealot on Jul 07, 2010

closeThis post was published 4 years 4 months 23 days ago which may make its actuality or expire date not be valid anymore. This site is not responsible for any misunderstanding.

Rist6 I was born in an age when men lived by rules…lots and lots of rules. These rules seemed to cover every aspect of daily life, every nuance of accepted male behavior. The rules tended to focus heavily on behavior (not surprising), clothing (sensible)…and strangely enough, luggage. In fact the rules about what a man was allowed to use as luggage seemed even more clear cut than the others.

One day while he was preparing for a business trip, an associate of my father’s taught me what he viewed as the key rule about men and their luggage. “Women use straps, men use handles….but reverse that in the woods”.

Of course, in those days people didn’t have to carry around computers. Back then, computers took up entire buildings, were tended by men who smoked pipes and were guarded by the army since they occasionally tried to destroy the world…or so it seemed to me from watching the Monster Matinee ever Sunday afternoon. All men usually had to carry in their bags were papers and books and business cards and lunch and the occasional revolver.

Now we know that computers have given up the world-domination plans for the moment (or maybe they just won and haven’t told us yet) and are built to be carried around. Even better, to make it easier for us to carry them we have gotten over our masculine aversion to straps…thanks in no small part to companies making high quality bags with straps

Rist1Forget that whole Man-purse thing from the 80s, just pretend it never happened; modern, gender-confident men and women who have embraced their inner geek understand that in order to carry around our valuable high tech gadgets we NEED quality bags. Plus without straps, our stuff gets HEAVY, and we don’t like heavy. We are liberated from the rules of the past. I am geek, hear me ROAR! Give me a bag with straps…only it’s got to be a GOOD bag with straps.

Take for example the Ristretto Netbook/iPad bag by Tom Bihn. This is a slim line vertical messenger bag designed to hold and protect netbooks (up to 10.1 inch) and iPads in matchless style and comfort. Truly this is a bag for both worlds, since the Ristretto is easily rugged enough to be used outdoors and classy enough to be brought to work….and it has GREAT straps.

I have been working with the Ristretto over the last week or so and during that time I have come to the conclusion that the Ristretto owes its success to two areas…the quality of the materials and the quality of the design.

Rist7 In terms of materials the outer shell of the bag is made of super strong 1000 denier Cordura just in case you need to use the Ristretto to fend off anyone wielding a sharpened music stand or a hatchet (ugh..band camp). The lining is made of 500 weight Cordura, still very durable, but softer. All edges are carefully reinforced and the stitching throughout the bag is tight and  very high quality.

The bag’s fitting and buckles are all made of very heavy grade, high impact plastic and steel so that they don’t add a lot of weight, but neither do they sacrifice strength or versatility. In fact, they are so good that there is NO VELCRO anywhere on the bag, and it isn’t missed. The designers clearly know that the first thing on any gear bag to die, and usually at the worst possible time, are the strap fittings and buckles…and have made sure to use materials to prevent that.

Rist5 Beyond the fittings, the straps are wide and strong (you knew I was going to get to the straps soon, didn’t you?). The Ristretto comes with Tom Bihn’s standard strap, which is made of inch and a half wide nylon webbing with a well made shoulder pad. You can opt to pay extra for their Absolute strap which I will review in another post, but if you intend to carry anything heavy in a bag, it is MORE than wise to spring for the Absolute strap. However, for the Ristretto you should do just fine with their standard model.

The strap can be extended so that it is long enough to let you wear the bag low on your hip, either over one shoulder or across your chest like a bandolier. The strap can also be adjusted so you can wear the bag at the small of your back.

Rist4 As well-made as the rest of the Ristretto is, they really outdid themselves when they crafted the padded pocket for the netbook or iPad. Its made of three layers; 4 ply Taslan nylon on the outside for durability, laminated to a middle layer of a quarter inch of open cell foam, with an inner lining of soft brushed nylon to protect the device.

OK, so we have established the quality of the materials..but it is the design that really makes this bag a “must-buy” for anyone who likes to travel light with just their netbook or iPad.

How so? Well, lets start with the sharp asymmetrical flap and the heavy, easy to use clasp buckle on the front. Unlike a lot of bags, this one is a cinch to use one handed or under pressure. A nice touch is that the lower strap that connects into the clasp can be extended, if you need to have the flap close more loosely. The front of the bag dips low in an arc that is not only beautiful, but gives you full access to the pockets in the front compartment.

Rist9Speaking of pockets, the bag has pockets everywhere. A wide, generous pocket across the back, two large compartments on the inside, two pockets for pens, two for phones or other gadgets, a large zipper pocket…they just seem to go on forever.

Plus, the bag comes fitted with solid plastic D-rings all over the place, at least two to a compartment, for clipping on any of the vast cavalcade of small pouches Tom Bihn sells for just this purpose.

Using these pouches, and it seems like there is one for literally EVERY possible use, you can customize the Ristretto to your needs without permanently altering the bag itself.

Rist8 However, my two favorite elements of the design (beyond that whole strap thing I mentioned earlier) are…

First of all, the removable waist belt on the back of the bag, which allows you to secure it around your hips if you don’t want it bouncing around, such as when bike riding or disco dancing or running from a bear. The waist strap has two different sets of connection loops on the Ristretto, so you can adjust for your height and the level you wish to wear the bag at.

Secondly, I love the netbook pouch since it isn’t open at the top so the device it more protected and secure, but it doesn’t have a closure which would add weight and something hard to for the device to bang up against…the top FOLDS OVER and tucks in, to envelop the device. There are subtle seams stitched into the top flap of the device pouch so it bends at the right places and stays the way you fold it. Simply brilliant.

Rist10 I can’t find anything whatsoever to critique about the Ristretto. Clearly the designers at Tom Bihn don’t only know how to make a great bag, but they know the features that their users need. Not a corner was cut, no possible improvement was left out. Literally as I explored the bag, every time I thought that something would be great to add, I found it already built into the bag.

The Ristretto is not cheap however, nor should it be…this is quality that you will be happy to pay for.

The Ristretto is available in several different color schemes (the review bag is Cocoa/Olive) at a base price of $110 at the Tom Bihn website. You can then add in all the additional pouches and accessories your heart desires to trick the bag out completely.

Wherever you are going, the Ristretto is perfect if you want to be able to carry just the essentials…keys, phone, a few doodads and pens and your iPad or netbook. It can even accommodate a Kindle DX or a smaller ebook reader in a case.

I cannot recommend this bag more strongly…I promise you it is a purchase you will not regret, even if you are still living in the past and have a thing against straps.

For the Ristretto…you’ll get over it.

Zealot (839 Posts) - Website | Twitter | Facebook


By day a department manager and writer for a major network device vendor...by night Zealot stalks the mean magnetic streets, striking fear into the hearts of bandwidth abusers and theme park mascots. Zealot has been involved with mobile devices for more than a decade now, starting off with dumb phones, moving to PDAs and then to smartphones, notebooks and netbooks with the odd PMP thrown in. Most of his mobile time currently is spent on a Treo Pro, Zune HD, Thinkpad T61, HP Mini 311, iPod Touch 3G, iPad 16G or a Hackintoshed Compaq Mini 704. He proudly groks the Geek community and considers himself a Neo Maxi Zune Dweebie (thanks Wil Wheaton!).

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