First Look: Tom Bihn Shadow Guide V2 33 Backpack

A new version of one of my favorite backpacks.

Two years ago I reviewed the first Shadow Guide from Tom Bihn, and it quickly became my favorite Tom Bihn bag of all time. But the original was a limited run, and only has come back in stock once, further, while great it was a bag that had some flaws in it.

Now, Tom Bihn brings the Shadow Guide V2 33 Backpack (affiliate link) and it is full of changes — all of which make this a substantially better bag. I have only had it for a little over a week, so this is more of a first look/impression than a review of the bag. But, I like what I see so far.

Wearing It

The first full day I had this bag it was chilly and raining. So I tossed a 20lbs steel plate in the laptop compartment, and a dry cotton t-shirt in the main compartment and went for an hour long walk in the rain to see what was what.

The bag is very comfortable, and easily the most comfortable bag I have tested of Tom Bihn’s yet, and that is saying a lot for a brand known to make comfortable bags. One of the biggest upgrades is the new back panel. Now the Shadow Guide comes with a vented mesh back panel, which is set against a dense but thin and sculpted foam, all with an integrated (and moldable) frame sheet.

The short version of that above paragraph: comfort and support, this bag has it.

I do think the sternum strap and hip belt are over kill on this bag for most people. The shoulder straps stay in place well, even when wet and are comfortable enough that you likely would not carry a heavy enough load to need the sternum strap. As for the hip belt, I think the primary function is to allow the bag to swing around to your front, as Tom Bihn shows in the product videos.

Luckily for me, both are easily removed. I would only want those for day hikes.

Rain Resistance

And since I mentioned the rain, I had tossed that dry cotton t-shirt in there to see if it got wet. It did not. Most bags are not waterproof, and this bag is no exception, but it does show good rain resistance. So I wouldn’t worry for most of the normal walks through rain you might find yourself caught in. Your stuff should remain fairly dry.


One thing I love most about the Shadow Guides is just how great they look. The first version was just aces, some how this version is even better. One of the biggest changes is the Tom Bihn logo, which is now a tone on tone black that is also a new DesignLab label. The subtlety of it makes the bag even better.

And though my review sample is all black, the Ursa color shown on the web site looks very hot. Really good stuff.


This bag is 33 liters, and yeah, it feels all of 33 liters. It is massive, and really a giant black hole for you to store your stuff in. New for version 2, the bag also comes in a 23 liter variant which will fit smaller framed people much better, and might be a great city bag.

Even at that, if you pull the straps tighter, the bottom of the bag moves up and compresses in the bag. This isn’t the best looking option for the bag, but if you need to slim down the bag for a tight spot, it works well and quickly.

So yes, big bag. Great for hiking, travel, or work with gym clothes. But I want to focus on the top pocket.

Main compartment partially full, lid stuffed.

This version has a new top pocket, and the big change is that the pocket opens up more fully. On the last version I showed that it held my insulation layer well, but this new version of the bag will make that even better. The top pocket is so large, that you are best keeping things like jackets, or quick grab items in it. It is hard to oversell how big this compartment is, yet it doesn’t look like it could handle as much stuff as it can from a casual glance.

My sling bag when full fits in the top lid.

The now larger opening from the zipper, allows you to more readily stow and retrieve items from the pocket. Best to get an organizer for this, or keep to large bulky things — maybe even both, it is large.

New Laptop Compartment

Ok, the old Shadow Guide didn’t have a dedicated laptop compartment. On the first version, Tom Bihn relied on their Cache laptop sleeves and rail systems to hold your laptop inside the bag. The advantage was that the sleeve was customized for your gear, and fully removable. The bad part was that it was in the main compartment and cumbersome to get to if your bag was particularly full, or in cramped quarters.

For this version, Tom Bihn has a dedicated laptop compartment only accessible on the outside of the bag via a weatherproof zipper. It’s subtle to see on the black model, but it really makes this a much better laptop bag. And the compartment is huge, well protected, and super nice to use.

One word summary of the new laptop compartment: aces.

Side note: Tom Bihn has these on the Synik line of bags as well, and I think they are some of the better executed laptop compartments. Very easy to get your stuff in and out of, and well protect and padded. I hope these make their way to more of the bags, I greatly prefer them.

Various Notes

There’s a lot of other changes I look forward to putting through their paces, some notes:

  • New zipper pulls: I have never been a fan of the past Tom Bihn zipper pulls, but this bag has an all new design here. And they are excellent, I won’t need to change them. Gone are the noisy metal pull tabs, and in are a small grippy pull cord.
  • New side access under the lid pockets are great. When the lid of the bag is flipped open the pockets now are not mesh, and the zippers run vertically, instead of horizontally as they did on the old bag. This is very nice, because it means when the lid is secured you can sneak your hand into one of these pockets from either side with ease.
  • Fully padded bottom: the Shadow Guide has a fully padded bottom, and it is a good amount of padding too. This helps with structure for the bag, but also makes it great for transporting more than just clothes. If you ever get annoyed with your water bottle banging down on the table when you set your bag down, this padding will deaden that.


I could see this being a lot of peoples only bag. Really hard to ignore how good this is. It has great potential for one bag travels as it falls so far under the radar, is spacious and just all around stellar. I could see it being a great bag for those who carry gym clothes to and from work, and for those who like one bag to head outdoors.

I really like it, and can’t wait to keep testing it.

Find it here (affiliate link).

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