Home Tech Tom Bihn Ristretto: Messenger bag for MacBook Air 11in

Tom Bihn Ristretto: Messenger bag for MacBook Air 11in


Ristretto green Ristretto11steel
Here in the UK, bags for the new 11in MacBook Air have been as rare as hens' teeth since the mini laptop came to the market three months ago. So I decided to go further afield for a new messenger bag to replace my old Crumpler. This I've had for a succession of 13in laptops and is now a little  too large large and heavy for the MacBook Air.

I turned to Tom Bihn of Seattle, Washington. A small family concern, Tom Bihn have an enviable reputation in the tech world for high-quality, thoughtful bags of all types. And they are one of the few luggage manufacturers that can claim a "Made in USA" label.

My new Ristretto vertical messenger* for the 11in Air arrived late last week and it has well exceeded my expectations. The 1000 denier Cordura material is strong yet light enough to keep the weight of the bag to a claimed 13oz (without the strap). And the attention to detail is obvious when you look inside. The main compartment contains a fixed laptop sleeve made of 8mm open-cell foam laminated with a 4-ply Taslan interior of soft brushed nylon. The sleeve is equipped with a flap which tucks in behind the laptop for added security and protection. 

In addition to the laptop sleeve, the main compartment provides storage space for accessories, a book or Kindle. Obviously, with a case this small, storage space is limited, but it is surprising how much you can get in. In front of the main compartment is a large pocket with organiser for pens, notebooks, an iPhone and cards. In front of the organiser is space for more accessories – it is ideal for the 45w Air charger – while a full-width zippered compartment offers secure protection for papers and valuables. 

On the back of the case is a deep slip pocket for newspapers, a book or travel documents. This is a welcome touch and overcomes one of my few complaints with the Crumpler laptop range. The lack of an outside pocket means you have to open the main flap to get a papers. With the Ristretto you can keep your travel documents handy while passing through an airport. It is just so sensible to have an outside pocket. Also on the back are fixing loops for the waist strap which secures the bag if you are using it while cycling. Since I don't need this I've removed it.

The main flap is secured by one snap fastener in the trademark Tom Bihn offset design. If you wish, you can add to the storage capabilities by choosing from a range of accessory sleeves and bags which can be attached to one or more of the three O rings in the main compartment or the one ring in the front compartment. As standard you get a key fob which can be fixed to any of the four O rings. The Tom Bihn website gives full details of the various accessories as well as information on the company's wide range of laptop bags and carry-on luggage. 

Ipadristretto11These days I'm a great advocate of lightweight luggage; far too many computer cases, in particular, are unnecessarily heavy. The Ristretto is so light that you hardly notice it on your shoulder, even when it is full of laptop and accessories.  My daily load comprises:

  1. MacBook Air
  2. 45w Magsafe charger
  3. Accessory pouch containing 3G modem, external battery for the iPhone, Apple sync cable, Bose in-ear headphones
  4. Notebook, pens, cards

With all this in the Tom Bihn Ristretto the bag turns the scales at 4lb 12oz. The old Crumpler, which is a fairly typical 13in messenger bag, takes the shoulder load to just over 6 lb. And make no mistake, this weight difference is noticeable. Of course, the Crumpler is a bigger  and can take more so you would expect it to be heavier; the Ristretto, on the other hand,  is built around the 11in Air and is more limited, especially if you wish to carry A4 papers and files which just don't fit (the width is ok but the depth is about two inches short). For my purpose, though, it is an ideal day bag and encourages me to take the Air wherever I'm going and might need it. 


* I chose the black colour with steel interior; the web site, from which these photographs are taken, offers a wide range of external and internal colour schemes. The cost of the basic Ristretto 11in is $110. There is also a slightly smaller Ristretto for the iPad.


  1. Hi,

    Is there space in there for a smallish compact camera too? I’m looking for a bag to take my MBA / iPad and a Canon G12 but trying to avoid anything too bulky as I have a larger Crumpler bag when I’m carrying full size laptop etc..


  2. Hi Adam,

    The front compartment is quite big and I can get a Lumix LX5, which is a bit smaller than the G12, in there comfortably. I also normally carry the MacBook Air 45w adaptor (with plug) and a few other bits and pieces. The iPad will fit easily in the main compartment in front of the padded MBA sleeve. I think the 11in Ristretto would probably be ideal for you. I took the bag with the standard strap, which is perfectly adequate for the weight I carry. But you might consider the much-acclaimed heavier strap (I forget what they call it) if you are going to add a further 1.6 lbs for the iPad. Actually, I wish I’d ordered the bigger strap because it has more padding and claims to make the bag feel even lighter. So far, though, I’m delighted with the Ristretto.


  3. Nice article and thanks for posting from the perspective of the UK too. I have also been considering the Ristretto for a Macbook Air, and occasional ipad. Would you mind sharing any info on what the UK shipping and tax costs add up to. It is difficult to gauge from the Tom Bihn forums what this might come to for a UK buyer.



  4. Owen,

    My Ristretto was brought over from Washington DC by a friend. As such it was a present. In the past I’ve had mixed results when ordering from the States. Occasionally stuff comes through without any charge, but usually only the small packets. In most cases, though, the courier company wants payment in advance for clearance and tax. There is often a flat charge for handling – around £12 – and then certainly VAT at 20%. I don’t know if there is any import duty but that would be an additional cost. It certainly adds up to a lot on top of the $110+shipping.

    Best wishes,Michael

  5. I take it from one of your comments that this bag would work fine for carrying an 11" air and a first gen iPad?

    That's what I'm looking for in a new bag.



  6. So I bought one. It's larger than I expected. I wouldn't have minded if it was significantly slimmer with less space in it for extra things above my MacBook air 11" and iPad. I am yet to have a day with it but I think that the pocket on the back underneath the handle may not be the best place for the iPad because it will place the weight of the bag on the iPad as I bounce along should I decide to move quickly.

    That is my first impression; it's larger than I thought.

  7. No, I don't use the pocket on the back for the iPad. In put it inside, in front of the Air protective sleeve. I'm glad you think it is big enough and I'd be interested to hear your views after a week or two.


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