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- Travel backpacks are the perfect luggage for anyone who wants to pack a lot and stay organized, but doesn’t want to deal with carrying luggage around a city.
- I recently tried the Tortuga Setout Backpack, and it’s my new favorite piece of luggage.
- Everyone at Tortuga is an experienced traveler, and their expertise helped design functional, comfortable, and stylish products.
When I look at a piece of luggage, the most important thing I look for is that it’s easy to carry. I live in a city, and frequently visit more than one place when I go on vacation, so having something I can carry up and down subway steps and on uneven streets is crucial. Roller bags are okay, but the ideal solution is a travel backpack.
“Travel backpacks” used to be more like hiking packs, or traditional “backpacking bags” — sacks with an opening on top that led to one large main compartment. You filled them from the top like a garbage bag, While they’re comfortable to carry, the fact that they’re basically just large open sacks on a carrying frame meant that all of your stuff would get wrinkled, you’d need to unpack the whole bag any time you wanted to look through what you had, it was tough to stay organized, and you ultimately couldn’t fit all that much.
Lately, luggage designers have been working on a new breed of travel backpack. The size and shape of a regular suitcase, these backpacks open like normal luggage, and pack the same way. It makes it easier to see what you have, and since you can carry it on your back, it’s more comfortable than lugging a suitcase around as you travel.
I’ve written about the best travel backpacks before, but recently learned about a company called Tortuga that specializes in this kind of luggage. The company shared a sample of its Setout Backpack, and I was impressed — in fact, it’s my new favorite travel backpack, which I’ll be using going forward.
Tortuga is the kind of company that I love learning about. It’s a small, direct-to-consumer producer that makes a high-quality product, but beyond that, it has a spirit and culture that’s in line with the ethos it tries to project.
Tortuga specializes in travel backpacks, though it makes a few other products too, and was created based on a real-world experience its founders had during a 2009 backpacking trip around Europe, where they realized how painfully ineffective luggage was for city-dwellers and urban backpackers.
In the nine years since childhood friends Fred Perrotta and Jeremy Michael Cohen started the company, it’s grown from just the two of them to almost 10 people. While it’s a classic small-company, e-commerce success story, what makes it unique is that it’s ethos and culture is in-line with the products it makes. Tortuga’s team is distributed, meaning that everyone sets their own hours and chooses where to live and work. In effect, that means that as long as they have access to Wi-Fi, Team Tortuga can travel nonstop.
That’s obviously a great perk for employees, but it’s also useful for consumers, too. That’s because the Tortuga team really, truly knows travel, and understands what any traveler needs from their gear. That experience, expertise, and knowledge has gone into the products, creating an excellent line of gear for anyone from digital nomads to occasional vacationers.
Measuring 22″ x 14″ x 9″ on the outside, it’s the maximum size for most airlines’ carry-on luggage restrictions. It’s made of a 900D heathered polyester that’s very thin, but strong and durable, so that none of that room is wasted. Because it’s soft-sided, you can easily overstuff the bag for longer trips.
The bag’s main compartment can be accessed by laying the bag flat and opening the zipper that runs along the entire length. There are no dividers or anything taking up space — it’s one big open section. For me, this is ideal, since I can use the space however I want, depending on how I fold and organize. If you’re a fan of compartmentalization, you can easily fit packing cubes in the bag. There are also two zippered mesh pockets within the main compartment, which are perfect for smaller things like socks and a belt, or for dirty laundry.
There are two smaller compartments on the outside of the bag. A small fast-access pocket is perfect for things like boarding passes, passports, headphones, and similar things you might need to grab while you’re in the airport.
The second is bigger, and runs the length of the bag. You can fit more or less anything in here, but there’s also an organizational panel for things like pens, notepads, cards, and more.
An electronics compartment around the back of the bag has two padded pockets — one for a laptop up to 15″, and one for a tablet or e-reader. There’s a padded hip-belt with zippered pockets on each side — perfect for things like tickets or your smartphone —although, crucially, the hip-belt is easily removable if you don’t want to use it.
Similarly, the shoulder straps can be stowed away. The bag has a soft handle on the side that you can use to carry it like a normal suitcase. If you want to do that, you can simply store the shoulder straps in a pocket on the bag’s back so that they don’t dangle around and get in the way. Other bags I’ve used don’t have the option of stowing the shoulder straps, so I was pleased to see Tortuga include that.
Most importantly, the bag is comfortable to carry. Injection-molded shoulder straps and a properly, ergonomically padded back help even when the load is heavy, the hip-belt can carry as much as 80% of the bag’s weight, and there’s a stabilizing sternum strap.
I can fit enough clothing to last a week in the Setout Backpack— as long as I control my urge to overpack — meaning that the bag will be perfect for almost all of the trips I take. At $199, it isn’t the cheapest bag available, but I found the price well-worth it in terms of the quality and effectiveness of the bag. Tortuga also offers a few other models in different sizes, so if you’re looking for something smaller, you might want to check the backpack comparison page.