After spending eight months living out of one, I have pretty strong opinions on what makes a good backpack, and Tortuga has delivered on that front.
One of the first things you notice about the 45-liter Outbreaker is its size. This bag feels huge. They’ve maximized the approximate dimensions possible for a carry-on bag — inasmuch as a standard carry-on dimension exists — and combined that with a thin (though certainly not flimsy) exterior, which means that most of the bag’s space is devoted to your stuff, not to built-in features or framing materials.
The tradeoff you make for that size is that it’s not terribly sleek. This is a giant rectangle that you put on your back. Tortuga has done their best to keep it aesthetically pleasing, and they’ve mostly succeeded, but ultimately that one is going to come down to personal preference.
The split for the laptop sleeve in the bag also means it’s a little bit shallow in the main compartment; I had to leave it at home in favor of a deeper duffel on a recent outdoor trip because I couldn’t quite fit my hiking boots and the multiple other pairs of shoes I wanted to bring. If you aren’t a huge shoe packer, though, this likely won’t be an issue — you can fit a lot of stuff in here. It’s handled both three-day wedding weekends and nine-day tropical vacations with ease. But anything hard-sided and bulky can be tricky to pack inside.
As a 5’5″ woman who usually wears roughly a size small in the mostly arbitrary world of women’s clothing sizes, I felt a little bit dwarfed by the bag when it was fully stuffed. My 6′ tall partner, usually a men’s medium, had no such issues. But the padded straps and back support were still comfortable even when I had to adjust them down to their smallest sizes and the hip belt is cozy, complete with a nice little zipper pocket of its own.
Three of the four sides of the main compartment zip open for a suitcase-style system, including four mini pockets and two larger mesh ones inside it. One of my biggest complaints about my beloved Osprey was the lack of internal organization, which is not at all an issue here. The front organizer pockets are especially visually pleasing and the liner on the front tablet pocket and back laptop pocket is so soft I found myself idly petting it. If you’re packing in a hurry or less prone to organization, you can still just shove things in haphazardly to make them work.
My most significant but relatively minor irritation is that the bag doesn’t really maintain its structure when it isn’t on your body. So when you throw it down on the floor, if you leave it unzipped, your stuff will spill out the edges with no hard structure to contain it. It’s easily solved by either keeping the bag closed or using packing cubes (which you should). You also can’t tuck your straps away for the occasions when you want to check it, so there is a slightly higher snag risk.
You have to be willing to have all of your eggs in one basket (or bag) if you’re fully using this backpack, which isn’t my personal preference. Even when you’re flying carry-on, you never know where your bag may or may not fit, and I like to have a smaller bag with my laptop, passport, and other in-hand essentials available for when my main bag ends up stashed in, say, the undercompartment of the overnight bus. But if you’re looking to convert to or enhance the one-bag travel style, this is a great choice. In general, it’s comfortable to wear, easy to pack, and durable enough to confidently throw around.
Tortuga 45L Outbreaker Travel Backpack
To buy: tortugabackpacks.com, $349