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Tortuga Setout Backpack Review: The Best Backpack for City Travelers?

Is the Tortuga Setout backpack the best backpack for city travelers? For this review, I’ve turned this bag inside-out so you can make that decision for yourself.

Tortuga Setout Backpack

In the travel gear world, Tortuga is one of the top names in design and innovation. Over the past ten years, they’ve consistently offered new and exciting backpacks for travelers and digital nomads.

The Tortuga Setout is a full-featured travel backpack designed to have all the convenience of both a backpack and a suitcase, but at a very reasonable price. It’s a simple and straightforward back but is still packed full of features I love.

This bag is generally designed for city travelers, but will it do everything you need it to do? Or are all of its features overkill? Keep reading to find out!

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Tortuga Setout

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Tortuga Setout Backpack

The Tortuga Setout combines the best aspects of Tortuga’s firm reputation for better organization, comfort, and subtle style with excellent materials and a range of useful accessories⁠—and for a great price.

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Tortuga Setout Backpack Quick Answers

  • It’s a backpack but folds open like a suitcase
  • Durable, made from good quality fabrics
  • Comes in both 35L and 45L sizes, for men and women
  • Has excellent organization features, including a laptop sleeve, lots of interior pockets, and a front pocket that’s easy to access
  • Comfortable to wear thanks to its padded back, adjustable shoulder straps, and hip belt
  • Built to maximize your baggage allowance by distributing its weight
  • Comes with a great range of accessories

Pros

  • The ergonomic design for men and women makes for a near-perfect fit, especially thanks to the hip belt and shoulder straps
  • Outstanding organization with extras like mesh pockets, a laptop compartment, and a front pocket
  • The laptop sleeve is easy to reach thanks to its location behind the shoulder straps (rather than have to open your bag fully to access it)
  • Size and lack of bulkiness is great for airports and city hopping

Cons

  • Not weather-resistant—your stuff will get wet in heavy rain
  • Not a fashion item—the Tortuga Setout is pretty plain in appearance
  • The hip belt is somewhat uncomfortable if it doesn’t fit properly (especially if you’re a tall person)
  • Not built for the trail—city/urban travelers only (which can also be a pro!)

 Who Is the Tortuga Setout For?

  • One-Bag Travelers: The Tortuga Setout is the perfect backpack for anyone looking to travel light with carry-on luggage only. The Setout is designed to fit airline baggage requirements, so you’ll never need to worry about having to check your bag. If your airline has smaller size and weight limits, the 35L is the better option. With all its organization and security features, along with its airport-friendly design, this backpack is tailor-made for anyone who wants to strip down to the basics when they travel. (For more carry-on backpacks, read our full round-up.)
  • Digital Nomads: The Tortuga Setout has so many features designed for digital nomads who work from their laptops, including a laptop compartment and protective pockets for tablets and stationery. As for staying mobile, this backpack offers a much better solution than a wheeled suitcase, as it’s lighter and more portable. It also has an advantage over a hiking pack by having an organization system built around electronics storage.     
  • Frequent Travelers: This isn’t some fancy, leather-bound, luxury luggage designed to be displayed in airport waiting lounges. The Tortuga Setout is designed to take a beating, with the durability to last and last and still look as good as the day you bought it. This makes it perfect for people who are planning to haul their travel bag through many different airports, taxis, trains, hotels, hostels, and sightseeing tours.
  • City Hoppers: If you’re looking for a bag to take on a weekend trip, the Tortuga Setout is a perfect choice. Each size is designed for airline regulations that give you maximum packing space, so you can be sure that you will be able to take everything you’ll need.

The fact that it’s a backpack means you can hustle around the airport and even carry it around town if you’re stuck waiting to check into your accommodation, while its suitcase-style opening means you have easy access to all your clothes and other gear.

Who Isn’t the Tortuga Setout For?  

  • Hikers: Sorry folks, but the Tortuga Setout is not a backpack to be taken deep into the bush. While it’s a durable backpack with a hip belt and plenty of space for your gear, the Tortuga Setout lacks the functionality of a hiking bag. It’s not designed to be worn all day like a hiking backpack, there isn’t a lot of room to get creative with your gear storage, and the organization tools that make the Tortuga Setout such an attractive option for city travelers will be very out of place in the bush. (You can probably do without your laptop there.) For something more suitable, try the Osprey Atmos.
  • Runners, Climbers and Outdoor Adventurers: While the Tortuga Setout can do many things, it doesn’t work as a sports bag—it’s too bulky and too heavy. Its good looks would be wasted as it gets scuffed and dirty. Basically, there are much better options out there that are designed for outdoor sports, including plenty of duffels that will suit your needs.
  • Commuters: While the Tortuga Setout looks like a slam dunk for the organized business person, it’s just too big to be a convenient commuter bag. Even the smaller size at 35L has too much space to be worthwhile for a commuter. It would either take up far too much room on your public transport ride or hold you back on your walk or bike to work. A daypack would be a much better fit for you. If you really need 35L of packing space for your commute, you should probably reconsider what you carry to work!

Who is Tortuga?

The Tortuga brand stands for the values of the modern traveler and digital nomad. The company was started in 2009 by two friends who were frustrated about the lack of good travel backpacks in the market.

Instead of sitting around complaining about it, they decided it was time someone went out and built the backpack they wished they had when they first went traveling. Now, Tortuga backpacks are some of the most respected backpacks on the market.

Today, Tortuga is staffed by people living in many different corners of the world, linked by the Internet and a shared passion for travel, discovery, and adventure. The success of the company is also thanks to their commitment to designing bags with features that real travelers need — not what a desk jockey in the head office thinks they need.

Tortuga Setout Backpack Review

Materials (4/5)

Like many of the best-quality backpacks and travel backpacks on the market right now, the Tortuga Setout is made with 900D Ripstop Nylon. Ripstop Nylon is one of the best fabrics out there for a backpack, having been shown time and time again to be a robust and durable fabric that keeps looking good over time.

The choice of Ripstop Nylon is a crucial difference between the Tortuga Setout and its older sibling, the Tortuga Outbreaker. The Outbreaker had Ripstop components, but the exterior of the backpack was made of sailcloth, another high-quality material.

The difference between these two fabrics: sailcloth is more weather resistant and a bit more durable, but it has some drawbacks. The material is noisy, which is not ideal when you’re trying to find your toothbrush at night in a crowded dorm room.

Also, sailcloth tends to show dirt more easily. While Ripstop Nylon does not have the same weather resistance, it’s much quieter, and the texture of the fabric means that dirt and wear will not be so obvious, keeping your backpack looking better for longer.

So that’s an easy win on materials—but what does the Tortuga Setout look like?            

Aesthetics (4/5)

In the style department, there are parts of the Tortuga Setout which you will love immediately and elements which may take some getting used to.

First of all, the colors. This is a bit of an adventure for Tortuga, whose choices in their other backpack lines have been black or…black. Now, you can choose between black, grey, or navy, and my favorite is definitely the grey.

One reason I can think of for Tortuga not wanting a wide selection of colors is that these bags are designed to fly under the radar, not to be fashion items. Why? That’s easy. The less you look like a tourist, the less likely you are to attract thieves.

And yes, the Tortuga Setout comes in blue

If you plan to carry your laptop, passport, and worldly possessions in one of these, you want the bag to be as unnoticeable as possible. That effect certainly works for the Tortuga Setout, whose materials and design make it nondescript without being totally dull.

The only issue you may have here is the shape. The tradeoff for the great functionality of the bag is that it is very blocky in shape and size.

Remember, it’s designed to fit snugly into the 22” x 14” x 9” dictated by the major airlines.

The designers have rounded out the corners so that it doesn’t look like you’re wearing a square, but there is a limit to what they could do without losing valuable packing space.

In such a useful bag, it’s unsurprising that even the aesthetics of the bag were given over to functionality, but I don’t see this as a bad thing at all. If looks are what really matters to you in luggage, the Louis Vuitton website is just a click away…

Comfort (5/5)

A bag designed to be carried around in the stressful helter-skelter of an international airport or the enchanting streets of a new adventure destination absolutely has to be comfortable.

With all the craziness you are likely to encounter on your journeys, the last thing you want is to be brought down by sore shoulders or a puddle of back sweat from a poor-quality backpack. Your backpack can’t be too big or too small. It should fit properly, and it should be the right size.

Happily, I can report that this won’t be a problem with the Tortuga Setout. The straps are a very comfortable and snug fit, with plenty of padding and lots of airflow to wick away sweat. The padded back is wonderful, and the whole thing should fit you perfectly. The chest strap is adjustable to give you a snug fit as well, and the waist straps have extra padding in them to avoid rubbing on the hips.

Sleek, stylish, and nondescript

Ergonomically, Tortuga has given us one thing that I really like—men’s and women’s fits! The women’s fit has shoulder and chest straps shaped so they don’t crush your chest, and waist straps designed for smaller torsos, while the men’s size has straighter shoulder straps and lower waist straps.

It’s always frustrating when you can’t find a backpack to fit your body shape, and I’m stoked to see Tortuga acknowledging and accommodating the different ergonomic needs of men and women without detracting from the quality.

Definitely some top marks for comfort and ergonomics here.

Organization (5/5)

Organization is such an underrated aspect of the travel bag world. People often look for a pretty bag or a comfortable bag when they shop, but organization is king at the end of the day. It’s the thin line between having your stuff stored neatly in the corner or having it explode across your room as you try to find your last clean pair of socks.

Thankfully for the messy traveler out there, the Tortuga Setout is an organizational beast. There is a pocket for everything. The front pockets can hold all your books, maps, documents, snacks, and stationery.

Yes, all this fits in the Setout!

The back laptop sleeve is a safe and space-efficient place to store your computer, and it’s easy to grab your laptop quickly. The main compartment has some subdivisions to keep smaller bits contained while having plenty of space for your clothes. The designers know what kind of stuff travelers like to carry, and they have made sure there is a pocket for all of it.

Another aspect worth a mention is the clamshell opening. The suitcase-style entry point is a massive win for the organization, because it means you will never have to dig through your things again. Just roll your clothes up and squeeze them together, and you can see all of your stuff at a single glance. If you want to have something easily reachable, you can put it at the top and open the zip halfway, backpack style.

I’m seriously impressed by the organization of this Tortuga backpack, and in my opinion, this is one of the top-selling points of this bag.

Durability (5/5)

The materials that make up this backpack have been proven time and time again to be some of the best around when it comes to long-term durability, so there is no question about the fabric.

Ultimately, it comes down to the build of the backpack. So far, I’ve seen no issues on that front, and judging from the amount of happy 5-star reviews that the Tortuga Setout has been given by customers, durability has not been a problem for this backpack.

Dimensions & Specifications

The Tortuga Setout is a little heavier compared to other backpacks of its size, but its extra features (and its ability to hold a good deal of your belongings) makes up for it. It’s still suitable for most carry-on travel.

Weight

On the scales, the empty 45L clocks in at 3.9lbs (slightly less for the women’s 45L pack), while the 35L weighs 3.4lbs (weirdly, slightly more than the women’s 35L pack). Overall, this is a little heavy for a backpack.

For example, a good quality hiking backpack like the Osprey Exos 48L weighs significantly less at 2.6lbs.

If you are trying to squeeze out as much weight as possible to carry a heavier load, this Tortuga bag will not be a big help in that department.

That said, for a travel bag, a little extra weight is not a significant concern. Unlike hiking bags, travel backpacks are not meant to be worn as part of a test of endurance—unless you count a long line at customs.

In fact, the Tortuga Setout travel backpack weighs less than some of its direct competition, like the Peak Design Travel Bag, which seems hefty by comparison at 4.5lbs.

The extra padding and organization that make these bags such great travel companions will always result in some extra weight sitting on your back.

Capacity

At 35L and 45L, there is a lot of wiggle room in the Tortuga Setout. The 35L capacity should be enough packing space to support you around a warm location for at least a week, while the 45L could see you through a month or more.

Tortuga has really tried to squeeze every inch of packing space they possibly could out of the airline cabin bag limits.

The result is plenty of space for clothes, travel gear, and any knick-knacks you pick up on the way.

Why might you choose the 35L? There are a few reasons, but the most important one is the cabin bag rules of different airlines. While the majority of airlines will allow you to take a 45L bag on the plane with you, some European airlines have smaller limits that would force you to put a 45L backpack in the hold—and charge you a nice fee for the trouble.

Having the “small” 35L backpack option allows all travelers to take advantage of the Tortuga Setout design, no matter how strict their airline is.

Dimensions

Hand in hand with capacity are the Tortuga Setout’s dimensions, a critical determiner of a travel bag’s functionality.

Once again, airline regulations dictate how the Tortuga Setout is designed – an oversize bag is obviously a significant flaw in a backpack designed for one-bag travel, but an undersized bag means there is empty space sitting there unused.

The standard baggage limit across most airlines is 22″ x 14″ x 9″, and that is the exact size of the 45L Tortuga Setout. Hooray! The 35L slims down slightly to 21.5″ x 13.5″ x 7.5″. This is good for people who fly with Ryanair often, as that airline has a slightly smaller allowance than other airlines.

Tortuga Setout Specs:

35L45L
Dimensions21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches
17-inch laptop
9.7-inch tablet
22 x 14 x 9 inches
17-inch laptop
9.7-inch tablet
Weight3.4lbs (men’s)
3.6lbs (women’s)
3.9lbs (men’s)
3.8lbs (women’s)
Capacity35 liters45 liters
Fit17-19″ torsos (men’s)
15.5-18″ torsos (women’s)
17-19″ torsos (men’s)
15.5-18″ torsos (women’s)

Backpack Features

The Tortuga Setout is essentially a redesign of the Tortuga Outbreaker backpack, a product that was a huge hit in the travel community for its good looks and incredibly useful organization features.

The Setout has lost some of the Outbreaker’s features but has also decreased in both weight and price. Despite some of the best back-padding I’ve ever seen on a travel backpack, the Outbreaker was a little too heavy and bulky for my liking, so this was a welcome change.

Take a look at some of this bag’s features:

Shoulder Straps

The main shoulder straps on the Tortuga Setout are excellent. These shoulder straps are comfortable, with lots of padding and excellent ventilation.

The ventilation is achieved by including holes in the main padding, along with nylon mesh on the inside and outside of the shoulder straps, giving them great airflow.

Tortuga boasts about the padding being “injection-molded,” and to be honest, I don’t see it being a huge advantage for the bag. Not a bad thing, just not a particularly noteworthy fact.

At the bottom, the shoulder straps are connected with small carabiners that can be easily unclipped. This means you can store the shoulder straps in the handy top pocket when you’re in the airport or on the plane.

You do need to be careful about how they rethread the shoulder straps when it’s time to turn it back into a backpack, however, as they can easily slide back out again if they are not properly engaged.

Compression Straps

On the sides of the Tortuga Setout are some compression straps to squeeze the bag down if you have empty space. They are very well placed to stay out of the way of the zips.

This is something that gets overlooked constantly by designers, which is frustrating, so it’s nice to see Tortuga has put that extra bit of thought in.

Now, onto the bad. While the rest of the strap system is very good, the one flaw in our eyes is the lack of a top adjuster strap.

This may seem nitpicky, but when you wear the bag, the blocky design means it pulls away from the top of your neck when it’s full, causing some discomfort for shorter users for whom the backpack may not fit properly. Some adjuster straps would fix this problem completely, allowing the bag to come more in line with the spine.

Hip Belt

My least favorite feature on the Setout is undoubtedly the hip belt and its waist straps. They are removable and attach to the main bag with velcro strips.

I have no idea why velcro seemed like a good idea to the designers when metal cinches would have been a much better option, and which are also much more durable and better looking.

Plus, if you’re tall, the hip belt may fall more around your stomach than on your hips. That’s a less than comfortable fit.

Passport and Documents Pockets

On the outside of the Tortuga Setout, we have a slim front pocket with a horizontal zip, suitable to carry a flat item such as a book or map.

Behind that, there is a larger pocket, which can be folded open to reveal storage for documents, passports, pens, and other items.

This larger pocket also includes a carabiner for your keys. You’ll even find space for a small jacket if you want one easily accessible! We do wish the Tortuga Setout had included an RFID blocking security pocket, but that’s not available at this time.

Laptop Sleeve

Directly behind your shoulder straps, you’ll find an easily accessible laptop sleeve. The fact that the laptop sits directly against your back where it’s most secure is excellent for your peace of mind.

However, we wish Tortuga had thrown in a little extra padding because traveling can be a bumpy ride.

But overall, it’s nothing but benefits for this laptop sleeve. We’re particularly pleased that the pocket is easily accessible from the outside. This means you don’t need to dig through your stuff to pull out your large electronics at airport security.

Clamshell Access Main Compartment

Going inside, we have a clamshell access mechanism, which is very handy for staying organized. What’s a clamshell? Just imagine your bag opening like a book so you have complete access to the entire internal compartment. It’s like a suitcase.

This main compartment is fairly barebones compared to other any other Tortuga backpack. You have two zippered mesh pockets, and nothing more. This is, therefore, prime real estate for some packing cubes if you like to stay organized.

Or just embrace all that free space.

Zippers

Although it seems like a small thing, zippers are often the weak point of any backpack. They are usually where the rain gets in to soak your stuff. Along with the shoulder straps, they are also the part that is most likely to break.

Fortunately, Tortuga has elected to use top quality zips from YKK, which are weather-resistant, durable, and considered the best zipper on the market.

Tortuga has also taken the extra step of adding lockable zips to the main compartment for additional peace of mind when you’re out in public.

Sturdy and Well-Placed Handles

Handles are an often-overlooked part of a backpack. Why are they important? Because a well-placed handle makes any piece of gear so much easier to throw around when you are at an airport, in a plane, or in a hotel.

To help us out, Tortuga has placed some sturdy handles on the top and side of the backpack to allow us to do just that. These handles make it a very versatile bag and provide different carry options in a pinch.

  • How Much Does the Tortuga Setout Cost?

    This backpack compares pretty well to other competitors in the market. Other similar travel backpacks, such as the Peak Design Travel Bag and Tortuga’s own Outbreaker, retail for around $300, while the Tortuga Setout has a significantly lower price point at about $200. Have a look now to see where you can purchase this backpack!

  • What Kind of Warranty Does Tortuga Offer?

    Tortuga proudly states that they offer a lifetime warranty on all their products for manufacturing defects. This means they will replace anything that breaks unexpectedly, but they will not replace the backpack you left too close the campfire that melted the shoulder straps off.

    This is no small detail, and it’s great peace of mind for your purchase when a company is this confident in their product. But where can you get it shipped to? 

  • Does Tortuga Ship Internationally?

    There is good news and bad news on this front. The good news: if you live in the USA, you can get free shipping on any order above $49, delivered within five business days.

    The bad news: if you live outside of the USA, Tortuga is unable to ship your new backpack to you directly. If you want to get the backpack delivered outside of the USA, you will need to use a third-party freight service such as FedEx, which will be pretty expensive. Tortuga says that they are actively working on a solution to this problem, so hang tight non-Americans!

Tortuga Setout Accessories

Packing Cubes

I’m a huge fan of packing cubes. It’s like turning your backpack into a chest of drawers, and they help you free up so much space. You can organize your life more easily when you have a little compartment for everything.

These cubes are designed specifically for the shape of the Tortuga Setout (45L and 35L versions), so they leave no wasted space. An essential item for every traveler. 

Rain Cover

Rain is one of those annoying facts of travel life that we all just have to suck up and deal with from time to time. But just because your plans got ruined by the weather doesn’t mean your stuff should get ruined too.

Tortuga has fitted rain covers for both sizes of the Tortuga Setout backpack. You’ll be ready for anything the sky can throw at you – so long as you have a jacket!

Crossbody Strap

This one is a little puzzling. The backpack is quite bulky, and the shoulder straps are already very comfortable. Why would anyone want to carry it off one shoulder?

To my eyes, the strap looks like a way to make the bag less comfortable, and I don’t have a lot of confidence in those small plastic carabiners. However, if this carrying option is something you want in a travel bag, Tortuga has it.

Packable Backpack

Finally, you’ve made it to your destination with your trusty bag, found your hostel and feel ready to start exploring. But do you really have to haul that 45L bag around with you all day if you want to hold onto your book and snacks?

 The answer is no — not if you have a packable backpack with you.

This is a 20L backpack that folds up to the size of a small tennis ball and weighs only a few ounces, so it’s a very convenient option to give yourself a little bit of freedom. You can also just lay it on top of everything else in your bag since, unpacked, it feels almost paper thin.

Suitable for holding the essentials, more secure than a handbag, and more ergonomic than a tote.  

Tortuga Setout Review Summary

On my travel, and especially for the sake of this review, I’ve turned the Tortuga Setout backpack inside out. So what’s the verdict? Should you go out and get yourself a Tortuga Setout?

If this is a bag you’re already considering, the answer is a resounding YES. The Tortuga Setout has taken some of the best aspects of the Outbreaker and combined them with lighter materials and a range of useful accessories.

What’s more, the warranty gives you full peace of mind in your purchase and the price is a great value for a product that will be by your side for years to come.