April 2019 update: I’ve been using the Setout for a year since posting the original review and I’m still loving it! It now comes in various new designs, which I’ve also recently tested. I talk about all the new options at the end of this updated review.
Well, they’ve finally done it.
At last, I’ve found a backpack that I have virtually no complaints about and that works easily for many different types of trips!
Previous backpacks that I’ve reviewed often had to come with specific caveats. Like, “this might be a great backpack if you’re an urban traveler but maybe not for a backpacking trip” or “this is excellent for a weekend getaway, but maybe not for a long journey”.
But with the highly versatile Setout, I finally find myself not needing to give such conditional praise.
Its clever features and stylish design make this a very adaptable bag. I think it’s perfect for the sort of travel that I cover a lot on my blog (such as backpacking, round-the-world, and adventure travel), but it could work just as well for shorter weekend trips, city travel, or business trips.
Let’s take a look at the features one-by-one.
- Front-loading for easy access
- Laptop compartment at the back
- Fully featured and properly padded suspension system
- Suitable for both adventurous and city-based trips
- The zippers only fit the smallest luggage locks
- Zippers are not rubber-sealed
Main internal compartment
The Tortuga Setout is front-loading, opening essentially like a suitcase. This gives easy access to all your stuff.
The main compartment offers a nice big space that you can fill as you wish. It also has two mesh zipped compartments, which make it easy to keep smaller items like socks or underwear separate.
The front panel has a travel organizer with 10 sleeves of various sizes, which can be used to store all kinds of smaller travel items. It also has a handy key holder, a zipped sleeve, and one big space that easily fits several paperbacks (or whatever else you may wish to store here).
The back compartment offers another large space, plus two internal sleeves. One of these sleeves is tablet or e-reader-size, while the other will fit any laptop up to 15″.
The laptop sleeve has a hammock-like design, meaning the laptop doesn’t touch the bottom of the backpack but is suspended above it. This means your laptop won’t take a hit if you drop the bag on the ground.
I like that the laptop compartment sits at the back. It feels nicely snug and secure there and is ideally placed for load balancing as well. It’s better placed than on some other backpacks (like the Osprey Farpoint) that have the laptop awkwardly in the front.
Water bottle pocket
There is one water bottle pocket made of an elastic material. This pocket is quite ridiculously spacious! It will fit a normal 300ml water bottle, but it doesn’t stop there.
I tried fitting a 2-liter bottle in there and it fit like a glove. There is a little compression strap just above the pocket that lets you secure larger items. I tried putting my Manfrotto Compact Action Tripod in there — which despite the name is not exactly that compact — and it fit wonderfully as well.
Finally, there is one quick access pouch on the front. It has a nice-size zipper with a little pull string.
The Setout comes with a fully featured and properly padded suspension system, which I’ve found to be very comfortable. I’ve travelled with the Setout on and off for a year and it has yet to give me any trouble.
It has all the straps necessary to easily distribute the weight along your entire back and hips, relieving strain on your shoulders.
The launch version of the Setout didn’t have any load lifter straps, so you don’t see them pictured here. (Load lifter straps are the ones that can pull the top of the backpack closer towards your shoulders.) But the current versions of the Setout do have load lifter straps.
The main straps are wide and have little holes inside the injection moulded foam for maintaining airflow. These straps do feel just a bit stiff at first, though this material is intended to be broken in and will loosen through continued use.
The hip belt is particularly well-padded and soft. When I press the fabric, it gives about an inch or centimetre of bounce. I like how the material gently hugs my hips.
The hip belt also has two quick-access pockets, which is a feature you normally find only on trekking bags, but I think many travelers will find very handy as well. They’re just big enough for storing things like a passport, phone, or granola bar.
You can also entirely detach the hip belt and stow the shoulder straps. This will quickly turn the Setout into a duffel bag. It has two attachment points for a duffel-style shoulder strap, which is sold separately.
I should mention I’m quite tall (1.94m or 6’4), which makes the Setout’s hip belt sit somewhat high above my hip bones. If you’re very tall like me (or very short) then the Outbreaker might give more comfort, as its harness is fully adjustable. I still prefer the Setout though, as it’s a lot lighter.
Design & material
Tortuga’s previous generation of backpacks had quite a boxy design, but the Setout has some nicely rounded off corners. I think this makes it much more elegant and appealing.
The bag is made of 900D polyester, which is treated with a weather-resistant coating. Starting with the new editions in 2019, most versions of the Setout are made of recycled materials (plastic bottles turned into plastic chips and then polyester). It’s nice to see Tortuga taking steps to reduce the environmental impact of their products.
The Setout now comes in two sizes — 35L and 45L. The larger version is pretty much the maximum you could possibly take on a plane as carry-on luggage. Since it maximizes size it may not be quite that sporty-looking, but it’s amazing how much you can fit inside. Keep in mind that if you really overstuff the 45L, it might exceed the carry-on limits. The 35L is a more modest size, closer to most other carry-on backpacks.
All three of the main compartments have lockable zippers. If I had just one complaint it’s that they only fit the smallest luggage locks. I can’t lock them with the slightly larger padlock I use for hostel lockers. It’s not the end of the world, but I wish the rings were just slightly wider.
Setout vs. Outbreaker
Besides the Setout, Tortuga also has the Outbreaker product line. The Outbreaker costs $100 more, comes in two sizes, and appears aimed more at the professional or demanding traveler.
A key difference is that its suspension system It can be adjusted separately of the backpack itself, and so it can be perfectly adjusted to the individual. This backpack is also made of water-proof sailcloth. On the other hand, it’s also a lot heavier.
|Tortuga Setout||Tortuga Outbreaker|
|45L||35 or 45L|
|Not height adjustable||Height adjustable|
|1.5 kg (3.3 lbs)||2.3 kg (5.1 lbs)|
I prefer the Setout as it’s cheaper and lighter, and probably meets the needs of most travellers. But you can have a look at a full comparison with the Outbreaker on Tortuga’s website.
Different Setout models
The Tortuga Setout line has expanded a lot in the last year. There are now many models to choose from.
Each now comes with 3 colour options: heather grey (seen in this review), black, and navy blue.
- Tortuga Setout 45L — the original Setout which I’ve principally reviewed here. Very large, basically suitcase-size.
- Tortuga Setout 35L — a mid-size carry-on for even the strictest airlines. It has the same features as the 45, just a bit smaller.
- Tortuga Setout 35L Women’s Fit — same features but adjusted for a women’s torso, with higher-placed chest strap and slightly smaller hip belt
- Tortuga Setout Divide — a separate product, this backpack is 26L by default but can expand up to 34L. Ideally used as a laptop and daily carry bag, but it can also be used on shorter trips in its expanded form. It’s a daily / weekender bag focused on the essentials.
If you’re curious what the 35L navy blue edition looks like, here’s my girlfriend carrying one on a recent trip to Italy.
The Setout has fantastic organizational features, looks good, and is comfortable to use. The 45L edition is maximum carry-on size, while the 35L has a more standard carry-on size. It’s durable but light, and I think it’s one of the best backpacks on the market.
The Setout is now my default backpack recommendation as everything feels ‘just right’ — including its price.
If you have a lot more budget to spend, you might also want to look at a more premium backpack like the Peak Design 45L. This will give you a few extra clever features and things like rubber-sealed zippers. But if you don’t want to at least spend twice as much, I think the Tortuga Setout is amazing quality and value.
The only situation in which I’d get another backpack is for long hikes or treks in the outdoors, as the Setout is simply not designed for this purpose.
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