Backpack Review: Tortuga Setout (My New Favorite Carry-On!)

April 23, 2018

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 (yet neutral) 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 (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.

Storage features

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.

Front panel

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).

Back compartment

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. It’s one of the more generous side-pockets I have come across.

Other features

Finally, there is one quick access pouch on the front. It has a nice-size zipper with a little pull string.

 

Suspension system

I very much like the suspension system of the Tortuga Setout.

Some bags end up compromising a lot in this area (to be fair, this is usually to keep the harness entirely stowable). But the Setout comes with a fully featured and properly padded suspension system. It lets you easily distribute the weight along your entire back and hips, relieving strain on your shoulders.

The main straps are wide and have little holes inside the injection molded foam for maintaining airflow. These straps do feel just a bit stiff, though apparently this material is intended to be ‘broken in’ and will loosen up through continued use.

The hip belt is particularly well-padded and soft. When I press the fabric, it gives about one centimeter of bounce. I like how the material gently hugs my hips. On an Osprey Farpoint backpack, this padding is a lot stiffer.

Two velcro straps let you detach the hip belt if needed. 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.

By detaching the hip belt and stowing the shoulder straps, you can quickly turn the Setout into a duffel bag. It has two attachment points for a duffel-style shoulder strap, though such a strap is sadly not included. (Though I must admit I’ve never seen the need to turn my backpacks into a duffel.)

 

Design & material

The design of Tortuga’s previous backpacks was honestly somewhat of a turn-off for me.

Their older Outbreaker edition (and the Tortuga V2 before that) had incredibly boxy designs. While they maximized the carry-on capacity to the absolute limit, they didn’t look so good. With the Setout, they’ve rounded off the corners a little, and made it a good deal more elegant. I’m now totally on board.

The Setout comes in just one size — 45L. Since it’s meant to be a maximum carry-on size bag, it’s still stuck using a suitcase-like shape. This is not quite as sporty or streamlined as some other backpacks on the market, though considering this is a 45-liter bag that’s still carry-on size I cannot complain too much.

The interior uses an off-white color. It may be a matter of taste, but I much prefer this to the garish neon colors used in Osprey’s backpacks or in the eBags Motherlode, among others.

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. I also have an anti-theft wire-lock that doesn’t fit through the tiny rings. It’s not the end of the world, but it would have been nice to have just slightly wider rings on the zippers.

The bag is made of 900D polyester, which is a nicely thick-threaded and firm material. It’s also treated with a weather-resistant coating.

 

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.

Notably, it has a suspension system that can be adjusted independent of the backpack itself, and so it can be perfectly adjusted to the individual. It is also made of water-proof sailcloth. On the other hand, it’s a lot heavier.

Tortuga Setout Tortuga Outbreaker
$199 $299
45L 35 or 45L
Not height adjustable Height adjustable
900D polyester Sailcloth
1.5 kg (3.3 lbs) 2.3 kg (5.1 lbs)

I think the Setout looks nicer, is cheaper and lighter, and meets the needs of most travelers. But you can have a look at a full comparison with the Outbreaker on Tortuga’s website.

 

Conclusion

The Setout has now become my default travel bag. I tested it on a city trip to Romania, though I’m certain I will take it with me on future trips outside of Europe as well. It’s a bag that somehow manages to be suitable for both adventurous and city-based trips.

Only for long hikes or treks in the outdoors, I’d still reach for a different backpack more suited to this type of task.

Other reviews have mentioned a lack of load lifter straps on the Setout. Balancing the load or getting to align the pack to my back has not been an issue for me without any such straps. Though if you wish to have load lifter straps, the Tortuga Outbreaker does have them.

I should also mention I have a particularly long torso (I’m 1.94m or 6’4), which makes the Setout’s hip belt sit somewhat high above my hip bones, which isn’t ideal. If you’re very tall like me (or very short) then the Outbreaker can give more comfort as it lets you manually adjust the entire harness based on your torso length. Though the Outbreaker is also a bit heavier and costs $100 more.

These nitpicks aside, I don’t have any major criticisms of the Setout. I do have a little caveat for Europeans like me (or other international customers). Tortuga Backpacks doesn’t yet have a European warehouse, which means additional shipping and import fees get added to the price if you’re not American. It seems this may change in the future, but for now only Americans can get free shipping (and no import fees).

(UPDATE: Tortuga announced they’re suspending European shipping for now. Until they have a European fulfillment center, they suggest using a freight forwarder.)

The Tortuga Setout is available exclusively from Tortuga’s store.

 

This review is fully independent (i.e. genuine review, no sponsorship). It contains some affiliate links which earn me a commission if you make a purchase, which is explained more here

1 comment

  1. Rose Reply April 29, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    Looks pretty nice! I’m looking for a (carry-on) travel backpack for my boyfriend. He has his eyes on the Osprey Porter for now. Which one would you choose?

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