Okay, let me cut right to the case here: the Tortuga Travel Backpack Lite is my new favorite backpack to recommend!

I believe that for many travellers, it’s in a perfect sweet spot in terms of price, features, and versatility. Much like the original Tortuga Setout (which preceded it and of which I was a big fan), the Tortuga Travel Backpack Lite is an excellent choice on a medium budget and for any type of trip.

That doesn’t mean it’s the absolute ‘best’ in every conceivable way. There are backpacks that offer a few more advanced features, including Tortuga’s own Pro version. However, this often also comes at a cost in terms of the overall weight and, well, cost. Compared to the Tortuga Pro, the Lite is $100 cheaper and 1 pound lighter.

I’ll cover all the pros and cons here, but I’m happy to say the Tortuga Travel Backpack Lite takes the best of its well-reviewed Setout and improves it in several ways, making it one of my new top picks.

Price $250


  • Front-loading for easy access
  • Excellent, properly padded suspension system
  • Suitable for both adventurous and city-based trips


  • Lack of some pro-level features (e.g. rubber-sealed zippers)
Note: currently Tortuga ships exclusively to United States customers. If you’re in Europe or elsewhere, consider alternatives such as those by Osprey or Salkan.

Who is this backpack for?

What I think is excellent about the Tortuga Travel Backpack Lite is that it works well for different types of trips or travel styles. It’s actually quite rare to be able to say this about a backpack.

Its padded back panel and fully featured harness make it well suited to more outdoorsy or adventurous trips — say, island hopping in Thailand or backpacking through Europe.

At the same time, its understated design ensures that it still looks the part for any air, city, or weekend travel.

Finally, a backpack that does both!

Usually, backpacks are great for one thing but not the other. For instance, Peak Design is great for air travel but wouldn’t be my first choice for, say, traveling by bus through Peru because of its limited back padding and hip strap. Similarly, a multi-colored Cotopaxi looks very outdoorsy and would look quite out of place on a city—or business trip. So, I appreciate it when a pack covers various scenarios well.

The Tortuga Travel Backpack Lite straddles the line between “adventure pack” and “city pack” pretty much perfectly.

Storage features

Let’s examine the features offered by the Tortuga Travel Backpack Lite, beginning with the most important ones: the packing features.

Main internal compartment

The Tortuga Lite is front-loading, opening essentially like a suitcase. I always prefer this method, as it gives easy access to all my stuff. For general travel you really don’t want one of those backpacks that can only be opened from the top, making it difficult to get anything from the bottom.

The main compartment offers a wonderfully big space that you can fill as you wish. It also has two mesh zipped compartments, which make it easy to keep smaller items separate.

I do recommend getting one of Tortuga’s compression packing cubes, pictured below. This will give you just a bit of extra organization within the main compartment. I usually keep shirts and pants/trousers just stacked within the main compartment, but it’s great to keep socks and underwear separately in a packing cube. The main compartment stays pretty minimalistic, with no zippers or sleeves around the edges, just the two zipped mesh compartments.

Front panel

The front panel is a bit different from Tortuga’s previous Setout packs and from many other backpacks, in that you won’t find a typical travel organizer here. Instead of having a section with some rows of very small sleeves and maybe a pen or phone holder, you instead get two general-purpose storage spaces.

Firstly, there is a spacious horizontal top sleeve that’s ideal for quick access. It has a keychain clip inside, and I like to store things like sunglasses and smaller travel accessories here.

Across the middle is another vertical sleeve that’s perfect for documents or somewhat larger travel items. It’s very spacious; even a paperback travel guide will easily fit here. I really like the addition of this new sleeve, which is more practical than the full-length ones you often find on other backpacks.

I really like the approach taken with the front panel. Backpacks designed for city travel or commutes often have lots of mini sleeves or pen holders here, which I rarely (if ever) use in practice. I don’t travel with an array of pens or office materials… but I do pack things like a headlamp, a padlock, or a quick-drying travel towel. Having two spaces here that are a bit more ‘3D’ is actually much more suited for active/adventure trips.

Back compartment

The back compartment is ideal for storing a laptop, tablet, or e-reader. The laptop sleeve has a false bottom, meaning the laptop is suspended above the bottom of the backpack. This means your laptop won’t take a hit if you drop the bag on the ground.

Pictured here is my 13.3-inch Macbook Air with a plastic protective case, which fits very easily inside. Laptops up to 15″ should fit here with ease.

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.

Water bottle pocket

There is one water bottle pocket on one side, which is made of a stretchy material. This ensures that when you’re not using it, there isn’t anything extruding from the pack, so it maintains a clean shape.

It will comfortably hold a 20-oz or 600ml flask. I could also fit a 50-oz or 1.5L water bottle here. You may not generally want to do this from a load-balancing point of view, but it’s possible.

There isn’t a compression strap above the water bottle pocket, so it’s not really designed for carrying something like a big tripod. However, since the pocket is quite deep, you could still carry a compact tripod (like a Gorillapod) in there without any issues.

Suspension system

The Tortuga Lite comes with an excellent, fully featured, and properly padded suspension system.

To test this backpack, I took it on a trip to the Portuguese island of Madeira, where I stayed in the wonderful surfing village of Porto da Cruz. The backpack remained comfortable throughout the trip, never giving me any sore shoulders.

You have several ways of adjusting it to your body. There is the all-important hip belt, the sternum strap, and the load lifter straps. (The latter can pull the top of the backpack closer to your shoulders.) By using all of these in concert you can properly distribute the weight along your entire back and hips.

Unlike the Tortuga Pro, it doesn’t have a back panel that you can completely detach and adjust up or down. Being quite tall — I’m 1.94m or 6″5 — I have come to appreciate such a feature in a backpack, as most designs are (understandably) optimized for average heights. I still find the Tortuga Lite very comfortable on the shoulders, though the hip belt ends up sitting a bit too high for me. I’ve gotten used to this being the case with most backpacks I test.

I would rate the Tortuga Lite’s comfort level well above typical urban/city/air travel backpacks I’ve tried, such as those by Peak Design, AER, or Pakt. These brands tend to prioritize aesthetics over having more padding or comfort since they’re not expected to be worn for as long periods of time.

The only backpacks that may be just one small step more comfortable than the Tortuga are those with a major hiking or trekking heritage, such as those by Osprey. These often have features such as trampoline-style back panels. However, the trade-off is that this limits you to a purely hiking or outdoor backpack aesthetic.

Overall I found the Tortuga Lite has an excellent comfort level even when carrying heavy loads.

One more thing worth mentioning is that the hip belt is detachable. This is nice if you’re taking it on, say, a weekend trip where you’re not packing as much. It lets you adapt the pack to different types of trips, which is another reason why I think this backpack is so versatile.

Design & material

The Lite has an elegant and understated design, with a black exterior and an off-white interior.

The bag is made of weather-resistant 630D Cordura nylon. As is becoming standard among backpack manufacturers, the pack uses recycled materials.

The Lite comes in one size: 40L. Based on its dimensions it should comfortably fit within standard carry-on allowances for air travel. Thanks to not being bogged down with superfluous features, the inside compartment feels wonderfully spacious. If you follow my tips for packing light, the Lite should give you enough space for all but the most gear-heavy trips.

Having to pack for multiple climates may require a bigger pack, but unless you plan to bookend your trip to France with some stops in the Arctic and Dubai, you will probably be fine with carry-on only. If you pair the Lite with a small daypack (such as Tortuga’s own packable daypack), you’ll get a total carry capacity of about 55 liters.

All three of the main compartments have lockable zippers. To add an extra layer of security, you can use a TSA-approved padlock. A padlock is super useful to have anyway if you plan to go backpacking as your belongings are usually stored in lockers when staying in hostels or guesthouses.

One thing to note is that the zippers don’t have a rubber layer enclosing them, unlike the Pro edition. That said, the zippers appear to be of high quality and in I don’t think you’ll have any issues in light rain. The island of Madeira is notoriously bipolar when it comes to weather, so I had my share of rain on my trip, but this never posed any issues.

However, if you maybe plan to regularly walk through epic thunderstorms, then I can imagine some light moisture seeping through the zippers if your pack becomes totally saturated. If you expect very intense weather conditions, you could maybe buy a separate rain cover, or you could have a look at the most premium-level backpacks like the Pro.


The Tortuga Backpack Lite has sufficient storage space and features to be used stand-alone, though Tortuga also offers several handy accessories worth considering.

Firstly, there are the compression packing cubes, which will make organizing your clothes much easier. I always travel with at least one large packing cube, which I use mainly for socks and underwear, and sometimes for backup clothing. I also know travelers who swear by packing all their clothes into cubes for some truly zen packing.

The dimensions of the Tortuga cubes exactly match those of their packs, so there is no wasted space around the margins. They also have a nice grab handle so you could even hang them in a hotel closet.

An extra advantage of Tortuga’s cubes is that they can expand to fit more stuff, but can then compress by up to a third to maximize your packing space. If you are going on a longer trip, then using a cube or two can help you get the most out of the main compartment. I’ve used dozens of packing cubes and I think Tortuga’s are among the best of the bunch.

Another accessory to check out is the packable backpack. This daypack compresses down to about the size of an apple and weighs just 11 oz or 300 gr, so you can easily put it away when you’re traveling carry-on only. But having a daypack with you for carrying snacks, water, or your travel guide comes in super handy while your main pack stays back at your hotel or hostel.

It’s small enough to fit under the seat in front of you on a flight as your personal item. There are, of course, limits to how much structure a packable backpack can have, but it’s very nicely padded for something that is so light.


The Tortuga Lite is one of the easiest backpacks to recommend just because I know it will tick most boxes for most people. It’s the kind of pack you can use on different types of travels, so even if you buy it for a specific trip you’ve been planning for a while, you can still keep using it for years after.

If you truly want to go all out, there are pro-level packs to consider. But in terms of storage options and comfort level, I think the Tortuga Travel Backpack Lite is excellent, especially given its friendly price tag. The Lite is also literally light, weighing just 3.5 lb (1.59 kg), preserving more of your precious luggage allowance for your actual gear.

The Lite has fantastic organizational features, looks great, and is comfortable to use. Everything feels ‘just right’, making it a no-brainer if you’re looking for an all-purpose travel backpack.

The Tortuga Travel Backpack Lite is available exclusively from Tortuga’s online store.

Some links may be affiliate links, meaning I may earn commission from products or services I recommend. For more, see site policies.