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Tortuga Backpack Review

I took a trip to Europe last November and arrived early in the morning to the beautiful city Bruges, Belgium to explore the canals and medieval buildings. Since it was so early there were not many people out and I felt like I had the city all to myself. This made me feel even worse when the serene silence of the morning was shattered by the clap, clap, clap of my rolling suitcase on the centuries old cobblestone streets. At that moment not only did I feel like a stupid tourist but I also decided then and there that I needed to find a better way to travel smarter and pack lighter for future trips.

Rolling your suitcase over these streets is loud and annoying
Rolling your suitcase over these streets is loud and annoying

The first part of traveling smarter was to ditch the rolling suitcase and look for a backpack. Not only is the backpack lighter but you can then travel with only a carry-on. There are a ton of advantages to saying no to checked luggage and among them are:

It’s Cheaper: With many airlines charging $25+ for your first checked back (and even more for your second!) it is not surprising that the airline industry earned $3.35 Billion in checked baggage fees in 2013. Not having any checked luggage will save you at least $50+ a trip.

It Saves You Time: Having only a carry-on means you can walk off the plane and directly out of the airport and not wait at baggage claim. You’ll save yourself the time of waiting for your bag to come out and the anxiety of wondering if the airline lost your bag.

Flexibility/Easy to Pack and Go: Packing only a carry on means you’re packing light and you have less to lug around when you get where you’re going. Your lighter load means you may be more open to some exploring or wandering at your destination instead of having to first go to your hotel and drop off your bags. Packing lighter means you’ll also be able to pack quicker and be on your way when it’s time to go to your next destination.

The second part was to pick the best backpack for the job. I wasn’t sure what type of bag I was looking for but knew that I wanted a good quality bag for a reasonable price that could hold everything I would need for a trip (that doesn’t narrow it down in the least bit!). In my search I stumbled upon Tortuga Backpacks and what really got my attention was the story behind the company. It is a company formed by two friends who went backpacking in Europe and realized the bags they took with them couldn’t hold up to the rigors of travel. When they couldn’t find a bag to fit their needs they designed and built their own. The key feature to the Tortuga backpack is that it is front-loading, meaning you can open the backpack just like a suitcase as opposed to standard hiking packs that are top-loading. This means there is no more digging to get something buried at the bottom of your bag.

If you need something at the bottom, you have to dig for it!
If you need something at the bottom of your bag you have to dig for it!


Tortuga opens up like a suitcase
Tortuga opens up like a suitcase

The other thing that I really liked about Tortuga Backpacks is that they are completely upfront about their product and how it stacks up against their competition. If you take a look at this page you will see in depth one to one comparisons of the Tortuga bag and the competition. Many companies will tell you they have the best product and not even mention their competitors for fear you’ll magically be drawn to them and they’ll lose your business. I really respect that Tortuga listed many of the competitors in the same market and then took the time to do an in depth analysis. I did take the time to read the comparisons between a few of the bags I was considering and this just reaffirmed that the Tortuga bag would be the best for my needs and placed my order.

My initial thoughts opening the bag were that it seems a little smaller than my usual roller suitcase but that concern was quickly resolved when I began to pack it with clothes. The bag is flattened out during shipping and once I opened it up and started placing items in it I realized that it is comparable to the roller suitcase in capacity (44 Liters of space), but at a fraction of the weight. I also really liked the high quality nylon and heavy duty zippers that should hold up to the bumps and bruises baggage takes out on the road. I don’t travel with a computer and prefer to go off the grid when I’m away from home, but many people will like that the pack has a sleeve that can hold up to a 17” laptop and be accessed through the top of the pack without having to open the entire bag to get to it.

I’ll let you go to their website to see all the specifics, but here are the pictures from when I took the bag out of the box and packed it for my trip.

Tortuga 1
Front view of the backpack
Tortuga 2
Side view – Notice both the side pockets and the waist strap pockets
Tortuga 3
Padded Shoulder Straps – Can be zippered up and covered if needed
Tortuga 5
It looks like a lot of stuff, but it all fit!
Tortuga 6
Individually zippered pouches keeps everything organized
Tortuga 7
Backpack, camera bag/day bag, and passport and I’m ready for Ireland!
Tortuga 8
The bag in action. I’m 5’10” if that helps size the picture
Tortuga 9
Side view

While I realize I still have a ways to go in packing light, I was able to fit everything I wanted to bring on my 4 night trip to Ireland in the backpack. The big test was then throwing the bag on my bag. Would it be so heavy that I’d be hunched over? Would the straps dig into my shoulders? Could I walk around with everything I need on my back? The short answers are NO, NO, and YES! The padded shoulder straps were extremely comfortable and when I buckled the waist strap (Bonus! The waist belt has a zippered pocket on each side. Put your passport/phone/wallet in those before you get to the security line and you don’t have to worry about emptying your pockets) it helped to distribute the weight from my shoulders and onto my hips. I was able board the plane and easily store the pack in the over head compartment.

In Ireland the Tortuga pack was very comfortable to wear as we walked around the city from the train station and I didn’t have any complaints as we went exploring. It was a great feeling to have all my belongings on my back and have my hands free to take a picture or look at a map and not have to drag something behind me. When we arrived at the airport for our return flight home the flight was full and the airline was gate checking bags because there wouldn’t be enough room in the overhead bins for some of the wheeled carry-ons. They were using the luggage checker to check for size and even some bags that fit but fit snugly in the bin were being taken and checked. The airline worker took a look at my backpack and didn’t even bother to make me take it off. He just took my boarding pass and let me on the plane. Sidenote: I checked the bag in one of those bins myself when I printed my boarding pass and it fit easily!

The Tortuga fits easily in the luggage checker
The Tortuga fits easily in the luggage checker

There are a ton of different bags out there depending on what type of trip you are looking to take. If you are looking to pack lighter and keep everything on your back then I would serious consider the Tortuga Backpack. It was developed by fellow travelers with their wants and needs in mind. So far I have used this backpack on two trips and find it durable and able to hold everything I need for a week long trip (Probably longer if I could learn to pack less). Travel lighter, travel more free, put everything on your back and just go!

I think that's my ride!
I think that’s my ride!


    • Andy says:

      Hi Michael,

      I had not heard of this backpack before so thanks for bringing it to my attention. Kickstarter does have some really cool travel products that people try to launch and you can get a good deal on things if you get in on the ground floor. This looks like a cool bag with some excellent features and you’d be helping another small business get off the ground so I like it from that aspect. Looks like the cheapest offer you can get on this one at this point is for $49 (Unless you get the 4 bags for $100 and split that with friends) Last year I purchased this bag below off Amazon as my daybag and it hasn’t let me down to trips to Central & South America and domestically. It is the same general concept and I have had no problems with it whatsoever. Plus at $20 it’s a really good deal. Let me know what you decide to go with!


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