The Tortuga Travel has been replaced by the Tortuga Outbreaker. Keep reading to learn more!
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Hands-on Gear Review
Tortuga Travel Review
Cons: Less durable fabric, bag feels bulky and cumbersome
Bottom line: The Tortuga is a master of comfort, great for those apprehensive about traveling due to the inherent discomfort of navigating airports with luggage.
The Tortuga Travel backpack is a very comfortable travel specific backpack with features well-matched for airport travel. It is one of the most comfortable packs in the review, but did not score as highly in the other rating metrics. If comfort is your number one concern, and you don't need a versatile pack, this is a simple travel backpack that will distinctly improve your comfort and ease of travel through the airport and getting to your hotel.
New Version Update - December 2016
The Tortuga Travel has been replaced by the Tortuga Outbreaker. Keep reading to learn more!
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Travel Backpacks Review
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
New Tortuga Outbreaker vs. The Old Tortuga Travel
Tortuga has replaced their old Travel model with the Outbreaker, an all new bag that comes in two sizes (35L and 45L). The dimensions of the bag remain the same, but there are several new features. The materials and design have both been updated. Load lifters have been added to the shoulder straps to help keep the pack snug on your back.
Check out the side-by-side comparison below. The latest version, the Outbreaker, is pictured on the left while the older version, the Travel, is shown on the right.
Here's a summary of the key differences between the new Outbreaker and the old Tortuga Travel:
We haven't had a chance to test the new Outbreaker pack yet. The text in this review still reflects the old model, the Travel.
The Tortuga excels in comfort, but falls down on a very competitive field of travel backpacks in this review.
This travel backpack is all about comfort. In our research, this came up frequently as the strongest reason to buy this pack. Style be darned, this pack was purported to be so comfortable that no sleek pack with a miniature hip belt could possibly compete. Naturally, we started our testing with a distinct skepticism.
After loading this pack with 45 pounds of weight, cramming it full of our belongings, and toting it around, we agreed: this is the most comfortable travel backpack in the review. At 25 pounds, almost no weight on shoulders, evenly distributed around hips so legs were athletically engaged. The weight centers over your legs and off your shoulders, so you're not craning forward to remain balanced. This pack rested more comfortably on our backs and hips than some mountaineering packs we've owned.
It shares top marks with all of our award winners, including the Osprey Farpoint 55 which has a suspension system similar to a backpacking pack. Note that backpacking packs are designed to ride comfortably on your back for many hours a day in very rugged terrain. Yes, the Tortuga is on par, comfort-wise, with the high end suspension and comfort of a backpacking pack.
We were astonished. And somewhat surprised. The backpack does not have load lifter straps on the shoulders to bring the load in closer, which is often a very important component of comfort in backpacks. But the hip belt and shoulder straps provided excellent suspension. The pack was super comfortable.
The Tortuga is a better fit for larger bodies, over 18 inch long torso, in general. The relatively bulky bag and suspension system can be cumbersome for smaller torso sizes. Similar issue for smaller hips and waists. For smaller bodies, check out the TortugaAir. It has no hip belt, and looks more similar to the Minaal Carry On 2..
Praises aside, our reviewers, being critically minded by force of profession, thought that the Tortuga perpetuates an antiquted ethos in world travel, or, to take it much further, in modern society: you need more stuff, for whatever reason, so that means you need more space. When it's backpacks we're talking about, that, in turn, means you need more padding and more suspension, which both add weight to the pack, and at some point this cycle becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let's unwind that cycle. Ask yourself what you really need. Can you travel without that extra pair of shoes? Do you need two sweaters to choose from this weekend? Take that nice wool piece, it won't get stinky and it looks nice. Voila, less choices to bog you down, more time to think about your exciting trip, and perhaps most of all, less weight on your back.
Check out our more lengthy discussion of traveling light, featuring Ray Jardine, The Swiss Machine, and why to toss the hip belt, in The Best Travel Backpack Review.
The Tortuga backpack is well featured for travel. It is not designed for the office, the gym, business travel, backpacking, etc. As such, it is not a versatile pack, but it is excellent for urban travel, hostel-hopping, weekend trips, etc.
The pack has a separate, padded compartment for your laptop, accessible either via the main compartment or via a "sneak access" in the top, making it very easy to get out for the security check at the airport.
The main compartment has flaps that buckle your clothing in place and help to compress any extra bulk, and zippered mesh pockets for easily-lost items like socks and toothpaste. There is a front pocket for flat items, decent for a tablet though it is not padded. There are two side pockets on the pack and on each of the hip belts, giving you lots of places to stash important items like your passport.
The whole suspension system also zips away easily, so you can carry the backpack around as a briefcase when you want to keep all those straps out of the way, such as when stashing over head in the cabin of your plane (a very necessary feature with this pack because the suspension is so bulky it gets in the way if you don't close it up). The pack has two burly handles that will hold up to plenty of tossing and lugging.
And there are two side straps which help compress the backpack, but also can be used to secure extra items as bulky as a 3/4 length foam sleeping pad. These straps were a little annoying because they buckle over the main compartment zipper, but this is a nice feature in that it helps ensure your pack stays closed during transit.
Overall, the features of the Tortuga are most in line with the Minaal Carry On 2.0, making the two strongest competitors, with the Minaal edging ahead just slightly.
Packing & Accessibility
The Tortuga pack is very boxy, a design to maximize volume and ease of packing. This is true, but there was stiff competition in this category. The Osprey Porter 46 blew the Tortuga out of the water with its ability to gobble up shocking amounts of gear with speed and easy. For the relative bulk of the Tortuga, especially when compared to the Porter, we were not as impressed by the packing performance of this travel backpack.
As we discussed briefly in the Comfort section above, and more in depth in The Best Travel Backpack Review, perhaps packing and accessibility is also more about what you're bringing in the first place. For another gear diversion, check out Petzl - What's in Ueli Steck's Pack. If he can climb Mont Blanc with a 20 liter pack, just how much stuff do we really need to climb the Eiffel tower?
When packed with uneven loads, which was often in our trials, the Tortuga's zippers often got caught and stuck. This happened frequently enough to raise concern about the ruggedness and long term durability of the zippers. They are good zippers, big and strong, but over time, in our pack experience, when zippers frequently catch like they did with this pack, they are apt to break or bend a tooth sooner than later.
The Tortuga had some of the strongest and some of the weakest denier fabrics in this review. Combined with the zipper glitches, this pack got a relatively poor rating for durability. Packs with smooth zippers and better performance when overstuffed included the Cotopaxi Nazca and the Arc'teryx Covert CO.
Weight & Capacity
As mentioned in the Packing and Accessibility section above, this backpack did not impress us with the amount of gear it could accommodate, especially when compared to the Osprey Porter 46 which felt less bulky on our backs and much lighter.
The Tortuga is also one of the heavier packs in this review, lighter only than the Osprey Farpoint 55 which is equally comfortable but has a much higher capacity. This is surely in part due to the heavier suspension in the Tortuga, which is very comfortable but that winds us back up in a discussion of needing more suspension because we are taking more stuff, which means more pack weight, and more bulk, etc. Take less stuff so you can take a smaller pack, and end up with the same level comfort.
The features on this pack make it particularly suited to urban international travel. It performs excellently in busy airports: it rests very comfortably on your back in long security checkpoint lines, it is easy to pull out your laptop as the TSA agent rushes you through the x-ray screening, and the handles and stowable suspension make it convert to a quasi suitcase to stash easily in the plane's overhead bins or in the trunk of a car.
This is not a pack designed for much cross-over use. It's bulky for office and business travel use, and the features don't match up for most trips to the gym. But for travel comfort, the Tortuga is an excellent choice.
At $199, this contender is nearing the more pricey end of this review. Given its limitations in versatility, this may not be the best bang for your buck. However, if you know you really need a comfortable travel-specific backpack, this is a great option.
This backpack ended up inspiring a lot of discussion amongst our reviewers. It made us think of the bigger picture of travel, for which we are grateful. This pack is an excellent international and urban travel backpack, and will remain comfortable under surprisingly heavy loads.
However, as we discussed, the other way to be comfortable in our travel experience is to minimize what we take with us in the first place. This has the added benefit of restricting our choices while on our trip, too, which sounds like a negative thing until you experience the feeling of freedom when you realize your only choice is to wear those dirty wool socks one more day, because that's all you have. Perhaps having one less decision to make means more energy to learn a few new Russian words. Or maybe you'll just stink. Either way, you'll have less stuff on your back.
— Lyra Pierotti
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