When you’re traveling hard — I’m talking mile after mile, flight after flight, hotel after hotel, and even year after year — the best backpack that delivers on a pretty specific set of needs is what you should have. It needs to be comfortable enough to carry around for however long it takes to navigate the bad directions to your Airbnb. It needs to offer all the organizational elements necessary to keep things from falling into chaos. Perhaps more than anything, it needs to be capable of carrying anything and everything you need for a lengthy bout of travel. Ideally, it will also fit in an airplane’s overhead bin, and a dash of style doesn’t hurt.
I can attest from firsthand experience that no one backpack nor suitcase delivers on all of these fronts like the Tortuga Outbreaker — specifically the 45-liter version. My travels have been more or less ongoing over the past decade, and ever since discovering the Outbreaker in 2016 it has been on my back nearly every step of the way. I’ve tried bags from other leading brands here and there, but I always go back to Tortuga.
I’ve lived out of my Outbreaker for literally years on end. It is the home I carry on my back, much like the name — Tortuga, which means “Turtle” — implies. Here’s why it’s so ideal for long-term travel.
Let’s start with the main reason the Outbreaker is so perfectly suited for long-term travel: its cavernous capacity.
I’ve traveled with other 45L bags, but somehow Tortuga has managed to make its layout more expansive, better organized, and more carry-on compliant than any bag I’ve come across. It’s incredible how much stuff I’ve managed to pack into it.
In the main compartment, I usually have an extra pair of shoes, flip-flops, shirts/pants/shorts/socks/underwear for five days, a set of gym clothes, a light jacket or sweatshirt, a travel-sized power strip, and some other random electronics, my toiletry bag, and even a book or two. Most of this is fitted into a single open space, with some of it organized into six interior pockets. All of that, and we’ve just looked at the first of three main compartments.
Running the full length of this is a second compartment that has a well-padded space for a laptop resting safely against your back, a soft-surface pocket for a tablet or ebook reader, one large and two medium pockets where I usually have my “office” and art supplies, and still more open interior space. Then on the front of the bag is a half-length compartment with a soft-surface pocket, two large pockets, several pen and small item slots, and a larger open space. Put a few books or guides into the two exterior pockets as well as a few odds and ends into the hip-belt pockets, and you’ve got an insane amount of gear. Oh, and there’s a water bottle holder.
The Outbreaker manages to pack all of that capacity into a surprisingly comfortable, carry-on friendly frame. The shoulder straps and hip-belt are well-padded and comfortable, and the whole thing sits well on your back. I’ve wandered cities (lost) for hours on end, Outbreaker on my back, and it’s never left my back aching. This is most certainly not a claim I can make about every bag.
While the largest edition of the Outbreaker — the 45L — is only rated for large US carry-on limits (there is a trimmed down international carry-on version), I’ve carried mine onto planes of all sizes all over the world, and I can’t think of a single time I’ve ever been forced to check it. That isn’t to say that I’ve never checked it. I have, and it emerged from the perils of the baggage tossers unscathed.
That attests to the durable craftsmanship of the Outbreaker. I have a pair of friends who have used theirs through six years of hard and fast traveling and report that the padding in theirs is only just starting to lose its cushion. And in the same period of equally relentless travel, the only issue I’ve had involved a zipper-tab that finally snapped loose. The zipper itself is perfectly fine, and all it took was a thirty-cent replacement tab for it to be good as new. That happened after thousands of openings and closings, often under the strain of the bag being stuffed to the gills.
It’s a tough bag, is what I’m saying.
What’s more, it’s also fairly sleek looking. There are other bags out there that place more emphasis on style, but in doing so they compromise on utility. When all is said and done, if you’re going to be traveling for months or years on end, your priority needs to be practicality. That isn’t to say that the Outbreaker throws all thought for looks out the window; it’s just lower on the list of considerations.
The 45L Tortuga Outbreaker clocks in at $299, which places it somewhere in the upper-moderate price range among travel backpacks. Based on the outstanding capacity and pure mile-after-mile durability of the Outbreaker, I think that price is a steal. It’s not going to come apart on you in some airport baggage claim, and the shoulder straps aren’t going to give out while lost in the backstreets of Bangkok.
Suffice to say that if you’re looking for a backpack that will do its job admirably through year after year and countless miles of travel, the Tortuga Outbreaker is a worthwhile investment.
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