By now you probably know that travel is just plain better with a carry-on bag. Packing light and using a carry-on means never having to worry about lost luggage, crazy expensive checked baggage fees, or broken gear from airport “handlers” chucking your precious backpack around. It also means faster check-in at and before the airport, walking right out from the plane, and a million other tiny little benefits. Carry-on travel is the way to go.
So the question then is, how does the Tortuga Outbreaker 35L travel backpack stack up as a do-it all carry on backpack? Will this backpack fit all your stuff? Is it durable enough to handle life on the road? Will you actually use all the nifty pockets and cool features (because it’s a pretty technical backpack? And ultimately, is this the backpack for your next trip?
Here’s a complete breakdown of all the features of the Tortuga Outbreaker 35L backpack to help you answer those questions. The 35L Outbreaker is a real contender as one of the best travel backpacks on the market right now. Here’s why.
First things first—the Tortuga Outbreaker (both the 35L and 45L) is a technical backpack. What does that mean exactly? It means that this bag was designed to help you pack and securely store a lot of gear.
If you travel with a laptop, tablet, Kindle, portable battery chargers, USB cables, power bricks, camera lenses, a microphone, GoPro (and their numerous attachments)—the Outbreaker is one of the best backpacks there is. It’s literally brimming with pockets and zippered mesh pouches to keep all your technical stuff organized—which honestly is a large portion of many people’s packing lists.
If you have at least three of those items listed above (like a tablet, laptop and chargers), this could be a great bag because you don’t have to buy any bulky or
expensive “organizers.” Just use the features that come pre-baked into this backpack. But, if you’re looking to hike across Spain or trek the Andes, this probably isn’t the bag for you—and that’s ok.
The 35L Tortuga Outbreaker is primarily designed for business travelers, a frequent weekend travelers, tech savvy backpackers, and digital nomads working remotely. In fact, Tortuga even claims that this bag has “obsessive organization” on the product page. It’s for people with lots of stuff that still want to travel light. And one of the highlights (and main reasons to get this tech-friendly backpack) is the laptop compartment. Here are the features we love:
Dedicated Laptop Sleeve
The Outbreaker has a dedicated padded zippered compartment that can accommodate up to a 17” laptop. No one even has a 17” laptop anymore, but you can still fit one if you do. And it even opens like a clam shell for airport security screenings. That means you’ll never have to take your laptop out of your bag again. Just unzip the flap, and all your tech gear is on display while still neatly and safely organized in your bag.
This compartment keeps your tech stuff separate from your smelly socks, but the additional organization of the (3) zippered mesh compartments means you can also segment charging cables from camera gear, or seldom used tech stuff like adaptors from everyday items like a portable charger. It’s flexible and it makes sense. Keep your gear together and separate from the rest with the dedicated compartment.
That being said, if you don’t travel with a laptop regularly this compartment might seem like a waste of space. It does protrude into the main compartment of the bag a little bit, so keep that in mind. Organizational space comes at the price of overall storage, but if you use it, it’s more than worth the trade off.
Internal Organization and Design: Packs Like a Suitcase
The main compartment of the 35L Outbreaker opens like a suitcase (not a top loading backpack), and it’s honestly fantastic. Every backpack should work like this.
The main compartment is spacious, and the boxy shape means you can keep all your clothes neatly packed. Sometimes rounded bags make it tough to keep everything orderly and “in-line” which sounds a little nit-picky, but when the curve of a bag makes your clothes bend at weird angles they can get pretty wrinkled. That doesn’t happen here.
The main compartment is big, well laid out and packs tons of stuff. Also, the packing cubes from Tortuga fit perfectly into the boxy shape of the backpack, but it’s also probably compatible with any off the shelf packing cubes you already have. However, the zippered mesh compartments on the “lid” of the backpack make packing cubes a little redundant, which is great.
Internal 3D Mesh Pockets
You can keep socks and underwear, or shirts organized in one of the two zippered mesh compartments on the other side of the main compartment. The pockets are see through thanks to the mesh so you can see everything at a glance, and they won’t get stuffy or stale (especially if they get a little damp).
Use them however you like, the mesh pockets are great.
Internal side pockets
The other fun design in the main compartment are the two slim internal zippered pockets on the lining of the main compartment. They look like big pencil cases, and are great for storing rarely used or small items like jewelry, accessories, or even toiletries to keep them separate from your clothes.
Use them for a little extra organization—or don’t. They disappear into the lining of the bag for more space in the main compartment if you don’t use them.
Front Pocket Organization: OCD Approved
Moving forward to the front of the bag, the internal organization in the front zippered pocket of Tortuga 35L Outbreaker is one of the strengths of this travel backpack. If you’re traveling and you want to keep your stuff obsessively organized, this is the backpack for you.
There are tons of small useful pockets for pens, notebooks, battery chargers, sunglasses, keys, snacks—whatever. If you’re traveling for work or work on the road, you’ll appreciate having all of your gear safely organized and ready to go.
There’s a zippered pocket for a passport or documents, a key ring, pen pockets, and tons of little slots for whatever you need.
One useful travel hack is to keep a portable battery charger in a dedicated pocket in the front zipper of the backpack with a charging cable attached. Just tuck your phone, bluetooth headphones, or other device in another secure flap of the front pocket, plug it into the charger, and ta-da—you’ve got yourself a portable, secure charging station. You can stop stuffing a warm battery charger in your back pocket with a long cable dangling around your knees.
The front pocket organization is discreet, effective, and easy to manage, and one of the biggest benefits of the overall design.
Front Stash Pockets: Top and Secret Pocket
The backpack also features two front “stash” style pockets. These aren’t amazing—they’re kind of small—but that’s alright. If you want to stash a sandwich or snack for the flight and keep mustard away from your clothes or documents this is a great pocket.
Honestly, these pockets aren’t super useful, but the extra organization is there if you need it, and the lower front stash pocket is just a little bit more discreet if you want to stash away anything like a passport or rarely used travel documents (like medical info or travel plans). It’s there if you want it.
Carry On Compatible
The 45L Outbreaker backpack is marketed as the “maximum size allowable” for carry on flights, but that’s kind of a moving target. Luggage standards change all the time and different airlines vary on what’s considered allowable carry on. Even the kind of ticket you buy can limit what you’re allowed to bring on the plane with you. United, for instance sells “basic economy” tickets that only include a “personal item.” So keep that in mind.
However, the beauty of the 35L Outbreaker is that you can almost guarantee that you’ll comply with even the strictest carry on rules. And you won’t have to sacrifice much in terms of overall capacity. The layout of the backpack is the same as the 45L option, just shrunken down. So you still get the organization and construction as the larger bag, just in a more manageable package.
If you’re trying to decide between the 35L or 45L Outbreaker, the 35L is probably the right option.
The 35L Outbreaker still features all the same organization as the 45L bag, but the smaller size makes it noticeably easier to carry. 10L is a big difference in terms of capacity, but the smaller size simply packs a bigger punch without any extra bulk. It can fit enough clothing and gear for weeks of travel, and it’s extremely easy to get on any plane (or under the seat). That sounds like a small detail, but it’s a game changer.
Traveling with a carry on backpack is great, but packing everything you need in a bag that doesn’t even need to go in the overhead compartment is truly next level. And you’ll notice the difference.
If you’re a smaller or female traveler (i.e. your clothes just don’t take up as much space), or you like to keep your packing list trim, the 35L Outbreaker is more than enough bag. Plus, the 35L Outbreaker is $30 cheaper than the 45L bag. So there’s that.
When it comes to rugged build quality, this is one of the the bags in the world. The sailcloth ripstop fabric is waterproof and tough as all hell. It’s reinforced to handle snags and rips like a boss.
This backpack is designed for use, and when you pack your laptop and camera inside, it’s nice to know that you have some added protection from everyday wear and tear. It’s a bigger deal than you think. The freedom to walk through a sudden rain shower (thanks to the seam sealed zippers) is huge, and is what takes this bag from being a casual technical bag to a true contender for long term working professionals.
This bag is built to last.
Adjustable Height Backpack Straps
All of Tortuga’s backpack straps are super padded, and the Outbreaker is no exception. It’s comfy, and built to hold a fair bit of weight. However, it’s also adjustable so you can dial in the right fit (which is more important than padding).
The straps are a little over padded to be honest, but if you pack your bag to the brim, you’ll appreciate the added padding vs the alternative. Just watch the video to get the sizing right, and you’re all set.
Good, Removable Hip Belt
The hip belt on the Outbreaker 35L bag is great. It’s padded for comfort, and features a zippered stuff pouch for chapstick or a snack if you’re walking all day. The pocket isn’t massive (you can fit a small phone in there), but it’s nice to have, and the belt is great for keeping the weight off your shoulders, especially if you like to stuff your backpack to the brim with heavy tech gear.
And if you want to remove the hip belt (it can be a bit bulky), that’s an option. The ability to take the hip strap off is great if you’re in a destination for a while and want to use this as your day bag. If you’re headed to the cafe to work on your laptop, you don’t need the extra bulk of a hip belt, and it’s nice to be able to take it off.
Good Water Bottle Pockets
The Tortuga Outbreaker water bottle side sleeve is perfect—stretchy, durable, expandable. You can fit a lot of different bottles in here, and it’s not in the way if you don’t have anything on the side of your bag. It’s a minor feature, but when it’s done right (or wrong) it’s a big deal.
It sounds like a nitpick, but it’s important to have solid water bottle pockets on the side of your backpack. You want a mesh weave that can expand to accommodate different size water bottles, from mini Swell bottles all the way up to bulky Nalgene. The Outbreaker does that.
At $269, the 35L Tortuga Outbreaker is one of the best everyday technical backpacks you can buy. It’s a premium carry on bag, but if you travel with a lot of gear for work the obsessive organizational options and well-designed pockets are great for keeping your gear safe and secure. And the main compartment design is more than spacious enough to fit enough clothing for weeks of travel.
This bag isn’t for everyone, but if you like to pack on the lighter side, while still bringing the tech that you use the most, the Tortuga Outbreaker 35L backpack is one of the best carry on backpacks you can buy.