Suitcases aren't made for city travel. Try dragging a suitcase with cheap plastic wheels over cobblestone streets and up a few flights of stairs to your Airbnb. Suitcases are the opposite of hands-free travel.
The tall, skinny packs for "backpackers" aren't much better. Those giant, cylindrical bags are made for hiking, not for traveling. They're too big to be carried onto a plane and too disorganized when you're on the move. You have to dump everything out to find what you need, then repack your whole bag. You can't spend your trip packing and unpacking every single day.
The wrong luggage can ruin your trip. Fred and Jeremy, the co-founders of Tortuga, learned this the hard way on a backpacking trip to Europe in 2009.
We flew into Frankfurt and then traveled by train to Prague, Budapest, and Hvar, Croatia. The trip was a blast, but our luggage was a disaster. Jeremy's shoulder strap ripped off on the first day, and Fred's traditional backpack was made for hiking, not for travel.
That trip taught us how hard it is to travel with the wrong gear.
We couldn't find the perfect travel backpack, so we made it.
What are Travel Backpacks?
Travel backpacks combine the features of hiking backpacks and suitcases.
A travel backpack packs like a suitcase and carries like a backpack.
Like suitcases, travel backpacks are carry-on-sized and organized. Like hiking packs, travel backpacks are comfortable and durable.
Traveling with carry on luggage—instead of checked luggage—will save you money, time, and hassle.
With the right travel gear, you'll save $50 per flight in checked bag fees. You'll never wait around at baggage claim hoping that your luggage shows up. Instead, you'll breeze through the airport and be on your way.
The ideal size for travel backpacks is 30-45 liters in volume. At the low-end, 30L will be enough for weekend trips or for a minimalist traveler. At the higher end, international carry on limits are around 39L and US limits are 45L. US airlines limit travel packs to 22 x 14 x 9".
Travel packs must be front-loading like a suitcase, not top-loading like a hiking bag.
Packing a top-loading bag is like packing a garbage bag.
A front-loading backpack opens from right to left like a book. The large opening of the main compartment lets you see all of your stuff at once. With everything at your fingertips, you can grab what you need and close up your bag. No need to pack and unpack everything like with a traditional backpack. You can get even more organized with a set of packing cubes.
You'll be carrying your bag, so it must be comfortable. Hiking packs set the standard for comfort because they're meant to carry tens of pounds for an entire day of hiking. Compared to that, carrying your bag through the airport and around town should be easy.
To be as comfortable as a hiking bag, a travel pack must have a great suspension system, comfortable shoulder straps, and a weight-bearing hip belt.
The shoulder straps will cushion your load, an adjustable sternum strap will keep it balanced, and load lifter straps will keep your pack close to your body for better weight distribution.
The real magic is in the hip belt. A padded hip belt will shift 80% of your backpack's weight off of your shoulders and onto your hips. That way, your stronger leg muscles—not your weaker shoulders—are carrying your bag. A properly fitted backpack and hip belt will help you avoid back, neck, and shoulder pain.
A great suspension system will make you feel like you aren't carrying anything, even though you have two weeks of stuff on your back.
Hiking backpacks are also tough. They're made to handle the outdoors and every kind of weather.
Travel backpacks must be just as durable. You need a bag that can make it around the world with you.
A travel backpack must have durable, water-resistant materials, best-in-class zippers, and buckles. Your pack can't fail when you're halfway around the world and can't get it fixed or replaced.
Tortuga Travel Backpacks
After experiencing the shortcomings of our luggage, we set out to create the ultimate travel backpack.
We've spent the past decade designing travel gear. That work led to the Outbreaker Backpack.
The Outbreaker Backpack comes in two, carry-on-friendly sizes: 35L for international travel and 45L for domestic (US) travel. The Outbreaker Backpack opens from the front and has multiple pockets and compartments for easy access, including a laptop compartment, organizer pocket, internal mesh pockets, and two external water bottle pockets. For more organization, add the Outbreaker Packing Cubes.
The Outbreaker Backpack is the first travel pack with a height-adjustable suspension system. By adjusting the location of the shoulder straps, you can find the perfect fit for you. The cushioned backpack straps and hip strap will make the Outbreaker feel light no matter what you're carrying.
Our travel backpacks are made of VX21, waterproof sailcloth originally designed for the sails of racing boats. The sailcloth fabric is strong and will stand up to any weather. The water-resistant YKK zippers will prevent rain from getting to your clothes or computer.
The padded laptop compartment keeps your computer dry and separated from the rest of your stuff. Two padded sleeves can hold your laptop and a tablet.
The Outbreaker's zippers can be locked with small, TSA-approved padlocks for additional security.
The Outbreaker is the result of twelve years spent making travel backpacks, traveling with those bags, then making better bags. We've also heard feedback from travelers who have carried their bags to 100+ countries and around the world.
Whether you're downsizing from a checked suitcase or are dedicated to one bag travel, Tortuga travel backpacks were made for you. For more on travel backpacks, read our full buyer's guide.