While both bags are the maximum allowable size for a carry on bag: 22" x 14" x 9", they break up the space differently. The Outbreaker offers one large main compartment. The Aeronaut is divided into three: a center compartment and two smaller compartments on each end. The Aeronaut offers more organization without requiring packing cubes, while the Outbreaker has more flexibility for packing larger clothing items and gear.
The biggest differences between the two bags are how ergonomic they are, how they store electronics, and how much they cost.
The Aeronaut tries to be everything. It's a duffel bag first and a backpack second. Tom Bihn's website says:
Hard to categorize, the Aeronaut is at once soft luggage, a duffel bag, and a backpack.
When we designed the Outbreaker, we had to choose between being really good at one thing, or being mediocre at a few things. We chose the former: at Tortuga, we always try to do one thing at a time and to do it really well.
By trying to be a duffel bag and a backpack, the Aeronaut is forced to make sacrifices.
Because it's also a duffel bag, the Aeronaut doesn't include a hip belt. You have to pay extra for one. Even if you buy one, the belt that you get does not have any padding. From the Aeronaut's product description:
The waist strap is meant not so much as a weight-bearing "hip belt" but rather a simple way to further secure the Aeronaut on your body.
Without a padded, weight-bearing hip belt, you're forced to carry your entire load on your shoulders. The purpose of a hip belt is to distribute weight off of your shoulders and onto your hips. By distributing your pack's weight, you minimize the strain on your shoulders and back. Without a quality hip belt, the Aeronaut is less comfortable, especially on longer walks.
The Outbreaker includes a heavily padded, weight-bearing hip belt. By using the hip belt, shoulders straps, and chest strap, you can keep your load stabilized and feeling light on your back. When you tighten the hip belt correctly, you will immediately feel a change in your pack's weight. Hip belts may not look cool, but they work like magic.
The Aeronaut does not include a dedicated place to store your laptop or tablet. If you're carrying a computer, the Aeronaut cannot protect it.
The Outbreaker is designed for modern travelers who want to travel with a laptop or tablet. Use the dedicated sleeve which holds up to a 17" laptop between the back padding and the bag's main compartment.
The sleeve is even checkpoint friendly. The lie-flat design lets you leave your laptop inside the backpack when you’re going through a TSA checkpoint.
Both sizes of Aeronaut are more expensive than their Outbreaker equivalents. The Aeronaut 45 is 18% more expensive than the Outbreaker 45 ($295 vs $249). The Aeronaut 30 is 43% more expensive than the Outbreaker 35 ($285 vs $224).
The Aeronaut costs more because it is made in the USA while the Outbreaker is made in China. Manufacturing Tortuga’s backpacks in China allows us to make high quality bags, with premium fabric and hardware, affordable even for budget travelers. Read more about how and why we manufacture in China on our blog.
Don't forget that the unpadded waist belt will also cost you another $10. Why does Tom Bihn charge another measly $10? Because they can.
When you've already committed to buying a $295 bag, you're more likely to agree to buying a $10 accessory. This is a basic psychological trick called the Principle of Contrast. Compared to $295, a $10 strap, however useless, seems like a bargain. This is the same technique that used car dealers use to upsell you on additional features after you've already bought a car.
Airlines already nickel and dime travelers for every little thing. Don't let your luggage company do it too.
Excessive baggage fees were a big motivator for us to create the carry-on-sized Outbreaker. If you want a bag that is comfortable, can accommodate your laptop, and is affordable, check out the Outbreaker travel backpack. Don't worry, Tortuga doesn't have any hidden fees.
Read more about the Outbreaker and make your own decision on the best travel backpack for you.