The Best Travel Bag for Our New Digital Nomad Life: Tortuga Outbreaker

by | Oct 25, 2017

If you deliver mail for a living, you’re most likely going to invest in some decent shoes. If you’re a shrimp boat captain, you better get a boat that doesn’t leak. So yeah, if you decide that you want to become a backpacker, you’d better get a good backpack.

When the search for the “best-most-awesome-backpack-in-the-history-of-the world” began for us, we had no idea what we were getting in to. From the contemporary crowd-funded innovations to the workhorse camping/backpacking bags and basic all-around duffels. There is pretty much a bag out there that could fit anyone’s needs, and we looked at ALL OF THEM….twice.

However, this will not be a long drawn out post detailing every single bag we perused and their pros and cons (that would take forever and neither you nor I want to sit here for that). I’m simply going to present the bag that came the absolute closest to fitting our needs and desires and talk about its features.

Next is the first of the main compartments, a bag-width half pocket that has a decent sized mesh zippered pocket on the flap and some organizers (pen slots, card pockets, etc.) on the bag side. There is also a nice fleece lined slot for a tablet and a solid zippered pocket behind. Oh, and a nice handy dandy key ring.

Introducing: the Tortuga Outbreaker 35L!

This will be the first of three reviews for this bag and will serve as a “first impressions” look. After our two week honeymoon to Thailand and Cambodia, I’m going to present a follow up on how it performed. Then perhaps a year down the road, we’ll come back and see how it’s holding up. Sound good? Great!

Here are some general specs: 

  • Size: 22″ x 14″ x 9″
  • Weight: 5.1 lbs
  • Laptop: up to 17″
  • Tablet: up to 13″
  • Fits: 16-20″ torsos

To start, there are some overall non-negotiable details we were looking for that I will highlight first before getting into the nitty gritty of the different pockets and features.

Nice thick padded handle on the top

First off, we really wanted to go with a bag that was stylish and simple in nature. The plan is to blend into our locations and appear as inconspicuous in our travels as possible. The Outbreaker has that perfect “function over form” design. Simple black color with a simple shape. I think I heard in a movie once that every woman needs a good black cocktail dress and this is that cocktail dress…this metaphor is getting weird…MOVING ON.

With all of the time that we will undoubtedly spend in rainy conditions, we absolutely need something that can withstand water but still be durable enough for perpetual travel. Tortuga boasts about their 4-layer X-Ply waterproof sail cloth that they claim “won’t scuff or tear.” It certainly feels durable, and it beaded up quite nicely when I poured water on it.

Tortuga actually makes two sizes of this bag: 35L and 45L. Although this means we’ll have to cut out a lot of clothes, we’ve both decided to go for the 35L because it will meet even the strictest of international carry-on standards. Who needs a second pair of pants anyway?

When your life is being carried on your back, you’re obviously going to be concerned about security. Luckily, all of the main compartments have security zippers that can be locked (and the zipper itself looks very waterproof as well – bonus!).

Now, let’s dive into the bag. I’ll make this easy and start from the front and then work my way toward the back of the bag. The front “face” has two simple half sized pockets. 

Next is the first of the main compartments, a bag-width half pocket that has a decent sized mesh zippered pocket on the flap and some organizers (pen slots, card pockets, etc.) on the bag side.

There is also a nice fleece lined slot for a tablet and a solid zippered pocket behind. Oh, and a nice handy dandy key ring.

It’s as soft as Koala eyelashes in there!

Behind that is the main compartment which is actually much bigger than it looks in the pictures.  It opens like any suitcase would with two mesh pockets on the flap. The main open space for clothes has two long organizer zippered pockets on the side. I’m curious how useful these will be. If they’re full, I’m worried they’ll inhibit the main space too much. We’ll see!

The last main compartment is definitely my favorite because of the way it is set up. It opens lengthwise which I think will really help with retrieving certain things out of it.

It’s obviously designed for electronics: there is a padded deep fleece-lined laptop sleeve with a shallower tablet sleeve on top. There is a fairly beefy velcro strap to hold all of those in place, which is pretty nice feature. Opposite the sleeves are three mesh zippered pockets which should be great for cords, batteries, chargers…basically anything that lights up or hums.

I also want to point out the placement of this compartment. I really like that this will be right against our backs. Seeing as this is the “expensive and breakable” stash, it will be nice to know that it will be protected.

Lastly, the straps. This is what really sold us because they..are..awesome. We really need to take care of our back conditions, so we absolutely need a hip strap. And this bag has a big ol’ thick one with a huge buckle and two gigantic zippered pockets that will be able to hold all ten of our Burts Bees lip balms. Up top are some nice thick ergonomic shoulder straps (with a chest strap to keep them nice and centered), which can easily be adjusted for height. 

There are also two big pads that run down the back. They seem a little over-sized, but at this point in my life I can’t really complain about TOO much padding.

The only major downside we’ve found is with the two water bottle pockets on each side of the bag. The material looks like it would stretch out to accommodate a typical, reusable 32oz bottle, but it does not. It fits a beer bottle (which IS nice, I’ll admit), but anything bigger than that will be a struggle.

Sadly, you can’t survive on beer alone

We’ll just have to carry our 32oz Nalgene or use a strap to hang it on the bag somehow. I’m not sure why they didn’t go with a more expandable material, because if you’re “on-the-go” as they say, you don’t want to be relying on dinky water bottles that don’t hold much. At least there are two pockets to compensate. (Army would like to add that the small pouch does a good job holding a pair of flip flops, so there’s that)

We also weren’t planning on spending as much on a bag (it retails at $269 for the 35L), but their site boasts a pretty decent warranty and return policy. Plus, as important as this decision is, we decided a little extra money for our “kindred spirit” in bag form was worth it.

Lastly, although this aspect doesn’t bother us, I do want to point out that the material is a bit…loud. To achieve the durability and waterproofness, it seems like they had to go with something that crinkles. Again, we’re fine with it, but I’m sure someone somewhere would be annoyed.

When you know exactly how big your bag will be, you’re taking the guesswork out of what you can/can’t bring with you. In terms of packing, this will definitely make things easier for us. Although the size of the bag makes this really hard (like I said, who needs 2 pairs of pants, right?), it is such an incredible relief to have fun a bag that seems so perfect for us.

Let us know if you have any questions about the bag, and check back soon to see how it performed on our two week honeymoon to Thailand and Cambodia!

With Love,

Army + Ryan