Tortuga Travel Backpack vs. Outbreaker Backpack

Published July 12, 2022

Written by:

Fred Perrotta
Fred Perrotta
Fred Perrotta

Fred Perrotta is the co-founder and CEO of Tortuga. His first backpacking trip to Europe inspired him to start the...

Edited by:

Headshot of Jeremy Michael Cohen
Jeremy Michael Cohen
Headshot of Jeremy Michael Cohen

Jeremy Michael Cohen is a co-founder of Tortuga. He also works as a screenwriter and director. Aside from travel and...

Woman wearing a travel backpack

The Tortuga Promise

At Tortuga, our mission is to make travel easier. Our advice and recommendations are based on years of travel experience. We only recommend products that we use on our own travels.

Six years after the launch of the Outbreaker Backpack (codename: V3), we are ready to launch the Tortuga Travel Backpack (codename: V4). We hope it will have been worth the wait.

In this article, we’ll cover why now was the right time to update the Travel Backpack, our goals for the project (based on your feedback), and what else is new. 

Why Now?

At Tortuga, our goal is to make evergreen products that last for years and never become obsolete or go out of style.

But being evergreen doesn’t mean getting complacent. When we innovate with new fabrics and features in the travel market, they slowly filter down to other companies. As other brands copy those innovations, we have to keep pushing forward. 

That means we’re always looking for new opportunities to improve our products.

Sometimes that opportunity is a small tweak that we can make between production runs and doesn’t require a major update or announcement. But when we have a lot of changes on our to-do list, and we see an opportunity to take a true leap forward, we know it’s time for a version update.

Each new version update has taken more time to design and develop. The V2 took two years, V3 took three years, and V4 took six years. Finding a good enough reason for a version update is becoming harder and harder with each new iteration. But we keep looking. If we aren’t getting better, we’re falling behind. If we’re falling behind, we’re failing you.

Thanks to your feedback and reviews, we had a shortlist of needed improvements to the Outbreaker Backpack:

  • Improve access to the lower front pocket so that it’s easier to use when the bag is full
  • Soften the corners of the bag so that the shape is “softer” and the zippers slide more easily

These were easy, medium-sized updates. But what would be the big leap forward to justify the next version? 

Right before the pandemic, we found it. A new material with the same waterproofness as our previous body fabric, X-Pac® VX21, but more durable, lighter weight, and 100% recycled. We call it SHELL200.

With a new and improved fabric, a list of changes based on your feedback, and six more years of design experience, we were ready to tackle the Travel Backpack V4.

What’s Not Changing

First up were the non-negotiables. We had improvements to make but also standards to uphold.

The new Travel Backpack had to maintain the four most important features of every Tortuga bag:

  1. Carry-On-Sized
  2. Front-Loading
  3. Comfortable
  4. Durable

Those are the most important features in a travel backpack as we’ve defined the product since creating the category in 2010.

What’s New


With the constraints of the project in place, we outlined five larger goals for the Travel Backpack in the design brief:

  1. Update the size
  2. Improve the silhouette
  3. Reduce weight and complexity
  4. Switch to recycled fabric
  5. Make the suspension system easier to adjust

Update the Size

You might be surprised to hear that we’re updating the size of the travel backpacks. Previously, the sizes were:

  • 45L (22 x 14 x 9 in): The maximum-sized carry on for most US airlines and fare types.
  • 35L (20 x 13 x 8 in): A smaller carry on that fit both US and international carry on limits.

After surveying and testing, we learned that our customers strongly prefer maximum-sized international carry ons that can be brought on any airline worldwide. That’s 40L, not 45L or 35L.

With 40L set for the larger size, we updated the smaller size from 35L to 30L, a perfect size for short trips like a long weekend and a better fit for petite frames and minimalist packers. The 27-32L range has been popular for past products like the Tortuga Air and Setout Divide Backpack.

Improve the Silhouette

The main aesthetic feedback on the Outbreaker was that it was too boxy.

Airlines define their carry on size limits as a perfect rectangle. The more rectangular your bag is, the more you maximize every cubic inch (or liter) of space you’re allowed. The softer the shape of your bag, the more packing volume you lose. One Bag calls this “the curse of curves.”

While a perfect rectangle may maximize packing volume, most people don’t want a bag that’s all straight lines and right angles. The shape isn’t as attractive, especially at the size of a large carry on.

Bags may be functional, but you also wear them. People care about how they look. Even people who want to maximize packing space will trade a bit of volume for softer corners and a less boxy shape.

Reduce Weight and Complexity

The other complaint about the Outbreaker was that it was too heavy. The 45L weighed 5.1 lb, and the 35L weighed 4.6 lb. Both were heavy relative to the 22 lb weight limit imposed by some airlines.

The Outbreaker was heavy because it was a big, complex bag. The pockets and organization added weight because of how heavy the zippers are. The advanced suspension system added weight for the adjustability features and extra padding. 

We did this on purpose but knew that the weight would be a deal-breaker for some travelers. This is because the Outbreaker Backpack was meant to be the fully-featured, top-of-the-line bag in our product lines. 

We intended another bag, the Homebase Backpack, to be the simpler and lighter travel backpack on the site. But the Outbreaker proved far more popular. So we’ve chosen to update Outbreaker to tamp down on its excesses, like weight, without taking away its strengths.

As part of the effort to reduce weight, the Travel Backpack will also simplify some of the complexity of the Outbreaker. Specifically, we eliminated pockets, cut down on padding, and simplified how the adjustable suspension system works. More on that below.

We only made these changes when we felt we could make the bag lighter and simpler without impacting overall performance.

Switch to Recycled Fabric

As already mentioned, we were excited to be able to switch our flagship product line to use a recycled body material. Previously, our other lines used recycled body fabrics, but the Outbreaker only used a recycled lining fabric. 

We wrote a post on the new fabric and changes from the previous VX21 fabric. The short version is that we’ve switched from virgin nylon to recycled polyester as the basis for our sailcloth fabric. The new version, SHELL200, is more durable, lighter weight, and (still) completely waterproof.

As a bonus, the new fabric is 100% recycled and contains no fluorocarbons or VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

Improve Suspension System

You didn’t request the final upgrade. But we saw an opportunity to improve one of the most important features and had to take it.

We want everyone to be able to travel comfortably with a Tortuga. But sizing can be challenging. As a small, bootstrapped business, we can’t support infinite sizes and fits across every product.

But every bag with a hip belt must fit well, or it will be uncomfortable. Some brands don’t include hip belts with their backpacks or make them optional to get around this issue. That’s a cop out, not a solution.

When we launched the Outbreaker, we created the first height-adjustable travel backpack. The hip belt is fixed. You move the shoulder straps up or down to match your torso length for a perfect fit. Travelers appreciated this innovation and the improved fit. The design worked well but had room for improvement.

The Travel Backpack will also adjust to your height for a perfect fit. The adjustment is just easier to make. You’ll adjust the height by moving a “floating” back panel piece connected by velcro. You can easily adjust the shoulder straps up or down quickly.

The Outbreaker used a webbing “ladder” which took longer to adjust and was less flexible in sizing. You had to choose one of the rungs of the ladder to use. With the velcro piece, you can dial in your fit as specifically as you’d like. 

You can also loan your bag to a friend or family member who can quickly adjust the straps to their height while they use it.

Travel Backpack vs. Outbreaker Backpack

You already know that the new Travel Backpacks have a softer shape, are simpler, and have an easier-to-use suspension system.

You’ve also read that they are a more internationally-friendly size, lighter, and use a better (and recycled) fabric. Below is a comparison of the specs of both bags so that you can see the objective improvements.

Outbreaker Backpack 45LTravel Backpack 40LOutbreaker Backpack 35LTravel Backpack 30L
Dimensions (in)22 x 14 x 9 in21.7 x 13.8 x 7.9 in20 x 13 x 8 in20.5 x 12.2 x 7.5 in
Dimensions (cm)56 x 36 x 23 cm55 x 35 x 20 cm51 x 33 x 21 cm52 x 31 x 19 cm
Volume (L)45L40L35L30L
Weight (lb)5.1 lb4.5 lb4.5 lb4.0 lb
Weight (kg)2.3 kg2.0 kg2.0 kg1.8 kg
FabricX-Pac® VX21SHELL200X-Pac® VX21SHELL200

Each size of the bag is more than 10% lighter.

The larger Travel Backpack is 40L and sized to fit both US and international airlines’ carry on size limits. It’s best for longer international trips of a week or more.

The smaller Travel Backpack is 30L and made for short trips of less than a week. On some flights, you’ll even be able to fit this luggage under the seat in front of you.

What’s Next

We hope that you’re excited about the improvements to the Travel Backpack. We’re confident that the new bags are a massive improvement from the Outbreakers and are excited to share them with you. 

Thank you again for joining us on this journey.

The new Tortuga Travel Backpack will launch on January 17, 2023.

Fred Perrotta

Fred Perrotta

Co-Founder, Tortuga

Fred Perrotta is the co-founder and CEO of Tortuga. His first backpacking trip to Europe inspired him to start the company. For over a decade, he’s traveled the world from his home base in the Bay Area while working remotely. When he’s on the road, Fred enjoys both walking and eating as much as possible.

Read more from Fred