- Buyer's Guide
Tortuga Outbreaker Laptop Backpack Review
How many times have you heard a bag maker say something like this: “We couldn’t find the right bag on the market, so we decided to make it.” Over the last five years, I’ve seen this phrase tossed around on a bunch of start-up Kickstarters – I tend to roll my eyes. Here’s the thing, when a company like Tortuga says it, a company that has been around for a decade, I believe them. Why? Tortuga is an award-winning brand that has garnered an excellent reputation for making high-quality packs for travelers. In fact, one of the very first bags that piqued my interest many years ago was their Outbreaker Travel Backpack.
Tortuga recently released its Outbreaker Laptop Backpack, it’s their play on the ‘personal item’ and aims to straddle the line between travel and EDC. It has the space of a travel backpack, but the organization of an office bag. Tortuga is swinging for the fences in both use cases, but how does it work?
Let’s dive in and see.
Adjustable/Removable Sternum Strap
Large Main/Travel Compartment
Top and Side Handles
The Cool Stuff
TSA Lie-Flat Tech Compartment
External Zippable Water Bottle Pocket
Lockable YKK Water-Resistant Zippers
Elevated Laptop Sleeve
Hideaway Shoulder Straps
The Wow Stuff
VX21 X-Ply Waterproof Sailcloth
Tons of Organization
Premium Internal Materials
Generous Ariaprene Foam Padding
Who It Suits
The Outbreaker Laptop Backpack is a professional pack ideal for the business traveler. It’s not necessarily stylish, but it’s not boring or dull, thanks to the VX21 Sailcloth design.
As a bag meant for travel or EDC, the person it suits needs to fall within a few categories. As a travel bag, anything at or below three days, you’ll be fine as long as you’re conscious of space. Travel over three days, and you’ll need to be a seasoned minimalist traveler, or simply use it as a companion to a roller bag.
As an EDC bag, it suits those who require lots of space for their daily gear, and/or who desire loads of organization and specific pockets for all their items. This bag shines if you want a particular place for all your stuff – headphones, glasses, pens, snacks, cables, chargers, mice, dongles, documents, tools, etc.
It’s meant to do a lot at the same time, suiting a cross-section of potential users. In essence: business travelers using a separate piece of luggage, short-trip/minimalist travelers, or large loadout/heavy organization EDC.
Who It Doesn’t
At 27L, the Outbreaker Laptop Backpack is not for those who tend to pack a lot, you’ll simply run out of space. You’d be better served with a larger travel backpack or roller. Inversely, it’s not for those who only carry the essentials in their EDC – it’s just too big; you’re better served with a smaller pack like the Bellroy Classic Backpack, Arcido Vaga, Medium Knack Pack, or other professional < 20L capacity bags.
One of the standout features of this pack is its pockets and organization. If you’re the type of person who keeps all their smaller items and knick-knacks in a Dopp kit or tech pouch, all the purpose-built organization becomes superfluous.
This isn’t a ‘looker’. If you’re more fashion minded, there’s lots of other options out there.
The star of the show is the Outbreaker’s organization. Internally and externally, you’re looking at 16 different compartments and pockets. Let’s break this down a little, shall we?
The front panel includes two quick-access pockets, one is narrow but deep, while the other is wider but more shallow. Behind the front panel, you’ll find the admin pocket that unzips about a quarter way down the bag – here you’ll find a zippered mesh pocket, a fleece-lined tablet pocket, another zippered pocket, three pen holders, mouse/external HD holder, business card holder, a miscellaneous pocket, and the pocket itself has some depth to it.
The main compartment, though, is a cavernous clamshell opening with two zippered mesh pockets. Against the back panel, you’ll find a TSA-compliant tech compartment that includes three zippered mesh pockets, and two large, elevated, fleece-lined sleeves. The larger of the sleeves can fit up to a 16-inch MacBook – my Surface Book 2 fits perfectly.
Lastly, there is a zip-out bottle holder. This is one of the finest executions I’ve seen of this style of bottle holder. When the pack isn’t loaded, you don’t even need to zip it out to fit a 25 oz Hydro Flask. Even when fully loaded, zipped out, you can easily fit the same bottle or larger. When it comes to this style of pocket, I tend to worry about the stitching coming undone with stress. Yet, I am impressed with the craftsmanship here – the webbing melds seamlessly into the VX21.
Given all that organization, you have plenty of options on how to store all your things. So if you’re the type of person who likes specific pockets for everything, this is your bag.
With all this potential storage, especially if going on a trip, is it comfortable? Indeed it is. Tortuga is generous with its padding; the shoulder straps are unstructured, soft yet substantial, and beefy. Even while carrying the bag with one strap, it felt great. This is coupled with three strips of Ariaprene foam and a large air channel. Additionally, an adjustable and removable sternum strap adds support if the bag is packed out. The result? A comfortable, responsive harness system that gets out of the way and is easy to put on or take off. What about hip straps? This bag doesn’t include them because, at 27L, you’d be hard-pressed to ever need them. It’s a smart move that reduces complexity, bulk, weight, and cost.
Externally, the Outbreaker Laptop Backpack has two padded and contoured handles, one at the top and one at the side. Both feel good in the hand. I don’t often use this type of bag in a horizontal orientation, but when I did, with a laptop and tech pouch inside, it felt fine. I wouldn’t walk around town this way, but from the Uber to the office, sure. There is also a smaller webbing handle that can be used to hang the bag up.
Let’s talk about materials – first and foremost is the VX21 sailcloth. This is some high-performance stuff; it’s waterproof, lightweight, abrasion-resistant, easy to clean, and fray resistant. Then add X-Pac’s diamond design, and you have yourself a functional and slick-looking outer shell. Each external pocket has YKK AquaGuard zips with hefty zip pulls. The main compartments, though, are lockable for extra security. What you get is a pack that can take you through the elements while keeping everything inside dry. Lastly, the Duraflex hardware used for the buckles and G-clips is rugged and robust. This is a bag that will last you a long time and be easy to maintain.
Oftentimes, when a pack is high quality on the outside, the internals are lacking. Companies tend to cut costs by using zips that aren’t as robust, thinner nylon, or the mesh is kind of cheap. Tortuga went in a different direction. There are YKK zips inside, mesh pockets that feel like woven cloth, rip-stop nylon that has a hefty feel with no wrinkling, and fleece lining that feels soft and pleasant.
Even when fully loaded, the pack slides right underneath the seat of most airlines – which is essential if you’re a one-bag traveler like me. Additionally, the Outbreaker generally can stand upright on its own. I packed it out in a few different configurations, and it works! This is a result of the bag’s boxy shape. I personally like it, although I can see people preferring a more stylish approach to form. It’s entirely subjective, and can also be affected by what your use case is: travel, EDC, both?
Not So Good
I’ll preface this section by saying I looked forward to times I could put this pack on my back and go somewhere with it. That being said, there are some things I found to be missteps in the design. The most glaring issue is the size versus its intended use cases. The Outbreaker walks a thin line between travel bag and EDC. If you’re using it only as a travel bag, it can be most enjoyed by those who pack light, or those taking short trips. If you’re using it as an EDC bag, it can be most appreciated by those who pack a lot of gear. Neither of these things is wrong in themselves, but this pack’s biggest flaw is there is no way to transition from one to the other.
If there was a way to contract and expand this bag, making it size-appropriate no matter where I go, it would immediately become my go-to. I wish I could contract this bag when I am just using it for my day-to-day carry for work and potentially use all that great organization. But then expand it out when I need to pack groceries, or when taking a trip.
I love that the Outbreaker comes with a ton of organizational options. But because of my unique circumstances, I use different bags for different things. As a result, a Peak Design Tech Pouch holds all my smaller items, helping make a smooth transfer from one bag to another. So for me, all this organization is wasted. Nevertheless, if you want a space for all your things, this is the bag for you. This isn’t a flaw in the design. Still, I feel compelled to mention it because it’s definitely something a person should consider when evaluating this pack, especially when you have 16 spaces to put things in.
The rest of the not so good things are minor but worth mentioning:
The tech compartment has vertical zippers, which I found to be an interesting choice – it made access easy, but smaller items would tumble out as I opened their respective pockets. Your mileage may vary, but I ended up using these pockets for larger things like chargers and cables.
As a travel bag, the main compartment is meant to house clothes, so I find it surprising that a cinch-down strap is absent. Whether you use packing cubes or fold or roll your clothes, a cinch-down would be quite welcome. Creating much-needed space, given the 27L afforded for travel.
One can look at this pack and think: “It looks like you’re wearing a black box on your back.” That’s quite literally true, but how one would feel about this is entirely subjective. I personally like the boxy nature of the bag, it’s not the most stylish design, but I think it presents a level of professionalism and seriousness. Others may want curves as opposed to right angles, and with the bag market exploding, there are loads of different form factors now.
The Tortuga Outbreaker Laptop Backpack is probably one of the nicest bags I’ve had the pleasure of using. Its mix of premium, high-quality materials both inside and out, and thoughtful design make it a joy to wear and utilize. It has just about all the professional features you’d want out of a companion piece, or minimalist travel bag. Tons of organization, a comfortable harness system, weather-resistant exterior, and easy access, all in a no-nonsense, toned-down aesthetic that will fit in just about anywhere. At $225, the price of admission is hefty, but you’re getting a pack that will last you a long time and can suit you in many scenarios.
Of course, it isn’t perfect – it may be too small for single-bag travel unless you pack light or go on short trips, and it may be too big for general EDC. The lack of ability to transition between these two modes may turn some people off. Additionally, all the organization may be useless if you’re the type of person who keeps their things in a smaller pack.
The negatives are minor when you consider all the positives this bag brings to the table.
Unless you’re looking for a pack whose size will fit every occasion perfectly, give the Tortuga Outbreaker Laptop Backpack a look. I think you’ll come away impressed.
This article was written by Jovanni Bello. Renaissance man, adventurer and cell phone photographer.