Tortuga’s Setout Laptop Backpack: The Perfect Minimalist Travel Bag For Nomads?

As someone that exclusively travels with a single carry-on, I’m always on the lookout for the perfect “one bag” solution that can fit everything for a trip with no set end date.

I’ll cut to the chase: the Setout Laptop Backpack from Tortuga is pretty much perfect for my needs. And if you’re looking for an ultralight nomad travel solution, it might work for you, too.

Read on, and I’ll explain why.

(Note: this is about the Setout Laptop Backpack, not the Setout Divide or Setout Backpack)

“Is it the right size and weight?”

First of all, please note that this bag is not specifically designed for minimalist “one bag” types like me. Instead, it’s described as a “versatile secondary bag” on Tortuga’s website, to accompany a duffle bag or rolling luggage.

Indeed, Tortuga has an assortment of proper Travel Backpacks to choose from for those that need the space (~35-45L) and additional features (e.g. hip belts). And for the vast majority of travelers, one of those would be the most sensible choice.

If you’re into minimalist travel, however, the Setout Laptop Backpack is just the right size. Here are the basic stats:

  • Volume: 25 Liters
  • Dimensions: 18.5” x 12” x 6.75” (47 x 30 x 17 cm)
  • Weight: 2.8 lbs (1.3 kg)

Bottom line: the bag is compact (well within most airline carry-on size restrictions), lightweight, and spacious. Even though “25 Liters” doesn’t sound like much, I find that I can fit quite a lot into the pack. I also like to keep my total load-out under 8kg, and this backpack makes it easy to do so.

Overview of pockets and compartments

First of all, I recommend watching Tortuga’s intro video to the bag:

Right away, it’s obvious that a lot of thought went into the bag’s design.

Some of the features that immediately stand out:

  • The “quick access” pocket on the very front of the bag. Perfect for stashing headphones, boarding passes, or even dumping everything from your pockets into right before you go through airport security. About the height of a regular-sized Kindle.
  • The handy water bottle pocket on the side. While it’s great for holding my 1L Nalgene, I can see others potentially using it for something like a compact umbrella or small tripod. If not needed, it zips flat and doesn’t protrude from the bag (very sleek!)
  • Hideaway straps: while I don’t foresee myself making use of this feature very often, it’s nice to know that it’s there for unforeseen circumstances. As a bonus, the space reserved for hiding the straps could be used a separate area for stashing a light jacket or sweater (bonus: more cushion for your back!)
  • Strong, lockable zippers. Tortuga didn’t skimp on the zippers (yes, they are YKK!) Zippers are usually the first point of failure, and I’m confident that these ones will last. All three of the compartments are lockable, something that’s practically unheard of on a daypack.
  • Bright interior lining. Helpful for finding stuff quickly inside the bag.

There are three primary compartments:

  1. Front “organization” section: contains many small pockets for pens, gadgets, business cards, and the like. Also contains a key clip and a zipped compartment (great place to put passport/ID).
  2. Main compartment: opens flat to reveal a cavernous main area. I had no trouble fitting in 5 t-shirts, 4 pairs of boxers, 4 pairs of socks, a pair of shorts, merino leggings/longsleeve/gloves, sunglasses case, and a compact camera wrapped up in its own case. On the opposite side, there are two large mesh pockets (I use these for my portable backup hard drive and random cables/adapters).
  3. Back laptop/tablet compartment: the raised laptop sleeve is a great fit for my 2015 15” Macbook Pro, while the mesh zipped pocket works well as a catch-all for chargers, dongles, and a small wireless mouse. There’s also space for a 9.7” tablet in a separate pocket.

As you can tell, there are a lot of separate pockets and compartments. Aside from a couple small packing cubes for my clothing, I find that I can leave any other small cases or organizers at home.

Clockwise from top left: (1) the back of the bag, (2) laptop pocket, (3) strap attachment hook, (4) outside stash pocket, (5) inside the cavernous front organization compartment, (6) 1L Nalgene in bottle pocket

Pros and Cons for Minimalist Travel

Here’s a quick rundown of everything I really like about the bag:

  • It’s comfortable. While I don’t like to dwell too long on comfort and fit (everyone is going to feel differently about the bag and you gotta try it on before coming to any conclusions), the bag feels great on me fully loaded. The straps are padded and comfortable, contoured nicely to the body. As a bonus, there’s a small chest strap that to redistribute the weight for longer walks.
  • It looks cool. Aside from a small turtle shell logo on the front, there’s no visible branding or lettering. The color is a dark grey and hides dust/scratches very well. Most importantly, the bag doesn’t stand out as a “travel bag”—instead of a backpacker, I simply look like a style conscious local hipster commuting to work (and that’s a good thing).
  • It fits all my stuff (with room to spare). The main compartment has enough space for all the clothing and toiletries I may need for a week of travel (which to me is the same as for a year of travel, as I typically do laundry every 7-10 days on the road). Could I go even smaller? Possibly. But I do enjoy and value the available space, and my advice is always to have 10-15% empty in case you need it.
  • The laptop compartment. Nothing much to add really—it’s perfectly executed. My Macbook Pro fits in nicely, and is elevated by an inch or so off the ground at all times. Access is quick, and the laptop thankfully does not come into contact with the metal zippers as I pull it out (you’ll be surprised how often that’s the case these days).
  • There’s no hip belt. I’m glad this was left out, as there is simply no need for a waist belt on a bag of this size.
  • It’s solidly built. More than anything, the bag feels like a quality product. There’s no loose stitching, and all the handles are very sturdy. If anything, the bag is over-engineered—I don’t see how it’s going to fail (will update this review if anything does happen).

And possible changes/improvements:

  • Removal of the “hideaway strap” and “luggage handle pass through sleeve” features (OK, I’m really nitpicking here). From a selfish point of view, I don’t see myself using these features often, if ever. Most minimalist traveler would have no need for a roller bag, and there’s no way I’m ever trusting anyone to gate-check this bag (a situation that would call for stowing the straps). For me, these features simply add to the complexity (and weight) of the bag. And if you’re the kind of person that palpitates at the sight of an airline employee wielding a portable luggage scale, you know that every gram counts.
  • Some kind of solution to the “TSA liquids” problem. Getting into bag nerd territory here. OK, so if you have a bunch of liquids (e.g. shampoo, sunscreen) you almost always have to remove them from the bag during airport security. Naturally, you don’t want to keep the liquids in the main compartment, because that would be really annoying to open every time. My workaround is to stash them all at the bottom of the front organizer pocket—which actually holds much more than expected. It’s not elegant, but it does the job. If there’s a better way, I trust the boffins at Tortuga to figure it out!
All packed up (left). Inside the main compartment (right). Total weight: 7.4 kg!

Final Thoughts

Even though this bag wasn’t specifically made for one bag travel, it’s the one that stands out most to me in Tortuga’s lineup. I’m glad they carried over their design ethos and features from the larger bags into this one—you get all the benefits of modern travel bag design without the weight and bulk.

A great bag, and as of 2019 it’s my travel bag of choice. It’s available for $125 through Tortuga’s website.

Well done, Tortuga!

Highly Recommended 

(Note: Tortuga Backpacks sent me this bag as a sample to try out)