When it comes to travel backpacks, the market is flooded with a myriad of companies, both new and old. Some of these firms produce cheap imitations of big brand bags and fail quickly whereas others stand the test of time.
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The Tortuga Brand
I first heard of Tortuga on the travel podcast Zero To Travel. The host, Jason, was so animated when talking about the company and their backpacks, I felt compelled to head on over to their website and take a look.
I liked what I saw but couldn’t justify buying one. I’d just come home from my first real backpacking trip to Southeast Asia and didn’t have the need, or budget to be buying a new pack.
Over the following years, I watched as Tortuga really made a name for themselves in the travel industry. Their customers all had one thing to say; the bags are great.
Tortuga are so confident in their product, they sent out a bag for us to test. After watching their meteoric rise to one of the most well-respected travel pack companies, I was excited to take the backpack out and put it through its paces! So without any further ado, here are my honest thoughts in this Tortuga Setout Divide Review!
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Tortuga Setout Divide – At A Glance
- Dimensions (cm): 50 x 33 x 15 (expands to 20)
- Capacity: 26-litres (expands to 34-litres)
- Weight: 1.7kg
- Straps: Padded shoulder straps and hip belt. The chest strap is webbing.
- Guarantee: Common Decency Guarantee covers any problems that came from Tortuga’s end but does not cover wear and tear.
- Pockets: Padded laptop sleeve. Large main compartment with interior mesh divider. Mid sized compartment with plenty of pockets, small front compartment and hip belt pockets.
An In Depth Review Of The Tortuga Setout Divide
With the vital information out of the way, let’s jump into the nitty-gritty of the Setout Divide. I have been known to get a little nerdy when it comes to backpacks, so as soon as mine arrived in the mail, I set out filling it with my travel gear, just to see if it would be large enough to suit my needs. Much to my girlfriend’s chagrin (she was cooking at the time and I had promised to help…), I spent the next three hours seeing how much difference the expansion function made and working out if I could reasonably fit in enough gear for an extended trip.
The conclusion was simple. If I packed a little lighter than usual, I could easily fit everything I would need into this bag. Previously, my go-to pack was a 40-litre Osprey Farpoint, so I only had to remove a few items from my usual kit to comfortably pack it. I think I could have filled it a little more but I didn’t want it to be too bulky. The point of testing a smaller pack was to carry less stuff anyway!
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Tortuga Setout Divide – The Good Bits!
No product is perfect but the good certainly outweighs the bad with the Tortuga Setout Divide.
The Setout Divide is made from 900D polyester which can take a real pounding before it shows any signs of wear. The only blemish that has appeared on my pack is a small scuff near the front pocket. This occurred when it was the only bag in an overhead locker on a plane. Considering the amount of turbulence we flew through, it surprised me that the bag hadn’t taken more of a beating!
The zips and buckles are made to the highest quality and both have a very satisfying sound when being used. To be honest, it was only when testing this pack I realised good quality zips really do make a distinct sound!
In the interests of transparency, there is also a single loose thread on one of the shoulder straps. This is hardly worth mentioning as it makes no difference to how the bag performs but at South East Asia Backpacker, we always strive to be 100% honest with you.
The Tortuga Setout Divide is crammed full of pockets and hidey holes but unlike other pocket filled travel backpacks, it’s still easy to pack larger items.
The main compartment is one big pocket with an internal mesh divider and internal compression straps. The second pocket is plenty big enough for underwear, t-shirts or toiletries and includes a notebook-sized sleeve as well as smaller pockets for pens and electronics.
There is a quick access pocket at the front to keep small items that you’ll need in a hurry and the padded laptop sleeve is against your back when wearing the bag. Having your laptop at the back keeps the bag well balanced and makes it very easy to access without having to unpack anything else! The laptop sleeve also has some small internal pockets which are great for carrying paperwork or cables.
At just 26-litres, the Tortuga Setout Divide backpack would be on the small side for even the lightest packing backpackers. Whilst it serves me very well as a daily use backpack, it is the expanding functions that makes it truly great for travel.
Being able to unlock an extra 8-litres, almost an extra third of the pack’s usual capacity, makes a big difference. It’s enough room for a couple of extra outfits, another pair of sandals and enough toiletries to see you through a shorter trip.
If you are a light packer and don’t need the extra space initially, it’s comforting to know that you can do some shopping whilst travelling, without having to worry that you won’t have room in your backpack. You should have seen how much cheese I managed to bring back from France on a recent trip!
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The shoulder straps on the Setout Divide are made of an almost gel-like substance, similar to a comfy bike seat. They practically mould to your specific shape, making them incredibly comfortable even when carrying a heavy load.
They are perforated to save weight and to allow air to circulate, which is especially handy when facing the tropical heat during your travels!
The hip straps are well-padded and have a good-sized pocket on each side. There is plenty of room for your passport, change, wallet and phone in these should you need to use them.
If hip straps aren’t for you, they can be removed by undoing the velcro attachments. When I am using my Setout Divide as an everyday pack I do not have the hip belt on at all but as soon as I go travelling, I reattach it knowing that I will be thankful for the extra pockets and support offered.
If you end up checking in your Tortuga at the airport or carrying the pack on top of a roller suitcase, the shoulder straps can be tucked away to prevent them from getting tangled on anything. This process is super easy and only involves undoing a couple of metal clips.
Just like all of the best travel backpacks, the Tortuga Setout Divide has a main pocket that opens up like a suitcase. Whether you’re staying in cramped dorms or luxury villas, this clamshell opening style makes it super easy to pack and unpack.
They do have a weakness but we’ll come onto that later.
The Setout Divide also has external compression straps which are great for keeping your pack synched tight, especially if you are worried about getting close to the airline’s hand luggage limits. Unlike the external compression straps on the Osprey Farpoint 40, those on the Setout Divide do not block access to any pockets at all!
Water Bottle Holder
When you first set eyes on Tortuga’s Setout Divide, you might think there isn’t a bottle pocket. Take a close look at the sides of the pack and you will notice there is a small zip, which when undone, allows the bottle pocket to expand outwards. You’ll be hard-pressed to get anything bigger than a 700 ml bottle in there but the fact you can zip it flat to the bag when not in use, makes the whole pack look and feel a tad sleeker.
Whilst the pack is by no means 100% waterproof, the Durable Water Repellent coating can deal with an impressive amount of water before your stuff gets wet. Don’t rely on this to keep your gear bone dry if you’re braving Thailand in monsoon season but it’s plenty good enough to buy you the few minutes you’ll need to find shelter, should you get caught out in a storm.
If you’re in the market for something fully waterproof, check out our Best Waterproof Backpacks guide.
As you get familiar with your Tortuga pack, you’ll notice that the companies’ logo springs up everywhere, from the buckles to the velcro. It took me more than three weeks of daily use to notice that the shoulder straps have small logos hidden beneath some webbing!
You can find the companies’ catchphrase “On Your Terms” printed somewhere in all of the packs as well. Sure, these things don’t actually make a difference to the functionality of the pack but they show keen attention to detail!
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Tortuga Setout Divide – The Bad Bits!
If any company has produced a perfect bag, I am yet to find it. The Setout Divide has plenty going for it but there are a few small niggles that stop me giving this pack the perfect stamp.
When it comes to travelling with only hand luggage, bag weight is important. Coming in at 1.7 kg the Setout Divide isn’t a heavy pack but it is a little more than I would like. For some Asian airlines that could be close to 25% of your actual weight allowance! Air Asia, for example, only allow you up to 7 kg of hand luggage.
The only way to make this bag lighter would be to use exotic materials such as Dyneema, which would put the price way up or remove some padding, which would reduce the usability of the pack.
All things considered, the 1.7 kg isn’t nearly enough to put me off using the bag but it is a small drawback.
You might find it strange that I’d complain about a bag being noisy but in a dark, quiet dorm at 4 am, any noise can be frustrating. I hate being “that guy” who wakes people up on his way out of the room but the Setout Divide is a little louder than other packs. I’m not sure if it is the material used or whether the water-resistant coating gives the fabric a slight crinkle sound.
Either way, if you’re planning on a stealth mission that involves being as silent as possible, I’d avoid this pack. For those of us who aren’t actually navy seals, it doesn’t make that much difference but if I noticed it, I imagine you will too.
Sure they’re of the highest quality but the sheer multitude of zips takes some getting used to. Whilst testing this pack, I spent the first few days consistently opening the wrong pocket by mistake. The laptop sleeve, main compartment and middle pocket all have exactly the same zips very close together, if you’re not paying attention it can be very easy to delve into the wrong pocket.
This stopped being an issue after I got used to using the bag, so if you have the same frustrations as me, don’t give up too soon!
Internal Compression Straps
When cinching the internal contents tight, the compression straps can change the shape of the bag. Specifically, they pull their anchor points at the top of the bag in slightly, making it difficult to zip up the laptop sleeve.
One way around this is to zip the laptop sleeve up first but pre-planning is not my strong point. Besides, even if you do this, the way the bag gets misshapen by the compression straps can change the way it sits on your back, making it far less comfortable.
As a general rule, I don’t use internal compression straps anyway but for those of you who do, this could be a real downer. In fact, it’s the only aspect of this bag that might be a deal-breaker for me should I want to use the straps. If you are an avid user of these straps and still intend on picking up your own Tortuga Setout Divide, you can always try loosening them up a little so the misshaping is less.
There’s no beating around the bush on this one, Tortuga packs are expensive. At $179 the Setout Divide is their cheapest travel backpack but that’s still significantly more than most of us would want to pay for a backpack.
The pack is well made, durable, can be used for multiple purposes and looks really nice. The materials used are of the highest grade and the build quality is excellent. You would struggle to find a pack this good for cheaper but the price is still a downside for many backpackers already on a tight budget.
For the last few months I have been using the Setout Divide daily as my go to pack for commuting and working and I have to say, it’s served me well. I have also taken the pack on a few short trips to test out how it handles the rigours of airports, trains and buses. Once again, it blew through the tests with flying colours.
Without a doubt, I’d recommend the Tortuga Setout Divide as an everyday carry or commuting pack but it also makes a great travel backpack for light travellers.
Sure, the cost is high but as with most products, you get what you pay for. Skimping out on cheap gear when yours fails, ends up costing you and the planet a lot more in the long run. Suited to both long term travel and weekend trips, the Setout Divide’s impressive build quality gives you one less thing to worry about on the road! It’s a big thumbs up from me.
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