Need a new Carry-on backpack? - Tortuga Set Out Divide

Choices of backpacks
Hackpack V1.0 an every day carry for college or the office
Bobby Bizz an every day carry convertible brief case
Tortuga Set Out Divide a 26 to 34 litre travel backpack
Things to pack
Packed Up and Ready To Go
Slings - carrying light

I am planning a trip to India to attend the wedding of my friend's daughter. I would then take the opportunity to spend another 4-8 weeks travelling.

After much research and trying out luggage I already have for volume and weight I decided I need a travel backpack and a daily carry backpack. The travel backpack will go cargo checked in because for two months I want to carry a pocket knife and pocket tool and they will not go carry-on. In one bag travel and the stuff I am looking to pack the carry-on weight is 12kg. With an 8kg limit internationally and 5kg on some domestic flights some items have to be checked in. All the tech has to fit into the carry on backpack for the flights out, back home and internal - including shaver and electric tooth brush and wash bag kit.

Besides the two packing cubes for clothes, perhaps a suit and second pair of shoes there will be some wedding presents.

Security is important. I had a camera bag lifted by thieves on my last trip to India with video camera, two Minox cameras, a Rollei, flash, guide book, some cash and passport. In China the bus driver spotted that I had been targeted by cut and slash thieves and shouted out. My pocket was empty otherwise their trick was to slash your leg, wallet falls out you can't run as your leg bleeds out.

For touring I expect to want to catch up on social media and e-mails at some stage of the sight seeing and will have camera, tripod and a drinks bottle with me. So camera, extra lens, mobile phone and perhaps an 8" tablet. My choice for daily carry is the anti-theft Bobby Bizz from XD Design. €84 on Amazon, €89.95 direct (€99.95 October 2018). For the main travel backpack I settled on the Tortuga Setout Divide. 

Tortuga Set Out Divide

The Tortuga Set Out Divide was 195.56USD to post to a friend in California (no shipping to EU or UK), 71.65USD to post to the UK and 48.74GBP ($64.20) UK Customs VAT.

The Setout Divide arrives in a large locking plastic bag with the company motto "On Your Terms".


Manufactuer's page :

Chase Reeves review :

Pack Hacker review :

Travelling Selseros :


An initial packing in an old wheelie suitcase suggested that 31.6 litres should be enough for the majority of the things with a small over the should camera bag. The Tortuga Setout Divide is 34 litres when expanded and 26 litres compressed. The larger 45 litre Tortuga Setout would make packing easier but it is too large to then take as a daily carry as it does not compress down. In terms of layout the two backpacks have similar design and features - the three compartments, the same organisation and laptop pocket. The smaller Setout Divide works better as a brief case or messenger bag with the optional should strap than the larger Setout. Both bags are floppy when not packed but have a stiffened back support.


Dimensions 20x13x6" (expandable to 8") {508x330x154mm)
26litres (expands to 34l)
3.8 lbs {1.73kg}
Laptop up to 15"
Tablet 9.7"
Fit 17-19" torsos (430-480mm)

900D heathered polyester
Injection moulded foam
YKK Zippers
Duraflex buckles

Weather resistant
Internal compression straps
Lockable zippers
    -    Electronics sleeve (where your laptop goes)
    -    Front panel (organisation pocket)
    -    Main compartment 
Water bottle pocket
Quick access pocket
Organisation pocket
Internal Mesh divide
Expandable main compartment
Luggage handle pass through
Hideaway shoulder straps
Padded, removable hip belt
Laptop and tablet pocket

The material is of high quality. The finish is to a very high standard. The zips slide easily, including the all round zip that allows the internal mesh compartment to expand. If the mesh divides off clothes the contents can be compressed. The advantage of this is that packing is easier when there is more space. I still found using compression packing cubes to have additional advantages.

External quick access pocket - flat pocket 174mm deep, 200mm wide. There is no padding so only suitable for tickets, passport or a printed map.

There are grab handles on the top and one of the right side when worn as a backpack. That is, to dismount you swing down from your right shoulder and grab the handle with your left hand. Both handles are substantial and well padded. The side handle is off centre when the internal compartment is expanded.

The messenger shoulder strap (an optional extra) clips at either end of the main compartment. One is sew in with the top handle. The clips are strong, but plastic. As the bag can easily hold 12kg for travelling and a lot more if carrying books and files for study or business a lot of strain is placed upon them.

The backpack shoulder straps can be stored away behind the mesh covered padded back of the bag. The padding has good air flow, even when over loaded. The waist belt can be stored here, but might fall out if carried as a brief case or messenger bag. The gap is also the slot for fixing onto a wheelie bag. Even when not packed the stored backpack straps make sliding on and off more difficult. When packed out I would not want to push a wheelie bag handle up against my laptop trying to use this feature.

The backpack shoulder straps are contoured and padded. They are a little stiff with injected moulded foam inside, They are also very comfortable and distribute the weight over the shoulders. The adjustable straps have elastic keepers; another small touch for strap management. Metal spring clips fix to the loops that can be found on the side of the backpack. Clip these towards the outside as reports suggest they might come undone.

The sternum strap can be adjusted to the level most comfortable and can be removed completely.

Two plastic rectangular clips take the Velcro waist belt.  If the pack has 8kg (the limit for carry-on on most flights) or less the waist belt might not be needed. These have zipped pockets, presumably for quick access items like a ticket for public transport but will take a coin purse or wallet. You can carry a mobile phone inside, but contents remains vulnerable with the lack of padding.

Designed originally for a larger backpack and supplied with the larger 45 litre Set Out these are a little overkill for the small Set Out Divide. However they are amazingly comfortable and do significantly help with the weight load. My packing is with 9 to 13 kg which gets heavy after an a mile walking.

There is a coat hanger loop strap at the top. Useful for storage at home or handling of a wall fixed clothes peg. It is stitched back on itself making it less likely to get twisted up.

When carried vertically the waist straps can touch the floor. Clipping through the hanger loop at the top lifts them out of the way.

On the left side, when carried, is a water bottle pocket. This zips up when not in use. It is elasticated and expands to hold a large bottle.

There are two compression straps either side of the backpack. The ones on the water bottle side do not have to be unclipped as the main compartments opens up suit case style. The buckles near the grab handle lack the Tortuga logo.

The buckles on the water bottle side have small Tortuga logos.

The double zip include a hole in the slider for a padlock.

The wire loop version of the TSA approved combination lock allows the laptop and main compartment to be locked at the same time.

The front organisation panel has a slightly smaller pass through hole. Which means there is no option to lock the main compartment and this panel with the single lock or using a lock with two wire loops.

Organization panel

The organisation panel has depth allowing a jumper, sweat shirt or light jacket to be stored. The optional rain cover and messenger style shoulder strap could also be stored here.

At the top is a key chain fob.

The zipper pocket large is enough for mobile phone at 170mm deep and 190mm wide. It is in the same position as the external pocket and will fight for the same volume. Sunglasses can be stored here, but without a protective case.

With a full internal mesh compartment there is little give to store anything. The pockets are flat. The wide open pocket is stitched on top of the panel's back. 230mm deep, 255mm wide. extending 360mm down from the top. This could hold an A4 pad.

The top two pockets are not so deep and the contents remains accessible. Often the pockets are so deep that contents gravitates to the bottom of the bag along with everything else.

On top of the wide pocket are stitched all the other pockets.

The credit cards hide in three pockets that sits about midway down inside the panel. These sit on top of a 90mm wide x 87mm deep pocket. This could hold a credit card minimalist wallet but not at the same time as anything in the three credit card slots. Many bags have little pockets for credit and business cards. It is not a feature I can see anyone using. I guess it is a place to store a pack of stamps if you are one of the few people left who sends a postcard and not stick up a note on social media. You can also store spare passport size photographs as required in some places when obtaining a local SIM for your mobile phone.

If the pen slots are occupied it makes it difficult to store anything else. The pen clips also snag if something is pulled up from the bottom half of this panel.

The mesh pocket can hold a slim mouse or a thick wallet but it lacks padding.

As the panel only unzips 170mm down from the top, most of the pockets are below the opening.  The bottom pockets are harder to see and access, but contents is hidden from prying eyes.

Access is not a problem if the Set Out Divide is not fully packed and keeping this compartment flat.

Internal mesh divider

The main compartment opens up suit case style. With the grab handle at the top the mesh compartment is on the left and the strap down compartment is on the right.

The compression zip is on the mesh compartment side and provides two almost identical in volume spaces for storage.

The interior has a ripstop lining.

Loose clothing can be placed here, with the mesh strapping down. Packing with the expansion unzipped makes it easier to organise. If not too full you might then be able to compress the compartment.

Here I packed trousers, three white collar shirts, two long sleeve tee shirts, two sleeveless shirts, four underpants, four pairs of sockets and a head cover (needed when visiting some temples). I could then use the strap down side for a suit. Unfortunately there are other things to pack as well. These have been laid flat and folded edge to edge. Clothes can be rolled, but perhaps not for the three shirts with stiff collars. 


Compression packing cubes, like the ones from Eagle Creek are more flexible and reduce bunching and content moving. Packing cubes help organisation when needing to accommodate other stuff such as wash bag, thermos flask, mini boiler, first aid (plasters) kit, sewing kit, bed liner, large microfibre towel and tripod.

Trying to store tech gear, a camera cube, is a challenge needing a deeper space.

All my clothes can be packed into the main compartment.

Main Compartment

If the mesh divide holds in all the clothes then the rest goes into the main compartment. Unfortunately the strap does not restrain the contents and not enough room for the tech and camera cube.

Moving the camera cube and tech stuff to a daily carry a better weight distribution is achieved. Laying the collared shirts flat the large microfibre towel has to be lay flat as well.

For added protection I got an inexpensive foldable duffle as the weight limit for carry on and carrying a SwissCard and Swiss Army pocket knife this has to go cargo, checked in luggage. 

In this choice of packing the Set Out Divide is 9.6 kg. To get down to 8kg for carry-on remove the MeFoto tripod (1.6 kg), the foldable duffle, knives and scissors. Still not a help for internal flights when only one back is permitted with you and that has to be under 5 kg.

Laptop and tablet sleeves

Next to the shoulder straps is the laptop compartment. Inside is the company moto "On Your Terms" a reminder that you can work anywhere in the world remotely.

Digital nomads carry a laptop for working trips, blogging travel and have an addiction to social media. The Tortuga Set Out Divide makes a great student backpack - tech panel, organisation panel, mesh compartment for gym stuff and space for books and a coat. Off set the expense with being able to use this for business, the daily commute and travel for the rest of your life; but see the comment further down.

The space has two pockets. For a laptop and a pocket for a thin tablet or notepad or papers. The laptop pockets is 420mm deep and 280mm across with the front well padded. The compartment has a depth of 430mm. The laptop pocket has a false bottom protecting it from being dropped.

The tablet pocket is 215mm keeping the tablet near the top. My Dell Venue 8 Pro 5855 fits well, even in the Dell case. Add the Dell Bluetooth keyboard and place the active pen in the built in holder and the fit is too tight. Even in the laptop pocket without a laptop it is a tight fit.

There is room for further items to be packed below the tablet pocket the other side of the pockets. They just have to be flat!

Compressed down to the 26 litres and loaded with an 800g tablet in the back, a 450g battery pack and mobile phone in the front compartment along with wallet for credit cards and coins, thermos flask on the side the Tortuga Setout Divide is floppy and feels very heavy. Items inside the main compartment all gravitate to the bottom. If that is a few text books and files it makes for a lumpy unbalanced bag. If carried brief case style the contents of the pockets without zips fall out and everything ends up at the bottom.

A part solution is to use a tech board like the Cocoon Grid-it where the contents are held in place by elasticiated bands.

EXTRA SMALL GRID-IT!® DIMENSIONS W:7” x H:5”, W:17.8cm x H:12.7cm
SMALL GRID-IT!® DIMENSIONS W:7.25” x H:9.25”, W:18.4cm x H:23.5cm
CAR VISOR GRID-IT!® DIMENSIONS  W:13.55” x H:5.25”, W:34.4cm x H:13.3cm
EXTRA LARGE GRID-IT!® DIMENSIONS W:15” x H:11”, W:38.1cm x H:27.9cm

or the Tom Bihn Freudian Slip that adds pockets front and back to a rigid frame. Size range from the 330x450 mm (340g) down to 212x257 mm (122g). The Freudian Slip is designed for bags without tech organisation in them. The Brain Bag Freudian Slip offers 12 organizational pockets, of which there are: four folder pockets (folders/papers fit horizontally or vertically), two mesh pockets for bulky items, an open-top pocket for small electronics or a notebook, three pen slots, and a business card slot.

Packing foam as included in some aluminium camera brief cases, where you customise the foam cut out to your requirements, gives the main compartment more structure; that is until too many small blocks are removed. The piece I have is 450x310x60 mm.

Last updated 10th November 2018