Are Travel Backpacks Worth the Price?

Before moving to France last year, I made the decision to invest in a travel backpack. 

Yes, invest is the right word, because these things don’t come cheap. Sure, I could have just dropped by the store and picked up something that would have fallen apart at the seams by the end of the year, but I wanted a backpack that would last and that was specifically geared towards traveling.

There really isn’t a right way to search for travel backpacks. Read blogs. Watch YouTube videos. Find all those comparisons and reviews. Stop by a few outdoor specialty stores to try them on. Finding a travel backpack is almost like shopping for a new pair of shoes – you want the backpack to fit to you and your body.

First, figure out what kind of backpack you want. Are you a hiker or a city traveler? Automatically your backpacks are going to be completely different. I’m more of a city traveler, so I needed something that would ultimately be sleeker and smaller than bulky hiking backpacks – which are great for what they’re made for, but not for traveling in crowded metros.

I use the Tortuga Air



I’m not exactly known for making calculated and well-thought out life decisions but, when it came to choosing a travel backpack, I shifted between the 27L and the 44L for weeks. What really drew me to Tortuga was the fact that their backpacks open like suitcases. That way, I didn’t have to dig to the bottom of my bag every time I wanted something. I could just unzip it, lay it out flat, grab what I wanted, and zip it back up.

In the end, I chose the 27L because it was more compact. I tried on a backpack with similar dimensions to the 40L; I looked like a turtle with an overgrown shell and I’m tall enough at 5’7”. While I could physically carry it, I knew that it would be awkward. It would also be especially awkward over long periods of time. However, most importantly, I knew that if I bought the 40L I would certainly overpack every single time.

I haven’t had a problem with my 27L. Even when it’s heavy, it’s still doesn’t drag me down. In fact, it can even expand to an impressive 35L with the adjustable straps. The last thing you want to do while traveling is to put unnecessary strain on your body. In addition to my Tortuga Air, I’ll pack a slimmer, rollable day bag to use while I explore.


I’d be lying if I said I never wished for a 40L. Packing for winter is especially hard. Two knit sweaters and the backpack is already halfway full. But then, at the airport, I would watch travelers lug around heavy 40L (and even 60L!) backpacks, duffle bags, carry ons. The Tortuga Air is small enough that it fits under an airplane seat and not in the overhead compartment, unlike the standard 40L (when I don’t overpack). In fact, I’ve shown up places and people will stare and say, “is that all you have?”

The longest I’ve ever solely taken my Tortuga out for has been around three weeks. This summer I’ll be taking it, and only it, on a two month backpacking trip through Europe. I already know that it’s going to be a bit difficult, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s interesting to find out what you can live without. With smaller bags, I have to pick and choose. I’m forced to be a minimalist and, when I’m hopping from one crowded public transit station to the next, sometimes it’s easier that way.

I love my little travel backpack. I take it everywhere with me. We’ve made some great memories together and I can’t wait to make some more.

  • Smaller size allows for easy transport (no need to worry about restrictions – even with Ryan Air)
  • Computer sleeve is separate from main compartment, kept flush against the back as you walk, and lockable. I use it to store my important documents as well.
  • Adjustable straps to make the backpack smaller or larger depending on what you need.
  • Small zippered pocket at the top allows easy access to items you’ll continuously need like your wallet, passport, contacts, and chargers.
  • Padding on back and straps are ventilated – no awkward sweat-stained shirts after trekking through hot cities.
  • The chest strap is the only way to distribute weight – there is no hip strap like on the 40L
  • Water bottle pouch on side is too lose and objects can easily pop out if you aren’t careful.
  • It can be hard to dig things out of the front zippered pocket (which opens like a traditional backpack) when they shift to the bottom, especially when the backpack is full.

Still curious about how much the Tortuga Air can actually hold? Here’s my packing list from my trip to Paris and Budapest, Hungary during February 2017. I was gone for almost two weeks. Don’t forget that, while traveling, you’ll constantly be wearing the bulkier items like sweaters and jackets, leaving more room than you think. 

  • 2 sweaters
  • 5 shirts
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • Tights (that I never wore)
  • 5 pairs of wool boot socks
  • 10 pairs of underwear and 2 bras
  • Daily contacts
  • Dr Martens
  • PJ top and bottom
  • My day bag (pictured above)
  • Jacket with wool lining
  • Toiletries bag (with your standard toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, conditioner, ect.)
  • Makeup bag
  • Hair brush and hair ties
  • Laptop and charger
  • Copies of travel documents (stored in a separate locked compartment from the real ones), wallet, passport, phone + charger, a wall adapter
  • My Canon T3i with a 50mm + charger
  • Miscellaneous such as: compact umbrella, lint roller, glasses and case, journal and pens, books I had picked up in Paris, a water bottle . . .

I ended up coming home with a scarf and a few shirts. What I love the most about my backpack is that, while I am restricted, I never feel limited. 

Looking for a new, trusty travel companion? Don’t forget to check out the Tortuga website.

Do you use a travel backpack? Which one is your favorite?

16 thoughts on “Are Travel Backpacks Worth the Price?

  1. As an avid traveler, I must say that I still am quite amateur when it comes to travel backpacks; I just use a standard school backpack, which is never big enough to store all that I need to bring! Your suggestion sounds great, as it appears you can pack tons of clothing without it feeling so bulky– I’ll have to see what other great travel backpacks are out there!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m in the same boat as Rebecca, the previous comment. I travel with a “regular” backpack but really should invest in a real traveler’s backpack soon. My normal backpack is giving me such back problems. Gonna start fishing around for a legit backpack after reading this. Thanks for your review!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I love my Tortuga, but I absolutely love the suitcase opening feature it has. I know lots of travel backpacks open that way. It’s like having a carry-on on your back!

    It’s been super convenient in hostels and on crowded transit – though I have knocked into a few people when I expand it to the full 32L size haha. But I never feel bulky. I think that’s why I like the Air so much compared to the standard traveler 40L. It looks and feels like a standard school backpack, but fits twice as much.

    Best of luck on your backpack voyage!! Let me know what you find ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh no!! I had a backpack like that, which is why I knew I needed to ditch it. My travel backpack can get heavy, but it’s never given me any back trouble.

    I liked Tortuga because it was designed with urban travel in mind. I wanted a backpack that looked like any I would see in the city, but could also do the job. Osprey is also a good brand to check out!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I love the restricted but not limited wording. Sounds like you have some fun travels! Thanks for sharing all the little details about backpacks–I would never think that much into it but my own but you brought up some good pros and cons. Thanks! As for the packing list, wow! That’s amazing that all that fit into one bag!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Great read and very informative. I made the mistake of traveling to Europe with a dufflebag which I stuffed all my stuff into. It was so heavy especially since it was strapped to one shoulder. Traveling soon again and a traveling backpack would definitely be a good investment. I like traveling through cities as well as hiking so still looking for something in between.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I carried a duffle bag once too – never again! A travel backpack is certainly a great investment. Packing and repacking between stops is easier, as well as hopping on public transit in cities.

    Best of luck on your backpack hunt! There should be something out there that has a blend of both city and hiking.


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