The seat belts sign flashed off. Immediately the aisle filled with people, reaching overhead for bags, hauling suitcases from the ceiling. Slowly the plane emptied. Finally, it was my turn to step into the aisle to freedom.
I reached below the seat in front of me, pulled free my bag, slung it over a shoulder and jogged for the terminal. Outside, while waiting for the train to take me to downtown Vancouver, I shrugged on my jacket, and admired the svelte black bag at my feet. It was the only bag I’d brought with me.
Packing only in a carry on is a form of art.
Each time I pack, I search for the perfect balance between necessity and excess. I hunt for the elusive feeling of success where I’m light and fancy-free, yet enough Bear Grillis’ed to face the world.
Recently, Tortuga Backpacks graciously gave me a Tortuga Air Carry On Backpack to review on a long weekend trip to Vancouver, Canada. My trip was exactly the kind the Tortuga Air backpack was designed to tackle: shorter than a months-long jaunt around the world, but slightly longer than your normal weekend getaway.
Unlike a typical backpack, the Tortuga Air has a clamshell opening so you get the best of both luggage worlds: a backpack’s unencumbered freedom without the chaotic mess inside and a suitcase’s organization without the dreadful wheels clunking over cobblestones.
While exploring Vancouver, I tracked three main things on the Tortuga Air to test it:
With a backpack, you carry your home on your back, and sometimes that home can get heavy quickly. Then your shoulders rub raw. Or your lower back begins to ache. Or you start to despise the look of your bag after only day two.
You need to pick a backpack designed with your comfort in mind:
- Padded straps,
- Chest strap,
- Contoured padding against your back,
- Weightless feeling of having it on your back.
Tortuga Air hit all those marks, plus some like a padded handle on the backpack’s top. Sliding the Tortuga Air on was like shrugging on my coat: warm and comfortable.
Both my shoulders bore the backpack’s weight and never complained about it, thanks to the padded straps. (This backpack doesn’t come with a waist belt since it’s designed for shorter trips, hence a lighter load.)
Against my back, the weight distributed evenly. Even the padding felt sturdy and ready to take on the world.
Some extra thoughtful perks that Tortuga Air had were: a padded handle on top of the backpack that didn’t bite into my hand for quick grab, no thin layer of padding but thick cushiony padding, no confusing plethora of pockets so you can’t find your passport when you need it now, and a separate padded laptop compartment.
My favorite part is that the bag never felt bulky. Some backpacks feel like you’re hauling a Lincoln around by two straps.
The Tortuga Air amazingly felt like a part of me.
No more swinging around suddenly and whacking a line of people behind me in the face with a backpack. No more running for the last train and squeezing on-board only to find my backpack hanging outside the doors.
This the how the bag feels mentally when you pack it. It’s the feeling you have right after you zip up your bag. The moment when you feel burdened by the amount of things you’re bringing, or invigorated by your amazing ability to pare down the necessities into a few must-haves.
It’s the feeling when you wonder how much the bag will hold after shopping in several cities. Or browsing a few too many bookstores, in my case.
What’s the feeling I had when I zipped the Tortuga Air shut the night before takeoff?
Surprise. Pride. Elation. I felt like the best version of myself.
For the first time, I wasn’t debating if I should bring this red shirt versus that blue shirt, and do I have room for it? Usually, I’m a light packer and have managed to visit Alaska in finicky fall weather by packing only in a Timbuk2 bag. Yet inevitably when I pack, I’m fine-tuning the contents of my bag, seeking the spot of nirvana where I have just enough but not too much.
Instead I unzipped the Tortuga Air, packed what I thought I’d need, and still there was room in the bag. This was unusual. Four shirts, two tank tops, underwear, socks, pajamas, cardigan — yup, the gang’s all here. Nothing was missing.
Wait, I can pack more if I wanted? What is this feeling of space in a carry on?
The backpack’s inside is divided into two compartments: 1) a mesh zippered section on one side, and 2) a slightly deeper compartment with buckles and straps to cinch down your clothes. Thanks to the clamshell design, it was super easy to keep my bag organized during my trip and find exactly what I needed, when I needed it.
Through the trip, that feeling of surprised pride didn’t vanish. Tortuga Air made me feel like I was Captain America’s superslick alter ego: Packing Hero. Heck, if I wanted to buy a couple shirts (or books) in Vancouver, I could. I had the room, no question.
And if I went overboard with shopping, simply unzip the expandable section and watch the bag grow by three more inches. But the beauty was I didn’t have to use it.
Let’s face it: durability is where most bags fail. They do a great job of holding our stuff until the third trip and then they fall to pieces. Here a zipper breaks, there a pocket rips.
I’m willing to spend extra money to get a bag that will last me years. I like the thought of a bag traveling with me through countries, like a best friend.
And Tortuga Air is my next best friend in three big ways:
1) Fabric: tough outer fabric that feels ballistic, like it can take a beating on the train and repeatedly shoved under an airplane seat.
2) Industrial zippers (that fit a lock!): I hate it when a bag dies just because of faulty zippers. These bad boys on the Tortuga Air are heavy in your hand and feel like they aren’t going anywhere.
3) Good-sized pockets: for me, durability is more than just the fabric. Durability is also the way a bag is designed. You’ll reach for a thoughtfully designed bag more often than one with awkward pockets and unhelpful compartments.
Tortuga Air has good-sized pockets, a nice large front pocket large enough to fit a hardback book, a zippered side pouch, and a zippered pocket on the bag’s top for small items that are always wandering off like your sunglasses.
As a (crazed) bag devotee, I’ve tried a lot of bags over the years, always hunting for the bag that strikes the threefold lucky strike of comfort, packability, and durability. Never have I found a bag that makes me a better packer (and feel so good about myself) and is so comfortable to wear — until the Tortuga Air.
Laura Lopuch blogs at Waiting To Be Read where she helps you find your next awesome book to read — and points out a few you might not know about.