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Tortuga Setout Women’s 35L: a great petite backpack

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Confession: I’m a gear nut. I love all sorts of gear, I love testing it, I love finding the perfect piece of kit for every situation. Luggage is certainly no exception, and I have a real soft spot for backpacks. But like you (if you’re reading this), backpacks present a unique challenge for me: I’m 5’3″ and I have a short torso even relative to my height. I can only use specially designed backpacks for petite women, as “unisex” or even average size backpacks dwarf my frame and the hip belt doesn’t offer support.

When Tortuga reached out to me to test their new women’s Tortuga Setout 35L backpack I was more than a little excited to see what it might offer! The answer is a pretty great overall package that’s unique among the best travel backpacks for petite women.

In this Tortuga Setout review I’ll cover the key features of the new women’s version, what’s great about this new petite backpack and what I hope they’ll change for the next Setout backpack release.

Tortuga Setout 35 for women: key features

Here are some key features of the Tortuga Setout backpack for women to know before I get started with my impressions:

-Capacity: 35 L (~2135 cubic inches) – also available in 45 L now!
There’s also a 45 L version on the way later this year

-Outer dimensions: 21.5″ x 13.5″ x 7.5″ for 35L; 22″ x 14″ x 9″ for 45L
Perfectly sized as a carry-on backpack for travel!

-Weight: 3.6 lbs
About average versus competitors

-Plenty of organization
Four zipper compartments available from the outside, though almost all of them have additional zippers/velcro/slots within for even more organization. Perfect laptop slot too!

-Opens like a suitcase
No need to dig around for that one item you need, it’s all front and center

-Fixed harness height around 14″
Lots of padding for comfortable carrying. Both backpack straps and hip belt can be stored if you want to check the bag or carry it with the cross-body strap.

-Rounded (near oval) shape is less awkward than rectangular backpacks
Custom-made mid-size packing cube set fits perfectly to store your clothes. They aren’t as deep as some others, so if you’ll mostly pack clothing you can consider stacking two sets. They’ll fit!

What I love about the Tortuga Setout

There is so much to love about the Tortuga Setout for women!

For starters, the styling is great and really bridges the gap between “backpacker chic” and truly chic. There are no loops for trekking poles, no elastic compartment for your fleece to awkwardly stick out of and no huge lettering advertising the make/model/capacity of your pack.

This is an understated backpack that will serve you well if you’re on a combination business/pleasure trip or going somewhere that you’d rather not stand out as a target for nefarious folks targeting travelers. It’s a little bigger than your standard daypack that a local might wear, but it doesn’t scream “everything I own and treasure is right here for you to take!” And after traveling full-time, I can assure you that there’s value in that subtlety.

The Setout also has tons of organization, and it’s the right kind of organization for modern women on the go. There’s a sleeve to store your laptop right against your back, and also a little slot in that compartment for your passport. The interior has two big mesh zipper pockets for charging cables and makeup cases, and it also perfectly fits Tortuga’s medium packing cube set. The almost-front compartment has a zipper and lots of slots within, though I wish the zipper to access this compartment extended a little further down on both sides, as the compartment goes alllllll the way to the bottom of the backpack.

The main compartment is extremely easy to access and fits enough clothing for at least a 4 day trip, if not a full week (the 45L would definitely be fine for that!). Below you can see what I’ve packed in as a sample travel capsule wardrobe for a few days away – two pairs of jeans, three long-sleeve shirts, and a few days of delicates. I’ve also included an oversize toiletry kit (much larger than I’d bring for just a few days, but you can see how roomy the bag is), my makeup case and an extra pair of shoes.

Even though 35 litres doesn’t sound like much, you’re really able to use the full capacity of this backpack. As you can see, it’s not remotely stuffed and could probably fit twice as much clothing. I would put my mirrorless camera system in its slim case and store that in the deep outer pocket I discussed above.

With the backpack packed up and ready to go, it’s extremely comfortable. The padding on the shoulder straps and hip belt is fantastic without being stiff. The chest strap is positioned just right for a petite woman and the load lifters at the top of the shoulder straps are a welcome addition.

I have taken this backpack on one flight – our family’s relocation this summer – and even stuffed to the gills it worked great in the overhead bin. Nobody batted an eyelash and I had no trouble maneuvering it in and out.

What could be better about this travel backpack for petite women?

There are a few tweaks that would make the Tortuga Setout for women an even better women’s travel backpack. First, I’d love to see the zipper for the organizer pocket extend another inch lower on each side as on the bigger Tortuga Outbreaker. The security of the pocket wouldn’t be compromised, but access to the bottom would be improved.

I’m not sure if the designers of this backpack were truly focused on the petite market or if that’s just what they ended up with, but in my opinion the Tortuga Setout is not an ideal backpack for an average sized women. With a 14″ suspension, the hip belt would be just below the bust rather than resting on the hips and carrying the load. Check out my hands-on reviews of the best womens travel backpacks that’ll fit average or taller frames.

But this may just be the best backpack for petite women. I would prefer the tops of the shoulder straps to be set juuuust a little wider – even 1/2″ on each side would make it more comfortable for a wider range of women. I’d also recommend that they make the distance between the shoulder straps and hip belt about 1″ longer. Another option would be to incorporate the adjustable height of the Tortuga Outbreaker.

Other backpacks for short women to consider

If you’re a short torso woman looking for an inconspicuous option, there’s really nothing else out there quite like the Tortuga Setout. Other options either look like they belong on a mountaintop or the suspension systems are just too long for a petite woman to carry comfortably. If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit on the style and buy a more “technical” option, here are some alternative travel backpacks for petite women:

Osprey Fairview 40 for women

The Osprey Fairview 40 backpack offers many of the same features as the Tortuga Setout for women – a large front-opening main compartment and stow-away harness. It doesn’t have quite the same level or organization unfortunately, and the laptop compartment is toward the outside of the backpack where it’s less secure. The overall look is a bit more “backpacker”, with outer mesh pockets, gear loops and big compression straps going across the front. Those aren’t bad features, it just depends on what you’re looking for! Note that it doesn’t come in black or a truly neutral gray. The XS/S size offers a similar harness height (just a little longer) and 38L total capacity.

REI Co-Op Tail 40 for women

I bought the REI Co-Op Trail 40 backpack for women, returned it, and now with the latest version I still think about buying it again. It doesn’t have nearly the same organization as the Tortuga Setout and won’t blend in as well as a travel backpack for Europe or big American cities, but it gets the job done and can double as a hiking backpack for women. Access to the main compartment is a little different and more top/front combined rather than side-opening like a suitcase. The small size has a slightly longer harness than the Tortuga Setout 35L and a higher overall capacity (though less usable for travel packing versus outdoorsy packing).

Would the Tortuga Setout for women work for you? I’d love to hear more about what you’re looking for in your next women’s travel backpack and what you think of our Tortuga Setout backpack review!

Shop the Tortuga Setout and accessories below:

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