Two of the best backpacks for travel, leaning against each other on the review writer's bed: the Travel Backpack Pro, and the Travel Backpack Lite, both made by Tortuga. ©KettiWilhelm2024

How Lite is too Light? Tortuga’s Pro vs. Lite Travel Backpack (After Weeks on the Road with Both)

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I bought the 40L Tortuga Travel Backpack Pro last year, after it was redesigned in 2023, and wrote an extensive review of the pack after taking it on several trips. (Including my plastic-free water experiment in El Salvador, a month in Brazil, and a few domestic jaunts.)

I suppose the folks at Tortuga were happy with the intense amount of detail I included in that review (even though it wasn’t all positive), because after that, they offered to send me their new Travel Backpack Lite to compare with the Pro. (They launched the Lite for sale on April 17, 2024, but sent me one in March to test.) 

So I’ve already had time to travel with the Lite backpack for two weeks in Italy (using my should-be-patented strategy for packing light). And I have lots of thoughts about the design changes! 

Before we jump into the differences, let’s make sure you’re in the right place:

If you’re looking for details on Tortuga’s “Pro” Travel Backpack, which I would call their flagship design, check out my original Tortuga review. (In that one, I also compare Tortuga vs Cotopaxi and Osprey travel backpacks.)

This review is meant to be a companion to that big one, just to help you compare the Pro vs Lite packs, based on my own experience with both. (AKA, beyond what you can find in Tortuga’s own explanation of the differences.)

If you’re shopping for any Tortuga products, you can save 10% with the discount code TILTED . (First-time customers only.)

Here are those main differences: 

  • The Lite backpack is lighter – duh! At 3.5 pounds (1.6kg), it weighs 22% less than the Pro backpack, which they achieved by changing the fabric and zippers, and removing lots of padding and pockets. 
  • It’s lighter on the wallet, too, at $250 instead of $350.
  • The Lite pack is only water resistant, not water proof, and has less organization. (It’s not all worse organization, as they did make some changes I like, but it’s definitely different.)
  • The Lite backpack has fewer pockets, but it has the benefit of straps that can be tucked away. 

Easy answers:

For at least some people, the right choice between the Lite and Pro will be obvious. 

  • How tall are you? You can adjust the back panel of Pro backpack to fit you correctly if you’re somewhere outside of average height. (It’s based on your torso length, not height, so it takes a bit of measuring.) The Lite isn’t adjustable in that sense, so it works for people who are somewhere in the middle. 
  • Are you organization-obsessed? This is pretty objective, but the pockets have definitely changed. (See my pocket analysis below.)
  • How much tech do you carry? If you travel with both a laptop and tablet, and don’t want to use a separate case for either, the Pro offers better protection. 
  • How much do you want to spend? Hey, $100 less is no small deal.
  • Just how light are you packing? If you’re really traveling light and don’t even need the full 40 liters of volume, the Pro comes in a 30L pack size, as well. (Probably more of a weekend travel pack for most people.)

My Take:

In my opinion, after traveling with both packs, none of the other differences are all that significant. The Pro has more padding in the shoulder and hip straps, yes, but I still found the Lite very comfortable. (I noticed the difference most in the hip straps, which are also smaller on the Lite than the Pro. But I hardly noticed any difference in the shoulders.)

Comparing the thickness of the padding on the shoulder straps between the Tortuga Travel Backpack Pro and the Travel Backpack Lite, which has thinner padding. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Thinner shoulder straps on the Lite (on the left), but I really couldn’t tell the difference when traveling with it.

The straps can be tucked away on the Lite (but not on the Pro), but that’s really only useful for checking the bag when you fly – and not checking a bag is kind of the point of traveling light with a backpack, right? At least one of the biggest points. (I even have a strategy for not packing any liquid toiletries, too!)

And a lot hasn’t changed between the Pro and the Lite.

Both backpacks carry the same 40 liters of gear (the maximum carry-on size), and combine the clamshell shape of a suitcase with the stealthiness of a backpack (no more noisy wheels!). 

Both are water resistant – although the Pro fabric is more water resistant, and its lockable zippers are weather sealed. 

If something has already given you the answer you need, great. If not, here are the other changes that I think do matter most: 

Tortuga Pro vs Lite: The Laptop Sleeve

The Lite Travel Backpack doesn’t have a dedicated tablet slot (which the Pro Backpack does have) or as protective of a laptop pocket. 

Instead, the laptop storage on the Lite is really just a big open slot at the back of the bag. Yes, it has soft fleece lining, and the pocket has a false-bottom. (It doesn’t go down the full length of the backpack, so your laptop is still protected from bumps when setting the bag down on its end.)

A MacBook Air 13" inside the single laptop pocket on the new Tortuga Travel Backpack Lite, a less expensive and more lightweight version of the brand's Travel Backpack Pro, compared in this review. ©KettiWilhelm2024
This black-hole style laptop pocket on the Lite Backpack just doesn’t seem as secure as the Pro (below).

But the laptop pocket is the full width of the Lite backpack, so anything but the biggest laptop will be sliding around in there, and could be getting jostled from the side. (Especially if the backpack gets set down on its side as opposed to the narrow bottom. But on the other hand, if you plan to have your backpack stuffed to within an inch of its life, there won’t be much moving going on.) 

Whereas with the Pro, I just store my 13” MacBook Air in the tablet pocket, which seems extremely well protected. 

A MacBook Air 13” fits inside the smaller and more secure padded laptop compartment (designed to hold a tablet) on the Tortuga travel backpack. ©KettiWilhelm2023
A very safe spot for my not-too-huge laptop on the Pro Backpack.

Still though, I really feel more comfortable using a protective laptop case inside the pocket. If you do that, it’s fine. Of course, that adds weight, which defeats one of the purposes of the Lite travel backpack. (But of course, the other purpose is saving money, and if you already have a laptop case and don’t need to buy one, the Lite might start making sense again.)

The pocket I miss the most: 

The feature I missed most when I switched to the Lite backpack for two weeks in Europe kind of surprised me – it was just one little pocket. 

There’s no zippered storage pocket inside the laptop area on the Lite Travel Backpack, which I found to be a really useful feature in the Pro! (It’s perfect for keeping charging cables in the same place as my laptop, and I like to keep my passport there too – that way if I only pack one luggage lock to lock one compartment, all the important stuff is in there.)

A MacBook Air 13” and an iPad can both fit inside the lockable, padded laptop compartment on the Tortuga backpacks, the safest travel backpack in this review. ©KettiWilhelm2023
I miss that zippered pocked for my passport! (And the extra-secure tablet slot, where I normally keep my laptop.)

Lots of organization differences: 

Well, now where do I put my shoes? 

The main, large front organization area on the Pro Backpack is just gone in the Lite. Honestly though, I didn’t find most of the small, interior pockets useful anyway. (They were the kind of organization that’s useful for a day pack, but not so much for a travel backpack — for example, pen and credit card slots, and a small slide pocket for a tablet with no zipper.)

But I did love having that huge compartment – the full size of the backpack – for shoes. (And I only ever travel with a maximum of three pairs, so it’s not like I’m going wild here.) 

And in fact, that’s what I’m finding trickiest about the Travel Backpack Lite. That extra front pocket gave me a lot more flexibility on how to pack, and made it easier to stay organized.  

Organization pockets on the Tortuga travel backpack include lots of zippered pockets and dedicated pockets for a laptop, tablet, passport, pens, and keys. ©KettiWilhelm2023
I like to tuck a pair of shoes in the bottom of this versatile pocket on the Pro (below the fold), but the Lite has lost it entirely.

Wet swimsuit stuffing: Still possible, but could be better

The front slide pocket is still there on the Lite backpack, but it’s smaller, and I don’t love that. It’s still the full width of the backpack, but the height of the pocket is much smaller. (22cm on the Lite vs 33 on the original 40L Pro Backpack.)

Pockets that… don’t really matter:

The Lite lost the two pockets on the hip belt that the Pro has, but honestly, I didn’t find them terribly useful anyway. (As I wrote in my Tortuga Pro review, I could fit my iPhone 13 Pro (in a compostable case!) in the hip pocket… but it was a bit of a struggle. And otherwise, I kept trying to use them and finding it just wasn’t very natural.)

Hip belt on the padded hip strap of the Tortuga backpack can fit an iPhone13 Pro with a case. ©KettiWilhelm2023
Hip belt pockets on my Tortuga Pro – nice, but not all that useful.
Comparing the hip straps of the Tortuga Travel Backpack Pro, which has pockets on both sides of the hip belt, and the Travel Backpack Lite, which has no hip pockets and shorter padded area. ©KettiWilhelm2024
The Lite (on the left) has a shorter padded section on the hip belt, and no pockets.

Also, the top quick-access pocket has gotten a tiny bit deeper. It’s approximately 20 cm deep by 20 cm wide, while on the Pro is about 14 cm deep by 20 cm wide. Both have the key fob in that pocket. (The functional difference is really quite insignificant. I’m not even sure why I measured it, besides my natural enthusiasm for comparing things.)

The pockets I’ve always wanted!

I actually wrote in my original review of the Tortuga 40L Pro that I wished the large, floppy mesh pocket inside the main compartment were split into two smaller, more manageable pockets. And that’s exactly what they did with the Lite! 

Comparing the interior pockets of the Tortuga Travel Backpack Pro, one large zipper pocket, and the Travel Backpack Lite, which has two smaller pockets in the same area. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Those TWO pockets are my favorite thing about the Lite Travel Backpack. (Bottom.)

After traveling with it, I can confirm that my original request was a good one. With the small pockets, it’s easier to keep all the little things organized (charging cords, jewelry, pill bottles… you know the category). With the bigger pocket, they all sink to the bottom of the pack in a lump. I know I’m a total nerd for this, but those two pockets are my favorite thing about the Lite vs the Pro travel backpack. 

(However, if you wanted to use the big, open pocket on the Pro for clothing, especially larger items like shirts or pants, the Pro might be better. So again, organization is subjective, and it’s all about finding what works for you. The reason I don’t use it that way is that I use packing cubes.)

Speaking of Packing Cubes

Without a doubt, my favorite thing about Tortuga’s Lite line isn’t the travel backpack. I’m much more excited about the side dishes than the main entrée. Those sides include new and (much) improved packing cubes, and a super light-weight daypack.

Compression Packing Cubes (My Favorites)

I’ve been packing cube fan for years (just read my strategy on how to pack light). But I am still amazed by how many companies (Tortuga included) are still selling non-compression packing cubes. Skipping the compression feature totally defeats the purpose! Or am I missing something?

I still have my small compression packing cubes from REI – one for underwear, another for (usually) swimsuits and tank tops. I love them, but Tortuga’s new, larger cubes are fantastic for (you guessed it) larger items of clothing. And the construction is clearly high quality.

On my trip to Italy, I fit three merino wool tops AND THREE SWEATERS in one cube, then zipped it to squeeze everything down. It all arrived neat and unwrinkled. 

Tortuga compression packing cube filled with six tops, including three sweaters. ©KettiWilhelm2024
My new favorite compression packing cube…
Tortuga compression packing cube filled with six tops, including three sweaters, being zipped. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Look at it squeeze! (This actually zipped up very easily, it was just tough to pose with one hand and work my camera with the other.)

Bonus packing tip: My multifunctional pieces from Unbound Merino have been slowly taking over my travel wardrobe for almost three years. I’ve worn them to speak on stage, to bike across Italy, and literally everything in between. They don’t wrinkle, and they don’t smell – even after days of sweating in them.

Check out my Unbound Merino review for more info. You can save 10% on your first order with the code TILTEDMAP

The Best Travel Daypack

The other side dish I’ve been loving is Tortuga’s new daypack, which has replaced my old REI “flash pack,” which I packed for Baja California and many other adventures.

The Tortuga is extremely lightweight, yet durable and infinitely stuff-able. (You can pack it in your luggage or travel backpack empty, and it takes up hardly any space, unlike a normal backpack.)

I’ve been taking it on every trip, so that I always have a pack for a day hike, or to carry around my laptop and camera gear. It has more organization than my flash pack, with two water bottle pockets, and an interior zip pocket, and is nice and sleek looking. 

Bottom Line: So which backpack should you buy? 

Okay, back to the main dish. Honestly, if you read my reviews, you know I normally have strong opinions – but with this one, I struggle. They’re just both very good travel backpacks. But if I were buying one right now, I’d still go for the Pro backpack

I love its additional organization features, especially in the laptop storage area, and the fact that it has two water bottle pockets instead of one. (I use one for my magical UV-sanitizing water bottle, and the other for a coffee mug, since I try to avoid buying any single-use plastic bottles or take-away cups.)

Wearing my Tortuga travel backpack and travel sling in a jungle El Salvador. ©KettiWilhelm2023
In El Salvador with my go-to, the flagship, more water-proof Tortuga Travel Backpack PRO. (Still not going to jump in the pond though!)

And while I also try to avoid wandering in rainstorms with all my luggage, it does happen sometimes, and it’s nice to know the Pro has better water protection for my computer and everything else inside.

But on the other hand, if you want to save $100, the Lite is still a great backpack for travel! It’s not much of a compromise, especially if you’re not too picky about how you organize your gear. 

Remember, you can save another 10% off all Tortuga products with the discount code TILTED ! (First-time customers only.)

I hope this review was helpful for you! If you have any questions about the Tortuga Lite or Pro travel backpacks, leave them below in the comments. (I still own both of them, so I can dig into any kind of comparison you might need.)

Quick note on Tortuga backpack names: 

Tortuga is a very small company that’s been innovating a lot to improve their products – so keep in mind that if you see reviews for their Setout or Outbreaker travel backpacks. Those will likely be full of outdated information, as they’re based on products that are no longer available. (Unless you can find a used one somewhere, in which case more power to you!) 

For all the details on the Pro Tortuga backpack, and a comparison with a couple of alternatives, see my original Tortuga review

Before You Go:

If you enjoyed this, I bet you’ll find these other blog posts helpful for your travels, too! 

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