Linked List // February 12 2016 by Brandon Jones

Linked List // February 5 2016 by Brandon Jones

PSA: Be careful if you are self-hosting Wordpress out there. Have a security scanner installed and make sure themes & plugins stay up-to-date. The hacks are getting worse (expontially so, I personally think) and more common. Most of the Tech Support work I've done over the last year has involved cleaning WP sites for people.

If you were wondering why there are so many Syrian refugees... by Brandon Jones

The below video is Russian drone footage of a major Syrian city. It's shocking in how total the destruction is.

This article from the Guardian has before & after photos from across the countries (and they are just as shocking).

Pray for Syria. Welcome the refugee. Show them that destruction isn't the only possibility in this world. (Sources found here)

January Books by Brandon Jones

It’s not a New Years resolution but two of my current personal goals are to 1) write more and 2) read more. To combine these, I’d thought I’d write a bit about what I read in January. I’ll include both finished and “in process” books and maybe you’ll find something to read too!

Finished in January

I finished three books this month - an encouraging number! I used to finish a book every few days but life and family and work got in the way. That sounds a bit stronger than I mean because I love all of those things but I’ve been intentionally trying to take more time to read of late. In January I finished:

  • Honor Among Thieves by James SA Corey: Yes this is fiction and yes it’s about the Star Wars world. SWVII got me excited about that universe again and I loved book 1 of the Expanse series. I enjoyed this one too. It wasn’t the best SciFi I’ve read but it held my attention until the end. It needed more jedi though (it takes place between ep IV & V).
  • Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers by J. D. Payne: In my subjective take, I’d rate it 3 of 5. It tries heavily to blend traditional and field models of church planting and there is definitely some good things in it. My favorite aspect: highly encouraging CP from the perspective of new believers rather than poaching. I think it’d be helpful especially for those working in more Western contexts.
  • A New Apostolic Reformation? A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement by R. Douglas Geivett and Holly Pivec: There has been a lot of talk about the NAR in the news but little substance. I see lots of heavy (and sometimes grossly overstated) critique but little in the way of what is actually going on. So, I was quite interested upon seeing this work. I really appreciate where they start: that those in the NAR who they are talking about are sincere in their love and devotion of Jesus. I see a lot of critique starting at the place of “those devils” and I much appreciated this alternative approach. And I found it quite helpful in looking at the specifics of belief and structure; I definitely came away with a much deeper understanding. It’s critiques were spot on as well as there is much to be concerned about (i.e., the treatment of the term Apostle as office rather than ministry function even though the former fails any serious exegesis). If you also are curious at this emerging movement, particularly in the US, I’d encourage giving this helpful, honest and gracious book a read.

Books Started But Not Yet Finished

I’ve got several other “irons in the fire” so to speak. Here they are:

  • Ecclesiogenesis by Leonardo Boff: This dense little book looks at emerging movement phenomena in Catholic settings (primarily in the South American communities, specifically Brazil). It’s definitely interesting so far.
  • The Big Picture: Building Blocks of a Christian Worldview by Brian Harris: This book is phenomenal so far. I’m working slowly through it and using it as inspiration for a cross cultural worldview seminar I’m working on developing. It’s written by an Australian so doesn’t equate Christian Worldview to the American scene (something I’ve seen quite a few books do) but instead seeks to integrate a biblical understanding into the culture we emerge out of. Again, it’s really good and will be on the finished list for February.

Linked List // January 29 2016 by Brandon Jones

Birth Certificate Shenanigans by Brandon Jones

Not Nairobi governmental buildings. I'm not supposed to take pictures of those.

Not Nairobi governmental buildings. I'm not supposed to take pictures of those.

My wife and I just had a son; you might have seen the picture last week. It’s always interesting making these life transitions in a new place. Things just work differently and you just have to learn to adapt.

But there is a lot that needs to get done - hospital things need sorting and then the legal aspect of bringing a kid into the world needs to be sorted as well. It’s the latter that I’m presently working on and it’s much more of a head ache here compared with what we had to go through with our first born in Cape Town (the hospital sorted things there).

I started the process of getting the birth certificate at the hospital before we left. It started with taking forms from the labor & delivery wing to the hospital records wing. There more forms were filled out and a letter was typed up and stamped and I was told to take the bundle I was handed, along with my wife and I’s passports, to city hall in downtown Nairobi.

I wasn’t looking forward to that as navigating government office downtown can be tricky.

But I got up early the day after getting home and headed downtown to be there as they opened. After getting a bit lost in the building some kind souls slowly pointed me in the right direction and I eventually found office #1 up four flights of stairs. There a nice lady looked over my documents, wrote some things on one of them, and then sent me off to the cash office.

In the cash office I was supposed to wait in a particular line, which I did, to pay the recording fee (about $5 USD). I waited. And waited. And waited a bit longer (close to an hour and a half). I got up to the front only to be told I was supposed to go to a different desk somewhere else first. After a bit of frustrated arguing I trudged off to the other place - it’s line was thankfully much shorter and thankfully they sent me to the front of the previous line to pay (at this point the wait would have been much longer as the line was twice as long as when I got in it).

Receipt in hand I headed out of the City Hall complex to find a copy shop. They needed me to make copies of the paperwork and the receipt and my passports. Thankfully there were several copy shops across the street.

Once that was done I headed back to the first office in City Hall and was directed to a different lady. She took the receipt and my paperwork and looked over it and said, ”The hospital filled it out wrong. I don’t think your son was born anywhere. There needs to be more stamps!” After some back and forth trying to figure out what in the world she was talking about I left and headed back to the hospital.

At the hospital records room I found some one and explained the predicament and that I really wanted to get it taken care of so I could get my son’s birth certificate. There was lots of animated discussion about how nothing was wrong. I explained what I was told. They chuckled and shook there heads. Finally a supervisor came and looked and reiterated that. I told her what City Hall had told me so she grabbed a stamp, looked at what it said and then said, ”This will be ok.” and stamped the heck out of the form. I was then able to convince them to make copies so that I didn’t have to go to another copy shop.

Documents and copies in hand I headed back to City Hall. This time everything checked out. I thought I was done. But I was wrong. They lady I talked to said the document packet needed to be taken somewhere else (after stamping it numerous times). She told me where but then said that they could do it if I wanted that it cost only about $20 USD. She wouldn’t give a receipt though so this sounded fishy to me so I decided to go myself; we try to avoid the corruption issues as much as possible so if it smells funny we pass on it if we can.

I was told that that office was closed for the day so at this point I headed home to make the trek out another time.

A couple of days later, documents in hand, I headed back downtown to finish the process. Upon arrival at this new office I filled out the appropriate form and went to the appropriate line. When I got to the front the lady looked at my paperwork and said, ”I can’t do this. You need to see Charles. Go to the guard over there.” I was thinking, ”what’s wrong now??” at this point in time. But I went to the guard. He informed me that Charles wasn’t in and that he didn’t know when he’d be in. Thankfully another guy at a desk heard and waved me in and took a look at my documents. There was one error in them: the form I filled out this day asked for the mother’s full name before marriage. I put this down thinking that it was what they wanted. It’s not. They wanted the mother’s full name now.

He then sent me to pay at the cash counter. I had my $20 ready (remember that’s what the lady at City Hall had told me) but when I got to the front I found out that it was only the equivalent of 50 cents (I’m glad I didn’t pay at City Hall now!). I was given the receipt and then told to come back on Thursday (today) to pick up his birth certificate.

Well, I went today and was told, ”It’s not yet ready. Come back tomorrow morning.” Hopefully tomorrow it’ll be ready and I can move on to phase two: getting him a passport and legal in the US.

If you are looking to give birth in Kenya and want to know anymore about the process feel free to ask! And, if you have an amusing or hectic story tracking down birth certificates in your country feel free to comment with your story!

UPDATE: Well I returned to Bishops House today. Got to the front on the line. The guy looked in his stacks and then sent me back to the cash window. There they took my receipt, looked in there books, wrote something and then sent me back to the first counter. When I got to the front the guy looked again, then sent me to find someone behind the counter. This guy looked in his books and wrote something new on the receipt and then sent me back to the original line. I was hoping time 3 would be the charm. It wasn't. The same guy as the previous two times looked at my receipt and then sent me to another guy behind the counter. This guy didn't even look at my receipt or say anything. He just pointed at yet another guy. This guy took my receipt and told me to wait in the lobby. I waited about 30 minutes and then he waved me back and gave me two copies of the birth certificate. Task accomplished.

As an aside the run around I experienced was crazy. Kenyans I have talked to think people were just looking for bribes because I'm an American. It's not surprising to me that so many people give them because the right way can be such a hassle. Here's to hoping systems improve and corruption becomes a thing of the past.

Top Wishlist Books by Brandon Jones

I thought I’d make a different sort of top ten list as everyone is finishing up posting their ”Best of 2015” lists. I was looking through my Amazon wishlist and thought I’d post my top 10 on my wishlist to see if anyone had suggestions on what I should get to first as I have a little bit of Christmas spending money left. This list won’t be numbered. If you’ve read any of them, let me know your thoughts and whether or not I should prioritize it!

  • Place Attachment: Advances in Theory, Methods and Applications - This is an interesting one. It’s an academic work exploring place attachment, or how people form emotional bonds with their surroundings. I think this is a particularly important topic when considering urban ministry & development particularly with the emergence of mega cities.
  • An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture - This one looks at the challenge of a consumeristic culture up against the kingdom of God.
  • Water To Wine: Some of My Story - This is the autobiographical story of Brian Zahnd searching for a deeper more authentic faith. I enjoyed the excerpt I read and think it’d make for a good read in its entirety.
  • Paul and the Gift - This is supposed to be the work on Paul to read. Well this or NT Wrights final tome. But I’ve read so much good about this that I’d one day like to dig into it as daunting as it seems.
  • The Pirate Organization: Lessons from the Fringes of Capitalism - This one satisfies the input in me. It traces how pirates forge the path (and often evolution) of capitalism, from the pirates sailing the seven seas to the new forms of piracy on the net.
  • The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements - This is another sociological book that relates more intentionally to what I do. It looks specifically at how people can be swept up into mass movements and become fanatics for them.
  • Subterranean: Why the Future of the Church is Rootedness - This is the last book I’ll mention. It seeks to answer the how of being present, of being rooted in our communities. It’s specific locus is the church and how she can intentionally and positively affect those around her through intentionality.

I know that list isn’t 10. There is room for potential readers to add a book or two. And do tell me your experience with any of the above and how I should prioritize them; I’d love to hear!

Linked List // January 22 2016 by Brandon Jones

Leaving Grape Soda Christianity: A First Look at Brian Zahnd’s Water To Wine by Brandon Jones

American Christianity, on the other hand, is conditioned to avoid suffering at all cost. But what a cost it is! Grape juice Christianity is what is produced by the purveyors of the motivational-seminar, you-can-have-it-all, success-in-life, pop-psychology Christianity. It’s a children’s drink. It comes with a straw and is served in a little cardboard box. I don’t want to drink that anymore. I don’t want to serve that anymore. I want the vintage wine. The kind of faith marked by mystery, grace, and authenticity. The kind of Christianity that has the capacity to endlessly fascinate is not produced apart from struggle and suffering. It’s the pain of struggle and suffering that confers character and complexity to our faith.

Brian Zahnd has a new book releasing this week that seems autobiographical and looks quite interesting. The linked post has an excerpt from the first chapter - a small bit is quoted here.


SWT: Belief & Communication by Brandon Jones

Individual strengths do not work in isolation; our other strengths affect how we use them. Strengths Working Together is a series I’m doing on this blog that intentionally explores the relationships that different strengths might have. It’s important to keep in mind though that these are hypothetical relationships that I’ll be exploring and might not apply to you. This series is not designed to replace the one-on-one coaching process.

To look at these relationships, I’ll start by sharing a bit about the individual strengths and then talk about potential ways they would interact. In my series opener, my friend Liam commented with some strength relationships he’d like to see explored so the first few posts will look at the strengths he suggested. The first pair suggested was belief and communication.

Belief

Belief is an executing strength. This means that we primarily see it in the way we do things. It affects our actions - the how of life. In non-profit work I’ve found it to be a really common strength because it’s all about values and purpose that drive what we do. It’s not about a specific set of values but how our values drive us; as example person A with belief might have a completely different set of driving values than person B.

Belief commonly has people asking themselves, ”Is what I’m doing congruent with my purpose in life?” and you commonly see them speaking out passionately about their purpose (or underlying values. Belief needs a cause (hence the reason I find it common in the non-profit world) and is naturally able to sacrifice for it. It naturally is able to provide values to teams especially where they might be absent.

Communication

Communication is an influencing strength. This means we primarily see it in how we influence others. Influencing strengths like this allow us to draw people into something that they wouldn’t have necessarily found themselves in. Particularly in the case of communication, it’s able to draw people into a story or a message; communication actually makes people phenomenal storytellers.

Communication commonly has people asking themselves, ”what pictures can I paint with my words to draw others into what I’m doing? and you often see them talking - a lot; they find lots of life in holding the attention of others. Communication naturally is able to connect people to a message in a way that draws them into it.

Interaction

Belief and communication are two strengths that should pair really naturally with one another. Belief is all about a message (particularly the values and purpose behind it) and communication is all about being able to influence others for a message. People with these strengths high likely will naturally be able to identify vision and mission statements in a way that quickly draws people into them. It’ll be the passion on the team that keeps the values at the forefront of peoples attention. This is a real strength of this pairing.

It’s worth mentioning that this strength pairing might come across as overbearing or worse because of the passion that these strengths are likely to create. If they are managed well it shouldn’t be a problem though.

If you have either of these strengths in your top 5 - contact a Strengths coach to discover how they might work with you. If you have this particular pairing especially, don’t take this overview post as the final word. Contact someone today.Comment if you have a strengths pairing you’d like me to explore!

Favorite Song of 2015 by Brandon Jones

While his album didn't make my list of favorites from 2015, Dustin Kensrue's Of Crows and Crowns was probably my favorite song of the year.

In truth, it's one of the most beautiful songs I've heard. I don't know if I know of a more skilled lyricist out there. His lyrics as a part of Thrice are wonderful as are his solo lyrics (and worship music). If you are actively looking for thoughtful well crafted music, visit his site

You are a sight for aching eyes
A river for my thirst
When all the world is harsh and dry
Wasted by the curse
All words seem beggarly and poor
Then set to sing your grace
What could I’ve know of love before
My eyes had seen your face

My love, how beautiful you are
My love is ever where you are

I know you feel the wounds of time
The wondering feet of crows
But I am yours and you are mine
And none but me could know
How all of you enraptures me
Till I can’t look away
I pray that I will live to see
You wear a crown of gray

My love, how beautiful you are
My love is ever where you are

And when you kiss me I am lost
Or is it that I’m found
My feet send roots beneath the rocks
To fix me to the ground
Never to float away again
A captive to the tide
No more to wander in the wind
Without you by my side

My love, how beautiful you are
My love is ever where you are

Linked List // January 15 2016 by Brandon Jones

Dikaiosyne In The Gospel of Matthew by Brandon Jones

This is an old post, originally written in October of 2009. For posterity I decided to go ahead and repost.

This past week while on vacation I had the opportunity to do a lot of reading. I finished Church After Christendom by Stuart Murray and Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and started Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission by David Bosch. This last book that I just started has been on my reading list for quite some time and I’m quite glad of that, only wishing that I had had the opportunity to read it sooner.

As the name implies, Transforming Mission is an in depth theology of mission for our time. It starts with historical overviews of missions throughout the ages before arriving at our post-modern age though. Its starting point is missiology in the New Testament (and this is what I’m still going through). It’s a work to trudge through though as the pages are littered with gems that I hadn’t really ever thought of / taken into account / put together before.

This brings me to the topic at hand: Dikaiosyne in Matthew. Matthew is the first major Biblical New Testament text examined, chosen for obvious reasons: the frequently quoted “Great Commission” that closes the book. Bosch though contends that an average reading of this challenge without the context of the preceding text misses much of the point and as such he spends much time developing the concepts of missiology throughout the Gospel of Matthew.

One of those areas is the inseparability of God’s reign and Dikaiosyne. Dikaiosyne is a Greek word. In mythological Greek texts, Dikaiosyne as a proper noun is the spirit of justice and righteousness. Pertinent to the Biblical text, it is either translated as righteousness (one of God’s attributes and something we “get” from God through justification) or justice (our conduct in relation to our fellow man which seeks for them that which they have a right to).

In Matthew, it is exclusively translated as righteousness to the detriment of the inherent richness in this word. In Transforming Mission, Bosch says, “…we should translate it with justice-righteousness, in an attempt to hold on to both dimensions…it is doing the will of God…[and]…relates to both God and neighbor.” The two dimensions that he is talking about is the constitutive (God’s justification of us which makes us holy and righteous) and the normative (a people of God’s reign ministering to others the same justice they have experienced from God).

In my mind this is quite powerful and radical and evokes new emotion/meditation when reading these passages. Here are a few as examples:

Mt 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for dikaiosyne (righteousness/justice), for they will be satisfied.”

Mt 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for dikaiosyne (righteousness/justice), for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

Mt 5:20 “For I tell you, unless your dikaiosyne (righteousness/justice) goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Mt 6:33 “But above all pursue his kingdom and dikaiosyne (righteousness/justice), and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Re-adding the element of justice into these verses really brings the hammer down; no longer do they entail an individualistic sense of spirituality (our own righteousness before God) but added is our neighbor in relation to us. And something to remember – adding an element of justice does not remove the element of righteousness. We cannot replace one for the other (creating the liberal notion of a purely social gospel) rather they work hand in hand.

Take this for what its worth; I found it worth sharing and preserving and hope someone else out there might as well.

The Reality of Hope by Brandon Jones

This is an old post written some time ago. I'm not sure exactly when. I cleaned it up a bit and decided to go ahead and post it.

1 John 3:8b -- "For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil."

I've been dwelling on one particular word more than any other of late. It struck me once again deeply during our weekly community worship time here at All Nations this week. The word in question? Hope. Not just any sort of hope though: a deep eschatological hope welled up from within and just wouldn't dissipate, especially during one particular song: "Everlasting God." It's apparently a Chris Tomlin song (or so I'm told) but for whatever reason it struck me:

Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord.

Our God, You reign forever, our Hope, our Strong Deliverer.

You are the everlasting God, everlasting God. You do not faint you won't grow weary.

You're the defender of the weak, you comfort those in need, you lift us up on wings like eagles.

I was meditating on hope during this song and a few things stuck out. For one, hope is about the future more than about the now or the past. Its about the potential and not what is. Because of this, hope always has eschatological significance. But so much eschatology is severely jacked in the worst kind of way. Eschatology is meant to instill hope but all too often across the religious spectrum it leaves us in a place of fear (at best) or even worse, terror. Fear and terror stand in direct opposition to the hope I want to be walking in.

There should be no room for these darker strains within our apocalyptic thought. As the song says, we serve an everlasting God who reigns forever and is our strong Deliverer; He doesn't get tired. This doesn't change -- regardless of our current circumstances, and even better -- it never will. And if that isn't enough, He is defender of the weak and He comforts those in need. That pretty much covers it and should go lengths in dispelling fear and terror.
 So where does this leave me? Hope is necessary but can sometimes seem a bit too idealistic. We live in a world as seriously jacked as many of our eschatological aspirations. Fear--terror--brokenness--darkness are often all that's left in hope's wake. We see this played out every time we walk through communities we work in (and everywhere else human strife exists outside the saving grace of Jesus).

As the idealism of hope confronts the harsh reality of life it's easy to question hope and its purpose and intent. But this idealistic hope isn't really that much of an option -- it's much more of a requirement. It's not something we actually have an option in if we are choosing to engage in the life of Jesus.

Let that settle in a minute. Realize that hope isn't passive. Nor is it purely reactive. Rather, it's something that spurs us to action. When followers of Christ start hoping, the kingdom of God starts breaking through into our broken reality and hopefully things will change. This is the beginning of the consummation--a world redeemed--of what Jesus inaugurated on the cross. The verse I started with, and was left with the other day during worship, starts becoming a visible reality before our eyes: the works of the devil give way to the glory of God.
 That's where our hope is rooted at least.

Strengths Working Together Series by Brandon Jones

I’ve loved being a Strengths coach these past few years. I coach predominantly in the mission/development world and it’s been a real joy to see the benefits of people discovering their strengths, acting on them and working together more productively with those around them because of this newfound self awareness.

One of the primary things I’ve learned walking this coaching road is how much of an art form understanding strengths and their tensions with each other are. I’m wired to look at things through technical and scientific lenses so its been stretching and good to see the art side inherent in strengths coaching.

Practically, this means that just because we might have the same top 5, in the same order, we probably don’t use them in the same way. I’d actually guarantee that we wouldn’t. Our environment, our passions, our work, the people around us and any number of other factors go into shaping how we use each of our strengths. We shouldn’t expect one strength to look exactly like the person sitting next to us that has that same strength. There are so many variables that come in to play to affect things.

But it’s important to have a baseline. It’s good to know where to start. It’s good to have an understanding of how things might fit together. And with that in mind I want to start a new series were I randomly pick two different strengths and write about how they might work together. I’m not guaranteeing that I will accurately describe you or your strengths if you have the two I pick but hopefully I’ll be able to provide a baseline for a better understanding of them.

I’m hoping to one post like this weekly; if you have any combinations that you’d like me to write about please leave me a comment below.

Linked List // January 8 2016 by Brandon Jones

Random Thoughts // January 7 2016 by Brandon Jones

Periodically I'll probably start posting random, or loosely connected, random thoughts as a challenge to blog more. My plan is to post 4-6 at a time.

  • I’m glad we chose to leave our home for most of our sabbatical time. Our first week back has been crazy hectic, steeped in work (even though we are technically still supposed to be sabbaticalling) and full of doctor’s visits. The family is on the mend and I’m working towards creating some balance for the next few weeks so hopefully sabbatical time will finish strong.
  • Political discussions typically aren’t worth having on Facebook and other social media sites. People never actually take the time to read or consider what is actually said and typically speak, and speak rather strongly, to what is not said. The web in general does not lend itself to intelligent discourse. Unfortunately.
  • To be honest, I think that the internet, and social media perhaps more specifically, has changed the fundamental nature of discourse to allow outlandish candidates that say inappropriate things to much acclaim.
  • Pro-gun is way too strong of a word pair to describe me but I do have fond memories of my uncle taking me to the shooting range. If I lived in a place where I was able to, I’d likely enjoy hunting and filling a freezer with meat for a season. But I admit surprise that people feel like they need to have heavy duty firepower. Or that much tighter regulation is somehow anathema.
  • From a technical standpoint, Safari on OS X has been frustratingly crashing since the El Capitan update. Anyone use an alternative browser (other than the memory hog that is Chrome)?

Reviewed: The Tortuga Travel Backpack by Brandon Jones

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Introduction

Over the last couple of years I’ve been on a personal quest to simplify life as much as possible - to get rid of access junk, to find the right tools for the jobs I do and find them at quality that lasts. One of the areas I looked at this past year was my bag collection. I’ve had several but with the travel I do I didn’t have the right one. I didn’t have a carry-on that I could wear on my back that would fit all that I’d need for a several day journey. I hadn’t been quite as bothered by this until moving to East Africa; here, traveling with a single bag is an important aspect of life as its harder to manage multiples on sketchy buses and airlines frequently lose checked luggage (the last two flights I’ve been on we’ve had luggage lost; on the first, they never recovered our stroller).

So finding the right carryon was important to me at the start of 2015. While recovering from surgery I did a significant amount of research, pouring over reviews and trying to balance price, material quality and the type of features I’d need out of a bag.

One that I kept coming back to was the Tortuga Travel Backpack so I took the plunge and decided to go all in.

About the Company

I was first drawn to the notion of the company: a couple of backpackers that were frustrated with what they found as far as existing packs go as they traveled the world. That’s basically where I was after all. So these travelers sat down and asked themselves: what would make the perfect pack for us? From their Tortuga Backpacks were born, starting with the travel pack (they now have a smaller version for smaller frames and a daypack as well; I’d like to try out the latter some day but don’t know if I ever will). I was then drawn into these ideas they had for the perfect pack: no wheels, fits on the back, can carry the junk I need, easy to access, no heavy frame, hip belt for support, packs itself easily, etc.

Key Features

To actually dig into something of a review of the bag I wanted to start by highlighting my favorite features. This isn’t a comprehensive overview of all features rather it focuses on the features I’ve found to be really beneficial.

Carry On Sized

Probably the top feature is the size: 22 x 14 x 9" (56 x 36 x 23 cm). This means it meets carry on requirements pretty much everywhere. It’s at the upper end and if you over pack it you might find yourself riding a thin line but external compression straps help keep it in check. I’ve traveled from the US to Africa, to various spots in Africa, to Hong Kong and Taiwan and back to Kenya in the past year and haven’t had an issue with any air travel. For ground travel, being carryon sized means I can fit it on my lap and don’t have to throw it on top of a sketchy matatu or underneath a crazy dirty bus. I’ve had it filled to capacity on several of those trips and was never questioned in airport.

Easy Access Laptop Sleeve

Speaking of air travel, my favorite feature is the easy access laptop sleeve. There is an extra zip on top of the bag that only allows access to the laptop so I can very quickly pull it out without opening the whole backpack and rooting around. This is so incredibly handy, particularly when we fly as a family and wrangling a 3 year old and stroller. The security checkpoints are a pain but easy access eases the pain greatly.

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As to the sleeve itself, I find it to be well padded and secure. I don’t worry about having my laptop in it. While I do have it in an external sleeve most of the time, I don’t worry if I just put my laptop in the backpack naked due to the padding.

Front Loading

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Most backpacks are top loading: unzip it around the edge and pull it apart a bit and try and jam as much as you can in. It makes for disorganized packing (particularly with things like clothing) because there are many hard-to-reach recesses. Not so with the Tortuga. It’s fully front loading: it fully opens and allows easy access to pack like any full-sized suitcase. I can easily pack clothes either folded or rolled and can easily stuff socks and underwear in the typically hard to reach spots (I probably pack wrong but it works for me). I don’t feel like I’m wasting in space and I’m pretty sure I’m able to get more in because of the easy access.

44 Liters

44 Liters is big for a backpack. My old backpack was around 22 liters (so half the size). I’m amazed at what I can get in here. If you know me you know I’m a big guy but I can still fit the things I need for 4 to 5 days away (assuming no laundry done) without any issues. While this might mean a boring wardrobe, this doesn’t bother me. My wife didn’t think I could actually use it for “carry on only” travel but was pleasantly surprised by the size as well.

Internal Organization Space

While I’d probably say it could use a bit more (see downsides below), I’m quite happy with the internal organization areas that exist on this pack. In the main compartment there is a laptop sleeve. The outer “slice” has mesh pockets that are great for stashing electronic bits. The compartment itself has some divider pockets (I’m not sure what else to call them) that are nice as well. I typically stash my projector (I need to review this here sometime as well) or external hard drive there if I’m going on training trips. All of these pockets seem well bit. They aren’t well padded though (except for the laptop sleeve) but typically this isn’t an issue, particularly if the bag is full of clothes - they provide sufficient padding.

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Hip Belt with Pockets

I didn’t quite know how I’d feel about the hip belt. My big 90l hiking backpack (which I’m selling if you are interested) has them but I never used them (to be frank, I never cared that much for that bag as it wasn’t practical for every day travel and I don’t do much traditional hiking). I find myself using the belt on the Tortuga though and it really does help stabilize the bag, particularly if its full. Running through an airport trying to catch a tight connecting flight is just a bit less stressful with a bag fit securely in place. I also find the hip belt pockets quite nice (but I often forget to use them). This is definitely one of those features I didn’t know I’d love pre-purchase.

Handles

I also like that it has secure, well padded handles for those moments you need to use it without throwing it on your back. It’s got one on the top of the bag and one on the side; depending on the situation both work well. I use the one on the side for carrying it like a duffle and the one on the top for quickly loading it into places (overhead bins, car trunks, etc).

Downsides

It wouldn’t be a review without looking at some downsides. I actually had to think a lot over my use this past year to come up with some (to me this stands as a testament to the bag quality). If I was going to nit pick, here are my primary issues with the Tortuga Travel Backpack:

  • The first isn’t really a knock against the bag but instead more of a cautionary tale. 44 liters means this bag can get heavy if you fill it to capacity. And the capacity doesn’t just create a potential weight issue, it also creates a potential philosophical problem: filling the space because its there regardless of whether you need to or not. This last bit feeds into the next downside:
  • It really only is a travel bag. I don’t use it to go work at the office or coffee shop. It’s too big for that; I’d be awkward to use as an everyday carry.
  • For the price I kind of wish it included a bit more organizational structure. Perhaps something like a simple insert to make divided pockets. Again its not a big thing but it would be helpful. I’ve considered getting the packing cubes as it would fill that need (but haven’t honestly wanted to spend the extra $50 for them).
  • Going along with this point, the front pocket would benefit from some love and attention. It’s just kind of bland as is. I’m not thinking of much - pen loops would be helpful and maybe a small pocket to contain business cards or something similar. As it is things just kind of get lost in it which makes it less functional than it could be.
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My Final Thoughts

I couldn’t be happier with this carryon/backpack. It fulfills the needs I have better than any bag I tried. The material and build quality stands up to the test of a years usage (it still looks pretty much brand new to me).

From a financial standpoint it costs $199 (which definitely isn’t cheap). But you can see this in the quality of the material (again it looks brand new after a years usage). And I know that I’ll repeatedly make back the cost of the bag in saved checked luggage fees (when looking at round trip tickets 1 checked bag runs $50/leg so 2 trips costs the same as the bag; I’ve got more than that scheduled in the coming year) since most airlines where we are charge for checked luggage.

Finally , as so much of what is out there was designed for wilderness style hiking and camping not trekking and traveling in more urban environments it was a blessing to find this pack. While I’d say my travel bridges the gap between hiking and urban trekking, I lean much more in the direction of urban treks and most of my journeys have urban aspects that make traditional backpacking equipment unwieldily. I’m hoping this pack will last the next decade or longer (and I definitely think it could).

Is this the bag for you?

I’ll end with the question, “Is this the bag for you?”

I’d say if you travel a lot and dislike checking baggage it most definitely is. Particularly as more and more airlines move to greater checked baggage fees you’ll benefit from having a carry on you can jam everything into.

If you are a more traditional hiker/backpacker avoiding the city lights whenever you can you’ll probably find traditional framed packs more suitable to your needs (they fit tents and similar equipment the Tortuga wasn’t designed to handle).

Also, if you are looking for more of an every day bag, this beast of a backpack probably isn’t it; it’s just too big to serve that purpose well. They make a Daypack and a smaller backpack called the Air that might suit that need. The Daypack is 20L and the Air is 27L compared with the 44L Travel Backpack.