When I pulled out my Cotopaxi Allpa 35L backpack for a three-day trip for my friend’s wedding in Utah, I was skeptical if everything I needed to carry would fit in it. In theory, a weekend’s worth of clothes shouldn’t be a problem for one of our recommended overnight bags, but I planned to pack heavy. Not only would I have to stuff a voluminous velvet bridesmaid dress, several pairs of heels, all the hot hair tools I own, and my entire stash of toiletries into the Cotopaxi Allpa, but I also had to pack clothes warm enough for the snow forecast on my destination.
Somehow, after packing all the essentials, I still had room left – so much that I could actually throw in a few books (and all hardcover). It shouldn’t have surprised me: in the year I’ve had my Cotopaxi Allpa, I’ve been amazed at the amount of stuff it can hold.
The deceptively spacious backpack, with its two zippered compartments and hidden pockets, has a capacity of 35 litres. Before I started using this delightful bag, I had a hard time visualizing exactly what that meant in units of vacation outfits and travel essentials. Now I know it means everything I need to fulfill my bridesmaid duties with room to spare. I even had room to shove in a handful of emergency granola bars (which thankfully I didn’t have to touch that weekend).
This year has been a particularly hectic one for me: I’ve traveled across the country to attend seven weddings, along with their associated engagement parties, bachelorette weekends, and bachelorette parties. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time navigating flight delays, layovers, and connections, and the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L, which I’ve taken on five of those trips, makes the airport experience a little more bearable.
Traveling with a backpack is not for everyone. Some people prefer cross-body duffel bags or roller bags – and while it’s true that these types of holdalls can sometimes hold more than the Cotopaxi Allpa, I find them incredibly frustrating to use, especially as a frequent solo traveler. A duffel bag or carry-on bag might be fine for car or train travel, and it would work once you get to your destination, but maneuvering them through the airport is a real struggle for me, especially if I don’t have a travel case. friend who is willing to watch my stuff when I run to grab a bite to eat or take a preflight toilet break. Anyone who’s tried to fit a roller bag into a restroom cubicle or walk through the food court with a giant duffel bag bouncing off their hip knows it’s a hassle.
But the Cotopaxi Allpa’s clamshell design, which opens like a suitcase, combines the space and structure of a suitcase with the hands-free convenience of a backpack. The built-in packing cubes take the stress out of organizing your stuff, and the hidden laptop sleeve keeps your electronics safe and snug. And because the backpack has contoured shoulder straps and a detachable waist belt, it’s comfortable to wear on a long day of travel, even when it’s filled to the brim with velvet dresses and sparkly shoes.
Cotopaxi Allpa 35L
The clamshell design of the Cotopaxi Allpa makes organizing your gear easy. With the straps you can easily carry this durable bag on your back or carry it in your hand on the go.
*At the time of publication, the price was $150.
With the Cotopaxi Allpa you have the freedom to travel the way you want. You can carry the bag like a backpack if you want, but you also have the option of tucking away those straps if you want to carry it like a briefcase. Handles on all four sides of the bag make it easy for you to pull it out of the cargo area or out from under the seat in front of you. The only flaw I’ve found with the Cotopaxi Allpa is one that Wirecutter has already identified: this bag has no place to store the items you need quickly at the airport, so it’s best to pair with a fanny pack to have easy access to your ID, passport, cash and headphones.
The Cotopaxi Allpa 35L helped me stay organized and sane during a particularly busy year of travel, but I know not everyone wants to carry all their belongings on their back. These other bags (all Wirecutter picks) are durable, great for frequent travel, and meet airline carry-on limits.
Best Weekender: Lands’ End Waxed Canvas Travel Bag
Lands’ End travel bag in waxed canvas
The more you use this tough weekender, the better it looks. The canvas body, leather reinforcements and brass hardware all promise durability, though we’d prefer more wax in the canvas.
The best carry-on suitcase: Travelpro Platinum Elite
A large ergonomic backpack: Aer Duffel Pack 3
Aer Duffel Pack 3
This futuristic-looking bag features a duffel-style main compartment for clothes and larger items, plus a vented shoe compartment and plenty of pockets for gadgets and gear. It’s 20.5 inches long, so it’s best for those with larger backs, but the padded shoulder straps, cooling mesh back panel, and adjustable sternum strap make it comfortable to wear.
This story is edited by Catherine Kast and Annemarie Conte.