When I pulled out my Cotopaxi Allpa 35L backpack before a three-day trip for my friend’s wedding in Utah, I was skeptical that everything I needed to bring would fit. In theory, a weekend’s worth of clothes shouldn’t be a problem for one of our recommended weekend bags, but I was planning to pack heavy. Not only would I need to cram a bulky velvet bridesmaid dress, several pairs of heels, every hot hair tool I own, and my entire stash of toiletries into the Cotopaxi Allpa, but I also needed to pack clothes warm enough for the snowy forecast at my destination.
Somehow, after I packed all the essentials, I still had space leftover—so much that I was actually able to toss a few books in (and all hardcover, at that). I shouldn’t have been surprised: In the year since I’ve had my Cotopaxi Allpa, I’ve been in awe of the amount of stuff it’s able to hold.
The deceptively roomy backpack, with its two zippered compartments and hidden pockets, has a capacity of 35 liters. Before I started using this delightful bag, I found it hard to visualize what exactly that meant in units of vacation outfits and travel essentials. Now I know it means everything I’d need to fulfill my bridesmaid duties with room to spare. I even had space to shove a handful of emergency granola bars inside (that I thankfully didn’t need to touch that weekend).
This year has been an especially hectic one for me: I’ve traveled around the country to attend seven weddings, along with the associated engagement parties, bachelorette weekends, and bridal showers. 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 tolerable.
Traveling with a backpack isn’t for everyone. Some folks prefer cross-body duffles or roller bags—and while it’s true that these kinds of weekend bags can sometimes hold more than the Cotopaxi Allpa, I find them incredibly frustrating to use, especially as a frequent solo traveler. A duffle or carry-on suitcase might be fine for car or train travel, and it would work once you get to your destination, but for me, actually maneuvering them through the airport is a struggle—especially if I don’t have a travel buddy who’s willing to look out for my things when I run to grab a snack or take a preflight bathroom break. Anyone who’s tried to fit a roller bag into a bathroom stall or walk through the food court with a giant duffle bouncing against their hip knows it’s a hassle.
But the Cotopaxi Allpa’s clamshell design, which opens like a suitcase, combines the roominess and structure of a suitcase with the hands-free convenience of a backpack. Its built-in packing cubes take the stress out of organizing your things, and the hidden laptop sleeve keeps your electronics safe and snug. And because the pack has contoured shoulder straps and a removable hip belt, it’s comfortable to wear during a long day of travel, even when it’s stuffed to the gills with velvet gowns and sparkly shoes.
Cotopaxi Allpa 35L
The Cotopaxi Allpa’s clamshell design makes organizing your things simple. The straps let you easily wear this durable bag on your back or carry it in your hand while you’re on the move.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $150.
With the Cotopaxi Allpa, you have the freedom to travel how you like. You can wear the bag like a backpack if you want, but you also have the option to tuck those straps away 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 down from the overhead bin or yank it 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 offers no place to store the items you’d need to retrieve 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 through a particularly busy year of travel, but I know that not everyone wants to wear all their belongings on their back. These other bags (all Wirecutter picks) are durable, well suited for frequent travel, and meet airline carry-on size limits.
Best weekender: Lands’ End Waxed Canvas Travel Duffle Bag
Lands’ End Waxed Canvas Travel Duffle Bag
The more you use this rugged weekender, the better it looks. The canvas body, leather reinforcements, and brass hardware all promise durability, though we’d prefer more waxing in the canvas.
The best carry-on suitcase: Travelpro Platinum Elite
A sizable ergonomic backpack: Aer Duffel Pack 3
Aer Duffel Pack 3
This futuristic-looking bag has a duffle-style main compartment for clothes and bulkier items, plus a ventilated shoe compartment and plenty of pockets for gadgets and gear. It’s 20.5-inches tall, so it fits best on people with bigger backs, but the padded shoulder straps, cooling mesh back panel, and adjustable sternum strap make it comfortable to wear.
This story was edited by Catherine Kast and Annemarie Conte.