I was called up to NYC for a quick overnight a few weeks ago.  Decided to try out the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L and write up a quick review.  This is not an extended test - it has gone to Chicago for a work trip, and NYC for a shorter work trip.

About me

I travel more than some, less than true onebagger digital nomad types. I'm usually on the road once or twice a month, mix of work or business travel, 2 to 3 night trips. I'm writing this with the experience of having owned Goruck GR2 and GR1, Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30 and 45 (both), Tortuga's Setout and Outbreaker 35L, Tom Bihn's Synapse 25 and other bags I'm forgetting about now.  In this review I will make comparisons where I feel it is necessary. I really love the feeling of a bag that just works right and have yet to find the perfect bag. 

TL;DR: the Allpa is pretty great!

For this abbreviated review, I'm using the bulletpoints from the Allpa's product page:

  • Weight-distributing, low-profile harness system. Subjective based on body type. I'm a 5'8" guy. Relatively average build. The bag is very comfortable, with the only exception that the weight at the top seems to pull away from your body. The angle at which the straps come out from the top of the bag aren't adjustable, so you can feel the weight pulling away from your body up top. This is solvable by using the sternum straps if you need it, and isn't severe enough that it would stop me from using the bag. Most of these travel bags (including my gr2 and aeronauts) are a 'one size fits most' design, and the Allpa mostly fits me. 

  • Carry-on-compatible 35L capacity. Yeah it will fit fine on a plane carryon. If under packed you could probably toss it under a plane seat, but not easily.

  • TPU-coated 1000D polyester, 1680D ballistic nylon paneling. I'm personally a big fan of a cleaner aesthetic and think Cotopaxi did a nice job here. I have it in black. There's definitely some design flourishes (mixed materials, the pops of color) but I think it's a really nice looking bag overall. One thing I noticed is the front gets wrinkly in use. This isn't a deal breaker at all, just an observation. The materials used are just fine and I have no doubt they'll hold up to extensive travel. I don't think they're as bombproof as my goruck GR2, which is kind of a bonus in terms of breaking-in time. I prefer the materials used in my TB Aeronaut bags, but tom bihn's zipper choice and halycon fabric is my gold standard.  Here's the challenge:  the vinyl panel on the bag looks WRINKLED.

  • Suitcase-style, full-wrap zipper opening on the main compartment, Large zippered mesh compartment on the right side, Subdivided zippered mesh compartment on the left side. I really like the clamshell organization style. For work I use tumi rolling luggage that has the same kind of zippered compartmentalized storage. This style works really well with a backpack, and seems pretty unique among travel bags. Just take a long look at your packing methods and make sure it matches with how the bag is structured. Perfect world I would have preferred either two equally sized large zippered compartments OR one large + 2 medium. Their implementation (1 large + 1 med + 2 small) is fine but I am having trouble figuring out what to put in the small compartments.

This bag definitely packs a LOT. It feels like it can fit a ton more than my GR2 34L.

To reiterate I really like that the medium compartment easily holds a second pair of shoes. I feel like travel backpack makers either give shoes zero consideration when laying out their bags, OR they give you some obnoxious dedicated shoe pouch that takes up a third of the bag when used. The medium compartment is a nice compromise - it holds a pair of shoes + a second large-ish item (rolled up jeans, dopp kit, etc) really easily. It gives them a home so you don't feel like you're just smashing your worn sneakers on top of your carefully folded stuff elsewhere.

  • Padded laptop and tablet sleeve. I typically travel with a 10" ipad pro and a dell surface pro clone type of thing. Neither are large items. When I had the Allpa packed full it is really tough to get the compartment to zip while holding both of these devices. The compartment is specifically segmented to hold two pieces of hardware. The placement of the zipper forces you to pull the zipper together while closing up to make it work. Once it's zipped up the hardware is totally safe, but it isn't seamless. This is a minor quirk and it doesn't necessarily impact the functionality of the bag. I WOULD argue that I also had usability issues with my GR2 and the tom bihn doesn't have a laptop compartment at all. 
  • Shortcut zipper to main compartment. This is a nice solution to the clamshell style bag being tough to access while moving around. This side zipper goes directly into the large interior compartment. So you could keep your dopp kit there if you wanted to be able to access medicine easily, or stick an umbrella or even water bottle right inside from the zipper. Just need to make sure your items are packed so that random shit won't fall out if you unzip it. I keep everything in cubes / folders regardless so it's helpful for me.
  • Top zippered pocket. This top pocket has a mesh pocket inside of it. This section is perfect for my style of organization - I hate bags with a ton of nesting pockets and stuff. Don't tell me how to pack my own bag! The top pocket is a good size and held my switch (in a case), wall plug, a few cables, business cards and misc. stuff like that with space left over. You just have to determine your own method of carrying everything. If you travel light on electronics you could theoretically use this pocket for your dopp kit.
  • Security YKK zippers. These are neat, and usable if you want them but not used if you don't. A nice option I wish more bags would copy.
  • Carabiner lash loops. Ditto.
  • Tuck-away straps. This means the shoulder and waist straps tuck into the back-padding. Tucking the waist straps while using it isn't an option as it gives you a big lump in the back. Bags without this feature are a deal breaker for me so I'm glad it is there.
  • Accessories. I bought the option that comes with the packable day pack, accessories etc. Honestly it wasn't much more money so I pulled the trigger. The Batac packable backpack is actually really cool but the bright colors are really garish for most cities I travel to. The packing cubes and whatever are kind of meh and don't add much in terms of value. Extreme YMMV here and in hindsight I would have bought the bag on its' own.

Final thoughts:

This is not my dream bag. It is, however, a very very good travel bag for most travelers. For the price I paid (Cotopaxi gives out 15% discounts easily - just email them) I am very happy with it.  Of all the travel bags I own I will recommend the Allpa to any of my friends / family who are looking to move away from wheeled luggage towards a backpack-first system.  The Bihn Aeronaut 30 is still my primary travel bag, but it is a better duffle than backpack. Allpa's organization is nice without forcing you into their 'system', the bag holds a ton without being too heavy and above all the price is right.

There's some small nitpicks I'd love to see fixed in a v2. I'd like to see them take waist belt inspiration from Tortuga, the laptop compartment zipper could be adjusted. A true all black colorway would be nice and the logo has to be polarizing for some. Lastly I really think the two smaller interior compartments should be merged. Otherwise this is a superb, underrated travel bag that I'd have no reservation recommending to anyone on here. Especially for the price!

TL;DR the Cotopaxi Allpa is a great bag that punches way above its' weight.