Many of you have asked me to review the Cotopaxi Allpa backpacks. At last, I got my hands on the latest Cotopaxi Allpa 42 and tested it on a recent trip through Spain.
This colorful carry-on backpack comes from a responsible producer focused on sustainability and poverty alleviation, donating 1% of revenues through its Cotopaxi Foundation.
You’ve got to love Cotopaxi’s ‘Do Good’ credo, but they’ve also done much good with this backpack design, which surprised me with its funky looks and solid organizational features. That being said, it also has a couple of flaws to be aware of.
- Best internal organization I've seen (no packing cubes needed)
- Fully adjustable hip belt (great for any height)
- Nice colors and design
- Included rain cover
- The rubbery 1000D polyester shell can be quite blobby
- At 4lb 3oz (1905g) it's a bit heavy
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The different Allpa versions
Before I continue, let me clear up some potential confusion over the different editions of the Cotopaxi Allpa.
What I’m reviewing here is the 42-liter size in the Allpa range, which was newly launched in late 2019. Meanwhile, the original 35-liter size has just been refreshed with similar design features to the Allpa 42. You can compare the two editions in detail here.
The newer generation of Allpas comes with several design upgrades. Something to keep in mind is that many reviews on the web and on YouTube are still of the older version.
You can tell it’s the old one by looking at the water bottle pocket; if it’s an external bottle holder that’s kind of awkwardly hanging by the side, it’s the old edition. If it’s an integrated sleeve, then it’s the new one.
Finally, there is also the Allpa Del Dia range. These have the same design but are made using pieces of repurposed remnant nylon. It’s a wonderful idea, as it not only reduces waste but also makes each Allpa Del Dia backpack a one-of-a-kind.
The Allpa 42 design
It seems like the majority of backpacks these days are either black or grey, so it’s refreshing to see a backpack daring to use some color.
The company Cotopaxi is named after a volcano in Ecuador, and you can see this reflected in their bright Andean-inspired style. I like the llama logo on the back (thankfully left without any text) and the fun colors used in all but one of the color variations available.
Expect the orange zippers on the Indigo edition to be very bright. In-person, they’re pretty much neon orange, though I assume they fade a bit over time. The outer shell is a medium-darkish blue, while the rest of the pack nudges slightly towards teal.
I like Cotopaxi’s bold use of color. But if you need your bag to be more understated — such as for business travel — then there is also an entirely black version.
The one element that’s probably love-it-or-hate-it is the TPU-coated 1000D outer polyester shell. Unless your bag is filled up completely, this shell can look a bit puffy. I wish it held its shape a bit more. The stiff rubbery-feeling material also has the potential to develop small folds over long periods of use. On the other hand, this strong coated material does make the pack feel more durable and weather-resistant.
Let’s take a look at the bag’s organizational features. In the front, there is a spacious compartment that goes down about a third of the height of the pack. It’s ideal for keeping a toiletry bag and other travel items you want to be able to reach quickly.
The Allpa has a clamshell-style main compartment — i.e., it zips open from the sides.
Cotopaxi has gotten a bit creative with the internal subdivision here. On one right side shown below, you have a large space behind a mesh window. You could use some packing cubes to further sub-divide this, but I think it is unnecessary, as the space is perfect for storing your clothes and main items directly. This compartment feels very spacious.
On the other side is essentially an integrated travel organizer. In the top space, I chose to store my two books for this trip, the rather chunky Rough Guide to Spain and my thin copy of Heart of Darkness. But it could easily fit three pocketbooks if you wanted.
Below is a zipped mesh compartment where I’ve kept the backpack rain cover that is included with the Allpa 42. Behind the other zipper here is another storage space that I thought was ideal for storing things like socks and underwear.
Overall, I’m impressed by the level of organization inside the Allpa, all without needing any extra accessories.
The Allpa has two zippers on the left and right side, both with a different function. One gives you quicky access to the main compartment, which is a neat little feature. The other (indicated with a different-colored zipper) gives access to an electronics compartment.
It has a laptop, tablet, and smartphone sleeve. It should fit any laptop up to 15″ — it fit my Dell XPS 15 with room to spare.
Finally, there is a water bottle pocket on the side. It will fit a small bottle only. It is an unremarkable bottle holder but much better designed than the one on the old Allpa backpacks, which kind of hung like a mini basketball hoop to the side. Now it is simply a stretchy sleeve that’s part of the backpack itself and I like this design a lot more.
Adjustable hip belt
The Allpa feels comfortable to wear. Its harness has all the features you would expect, including a height-adjustable sternum strap, load lifter straps, a hip belt, and a nicely padded back.
One stand-out feature is the fully adjustable hip belt. You can take it off with velcro and attach it at a different height. I love this as I’m not of average height (I’m 1.94m or 6’4) so the hip belts, more often than not, end up nearer to my belly.
I put the hip belt at its lowest height where it fit me comfortably. I had some concerns about the relatively small patch of velcro that it attaches with, but have had no problems with this in practice.
It is possible to tuck away all of the harness and carry the Allpa like an over-the-shoulder duffel bag using the included strap.
I personally never use backpacks in duffel mode and, to be totally honest, don’t really see the point. A 42-liter bag to me feels almost too big to do carry that way. But I know there are people who love this feature, so it’s nice the shoulder strap is included in the price and not sold as an add-on.
One more interesting aspect is the zippers, nearly all of which have a security closure. I saw another review complain about these, but count me as a fan.
I’ve used other backpacks with security loops that you had to tie every time. Since I’m extraordinarily lazy, this meant I never actually used them. With the Allpa, all you have to do is tuck the zipper underneath the little loops. This takes just a second or two. You don’t have to do this, but it’s a nice feature especially if traveling in theft-prone destinations.
The loops on the quick access compartments are a lot wider letting you secure them more quickly, while the loop on the main compartment (shown above) is tighter and a bit more fiddly.
I found myself pleasantly surprised by the Cotopaxi Allpa. Its strongest aspect is the internal organization, which feels very intuitive and helpful. It might just be the best configuration I’ve used so far.
Despite many subdivisions, the contents remain instantly accessible and/or visible through a mesh window. This is miles ahead of the Osprey Farpoint 40 and I even prefer it a little to the Tortuga Setout.
What I’m not 100% sold on is the TPU-coated polyester shell. It can be, for lack of a better word, a bit blobby. There is a bit of a ‘waterbed effect’ where if you press it somewhere, it will blob up somewhere else.
This may be down to taste. What I can say is that in person, this part of the bag looks better than in product photos, but I’m guessing it may still not be to everyone’s liking. Sometimes I wish the bag held its shape a bit more, but without an internal frame, it’s just going to baggy.
Aesthetic issues aside, the materials are of a high caliber, making this pack appear very durable. This does also come with additional weight. The Allpa is about a pound or 500 grams heavier than the aforementioned Setout or Farpoint 40. This is worth noting if you’re wanting to wring every last gram out of their carry-on baggage allowance, but if you’re not a hardcore minimalist packer you might be less concerned.
The Cotopaxi Allpa isn’t flawless but it’s still a great backpack. In terms of functionality, comfort, and colorful looks, there is much to like here. And since you don’t need to buy additional accessories like packing cubes, I think it’s good value too.
This pack seems ideal for adventure travel, especially to the sort of destinations I like to cover on this blog (like Asia, Latin America, etc.). The deciding factor should probably be its visual design: if you’re attracted to the fun and colorful look, then the Allpa could just be the right backpack for you.
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