this thing's incredible

I Can Stuff a Shocking Amount Into This ‘Clamshell’ Carry-On

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Retailer

I hate packing. Before a big trip, it’s always What if I need those clogs? How about a raincoat? Should I really bring two kinds of sunscreen? And no matter how many clever TikTok tricks I try or how many packing cubes I invest in, I’m still convinced I’m forgetting something crucial. Yes, I know you can buy socks in Oaxaca or toothpaste in St. Louis, but my packing anxiety means I always end up throwing in a bunch of extra things last minute and arriving at my destination with a suitcase that’s threatening to overflow. That is, until I met my Cotopaxi Allpa backpack.

I learned about the Cotopaxi in April from my childhood best friend, Katie, the best packer I know. In high school, Katie would take canoeing trips across Canada every summer, so she’s a master of whittling down her belongings to a bare minimum and making them fit in the smallest possible space. The last time she came to visit me in Brooklyn, she brought a single backpack with an eye-catching patchwork pattern. As she was packing to go home, I watched her unzip the clamshell design and unfold it into a butterfly formation. Unlike most backpacks that only zip at the top, she demonstrated, this one opened fully, allowing you to make better use of all the space. Each side also had multiple zipped mesh compartments that served as built-in packing cubes.

I ordered one online on the spot, opting for the 35-liter option, which Cotopaxi says is best for weekend trips. (It also makes a 42-liter pack for longer journeys, and a 28-liter Allpa for shorter ones.) Although the Allpa comes in a range of standardized colors, like green, blue, and raspberry pink, the distinctive patchwork number Katie had was part of the Del Dia collection, which uses remnant fabrics to make one-of-a-kind multicolored bags. It helps keep material out of landfills, and I love the mismatched look — I chose one with a mixture of blues and greens and a salmon-pink section on the back.

For the first trial run, I took it on a ten-day trip to Italy as my personal item on the plane, combining it with my trusty Travelpro rollerboard so I wouldn’t have to check a bag. In it, I easily fit a spare outfit, my laptop, snacks, a sun hat, a jewelry case, my crochet project, and my day purse — with lots of room to spare. (It slid easily under the seat in front of me.) Later, I found that the tuckaway straps were great when I needed to stow the bag in an overhead compartment on a crowded train without worrying about a loose buckle hitting someone in the head, while the mesh pockets kept things relatively organized even as I was running from hotel to hotel. The largest of those pockets is also accessible via a zip in the back, so you don’t have to upend the whole thing to extract a lip balm or charging cord. There’s an included raincover that I haven’t used (I’m not sporty like that), but I imagine it would be handy on a hiking or camping trip.

But most of all, this backpack is roomy — on subsequent trips to Thailand and the beach and countless weekends away, I was still impressed by how much this thing fit.

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I Can Stuff a Shocking Amount Into This ‘Clamshell’ Carry-on