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Level Up Your Packing Game with the Best Carry-On Luggage: Cotopaxi vs Topo Designs

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Have the wheels on your rolling carry-on luggage gotten totally shredded? (Happened to me last year, alas.) The zipper broken to pieces? A giant hole ripped in the front of your soft-sided luggage? It happens. And if it’s time to replace your well-worn and no longer repairable rolling luggage with something altogether better, more sustainable, functional, and organizational so you have one less thing to worry about when you board that plane, consider one of our two new faves: the 38 liter Cotopaxi Allpa Roller Bag and the 44 liter Topo Designs Global Travel Bag Roller.

What makes these rolling carry-on bags so great? And why these two pieces of luggage? Because they’re two excellent, adventure-ready pieces of sustainable luggage that excel in the organization department as well as the durability department (and won’t have you looking like every other trendy white woman in the airport with her It luggage (No shade. Just noticing a trend is all…). We put them to the test and break down their pros and cons to help you decide which is right for you.

The exterior of the Cotopaxi Allpa Roller Bag carry-on.
The exterior of the Cotopaxi Allpa Roller Bag (carry-on).

Cotopaxi Allpa Roller Bag: The Compartmentalizer

First things first: We’ve tested the backpack version of this bag and have carried the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack (check out our review here)–both regular and Del Dia versions–around the country and around the world. They’ve been carried on, checked, road tripped with, you name it, and they’re some of our very favorite travel packs. And yes, they’ve stood up to all manner of abuse. But let’s take a closer look at the wheeled version.

From the very first glance, the Cotopaxi Allpa looks sleek and clean, just like all the bags in the Allpa line, which I dig. Plus it comes in a slew of vibrant color combos, which you expect from Cotopaxi, but also makes your bag super easy to spot in the overhead bin, on the luggage carousel, or on the gangway.

The top pocket of the Allpa 38L fits the Allpa 4L hip pack.
The top pocket of the Allpa 38L fits the Allpa 4L hip pack.

It has an awesomely spacious front top pocket, which, much like the Allpa backpacks, has another zippered organizational pocket inside. But honestly, the real beauty is in how nice and big it is. There’s plenty of room for snacks or bulkier items like a small camera or your toiletry kit.


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Or! It fits the Allpa X 4L hip pack (check out our review of it and other hip packs here)! So if you tend to bring along a smaller bag when you travel to carry around once you arrive at your destination, that’s a really handy feature. It nestles in there just perfectly with a little extra room for another item or two. I love that.

As for the exterior, the front is made of a nice durable polyester that can definitely stand up to being thrown around by overworked baggage handlers. The rest of the bag is a heavy-duty nylon, all of it made from 100% recycled materials.

You can add a lock to the main zippers on the Cotopaxi Allpa Roller Bag.
You can add a lock to the main zippers on the Cotopaxi Allpa Roller Bag.

Two heavy duty zippers (that can be locked together with a TSA-approved padlock, btw) are easy to use and there are two buckle straps to further secure the bag. I actually don’t find these particularly useful or necessary, though. They do work to cinch the bag down a little if it’s not totally full, but they don’t make that big of a difference. I think they’re more of a nuisance than a helpful feature, but maybe that’s just me.

The wheels feel fairly sturdy and roll over uneven surfaces pretty smoothly (though not quite as smoothly as the slightly larger Topo Designs bag’s wheels). Likewise, the stabilizer bar on the bottom feels sturdy and doubles as a handle, which makes three total: one on the hinge side of the bag and one on the top. They’re nice and hefty, though I kind of wish there was one on every side of the bag like there is on the Allpa packs. Totally not a dealbreaker, though.

The rigid back panel is fabric-coated dense plastic and feels tolerably durable. Not as robust as your typical hard sided luggage perhaps, but close enough. And probably less likely to crack under pressure, honestly.


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The interior of the Cotopaxi Allpa Roller Bag carry-on luggage.
The interior of the Cotopaxi Allpa Roller Bag.

The telescoping handle slides up and down easily and it feels well-built and extends to a comfortable length for rolling carry.

The Allpa opens like a clamshell. The distribution of space is sort of a crossover between what you’d find in a traditional hard sided bag that stores half of your clothes on one side and half on the other, and a soft sided case where when you open it up it’s really just the lid on one side with all the storage space in one deep cavity on the right.

In the Allpa Roller Bag, on the other hand, there’s a mesh zipper compartment on the inside of the lid that secured a compartment with enough room to store shoes, a packing cube, jackets, you name it. Anything you want to keep separate and organized from the main clothing compartment. But the majority of the space is in the main compartment on the right, also secured by a zippered mesh flap so everything stays in place when you open it up so you don’t have to worry about your stuff falling all over the place in the middle of the airport.

As for sustainability, in addition to all the fabric on the Allpa being made of recycled materials, Cotopaxi is a B Corp and Climate Neutral Certified AND they have a repair program so if something goes wrong with your bag, they’ll help fix it.

They’re also a brand committed to doing good and are transparent about their progress, which is always a good sign.

One of the side handles on the Cotopaxi carry-on luggage.
One of the side handles.

Specs

  • Capacity: 38 liters
  • Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 12 inches
  • Weight: 6.9 pounds

Pros

  • Multiple super spacious compartments allow you to easily stash bulky items separately.
  • Features durable materials.
  • Comes in several fun colors.
  • Usable with other Allpa products (namely the hip pack).
  • Easy and uncomplicated organization.
  • Can be paired with the Allpa Roller Bag 65L for a matching luggage set.
  • Repairable + warranty.

Cons

  • No space for a laptop or other tech.
  • Minimal small-item organization.
  • Can’t be carried as a backpack.

The exterior of the Topo Designs Global Travel Bag carry-on luggage.
The Topo Designs Global Travel Bag.

Topo Designs Global Travel Bag: The One with All the Pockets

I’m just gonna come out and say it: I like the Topo Designs Global Travel bag because it just looks ruggedly adventurous. In the coolest way possible. It comes in several colors, but generally more neutral ones (with a few bright accents), including the nice classic olive color we tested.

We’ve also tested the backpack version of this bag (check out the review of the 30L Travel Pack here and 40L Travel Pack here), and while we loved the very similar organizational system, they were a bit boxy and uncomfortable for our small bodies. Throw some wheels and a telescoping handle on there and you’ve got a whole different story, though!

It has sturdy wheels that are very similar to those on the Cotopaxi, but they’re *slightly bigger,* and it does roll noticeably smoother (but we could only tell when comparing them side-by-side).

The front and bottom of the Topo Designs Global Travel Bag.
The front and bottom of the Topo Designs Global Travel Bag.

The Global Travel Bag has handles on all sides, which I appreciate, the bottom being the stabilization bar, which is nice and solid and contains more metal than the Cotopaxi. They’re all pleasantly sturdy. Same goes for the telescoping handle that’s also made entirely of metal, BUT it’s about an inch or two shorter than the handle on the Allpa, so if you’re super tall, that might be something to consider. For the rest of us, the difference isn’t even noticeable.

Now, somehow the Topo is smaller in dimension, but larger in volume. Probably because the external measurements provided by Topo don’t include fully loaded exterior pockets, which would extend the measurements a bit.

As for durability, the back of the Topo carry-on does feel a bit more durable as it’s made of solid plastic material, but what really sets this bag apart is all the pockets and accessories straps.

The front organizational pocket of the Topo Designs Global Travel Bag carry-on luggage.
The front organizational pocket of the Topo Designs Global Travel Bag.

Which is what I loved about the Topo Designs Travel Backpacks when we tested them a while back: so many organization possibilities! I mean, just the front pocket has a slim but deep side entry pocket, then a 3/4 open zippered padded area with even more pockets (including one that fits a 16″ MacBook Pro). 

Though if these pockets have a downside, it’s that they’re not very deep. These are more for tall, flat things like maybe a small laptop, notebooks, vegan jerky, that sort of thing. Not cameras or a box of Voodoo donuts you picked up during your layover in the Denver airport.

Just me? I didn’t think so.

A semi-hidden pocket on the top of the Topo bag.
A semi-hidden pocket on the top of the bag.

There’s even a little kinda hidden pocket on top of the bag for quick but secure access to stuff like your phone or wallet or passport. But maybe two of my favorite features: the easily removable backpack straps and the accessory clips. 

I love the straps because depending on how you’re traveling, a backpack can be so much easier to transport than a roller bag–like when transporting it through the cobblestone streets of Europe. So it’s nice to have that as an option.That said, you’ll want to make sure there’s nothing super fragile like a bag of potato chips or a blown glass unicorn (does anyone still collect those??) in the front pocket if you do opt for backpack-style carry because it may get crushed.

As for the accessory straps, you can use them to attach another Topo bag to the front of the roller bag. Which is awesome, because I have a Topo Rover Classic that I love to travel with. So if my shoulders need a break, I can just clip it to the top and the bottom of the Global Traveler and keep rollin’!

The Topo Designs Rover Classic clipped to the front of the Global Traveler carry-on luggage.
The Topo Designs Rover Classic clipped to the front of the Global Traveler carry-on luggage.

But let’s check out the inside (there are “locking” loops on all the zippers, btw, to help secure the contents of your bag from thieves or accidental unzipping). Now, this bag opens more like a traditional soft-sided suitcase with pretty much all the packing space on the right. On the left, on the inside of the lid, there are just two low-profile mesh zipper pockets. These are good for important documents or accessories, or, you know, dirty socks.

On the right, there’s another deep pocket in the divider for, I dunno, more dirty socks or whatever. Unzip that to get to the whole bulk of the packing compartment. Which fits the Topo Pack Bags–or packing cubes–perfectly. I love all the organization, as well as the high-vis interior. 

The interior organization in the Topo carry-on bag.
The interior organization in the Topo carry-on bag.

As for sustainability, the nylon is made from 100% recycled materials, plus it’s Fair Wear certified, which means standards are in place in the factories where this bag is made to ensure workers get fair pay and are safe and healthy. 

Topo also has a solid warranty and repair program that helps extend the life of each bag that goes out into the world. Plus they map out their other sustainability initiatives and plans for the future online.

Specs

  • Capacity: 44 liters
  • Dimensions: 21 x 13.5  x 9 inches
  • Weight: 6.6 pounds

Pros

  • Tons of pockets to keep things organized.
  • Zippered compartments to separate accessories or dirty clothes.
  • Comes in many colors.
  • Compatible with a number of other Topo Designs bags.
  • One large main compartment to better fit bulky items.
  • Can be carried like a backpack
  • Repairable + warranty.

Cons

  • Front pockets don’t fit bulky items as well.
  • May get tippy with a heavy bag clipped to the front.

The Topo Designs carry-on bag (left) and the Cotopaxi Allpa (right) with handles fully extended.
The Topo Designs carry-on bag (left) and the Cotopaxi Allpa (right) with handles fully extended.

Bottom Line

Which is the best of the best carry-on luggage? Well, that’s hard to say. If I had to pick one for my travel style, it would probably be the Topo Designs for the sheer versatility and organization. I mean, I almost always travel with a laptop, so I appreciate the padded pockets and the ability to clip a Topo Designs daypack to the front for more secure carry than just floppin’ it over the telescoping handle.

Plus I love all those organizational pockets and the carry-on luggage just feels more durable and like a better bang for your buck (it’s also slightly less expensive). That said, those pockets do tend to be on the smaller side, so if you don’t mind fewer pockets as long as they’re nice and spacious, it’s the Cotopaxi all the way. It just FEELS like it can hold a ton of bulky stuff, including in that front top pocket. ALSO! If you like to have matching or semi-matching luggage sets, the Allpa also comes in a 68L check luggage size! Huzzah!

Either way, they’re both great bags, they will both stand up to airport wear and tear for years to come, and I do NOT hate either of them. Honestly, the choice really boils down to which one is right for you.

Hopefully we helped guide you in your decision. Now start packing already and wander on!

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