It’s been five trips, so it’s time to finally talk about the Aer Travel Pack. Bags are already pretty personal, but my time with this backpack has really driven home how silly all these ‘The ULTIMATE Bag for Travel’ posts are.
This bag is almost perfect… for me. It may be terrible for you. It just depends on your priorities, and how you like to travel. Here are the things that I consider when purchasing a bag, more or less in order of importance to me.
Style / Quality
Comfort / Weight
I would say that it’s like dating. You have all these grand ideas about what you want, but you have to try lots of things (people? bags? hmm that just sounds wrong…) to see what’s really important to you. And you never really find ‘the one.’ But you find ‘good enough’ and you decide if you can live happily with the tradeoffs.
I can’t say that I drool over the look of the bag. It’s big and black and burly, kind of handsome in a utilitarian way. But at least it’s not hideous like some bags out there *cough cough*. Some people may be drawn to this look. Ryan in fact has bought quite a few bags that fit the ‘black cordura utilitarian urban man bag’ description. So of course he likes Aer a lot. I think he has like 5 of their bags.
I may be on the fence about the style, but the quality is top-notch, no doubt. This bag is so well thought out for my particular style of travel (one bag/backpack/usually air travel/using under the seat space only). They’ve made this bag tough, with foam padding everywhere, which really gives the bag some structure, along with protecting the goods. OMG no more floppiness!!! And there are compression straps too! And a zipaway water bottle holder! But with all these rugged materials and padding comes weight…
Time with other travel packs has made me realize that organization is the most important thing to me. I fucking love this bag’s pockets. Man, there are a lot of pockets. There’s so many that at the beginning I forgot where I put stuff, which sounds bad for traveling. But once I had used the bag for a bit and had mentally established a place for every item I normally pack, ooooh it feels so good. Here’s how I use my pockets:
Bottom shoe section -This section is lost on me. I wrap it up and totally ignore it. If I did use it, I would complain about the positioning, because it makes it awkward to use packing cubes. Maybe this would be a good place to put dirty clothes or swimsuits, like a built in laundry bag? Only caveat here is that there are two holes in the bottom to let stinky shoes air out so things can get wet if you put this bag down in a puddle.
Front bottom pocket – My computer charger brick goes here, along with various charging cords. It’s a tight fit.
Front top pocket – This pocket goes all the way down to the front bottom pocket. My clutch size wallet goes here. I also stuff teabags in here.
Top stash pocket- My cell phone and headphones, passport.
Organizer panel – This is the droolworthy section. Keys, magazines, pens, snacks, NintendoDS… This section is large and deep, going all the way to the bottom of the bag. Aer’s official photo of this panel really shows its potential, so here. Look at those pockets.
Computer panel – Just my laptop, occasionally a magazine. I forget if this area is off the ground, but it’s definitely cushy.
Inside – I throw my packing cubes and toiletries here. On the panel zipper you see to the left – I usually throw my Nintendo DS game cartridges or my contacts there. No particular reason why, they just seem to fit well.
This is the only bit to give me pause, and it’s a biggie. This bag is heavy at 3.7 pounds just for 33L of space. And it’s bulky AF. I’m five two, and according to Aer’s website photos, this bag is for tall super hip tech bros going about their urban lives. And even on them the bag looks a bit much*.
There are so many ways they could lighten this bag up without sacrificing features. Mostly by removing a lot of the cushion. I don’t need this thing to be bombproof. Maybe the laptop section, but everything else can go. Like the top grab handle is just overengineered. I don’t need all that. The sides of the backpack don’t need foam padding all the way around. The entire organizer panel does not need to be foam padded. My clothes will be fine.
Fitwise, the only thing that I really noticed was that the straps are about a half inch too wide for me. It bugged me at first, then I forgot about it. Oh, also the top adjuster straps are basically useless. They kept coming undone. This bag would be golden if it had some sort of hip belt to distribute the weight, but alas… Let’s just say that you will feel the weight of this bag. It’s not terrible, but it will slow you down.
Okay I got this as a birthday present, but I think the price of $220 is totally reasonable for a bag like this. I have no idea whether or not this is an ‘ethically made’ bag like Cotopaxi, but it is a San Francisco company, so yay?
What it’s like to use
The travel pack doesn’t hide away its straps like many travel bags do, so it makes it not ideal for checking. But I don’t check bags anyways.
Most important to me – it fits underneath the airplane seat!! The computer panel and stash pocket are accessible from the top, which is important when stuck on a plane. When I took my Cotopaxi bag, the computer zipper was on the side, and it was a nightmare getting things in and out, which I do like every 20 minutes.
Whenever I got to my destination, I would take my items out of the front organizer panel and pockets, then leave the bag unzipped like it was my own dresser drawer. That was nice.
It’s not perfect, but I think I can deal with a little weight for all the organization happiness that this bag gives me. Maybe in the future Aer will make a lighter, possibly smaller version with a hip belt.
*An aside: Aer you need some more women on your site. With these super masculine brands (DSPTCH also comes to mind), not seeing any women modeling the bag is unwelcoming and made me question whether or not the bag would fit my body. I honestly would have bought this bag a long time ago if I had a better idea of fit.
I’ve read far too many superlative sponsored blogger/travel mag posts for the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L travel backpack & the CabinZero ultra light cabin bag. I thought I’d add my own ‘non-travel blogger’ commentary since I don’t quite agree with review titles such as ‘Is the Allpa the ultimate backpack for adventuring travelers?’ and ‘A Carry on traveller’s dream bag by CabinZero.’ Once I got started, I realized that I have bought a LOT of bags since May. Might as well review them all!
I’ll be covering the following bags, with the most time spent on Cotopaxi & CabinZero, and maybe a few paragraphs each on the others:
Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Backpack
Cotopaxi Batac 16L Packable Daypack
OnePlus Travel Backpack
LeSportsac Large Weekender Classic
Marc Jacobs Nomad Crossbody
Banana Republic Ashbury Crossbody
CabinZero Classic 36L Ultra Light Cabin Bag
Friends of mine know that I have a weak spot for travel. And bags. So.. travel bags… well I’m helpless. I lust after backpacks, duffels and suitcases of all types. It doesn’t matter how impractical or expensive they may be, I get a little dreamy imagining using the bag on my meager 15 days of PTO/year.
In April I bought Ryan a Tortuga Air travel backpack for his birthday (by request). It’s a discontinued model from a few years back, but it was available on Amazon at the time.
I’m wary of crowdfunding campaigns, mostly because it takes forever to get your stuff. The Allpa didn’t seem totally right for me (looked too unstructured, needed more pockets), but I went ahead and bought it anyways since I was curious. Well, I’ve taken it on two trips now (New Jersey in July, and I just got back from Morocco), so I think I’ve used it enough to give a thoughtful opinion on the pack.
There are actually a lot of pros. When I received the bag, I was impressed with how well made and sturdy the bag was. Usually my first test of a backpack is to check the zippers. The zippers were huge, which was a plus for me.
Other nice features included 4 padded handles on each side of the bag, for easy carrying. The diagonal webbing on each of the 4 corners of the front of the bag is strong enough to use to pull/carry the bag (um not that it’s supposed to be used that way… just sayin’). Most of the zippers are lockable, and they also have a theft proof webbing sewn across the openings, which is super simple in design, but will slow down any thieves on public transport.
There was a separate zippered compartment for laptops & iPads, which is kind of a must have for quick travel through airport security. There was also another zipper on the other side of the pack lengthwise, which allows you to quickly grab things from inside the main compartment without unzipping the whole clamshell.
Not a super light bag, but a reasonable weight 3.7 lbs
Design looks less ‘backpacker-y’
Clamshell opening, like a suitcase (not necessarily a pro for me, but something a lot of people look for in a travel backpack)
Perfect size for airline carry on (even fits under the Vueling Airlines seats) – 20″ x 12″ x 8″, or 51 x 30 x 20 cm (well within the usual max carry on limit of 55 x 40 x 20)
Includes a rain cover
You can hide the straps and hip belt, making it easier to stuff into overhead bins or tight spaces.
For the quality of the bag, the price is right. Cotopaxi also recently sent me a recall notice for my bag, claiming that the TPU coating was incorrect. I’m about to send it back for a replacement, which is awesome. They seem like a really legit company.
Fits a ton!
On to the CONS
To be fair, most of my cons I saw coming.
Problem #1: STRUCTURE
Cotopaxi said that they created their pack to be sleek on the outside with no protruding straps or other features so that the bag wouldn’t get snagged on anything. The bag is also fairly formless so that you can stuff it to the max, and then cram the bag into all sorts of spaces. This is good for flexibility I guess, but it naturally leads to my biggest complaint: with no compression straps, this bag is super floppy. It needs more structure.
The interior of the bottom half of the clamshell includes straps to tie down your items, but it’s really the front of the pack that is the problem. The easily accessible pocket is on the top of the front clamshell (where you might keep your keys, wallet, passport, drink, etc), and it goes halfway down the front. It’s quite large – my brown leather bag pictured above fully packed could fit in this area. Unfortunately if you put a lot of stuff in the top pocket, you will need to pack things in the bottom of the front clamshell, otherwise, the top sags in and the weight distribution is terrible and uncomfortable. The bag really encourages you to pack it to the max, which is annoying. For most trips, I just don’t pack enough to warrant using this bag.
Another small con – the zippers are large and chunky (yay), but there is a noticeable space between them (boo). Not a huge problem if you use your raincover when it rains, but if you don’t have it on you, your bag could let water in.
From the side you can sort of see how the straps make the back panel of the bag lumpy. Also I threaded a compression strap through the back panel to tighten things up a little.
One bigger annoyance was that hiding the shoulder and hip straps was not totally smooth. It lead to a lumpy back panel.
Personal wish – I wish there were a built in water bottle holder! Cotopaxi sells an accessories kit that includes a water bottle holder that attaches to the outside of the bag, but I don’t really like the look of it. It’s been nearly 4 or 5 months since I bought the bag, I am still waiting for my accessories kit from Indiegogo, so no comment on how well the attachment actually works.
Big downside of the suitcase/clamshell design – It can be tricky to access items on the go. You really have to be strategic about where you place things, and make sure that you zip the internal zippers so that you can reach them when you have your hand stuffed in the middle of the two halves. In general this suitcase like design worked ok for me, but there were several times that I had to place my bag down on the floor and open the entire clamshell to find things/put things back. Awkward.
The biggest con of this bag for me is personal fit- this bag is not for short or skinny people. When I tried to use the hip belt, the back of the bag sagged and rode on my butt, which was incredibly uncomfortable. When I pulled the shoulder straps as tight as possible, I couldn’t use the hip belt. To keep them out of the way, I tried hiding them in the back panel, but it was lumpy and uncomfortable. The torso was just too long for me (I’m Five two with a 16″ torso).
I also had my friend Jill try the bag, and she was too skinny to use the hip belt on the very tightest setting! It seems to work okay for Ryan, which is no surprise, it was probably built for someone of a more average height/size.
Oh, another thing about the hip belt. The zipper (the blue line in the pic below) … I’m not sure what that pocket was for, since the opening was so tight. Maybe you could slip a key in there? A card? Certainly not a passport or a keychain, or even a chapstick. Seems like a waste. Making this pocket more 3 dimensional like the Tortuga Outbreaker would have been a more functional choice.
After about two weeks of travel with this bag, I can say that if you’re smart about your packing, you can get around the problems I mentioned above. Don’t put super heavy stuff on the top front of the clamshell and don’t put lighter things on the bottom of the front clamshell. I bought a luggage strap off of Amazon and used it to compress the empty space. It’s not perfect, but it helps a bit. Know where you put your items so you don’t look like an idiot rummaging through your splayed open bag on the side of the street (ahem..).
My review sounds slightly negative, but I mean you can’t compromise on fit. I may sell this bag, we’ll see. In general this bag has way more pros than cons, and carries a ton of stuff gracefully.
Verdict: Buy if you’re not skinny or short
Cotopaxi Batac 16L
The Allpa was sold to me in a bundle with the Batac 16L, which they were marketing as their ‘stowable daypack.’ You can’t choose the color of your pack, the line is ‘del dia’, which means that the Cotopaxi sewers in the Phillipines have creative control. They use whatever fabric they like to make you a bright and crazy looking bag. I had been interested in getting an REI Flash pack, and this bag design seemed quite similar.
Quick take: I LOVE THIS PACK. It was totally unexpected. It is an obnoxiously ugly bag and doesn’t have as many pockets as I’d like, but geez I love it. It has double water bottle holders! The straps are super comfortable, despite being so thin. The ripstop fabric makes the bag light as air yet sturdy. This bag can actually handle my beast of a work laptop, but it’s really more suited for the beach and light hikes. It’s quite water resistant, handling a downpour in New Jersey easily. If I didn’t want to use a crossbody bag in Morocco, I would have taken this bag. The only con I can say about this bag is that the inside phone pocket is sewn in sideways, which doesn’t work for me. My damn phone just falls out.
Let’s be clear, this bag is not the backpack from the heavens, as described by The Verge. However, it is a nice little work backpack. I’ve been using it since July, and it has so many pockets! I think they said 12 pockets. Twelve!!!
Cons: The bag material varies by color, and the grey’s fabric doesn’t feel great. The rectangular body of the bag is very stiff. There is lots of foam padding, which gives the bag a boxy shape that isn’t really compressible. The shoulder straps are not very comfortable either. Also the zippers have a hard time going around the corners, they get stuck quite often. The water bottle pockets on both sides lie flat, so when you put a bottle in, it eats into the interior space of the bag.
Basically this bag is like a more rigid version of the Timbuk2 Parkside backpack, which is one of my all time favorite work backpacks (also good for travel, as I took it to Myanmar). I’d suggest that you get that bag instead. It’s cheaper, lighter, and a more flexible bag.
Verdict: Skip it
LeSportsac Large Weekender
I was looking for a lighter replacement for my Kate Spade Saturday Weekender bag, which has gotten a bit gunky from ~5+ years of on and off use. LeSportsac duffels are pretty popular, and I used to give women carrying these side-eye because they’re pricey for what they are. But my aunts have given me LeSportsac cosmetic cases that are now going on 15+ years strong, so I took a chance and bought a used red and tan large classic weekender off of the resale site Poshmark for about 30 bucks.
This bag is so simple, but so good. It’s LIGHT, and has 4 pockets around the outside. There is no inside pocket on this version, but there is one on the more expensive ‘CR weekender’ model. The shoulder strap is actually very comfortable. Overall the bag is moderately waterproof.
Another major plus of buying one of these bags is the cute prints. LeSportsac actually has an archive of their prints, it goes pretty far back! The bag that I got is from 2005, and it includes a little key that locks the zippers shut. I don’t think that’s a feature of the modern bags. Recommended prints: Rifle Paper Company’s Rosa print & any of the Nintendo bags.
The only con that I can think of is that this bag is very expensive for what amounts to a nylon bag, but hey just buy one on eBay, and problem solved.
Verdict: The hype is real. Buy one used, they last forever.
Marc Jacobs Nomad crossbody
I considered using this bag as a travel day bag, but really I bought it for regular Fall use. This bag is from a few seasons ago, and I was lucky to score a brand new one off of the resale site Tradesy for less than half the original price. Buying purses secondhand is the best, since handbag lovers baby their bags, and are fickle, meaning they tend to sell off their bags when they are bored with them.
The bag comes in two sizes, I chose the larger. It holds more than I thought – a wallet, snacks, a can of coconut water, a book, phone, iPad, light cardigan, etc. If you have a DSLR, no it’s not going to hold that, but in general, perfect for a day of sightseeing. While this bag is a crossbody, I think it also would work pretty well in a variety of situations. It’s not too casual.
Cons: This bag is heavy. It could be too much for all day. Not sure if it’s my bag, but the hardware sometimes squeaks, which is grating. The saddle bag construction means you have to pull open the entire front flap to get at your stuff. Also, the zippered front flap itself is a pocket, but mostly useless and awkward. It’s a good hiding spot for flatter items.
Verdict: Cute, but not the best for travel
Banana Republic Ashbury convertible crossbody
When I originally bought this bag ten years ago, the salesperson mentioned that the collection’s designer came from Coach. Can you see the influence? Maybe in the hardware and thick tanned leather, but I dunno.
I ended up loving this bag to death. I then sent it off to a pleasant afterlife with Jill. While looking at travel bags, I remembered this bag, and decided that I needed it in my life again. So after a quick search of eBay, it was mine for $40. Needless to say, when Jill saw me again in Morocco with this bag in tow, she was confused, but delighted. She knew it was a great bag too.
Converts between shoulder bag & crossbody
Beautiful thick leather that is also quite tough, preventing a slash and run theft
Outside pockets are big enough for the plus size iPhone, S’well water bottles & sangria!
Interior holds a lot, has 3 pockets and a key holder
Only real con… with all the leather, this bag is heavy. With the thicker shoulder strap, it’s more manageable than the Marc Jacobs bag.
Verdict: Buy it if you can find it 😀
CabinZero Classic 36L Ultra Light Cabin Bag
Okay, last but not least – I stumbled across this bag when doing some online carry on backpack “research”. Basically I was shopping. Because I love bags.
It didn’t take much googling before I ran into CabinZero. CabinZero has mounted a fierce travel blogger campaign over the past few years, so there’s lots of positive reviews out there.
I really love the travel philosophy behind this brand. I mean, I don’t think I’ve checked a bag in 10 years, and backpack all the way! Looks wise, I thought the bags were kind of cute in a basic way.
They happened to sell them in the Barcelona airport (where I had a layover), so I bought one on a whim. I folded it up, and it easily fit in one of my Allpa compartments.
CabinZero’s flagship bag is the 44L, but when I tried it on, it looked utterly ridiculous on me. Since I already have a hard time filling my 35L Allpa I was torn between the 28L & the 36L, but they had the 36 in green, so I went with that. It looks smaller than the Allpa, but surprise surprise, it fit all my stuff! I think we can all agree however that the packing shown below is something of a hot mess.
The bag will fit strict international airline carry on standards. The 36L even fits Spirit Airline’s personal item dimensions.
They are simple and light bags. This one was about a pound and a half? The lightness is super helpful for international flights with low carry on weight limits of 5-10kg (11-22 lb).
The inside is fully lined in a contrasting color, a nice touch.
The zippers are also super sturdy and feel smooth to zip.
You can use the smaller versions as daypacks at your destination. You won’t feel like you stick out so much compared to wearing the Allpa or a hiking style backpack.
The bag has a panel opening, meaning quick and easy access.
They include a special international tracking tag from a company called Okoban so that you can find your bag if it is lost. I’m including this as a Pro, but to be honest, it relies on the person who finds the bag to have internet access, be able to read English, and to WANT to return the bag to you, so uh… it’s kind of worthless, really. I don’t think you would get your bag back any easier than including your email on a luggage tag, or writing your info on the side of the bag in Sharpie.
I still want a water bottle holder…
A waist & sternum strap would be nice. These are included on the military version, which only comes in the 44L size.
Back padding could be more robust (it is on the military version…)
The bag includes 2 handles, one on the top and one on the left side. The handles have a cushioned strap which is nice, but it seems a little extra for the day to day. I think the Allpa does carry handles way better, and there’s 4!
The air mesh straps remind me of my Topo Rover backpack. They are not smooth against the skin, and make slightly crunchy sounds when you press down on them. These straps are comfortable during regular wear, but the annoying thing is that when I wear straps like these with a tank top, the straps are scratchy, dig into my shoulders, and my skin can bruise – I get ugly red bruises all over my chest and shoulders. That is a major con for me, but your mileage may vary. Just don’t wear tank tops.
Like the Allpa, this bag is meant for maximum space and flexibility, meaning that this bag is mostly a large floppy rectangle. The bag has compression straps, but if you look at photos of this bag online in use, the bag is either completely stuffed square, or it’s flop city. Why the hell do I keep buying these floppy ass bags? When will I learn? Where is my dream bag?
There are 3 pockets, one on the front and 2 on the back of the front panel. Meh, not enough pockets.
The laptop section is not padded, which keeps things light, but offers minimal protection. It’s also hell to get your laptop out at security.
The inside is one big cavern. You’re going to need to use packing cubes.
This bag’s shape and general features reminds me of my Kelty Captain backpack, which is super durable, has more pockets and organization, much comfier straps, has chest/waist straps, and also is ‘cabin-sized’ (but unfortunately much smaller). It’s such a great backpack. I have packed it as my ‘go bag’ in case of earthquake, but normally I use it once a week for grocery shopping.
I was not totally in love with the CabinZero when I bought it, nor when I inspected it further after getting home from the airport. I would have returned it under normal circumstances, but I couldn’t since I bought it in Barcelona, and the salesclerk ripped the tags off – rude!
I’ve gotten the chance to use this bag on a couple of dogsitting trips (2-5 days) & as a work backpack. The bag has grown on me a little. The comfort is better than I’d predicted based on the straps, and the compression straps really make it doable as a daypack. I can see this as being a good no brainer bag for people who pack too much. I will probably use this bag as a weekend trip bag, and use the Allpa for trips where I’m packing more or heavier.
Verdict: Buy it if floppy bags don’t piss you off.
Anyways, I hope this post has been helpful. I’m still on the hunt for the ‘perfect travel backpack.’ Looking at the Minaal Carry On 2.0 (sleek looking and so many pockets, but too pricy and travel specific), Osprey Fairview (fair price, they have XS packs, rave reviews from everyone, but kind of ugly, and the laptop section is the front of the bag and not flush against the back, which is stupid), Gregory Border 35 (looks kind of like a Minaal copycat for a cheaper price- love Gregory bags but I know them mostly as a hiking pack company) and the Tortuga Outbreaker 35 (also rave reviews, but geez it’s expensive AND ugly too).