Cotopaxi’s an outsider in an insider’s industry. They know that; they’re not too concerned. Their Cotopaxi Cusco 26L backpack ($89) passes the layman’s daypack test (looks good and handles abuse) with ease, and in urban and trail uses (pulling the laptop for TSA, not paining the shoulders on a day-hike) it prevails as a trusted companion. And, sitting under a Benjamin, it’s one of the better value buys in the insider-centric, oft-over-priced outdoors industry.
Founder & CEO Davis Smith is a child of a Pan-American upbringing. Born in America, he spent the better part of his youth south of the equator, and in adulthood, he’s frequently returned to his Latin roots. The extreme poverty he’s seen in Central and South America struck his conscience. “I was born in the right place”, he says — and he feels that comes with “a responsibility to find a way to give back.” He started Cotopaxi with the mission to bring a humanitarian element into the outdoor world. Where many outdoor outfitters concentrate on preserving the environment, Smith saw an opportunity to support humanitarian efforts. Each Cotopaxi item is connected to a different cause; each Cusco sold supports a week of on-site tutoring for one child at a school in Cusco, Peru (that Smith actually visits, from time to time).
One way Cotopaxi interacts with the wider world is its Questivals. 24 hours of adventure pairs urban exploring with outdoor adventure; there’s difficulty (like starting a fire without matches), but sans extreme technicality (like rappelling down a building); you’re dependent on gear to get stuff done (like trusting the pack to carry a windbreaker and spare sandwich), but there are enough pictures to make you self-aware of how you look (the event is tracked by posted photos and videos). And, as with all of Cotopaxi’s brand presence, there’s the ubiquitous reminder to maintain global awareness and consciousness of helping others — Service is one of the five pillars of the event, alongside Hiking, Camping, Eating, and Social Media-ing. The event is laced with the sentiment that those that get should also give back.
The Cusco works as a sturdy lifestyle daypack. Canvas and suede leather construction lends to durable longevity rather than lightweight versatility, but, that said, it still offers technical features often overlooked in “lifestyle” packs. Ergonomic shoulder straps fit properly across the chest, and vertically adjustable chest straps offer increased comfort and adaptability. The pack also features a tapered design, so it narrows at its base, as your body naturally narrows from shoulders to waist. It’s a subtle design feature but allows the pack to sit higher on your shoulders, rather than anchoring your lower back with excess weight. Although the back panel features a “breathable” design, we found it still stuck to the back and was a center for sweat. The shoulder panels did much better to vent heat.
Two exterior water bottle pockets easily fit a standard 800ml metal canteen, and although it entreats on the interior space, a 1000ml Nalgene also wiggles in for a secure fit. The three main exterior pockets offer easy access to supplies, and YKK zippers with leather pulls open easily. The main compartment and upper pocket have oversized zippers, a nice touch for a smooth opening that, in our weeks of testing, never caught.
As a lifestyle pack that sells for under $100, supports a good cause, and has classic looks with subtle technical features, it’s a solid piece for the price.
The outer pocket features a streamlined organizer, but for a person who likes to compartmentalize, it errs on the minimal side. The upper exterior pocket is surprisingly deep, which has perks and downfalls: it allowed for more use from the upper part of the main pocket, again raising the pack’s center of gravity, but it also left us digging deep for supplies in a narrow opening. In the main compartment there’s a padded laptop sleeve, the top edge marked by a traditional Peruvian pattern (a subtle reminder of its namesake). The sleeve works well in holding a 13-inch MacBook Pro, and was, in TSA screening, extremely easy to remove from the pocket — a nice perk for the frequent traveler. The padding is spare, but sufficient. The remaining cavity is spacious enough for a day hike, and easily fit a spare jacket, lunch supplies, a notebook, and camera.
The Cusco 26L is a good-looking pack with a tight, spare design and two lash points that add leather detail and a functional option to expand the carry capabilities. For everyday use, it fits the bill. For a day trip, it’s large enough to hold your supplies. And, as a lifestyle pack that sells for under $100, supports a good cause, and has classic looks with subtle technical features, it’s a solid piece of gear.
And if you’re worried that a do-gooder pack at this price comes from a sweatshop in the manufacturing underbelly, fear not. Cotopaxi frequents the factory in the Philippines where the packs are made, checking for quality and giving proper back-pats to operators. As Smith says, “If we’re going to be part of the solution, we can’t be part of the problem.”