Cotopaxi Cusco 26L by Marcus Shepherd

Launching with a social media takeover and party in April, the llama logo of local gear company Cotopaxi is spreading out across these hills. I see someone with a Questival giveaway bag in town about weekly, and when I was browsing their site at work, a coworker said "Okay, do you know about this? What is this? I've seen this everywhere."


I decided to be social and pay Cotopaxi Basecamp a visit instead of impersonally ordering from their website. It's a short trip from downtown SLC, near the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon.


I'm glad I made the trip to their offices. Their offices certainly have that recent startup feel, and it was a little quiet when I stopped by, but it was cool to get to see the people behind the product. The picture above doesn't show the maps and travel photos on the walls, or the ski lift-shaped benches or the boxes of gear liberally distributed through their offices. It's pretty clear that the folks involved in this venture see it as an adventure, and that's inspiring. 

Checking luggage freaks me out. I've never had a problem, but I just hate the thought of leaving the fate of my stuff in the hands of airline employees. I also hate having big bags slow me down while travelling. I spent the two years of my LDS mission purging my stuff to as little as possible, ditching the heavy rolling luggage for duffel bags. So for my upcoming trip to India and Zimbabwe, I'm planning to only bring what I can carry on. In the pursuit of that goal, I've been looking at a lot of different backpacks for a few months, but after their April launch, I've really only been debating between Cotopaxi's 26 liter offerings: the Cusco and the Inca.

Aesthetically, the Cusco always stood out as more versatile in an urban setting, as well as calling less attention to me as a techwear-dressed rich American tourist when overseas. After seeing just how sizable the Cusco was at Basecamp, my mind was made up and it came home with me.


I think the Cusco's appearance makes it more appropriate in downtown than more technical outdoors bags, and the minimal aesthetic of this bag is why. The bag's front is a blank canvas, apart from the two leather lash points and the small logo patch. 


I have never used lash points for their intended purpose, nor have I ever used them for any unintended purpose. Given that this pack seems more at home in urban exploration rather than backcountry expeditions, I have to assume that their inclusion is primarily for aesthetic considerations, especially when the difference between an ordinary backpack and a "heritage" backpack in the mind of the people is the addition of lash points and a leather bottom. Even if they never hold my sleeping pad, I like how they look.


The stripe detail on the patch evokes both the Ecuadorian flag and the ever-enduring late '60s/early '70s feel of companies like Patagonia or REI, tying Cotopaxi into the traditions of both their namesake and their fore-bearers. The inclusion of the motto on the patch fits the pack, recalling the bag's vintage design and how wordy marketing used to be. I have another bag handy that's very similar:


Speaking of Filson, the canvas on the Cusco feels great. It's an amazing balance between feeling incredible durable and smooth. It's not a coarse or hard, though it is tough enough that pulling the zippers is slowed down slightly by the fabric.


I'll go ahead and get my biggest gripe out of the way right here: I do not like the leather zipper pulls. 


I think they look great, but I find them really annoying. My fingers slip on the soft leather and there's nothing arresting their slide at the ends. If I make any modifications to this bag, it'll be cutting them off and replacing them with 550 cord. I'll give them a chance to grow on me, though.


Here's the back padding. It's goldilocks for me: not too hard, not too soft. It's not very thick, but I've filled the bag up and never felt anything bothering my back. And though that taper looks like an unrealistic super-hero's body, the hip belt flaps have no rigidity and can curve around the body in a comfortable manner, at least for me.


The belt itself, that strap going horizontally in the photo above, is thinner than I prefer. It's not so narrow that I feel like it's cutting into me when tight, but I'm more accustomed to the wider belts on backpacking bags. I can understand why not everyone would want such a large belt: if the pack is designed primarily for city use, most people won't wear the belt and will probably just pull it tight and buckle it under the bottom of the bag, or worse, just let it dangle. Wanting a belt at all is probably a minority opinion, much less a larger one.


There's an interesting feature of the belt (that could be industry-wide and I just don't know). To gather up the loose belt material, there's a small elastic band on the belt.


It's a simple and elegant solution. I'm a big fan. It hasn't 100% of the time so far, but it works the vast majority of the time. I don't know if a slightly tighter band or some material with more grip could be applied to the inside, but it's done its job.

The shoulder straps are, like the back padding, in a balance. The cushion is neither too thin and uncomfortable nor too cushy and annoying. I've carried heavy loads both with and without the belt and the straps conform nicely to my body and keep my shoulders feeling good.


Another could-be-widespread-and-I'm-just-not-with-the-times feature on this bag: the chest strap fits around a little cable, making it trivially easy to adjust where it falls on my chest. I wonder if it's very difficult to rip out of its grip, but I don't really have the luxury of trying to tear this bag apart.

Design often requires sacrifices, and the bottle pockets on each side of the pack are the locations of one such offering to aesthetics. It's undeniable that the bag looks vastly better for not having mesh pockets, but the canvas compartments don't have nearly the same stretch and so your bottle is essentially sharing space with the inside of the pack. That's unlikely to be a big deal, but there are two concerns. First: the pockets are next to the laptop sleeve, so if you're carrying both, they're still able to coexist, but they are fighting for the same space. Second: if the pack is stuffed full, it's somewhat challenging to insert the bottle, presumably even more so if the objects inside the bag aren't malleable. 


Large Nalgene bottles do fit snugly in the pockets, but they take so much volume away from the main compartment that I wouldn't recommend using them. I don't have my Cotopaxi bottle yet, but I did find a bottle that I suspect has about the same dimensions and it fits in very well.


Let's turn inside the bag now.


Here's the outermost pocket. It's supposed to fit about six ounces of your stuff, and it's pretty spacious.


That's my full-sized iPad standing up inside the pocket with plenty of room to spare. This pocket isn't just for little stuff.


For just a moment, I was annoyed that there were only two spots for pens, but I realized that I've never carried a huge number of pens in those slots and I just received a sizable pen case anyway and maybe I should have more realistic expectations. Two is actually a perfect number for most people. 


The small pocket on top of the bag isn't so small either. I've been able to stash a tiny toolbox of quick-access items in this pouch. The liner feels durable and I don't expect my keys will punch a hole.


Speaking of keys, here's the cheapest-looking part of the bag: the key clip. It doesn't clip so much as it doesn't really move all that much when you push it. I don't doubt my keys would stay on there well enough, but on a bag that seems so deliberately designed, this clip doesn't fit.

Finally, the main compartment. It's not its job to be fancy; it only needs to hold things, preferably big things. But the big pocket is still quite nice.


It's a big, deep compartment. It's big. 


That's a 15 inch MBP sitting comfortably in the bag. But even then, the laptop sleeve cleverly ends about an inch above the bottom of the bag. (Ever let your bag drop and only then realize you're throwing around your expensive equipment?)


I love the details here. The laptop sleeve looks like retro camping gear, and the step pattern covering the seams is a perfect accent for this very minimal bag.

The main pocket also features one more tiny pocket, still big enough for more than you'd expect.


The frequent and strong rainstorms this week have given me ample opportunity to test the canvas under very wet conditions, and I've been pleased with how well it's holding up. I've spent upwards of 20 minutes at a time in the rain in order to make a "dry run" of the conditions I'll experience in monsoon season India.


Water beads on the canvas for longer than I expected, and even once it eventually soaks into the material, the inside has stayed dry.


Unsurprisingly, the seams are the weak links here, the place where water is going to get in. The bias tape was pretty wet but far from saturated and my stuff remained dry inside. You can see the difference between the left, where the tape is still dry, and the right, where it's absorbed plenty of rain and is moist to the touch.


Inside the main compartment, there's an interesting image.


"Human lifespan warranty," our latest entry into the world of odd guarantees. I scoured their website looking for an explanation of this, but I couldn't find a page with the details I expected. Which is interesting, because their "human lifespan" is actually 58 years, the average lifespan of someone in the developing world. You could say that making their warranty last longer is the entire point of the company.

"Gear for Good" is the motto and public face of the company. Each item is tied to a particular charitable cause, and proceeds from each sale are directed towards addressing that particular need. I don't want to spend much time talking about why this is a better idea than other charitable capitalism strategies, but it makes me happy to be a part.

Cotopaxi is shaping up to be one of the few companies that I feel comfortable representing with their logo on my body or gear. I'm not a huge fan of brand-based marketing (every t-shirt with a prominent logo should either be free or come with an advertising contract with the customer) and I feel like anyone who uses my purchasing decisions to gain mindshare should prove themselves to me. I'm not averse to picking a logo patch off clothes if I think I shouldn't represent that company. All that being said, I'm pretty happy to wear a llama on my backpack (and water bottle and t-shirt, but that's future posts). I've been happy with the way they're shaping up and glad I decided to finally jump in and try their stuff out for myself.

Jumping the gap between zero and one by Marcus Shepherd

I suffer from a condition that I've heard rhymingly referred to as "Analysis Paralysis." It's a fancy form of procrastination that ultimately derives from perfectionism. If I can't do this perfectly, I might as well not do it. But I'm sure that if I just sit here and think about it, I'll be able to create a system that will allow me to do it perfectly after all. That's why:

  • I never blog
  • I never journal
  • I can take four hours to clean one bathroom

I'll never forget hearing the phrase "jumping the gap between zero and one." It's the difference between having nothing and having anything. Between a blank page and a page with a single word. Between running shoes in a box and running shoes on your feet. It's the beginning of something, no matter how poorly that first step is taken.

It doesn't take a system. It doesn't take inspiration. It just takes a step.


Upcoming: living in suburb hell, buses bringing out the crazy, and internet nostalgia that makes my wife think I'm an old man.