Cotopaxi Kilimanjaro 20L Pack

Cotopaxi Kilimanjaro 20L Backpack in Driftwood (Grey). Philippines. $80. Purchase.

Cotopaxi’s Kilimanjaro is a stylish, aesthetically minimal backpack that looks great in the urban environment, but also functions reasonably well on day hikes. The pack is comfortable and the various elements generally work for their intended purposes, but of course there is room for improvement.

The massing, or general shape, is attractive and since the two auxiliary zip pockets subtract from the main pocket, the pack’s shape remains fairly unchanged even when the pockets are stuffed with lumpy objects such as headlamps and sunglasses. Unfortunately this also means that if the main compartment is stuffed full of gear (or groceries) it’s nigh impossible to add or remove anything from the zip pockets or insert a water bottle into a side pocket. This has proven to be an inconvenience on multiple occasions since, when push comes to shove, there is no space for overflow items. On one occasion this has forced me to fill my jacket pockets with bulk items and bags of produce in order to make it home with my groceries. With no straps, there isn’t a good way to attach additional items or bags to the outside. This is the price paid for such a minimalist design. During non-maximum-capacity activities, the internal sleeve works well for a laptop, iPad, platypus bottle or bike lock and if your contents are hard or oddly shaped the back padding provides enough cushion to comfortably bike without feeling climbing shoes or belay devices kneading into your back. And if your main cargo is soft and compressible the side pockets fit bottles up to the size of a Nalgene though, as pictured in Cotopaxi’s product photos, smaller diameter bottles are easier to slide in and out. The side pockets also function as quick access pockets for bars/snacks on hikes or for bike lights, keys and wallet at the gym.

The shoulder straps are soft and comfortable with a heavy load, but the padded portion is far too long. On smaller humans (5’4″ test helper) this results in loose, fully synched straps. A loose pack sucks, that’s why all packs have adjustable straps, but on the Cotopaxi they don’t adjust over the correct range. Even if you’re taller, the padding continues under your armpit where it serves no purpose. It also means there are always long webbing tails flapping around, since the straps are always almost fully synched. I believe I understand CJ Whittaker’s intent, but it seems like a prototype pack would have made it clear that the straps are too long and needn’t be “s” shaped.

I’ve worn through the bottom of a bag in the past, so I’m a fan of the suede leather bottom (plus the nostalgia of my old Jansport). Although, given the smaller size of the leather on the Kilimanjaro compared to the Jansport, I wasn’t sure the leather would be the only material touching the ground when setting down the pack, so I was happy to test and confirm that it works perfectly, just as intended, with the leather taking all the abrasion.

Given the generally excellent detailing, I was surprised to find one detail was missing: a whistle sternum strap buckle for hikes in bear country or other emergency situations. It’s a tiny detail, but many hiking packs have them and they’re a cheap, smart feature that would be appreciated on a pack that blends urban and outdoors.

The primary construction material is water-resistant 630d nylon/cotton material (although the label says 100% nylon) that is fairly durable and has thus far remained dry during rides in the rain. The YKK zippers and leather pulls function perfectly and look great.

Cotopaxi’s social business plan is an interesting evolution of Tom’s One for One. Rather than giving away a pack for every pack sold, they give away a portion of the sales of each product to a specific non-profit with which they’ve partnered. For the Kilimanjaro backpack it’s the Human Outreach Project’s Kilimanjaro Kids Community, “an orphanage in Bomang’ombe, Tanzania dedicated to providing a better life for poverty-ravaged children in the Moshi area.” So with each purchase of a Kilimanjaro backpack, enough funds are donated to tutor a child for one week. Of course this says nothing of the actual backpack materials or manufacturing conditions, which are located in the Philippines with no Fair Trade Certifications. It’s interesting to see companies donating to seemingly random global locations, through the creation of products that may or may not be ethically or environmentally constructed. (Kind of like the paradox of do-good non-profits giving away totes and various apparel that is likely made in dubious ways.) Of course, $80 for a handsome, minimalistic backpack isn’t bad. While not up to the same durability or design standards as the Go Ruck GR0 (21L) or Mission Workshop Sanction (20L), the Kilimanjaro pack costs less than 1/3 or 1/2 the price, respectively. There is also a “human lifespan warranty,” so we’ll see how that holds up if/when the time comes.

Pros
Clean, aesthetically pleasing design and detailing, comfortable for those average or above in height, social business model, affordably priced.

Cons
All pockets subtract from the main pocket, so it’s 20 liters minus water bottles and pocket items. The shoulder straps are too long even when fully synched, which results in a loose pack for shorter folks. No visible effort applied to sustainable manufacturing (no recycled/organic materials).

Bottom Line
The Cotopaxi Kilimanjaro is a good backpack, but it could be better. Hopefully they’ll notice there is room for revision and the Kilimanjaro v2 will have shorted straps and maybe some elastic for the side pockets, to maintain the smooth profile when empty, but expand to accept a water bottle, even if the pack is full. This isn’t a bag to buy if you’re looking for one end-all bag, but for $80, it’s a pretty good pack for the city, if you’re tall enough to wear it and don’t need to pack it full all the time.

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