Monday, July 20, 2015

Cotopaxi Kilaminjaro Review

Hi! I am Anthony Sculimbrene, you might remember from such hate-filled, acerbic reviews as the Gerber Artifact or more recently the Topo Designs Day Pack.

Fortunately, no hate is needed here.  This is a minimalist style backpack that simply rocks.  Its not perfect, it still has a few problems that arise from its minimalist design, but it fixes virtually every problem that the Topo Designs Day Pack had. Simply put, if you are looking for an inexpensive (really, I review inexpensive gear too), minimalist pack, this should be on your list.  I know I am not the only one that it is tired of the uber tact'ed out look, with MOLLE and camo cargo shorts. If you fall into that category then you really should consider the Kilaminjaro as a day pack.

But before we get to the review itself, I think Cotopaxi's charity work deserves a mention.  I have said this before, but here is the deal--I don't care if the person that made the gear is the nicest guy or gal in the world or if he is the devil.  I evaluate gear, not the people that produce it (and yes, Shoeless Joe Jackson deserves to be in the BASEBALL Hall of Fame). But if there is something extraordinary or noteworthy, I am going to point it out.  There are some limits, limits that I have yet to have to draw, but I would not knowingly review something produced by a REALLY terrible person (I would not, for example, review something made my a known racist).  Maxpedition used to behave like petulant kids, so I pointed that out in the PFII review.  Mick Strider has some credibility issues, as us lawyers call it, so I pointed that out.  Well, Cotopaxi does things worthy of comment, but on the positive side of the ledger.

First, Cotopaxi donates a percentage of its revenue to charity.  They focus on education and poverty in the developing world.  To remind you of that all of their products have a "human life span" warranty--61 years, which matches the average human life span across the world (note the US average lifespan is around 74 years old).  Second, they have personally inspected the factory where their packs are made.  The factory is in the Philippines, and they have been there themselves.  Third, Cotopaxi has paired with Polartec to give away Adventurer grants worth $6000 each quarter for folks that have an awesome idea for an adventure that is both "epic" and gives back to the community.  Part of that grant includes a $3,000 donation to a charity of the adventurer's choice.  This isn't a reason to buy something, of course, but if your on the fence, it certainly seems like this stuff could be a tie breaker.

Here is the product page.  The Kilaminjaro costs $79.00.  Here is a written review.  There is a video review that shows up in Google, but its a broken link.  The only retailer is Cotopaxi itself.  

Finally, here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary:  The standard for minimalist day packs.  And a damn good value, too.

Design: 2

After the square-ish constricted shape of the Day Pack, the tombstone-style pack here is a welcome change, as is the placement of the organizer pouch and the small items pouch. Virtually everything is just better.  The minimalist aesthetic is still there--no MOLLE anywhere--but it has not so dominated the design that the back ceases to function only for the purpose of looking good.  There isn't as much, matchy-matchy cute colorations, like the blue fabric with red highlights, but I am of the belief that that is a good thing.  The less my bag stands out when I am in a crowd, the less it is likely to be the target of pick pockets.  I am also acutely aware of the lure that hipster gear has on us.  We are so close to that line and something like a cutesy pack just might be the thing that pushes us over the line.  

One note, the slim pouches for water bottles remain.  They aren't as bad as they were on the Day Pack, but they are still less than functional.  The shape of the pack really helps, but it is still not perfect.  You have to be awfully careful how you pack the bag to make sure the water bottle sleeves work correctly.  If you don't they end up being movie-star's-face-after-plastic-surgery tight.  If companies REALLY want that minimal look but still like functional water bottle pouches, how about a pleated design?  Its not enough for me to ding the pack a point, because they are better than the Day Pack's pouches, but it is still something you should be aware of going in.

Fit and Finish: 2

We are at the point where lots of bag companies make really good bags.  The lopsided stitching and ragged interiors are a thing of the past. Honestly the Kilaminjaro is as nicely finished as a Bihn bag, though it lacks the high tech materials of the Seattle-built carriers.  I have no meaningful complaints with its fit and finish.

Carry: 1

Sometimes you get spoiled.  Most packs today have a airy cushion of foam and mesh on the back pad, but here I think Cotopaxi tried to save some money.


As you can see there is no mesh and the foam is quite stiff (just short of "German luxury car front seat stiff).  There is a laptop sleeve in the main compartment that adds a bit of cushion, but overall this is not as plush on the back as either the Osprey or the Maxped PFII.  The other issue I had with the pack was the lack of a mesh back made this thing super hot in the summer time.  Hikes where the temp was above 70 degrees resulted in a tremendously sweaty back (TMI, I know, but you need to know these things).  I am a sweaty dude (again TMI), so nearly every pack does this to me, but it was well below average here.

Fortunately the rest of the pack was superb when being worn.  The shoulder straps were good and the sternum strap (which was included, screw you Topo Designs) was excellent and functional.  If you are really bothered by Swamp Back, drop the score here to a zero.  If not, it earns the 1 through some really great straps and weight distribution.

Materials: 2

Dyneema this ain't, but it is a bag full of perfectly functional stuff.  For a causal day pack, this is more than enough.  Nylon, cordura, and leather of various uses all work well here.  Again I miss the mesh/foam combination that makes the higher tech packs cooler on the back, but I don't think it is fair to deduct another point here.  This bag is just a bit more than half the price of the Topo Designs Day Pack and the materials are the exact same (that pack is not just junk, its a rip off).  Its not a Bihn, but for the minimalist/retro crowd, the materials are fine and the price is much more palatable.  

Accessibility: 2

With a horizontal opening for the small pack and a top mounted organizer pouch, the Kilaminjaro is amazingly accessible.  The  point of the minimalist pack is to cut down on all of the pouches and pockets that are both unnecessary if you pack intelligently and seem to gobble things up as if they were voracious eaters.  Here that minimal approach doesn't counteract accessibility.  A few smart choices and the Kilaminjaro is just downright awesome for what it is.  Its not a lay flat packer like the PFII, but for what it is, this is best in class.

Ease of Packing: 1

I think it is fair to say that with all of these small minimalist bags there is going to be some degree of pack Tetris going on.  You need to be careful how you fill it and how you zip it and that is just annoying.  The water bottle holders are a problem and a pack this small with a laptop sleeve is really annoying.  It may be easy to get stuff once the bag is packed, but getting it there is merely an average experience.

Pockets/Organization: 2

The Day Pack was beyond minimal--it was lacking.  Here with only one more pocket you get a lot of what you need.  I wish the laptop sleeve was removeable, but its not terrible.  At the worst it adds a bit of additional padding on long hikes.  This is a pack that can flex into a bookbag thanks the to laptop sleeve, but for me, as a day pack, I don't need this functionality.


The organizer pocket has a few nice touches--a key retainer, a horizontal mount for items with clips, like pens, knives, and flashlights, and a small sleeve perfect for a smartphone.  I really liked the few things in the organizer pouch.


All too often manufacturers make these organizer pouches so specific to given objects that when those objects become obsolete the pouch is useless.  That  was a problem I found with a lot of Tumi stuff.  When laptops stopped being carried a good 75% of the bag's functionality died.  Here by giving us a few things with lots of uses Cotopaxi ensures that the Kilaminjaro will be useful for a long time. 

Snaps/Buckles/Zippers: 2

Well, I have to say I think the Topo zippers are better, but they were the best I have ever seen.  Short of that high bar, the zippers here are very good.  I also like the quick release buckles, the snap together with an audible pop and they are easy to disengage.  Everything is very nice. 

One small, non-pointworthy criticism--I'd like more rigid leather used as a zipper pulls.  Paracord is no where near as floppy and it makes for an easy grab.  If Cotopaxi wants to keep using leather, which is fine with me, they need to be stiffer.   
Belts/Straps: 2

Given the budget, I like the trade off Cotopaxi made, going for upgraded straps over a foam and mesh back.  The reality is no backpack is going to be cool to wear, so the difference between bad and good is one of degree, but the difference between bad and good when it comes to straps is just incredible.  Here, the straps are very good:


The mesh and foam is comfy and the straps are shaped correctly.  They are wide and distribute weight across your shoulders nicely.  The sternum strap, while not bulky, is quite good, too.  Good choice Cotopaxi.

Modularity/Expansion: 1

There is a leather diamond-shaped attachment point, does that count?  Honestly unless your Tom Bihn (see here), figuring out how to do expansions on a pack with out MOLLE is really tough.  The one attachment point here is perfect for a carabiner (or in my case, the Leatherman carabiner tool).  Also, Cotopaxi doesn't even offer accessories, so any expansion is going to be done with other folks products.  This seems like an oversight to me, but when you are building a company it is probably best to get the core products out there first and then accessories (Prometheus Design Werx, did you hear that?  Accessorize SECOND).  Among its competitors, the Kilaminjaro is lacking in modularity, but it is a minimalist pack so you know that going in.  With that caveat, its about average.

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

I don't include value calculations in my scoring because I have no idea what is a good value for you.  That said, this pack is so good for so cheap that it is DEFINITELY a good value for just about everyone.  That score, a 17, does not include the $80 price tag.  If it did it would be much higher.  This is the minimalist day pack to get, in my opinion, ahead of some of the silly Jansport offers or the Herschel packs and light years, galaxy-spanning distances, away from the wretched Topo Designs Day Pack.

If you want a nice pack that can flex into a hiking pack or a bookbag and not make you look like GI Joe, the Kilaminjaro is a damn good choice.  And for $80, you'll have some cash left over to buy a knife or light to take with you on your trip.  


  1. I love their designs (except for the hipster, retro, diamond-shaped leather fastener) and the fact that they're made in the Philippines in a responsible factory.

  2. I own the Volta Rolltop pack (I do a video review if you search youtube for it).This is a great company. The website even has live chat support. Nothing comes close in this price range

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