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Hands-on Gear Review
Cotopaxi Nazca Review
Cons: Very small, not as versatile as some travel backpacks
Bottom line: This is a very well designed travel backpack for short and light weight trips, best suited to urban adventures with travel by foot, bike, car, or airplane.
In the wise words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, "He who would travel happily must travel light." Cotopaxi encourages travelers to experience the joy of traveling light with their 24 liter Nazca travel backpack. We almost did not include this backpack in the review because of its comparatively minuscule size: it is almost half the capacity of the rest of the backpacks in this review. However, the design was so enticing, and we kept hearing good things about Cotopaxi, so we went for it. In the end, we were stoked we did. Though limited by its small size, this was one of our favorite packs in the lineup.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Nazca is a brilliantly designed travel backpack, but limited to very short trips due to its small size.
When a particularly fashion savvy climber friend first saw one of our reviewers wearing this pack, she said, "Hey, that's a cool pack! And it looks super comfy with those wide shoulder straps!" She was right, in our opinion, but even more right than she realized.
Those shoulder straps, wide and nicely contoured, made this pack an extremely comfortable pack under any load the 24 liter pack could handle. The important detail this friend was missing was that this reviewer was not wearing the hip belt, and instead had stowed it away in the specially designed and stealthy pocket, or "buckle garage," in the back panel of the pack. When we wore the hip belt, it negated all of the comfort points of this pack--so we never wore it. This is our only comfort gripe with the Nazca.
The hip belt centers above the belly button, making it a nauseating belly belt. Additionally, because there are no load lifters on the shoulder straps to bring the whole load closer to the back, the hip belt also torques out on the shoulders when it is cinched. Imagine a seesaw on your back, and you get the idea. This backpack would make much more sense if it was designed more like the Minaal Carry On 2.0, which features a comfortable back panel and only shoulder straps (no hip belt).
Another problematic detail was that stowing the hip belt in the buckle garage did not solve the comfort problem--it created another one. Now, the hip belt made a lump that sat awkwardly on our lumbar, especially when the pack was crammed full. Our solution was to let the hip belt dangle, and hope that they do away with this useless feature on a future model. A pack of such small size does not need one anyway.
The backpack also converts to a shoulder bag, and includes a shoulder strap. This strap is not padded, but it was not an issue for our reviewers, largely due to the smaller size of the bag (meaning the bag usually doesn't get that heavy because you can't fit a lot in it). For a similar pack with more capacity, check out the Patagonia Headway MLC.
Overall, our reviewers found that 25 pounds was the upper limit of comfort for this pack, which was plenty given its small capacity. And when we got really ambitious and packed the bag to the gills, it was still very comfortable on our backs, which is a very unusual trait, we found, among soft-sided travel backpacks.
A travel backpack is inevitably an exercise in compromises for the designers and manufacturers. One feature that makes a pack particularly travel savvy might hinder its applicability to daily use.
This contender offers a very practical blend of features. The pack is most applicable to very lightweight travel, and brilliantly designed for navigating the complexities of a busy and stressful airport. There is a separate laptop compartment which is very easy to access when going through airport security. The panel design splays open so you can access all of your luggage with ease if TSA needs to check that one weirdly shaped item at the very bottom of the pack (which, according to Murphy's Law, is where anything you need inevitably is). With this travel backpack, there is no "bottom of the pack."
This contender may not be the best daily use backpack; The North Face Overhaul is much better for that, but it is still quite versatile. The mesh zipper compartments and side panel design make it less ideal for the office, because it is less durable for sliding books and folders in and out, and fells mildly labyrinthine when trying to stash a folder or notebook. But it does very well to keep your clothes for the gym, your bike commute, or your after work bouldering session organized and zipped out of the way during the day. The pocket system is not specifically tailored to office use, but the separate zippered laptop compartment adds a lot of convenience for office use.
This pack easily converts between a backpack and a briefcase-style shoulder bag. The shoulder straps and hip belt unclip and tuck into the back panel, leaving a sleek surface. It comes with a simple, adjustable shoulder sling that clips onto either end of the bag. The sling is not padded, as mentioned in the Comfort section above, but it is a small bag so we found the simple sling to be adequate.
We liked the old school, hip-outdoorsy style of the pack, complete with those diamond-shaped leather accessory strap holders which have come to signify an outdoorsy style, even though most of us have forgotten what those were ever used for. Appropriately, the outer material of this pseudo-outdoorsy pack is water resistant, and kept our things dry on hours-long rainy bike commutes.
Packing & Accessibility
The Nazca was by far the smallest pack in this review. At just 24 liters capacity, it is about half the size of most packs in this review. As such, we had to be careful not to judge it too harshly, while being realistic about the pack's applicability and usefulness as a travel-specific backpack. For a pack with similar features (and from a company with similar ethics), check out the Patagonia Headway MLC.
After completing testing, our reviewers were very impressed by this travel backpack. It held a surprising amount of stuff, and when we stuffed it full, it was still easy to access anything because of the panel opening and separate laptop compartment. This pack is a dream for surprise bag searches at airline security screenings.
At first, we thought the laptop sleeve looked way too small. The pack is very narrow, but it will still fit a 15 inch laptop, keeping it snug and secure. It is important to be aware of the small, sleek, and slight profile of this pack: if your gear fits, you'll love it, but it does require a more modern setup of small electronics and lightweight luggage. For those of us who like to sneak a textbook or other large book into the laptop sleeve, you'll find it pretty hard to cram anything else in there with a laptop, unless you roll with a tablet and not much more.
It fits easily in the overhead compartment of an airplane, but it also will slide under most airline seats; a rare feature in this review and one we really liked. For those of us who sleep easily on planes, this helped reduce our concerns about theft. Most modern travel backpacks include a laptop sleeve, which effectively eliminates the need for a laptop bag and a duffel or rollie as a carry on. With this contender, if you can travel really light, you'll have all your valuables at your feet — or close at hand, wherever you are.
The pack also features zipper keepers which make it more difficult for pickpockets to get into the backpack (with out a knife) in a crowd, but it also can make it annoying to get in and out of when you want to. Fortunately, you can place the double zipper pulls anywhere you want to close the bag, so you don't have to use those keepers when you don't want to.
The thick fabric keeps the pack's walls propped up, and combined with a healthy DWR finish, it helps keep your things dry. Floppy and thin fabric will tend to slump, and when it wets out, it will get anything touching the inside of the fabric wet very quickly. The structure and fabric of this pack combine to keep things dry and secure inside.
During testing, our team stuffed each mesh compartment so full it looked like it wouldn't zip closed; but if we could zip it into the two panels, we found, we could zip it closed. Sometimes this meant squeezeing the pack together with our knees or sitting on it, but the zippers seemed up to the task and tension, leading us into a discussion of the pack's durability
As noted above, we were able to cram, jam, stuff, and overstuff this pack without seemingly compromising the integrity of the pack. We found no signs of strained seams and the big, sturdy zipper remained smooth, and didn't catch around corners or in particularly tense spots.
It has more structure than a duffel, making it good for more fragile or crumple-able items, but also ensuring the material doesn't snag as you hustle through sharp urban environments or throw the bag into trunks or under seats.
The 630 denier nylon/cotton canvas shell is plenty rugged, but if you need a touch more durability without much more space, check out the Minaal Carry On 2.0.
Weight & Capacity
The Nazca was by far our smallest bag, but not the lightest. The Gregory Compass 30 is by far the lightest bag in this review. This is largely due to the heavier materials and more features in the Nazca. The very low 24 liter capacity, however, ensures that you travel light, because if you don't need it, you can't fit it anyway. This contender is a lightweight travel enforcer.
The Nazca is a great pack for very lightweight trips. You can pull off a week if your trip is simple and you have mostly odor-proof wool clothing and small electronics. For most of our reviewers, the bag was only suited weekend trips, but we hear rumors of people pulling off week long to 10 day international trips with the Nazca. We also liked it for daily use, because it adapted well to a variety of activities: it was comfortable on our bike commutes, and it would easily accommodate a small laptop, an assortment (okay, a lot) of snacks, a light change of clothes or a jacket, and our climbing shoes for a session at the rock gym before riding home.
Cotopaxi has cultivated a socially-conscious following with their "Gear for Good" slogan and ethic to "create innovative outdoor products and experiences that fund sustainable poverty alleviation, move people to do good, and inspire adventure." It's easy to feel good about that. As such, their products are not the cheapest, but we also wouldn't say you're just paying extra for the feel good vibe, either. For $140, the Nazca is durable, stylish, and thoughtfully designed--you won't feel short-changed.
The Nazca is a hyper-functional, uber-useful modern travel backpack that will slide seamlessly into your urban bohemian existence. We were pleased with its versatility and durability, and surprised by its comfort in a variety of applications. It is convenient and easy to manage in airports, and stylish enough to hit the streets. It is also subtle enough that you won't stick out like an American sore-thumb on your international travels. We really like gear that encourages us to travel light: overall, traveling with less weight on our backs improved our experiences and helped us focus more on the places and less on our stuff.
— Lyra Pierotti
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