Not all backpacks are created equal. While manufacturers like Deuter and Osprey have been adding innovations like mesh-backed straps, ergonomic hip belts and integrated rain covers for a few years, in the past 12 to 18 months, a new breed of upstarts has started upending the gear industry through a new category: adventure travel packs. Eager to see what all the fuss was about, I did enough web research to make my wife say, “Are you looking at backpacks, AGAIN!” about 800 times and narrowed the increasingly crowded field down to two models: the Cotopaxi Allpa and the RMU Core Pack. After a month of testing, here’s what I found.
First up is the Allpa. Rather than going the traditional manufacturing route, the llama-loving folks at Cotopaxi (cue Napoleon Dynamite quote: “Tina, come get some ham!”) made the most of crowdfunding and raised over a million bucks for the Allpa through Indiegogo. This enabled them to go big on materials that promise an even higher level of durability than their other packs, such as the Nazca and Volta. So we get chunky YKK zippers, a TPU rain cover-like coating on the outer face and 1680D ballistic nylon panels. OK, sounds good in theory, but how does it perform in the field? Well after carrying this pack through a couple of National Forests in Colorado and going on several road trips where the Allpa was jammed between paddles, life jackets and all manner of other gear in the back of my SUV, I can tell you that it’s no worse for wear.
But where the Allpa really shines is at the airport. I pack pretty light but typically find I need to discard items from my other packs before I head out. Not so with the Allpa. Once I opened it up, I found it’s cavernous like the Bat Cave, easily allowing me to pack my beloved pair of Lems Boulder Boots (black nylon, haven’t tried the leather version yet), jeans, t-shirts, a couple of sweatshirts, my Surface tablet and accessories, and several mobility tools to help me roll out the bits that get cramped up from being stuffed in a plane seat for a few hours. Cotopaxi didn’t just check the size box, but the organization one as well. You see, the Allpa has several layers of pockets above the main one. This way, I could put the things I needed first at the top and get to them more easily. Plus, they didn’t get mixed up in the rest of my gear.
Another bonus is the little day pack that Cotopaxi included, which allowed me to leave the main bag at my hotel and just carry a few essentials during the day. The other thing I like best about the Allpa is the “suspension system” – which is a fancy way to refer to the combination of structure, shoulder straps and hip belt. I’ve used some high end packs in my time, and the weight distribution on the Allpa is first-rate. The padded straps made it feel like I wasn’t wearing a pack at all, even on longer hikes. If you travel a lot and need a new option for stashing and lugging all your gear, look no further than the Allpa.
Next up is the RMU Core Pack. It has the same capacity rating as the Allpa – 35 liters – and is billed as “a go anywhere travel pack for the outdoor enthusiast.” Living in a small mountain town, I certainly fit this profile. If you’ve read my writing for long enough, you might have caught on that an important part of my daily routine is a 30 minute each way walk to and from my favorite coffee shop (shout out to the fine folks at the Everbean in Evergreen!). In the course of this daily perambulation, I encounter all kinds of weather. It can be warm and sunny when I leave my house and cold and windy by the time I get to my next triple Americano. So I need versatile gear that can withstand temperature swings and some extreme weather – like the four feet of snow we got in 24 hours a couple of winters ago. That’s one of the reasons I’m so impressed with the Core Pack. On warmer days I don’t get that awful sweaty back I’ve experienced with lesser packs in the past. And as you can see from the snow photo, when we got an opening salvo from Old Man Winter, the Core Pack laughed it off as the flakes just slipped off the waterproof coating that’s not just on the main body, but also the straps and hip belt as well. Even in a couple of rainstorms that whipped across the lake as I walked around it, I never had a drop leak through. But just in case, the thoughtful guys and girls at RMU included a waterproof laptop sleeve that resembles a watersports dry bag.
While it doesn’t hold quite as much stuff as the Allpa (despite the identical liter size), the Core Pack distributes a full load evenly, in part thanks to the piece of wood that runs along the back of the pack to provide stability. Bonus – it looks cool, too. If you’re an alpinist, skier or snowboarder, you’ll also appreciate the Core pack’s ability to carry your skis, the climbing rope sling carry and the ax loops. This has become my go-to pack for my daily walking commute and hikes with my wife and kids because it’s virtually indestructible, is truly weatherproof and is rugged enough to take all the abuse an active family can throw at it. You can’t go wrong with either of these packs, which are legitimately adventure-ready.