Our favorite Cotopaxi backpacks, the Inca 16L and larger 26L, are technical daypacks with a streamlined design, great comfort & thoughtful features. Our trail-tested review.

Thoughtful design, ventilated padding and ultra-durable construction: the Cotopaxi Inca 16 and Inca 26L backpacks are two of our go-to packs for day hikes in the South. Both Incas are extremely comfortable packs, well-suited for 10+ mile day hikes with moderate loads. Their close-fitting, streamlined design keeps them secure and comfortable on our backs, even when scrambling over rocky terrain while we’re chasing Georgia’s most beautiful waterfalls or ducking through tight rhododendron tunnels on Roan Mountain. They’re packed with features, light on weight, and have replaced most of the other day packs in our gear closet.

Cotopaxi backpacks review: the Inca 16L and 26L are two of our favorite day packs for hiking adventures in the South

While there’s more than just a size difference between the Inca’s 16L and 26L versions, both packs share many features. They’re sewn from lightweight but tough ripstop nylon, proudly badged with Cotopaxi’s logo, a llama silhouette. Dual daisy-chained straps on the exteriors serve as lash points for strapping gear to the outside, adding even more carrying capacity to the packs. Both packs feature dual expandable side pockets for carrying wide-mouth water bottles, and two zippered pockets near the bottom for storing trekking pole or small gear. Both the Inca 16L and 26L include a top-access pocket for stashing small gear, with a soft compartment for storing sunglasses and a sewn-in key clip to keep keys secure.

What’s in our Incas? Check out our hiking gear list for the favorite gear that we pack on adventures throughout the South.

Cotopaxi backpacks review: the Inca 16L and 26L feature a top-load compartment with soft sunglass storage and a sewn-in key clip

Cotopaxi Inca 16L backpack

The design of the Inca 16 is refined, yet durable and rugged. The pack’s 16-liter capacity carries ample storage for day hikes, with extra room for spare water bottles, snacks, clothing layers and a waterproof jacket. The pack weighs in at a moderate 18oz, so it’s not technically an ultralight pack, but it’s weight-conscious in its design.

The Inca straps are well-padded, and stay comfortable on hikes over ten miles. The curved contours of the straps fit securely on our chests and help prevent the pack from shifting. Adjustable sternum straps add to the straps’ stability, and a zippered horizontal pocket on the left strap is a perfect place to stash snacks, a small mobile phone or other small gear for easy access.

Top day hike backpacks: the Cotopaxi Inca 16 is a full-featured pack that stays comfortable on high-mileage adventures

The pack is well equipped for a hydration reservoir. Inside the pack’s top-loaded main storage area, an elastic-rimmed pocket is perfect for hydration pack storage, and there’s a clasped strap to suspend a hydration reservoir and an exit port on the top of the pack for a hydration tube. There’s also a clip on the right shoulder strap to keep a bite valve secure on the trail. (We love the Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir, which works well in our other backpacks, too.)

The Cotopaxi Inca 16L is one of our favorite day hike backpacks for adventures in the South, with ventilated padding and thoughtful design features

The Inca’s back panel is padded with perforated mesh and foam, adding an ample amount of cushioning while still allowing for breathability. Inside the back panel, a semi-rigid insert provides some structure and helps the pack retain its shape, adding moderate support without adding excessive weight to the otherwise frameless pack.

Cotopaxi Inca 26L backpack

The Inca 26L is more than just a larger version of the 16L; the larger Inca adds extra storage room and some serious upgrades to the smaller Inca pack. Like the smaller Inca, the Inca 26L is streamlined, stylish and thoughtfully designed.

The 26L adds some serious storage capacity with the addition of a second zippered, top-access compartment. The second compartment features a padded, insulated hydration pocket that easily fits a Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir, making access easier for hydration pack refills. And the pocket’s insulated, padded divider keeps my gear in the main storage area dry, away from condensation or a possible leak.

Cotopaxi backpacks review: the Inca 26L offers great hydration pack integration, and it's amply padded for great on-trail comfort

The larger Inca also adds a large expandable pocket on the pack’s exterior, great for storing stuffable gear for quick access, like a rain jacket, hat or gloves.

The pack’s padded and perforated back panel and shoulder straps add comfort and ventilation, and the larger Inca 26L adds load-adjusting straps to the shoulder straps. These load adjusters allow some fine-tuned adjustments on the trail, keeping the pack comfortable on high-mileage day hikes.

Our favorite day hike backpacks: the Cotopaxi Inca 26L pack is full-featured and ultra-comfortable, great for longer day hikes and cool-weather adventures

The Inca 26L also adds a padded waist belt to the support system, which adds some considerable comfort, shock absorption, and stability when we’re carrying heavier loads or scrambling over rocks. The padded hip belt also adds two zippered pockets for stashing small gear, a phone, or snacks, a convenient feature usually only found on larger backpacks.

Cotopaxi: Gear for Good

Cotopaxi is a Utah-based company grounded with a mission to give back to humanity. With ‘Gear for Good,’ the company donates a portion of each purchase to helping end poverty worldwide, and uses innovative manufacturing techniques, like using high-quality fabric remnants.

Cotopaxi Inca backpacks: review wrap-up

The Inca 16L and 26L are thoughtfully designed technical daypacks, offering an excellent balance of simplicity, style, and features, with a streamlined profile and ample storage for day hikes. Which is our favorite Inca? Honestly, both. The Inca 16 is our go-to for warm-weather hikes when we’re not packing a ton of gear or extra layers. The Inca 26L scales up the volume, and adds a separate hydration pack compartment, a padded hip belt, load-adjusting shoulder straps and additional pockets for quick gear access. Both of these Cotopaxi backpacks will be joining us on adventures for many years to come.

So where can I find them?

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Eric Champlin

Eric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, backpack, kayak and cycle the southeast. He’s the editor and founder of Atlanta Trails, Asheville Trails, and Trailful, digital magazines that highlight the South’s best outdoor adventures and top Southern-worthy outdoor gear. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.