Badass Backpacks

Review: Does Yeti’s New Overbuilt Pack Stand Up to the Competition?


August 2, 2018 Reviews By Photo by Chase Pellerin
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Earlier this year when Yeti announced the Hondo Base Camp Chair, it proved that it wasn’t going just to be a cooler and drinkware company. Sure, it had previously brought us duffel bags and the most overbuilt five-gallon bucket you’ll ever encounter, but it was the Hondo that proved the company was willing to make considerable lateral strides into different product categories. The launch of the Tocayo Backpack is further proof of this point.

The Tocayo isn’t Yeti’s first backpack — its softshell Hopper cooler and its waterproof Panga duffel were recently reformatted as backpacks — but it’s the first that’s designed for everyday use. It’s for commuting, hiking and weekend trips. Everything that came before it has been far more specific to particular applications; while most Yeti products can be used everyday, they may not appeal to the everyday user. The Tocayo can.

The Good: Like all Yeti products, the Tocayo is rugged as hell. It’s built with 1,000-denier nylon, which is the same material used by other brands to create the bags worn by those who fight wildfires and serve in the military. It’s held up with a ripstop backer, so unlike many of those bags, it’s sleek on the interior (and easier to clean, too). Another notable feature is the Tocayo’s ability to stand up freely with the help of EVA padding built into the base and back. It’s one of those traits that may not seem very notable but becomes so practical in use.

The Tocayo excels at integrating these features into a bag that, for lack of a better comparison, functions like an L.L. Bean school bag on steroids. It has two main compartments and all the pockets and pouches needed for everyday organization, including a side-access laptop compartment that’s separate from the rest (this feature has become a must-have for any backpack I use). Unlike similar bags, it also has two collapsible water bottle sleeves in its interior, which provides that practicality while maintaining a clean silhouette.

Who It’s For: Even though the Tocayo is Yeti’s first product that can be considered “everyday” (other than the drinkware it makes), this backpack will be loved most by a handful of particular users, mainly as a result of its construction and its price. First among these are those who favor a rugged EDC since the Tocayo is as beefy as a daypack comes. Secondly, those who like bags with elements that stem from military design will appreciate this pack. The Tocayo has a few of these elements, but they’re more subtle than other tactical backpacks. Lastly and most obviously, the Tocayo is for Yeti fans. It’s a leap from the products and materials that the brand is best known for, but it’s a backpack that’s been executed in traditional Yeti style.

Watch Out For: Like all Yeti products, the Tocayo goes all-in on durability. As a result of that, it’s probably going to be noticeably heavier than many other everyday backpacks with which you’re familiar. I also think it could’ve used even just one more organizational pocket inside, to help prevent the rest from becoming jumbled catch-alls. The backpacks front panel also offers an unused opportunity for a sleeve-style pocket or additional attachment points. Others might note the price tag here, but at $250 the Tocayo fits comfortably in with backpacks that offer similar build and quality — it’s even cheaper than some.

Alternatives: The most obvious alternative is GORUCK’s GR1 ($295). Like the Tocayo, the GR1 is available in a 26-liter size (as well as a smaller 21-liter version), is constructed with 1,000-denier nylon, and offers a very similar set of pockets and features. The main point of differentiation is that the Tocayo has two compartments while the GR1 uses one large one. Another great option is Evergoods Civic Panel Loader ($229). At 24 liters, this bag is slightly smaller but also falls squarely into the super-durable yet very practical everyday backpack.

Review: There is only one way to test an everyday backpack — to wear it every day; to fully integrate it into one’s life routine. That’s precisely what I’ve been doing for the past few months with the Tocayo. It accompanies me on my daily commute, which involves a walk, a bike ride, and a subway ride followed by another walk. A true everyday bag goes beyond all that though — camping, traveling, staycationing. It’s a catch-all, a jack of all trades, and a master of many.

The Tocayo rises to the designation. It handles my daily A-to-B with ease. I was surprised at how much stuff fits into the bag; it’s 26 liters, but it’s expansive. Even its small pockets — there’s one in each of the two main compartments and another at the top of the shoulders — are large. I rarely fill it to capacity going to and from work, but when I headed off for a weekend camping trip in northern Vermont I expected to need more; I didn’t.

My next expectation-defying discovery came in the straps and back panel. Both use plain padding without any built-in ventilation in the form of mesh or air channels — unless you count the stamped Yeti logo. And yet the bag is quite comfortable, even when fully-loaded on a hot New York City day, which, as you know if you’ve experienced one of these, is akin to taking a stroll through Hell’s second most-crowded sauna.

But for all the quality that’s built into this bag, the Tocayo doesn’t exist in a vacuum. For one, it must live up to Yeti’s well-known reputation for outstanding durability in every single product it makes, down to its stainless steel vacuum-insulated beer koozie. It’s easier to accomplish this with hardgoods than it is with softer, lighter materials. Does the Tocayo achieve this? There were moments when part of me felt that the backpack wasn’t “Yeti” enough, but after more time with it, I think it does.

The other space that we must judge the Tocayo from is that of other rugged and tactical backpacks, the most obvious and similar being GORUCK’s 26-liter GR1. In appearance, the two bags look quite similar — they’re shaped like an upside-down U and lack exterior features that would protrude from the clean profile. They’re also both made with 1,000-denier nylon fabric, have cavernous main compartments lined with smaller organizing pockets and offer separate heavily-padded laptop sleeves.

There are a few fundamental differences though. The Tocayo has two zippered compartments while the GR1 has only one. Instead, the GORUCK bag has an additional zippered pocket on its face. The GR1 also zips completely open while the Tocayo can’t, due to its interior water bottle sleeves — it’s a tradeoff between features. The GR1’s nylon isn’t backed, and the pack is noticeably lighter for it. Furthermore, while the Tocayo sports a clean silhouette, the GR1 is covered in MOLLE attachment webbing, and this gives us the best way to sum up these differences: the Tocayo is more of an overbuilt daypack while the GR1 is definitively more tactical, which makes sense as an ex-Special Forces soldier created it.

Now you’re probably expecting me to provide an authoritative statement deciding which pack is better, but I’m not going to do that. I think the bags are more similar than different, and choosing one or the other will likely become a preference on brand, color, price, or one pocket or two. Functionally, I think they’re equally capable, and that fact doesn’t reduce either product to a lesser opinion due to the existence of a similar product. In fact, I think it’s a testament to both; everybody familiar with the GR1 knows that it’s badass, and the fact that the Tocayo provides a slightly-different foil to it means that Yeti has succeeded in producing its first everyday-oriented backpack.

Verdict: The Tocayo, like every other Yeti product, doesn’t pretend to be lightweight — all emphasis is on providing daily organization through the lens of overbuilt durability. It isn’t cheap, and it isn’t groundbreakingly-innovative. But it does accomplish everything it sets out to do, in a form that’s both heavy-duty and practical. If you’re looking for a general-purpose backpack that can take on pretty much anything you need of it, the Tocayo might be it.

Key Specs

Capacity: 26 liters
Weight: 4.1 pounds
Material: PU-backed 1,000-denier nylon, 210-denier ripstop backer
Additional Features: Padded laptop sleeve, exterior stash pocket

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Tanner Bowden is a staff writer at Gear Patrol covering all things outdoors and fitness. He is a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School and a former wilderness educator. He lives in Brooklyn but will always identify as a Vermonter.

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