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Hands-on Gear Review
Kelty Redwing 44 Review
Cons: Casual appearance likely not suited to business travel, not technically carry on size
Bottom line: This contender is an excellent travel backpack for the casual, recreational domestic or overseas adventurer focused on outdoor activities.
The Kelty Redwing 44 descends from a long line of comfortable travel backpacks with an enthusiastic following. The pack is comfortable, easy to use, and well featured for a variety of uses. It looks more like a backpacking pack, so it is slightly more conspicuous for international travel, and a bit too casual for business travel, but it holds up well to outdoor-leaning trips. It will take you overseas, on a short backpacking trip, and even to the crag to go rock climbing.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Redwing 44 is a great travel pack for the outdoor-centered international or domestic adventurer.
This pack descends from a line of packs that have been known to be quite comfortable and very popular. In fact, it was one of the most comfortable backpacks in the review. It has a great suspension system which hugs the weight close to your body and moves with you. It is compact and well shaped, which creates a positive feedback loop: the pack's shape and design promotes a packing job that is well balanced and easier to carry.
This contender is very versatile. It is lightweight and comfortable enough to excel on hiking trips, trekking, traveling, cross country skiing, rock climbing, short backpacking trips, and it will even work for your bike commute. This pack rivaled the Mountain Hardwear Splitter 40 for rock climbing use, and some of our testers even preferred the Kelty pack over the more climbing specific Splitter because of its lighter weight and more contoured fit. The Redwing surprised our testers in its performance on climbing approach hikes, when loaded down with gear. Its sleek and low profile helped us manage heinous bushwhacks, and stylistically fit in with other climbing packs, which is, obviously, very important. The hip belt is especially comfortable, though be sure it fits you before buying it.
The comfort was rivaled only by the Tortuga Travel Backpack, which was actually a little more comfortable with loads heavier than 35 pounds. The Redwing's comfort maxed out around 35 pounds, and felt optimally balanced at 25 pounds.
This Redwing has more external pockets than the other packs in the review, making it less well adapted for airport travel but much more convenient for travel on foot. The design is very close to a backpacking pack but with less accessory straps so that it is a little safer if it needs to go through baggage claim carousels. The Mountain Hardwear Splitter fits an equivalent niche among climbing specific travel backpacks.
We really liked the hideaway handle on the outside of the bag, which makes it easy to grab off a baggage carousel, toss into the back of a truck, or otherwise chuck around quickly.
The side pockets were useful, but a little small for some items we wanted to put in them--like climbing shoes--and too big for smaller items, like a chalk bag, such that it seemed like wasted space.
Packing & Accessibility
At 25 inches tall when fully packed, it isn't technically carry-on size (which is 22 inches max). However, the 44's frame is less than 22", so as long as it isn't completely stuffed with non compressible items it may pass as a carry-on. Certainly a gamble. If you do carry it on, it is not the easiest pack to wrangle through security (boxy, panel loading bags tend to be the easiest), and it doesn't have an easy access laptop pocket.
It is, however, designed with a few features that minimize possible baggage carousel damage if you do need to check it in every once in a while for your travels. The pack can be loaded like a top loading pack (more like a backpacking or climbing pack), but it can also be zipped open wider to pack it like a panel loading backpack. This was a very convenient feature which allowed us to pack for the trail but also to fold our clothes and neatly pack them into the backpack for more urban travel adventures. The side compression straps, however, do get in the way of fully opening the backpack, in the same way as the Mountain Hardwear Splitter 40, but this seems to be a necessary annoyance to ensure the dual functions of panel loading and technical performance.
Sometimes panel loading packs can be harder to close, especially if you've maxed out the capacity of the bag. The Redwing, however, remained easy to zip closed even when we overstuffed it. And for the bulky items that just didn't fit, like a foam sleeping pad, it was easy to securely strap it to the outside (though we would want everything inside if we had to check it in for a flight).
This pack would be even better if it were technically small enough to be a carry on. To redesign it as such would certainly eliminate many features we like and possibly affect the incredible comfort. But it does beg the question: if this one is not carry on size, why not just get the 50 liter version instead? Something to think about if you're planning your next tour of Southeast Asia with a Kelty Redwing pack.
There are very few accessory straps on the bag, which makes it much more streamlined if you do need to check it in. It is also more of a panel loading design, and the main compartment opens wide with a zipper instead of a more traditional backpacking pack which is a tube that closes with a cinching cord, then has a lid that goes over the top and secures with buckles. This design is much more prone to getting damaged on baggage carousels. If you need a backpacking or outdoor friendly travel backpack that won't get chewed up by baggage carousels, check out the Osprey Farpoint 55.
The Redwing is made of a few different weaves of polyester, with some of the lower denier ratings in this review, so Kelty lost some durability points for the materials used in this pack.
Weight & Capacity
This was on the lighter side of packs in our review, and if you consider the capacity to weight ratio, it definitely excelled. It is one of the more voluminous packs in this review; it has very comfortable suspension; it is well crafted, and made of relatively rugged materials; and it is still on the lighter end of the packs in this review. The Redwing got top marks in this category, scoring 8 out of 10, alongside the Gregory Compass 30 and the Arc'teryx Covert CO.
This is a great travel pack for those headed out for trekking trips, hostel-hopping, or even moderate international backpacking trips. It is not made for people spending a lot of time on planes, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a strong performer in our travel pack review. This was our best outdoor-leaning travel backpack. It is extremely comfortable on your back, it can carry all sorts of odd equipment, it has some straps to attach awkward and bulky items to the outside, and it is an excellent balance of light weight and durability.
This pack is an excellent mix of versatility and value. It is a true Pack-of-all-Trades: it excels at outdoor-oriented travel, it navigates airports adequately, and it is comfortable wherever you go. It is also among the more affordable packs in this review at only $125. As outdoor and travel enthusiasts, if we could own only one pack, this would likely be our choice. This was edged out for the Best Buy award by the Osprey Porter 46, however, which was a much more versatile travel pack for only $5 more.
The Kelty Redwing 44 is an excellent pack which did not score as highly as this review might imply. It lost points largely because it is not as well designed for the airport part of the travel experience. However, we would very highly recommend this pack to avid outdoors people who travel for extended amounts of time (and thus spend less time in airports), who are heading to more rural or backcountry destinations, and who enjoy moving around on foot and being fast-and-light travelers. This is an excellent pack for those who tire of accumulating more and more and more gear for specific purposes; this contender is an excellent outdoorsy-traveler's single quiver pack.
— Lyra Pierotti
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