Updates to the Redwing 44
As far as we can tell, the main tweak to this pack since our testing period was to the buckle closure at the top of the pack. It is now a side release plastic buckle instead of the metal buckle on the version we tested. The colors have also been changed up slightly. Compare the two packs below, with the new version shown in the first photo.
The remainder of the review pertains to the older version of the pack we tested.
Hands-On Review of the Redwing 44
The Redwing 44 is a great travel pack for the outdoor-centered international or domestic adventurer.
The Kelty Redwing 44 backpack.
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 promote a packing job that is well balanced and easier to carry.
The Kelty Redwing 44 backpack is a very comfortable travel backpack geared toward the outdoors enthusiast.
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. 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 Outbreaker, 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 Kelty Redwing 44 backpack.
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.
The Redwing has several pockets, straps, and features to help you stay organized and accommodate odd shaped and large items.
Packing & Accessibility
The capacity of the Kelty Redwing 44 travel backpack: we could have stuffed the sleeping pad inside, but it was so easy to strap to the outside. (The standard set of gear, top, was packed into each bag to compare capacities with an actual load rather than relying on the company's reported volume numbers.)
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.
The Kelty Redwing stashes a laptop and passport, modern travel essentials.
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 but this seems to be a necessary annoyance to ensure the dual functions of panel loading and technical performance.
The panel loading option makes this backpack easy to pack.
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.
Testing the Kelty Redwing 44 travel backpack on the trail.
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 $15 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.