The Kelty Redwing 44, the smaller sibling to the popular Redwing 50, has been redesigned in 2016, keeping the most beloved and functional elements, while adding new features that make this backpack an even more powerful force with which to be reckoned. So how does the most recent improvements stack up against the competition?

Overview

For the past several years we’ve been packing for our travels in a pair of Kelty Redwing 50 backpacks. While there are a number of great options for packing light and swift for travel, Kelty’s ruggedness, attention to detail, and all-around functionality won our hearts.

So when it came time to lighten our loads and “downgrade” to something smaller, naturally we would consider Kelty as a contender. And what better pack to try than the newly redesigned 2016 Kelty Redwing 44. We’ve been traveling with the Redwing 44 for the past 10 months and here’s what we’ve found.

Kelty Redwing 44

Ease of Packing

The functionality of the Redwing 44 has changed only slightly from previous versions. The main compartment still features a panel opening that unzips nearly all the way, leaving the bottom 3/4 of the pack accessible only by shoving items down into the opening. Depending on how much you unzip the main panel, the pack can function as both a top loader or as a panel loader.

Kelty Redwing 44

The Redwing 44 still has a ton of pockets. Ample side pockets allow easy access gear, all while sporting pass-through areas behind for long items (walking poles, tripods, etc). Mesh side pockets are capable of handling the largest of water bottles. A flat compartment on the back of the pack contains organizational pockets for documents, pens, small electronic devices, and personal items. A top pocket on the dome of the main compartment lid is great for storing quick access items like rain jackets, food, or sunglasses.

Kelty Redwing 44

The 2016 redesign also brings several additional pockets. In place of the old hydration sleeve, the Redwing 44 now has a padded laptop sleeve. A velcro clasp keeps your valuable laptop from accidentally slipping out and spilling onto the ground. The laptop sleeve is placed midway down the back side of the pack, so when the pack is fully loaded it can be a little cumbersome to access your laptop – not the most convenient when going through airport security. For those who love the old hydration sleeve, don’t worry; the laptop sleeve plays double duty with a hook for hanging a hydration bladder.

Kelty Redwing 44

The second new pocket is a Front Stash pocket – an expandable void between the main compartment and the organizational compartment. Held simply by a sliding metal hook, the pocket can stretch to hold a jacket, a small travel pillow, or other items that don’t necessarily need to be packed away inside the bag. When not in use, this extra pocket collapses flat; you’d hardly know it is there.

Kelty Redwing 44
Kelty Redwing 44

Comfort

Like previous versions of the Redwing, the 2016 version of the pack features an excellent strap system which makes it very comfortable to carry. The 1/2 inch padded shoulder straps are highly adjustable, providing plenty of customizable configurations for optimal fit. Unlike other packs we’ve reviewed, the Redwing 44’s load lifter straps allow the pack to sit high and tight to the body, which provides stability and reduces fatigue. The stretchy sternum strap slides along a rail and can be raised or lowered to taste.

Kelty Redwing 44
Kelty Redwing 44

The waist belt of the Redwing 44 is wide and padded, but not too bulky. When cinched tightly, the waist belt transfers the weight of the pack onto your hips, relieving pressure from your shoulders. Kelty utilizes the Scherer Cinch System on the waist belt – a pulley-like system that doubles the tightening force of your pull– allowing users to easily and smoothly tighten the belt by pulling the straps towards the center of the torso in a natural motion. The waist belt is removable.

Kelty Redwing 44

The Redwing 44 support structure is similar to previous iterations in that it utilizes a polyethylene (HDPE) frame sheet for lightweight rigidity along with Kelty’s trademarked LightBeam aluminum back beam for greater support. Unlike previous iterations that had the LightBeam exposed, Kelty has moved the LightBeam in the 2016 version of the Redwing beneath the HDPE frame sheet and  generous back padding. As far as I can tell, this makes no difference when it comes to the structural integrity of the pack, but hiding the beam removes questions on whether the beam would dig into the lumbar during use (it didn’t).

Features

Many of the features on the 2016 version of the Redwing 44 are the same as previous versions of the Redwing, so I won’t reiterate those here. Instead I want to focus on the what is new and improved…and what is still missing.

The main zipper pulls are now plastic loops – very handy when wearing gloves. Unfortunately the zippers are not lockable, which means the pack is not as secure as it could be while traveling. I can’t fathom why Kelty would ignore such a simple and useful addition.

Kelty Redwing 44

The front carry handle and daisy chain loops are now hidden inside a small flap on the outside spine of the pack. They are so hidden, in fact, that I thought at first that Kelty had removed them.

Kelty Redwing 44
Kelty Redwing 44

Kelty has added an additional ice axe loop on the bottom of the pack, which they are also classifying as trekking pole loops. I tend to view them as useless loops, since I still haven’t found any value in them. If I want to carry trekking poles, I would slide them through the pass-through behind the side pockets. The ice axe/trekking pole loops dangle off the bottom sides of the pack, and it would be nice if Kelty had provided velcro tabs for lashing the loops up and out of the way when not in use.

Kelty Redwing 44
Kelty Redwing 44

One of my favorite new features is the addition of elastic bands which come attached to each strap. Rather than allowing the extra portion of each strap to dangle precariously, the elastic bands allow the straps to be wrapped up and stowed neatly.

Kelty Redwing 44

Despite all the improvements, there are still a few glaring omissions that are holding the Redwing 44 from reaching epic status. First off, the Redwing 44 doesn’t come with a rain cover; you have to purchase it separately. While it’s standard fare for backpack companies to sell their rain covers separately, it would be extra nice if Kelty included theirs with the pack (with a hidden pouch to store it). And second (and mentioned above), the Redwing 44 has no built in strap cover panel. This means that the straps are hanging out loose all the time, which puts them at jeopardy on the occasion that you may have to check your bag on an airline.

Weight and Size

The “44” in Kelty Redwing 44 reflects its capacity: 44 liters (2700 cubic inches). With dimensions of 25 x 15 x 12 inches (64 x 38 x 30 cm), it’s slightly larger than the airline industry standard size of 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 36 x 23 cm). Unlike its 50L sibling, the Redwing 44 only comes with a single harness size, but it can accommodate 4 inches (10 cm) of range, from 14.5 inches to 18.5 inches (37-47 cm) torso length.

One of the first things to notice when you pick up the Redwing 44 is its weight…or lack thereof. This pack is light! Weighing in at 2 pounds 10 ounces (1.2 kg), the Redwing 44 is practically the lightest pack in its class. It’s a full pound (.45 kg) lighter than the Tortuga Backpack, and 5 ounces (.14 kg) lighter than the smaller Osprey Farpoint 40.

Length25 in / 64 cm
Width15 in / 38 cm
Height12 in / 30 cm
Weight2.6 lbs / 1.2 kg
Volume2700 in3 / 44 L
Torso Fit Range14.5 - 18.5 in / 37 - 47 cm

Durability

The Redwing 44 is constructed out of Polyester fabric: 420D Polyester fabric for the body and 75 x 150D Tasser Coal fabric for reinforcement.  Despite the fact that Polyester is not as durable as Nylon materials, we used the Redwing 50 for years without any unusual or noticeable wear, so we expect the same longevity from the Redwing 44.

Kelty Redwing 44
Kelty Redwing 44

Price

The Kelty Redwing 44 retails for $124.99 which makes it a great value.The Redwing 44 is available in 3 colors: Black, Ponderosa Pine, and Twilight Blue.

Pros

  • Hybrid loading: Due to the zipper design, the pack can be opened like a clamshell for packing, yet accessed through the top like a top-loader.
  • Comfortable to carry: The strap design, load lifters, and ample padding bring the pack high and tight to the back. The padded waist belt takes the weight off the shoulders and distributes it evenly across the and hips.
  • Plenty of internal space: The bag easily accommodates several packing cubes, a pair (or two) of shoes, toiletries, a jacket, and other accessories in its ample main compartment. Additional gear can be stowed in one of the six additional pockets.
  • Organized: Front pockets have plenty of organizational dividers for small electronics, books, pens, thumb drives, and more.
  • Pass-through pockets: Side pockets have a pass-through sleeve behind them, which is perfect for long items like tripods, trekking poles, or umbrellas.
  • Water bottle pockets: Every decent travel pack should have one.  This bag has two.
  • Durable: The Poly 420D body fabric makes this bag is tough enough for everyday abuse.
  • Laptop sleeve: It’s close to the back, right where it should be.
  • Pull zippers: Easy to open, even with gloves on.
  • Elastic bands: keep straps tidy and out of the way.
  • Lightweight: when every ounce counts, the lightest bag is king.
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Larger than the standard carry-on size: Budget airlines like Ryanair (or overzealous airlines like Itihad) have strict carry-on policies which may result in having to check this bag.
  • No lockable zippers: A minor thing, but something that could easily be added for peace of mind.
  • Panel loading doesn’t open all the way: Another minor thing, especially since I’ve never had any problems loading the pack.  It would just be nice to have the panel unzip all the way and not just 3/4 of the way.
  • No hideaway straps: If you have to check the bag, you can remove the waist belt but the shoulder straps remain.
  • No rain cover: If you want to protect the bag from the elements, you’ll have to buy a rain cover.
  • No safety whistle on sternum buckle: It’s a minor exclusion, but small details matter.
  • Dangling axe loops

12 Comments

  • Ryan Li says:

    I own the previous version and I prefer the previous version of the Redwing. What I’m not digging is the crazy color of the new Redwing. I much prefer the black and especially the coyote brown (the one I actually have) since the coloration is more natural-like and can blend-in easily. I like the original zippers since the plastic zipper looks brittle and I had no trouble using the zippers with winter gloves. I do like the new version’s elastic band since it’s hard to cinch up the original Redwing.

    • David says:

      Ryan, I hear you. Aside from the black, the other colors are definitely more vibrant than the previous versions. That seems to be the trend that a lot of packs are gravitating towards. We have both the black and the pine (green).

  • Che says:

    Did you find that the bag fits well? The specs say that it fits up to 18.5″ torso; so far as I can measure, I’m right around that length (I’m 6′ tall) and I’m worried it might be too short for me to travel 6 months out of. Thoughts?

    • David says:

      Che, I’m 5′ 11″ and it fits me just fine.

      • Che says:

        Nice, I am headed to Southeast Asia and will for the most part just be moving from hostel base to hostel base but occasionally will maybe have a long day of walking in it. I’ve done a lot of research and this seems like the bag to do it in. Was heavily considering the Tortuga but it seems like this bag has a lot of the same features without compromising comfort.

        • David says:

          The Tortuga (which we reviewed here) has some nice features which the Kelty lacks (lockable zippers, hip belt pockets), but it’s not nearly as comfortable as the Kelty Redwing 44. Price also used to be an issue, but Tortuga is retiring its v2 to make room for v3. If you’re interested in the Tortuga, you can get it for a limited time for $124.00 (all sales final), which makes it comparable in price to the Redwing 44.

  • chucho says:

    Are you planning to review the new Redwing 50?

    I’m undecided between the Redwing 44 and the 50. I already have a Farpoint 55 and it’s a great pack for travelling but not so much for hiking. This redwing backpacks are a perfect combination between both worlds. The only thing is that both models are a little longer than carry on size. The 44 I know fits carry-on size even with the aluminum stay still inside, it’s just 1 cm longer than the Farpoint 55 and I fitted that pack into RyanAir’s “measurement bins”. I’m not quite sure about the 50 though, than one is 3 cm longer than the Farpoint 55 and 11 cm longer than standard carry-on size.

    It’d be nice to know if the Redwing 50 can be compressed enough to fit the carry-on bins without removing the aluminum stay.

    • David says:

      We’ve reviewed the previous version of the Redwing 50, and aside from the changes mentioned here in the Redwing 44 review, there isn’t much different except the sizing. We never had any problems using the Redwing 50 as a carry-on, but on smaller planes it could be a real challenge. We’ve even successfully carried the Redwing 50 packs on Ryanair without incident.

      • chucho says:

        Another question David, I wear 36″ jeans, do you think the waist belt is long enough for me? I read a review on the bakcpacks page saying that for 36″ waists the hipbelt is too short.

        • David says:

          I wear pants with a 34″ waist and the belt has several extra inches when fully extended. I would say that it could accommodate a 36″ waist, but probably not a 38″ waist.

  • Dustin says:

    David,

    I’m travelling to Europe for 10 days and paid extra on WOW airlines for a carry on bag up to 26 lbs. This is technically above their allowed dimensions. I also will be taking two flights within Europe and want to make sure I can use this bag as a carry on with little issue when there. Is this something you think can be done with the 44?

    • David says:

      The weight shouldn’t be much of an issue; I rarely load my pack beyond 20 pounds. As for the size, it depends on how lenient they are. If they do a size check, you can try to cram it into their luggage size gauge and make it comply. Hopefully they won’t do a size check and then you’re golden.

      I’ve flown WOW Airlines once, but due to their stringent carry-on rules, we paid for a single, large checked bag for the two of us. It was cheaper than purchasing two carry-on bags.

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