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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
|Length||25 in / 64 cm|
|Width||15 in / 38 cm|
|Height||12 in / 30 cm|
|Weight||2.6 lbs / 1.2 kg|
|Volume||2700 in3 / 44 L|
|Torso Fit Range||14.5 - 18.5 in / 37 - 47 cm|
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.
- 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.
- 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