Kelty Redwing 50 Backpack Review
When it comes to packing your travel gear, there’s nothing better than being able to pack it in the perfect travel backpack. Unfortunately, the perfect travel backpack doesn’t exist. The Kelty Redwing 50 does a stand up job, however. Allow us to sing its praises…and point out its faults.
The Kelty Redwing 50 is one of the best selling packs in the industry. Just watch an episode of The Amazing Race and chances are you’ll see a team racing with one of the Redwing bags. The Kelty Redwing 50 is not a new pack, per se, but rather the reincarnation of the classic Kelty Redwing 2900. Since its release as the Redwing 50, the bag has evolved and is now in its second iteration.
The Kelty Redwing 50 is not designed to be a travel pack, but it fits the bill rather nicely. Even though it is missing a few desirable travel features, it still functions quite well and meets most of the needs of frequent travelers.
Zena and I both travel with the Redwing 50, although mine is the older version and she uses the latest version.
Update: Since this review, we’ve both begun traveling with the Kelty Redwing 44, which has a similar design in a more compact footprint. Feel free to check out our review of the Redwing 44.
Ease of Packing
Any decent travel backpack should have a panel opening for ease of packing. Top-loading packs may be okay for backpacking and camping, but having to dig out all your travel gear to get to something at the bottom just isn’t practical. The Redwing 50 features a panel opening that unzips nearly all the way, but not quite. The zipper only opens 3/4 of the way, making it a little more difficult to access items in the base of the pack. If you utilize packing cubes, quickly accessing bottom items might not be that difficult, but I see no reason why Kelty could not have allowed the zipper to span a little further for a more full opening. The older Redwing 50s have a U-shaped clamshell-style zipper opening, while the newer models have a hybrid zipper design that allows the bag to function as both a panel and top-loader.
Panel loading the Redwing 50 (with cat photo bomb).
Where the Redwing 50 really shines is in its plethora of pockets. While there is such a thing as too many pockets, the Redwing 50 has just enough to help you stay organized. In addition to the large, main compartment, the Redwing 50 has two large water-bottle-sized zipper pockets on each side. Each of the side zipper pockets has a pass-through area between the pocket and the main bag, which is great for stowing longer items like a tripod.
There are two mesh pockets on each side at the base of the pack. A mid-sized compartment on the back of the pack contains additional small organizational pockets, which are great for keys, notebooks, pens, small electronic devices, and personal items.
Aside from the standard pocket configuration, there are several additional pockets that differ between the new and old iterations of the bag. The newer Redwing 50 features a large top pocket in the dome portion of the lid – great for storing rain jackets, food, or other practical items. The size of the top pocket is handy, but the zipper is too close to the main zipper, resulting in occasional accidental unzips.
The older Redwing 50 has a small inner pouch inside the mid-sized compartment flap which was great for hiding infrequently accessed papers, such as photocopies of passports, health records, and insurance information. The old version also featured a vertical, Napoleon-style zip pocket on the outside, which works well for storing papers, brochures, and receipts collected along the journey. I’m not sure why Kelty decided to do away with either of these pockets, as they both take up hardly any room and would have worked well in the newer version.
This vertical pocket was handier than it looks.
The Redwing 50 is a comfortable bag to carry, even fully loaded. The 1/2 inch shoulder straps place the bag squarely on the shoulders. Shoulder pulls allow the straps to be adjusted, pulling the pack high and tight to the body. The shoulder straps feature an adjustable sternum strap. It would be nice if Kelty included a safety whistle buckle on the sternum strap (like the Osprey Farpoint or several REI packs), although this is not a deal breaker.
The Redwing 50 has wide waist belt that can be cinched tightly, putting the weight of the pack comfortably on your hips instead of your shoulders. The hip belt can be removed when not in use, but the shoulder straps stay put. Unfortunately there is no storage mechanism for enclosing the straps for airline bag check, a la other bags designed for travel.
Support for the pack comes from a single aluminum back beam (which comes pre-bent, but can be adjusted to taste), along with a rigid polyethylene frame sheet. The amply padded back of the pack has good airflow that keeps you fairly cool. I have yet to find a backpack that will totally eliminate the sweaty back syndrome in the most hot and humid environments.
The outside of the Redwing 50 is fairly low key, which makes it suitable for travel (anything dangly on a travel pack is a potential hazard). A set of daisy chain straps are stitched to the bottom of the pack, and a vertical back handle design allows items to be attached to the outside of the bag. An ice pick loop comes comes attached, but is pretty useless for traveling purposes. Two sturdy carry handles – one on the top and one on the back – provide multiple carrying configurations.
The Redwing 50 is hydration compatible, with a dedicated hydration sleeve and valve access. This might be great for back country use, but for travel its a bit of a moot feature. I use the hydration pocket to store papers and flat objects. From a traveler’s perspective, it would be better if the hydration pocket was replaced with a laptop sleeve. Getting a laptop or tablet out of the Redwing 50 when going through airport security can be a frustrating exercise.
The Redwing 50 doesn’t come with a rain cover. If you want to keep the bag dry during a downpour, you’ll have to purchase the Kelty rain cover separately. Boo.
Weight and Size
The Redwing 50 – aptly named to reflect its (nearly) 50-liter capacity – comes in two sizes: S/M and M/L. Each differs slightly in size, weight, and capacity, although both are larger than the standard airline carry-on allowance of 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 36 x 23 cm). We’ve never been required by any airline to check the bags, although we do get suspicious looks by airline personnel if the bags are stuffed to the maximum. On smaller planes, we gate check the bags simply because they won’t fit into the tiny overhead bins. Four external compression straps help cinch down the load and pull it closer to the body.
Both sizes weigh in at just over 3 pounds (1.5 kg) making it one of the lightest packs in its class.
|Length||24 in / 61 cm||26 in / 66 cm|
|Width||15 in / 38 cm||16 in / 41 cm|
|Height||12 in / 31 cm||12 in / 31 cm|
|Weight||3.2 lbs / 1.5 kg||3.5 lbs / 1.6 kg|
|Volume||3000 in3 / 49 L||3100 in3 / 52 L|
The Redwing 50 is constructed out of Polyester fabric: 420D Polyester Ball fabric for the body and 450D Polyester Oxford fabric for reinforcement. Despite the fact that Polyester is not as durable as Nylon materials, the Redwing 50 has held up for us quite nicely over the years without any unusual or noticeable wear.
The zippers on the pack are heavy duty and will last for years. The zippers contain rope-style pulls. The older version’s zipper pulls had aluminum sleeves around the all the ropes, but the newer version only includes the sleeves on the organizational pocket. The zippers are unfortunately lacking lock loops, so there is no way to properly secure the pack with a lock. Kelty, if you’re listening, adding lockable zippers would be an easy and welcome addition.
The Kelty Redwing 50 retails for $124.95, although you can often get it for less than $100.00. Given its features, this makes it quite a value. The Redwing 50 comes in 5 color options: black, blue (indigo), green (forest night), brown (caper), and red (port).
- 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 and ample padding takes the weight off the shoulders and distributes it evenly across the back 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.
- 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, walking sticks, or umbrellas.
- Water bottle pockets: Every decent travel pack should have one. This bag has two.
- Durable: Despite the lack of nylon fabric, this bag is tough enough for everyday abuse.
- Larger than the standard carry-on size: I’ve been getting away with it for years and no airline has yet to call me out on the size of my pack, but I’m anticipating the day when an over-zealous airline employee demands that I check my over-the-limit bag.
- No laptop sleeve: When it comes to going through airport security, there’s just no easy way of removing your laptop for inspection.
- 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.
The Kelty Redwing 50 is a great backpack for travel in spite of the fact that it is not specifically designed for that purpose. While there are several missing travel features that would make this bag excel, it’s size, comfort, organization, and price make this bag worthy of your round-the-world trip.
Great site! And thanks for your helpful review of the Kelty Redwing 50 pack. I’m thinking of getting one, primarily for the 6 months each year that I spend in Nepal and India, but also for general hikes and camping trips. Can I ask, what do you think is the load/ weight limit of this bag? Ideally I’d like to be able to carry 15-17kg maximum on the rare occasion I need to (otherwise I’d probably use it as my sole travel bag, taking it as carry on luggage).
Peter, I have no doubt the Redwing 50 would be capable of carrying 15-17kg worth of gear. If you indeed load 15-17kg worth of gear into the pack, I’d love to see a picture of your kit. Airline carry-on restrictions vary from carrier to carrier and range from 7kg (15 lbs) to no limit. The safe carry-on average is 10kg (22 lbs). That doesn’t mean that you can’t purchase a bunch of gear at your destination and increase your load, however.
Thanks for getting back to me about the Redwing 50, very helpful! Can I ask, how well does it compress down? UK airlines like Ryanair can be merciless, as I’m sure you know! Just wondering, if one removed the aluminium stay (and stored this inside the pack perhaps), can the pack be compressed lengthways? I was thinking that perhaps I could run an extra compression strap over the top of the pack, either from the front daisy chain to the top carry handle, or sideways from one side compression strap over the top to the other. Lastly (if you don’t mind) have you tried carrying it for long hikes – if so, how do the shoulder and waist straps hold up – still comfortable?
I know what you mean when it comes to budget airlines being merciless. We recently had to pay extra to check our packs on a WOW Air flight to Iceland since they only allow carry-on luggage to be a maximum of 5 kg (11 lbs). In such instances, we just buckle down and pay the extra fee to check our bags; there’s really no way around it.
Honestly I’ve never tried to remove the aluminum stay. I’m not sure how easy it would be to remove it, and even if you did, I can’t speak with authority on how the bag would be compressed lengthways. As for carrying the pack for long periods of time, the shoulder and waist straps hold up admirably. Each strap can be adjusted to taste and comfort level.
Not sure if you’ve already figured it out, but if so, I’d love an update!
I’ve been trying to figure this out while planning to bring my Kelty 50L backpacking around Europe on Ryanair. This blogger says that it is possible by packing light: [http://thesavvybackpacker.com/ryanair-survival-guide-tips-for-flying-ryanair/] but you would either have to really cinch the bottom of the pack up (which might be a problem if your bulkiest item is at the bottom of the pack) or take out the backing and rod and then compress it to the 55cm. I’ve been able to take out the backing and rod, and with practice, it slides out easily. However, it is a sweaty mess trying to fit it in with my compressed sack of clothing, tech, and toiletries. To pack it as a carry-on, the hip strap might also have to come off (although I’ve been thinking I might be able to just wear it around my waist as a funky belt).
Hey… So did you get eventually on board with backpack? Also I guess you left backing and rod at home?
Thank you for your superbly-thorough analysis and photos; it’s been very helpful as I contemplate which travel carry-on backpack to buy. One of the main benefits I see in the Redwing is that it appears to be well-suited to regular hiking and (overnight) backpacking, and not just travelling (like the Tortuga). It’s actually the only travel-friendly backpack I’ve seen that has a compartment for a hydration bladder, for example, and that’s definitely something I want in a multi-day trekking pack. Are there any other backpacks you’ve seen that you think would serve both travelling and overnight backpacking well?
Also, I read on another travel blog that the aluminum back beam can be very uncomfortable, because the metal bars are exposed and sit directly against your spine. Did you find that to be the case?
Steve, we mostly use our packs for travel rather than multi-day trekking, so I can’t really speak with authority on other packs that may be well-suited for that job. As for the aluminum back beam, the metal bar is indeed exposed but is nestled into a groove in the padding. I’ve never once felt it against my spine, as the ample padding is built up around it to prevent it from making contact. With the right pressure, the aluminum back beam can be bent and altered to fit the specific curvature of your back. I would assume that those who have experienced discomfort from the aluminum beam have it configured incorrectly.
Hi. which size backpack do you use? im around 5’11 and wondering whether i can get away with a s/m or should go with the m/l.
I’m also 5′ 11″ and use a M/L. I think the S/M would be a little small, even though the size differences are slight.
I’m 6`, 170 lbs and the M/L fits me well; I think the S/M would *definitely* be too small. Make sure you follow the instructions for how to load it with weight and tighten all the straps the first time, because it has a lot of different straps to adjust its fit. It took me at least 30 minutes of playing around with the straps before I had a fit that I felt really good about.
Oh, and one other observation, which I only read one person mention: the shoulder straps are a bit close together at the top. I’m a 15″ neck in dress shirts, and I’d hazard a guess that an 18″ or 19″ neck would be wide enough to rub against the shoulder straps.
Hi. Thanks for the comparison. Where does the Redwing 3100 fit in? Would it be older than 2900? If so, what features were improved since then? Thanks!
It appears that the Redwing 3100 is newer than the 2900 and the precursor to the Redwing 50 (v1). In appearance, it was the transitional link between the 2900 and the Redwing 50. While I can’t be sure of the interior design, the most notable differences in the early model (circa 2007) are the side pockets which had top flaps rather than long side zippers, the lack of a carry handle on the outside back of the pack, and additional lashing loops along the outside spine. Later iterations (circa 2008) brought it more in line with the Redwing 50 (v1).
How can I remove hip belt
It looks like directly connected with Aluminum Beam
Have you ever looked at a smaller one, being Redwing 44, it looks like it’s just the right size for the carry on?
Yehor, I just received the 2016 version of the Redwing 44 from Kelty and we’re in the process of reviewing it. Stay tuned for the review and the verdict which will be available shortly.
Yehor, due to our schedule I’ve been delayed on reviewing the Redwing 44, but I’ve finally had time to get it posted.
Hi I’ve just got one of these backpacks and am travelling for 3 weeks in Canada. Thing is I need to take trainers and flip flops and sandals. Will it fit 3 pairs of shoes? You mentioned 1 in your blog and I panicked! Thanks
Bethan, it depends on how many other things you pack alongside your shoes. Sandals and flip flops are pretty flat, so I can fit two pair in my pack. As for trainers, I’m normally wearing them when I travel since they’re my bulkiest pair of shoes.
How do you like the new version of Kelty Redwing 44 (2016) Compared to the older one? I am thinking of purchasing one but not sure of the durability on the new mesh padded sholder straps.
Eugene, we’ve been using the Redwing 44 for the past 10 months and it’s held up wonderfully…just as you would expect from a Kelty bag. The mesh on the shoulder straps shows no signs of wear. You can read our recently published review of the Redwing 44 for more details.
Thank you for replying and for the excellent review of the Redwing 44. I am noticing that airlines are becoming more stricter when it comes to carry-on bag sizes. How difficult is it to remove the aluminum stay the 2016 Redwing 44? Is it even possible? Perhaps by removing it one could compress the bag to fit the 22 inch maximum? Otherwise I may have to settle for the previous version of this bag.
The aluminum stay can be removed from inside the bag. I wouldn’t say it’s easy to remove, per se. You have to be dedicated to get it out, but it is possible. Once it’s out, the amount of vertical compression depends on how much the bag is stuffed.
Hi! I have this backpack and i love it, i would recommend to buy the rain cover because its not waterproof.
I have a question, the straps from the hip belt are too long, how can i adjuste them so they are not hanging?.
Older Redwing models do not have any mechanism for securing the dangling straps, I’m afraid. The 2016 and later versions have a band system which allows the straps to be rolled up cleanly (as seen in our review of the Redwing 44).
Hi, what are the interior dimensions of the main compartment? I’m trying to figure out if my padded camera insert will fit. It is 7″ deep, 11.5″ wide, and 11″ high.
John, the interior dimensions for the Redwing 50 are 16 x 11 x 6 inches. The width and height measurements are to the back board of the pack, with a little subtracted for the roundness of the top (which might affect the use of a square camera insert).
As for the 6 inch depth, that’s the approximate measurement at the base of the pack. It’s tough to measure precisely since the pack is floppy. You may be able to fit a semi-rigid padded camera insert into the pack.
Thank you very much David