Kelty Redwing 50 Backpack Review

Jul 25, 2014 | Gear, Review | 25 comments

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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.

Overview

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.

Kelty Redwing 50 Evolution

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.

Loaded Kelty Redwing 50

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.

Kelty Redwing 50 Water Bottle Pocket

Water Bottle Pocket

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.

Kelty Redwing 50

Organizational Pocket

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.

Kelty Redwing 50

This vertical pocket was handier than it looks.

Comfort

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.

Kelty Redwing 50

Back padding and straps

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.

Features

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.

Kelty Redwing 50

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.

Available SizesS/MM/L
Length24 in / 61 cm26 in / 66 cm
Width15 in / 38 cm16 in / 41 cm
Height12 in / 31 cm12 in / 31 cm
Weight3.2 lbs / 1.5 kg3.5 lbs / 1.6 kg
Volume3000 in3 / 49 L3100 in3 / 52 L

Durability

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.

Price

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).

Kelty Redwing 50

Compression straps pull the bag closer to the body. Pass-through pockets allow stowage of long items, like a tripod.

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 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.

Cons

  • 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.
  • Ease of Packing
  • Comfort
  • Features
  • Weight and Size
  • Durability
  • Price
4.2

Summary

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.

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