A Review: Kelty Redwing 44
Those who have been here for a while know that I’m one of those odd minimalist people, so I try to really limit all the stuff I own. It just makes life easier, especially when you’re moving all over the place. But there’s one weakness I have. Oh, the irony, that the one thing I crave the most is the thing tasked with holding all of my other stuff. I just love a good bag. After all, it is probably the most important part of a traveler’s kit, so it’d damn well better be a good one.
The last bag I tested out has now been relegated to “day trip”. The Fjällräven Kånken Maxi is a great backpack - roomy, durable, comfortable, utilitarian design - but it’s simply not big enough for a “one bag”, in my opinion. Of course, everyone’s situation is different, but I personally need something bigger. Something that is the perfect combination of space, comfort, and design, tailored with the world traveler in mind. I think I found it, guys.
The Kelty Redwing 44 is the Holy Grail of travel backpacks.
This is actually not the first Kelty product I’ve reviewed. When I traveled to Iceland in 2012, I lived in my Kelty Salida 2 for three months. Solid product. But that post was so old that I relegated it to Spartan Wanderer’s archive ebook. I wasn’t really aware that they also made backpacks, and they certainly never came up as a big player like Osprey or Deuter when I was doing my research back then. Well, I was also a complete noob in regard to outdoor gear back then, but that’s beside the point. I found it now, and I’m a fan.
Why this bag is special
The problem I have with bags in general is that they lean heavily in one of two directions. Either they’re squarely in the “outdoors” category with loose straps hanging everywhere and not very convenient to get into or they aim for that sleek business traveler aesthetic, yet are not very comfortable or practically designed. With the possible exception of Tom Bihn and Tortuga (I have not tried either of their backpacks), I haven’t really seen anyone marry the two as effectively as Kelty. Not everyone wants to be labeled a backpacker, but they still want a versatile pack that they can use in situations other than moving through the airport.
Features I love
Hybrid loading - Similar to the conundrum above, we’re often forced to choose between top-loading and panel-loading backpacks. The Redwing 44 has a U-shaped zipper design that allows you to use the bag both ways. This makes it both easy to pack and easy to find things when you’re on the move.
Pockets that make sense - Some companies seem to make a bag with as many pockets as possible, just ‘cause. Hey, guys, it’s not a marketable feature if they’re not convenient in real life situations. The Redwing has plenty, and they all get used. My favorite is the “stash” pocket on the front, which is perfect for storing a jacket or something similar that you need easy access to.
Loose straps can be stowed - This is a constant source of irritation for me and the absence of annoying straps is one of the primary reasons I got the Kånken Maxi. The Redwing does have several straps, but they have elastic loops attached so you can roll up and stow the straps once your adjustments have been made.
Removable waist belt - If you’re carrying a light load and/or don’t want to look like a nerd, you can remove the waist belt. I have never seen this in a bag before, and I love it. I don’t recommend removing it if the bag is full because it is a major pillar of the bag's very comfortable support system, but the option is there.
I’m not in the business of buying things just so I have to replace them again within the year. A good backpack should last years if it’s packed intelligently and not being used beyond it’s recommended weight. The primary fabric used in this bag is Poly 420D, which is strong enough to last without sacrificing weight. The support system of the back is augmented by an aluminum insert, which is obviously not going to break any time soon. I’ve only owned the bag for around 6 months and I used it on a trip back to China as well as a round trip to London. I have not seen any damage whatsoever despite carrying significant weights and leaving the bag at the mercy of the airline when gate-checking. It’s too early to form a comprehensive opinion on its durability, but I’m happy with what I’ve seen so far.
Anyone who has flown internationally and elects to use a backpack over a roller understands how important an effective support system is. You're already going to be sitting on a plane for half a day; it would suck to put your back out before enduring manmade sky-purgatory. In addition to avoiding physical injury, I don't want to work up a sweat and smell bad before I even sit down beside my unlucky neighbor for the next 14 hours. The Redwing 44 is built with both of these problems in mind. First off, I don't think I've ever had a more comfortable backpack. They Dynamic AirFlow back panel provides support as well as a pathway for ventilation, aided by the hexagonal mesh that covers both the panel and the straps. I'm also amazed at the luxurious cushioning this bag has on the back panel, so much so that I might try to use it on my next extended backpacking trip. Overall, this is a great bag if you're tall, lanky, and blessed with an inflexible frame such as my own.
Utilitarian minimalism vs. aesthetic minimalism
It’s funny. Minimalism used to be a virtually counter culture phenomenon rejecting consumerism and all that. These days, people who identify with it and the “buy it for life” philosophy have ironically become a target market. It's apparent in all of these newer packs - many with origins on Kickstarter or other crowdfunding sites - with that instantly recognizable aesthetic that screams, "We want to be the Apple of x!" Sometimes it works, a lot of the time it's garbage in practice. Don't get me wrong, I love the aesthetics of minimalism. I'm kind of scratching my head at the direction Apple is currently going in at the moment, but the aluminum unibody is a revolutionary design that has influenced an entire generation of products. These kind of products do often catch my eye, but these companies often forget that a lot of minimalists out there, me included, are always going to care more about the utility of a product than its aesthetics. Kelty has done an excellent job in making a bag that exemplifies this utility over aesthetics philosophy without sacrificing much in the way of a neutral design appropriate for all travelers.
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