- Buyer's Guide
Drive By :: Kelty PK 50 backpack
Kelty and I have had a long relationship. When I was 18 and heading off to the beautiful University of Colorado at Boulder, I ventured to Costco to get the usual needs of a freshman. How could I be taken seriously in the land of outdoorsmen if I didn’t have a pack. That’s where my mom helped me pick out my first Kelty bag. Even though I’d chosen the wrong size in my haste I loved that bag all the same. It carried most of my belongings as I moved into the dorms and rode on my shoulders as I hiked into the Rocky Mountains for the first time.
Colorado is where I fell in love with the outdoors and the gear that was needed to explore it. That first Kelty just wasn’t going to cut it on bigger trips. So when I happened upon a 90 + 15 liter beast of a Kelty bag at an outdoor store’s closing down sale I snatched it up – this was my go-to trekking bag for nearly a decade and was held together by duct tape in the end. However, a man — even a young one — needs a bag for more than the trekking, especially when they have itchy traveller’s feet – and you can guess what I was drawn to next, a Kelty.
Fast forward to today, and Kelty is still making quality bags. I got to test out Kelty’s newly designed flagship bag. It’s called the PK 50 and is part of the complete TraiLogic system which has a pack, sleeping mat, and sleeping bag that are designed to fit well together. I’ve not come across such an ambitious trekking bag design goal in a while…no zippers. Kelty is not the only brand out there with a zipper-less bag, but it was refreshing to see an established brand — founded way back in 1952 — still innovating. They had three benefits in mind: reduced weight, increased waterproofness, and built-in compression. The idea was ambitious.
To really grasp what the design is like look closely at the photos or the video further below. There are essentially five compartments and three mesh pouches. A main compartment with a large mesh pouch on the front, a detachable flap on the front with one large roll-top compartment and one small one, and two batwing-like flap compartments that run the length of the pack on either side and have an external mesh pocket on each. The batwing-like flaps have compression straps that wrap around the front of the whole pack, helping to compress everything into a tight and neat package.
I took the bag on a long day trek through the Dandenong Ranges and an overnight trip through the beautiful Grampians. I used it with my normal camping gear instead of the complete TraiLogic system in order to give a review of just the bag.
Who It Suits
At 50L max capacity this bag is somewhere between an overnight bag and a multi-night trekking solution. It easily becomes a 35L bag which is about the right size for a long day hike if you’re needing to bring some gear with you. It’s also well suited for anyone who wants a completely new experience. The zipper-free design feels novel when you’re using it which definitely adds to the pleasure.
Who It Doesn’t Suit
Anybody who feels they need a bit more space while trekking. The bag has just enough room where you need it but nothing more. Maybe Kelty will design a 70L version, but until then give this one a miss if you’re not already well versed at packing light.
The aesthetics are in a word, unique. The bag caught the attention of more than a few of my friends on the trail. There is a detachable flap that runs the length of the front of the pack that once clipped in gets hugged and compressed by two batwing-like compartments on either side. This creates an interesting look, almost alien-like, and it looks striking in the black/grey.
The compression straps that come off the batwings squeeze the whole bag and are great. Not only did they provide excellent compression but they gave you an easy place to store your rain coat. The way they are designed — to hug the rest of the bag’s contents — is the best whole bag compression system I’ve used to date. Most bags have a couple of side compression straps which leave a bit to be desired.
The highlight of the pack is the 15L front flap that’s designed to carry your clothes and a few small items. By making it detachable it’s very convenient to bring your clothes with you into the tent or to leave it behind altogether for a shorter hike, essentially converting the 50L pack into a 35L pack.
If you need a sleeping mat and tent then you should consider getting the complete TraiLogic system. They are designed to fit well together, for instance the tent folds into a square and is meant to slide into the large mesh pouch on the front of the main compartment. If you want to learn a bit more of how the complete system is supposed to go together, watch this:
Remember the no zippers part? All compartments but the batwings have roll-top enclosures. The roll-tops make the bag more watertight and allow you to compress the contents with an extra roll or two of the enclosure. If you haven’t overfilled the bag these roll-tops do provide some welcomed compression to items like clothing. The roll-tops allowed me to compress the contents of the bag so that everything was nice and snug, making everything I carried feel secure while I cruised up and down the trails.
Although I enjoyed the novelty of using a zipper-free bag the practicality fell short of my expectations. The roll-tops, a great idea in theory, proved more of a nuisance than a benefit. When loading or unloading the bag I found the openings to the roll-tops small. For example, getting my regularly compressed sleeping bag in and out was a challenge. Once rolled, the closures didn’t feel well supported in the middle. If I either had too much stuff in the bag or tried to roll the tops really tight the middle of the closure would awkwardly bulge out, sometimes to the point of exposing the contents. I think this problem could be mostly remedied with a buckle and strap midway along each roll-top to better secure it in place – if you’re into modding your bag, it would be the first mod I’d make.
The other feature I felt was missing was an externally accessible compartment where you could store things like your headlamp, snacks, knife, etc. Packs typically have a zippered pouch on top that you can reach without taking the pack off. For the PK 50 this small compartment is on the top of the front flap. It is two clips and a roll-top enclosure away from being opened, making it impossible to access while hiking. I didn’t think it was a big deal until my belly started rumbling 45 minutes down the trail and I had to take the bag off to reach my snacks.
While not a big loss, the batwing compartments are pretty useless when the main compartment and front flap are full. The waist strap and shoulder straps are adequate but nothing special, though I do prefer the thin straps Kelty has used on this bag over big bulky shoulder straps and waist belts that are common on other bags.
Kelty has pushed the boundaries of both concept and design with the TraiLogic bag. It will no doubt turn heads and make you feel like you’re using a whole new kind of technology. I applaud their efforts in innovation; however, the bag fell short of my expectations in versatility and function. With a few small improvements I could see this bag becoming something worth recommending to everyone, but as it stands now I’d say go for it if you’d like to try something completely different or if you’re prone to breaking zippers on the trail. With the complete TraiLogic set it may perform much better, so if you’re in need of a new sleeping bag, a mat, a tent, and a backpack then their complete package might be a good option for you.