Earlier this Spring, we received a complete slate of Kelty’s newest showstopper, the TraiLogic Collection. Kelty is one of the few companies with the chutzpah to offer high-performance products in multiple gear disciplines: this new collection features a backpack, tent, sleeping bag and pad which are all designed with both individual and collective function in mind. First off, we’re jumping into the foundation of the collection, the PK 50 backpack.
Kelty TrailLogic PK 50 Backpack Features:
- Top loading
- Roll-top opening
- Roll-closure sleeping bag compartment
- Converts from 50L to 35L
- Compression wings
- Stretch mesh water-bottle pockets
- Stretch mesh front pocket
- Integrated pull-out raincover
- Hydration compatible
- Weight: 3 lbs 2 oz. / 1.4 kg
- MSRP: $199
Comfort Meets Organization Meets Thrift
Backpacks are make-or-break pieces of gear. It’s really the connection through which you interface with all the rest of your gear throughout the day; if a pack doesn’t carry your load well then you’ll spend the day cursing the fact that you didn’t tear those labels off of the Mountain House or cut your toothbrush a little shorter. A good pack should also be organized, durable and reasonably light. The PK 50 needs to be able to fill all of these needs and play a specific role within the whole TraiLogic Collection.
The backpack looks something like this. There’s a large 35L main compartment complete with hydration sleeve and a partitioned sleeping bag compartment. Next up is a large, detachable 15 pocket that swings down over the front of the pack and buckles down tight to the main body. Sitting at the bottom are two generously stretchy water bottle pockets and, beneath those, an attached rain cover. The entire package weighs in at an extremely respectable 3lb 2oz which is really quite good for the 50L category.
The PK 50 is certainly one of the more innovative packs on the market as far as organization is concerned. The designed is centered around basic backpacking principles: heavy things should be located as close to the back as possible while lighter things can be further away. The main 35L compartment is ideal for holding the tent, cooking gear and other dense objects; meanwhile, the 15L detachable pocket is a good fit for clothes and other lightweight gear. In practice this system has numerous advantages; I love being able to detach the big pocket and use it as a pillow inside of the tent. Meanwhile, the 35L main body has two large ‘wings’ that each feature a long, deep pocket ideal for maps, tent poles or trash – these buckle over the pack body and do a great job at stabilizing the load.
One of Kelty’s most unique features was the choice to remove all zippers from the PK 50. They make the compelling point that zippers are easy victims for backcountry rigor and instead they opt for drybag-style rolltop closures. These simple closures tend to compress well and don’t have the same durability issues that zippers do; on the other hand, they’re spread over such long lengths on the pack that it can be tough to get a good closure when the pockets are particularly full. I’m mixed on these and I question the assertion that zippers break like flies in the backcountry, but Kelty’s solution works well enough that I’m satisfied.
Suspension is a crucial part of a backpack and this appears to be one area in which Kelty chose to cut a little cost. Rather than an elaborate aluminum frame, Kelty’s solution is a simple central stay and and a rigid frame sheet. This design is sufficient for moderate loads but I would be reluctantly to carry more than 40 pounds with this design. The main contact points are done in a soft squishy mesh which is really my only source of exasperation.
In principle, the suspension design looks quite a bit like the Sierra Designs Revival 50 which we raved about last year. This makes sense since Sierra Designs and Kelty belong to the same parent company, but Kelty’s iteration in the PK 50 is clearly oriented towards saving costs. The foam of the padding is just slightly on the soft side, which means it doesn’t offer sufficient support over long periods of time and tends to mash down into a dense, unpleasant mass. However, Kelty made sure to put a firmer foam into the shoulder harness so, to be clear, the soft foam is only a problem on the back panel.
Foam aside, I like the back panel design – it has the same prodigious ventilation capacity as the Revival but with considerably more lumbar support. The single aluminum stay does its job admirably well, but this sort of design was never meant to excel under heavy loads. I’d say the pack’s maximum comfortable carry is around 45 pounds, but 40 is a more reasonable limit; this is partly driven by the somewhat tinkerbell-esque hip belt which is has very light construction and padding. I spent most of my time packing gear in the 30 pound range. To cap off the suspension, Kelty’s Scherer Cinch straps are an excellent addition to the PK 50. It’s a forward-pull waist belt design which is much easier to tighten well. To the PK 50’s credit, the straps didn’t creep at all from Day 1. There was really no break-in time and all of the straps (notably the load stabilizers) perform their job as expected.
The subject of straps brings me to my second significant gripe. Traditionally, the ends of a strap are sewn with a perpendicular stitch so that it’s easy to get a grip and pull them. For whatever reason, Kelty finished off their straps with a parallel stitch which basically tapers off the end of the strap, making it difficult to pull on in the best conditions and nearly impossible to horse on with cold or clumsy fingers. After this review is completed I’ll be chopping off the ends of the straps and re-stitching them in the traditional design.
The Big Picture
So, we know that what makes the PK 50 special is really how it functions within the TraiLogic Collection; sure, it’s supposed to be great on its own but what makes it really great is how it interfaces with the rest of the collection. The PK 50 is the foundation upon which the rest of the collection is built. For example, the TN 2 (which we’ll cover soon) packs into a square stuffsack which is specifically designed to play nicely with the stretchy main pocket on the outside of the 35L main pack. The PDa (air pad) also folds into a square package that slots neatly in with the sleeping bag in its compartment. The sleeping bag compartment on the PK 50 features the rolltop closure that we mentioned earlier; it works well down there and doesn’t catch on sleeping bag fabric like a zipper does.
The interface with the tent brings me to my last gripe with the PK 50. If you don’t put the tent where it’s designed to go (ie, in that pocket) you virtually have no other option; you can’t put it in the main 35L compartment because then there is almost no other space to hold gear. The thing is, I’d prefer to have my tent at the top of my pack in a location where the suspension is going to really take on its bulk; sandwiched in the middle as Kelty has designed it, the tent feels oddly placed within the pack’s layout.
- Lightweight, robust construction at a good price
- Very creative feature set – tons of innovation on display
- The rolltop closures eliminate zipper snags and breakages
- Solid suspension design has good lumbar support and ventilation
- No notable strap creeping throughout testing
- Detachable 15L pocket adds versatility/makes a great pillow
- Compression straps are thoughtfully placed and hold the load well
- Rolltop closures don’t work well when pockets are very full
- Main backpanel foam pads are middling
- Tent carrying design limits options
- Strap end design is awful – needs to be scrapped. It’s an easy fix though.
- Single aluminum stay and featherweight hip belt limit the comfortable carrying weight limit
The Bottom Line
Our foray into the TraiLogic has left us impressed thus far, but we still have a tent and a sleeping bag to cover! That said, the PK 50 is impressive on its own; I especially like its low weight and competitive price and it carries moderate weights very well. As Kelty intended, the PK 50 shines on its own but it really comes into the spotlight as part of TraiLogic. The PK 50 is easy to recommend for experienced backpackers on a budget, beginners looking for structure and organization, or anybody who wants a lightweight and innovative backpack.
Buy Now: Available at REI