overly flexible frame not suitable for large loads
The Kelty Redcloud 90 provides supporting evidence of Kelty’s strong reputation as the maker of the best first-backpacks for novices. The Redcloud 90 is inexpensive enough o make it attractive to novices, but after the first few trips with it, hikers quickly want to upgrade.
One vital redeeming characteristic of the Kelty Redcloud 90 is that it is the second lightest pack in the test group. That fact goes a long way in allowing us to forgive it for its flaws. What flaws? One notable flaw in the comfort category are the blocks of padding in the suspension system. These conform to the back only with pressure, but that pressure causes pinch points. The pads are also covered with a mesh material that feels abrasive on bare skin. Another concern we found with the Redcloud was the lack of adjustment in the torso length of the pack—either it fits, or it doesn’t.
The Kelty Redcloud 90 was the worst performing in storage ratings, mostly due to its narrow body compartment, and commensurate high center of gravity when fully loaded. It does have good access to the main storage area, with zippered access into the main compartment on the bottom and a horseshoe zipper into the main compartment. The top pocket is easily detached with two buckles. There is a large zippered pocket on either side, in addition to a zippered pocket on either side of the waist belt.
The Kelty scored poorly in the stability rating, primarily because of the lack of pivot – the two wings of the waist belt are rigidly attached to the main body and frame, giving it no flex when leaning to the left or right. The tall, narrow pack design also creates a high center of gravity simply because all the contents have to be stacked rather than loaded side-by-side in the bottom of the pack. The frame – a simple design of two vertical aluminum stays –affords some flexibility, but only modest support for big loads. The Redcloud also has a removable main body compartment divider, which when removed makes loading easier, but also can exacerbate top heaviness by encouraging improper weight distribution.
The Kelty Redcloud 90 proved to be the least durable pack in this group. Perhaps most consequentially, the seam where the shoulder strap connects to the body of the bag is thin, and with enough time and force it will fail, and the shoulder padding will tear off. The water bottle sleeve mesh is underweight and will start to disintegrate with friction, and the drawstring closing the main body compartment is basic and doesn’t inspire much confidence. The back sleeve is also ringed by some mesh that will snag on anything sharp. Besides these design vulnerabilities, the rest of the exterior is pretty tough and water resistant.
At $220, the Kelty Redcloud is the least expensive pack we tested, but it does offer a number of extra features worth noting. There are buckled straps on the bottom to allow users to attach bulky tents or sleeping bags to the bottom exterior of the pack — doing this can help minimize the pack’s problems with a high center of gravity. There are two water bottle sleeves on the pack body, though we found it a struggle to insert larger bottles into them. A pair of handles on the sides of the pack allow hikers to lift and tote pack like a sack of potatoes.
Scott Morris guides backpacking expeditions and hiking trips for Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. He is a writer, traveler, and runner. Scott tests backpacking equipment.