Kelty TraiLogic PK 50 Backpack First Impression

I recently got a chance to see the Kelty TraiLogic PK 50 backpack in person.  Ever since this pack was first shown at the Outdoor Retailer show I’ve been dying to get my hands on one to see what its like.  The PK 50 is a backpack made to work in conjunction with the other TraiLogic pieces of gear Kelty is producing.  If you buy the TraiLogic tent, sleeping pad and sleeping bag they will all fit perfectly into specialized compartments – maximizing fit and packability.  This is a really cool idea (one I’ve never seen before) and, while I enjoy piecing together the best gear regardless of manufacturer, I really like the idea of an entire set of gear made to work together from the ground up.  The other very unique thing about this pack, and arguably the most revolutionary change in pack design since the padded hip belt was introduced in the late 1960’s, is the fact that there isn’t a single zipper used ANYWHERE on this pack.  You can see why I was itching to see what this pack was like in person.

Disclaimer: I have not tested this pack “in the wild”.  I have only played around with it in a friends garage.  The thoughts I have are from that experience.  I’d love to hear from someone who has taken this out on a trip – especially if they have the matching tent and sleeping bag/pad.

So, on to the review.  From a general standpoint I really like this pack.  It seemed to fit comfortably with just the right amount of padding on the pack, shoulder straps and hip belt.  The material feels sturdy but isn’t overly heavy.  There is a nice rain cover and rain cover pocket built in. I also really like the modularity of the pack.  Some of the pockets are detachable allowing you to ditch a larger pocket on smaller trips (it can be a 35L overnight pack or a 50L multiday pack).  You could also stuck all of your clothing into one of the detachable pockets that you can remove and take into your tent for a quick change.  Personally I think I’d use it to hold all my food and cooking supplies. Easy to detach and take over to the fire or up a rock for lunch.  Overall the idea of a modular pack is really interesting and one I hope catches on with other pack manufacturers.  I also really like the various size and position of the pockets.  While the pockets are laid out in a rather unconventional way (to accommodate being zipper-less I presume) I like them and they seem to encourage an intuitive method of packing/unpacking.

When the TraiLogic PK 50 opens up it almost feels like you are dressing an animal.  Everything flops open and spreads out in front of you.  This makes it really easy to track down which pocket you stuck something in.

When the TraiLogic PK 50 opened up it almost feels like you are dressing an animal. All of the compartments spread out in front of you. This makes it really easy to track down which pocket you stuck something in.

But what about the (lack of) zippers? It’s an odd choice and I’m not sure how I feel about it. When this pack was announced at the Outdoor Retailer show I remember hearing that the idea to drop zippers was to reduce weight – this seems like a good idea to me. But, this pack weighs 3 lbs. 2 oz.  Not quite the target weight I would look for if I was prioritizing removing zippers to create a lightweight pack.  So how does the pack close if there are no zippers? Lots of quick release buckles, cinch straps, and roll top closures (what they use for dry bags).   The use of roll top closures is my biggest complaint about this pack.  I really do like that method of sealing up a pack – especially for a large main pocket closure (like the Sea to Summit Rapid 26L) – I really don’t like this method to close smaller pockets within the pack.  Its just irritating and a hassle to deal with.

The TraiLogic PK 50's main pocket roll closure.

The TraiLogic PK 50’s main pocket roll closure.

The roll closure of a secondary pocket on the TraiLogic PK 50.  This is the one that seems a bit more difficult to use and where I wish I had a zipper.

The roll closure of a secondary pocket on the TraiLogic PK 50. This is the one that seems a bit more difficult to use and where I wish I had a zipper.

Honestly I think this pack has a lot of potential and I do think its cool.  But not using zippers bothers me.  Zippers work well and are pretty proven technology.  It’s always interesting to experiment with other methods but what’s wrong with using a zipper? In this case the reasoning behind replacing the zippers, to reduce weight, doesn’t really hold up.  The hard plastic piece that allows you to create a tight roll weighs pretty much what a zipper does.

Even with the things that bug me I don’t want to rule out this pack; the idea of a modular trail system with the tent, pack, and sleep system working together is brilliant.  Is dumping zippers a good idea? In this case I lean toward no, but, don’t forget that Kelty was the brand that invented the modern backpack. Jim Whittaker and his team summited Everest in 1963 with Kelty packs.  Kelty might not be the sexy company that Arc’teryx or Black Diamond are but understand this – Kelty knows packs and if they think this is a good idea we should stop and take notice.

First Impression:

If you are an experienced backpacker and the ideas behind this pack appeal to you I’d say give it a shot. Zippers non withstanding I think this pack is pretty solid. And, even if I don’t consider it “ultralight”, 3 lbs. 2 oz. for a 50L pack is pretty good.  If you are new to backpacking and don’t want to spend a lot of time comparison shopping to find the “right” piece of gear that will work with your setup go buy the entire Kelty TraiLogic system.  Every piece of gear is solid and you know it will work together.  And, buying this pack essentially gives you two packs for the price of one with its ability to transform from a 35L pack to a 50L pack. Seems like the easiest way to get into outdoors and know the gear you are using is quality.

Kelty TraiLogic PK 50 Backpack

3 thoughts on “Kelty TraiLogic PK 50 Backpack First Impression

  1. Tom

    Hey, I agree with this review a ton.
    As an owner of it, I have taken it canyoneering once now in Colorado at Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
    I will say that it is correct in that replacing the zippers with roll tops isn’t that weight reducing and is a poor selling point.

    However, it is far more durable and water resistant than zippers, which is a selling point of it on their website for the zipperless construction.
    And at that, I can say it does a spectacular job.

  2. Julie

    I just bought the ladies edition and can’t wait to try it out on the trail. I’m returning the REI crest rail 65 because it killed my back after packing it on a day hike with 20 lbs.