Kelty Redwing Review: a Backpack for the Archaeologist

As an archaeologist, I’ve used a few different packs over the years and I’ve found there were features about most of them that I liked. But there were things I also didn’t like. Initially, I thought a pack that was “rugged” or “durable” was the primary feature I should start with, so I picked a couple of military style packs made of Cordura nylon with the Mole straps for accessories. These were fine, but ultimately they had problems ranging from weight to poor stitching.

I’ve since purchased the Kelty Redwing after putting a lot of time into researching the purchase and, after nearly two years of use, I’m still happy I settled on this pack. And it occurred to me that it might benefit others to share why.

First, a disclaimer: this pack was not chosen for long hikes, camping, etc. It was picked to fit my needs as an archaeologist who needs to have a go-bag of gear specific to my daily activities which can range from being out on the ground shovel testing all day in hot weather to hiking through the forest looking for and recording historic sites.

But I think as a every-day-carry (EDC) bag, the Kelty Redwing does a great job. I’d probably use it for a day-hike or to carry photographic gear as well if you included some of the padded inserts that are made for photographers.

There were two main criteria I laid out for myself as I started looking for an archaeologist bag:

1) Price. I wanted something that was close to the $100 price point. A little under or over no problem, but I figured a cheap bag would be cheaply made and I just didn’t have the budget for a bag in the higher price range. Also, I expected my bag to suffer some abuse as my previous bags did. If I needed to replace the bag at some point, $100 isn’t a crazy figure like the $400 Deluth bag I’d love to have!

2) Pockets. An archaeologist needs pockets. You don’t want to fish through a single main pouch for all your gear. The REI brand bags my shop had when I hired on had a main pouch and a single, medium sized zipper pouch on the lid. Definitely a good bag and it was durable, but it made retrieval of small items you use a lot fairly difficult.

The Kelty Redwing really has 8 storage compartments. A top-loading, main compartment, which is between 32-50 Liters, depending on which version you buy. Mine is 32 L. Within this main compartment is a second compartment for your hydration bag, which has an elastic band across the top and there’s a well-designed pass-through for your CamelBack’s hose.

On the lid is a small zippered pouch that I keep my Oakley glasses case and some ear-protection in. I wear prescription glasses and have some prescription sunglasses by Oakley that double as eye-protection if I’m using a chainsaw. There’s just enough room for the Oakley hard case, several pairs of foam ear plugs, and my ear-bud headphones in a small plastic bag.

On both sides at the base of the bag are two mesh bottle-pouches, one on each side. I routinely place either a Yeti thermos or a 1-liter Nalgene bottle in the pouch and the cinch straps are positioned in just the right spots to hold the bottles in place so they don’t bounce out. If I don’t expect to be out all day, I often just bring two Nalgene bottles. Or one Nalgene and one Yeti thermos for coffee!

Just above these pouches, also one on each side, are two small, vertical, zipper-pouches. I usually keep exactly the same items in each: my Garmin handheld GPS in the left side and a lensatic compass on the right. Since I have the space, I often include a black sharpie with the Garmin and a small tube of sunscreen with the compass. I always know where these items are and they’re in easy reach.

The final compartment is on the outside of the bag facing away as you wear it. This zippered compartment can hold a notebook, pens, pencils, protractor, mobile phone, keys, etc. Stuff you need to find quick. There are several dividers and lots of space. I even keep a small first aid kit in this one.

But wait. There really is a 9th compartment. This isn’t a completely secure compartment, however, but it is big enough to fit a clipboard, a trowel, a Munsell book, and a small, folded-up plastic sheet (1 meter square or so). The perfect shovel test stash spot. But I’ve also stashed a folded up windbreaker in this spot. Or my lunch.

In addition to these 8 (or 9 if you count the stash space), there are two loops of nylon webbing, one on each side and at the very base of the bag, that will hold the point of a hiking pole, which feeds between the side pockets and the main bag on each side. I’ve actually used this to hold a two-piece Trimble pole that was strapped together with some Velcro strapping. It came in handy on a day when we needed to hike a fair bit of gear into a remote spot. I’ve even strapped a small screen to the back of my pack for the same reason.

And the pack has lasted. It’s lightweight–only 2 lbs when empty–but surprisingly durable. I’ve yet to lose a zipper, get a hole, or have any stitching come loose on a strap. I added a small pouch to my left shoulder strap that holds a small, point and shoot, all-weather camera with a spare battery that I use frequently. I usually keep a small Bungee cord handy, so If I’m going to be at a site for more than a few minutes, I use the Bungee to secure the bag to a tree by wrapping around the tree then through the handle on the top of the bag.

This bag goes with me everywhere. I take it home at the end of the day. I take it to the woods. I take it to fields that get walked over for survey or shovel tested. It goes with me when I need to cut a tree blocking one of our 269 cemeteries. Or when I take our truck to the shop for an oil change.

I could have had it purchased through the department I work in, but I decided to spend my own money on it. I like it so much, I don’t want to have to leave it behind should I change jobs or duty stations.

About Carl Feagans 396 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

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