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Kelty Trekker 65 External Frame Backpack Review

The Kelty Trekker 65 is an external frame backpack with an adjustable torso length and ventilated back. Weighing 5 lbs 2 oz, it’s better for carrying heavier loads, bulky, or awkwardly sized gear than most internal frame backpacks because you can lash gear to the frame instead of having to carry it in the pack bag. Its stiff frame and oversize hip belt also make it possible to carry quite heavy loads, upwards of 50+ pounds, in relative comfort. While external frame backpacks have fallen out of fashion with ultralight backpackers and thru-hikers, they’re still a very viable and popular option with backpackers, scout troops, trail crews, hunters, and anyone who has to haul heavy gear into the backcountry. The Trekker 65 is also quite an affordable and bomber-durable backpack, which adds to its appeal.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight: 5 lbs 2 oz
  • Type: External Frame
  • Ventilated: Yes
  • Adjustable: Yes
  • Gender: Unisex
  • Frame: Aluminum
  • Fabric: 600D Polyester w/ 600D Polyester Small Ripstop
  • Torso Range 16 – 22 in
  • Hip Belt Range: 30 – 50 in
  • Color: Maroon (really, it’s not red)
  • Rain cover: Sold separately. Buy any generic 75-80L pack cover

Backpack Frame and Suspension

The Trekker 65 is an external frame backpack, which simply means that frame is visible rather than being covered and invisible, which is the case with most internal frame backpacks. An external “frame architecture” provides several benefits, including good back ventilation and the ability to hang bulky gear from the frame, instead of having to pack it in the main compartment. For example, jerry cans of extra water, large synthetic or winter sleeping bags, bear canisters, cases of food, multi-person tents, bags of coal, firewood, and even chain saws and plastic gasoline “cans.” Packs like the Trekker 65 are the workhorses of the backcountry.

The pack bag, hip belt, shoulder straps, and load lifters are all attached to the frame using pins.
The pack bag, hip belt, shoulder straps, and load lifters are all attached to the frame using pins.

Fit and Adjustment

The frame is made with lightweight aluminum. It has holes drilled into it around its perimeter and cross pieces to hang the pack bag, attach the shoulder straps, and the hip belt. This is done using aluminum pins that have wire rings at the end (called clevis pins) to keep them from falling out.

The frame is telescoping, so you can drop the height of the hip belt if you want to make the torso longer or raise it up to make it shorter. There are a pair of metal buttons on the frame behind the sleeping bag pocket that you must push in to release the frame to adjust its length. Kelty recommends positioning the load lifter strap buckles so they’re at the same level as the bottom of your ears, which works nicely.

The Trekker 65 has a telescoping frame that lets you adjust the packs torso length
The Trekker 65 has a telescoping frame that lets you adjust the pack’s torso length.

You can also make the distance between the shoulder straps wider or narrower. There are four sets of holes drilled into the frame’s cross-pieces that are used to attach the load lifters and shoulder straps to the pack. Moving them farther apart can be good for people with wide necks or well-developed chests, while moving them closer together can be good for people with smaller torsos.

The mesh behind your back should also be adjusted for comfort to keep air flowing behind your back. It should be tight enough to keep your shoulder blades from touching the frame but not so tight that it feels hard against your back. In use, the ventilation is a benefit but don’t kid yourself. While your shirt will dry faster, you’re still going to sweat if you carry a heavy backpack.

Carry

If you’re used to an internal frame backpack, a heavily loaded Trekker 65 with 50 or 60 pounds of gear, water, and food will feel very strange indeed. First off, it’s considerably wider and taller than most internal frame backpacks, which can pose clearance problems in narrow or brushy trails. Forget about ducking under or crawling beneath fallen trees: you’ll have to take the Trekker 65 off and pull it across after you’ve gone through yourself.

You’ll also stand much more erect than you will with an internal frame pack, which is actually a good thing, because it helps recruit the bigger muscles in your legs like your quads and glutes to carry the load. Unlike internal frame packs, where the hip-to-shoulder load ratio is usually 60/40, you’ll be able to move most of the load to your hips and almost completely off your shoulders with the Trekker 65. While anyone can benefit from this, people with back issues can remain active outdoors by switching to an eternal frame backpack for just this reason.

The Trekker 65 has a higher center of gravity which can throw you off balance on rougher terrain
The Trekker 65 has a higher center of gravity which can throw you off-balance on rougher terrain

The center of gravity on the Trekker 65 is also higher, which can throw you off-balance if you have to hike on rocky or root-filled trails or scramble through boulder-fields and across open ledge. It’s customary to pack your heavier gear, water, and fuel closer to higher up in the pack bag on an external pack like the Trekker, although you’re free to attach them lower on the frame to improve your balance.

In terms of comfort, the shoulder straps and hip belt of the Trekker 65 are filled with foam and covered with a breathable mesh fabric. The shoulder pads are 3″ wide (which is large) and definitely designed for men, despite the Trekker’s “unisex” gender classification. The hip belt is 5″ wide with a soft and unobtrusive lumbar pad. It has a pull-forward tightening mechanism so it’s easy to adjust and won’t slip down your hips, even if they’re squarish in shape or you have a bit of a gut. There are also hip control straps, linking the hip belt to the sides of the frame to help reduce sway. However, the hip belt does not have any pockets or attachment points for external pockets. The same is true of the shoulder straps, with the exception of hydration-hose keeper straps.

Backpack Storage and Organization

The Trekker 65 is set up to carry gear inside the pack bag as well as externally, attached to the frame. This makes it good for carrying bulky gear that would normally be awkward to carry inside an internal frame backpack. For example, instead of carrying a large synthetic sleeping bag inside the pack, you could pack it up in a waterproof stuff sack and lash it to the bottom of the Trekker’s frame with a few webbing straps. If you’ve ever struggled to help a boy scout pack a large sleeping bag, you’ll understand the obvious advantages of this approach.

The best place to attach gear to the Trekker is in the space below the pack bag, on the other side of the frame from the hip belt. The pack does not come with any webbing straps for this, but ski straps work well for the purpose. You can also attach gear to the top of the frame or have it sit on top of the pack bag, or under the main flap as shown below.

The Kelty Trekker is designed so you can carry gear inside the pack bag as well as outside it, attached to the frame
The Kelty Trekker is designed so you can carry gear inside the pack bag as well as outside it, attached to the frame

The Trekker pack bag has a main compartment with a separate sleeping pad pocket positioned underneath, There are five pockets on the sides and front of the pack, and a long fold-over flap that covers the top. The flap is designed to hold gear against the top of the main compartment, much like a floating lid on a mountaineering-style internal frame backpack. This is usually pretty lightweight stuff, like a foam pad or collapsible fishing rod, so it won’t throw off your center of gravity too much, although it can reduce overhead clearance.

The side pockets close with zippers and provide good organizational capabilities for packing smaller items, but aren’t large enough to carry anything more substantial like a Jetboil. The position of the side pockets also makes it difficult to lash gear to the sides of the pack, like a foam pad, snowshoes, and skis, since there are also no compression straps or daisy chains along the sides on the pack bag. Some of Kelty’s other packs have pass-throughs behind the pockets that you can slide skis, canoe paddles, or fishing rods through and I wish the Trekker 65 had those instead.

The front of the pack has a larger top pocket that can be used to store rain gear or layers for easy access. The hatch-style opening below it provides access to a small sleeping bag compartment. The interior of the main compartment is positioned above it and used to carry your heaviest items, like water, food, and fuel. The vertical position of these heavy items corresponds to your shoulders and head, which is why their weight can throw you off-balance on rocky trails or when scrambling. Depending on what you carry, it can be difficult to move these heavier items closer to your hips, unless you make a concerted effort to carry as much weight as possible under the pack bag or attached elsewhere to the frame.

Given the lack of water bottle pockets, you need to use a hydration reservoir to provide easy access to water while you hike
Given the lack of water bottle pockets, you may need to use a hydration reservoir to provide easy access to water while you hike.

While there is a hydration pocket in the main compartment, it’s not designed to be used with reservoirs that are hung vertically, so you’ll have to lay your reservoir on its side. Alternatively, you can hang a hydration reservoir behind the ventilated mesh on the back of the pack instead of storing it inside the main pack bag. This is a good example of how to overcome some of the pack bag’s limitations by attaching gear to the frame. It’s a fun game to Magyver these nifty workarounds and customize your use of the Trekker 65 for different types of trips and destinations.

Comparable External Frame Backpacking Packs

Recommendation

The Kelty Trekker 65 is a durable external frame backpack that is inexpensive and can haul heavy and bulky loads well in excess of 50 or 60 pounds (or more) far more easily and comfortably than most internal frame backpacks. While it’s “old-school,” it’s fully adjustable (torso-length, shoulder-pad width) and ventilated, so you can really dial in an excellent fit. External backpacks are not for everyone, but if you try one like the Trekker 65, you could well become a convert.

While I’m sure there are many Trekker owners who love their backpacks, it’s also worth looking at newer external frame backpacks that combine a more conventional pack bag or roll top with a rigid external frame. They’re lighter weight than the Trekker 65, have a lower center of gravity when loaded, and can be used for scrambling or rougher trails in places where the Trekker is less suitable.

Likes

  • Wide hip belt and stiff frame provide excellent load transfer to hips
  • External frame promotes a more erect posture and less energy expenditure
  • Easy to lash bulky objects or gear to top and bottom of frame with webbing or ski straps
  • Fold-over top pocket is much easier to use than a floating lid

Dislikes

  • Can’t hang a hydration reservoir vertically in the hydration pocket
  • There’s 1 pocket that could hold a water bottle, but it’s unreachable when the pack is worn
  • No hip belt pockets
  • No webbing straps included for lashing gear to frame
  • Difficult to attach gear to sides of the pack, like foam pads or skis
  • Shoulder pads are not female friendly.

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Last updated: 2018-08-08 21:36:53

Disclosure: The author purchased this backpack.

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