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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Kelty Pawnee Pack > Test Report by Larry Kirschner

Kelty Pawnee Pack

Kelty Pawnee pack

INITIAL REPORT - March 21, 2009
FIELD REPORT - May 27, 2009
LONG TERM REPORT - August 16, 2009


NAME: Larry Kirschner
EMAIL: asklarry98 at hotmail dot com
AGE: 45
LOCATION: Columbus, OH
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 200 lb (90.70 kg)

I've been an intermittent camper/paddler since my teens, but now that my kids are avid Boy Scouts, I've caught the backpacking bug. I typically do 8-10 weekend hikes per year, and have spent time over the past 2 years backpacking at the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico and canoeing the Atikaki wilderness in Manitoba. I like to travel "in comfort", so I used to pack heavy, but I've progressed down to medium weight, and continue to work toward going lighter and longer. With all of my investment into these ventures, I expect my wife and I will continue to trek long after the kids are gone…

March 21, 2009

Manufacturer: Kelty
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Country of Manufacture: Philippines
Manufacturer's Website:
Model: Pawnee
Size: one size (3300 cu in/ 54 L)
MSRP: USD $129.95

Listed weight: 3 lb, 9 oz (1.6 kg)
Measured weight: 3 lb, 10 oz (1.65 kg)
Color: Russet (Orange) (Other color available: Nite Sky, a dark shade of blue)
Dimensions (confirmed by measurement):
       Length: 32 in (81 cm)
Width: 14 in (36 cm)
Depth: 14.5 in (37 cm)


The Kelty Pawnee is a basic model top-loading backpack designed for short trips into the backcountry. According to the Kelty website, it is perfect for "overnight backpacker or day-hiker who goes long". In my opinion, at 3300 cc (54 L), it might be suitable for longer trips for ultralight minimalists, but that is not a category into which I would put myself. The weight rating for the pack is 30-35 lbs (kg), which seems plenty for the amount of volume, as I found out when I packed it for the first time (see below)

The pack is made from 600 D polyester ripstop (nylon) and 600D polyester oxford, with 610D polyester cordura (nylon) for reinforcing specific areas.

Lightbeam Aluminum Stay The Pawnee is an external frame pack with a simple single strut system. This brace, which is constructed of LightBeam II aluminum, is located in the center of the backpanel. The strut is in the form of an "I-beam" (as shown at right), similar to what is used in steel girder construction, to provide maximum strength for the weight. The frame sheet of the pack is constructed from HDPE (high density polyethylene).There are no mechanisms to adjust the length of the frame, and the pack is intended for backpackers who use packs from 18.5-21 inches (47-53 cm). At a height of 69 in (1.75 m), my torso is between 19.5 and 20 in (49.5 - 51 cm).

The overall design of this pack is as a top-loader, although there are a few additional features. The pack has a large opening in the top, which is the main gear-loading mechanism. The top closes with a slide-lock drawstring, and there is a buckle which can be used to provide additional closure over the top.

top of main compartment

The pack has a separate top section which can be detached from the rest of the pack, although there are no separate straps to use the top as a fanny pack. Just between the aluminum stay and the top compartment is another fabric handle which can be used to carry the backpack. These features can be seen in the photos above.

The main compartment of the pack has no interior pockets with the exception of hydration pocket which sits closest to the wearer's back. There are openings in the top part of the main pocket to allow passage of a hydration sleeve. As shown at right, the hydration pocket is large enough to accommodate a filled 3 liter bladder.

Pawnee hydration sleeve

The main compartment can also be accessed by means of a large inverted-U zipper on the front of the pack (i.e, farthest from the wearer's back). The zippers for this section are "hidden" under a fabric flap but are easily accessible. When the front zipper is open, there is nothing to keep items from falling out. In the photo below, the pillow can be seen in the main compartment of the pack surrounded by the yellow-orange color from my tent and my sleeping pad. The zipper pulls appear to be well-constructed with an aluminum pull attached to the zipper itself via a small knotted cord.

front pocket and zipper pulls

There is a separate, self-contained zipper pocket on the front of the pack. Inside this pocket is another small zippered pocket (shown flipped outward in the photo below), which looks to be about the right size to store a pair of sunglasses. The zipper is below the dashed rectangle, with the zipper pull at the lower right. There is also an open pocket in the back of this compartment and a small strap with a clip, which could be used for attaching car keys, a small flashlight, or something similar that might require rapid localization. The strap with the clip is long enough to hang into the open pocket at the back of the compartment, although this is partially hidden by my rain jacket.

front pocket

On the front of the back pocket is a daisy chain of fabric loops which can be used for attaching items to the outside of the pack. For example, these could be used for hanging socks that are drying on the trail. At the bottom of this strap is a much larger loop which appears suitable for use as a handle for carrying the pack. There is also a separate loop at the bottom of the daisy chain, purportedly for carrying an ice axe.

daisy chain with and handle

There are large mesh pockets on either side of the bottom of the pack. These are large enough to lay a 1 liter water bottle in flat.

watch that bottle

Waist Belt and Straps
The waist belt is constructed from dual density foam and is called a Scherer Cinch waist belt. The belt can be adjusted up and down by a small amount, about an inch (2.5 cm) by means of a hook-and-loop attachment between the belt and the pack. The belt, as well as the shoulder straps and backpanel, are all made of "ventilating" materials to facilitate breathability. According to the manufacturer, the backpanel also provides moisture wicking. The pack has Kelty's S-shaped shoulder straps, which just means they are not fully straight from the top. This construction is supposed to allow a more natural contour the straps to enhance their comfort. There are load lifter/stabilizer straps which allow adjustment of the shoulder harness to alter the positioning of the load. The waist belt is a "Schrader" belt, although there is no good explanation of what that means. There is padding on the hip belt in the back and sides, but no padding in front. On this pack, the padding reaches about two-thirds of the circumference of the hip belt. There are a set of slidelock straps that that connect the top compartment to the main part of the pack. There are no buckles for detaching the top section. The pack also has a set of compression straps which basically form an 'X' across the back. This organization of the straps allows load compression of the central pockets in all directions.

Instructions and Warranty
The Kelty Pawnee comes with a short instruction booklet which begins with two pages of general warnings, including a caution not to use a damaged backpack. Next are instructions for the care and cleaning of the pack, which indicates that in can be rinsed off as needed but that soap should be avoided. Care instructions for the zippers are also provided. There is a small amount of information about the pack features, and instructions how to fit the pack. The instructions indicate that adjustments should be made with the pack loaded at 25-30 lbs (12-15 kg) to better approximate conditions on the trail. The mechanism for adjusting the waistbelt and the sternum strap are included. The rest of the booklet notes that the aluminum stay can be bent to better fit the shape of the wearer's back, and it provides some specific examples of areas that may need to be adjusted. The Kelty warranty, given on the last page of the instructions, states that "Kelty products are covered under warranty to the original owner, for the lifetime of the product, against defects in materials or workmanship." Some caveats about defects from wear and tear or natural hazards are not covered.


are those buckles strong? Having used a Kelty pack in the past, I was expecting a fairly basic but solid piece of gear. In this expectation, I was not disappointed. I actually thought that the Pawnee was a little bigger than expected. It took me a few minutes of examination to get a sense of how the strapping across the back of the pack could be use for compression of the contents, but once I played with it a little, it became clearer. There are both side-compression straps and load compression straps which are in the form of an 'X' across the back. In contrast to my other pack (a Red Cloud 5600), the Pawnee is a much simpler pack, with minimal "extra" features such as multiple pockets, dividers, and so on. One impression which struck me was that the buckles on the straps seem rather lightweight, and I wondered whether these would take the typical trail abuse such as squeezing things down tightly and using the straps to keep it that way. The buckles closed and opened easily and seemed to stay closed, but I will follow this as I use the pack.


The pack arrived 2 days before I was going to spend a quick overnight of cabin camping with the Boy Scouts. Because I will be using the Pawnee for backpacking during this test, I figured this was a good chance for a dry run to see how it would take a typical weekend backpacking load.

With this in mind, I loaded up the Pawnee with most of the things I typically take with me on the trail. As shown in the photo below (taken after I got back), this is what I was able to store:

Pawnee pack and gear

Main pocket
Slumberjack Vertex Sleeping bag
Therm-a-Rest Prolite 4 pad
Black Diamond Mirage tent

Extra clothes (shirt, shorts, underwear)
Extra socks (liners, oversocks)
Sleeping clothes (t-shirt, lightweight cotton pants, socks

Rain pants
Long underwear
3-liter Platypus

Camping pillow
Extra bandanna
Front pocket
Rain jacket
Microfleece top

Top pocket
Toiletries (toothbrush, paste, dental floss)

Personal 1st aid kit
Freeplay ML-1 lantern

Eating kit (spoon, bowl, mug)

Side pocket
1 L Nalgene

Total weight: 32 lbs (14.5 kg)-(includes the 4 L/1 gal of water)

As might be appreciated, I did not pack any food or cooking gear, but I had extra room for a little bit. However, since I took the entire tent, I am hoping to negotiate with my tent-mate to carry the food and cooking gear.

With all this gear, the Pawnee was not overstuffed, and I could have brought a few more essentials if needed, although the list above really covers most of what I would need for a weekend trip.

With the pack loaded like this, I carried it in about 0.5 km (0.3 mi) in to the cabin on the way in, and the same distance on the way out. Although I didn't do a lot of hiking on the overnight, I wore the fully loaded Pawnee for about an hour during our activities for the day.

I found that the Pawnee fit my back well as it came out of the box. I was able to easily adjust the load lifter straps to shift the weight to my hips or shoulders as needed (mostly on the hips, though). I had no problems with the hip belt, which was comfortable with this limited use.


I expected the Pawnee to be a basic but sturdy piece of gear, and I would say so far that it seems about right. Kelty has not put a lot of features on this pack, but it seems very appropriate for hauling a moderate load for an overnight or a weekend. It is fairly compact so I would expect it would be good for tight trails.

I'll be using the Pawnee pretty exclusively as my gear pack for the next few months so I will get a chance not only to see how sturdy it is, but if I can continue to cut my gear down to fit the 3300 cu in capacity. I'm particularly interested in assessing if any adjustments to the frame will be required after I wear it for a while and to see how the buckles and straps hold up.

  • Solid pack.
  • I like the top and front access to the main compartment.
  • Like the front handle
  • The mesh pockets seem like they are too big and might let my Nalgene bottle fall out
  • Will the thin-appearing buckles hold up over time?

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May 27, 2009

pawnee resting on the trail


During the past two months, I have worn the pack on two outings to Tar Hollow State Park in central Ohio. On the first trip in early April, I wore the pack on a 10.5 mile (17 km) dayhike on the North Loop of the Logan Hollow trail. It was a warm sunny day with light winds. The temperatures started out around 48 F (9 C) and reached a high of 63 F (17 C).

At the end of April, I wore the pack on an 11.5 mile (18.5 km) 2-day/2-night hike on the South loop of Logan Hollow trail, including a small side hike to get to the campsite the second night. The weather on this trip was much warmer. Low temperatures overnight were between 59 F (15 C) and 64 F (18 C), but the mid-afternoon highs were around 85 F (30 C).


On the first trip (North loop), I had planned it as a dayhike, so I went with a partially loaded pack which I measured at 22 pounds (10 kg) at the outset. The load included 4 liters (4.2 qt) of water, food for the day, and some extra ballast to take up room in the pack. The trail was damp but the footing was fine. The same could not be said for the general maintenance of the trail, which had plenty of fallen trees lying across it. I spent a decent amount of time climbing over or crawling under downed trees. I had also forgotten to bring my trekking poles on the trip, meaning there was more strain on my knees, especially since the trail had a fair amount of ups and downs without any switchbacks.

climbing over downed tree

On this trip, the load carried fine although my neck was a little sore the next day. I attributed a lot of the soreness to the fact that I didn't have my poles and was using my hands much more than usual because of it. I had no problems with my water bottle falling out of the side pocket, which had been one of my concerns. When I took a break for lunch on the trail, I tried to access the main pocket of the pack through the front zipper to get out the food. I found this to be somewhat difficult, as it was hard to find items without having stuff pop out the front. I gave up on this idea and just used the top access to go in and out of the pack from there.

On the second trip to the Logan Trail (to hike the South loop), I carried the pack fully loaded for the 2 day trip, with a total weight of about 36 lb (16.3 kg) including water.

Here is the list of items carried (note that it is similar to above, with a few additions)

  • BD Mirage tent + footprint
  • Sierra Designs Wild Bill sleeping bag (in compression sack)
  • Therm-a-Rest Prolite 4 sleeping pad
  • 4 L water (3 L Platypus bladder + 1 L Nalgene)
  • Heavy rain jacket and rain pants, microfleece pullover
  • camping pillow
  • Ziploc bag #1: Sleeping: t-shirt, scrub pants, light socks, extra pair underwear
  • Ziploc bag #2: Extra clothes: camp shirt, Duofold long-sleeved shirt, extra hiking socks, extra liners
  • Pseudo-Crocs
  • Hammock Bliss Hammock
  • Eating kit: bowl, spoon, plastic mug
  • Headlamp, Freeplay ML-1 mini-lantern
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, Book, first aid kit, deck of cards, small journal

This packing list essentially completely filled the Pawnee. Note that I again did not bring any food other than some trail mix in my pants pocket. Since I had the tent, my tent mate carried our food for the outing, which was a good thing, since I really didn't have room for anything more.

On this trek, I did manage to remember my trekking poles, which was good since the South loop of the trail also had a fair number of significant hills without any switchbacks as well as many downed trees. In order to get to the second camp, we essentially bushwhacked on a side trail down a hill for about one-third of a mile (0.5 km) and then along a riverbed. The next morning, we spent some time bushwhacking to re-locate the trail, which wasn't too bad (except for the abundance of downed trees). Despite the heavier load and the heat, I felt fine carrying the Pawnee, and did not even have any neck soreness afterwards. I noticed specifically that the load lifter and belt lifter straps were easily accessible and I was able to make minor adjustments to the weight distribution while walking.


To date, I have had no issues with wear and tear of the Pawnee, despite climbing over and under trees and a modest amount of bushwhacking. All zippers, straps, and buckles remain in fine working order.


To date, I have been very satisfied with the Pawnee. For a 2-day hike in the warm weather, it provides adequate room if I pack carefully. If I am a bit extravagant (such as on the outing described here), I can make it, as long as I can get my mate to carry the food. None of the concerns noted in the Initial Report have proven to be an issue on the trail. I also like the fact that pack's compression straps allowed me to carry a reduced load without causing any packing or carrying problems. The only comment I have at present is that I didn't get as much use as I thought out of the front access to the main pocket. I have found accessing it rather cumbersome, but only because using the top access is quite simple. I look forward to more trips with the Kelty Pawnee during the long-term phase of the test.

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August 16, 2009


I went for an overnight canoe trip to Dillon Lake State Park near Zanesville, Ohio as a shakedown for a 10-day backcountry trip. I was planning to use the Pawnee to carry my gear inside a drybag. However, as I was unable to fit the drybag into the Pawnee, these plans got scuttled. See my Field Experience below for the details. I did take the Pawnee with me on a successful weekend trip in mid-August. This was a weekend camping/rafting trip to Ohiopyle State Park in Southwestern Pennsylvania, where the weather was beautiful, with daytime highs of 85 F/29.5 C and overnight lows of 63 F/17 C.


For the canoe shakedown, I packed my gear into a cylindrical 37 L (2280 cu in) drybag that is 11 in/28 cm in diameter and 24 in/61 cm in height. The bag was rather full, and I was completely unable to squeeze it into the Pawnee. I figured that since the Pawnee was rated at 3300 cu in (54 L) and the drybag was only 2280 cu in (37 L), there should not have been a problem. Despite these calculations, I was completely unable to stuff the bag into the pack. The problem arose at the top, where the top opening of the main compartment was just too small for the drybag. No matter how much I tried to stretch the top opening or work the front opening, I just could not get the bag inside.

On the trip where I brought the Pawnee, I packed for a typical warm weather trip, with my Slumberjack Vertex sleeping bag, a Therm-a-Rest pad, a camp pillow, and 3 T-shirts, socks, and underwear. For completeness, I also brought a microfleece and raincoat. For the canoeing part of the trip, I included a rash guard shirt, bathing suit, and towel. And for nighttime, a lantern and headlamp, book, and a small toiletry kit. Thus, I packed comfortably but not excessively. With this quantity of gear (about 20 lb/9 kg)), I had PLENTY of room in the Pawnee, and could have easily packed another day's worth of gear. Unlike my previous trips, I also didn't pack my tent/ground cloth in the pack because I was using a somewhat larger tent (the 2-man Sierra Designs Zeta2 tent). If I had needed to carry it for distance, I would have carried it crosswise between the main pocket and the top compartment. Even with the pack lightly loaded, I don't think this tent (at 18.5 x 8 in/47 x 20 cm) would have packed well on the inside of the Pawnee, as it would have taken up too much of the interior space. Although I did not carry the pack for significant distances on the trip, it carried well with no problems noted.

In general, I have found this limitation on the interior space to be somewhat of a recurrent theme with the Pawnee. I feel pretty comfortable packing my gear for a weekend in the 3300 cu in (54 L) allotment in the bag, but this process is made difficult by the fact that bag is quite narrow. I found it a struggle to cram my sleeping bag to the bottom, and I could only use my smaller sleeping bag or use my regular sleeping bag (a fairly bulky Sierra Designs Wild Bill) with a compression sack. It was not possible for me to push either sleeping bag to the bottom when I had a full 3-liter water bladder in the pack. It was first necessary for me to remove the bladder, put gear at the bottom of the pack, and then replace the filled bladder into its pocket. This is another facet of the same difficulty I experienced when trying to pack a 2280 cu in (37 L) drybag into the 3300 cu in (54 L) pack--it just didn't fit because of the narrowness of the pack!

Now, I am willing to admit that part of the problem is that I am used to having a larger pack, but I found packing the Pawnee to be a challenge. Since I have enough range in gear that I can use a smaller synthetic bag and lightweight clothing, I think this pack is quite reasonable for an overnight or weekend, particularly when temperatures aren't expected to be overly cold. However, in my pre-gear geek days, I think using this bag with my mid-range backpacking gear would have been a real struggle, due to the fact that mid-level gear isn't as compact as higher-end materials. This concern was true of the main compartment, and also of the top compartment. Although the top section is reasonably roomy, the zipper length makes it tricky to get larger items into the top pocket. For example, I was able to easily carry a 6.5 x 9.5 in (16.5 x 24 cm) hardback book in the top compartment, but only after I managed to wiggle it in through the zipper on the top pocket.

Lastly, I wanted to follow-up on my concern from the Initial Report regarding my misgivings about the straps and buckles, I have had no problem with either of these items. The buckles fasten and hold as tightly as when the pack was new. The fabric of the pack also shows no sign of wear. Thus, I would give this pack high marks for durability.


Overall, I found the Kelty Pawnee pack to be well-made with a variety of useful features. There is plenty of room in this pack for a weekend's worth of gear (at least for moderate-to-warm weather hiking and camping), and I found the suspension system quite comfortable for carrying loads within the pack's rating. The major difficulty I experienced with this pack was related to its configuration. The top of the main compartment is rather narrow, making loading and unloading gear more difficult than I expected. Although I liked the ability to access the main compartment from the front, I found that this was nearly as difficult as entering through the top. The same was true of the top pocket, which would have been a lot more user friendly with a somewhat longer zipper. I will likely continue to use the Pawnee for overnight or weekend trips during the summer where gear requirements are modest, but once I need more warmth and/or performance from my gear, I will probably go back to a larger pack that is easier to use.

Things I liked about the Kelty Pawnee:
  • Compression system keeps load balanced and tight to my body
  • Suspension system comfortable for loads up to 35 lbs/16 kg
  • Good durability
Things I wasn't crazy about with this gear:
  • Narrow top opening to main compartment makes packing a challenge, and makes it difficult (if not impossible) to bring bulky gear
  • Front access to main compartment not as helpful as I would have hoped
  • Zipper on top compartment seemed like it could be longer to allow better access

This concludes my report on the Kelty Pawnee Pack. My thanks once again to Kelty for providing this equipment for testing, and to for allowing me to participate in the evaluation process.

-larry kirschner

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