Jansport Katahdin 50L Backpack Review

Jansport Katahdin 50 Backpack Review

The Jansport Katahdin 50 is an adjustable-length and rugged backpack with a top lid, padded hip-belt and dual side pockets that is well-sized for kids and short-statured adults. Weighing slightly more than 2 lbs, it’s roomy and durably made, making it a good low-cost option for new backpackers who want an economical introduction to multi-day hiking with a lightweight backpack.

Jansport Katahdin 50L Backpack

Comfort
Weight
Suspension
Features
Adjustability
Sizing
Durability

Lightweight and Economical

While the Katahdin 50 doesn't have the features that you find on more expensive packs, like hip belt pockets, sleeping pad straps, or a key fob (just joking), it's a great bang for the buck. But the most valuable feature on this pack, in my opinion, is the adjustable torso length. This makes it a great beginner pack, a kids' pack (for growing kids), or a loaner pack for visiting relatives.

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  • Weight: 2 lbs 6 oz
  • Gender: Unisex
  • Volume: 50L
  • Torso Length: 13-19″
  • Hipbelt Length: 28-60″
  • Adjustable Torso Length: Yes
  • Hydration System Compatible: Yes
  • Fabric: 600 denier Polyester

Backpack Storage and Organization

The Katahdin 50 is a top entry pack with a drawstring cinch closure. It has a hatch-style lid with a single strap to keep it closed. The top lid, which is sewn on and not removable, has a single, external zippered pocket. My head doesn’t come in contact with the lid when I’m wearing the pack, which I consider a plus.

The top lid is sewn to the back of the pack so it doesn’t flop around awkwardly.
The top lid is sewn to the back of the pack so it doesn’t flop around awkwardly.

There is a hydration sleeve on the inside, with tube ports on both the left and right. Personally, I find it a nuisance to use hydration systems with fully loaded backpacks because you need to unpack to refill them, and prefer to keep my water in bottles in the side pockets. But many people still like them and there are very few backpacks without a hydration pocket inside.

There are two elasticized-edged, mesh side pockets that are ample enough for water bottles, snacks and the like. There are no compression straps around these pockets, but the elastic is snug and my water bottles stay secure even when I tip the pack over.

The front mesh pocket is great for carrying wet items
The front mesh pocket is great for carrying wet items

There is a mesh shove/stash pocket on the front. It’s not super huge, but it will hold a rain jacket or wet tent fly. To aid with extra external carrying, there is a daisy chain strip on the front and 4 tie-down loops, as well as tie-down loops on the lid.

Backpack Frame and Suspension

This Katahdin 50 has a flexible plastic framesheet sewn into the back panel, which gives the pack its shape. This limits its load-carrying capacity and I’d rate the maximum comfortable load at 25-30 pounds.

You can reposition the shoulder yoke up or down to adjust the torso length
You can reposition the shoulder yoke up or down to adjust the torso length

The torso length is adjustable from 13-19″, making this pack a great option for growing kids and smaller stature adults. It uses a very simple velcro and ladder strapping system to raise or lower the shoulder strap yoke, thereby increasing or reducing the distance between the shoulders and the hips. It is very intuitive to adjust.

Load lifter straps contribute to the adjustability and help maintain a proper center of gravity by pulling the load closer to your torso. The pack features a padded back with a ventilation chamber for channeling away heat and sweat, but I wouldn’t consider it ventilated to the degree that packs with trampoline frames are.

Center air channel helps wick away perspiration.
Center air channel helps wick away perspiration.

The shoulder straps are curved in their shape; the padding is not too thick and bulky, but ample “enough,” and both men and women should find the straps comfortable. The hip belt padding is wide, but not too thick, which helps it cinch and “conform” around the hips. There are no hip belt pockets, side control straps, or other features, which gives the pack a super functional, minimalist vibe.

Once adjusted to my smaller torso frame size, the Katahdin carries nice and close to my frame, narrow and tall rather than wide, providing better agility for scrambling and off-trail hiking. The weighted pack did NOT slip down my back or lumbar – which I really liked – and I attribute to the hip belt, which wrapped well around my hips.

Once adjusted, the Katahdin 50 carries well and doesn’t slip down my waist
Once adjusted, the Katahdin 50 carries well and doesn’t slip down my waist

Recommendation

I really didn’t know what to expect the first time I tried on Jansport Katahdin 50 Backpack. I know its been on the market for some time, but Jansport isn’t a brand that’s sold in the outdoor stores I normally frequent. But the proof is in the pudding as they say, and I was quite surprised when I started using the Katahdin and found that I liked it.

While the Katahdin 50 doesn’t have the features that you find on more expensive packs, like hip belt pockets, sleeping pad straps, or a key fob (just joking), it’s a great bang for the buck. But the most valuable feature on this pack, in my opinion, is the adjustable torso length. This makes it a great beginner pack, a kids’ pack (for growing kids), or a loaner pack for visiting relatives. Backpacking gear has gotten so expensive these days that it’s nice to be able to find a pack that isn’t expensive but still provides a great fit and a lot of value.

Disclosure: The author owns this backpack.

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About the Author

Beth Zimmer is an expert backpacker who's backpacked all over New England and Eastern Canada, with a long list of hiking accomplishments to her name. She's section hiked the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail, climbed the New England Hundred Highest and the New Hampshire 200 highest (mostly bushwhacks), redlined the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles), and climbed the White Mountain 4000 footers several times over. Beth also teaches GPS and off-trail navigation classes as a volunteer for the Appalachian Mountain Club and is co-chair of the New Hampshire Excursions Committee, which oversees all volunteer hiking and leadership training activities. When she's not hiking and backpacking, Beth resides in New Hampshire where she can usually be found sipping coffee and planning her next adventure.

5 comments

  1. It is refreshing to see a website reviewing less elitist gear that rest of us 99 percent-ers can afford. Keep on keeping it real.

  2. My first backpack was a Jansport external frame model. I bought it well over 20 years ago and I still have it. Besides being tough as granite, the pack is thoughtfully designed.

  3. I have a 6 year old Katahdin 45 and it’s the most comfortable pack I own. It’s a little heavy compared to the $$$$ ultra light packs I own, but man I don’t know I have it on sometimes. Comfortable. That’s most important to me at 64.

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