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Kelty Trekker 65 External Frame Backpack Review

Kelty Trekker 65 External 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.

Kelty Trekker 65 Backpack


Heavy Hauler

The Kelty Trekker 65 is an external frame backpack good for hauling heavy loads and bulky gear. It has an adjustable length torso and ventilation for fit and comfort and is still preferred by many backpackers for extended trips that require a lot of gear and food.

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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 a well-developed chest 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.


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 external 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

Make / ModelVolume (L)Weight
Mystery Ranch Terraframe50L, 80L5 lbs
Seek Outside Gila57L2 lbs 10 oz
Seek Outside Divide74L2 lbs 12 oz
Seek Outside
Unaweep 4800
79L2 lbs 11 oz
Vargo ExoTi AR246L2 lbs 12 oz
Vargo ExoTi 50L2 lbs 11 oz
ZPacks Haul Ultra60L1 lb 3.6 oz


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.


  • 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 the frame with webbing or ski straps
  • Fold-over top pocket is much easier to use than a floating lid


  • 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.

Disclosure: The author purchased this backpack.

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  1. Phil,

    Thank you doing a review on an external frame pack. I know it is outside of reviewing lightweight packs.
    I personally combine the two per se. I have pretty light equipment, to maintain a “lighter base weight. But I hate resupplying so it gets filled up with good so I can stay longer. I really enjoy these packs for hauling heavy loads. They IMHO do a great job of doing so. While I have been trying to go lighter, I have a special place for these.

    • This pack really grew on me as I used it more. I really liked the process of figuring out the best way to pack it, balancing the pack bag against lashing stuff to the outside of the pack. My impression is that the Kelty Tioga is even more versatile because it has bigger pockets, but then again it is a 90 liter pack, so it probably would be. There’s definitely a place for external frame packs. I also like the next generation ones where the bottom of the pack bag is flush with the hip belt, instead of higher.

      • What’s old is new again.
        I recently dicovered externals again, after an injury. With some injuries you need new equipment like a better sleeping pad, ultralight pad didn’t cut it.
        This then adds wieght, and so on.
        I can walk upright again, with this type of backpacking.

        Its possible to configure a light dry bag onto a light frame

  2. Thanks for the review of this pack Phil! I’ve had a Kelty Trekker65 for many years now and actually finished a solo Pemi Loop with it in early June. I met two other external framers on that hike and both times stopped to parley with each. One had an older Jansport model that looked like it was from the 80’s and the other had an older Trekker. They really are workhorses and I love mine, it hauls 30 pounds like it’s not even there. Great weight transfer to the hips as you said. Great to see the External Frame getting some love on this site!

  3. ULA Epic is an internal frame pack. From their website:

    List of features from their website:

    Internal Frame
    65L Sea to Summit Dry Bag
    Contoured Shoulder Straps
    Zippered Front Mesh Bellowed Pocket
    Side/Top Compression Straps

    • It’s an external frame as far as I’m concerned, which is why I listed it that way. Although I’ll grant you that it’s a grey area. It has a separate backboard and “shelf” that is completely independent of the dry bag (you can use multiple pack bags with it if you’d like). Some people would also include the Osprey Exos as an external frame pack, but there the frame really is integrated with the pack bag.

  4. There is one feature of this backpack which you appreciate a lot if you use it heavily for five years or so… You can buy replacement hip belt, shoulder straps and back mesh from Kelty for reasonable price ($20/$20/$10 now, with free shipping). Moreover… There are many packs with exactly the same construction (I own High Sierra Bobcat 65), and you can mix & match there parts…

    My (tweaked) Bobcat weights 2360g (5lb 4oz). It can carry 75lb no problem. I often carry all gear/food/water for two in one pack, it is around 50lb, and it is very comfortable in this pack. Back ventilation is excellent (and I am in California), but you need to stretch back mesh tight. Pack adjust-ability is excellent. Between Bobcat and Granite Gear Crown 2 (which I also own) I pick Bobcat most of the time – because it’s comfort well worth extra 2.5lb for my short hikes (one-two-tree nights, 10-20 miles per day).

    1) It is tall, it will stick over you head – so you will be hitting stuff you usually just walk under. Not a big deal on maintained trail, but annoying in bushes.
    2) Pockets/divided main compartment configuration is less practical then what you have on Crown 2. By the way – I like bag on Bobcat better then one on Tracker – it has one large side pocket instead of two small, one stretch bottle pocket (none on Tracker), also back side pocket is bigger on Bobcat.
    3) It is not the best pack for rain – there is no good way to protect bag from getting wet (especially if you leash some gear to it), and it’s fabric takes more water then one you find on Crown 2. It has multiple compartments, so “compactor bag” does not work well – you need some water protection for stuff you have in pockets…

    If there are questions – I’ll try to answer…

    • Igor,
      Would you happen to know if the old REI Trekker packs were made by Kelty? I used to have one, and mainly I’m just curious. The Kelty appears quite similar and any differences could probably just be the result of cumulative updates from over the past 25 years.

      • Hello Brett, I found some listings of REI Trekker on eBay with decent pictures. It was made in USA, current Kelty frame packs are made in China. I can not say who exactly made pack for REI… I saw at least two different versions of REI Trekker on eBay. One named “REI Trekker Wonderland” looks very close to Kelty Trekker, it can be modern pack is incremental update of that old one…

        Moreover if you are looking to update straps/belt/back net on old REI pack – Kelty parts CAN fit. “Wonderland” should take Kelty parts without any alternation (at least hip belt and shoulder straps). Another one (without load lifters) would require some work to mate parts. Here are some measurements of modern pack.

        Clevis pin diameter on Kelty Trekker is 0.25 inch. REI may have smaller pins, so there are two options if it will be too big – either add some washer to your existing pins or request pins from Kelty (my belt/straps did not come with pins included) and make holes in your frame larger.

        Webbing on load lifters and shoulder straps is 1″ wide on Kelty. If your pack does not have load lifters – you may either cut them (not recommended) or find some buckle to attach them to upper bar of the pack.

        Diameter of vertical frame tube near hip belt is 1″, distance between vertical tubes near belt is 13″ (so 15″ total width). Belt should fit around 1″ wider/narrower frame (if it does not match exactly).

        Now about back net… Kelty has vertical strap on net which REI does not have. You will need to have some horizontal bars on your frame to use it. I have my frame completely expanded, distance between upper bar top/tower bar bottom is 16″, bar diameter is 0.75″. If you do not have horizontal bars which could take strap – net will not work well (it will not be tight enough), so you should either keep you old one or make one yourself.

  5. Great review and thanks for “mixing it up a bit” with a classic pack that can still be relevant under the right conditions. I have a Seek Outside as my heavy hauler now but if price was an issue, kelty is a solid performer and a great value. I gave mine to a scout who was short on funds. If you have the frame on the top (full) extension, the frame joints get a little loose over time. I little J&B epoxy fixed that

  6. Thank you! I love my Kelly 65 in the winter. Add my SVEA 123R, REI fleece, and Thermarest Prolite 4.
    Very durable gear that has served me well for years

  7. Yes there is still a place for classic external frames.

    But I wonder whether the distinction between internal and external frames is blurring mostly due to the marketing of pack manufacturers. I own an Osprey 33 liter Talon and the framesheet clearly sits outside the backpack. I don’t own a Zpacks pack ut from the photos the FlexArc frame sits outside the backpack as Zpacks says ” to keep your back cool and cushioned.”

  8. I’ve had my Trekker for over 10 years. Each of my children has one. I keep eyeing internal framed packs, but wonder why mess with what I’ve got.
    I slide a Platypus bottle in the side “water bottle pocket”. I use a cap w/ an integral hose and bite valve.
    I do wish the hip belts had pockets.
    Great review

  9. One of those rode my back for many years. I even hauled my daughter on hikes with it when she was young. She’d put her feet on the bottom crossbar and grab the top of the frame and go up the trail with Dad.

    I bought it from a very tall friend in Colorado who never could get it adjusted right for him but it was perfect for me. It’s demise came when Northwest Airlines used it as wheel chocks and forgot to take it out before the aircraft began to taxi… or that’s how it looked to me when I picked up my baggage!

    It was a great heavy hauler pack. Very comfortable.

    • I am in awe of the amount of backpacking gear you’ve owned or used!

      • I’ve been backpacking more than a half century and camping and day hiking at least a decade longer than that. My father traveled quite often for business and he’d take us camping as soon as he got home from a trip. We lived in Calgary and Denver for several years before I was ten and we’d head for the hills every weekend. I became a “mountain freak” at a very young age.

        I started backpacking with WWII surplus gear and have upgraded many times. We also did many canoe camping expeditions when I was younger and I still occasionally do a canoe or kayak camping trip.

        I’m just a country boy stuck in a big flat city that I escape as often as possible.

      • Both my mom and dad loved the outdoors and I’ve been camping almost my entire life. When I was young, we lived in Calgary and Denver and would head for the hills every weekend. My father also took us on many canoe camping expeditions.

        I’ve backpacked more than a half century. I started out with surplus WWII equipment my parents had secured and kept upgrading as I could afford it or was forced to when my gear got damaged. The last dozen years or so, I’ve been trying to secure as lightweight equipment as possible because it’s easier on this aging, aching back.

        I’m a mountain freak stuck in a big flat city that I try to escape from as often as possible.

  10. I believe Superior Wilderness Designs is making a lightweight external pack too. Haven’t tried one yet, but they seem to get pretty good reviews. Love your work. Thanks for sharing with us.

  11. Wow. Talk about the dinosaur age. I started with a Kelty external way back when. I think it was the DB4 model,,not sure. I called it the D B Cooper model after he hijacked a NorthWest 727, parachuted out the back and became a survivalist in the Washington Cascades. It was top heavy so I cut the frame down about 4 inches, lowered the bag and strapped my pad on the bottom. I never did understand the logic of strapping the sleeping bag on the frame where it got wet. As time went on, I switched to a full length back mesh which made it more comfortable. Then made a light weight ,1 lb. ,full length packbag. Ditched the clevis pins and steel wire retainers. Used small grommets on the bag and small pan head sheet metal screws to attach the bag to the frame. They never back out. Later, I switched to a “cheap” 3/4″ tube frame to save 6 ozs. A word of warning,,do not try to bend old frame tube much at all. They age harden and will snap very easy. And finally, made new straps and belt. The best I could do for a 60L pack was 3 lbs./4 oz. But it can handle a lot of weight. More than I want these days. One thing I like about the external frame packs is the top spreader bar on the bag. It makes loading easier, keeps the bag flat and square against the frame and eliminates the need for compression straps. It weighs 1.5 ozs. I think some lightweight bags like the Levity might be better off with one.

  12. Our family has been using REI and Kelty externals for over 40 years…
    You said….”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”
    …then you said “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.

    This is NOT true.

    Heavy items should always be placed in the bottom compartment and the lower portion of the top compartment. The weight should be centered in the pack, below the shoulders, so as not to make it “top heavy”.

    2) I know Kelty says there is a “sleeping bag compartment”, but everyone I have known uses the exposed portion of the frame below the pack for their sleeping bag. We have NEVER had a sleeping bag get wet. You should always have a waterproof stuff bag, and smart folks place a garbage bag in the stuff bag to add protection.

    Just wanted to add this to make every trip a bit more enjoyable and comfortable for those using externals. :)

    • Phil- Thank you for the review on the Kelty pack. It’s nice to see /honest and knowledgeable reviews coming in on “classic” equipment- proving that “old” ways still can be good ways of doing something. Ive camped, hiked, canoed, for over 60 years having seen “ improvements” to all such gear. You are right on about the advantages of the external frame pack, but I would back David’s comments about weight distribution. In most cases heavy items sit and stay put better the lower they are in the external frames packs- the closer they are to the middle and to the hips to lessen sway. Great comments and reviews everyone!

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