Kelty Catalyst 65 Backpack Review

The Catalyst 65 from Kelty brings forth a simple innovation that produces impressive results. At the base of the design is the Perfect-FIT system, an instantly adjustable torso length that provides nearly 16″ of expansion. This simple system combined with solid design results in a supremely comfortable backpack for a surprisingly low price.

The Catalyst 65 (also available as an 80 liter) is built from a very durable 420D polyester Ball Shadow, reinforced with a 450D polyester Oxford. The suspension is a stout but flexible aluminum stay that transfers the weight of the pack to the hips. The suspension adjusts by simply sliding on the pack, and pulling down on the two loops behind you. There are two large hip pockets, two meshy water bottle pockets, a large primary hull, a quick access top panel, and even a removable back pocket that doubles as an ultralight daypack. There are two vertical zippers that give access to the sleep bag compartment, and the top half of the backpack from the outside. The pack tested comes in two colors, has a women’s model, weighs in at 4 lbs 14 oz, and retails for $179.95.Kelty Catalyst 65

What I liked

The first time I put on the pack, I immediately took it back off and began checking for missing items. The pack felt so good on my back and shoulders (after a quick adjustment) that I couldn’t believe all of my gear was inside. The adjustable suspension allows for a finely tuned fit that’s uncommon among even the most expensive packs. Combined with the generous padding, and solid, slightly curved internal suspension and you have one of the most comfortable packs I’ve ever tested. Miles of hiking left no soreness or stiffness on my back, shoulders, or hips.

Organization is great, with plenty of pockets to keep your snacks, map, compass, camera, and keys all in separate places. Everything is easily accessible and never too far out of the way. The vertical zips allow you to pull out your sleeping bag or other buried treasure without dragging everything out of your pack. The small day pack is removable to shed weight, or can be clipped to your pack to provide even more storage and organization thanks to the extra horizontal zip and main compartment. It’s also light weight in itself.

Kelty Catalyst 65

The pack is built to last. Tough, thick, well woven fabrics are used through the entirety of the pack. Dragging it along rocks, up and down climbs, and miles of branches and thickets had no effect. Zippers are rugged yet slide easily, and the stitching is top-notch. This is not a pack you’ll have to take it easy on. It will survive.

The pack is very affordable. At 180 bucks, I’ve paid much more for packs that were far less comfortable and less durable. It’s an exceptional value.

The pack has a semi-retro look to it, perhaps a nod to the fact that Kelty has been around since 1952.

Kelty Catalyst 65

What I didn’t like

The pack is a little on the heavy side at 4 lb, 14 oz.(4 lb, 6 oz without the day pack) You wouldn’t guess from carrying it though.

I would like to see more innovative color schemes for such an innovate pack.


An unexpected superb backpack from Kelty. The Catalyst 65 is durable, comfortable, and should fit just about everyone. If you don’t mind a little extra weight in trade for comfort and reliability, this is certainly a solid option.

Highly Recommended

Kelty Catalyst 65

Big thanks to Kelty for providing this pack for review. Full disclosure available on our contact us page.


4 thoughts on “Kelty Catalyst 65 Backpack Review

  1. Thank you, excellent review! I had two questions if I may. I use a bear canister often (BearVault 450) and was wondering if there appears to be enough room for a BV450 to fit inside the main compartment? The 2nd question has to do with the hip belt; do you know the size waist that it fits or can you give me an approximation? Thank you!

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
      I see no reason that the bear vault wouldn’t fit. It’s quite spacious inside, and should easily accomodate that vault, if nothing else vertically. The waist is quite large, and designed to be a one size fits all (along with the torso). I’m a 34 waist, and have roughly 6 inches of strap on either side for adjustment. Sizes aren’t indicated, but it should fit most people comfortably.
      I know those aren’t super specific answers, but I hope it helps! If I can be more specific please let me know.

    1. Hi there.
      A lot of it comes down to how it fits your particular body, however, I would give a nod to the Stout 45 for it’s weight, overall comfort, balanced design (it keeps the weight close to the body) and build quality. The Kelty is built very well, but it’s a bit bulky in the way it hold the gear. It’s a very tough backpack and it does have a stiffer frame though. They’re both great packs, but I would go for the Stout if it was me. The best bet is to simply, if possible, try them both on and go with whatever feels better with some weight it in, especially around the shoulders.

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