Utilizing their new NadaTech technology, the Kelty Zip 48 aims to minimize contact points and reduce weight while putting an emphasis on comfort and breathability. This is my review:
The Zip 48 is built around a full perimeter sprung steel frame that wraps around the back panel of the pack. This provides a solid, sturdy structure for carrying equipment while also serving as the substrate for their NadaTech back panel, which is stretched across it to create a material free back panel. This reduces how much material actually contacts the body, improves ventilation, and reduces weight while still being fairly adjustable. The pack features two stretchy panel pockets on the outside, two water bottle pockets, one on each side, a zippered top lid and a spacious interior compartment. It is made primarily of 210 denier and 420 denier nylon, weighs 3 lbs 5 oz in the size I tested, and retails for $169.95.
What I liked
I found that the NadaTech used in this pack does have some merit. Many packs to hit the market lately are using mesh panels to aid in ventilation and reduce how much of the pack actually contacts the body. But, what happens when you just start removing material altogether? Well, seems it works out pretty well actually. Instead of having mesh pushing against the spine, the NadaTech creates an actual void of material, while still supporting the pack. I quite liked having no physical material sitting against my mid back, which did allow a considerable amount of air to pass through on hot summer days.
The shoulder and hip pads are also thick and highly compressible, which felt nice against my relatively unprotected collar and hip bones (I’m mostly bone there). These pads were a little less breathable than the back panel, but still never grew particularly warm, even at 90 degrees F.
Thanks to the sturdy frame, the pack did a great job of distributing the weight of my gear to my hips (exactly where it should be) and managed to handle loads of up to about 35 lbs without issue. The pack can handle more weight, physically, but not really recommended with its design.
For me, organization is always a priority with any overnight pack. If you can’t quickly get to the gear you need, then it might as well not be with you. The Zyp manages to handle this quite well, and in some interesting ways. There are two small stash pockets on the back of the pack, great for stuffing in small layers like a synthetic long sleeve or a rain jacket, and having two of them instead of one large pocket allows micro-organization of things like gloves and beanies. The top lid has a conveniently oriented zippered pocket, with the zipper moved off to the side. This keeps things from dumping out when digging around and makes it easier for a partner to gain access to the contents as well. There is an internal key clip, a couple stretchy water bottle pockets, and the internal main compartment holds enough gear for a lightweight multi-day trip. The hip pockets are also zippered and great for hiding away snacks, bug spray or similar, and their positioning makes them very easy to access without having to stop. Everything is quick and easy to get to, which for me, makes a huge impact on how I pack, unpack and function both on trail at at camp.
Build quality as a whole has been very good. As is normally the case with Kelty products, the pack is designed to take a beating. It is built from relatively high quality 210 denier ripstop nylon, with burly 420 denier ripstop used in high wear and strain areas. Everything is properly reinforced, and I couldn’t find any issues with the stitching or material consistency anywhere. The straps are thick and sturdy, and even the zippers have a rugged feel to them when pulled. It is a solid backpack and should easily hold up to the rigors of backpacking for many years.
Pricing is another strong suit for the Zyp. It under $170 (I did spot it as low as $110), it’s definitely one of the more affordable packs I’ve tested, despite having such a wide array of comforts and features. It’s an absolutely great value at this price.
What I didn’t like
Despite being an overall great design, I did have one minor issue with the fit. Having a wide, stalky build and a relatively upright posture, I found that the shoulder straps didn’t quite agree with me all the time, especially under heavy weight. The two shoulder straps are adjoined by a central piece of material/padding, and due to my upright construction this sat directly against my neck, dropping pressure onto my lower neck vertebrae. Now, this is a common issue for me with packs designed this way and generally doesn’t affect most people, so keep that in mind. Typically, I can just adjust the shoulder pads to sit up higher, which alleviates the issue. However, when this pad structure is combined with the relatively squat nature of the pack, this means I cannot move the shoulder straps up high enough to compensate as the frame simply isn’t tall enough. Instead, I found I had to move the pack up higher on my hips than I’m typically used to. This worked as long as the pack was under 35 lbs or so. Otherwise, the weight put pressure on my neck which causes me some issues. Most people won’t find this to be an issue at all, but with my triangular shoulders and highly upright neck posture, this did cause some neck tension. Now, this feature does help those with a more traditional posture, so don’t let this turn you off if you’re not unusually upright like myself.
At 3 lbs 5 oz , the Zyp is a little heavy considering the 48 liter capacity. Now, this is a sacrifice that is made in the name of build quality, features, price, and is partially brought on by the inclusion of thick, comfortable padding. For many, this is an easy trade off.
I would prefer the pack to a little taller and less squat at the same capacity. This would allow for more frame-length adjustability, while also improving stability (not that it’s an issue) when packed with heavier gear and lots of water.
The Kelty Zyp has a lot going for it. It is built great, is stuffed with excellent features like the “NadaTech” back panel, and it has excellent organization options baked right in. Personally, I had some issues with the shoulder straps putting pressure on my neck, but those who have a more traditional posture shouldn’t have to worry about this. The padding is great, the ventilation is great, and even with my particular issue, with a little shifting and adjusting, I found it was a rather comfortable experience as long as the pack weight stayed below that 35 lbs mark. The Zyp is also an exceptional value considering the build quality, long list of features and relatively high amount of adjustability to be had at just under $170. It’s a solid pack and definitely one worth considering.
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