A great all-around backpack

The Kelty Impact 30 is affordable and suitable for adventure or daily use

Published July 29, 2012 4:00PM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on The Wirecutter.

Starting at around $100, the Kelty Impact 30 backpack offers comfort, durability and lots of clever storage. It's big enough for a weekend trip outdoors but isn't too big that you couldn't use it day to day in the city to haul stuff around.

The Wirecutter

If you’re a seasoned hunter, rock climber, survivalist or ultralight camper, move along: There’s are a ton of personal stowage and cargo cartage solutions out there that will be way better suited to your specialized needs than what I’ll be talking about here. If you're looking for a commute optimized bag designed primarily to hold a laptop, or something designer, this is not it.

This is a bag for light adventure that will still work well in an every day setting.Trust me: I had to wade through them for close to 14 hours online in order to find the Impact 30. This bag is a high quality backpack that'll work for them in most situations.

Now that we’ve got that sorted out, let’s talk basic backpacks.

The Kelty is a 30 liter bag, which is designed to be compact enough to hold a day worth of supplies while still being big enough to hold enough for an overnight trip. Backpacks typically range between 20 and 50 litres in size. For most people, a 30 litre day pack should be large enough. If you were using a 30 litre bag on a commute, you could easily carry a laptop, your lunch, a change of clothes for the gym and a packable rain jacket. Head out into the woods with it, and it'll haul around your aforementioned rain jacket, water, a small first aid kit, food for the day, a base layer to fight off the chill if needs be, toilet paper (you want that), and any number of other items that you’d want with you. Because the contents of a fully loaded pack will be enough on their own to slow you down, you’ll want the pack itself to be as light weight as possible–but not so light that the pack sacrifices tough construction in the name of shedding a few more ounces.

We choose 30 as the right size for most because bags with 20 liters are best for wearing during trail runs or bike rides but don't hold enough gear; 40 liter bags are ideal for long weekends but are a little too big to carry on a daily basis in a town.

What do we look for in a bag?

One with wide, well-padded shoulder straps and an integrated or removable waist-belt.

A sternum strap’s a nice touch too—it’ll keep your shoulder straps from riding down and out of place all the time.

Having the pack be of a panel loader design's the way to go. A panel loading pack is designed to be accessed through a U-shaped zippered enclosure on it’s back. Unlike top loaders, which only allow for access to your cargo through an opening in the top of the pack, a panel loader allows for access to everything you’re carrying, no matter if it’s at the top, middle or bottom of the bag.

Finally, because you’ll work up a sweat schlepping your gear around on your back, you’ll want a daypack designed to provide the maximum amount of air flow and ventilation possible where it comes into contact with your body. It won't keep you from becoming a sweaty mess, but it'll make you feel a whole lot more comfortable than you would were the pack made without a thought to ventilation, wicking materials or air channeling.

The Kelty Impact 30 competently nails all of this.

Let’s start by talking about the Impact 30’s sizing, straps and fit. Kelty designed the bag to fit torsos 15.5 to 19.5 inches in length, which means it’ll be a comfortable fit for most adults. Where a lot of manufacturers are only offer unisex hardware these days, Kelty has continued to offer their gear in male and female iterations. The differences between the two? Strap and waist belt design. Women’s bodies aren’t built the same way that men’s bodies are. Having a male and female version of the daypack addresses the anatomical differences unique to the two sexes.

With both versions of the Impact 30, the straps are sewn into an internal aluminum suspension system that features a spring loaded mesh back panel with cushioned scapula and lumbar pads—features that are typically found in much larger and pricier pricer multi-day or expedition backpacks. You might find the suspension system to be a pain in the ass when you’re slinging the Impact 30 over one shoulder on your way through airport security, but you’ll be glad it’s there when you’re properly strapped into both of the backpack’s straps and waist belt, as it provides a great deal of comfort and–thanks to the fact that the pack rides about a quarter inch above the mesh back panel–offers a higher than average amount of breathability. All of this translates into Impact 30 owners being able to hoof it over hill and dale more comfortably for longer periods of time without the need for a break.

This was an important point for my choosing the Impact 30 as our go-to daypack for this story: In order to keep the weight and cost of their daypacks down, a lot of manufactures opt to forgo the use of an internal structure or frame. Without a frame in your pack, you'll still be able to haul what you need to from point A to point B. Anyone that owns a book bag can attest to that. But with a framed pack, everything changes: how the pack sits on your back, how much airflow is allowed between the pack and your body and the way in which the load is balanced and distributed across your body are all affected by the presence of a structured frame. So, it might not be a big deal that the Kelty has an aluminum frame for folks that intend on using it solely to go back and forth to work–in fact, the frame might prove to be more trouble than it's worth, as it won't bend and give in a way that lends itself to easily slipping on and off of a packed subway. It might also give you some trouble should you need to stuff it into a locker at the gym. But fully loaded with heavy books, a laptop, or outdoor gear as you pound the ground on a cross town trek or head out for a day's worth of orienteering? A simple light duty frame is a nice thing to have. And the Impact 30 has it. I couldn't find anything else in the same price range or capacity that came with a structured frame like the Impact 30 does. When you factor in everything else the daypack comes equipped with, it's a steal.

Of course, there’s no use in having a great strap and suspension system without having a well-designed cargo stowage solution attached to it. Fortunately, the Impact 30’s got that going on as well.

As its name suggests, the Impact 30 is a 30 litre pack—that’s large enough to meet the needs of most users looking to carry the supplies and kit they’ll need to support a day’s worth of adventuring on their backs. Remember when I told you about the difference between panel and top loading packs earlier in this story? The Impact 30’s a panel loader: a feature that becomes a lot more important when you’re tying to find something in your pack in wet or dirty conditions. No one wants to dig have of their kit out of their backpack in the middle of a rainstorm to find an essential piece of equipment. That’s the sort of situation you can face with a top loader. It’s the kind of thing you’ll be able to avoid with the Impact 30. Also, the bottom 20% or so of the bag is designed to stow a sleeping bag, but it can be used to hold a jacket or sweater or anything else you want easy access to that you'd normally be digging around for via the top of the bag.

Speaking of rain, Kelty has equipped the Impact 30 with a packable rainfly that stashes away into a compartment at the bottom of the bag.

Along with the rain cover, the exterior of the Impact 30 offers a number of other cargo features. Most of them, like the pack’s load stabilizer straps, zippered waist belt pockets, shoulder strap pockets large enough to hold a GPS device or mobile phone, map pocket, compression straps and dual water bottle stash pockets, will prove insanely useful to you. Others, like the pack’s Ice-axe or trekking pole loops, will appeal only to a small percentage of users. Inside of the Impact 30’s main zippered compartment there’s a pocket to slide a 100 fluid ounce hydration bladder into (as well as a central hole at the top of the pack to snake your reservoir’s feed hose through). There’s also two smallish, interior stash pockets at the bottom of the main compartment, a zippered pocket that’s perfect for storing a passport or wallet and a single divider to help you organize the Impact 30’s contents.

With nothing in it, the pack weighs three pounds. Given the strength of the Impact 30’s aluminum suspension system and the fact that the bag’s constructed out of 300D Polyester Velocity, 210D Polyester HD and 420D Ballistic fabrics, the heft is more than justified.

When I dove into the research for this piece, I’d never heard of Kelty. My background has led me to have a deep familiarity with pack and gear makers that have traditionally catered to law enforcement and military users, like Blackhawk, Tactical Tailor and Maxpedition. Packs designed for recreational use were something of a mystery to me.  I talked to a few friends that routinely hike, camp and travel. They told me to check out packs by Sierra Design, Patagonia, Deuter, Mountainsmith and Osprey. I also checked The North Face's latest line up of daypacks and technical packs, but they didn't offer the right combination of capacity, features and price. I looked at the in-house bags offered by REI and Mountain Equipment Co-Op. I also looked at bags that were better suited for folks that were more likely to have their adventures exclusively within the city limits: Targus, Timbuk2 and the always amazing Tom Bihn. I stumbled across the Kelty Impact 30 almost by accident. By and large, the bag was a mystery. At the time this story was written, there wasn't a single review for either the male or female versions of the bag on Amazon. On reader request we checked out Thule, Cocoon, Mountain Hardware and they are too city oriented (all flash) or are book bags or overbuilt backpacker bags.

Editorial reviews for the bag were almost as scarce. I was only able to find one from the editors of GearGuide–a site that has reviewed a very respectable number of pieces of gear over the past two years. I can't speak to the background of the editors, but their work is largely thoughtful, and well reasoned. GearGuide awarded the Kelty Impact 30 4.5 out of 5 stars and raved about it, saying “With the Agile Suspension System, Kelty delivers one helluva daypack. It’s comfortable, stable and able to carry a surprisingly large amount of gear. Everything about the pack is well thought out, from the ventilation system to the built-in rain cover. If you’re looking for a rock solid daypack to get you through a season or more or hiking, definitely give the Kelty Impact a look”. I also contacted GearJunkie's Stephen Regenold to get his take on Kelty on the whole. He told me that they were a fine brand that he liked, which offered a 'fair price and fine performance'.

While there was scant little feedback on the Impact 30, the web did offer up a bounty of overwhelmingly positive reviews for a wide range of Kelty's other offerings, including backpacks, child carriers and sleeping bags. That said, happy thoughts about the rest of the company's gear doesn't mean that everything Kelty makes is going to be great and a great value, so I ordered an Impact 30, and tested it against an Osprey Manta 30, a friend’s High Sierra Tech Series 59104 Lightning 30, a Deuter Trans Alpine 30 daypack purchased from Mountain Equipment Co-Op and my personal Maxpedition Falcon-II backpack.

All of the daypacks I was testing had similar weights, construction and features, with the exception of the Falcon-II: While it weighs three pounds like the Impact 30 does, it only has a 25 litre capacity. I tested each of the packs by embarking on a five mile hike through the city with a 20 pound kettlebell jammed into its main compartment along with 100 ounces of water in either a hydration bladder or bottles. The hikes took place over  the course of two days, with each of the days playing reaching a high of 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

Being as I’ve been piloting a desk for a number of years now, I’m no longer in anything resembling good shape anymore. As a result, I sweated like a pig wearing all of the daypacks. But I have to tell you that I sweated a whole lot less across my back when I was wearing the Kelty Impact 30. This, in my opinion, was largely due to the fact that the pack’s suspension frame and mesh back panel created a channel for airflow between my sweaty, out of shape body and the 23 pounds of daypack and kettlebell it was hauling around. Given that all of the packs tested boasted similar features, similar build quality (except for the Falcon II, which is built like a tank), and can be found for between $100 – $160 online or in-store, the additional iota of comfort provided by the Impact 30 cinched it for me. That it also comes with a built-in rain fly and looks pretty damn sharp doesn’t hurt either.

Still, the fact that it’s gone largely unreviewed might be keep a few of you from buying it. I can understand that, but you might want to consider the fact that while the pack is relatively unknown, the company itself has been around since the 1950s. I don’t care what kind of business you’re talking about—be it a deli, outdoor gear manufacturer or a dance studio—if you’ve survived for that long you must be doing something right.

It’s also worth mentioning that, the Impact 30 comes with a lifetime warranty, which puts the pack in league with the companies like REI with their reputation for no quibble returns and Osprey with their All Mighty Guarantee–Send your bag into them, and if they're not able to perform a functional repair on it, they'll replace it.

But maybe you don’t want a 30 litre bag. It could be that you’re looking for something a little lighter or a little more versatile. If that’s the case, the Osprey Talon 22 is a great choice. For as little as $84, the Talon 22 will provide you with a hydration bladder and rain cover-compatible day pack that’s large enough to cram all the basics you could need for a day’s adventure into it, but light enough that it’s a perfect choice for jumping on your bicycle with—a notion highlighted by the fact that the Talon 22 comes with an integrated clip for securing a bike helmet to. And again, you won't be able to beat their warranty coverage.

If you’re planning on getting away from it all for more than a day, say maybe a whole weekend, or if you’re carrying the kit and supplies for yourself and your child, you might want to go a little larger. The REI lookout 40, as it’s name suggests, is a 40 litre daypack. It costs $100—close to $45 cheaper than the men’s iteration of the Impact 30—and comes with some pretty sweet features like compression straps and an internal sleeve for a hydration bladder. That said, it’s constructed out of PET polyester fabric. That might be tough enough to take a beating on a family road to Disney World, but I wouldn’t bet on it standing up to any amount of abuse in the bush. However REI's got a lifetime guarantee on all its gear, so no big deal if you need to swap it.

But hey, maybe you're not going into the bush at all. That's cool: Not everyone digs the bugs and campfire thing. One of the things that all of the bags I took out for a road test have in common is that they weren’t designed specifically with office workers and city slickers in mind. For anyone that prefers their packs be a little more computer, gadget and museum visit oriented, you’ll want to take a serious look at Seattle’s Tom Bihn. Their 26 litre Smart Alec and 19 litre Synapse are great packs designed to contend more with the daily grind than grinding your way up a gully. Both are tough as nails and full of insanely useable features.

In the end, for people who seem to balance indoor and outdoor and work and play lives well, the Kelty Impact 30 backpack is our ideal recommendation, and we'll stake our reputation on recommending it to you.

By Seamus Bellamy

MORE FROM Seamus Bellamy

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