Monday, November 1, 2021

Why I Switched Backpacks or Redhead RH2200 vs Osprey Kestrel 48


OK, if you have been paying attention you may have realized that I actually changed packs some time ago but I have put off talking much about it until now.

Why? Well don't you just hate those reviewers that say "This just arrived so I haven't had time to try it yet, but the packaging was nice so I'm giving it 4 stars"!?

I know, I know, we're all supposed to join hands, sway gently like the breeze 'o'er waves of grain', and repeat the mantra 'violence doesn't solve anything' to the accompaniment of a folk-guitarist - and I don't disagree. But hell! Once in a while it sure feels good to imagine reaching through the screen and slapping these useless yahoo's up side the head for wasting our time! At the very least I give a thumbs down on reviews like this then do a search on that reviewer and thumbs-down any other similar reviews of theirs I find, because if we don't actively discourage behavior like this, or any other non-productive or damaging behaviors, we are just part of the problem.

OK, rant over - for now.

Anyway, I've been using the new pack for a while now and feel like I can now talk about it from a position of authority - or at least not-total-ignorance.

I have day-hiked with my Redhead RH2200 pack for many years and have always been happy with it. And though it has begun showing signs of wear around the edges it still functions perfectly well - OK, mostly well.

True, at 2200 cubic inches or 36 liters, it's in the upper end of the range of what might be considered a day-pack, but I like a real day-pack that can handle my basic supplies, not those tiny brightly colored, T-shirt-material, wanabe impostors with no hip-belt at all, and that reach their load limit with a couple bottles of water and a sandwich! 

So why the heck have I switched to another pack?

Well they say that as you get older you start regressing towards your younger years again. So far that hasn't put me back in diapers - though there's still time! - but there are other ways to regress.

As a kid I camped out of a backpack a fair bit. When I got to working age backpacking was abandoned for day-hiking - a lot of day-hiking, but lately, ever since I've made it past those working years and into retirement, I have been slowly building up and experimenting with my backpacking gear again.

While the Redhat is a good day-pack, it is a bit on the small side for anything more than the basics of a quick overnight trip.

In the photo above my Redhat is loaded for a one-nighter and as you can see my tent, groundcloth, air-mattress, and sleeping bag all have to be bed-rolled and hung outside the pack off of the just-barely-up-to-it straps (In fact I had to modify the straps to make them long enough to reach around the bedroll.) that don't quite managed to hold the load stable but rather let it swing and sway as I hike.

The hard truth is that the Redhat, while a great day-pack, just isn't up to the rigors of backpacking.

But I'm a minimalist - yep, I'm that guy - so I only want to be carrying around a single pack in The Van, therefor a monster backpacking pack that would have enough room to carry my gear and half of someone else's but is terrible at doubling for a day-pack isn't the answer either. So after a lot of research I settled on the 48 liter Osprey Kestrel 48 as a compromise between hauling gear for backpacking yet also serving as my day-pack.

Here is a comparative photo of the 36 liter Redhat and the 48 liter Osprey.

And, at the risk of being labeled a ranter, let me pause here for another mini-rant. How could I possibly be expected to fit 24 two-liter jugs of soft-drink, or for us non-metric Americans, over a dozen one gallon milk-jugs, into that 48 liter pack!??

I don't know who the guy is that sits behind his desk and decides how big packs are - but at least he's consistent if not realistic, and that helps when trying to size a new pack. 

Anyway, for this photo I've filled out the Redhat with a lightly compressed sleeping bag, but the Kestrel is (almost) fully loaded with all my normal day-hiking gear as well as tent, air-mattress, sleeping bag, cook-gear, clothes, and food for an overnight trip.

I say almost fully loaded because when taking that comparison photo I forgot to add the hard-foam sleeping pad which weighs pretty much nothing but was way too bulky to try to fit onto the Redhat at all so always got left behind.

On the Kestrel it fits neatly into the straps designed exactly for this purpose (The center strap is just for keeping the pad rolled up when I store it under the gaucho in The Van) and stays put, nice and stable as I hike. And yeah, I'm still carrying the air-mattress inside the pack and perhaps in a future post I'll get into why I use both.

Point is, the Kestrel is large enough for a two or three day back-packing trip - and let's be realistic, I'm not a through-hiker so a few days is plenty for me - and yet still able to serve as day-pack as well, albeit a rather large one.

So enough jibber-jabber, on to the comparison:

Published specs on the Redhat RH2200 seem to be a little difficult to come by anymore since it appears to have been discontinued, but one of the first things to note is that the smaller Redhat actually weighs nearly a pound more than the larger Kestrel.

This is probably in part because the Redhat has 21 pockets and/or compartments to the Kestrel's 11. Now this might sound like the Redhat is the hand's-down winner of organization, but in my experience that's not how it works. The real-world result of cramming so many pockets and compartments into the Redhat is that many of them are not terribly useful.

For instance, both packs have hip-belt pockets on both sides. On the Redhat (left) each of these pockets is split into two separate zippered compartments, both of which are pretty limited in how much will fit into them and still zip up.

On the Kestrel there's a single pocket on each side. Even though the combined pocket-volume is pretty much the same between the two packs, the Kestrel's single larger pocket, which is holding everything you see in the Redhat's two pockets and still has some room left over, is more versatile when it comes to loading it up.

The packs also have a different approach to back-panel systems.

The Redhat, on the right uses a "breathable mesh backpanel" while the Kestrel uses a "breathable Airscape ridged foam backpanel".

To be honest I can't really tell much difference. Both ride comfortably without any hard spots and my back sweats equally as much under either one during summer hikes.

While both packs use an internal frame the Redhat uses a couple of spring-steel straps (those orange bits) while the Kestrel uses a springy but still somewhat malleable metal rod bent into a rectangular shape that roughly follows the perimeter of the green Airscape foam.

Because the spring-metal wouldn't stay where it was bent to, there was no adjusting of the vertical contour of the frame with the Redhat. it was just what it was. But with some effort I am able to (carefully!) bend the Kestrel's frame to get it to conform more closely to my back. (I have more curvature of my upper spine than the average person.)

What you can (almost, since I inadvertently cut the top off the Kestrel in this photo - bad photographer!) also tell from this photo is that the Redhat shoulder-straps are fixed to the pack and not adjustable for torso length while the Kestrel's shoulder straps are torso-length adjustable.

With the Redhat I always wore it with the shoulder straps wrapped a little farther over my shoulders and down my back than I prefer (Refer back to the first photo) in order to get the hip-belt to hit me in the right spot, which is way more important that the shoulder straps. (more on the 'right spot' for the waist-belt in a follow-up post)

The Kestrel's shoulder-straps are fixed, not to the pack itself, but to the top of a separate panel, that black panel with the white sombrero thingys on it. This panel can be slid up or down behind the backpanel then fixed in place with hook-n-loop. This is an important adjustment, especially for heavily loaded packs, and once hooked-n-looped it stays firmly in place. In fact it's actually pretty hard to get it loose to make any adjustments! Fortunately, once that adjustment is dialed in it doesn't need to be messed with anymore - unless the hump on my back gets bigger - - -

While on the subject of adjustments, though it might not seem like a big deal, the hip-belt adjustment on the two packs are different too.

With the Redhat (top) I pull the straps away from the hip-belt buckle to tighten it. With the Kestrel I pull the straps towards the buckle to tighten.

Both systems work, but it's noticeably easier to properly snug up the Kestrel's hip-belt and I feel like I have more control when doing so than I did with the Redhat.

I'm a water-bladder rather than water-bottle kind of guy. That's just what works for me.

The Redhat (left) has an internal pocket inside the main compartment just behind the backpanel for the water-bladder while the Kestrel uses a separate external pocket between the backpanel and the main pack compartment which is not only more difficult to slip the bladder into, it uses a really fiddly little strap for hanging the bladder that is, frankly, a pain in the ass!

It might seem that the external pocket of the Kestrel protects the rest of the gear better in the case of a bladder-failure, or more commonly, leakage from where the tube attaches to the bladder, but the real-world truth is that things are going to get wet either way. (I'll address that further in an upcoming post on how I pack my pack.)

Also, while the Redhat's internal bladder pocket is well protected, the external pocket of the Kestrel is prone to collecting debris when I'm pushing through dense vegetation, such as when I'm hiking the trails on the property.

With either system, internal or external, the pack has to be pretty much empty in order to slide a full bladder into it but for functionality I like the Redhat's bladder compartment better than the Kestrel's.

For reasons that I'll get into in another post, I always carry two bladders and, though there's only one in there for the photo, (two photos ago) you can see that with the Redhat both will fit neatly into the pocket side-by side.

That's just not doable with the Kestrel's pocket where there's not enough room for two bladders to fit, side-by-side, or otherwise,

so when I'm day-hiking and there's lots of free space inside the Kestrel for things to flop around in if not secured I use one of my para-cord loops to hang the second bladder inside the main compartment where its mass (Water is HEAVY!) then rides in just the right spot in the pack for comfort and stability.

Another nit-picky but noticeable difference between the two packs is the cross-strapping on the shoulder-belts.

The Redhat has this funky-shaped bit of rubberized material that was fine for slipping the bladder-tube under but much too flimsy and oddly shaped to fit or support anything else, whereas the Kestrel has a bit of webbing strap that not only holds the bladder-tube in place, but is also sturdy enough for me to hang stuff, such as my GPS (red arrow) off of rather than using the sternum-strap that runs horizontally between the two shoulder-straps like I had to do with the Redhat.

Something the Redhat didn't have at all was these two loops, one between the rear of the hip-belt side pocket and the pack body and and adjustable one up on the shoulder-strap, that I can quickly slip my hiking sticks into without removing the pack, you know, for those times when I need both hands for scrambling up a mountain on all fours. (But don't tell Mom!)

OK, there's plenty more I could talk about here but this has gone on long enough, so one final point.

Unlike the Redhat, the Kestrel has a top compartment, (yellow arrow) often called a brain, that has to be unhooked and hinged upwards in order to get access to the top-opening main compartment. Some don't like a brain on their pack because of this. I find I do like the brain, despite the fact that it sticks up and catches then funnels trail-debris down into the bladder pocket, because it does a good job of organizing and giving me access to much of my day-hiking gear that always stays with the pack.

To mitigate the access-to-the-main-compartment issue the Kestrel has a zipper down one side which, as the day heats up or cools off , lets me get to or store away my extra clothes inside the main compartment without having to undo the brain first. (red arrow)

This zipper is more useful in day-hike mode when there's plenty of extra space for stuffing than it is in backpacking mode when things are already stuffed in there pretty tight, but then again I do spend more time day-hiking than I do backpacking.

Yes, the Kestrel is a bit much for just day-hiking, especially in temperate weather when less extra clothing is called for, but, though it may look a little ridiculous, it doubles better as a day-pack than the Redhat does as a wilderness camping pack.

Now that I've had enough experience with it to confirm that the Kestrel is working for me it's probably time to get the well-used but perfectly serviceable Redhat over to the community resale shop so someone else can get some use out of it.

Next post, adjusting a pack - or at least the way I adjust my pack - to get the best ride out of it.


  1. Great breakdown, really appreciate you taking the time and details for the rest of us. I've always been an avid day hiker but I'd like to start taking some overnight hikes with minimalist gear, etc.

    I'm relatively new to your blog -- what's your take on sleeping equipment? I occasionally have back issues and would need something comfortable yet minimal.


  2. Thanks Ray

    Unfortunately, sleep comfort can be anything but minimal. Thick is usually best for dodgy backs, but a thick foam or self-inflating pad is bulky so it might be a good idea to check out the thickest air-mattress first as these pack down much more compactly.

    Admittedly, like my feet, my back is tough, but I still use a two-pronged approach. I use a 1.5 inch air-mattress over a thin closed-cell foam pad.

    One thing to take away from wilderness survival experts is to pay attention to the torso when constructing a sleeping pad because the legs usually don't need much support to be comfortable. So perhaps a torso-length second or third layer may be a workable compromise between comfort and bulk

    Next up are a post on how I adjust my pack, followed by one on what's in my day-pack and finally what I add to my day-pack for camping, where I'll probably go into more detail about my sleep-system.