Dick Kelty passes away

7:05 p.m. on January 27, 2004 (EST)
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Dick Kelty, one of the true innovators of outdoor gear, passed away January 19 at age 84. Kelty invented the aluminum frame backpack and the waist belt in the early 1950s, for practical purposes. There had been pack frames previously - the old Trapper Nelson, the Bergans rucksack for the Norwegian army and ski troops, pack baskets used by native Americans, and so on, and waist straps that were more meant to keep the packs from wiggling around than help with the load carrying. But Kelty's application of a contoured frame and a load-bearing belt were real innovations. These two innovations really opened up backpacking to lots of people who could now carry loads in relative comfort. His packs were used on not only weekend backpacks, but on major Himalayan expeditions. I got my first Kelty (a Backpacker model) in 1959 from Kelty himself out of his garage in Glendale, CA, as did many others. We have 4 of the old originals - Barbara's and her parents' Mountaineer models and my Backpacker, plus a later version we got for Young Son. We still use them once in a while, since they can comfortably carry 45-50 pounds, yet weigh only about 2 pounds empty (compare to my Dana Terraplane, which weighs almost 8 pounds empty). Judging from the numbers in the article, our Kelties must be among the first couple thousand made - no serial numbers, so who knows?

Kelty sold the company many years ago, and the company headquarters has moved several times (not in California, for something like 15-20 years or more).

11:26 a.m. on January 28, 2004 (EST)

a.k.a. sc

What a nice tribute!

Thanks, Bill, you remind everyone of the impact he had. I don't think there's anyone who's been backpacking for awhile who hasn't owned and used (and abused) a Kelty backpack or two. I still keep my old Kelty external in the closet and use it when appropriate - and my son is now using it, too.

1:02 p.m. on February 29, 2004 (EST)

I have just heard, belatedly, that Dick has passed away. I worked at the store in Glendale from 1966 to 1969. During that time I got to know Dick and went on several hikes and bike rides with him. A few years later, after service in the Navy, I worked at the Kelty factory when it was in Sun Valley, California. I helped with the design and construction of an automated tube bending and frame welding machine.

I bought Dick's ten-speed, an Italian Ideor. I recall that Dick was instrumental in getting the City of Glendale to retrofit every storm drain grating with right-angle strips so the narrow ten-speed bike tires would not get stuck in the gratings and throw the rider. The city called them "Kelty Katchers". I still ride and see that these types of storm drain gratings are universal and often wonder if Dick was the first one to think of it.
I still have and use the Kelty A-4 backpack as well as the Timberline down bag that that I got in about 1968. Incidentally, Dick built all the story fixtures himself. All were beautifully made in wood. It was a great experience working there at that time. Customers would come from all over the country and occasionally from other countries, spending hours getting outfitted. They would often spend six or seven hundred dollars (in the 60's that was a bunch of money) and for many the experience was like coming to Mecca. I made friendships through Kelty that remain to this day.
Dick Kelty was a terrific guy to work for, always easy-going and ready to liten to a problem and offer help. I ran into Dick at the Auto Club a few years ago and we chatted for an hour in the parking lot.
I'll bet he smiled to everyone in his last hours of life. He was that kind of guy.
Ken Scott

10:49 a.m. on September 5, 2004 (EDT)

How fitting that the family found this posting thread at this time. We'll be scattering my dad's ashes in his beloved Eastern Sierra on what would have been his 85th birthday on September 13th.

Thanks to everyone for your kind words and for reminding us that we aren't the only people who think he was a great guy.

May 26, 2018
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