6,004 forum posts
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).