Kelty Pathfinder

Essential kid carrier

I’ve used this kid-carrier backpack from Kelty, called the Pathfinder, nearly every day for the past year. For instance, just today I took a bird-watching hike with my 16-month-old son, Ivan, who loves traveling in the pack. Previous to the Pathfinder I was using an expensive Phil-and-Ted Backpack for a few months, but it was inferior. It is attractive and stylish and it has what seems to be a more comfortable seat for the child, but the adjustments are limited for positioning the child. It’s essential when using one of these packs that the kid’s weight is well-balanced over the wearer’s hips, and not too far back. I find that the Phil and Ted’s pack isn’t adjustable enough, so that my child becomes cantilevered too far off of my back. In contrast, the Kelty pack’s adjustments allow me to place my child in such a way that his weight rests on my hips and doesn’t put too much strain on my back and neck.
The previously reviewed and recommended Ergo Baby carrier is an outstanding product, if not the best overall child carrier. It’s great for wearing young infants in front, and it can—like this Kelty— be used to wear a larger toddler on your back. However, the kid is directly against your back, so any type of serious hiking would be out of the question because it would be too uncomfortable and sweaty. I like to get a workout in while I’m out with my son, and with the heat he generates having him directly on my back would be miserable.
Like the other packs in this class, the Pathfinder is designed to balance a lot of weight (up to 44 lbs.), so that it feels comfortable for the wearer and for the child while you are really hiking. The pack itself is lightweight, and comes with a very useful sun/rain canopy. The padding on the back and the positioning of the child both keep my back from getting hot and sweaty. The Pathfinder has two hip pockets accessible while you’re wearing the pack, and the main storage compartment that rests behind the kid detaches as a small daypack, diaper bag. 
What sets the old Pathfinder apart from the top-of-the-line Ortlieb and Deuter models — and the current Pathfinder 3.0, Kelty’s current top-of-the-line version  —  is simply its low price. Functionally it’s the same as, or at least very similar to, the high-end newer models, but with out-of-style colors.
You can get these classic packs cheap on eBay because parents receive them as gifts but then never use them. It requires some effort to adjust them properly, and more importantly it’s simply hard to carry 32 pounds (my kid + cargo + the pack itself) on your back if you’re not used to it, especially hiking uphill or on uneven terrain. So there’s an abundance of high-quality inexpensive used backpacks in excellent condition. I bought mine unused for $65 through Craigslist, versus about $275 for the new Pathfinder 3.0.

-- Elon Schoenholz 02/20/12

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