Kelty Coyote 85 Review 2020

  • Wilderness Backpacker

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Kelty Coyote 85 Overview

Kelty has been making packs and outfitting adventures for decades. Their history of functional, simple backpacks continues with the Kelty Coyote 85. A capable load-hauler, the Kelty Coyote 85 features a plethora of pockets, an adjustable suspension, and a comfortable carry even when loaded to the limit. (I did learn it does not filter out the sound of complaining nearby teens: full story below).

The Kelty Coyote 85 is a well-rounded gear hauler suited for the value-oriented backpacker: no bells and whistles, but a solid pack for most backcountry journeys. Tons of organization make the Coyote 85 easy to live out of and an efficient harness makes carrying the pack a delight.

Kelty Coyote 85 Star Rating
  • Comfort
  • Durability
  • Packability
  • Fit and Adjustability
3.9

Summary

The Kelty Coyote 85 draws on Kelty’s legacy of functional packs with a simple design and plenty of features to meet the needs of most backpackers and big-load haulers on the trail. A comfortable carry, multiple storage options, and a wallet-friendly price make the Kelty Coyote 85 a strong contender for the value-oriented backpacker who needs a lot of pack for a little cash.

For those who want a large backpack for the wilderness, or the international traveler embarking on a few months bumming around countries, and don’t want to shell out a ton of money, the Coyote 85 is an excellent choice.

Read the full Kelty Coyote 85 review below, and see how it packs up to its trail-worthy peers in our Best Backpacking Packs guide.

Kelty Coyote 85 Specifications

Feature Type Feature Specs What This Means
Weight 4 lbs 14 oz. (2.21 kg) Average weight for an 85-liter backpack that’s built to carry heavy loads. Not for the minimalist.
Capacity 85L (5187 in3) Larger than most backpacking packs these days, the 85-liter size is large enough for weeks on the trail, or international adventures. Learn more about backpack capacity in our Guide.
Frame Internal Frame This pack hugs your body, and the frame is slotted inside the backpack.
Frame Material Spring Steel, Aluminum + HDPE A mix of steel, aluminum, and High Density Poly Ethylene make for a fairly light, yet very strong frame.
Hip Belt Fit 30-50 in. (76.2-127 cm) A decent range of hip sizes. Will fit most men, but not those with extra-narrow waists. Learn more about backpack hip belts and how to measure in our Guide.
Torso Fit 15.5-21 in. (39-53 cm), Adjustable Decent range of torso adjustments, done with a simple quick velcro insert. To learn more about backpack torso measurement and adjustable torsos see our Guide.
Number of Exterior Pockets 7+ A decent number of pockets, including hip belt pockets, that are well placed for organizing gear.
Sleeping Bag Compartment Yes Stuff your bag, or anything, in the bottom zippered compartment.
Hydration Sleeve Yes Keep your bladder full for backpacking.
Main Pack Access Drawstring Classic opening for a backpacking pack with a top lid that covers a drawstring closure.
Detachable Top Lid Yes The top lid can be removed, but it doesn’t easily convert into a day pack.
Trekking Pole/Ice Axe Loops Yes Easy loops for carrying poles or ice axes.
Materials Poly 420D Small Back Stafford Robust material that will stand up to most scuffs, including being checked on an airline.
Load Range 30-50+ lbs. The suspension can hold up to 50 pounds comfortably, and could go more in a pinch.
Warranty Limited Lifetime Kelty has a solid warranty that covers any malfunctioning parts for the lifetime of the product, like zippers or buckles. Be sure to get in touch.
Retail Price $179.95 A relatively low price for a large, well designed backpack. It’s not the lightest around, nor is the foam the highest quality, but it more than gets the job done.

Gear Review of the Kelty Coyote 85

Backpacking may seem like a trivial pursuit amid a global pandemic and calls for justice from black and brown communities around the world. But, I’m reminded of the second wave outdoor recreation movement of the 1980’s and ‘90’s when counter culture re-emerged. People were dying of HIV/AIDS in the face of a pitiful government response, marginalized communities responded emotionally to the brutality from law enforcement, and people sought a return to nature and closeness with the earth. Nature has long been a salve for the stress of our societal woes, and I expect many will retreat to the parks, forests, and open spaces to restore themselves in the face of so much challenge. I know I will.

Kelty-Coyote-85-backpacking-in-the-wilderness-2
Heading into the wilderness will always be a source of healing.

I recently relocated to Utah to work in wilderness therapy — which, for those who don’t know, is typically a form of intense therapy where disconnection from society means exploring the psyche in the outdoors. In short, it’s not work for the faint of heart. While it has the perks of copious time off, access to pristine land, and life-changing experiences, there’s the reality of distressed teens yelling at you in 20-degree weather.

Kelty-Coyote-85-Seb-and-Hallie-wilderness-staff-in-their-natural-habitat-CedarMtnRecArea
A snack among Wilderness Therapy staff.

In all seriousness, it’s a gnarly job that’s so rewarding. I tip my hat to all field staff who do this important work, especially during a health crisis.

This all is the backdrop (and an important justice and health lesson) for gear testing: A bonus of working in this particular wilderness therapy is the field area, Utah’s stunning San Rafael Swell. The area provided perfect testing conditions for Kelty’s Coyote 85 backpacking pack. From rugged canyon bottoms to dramatic mountain tops, I was able to take the Coyote 85 on a crash course in desert living.

Kelty-Coyote-85-straight-on-packed
The Kelty Coyote 85. A load hauler if we’ve ever seen one.

Revelation: The Moment I Knew

Being sick in the field sucks, and there’s frequently little you can do about it. On a particularly brutal shift in March, I was tasked with leading a hike up a canyon with eight teenage boys and three other staff while I had a fever and body aches (this all happened before COVID-19 guidance was given by local government officials and prior to implementation of extensive field protocols and practices at the organization). And I was given bad directions. Good times.

Kelty-Coyote-85-backpacking-in-the-wildenress
Gearing up for wilderness exploration (and therapy) with the Kelty Coyote 85.

We moved through the winding wash, stopping frequently due to many students having injuries (kids are clumsy and hurt themselves a lot, you quickly learn). The wind blew and clouds gathered. After approaching our exit point from the canyon, we made our way up the steep slickrock ledges of the canyon wall, and it felt as if we’d never reach the rim. My boots slipped on loose flakes of rock and my shaky legs needed constant coaching.

When we finally crested, we stopped for a moment to catch our breath and have a drink of water. After I surveyed the path we had just ascended, I pulled out a rain layer for the drizzle that had begun to fall, slung my pack to the ground, and took a seat on it.

It was at this moment that I took a survey of my body: feverish, chills, worsening cough, sore legs, exhausted — and yet, my back felt great.

Kelty-Coyote-85-fully-packed-side-view
The Kely Coyote 85 fully packed, yet highly comfortable, even after a feverish scramble up a canyon.

The Kelty Coyote 85 was packed with my normal winter setup and weighed in around 50 pounds, but it carried the load like a boss. My back and hips felt fantastic amid the wreckage of my worsening symptoms.

Digging Deeper

The Kelty Coyote 85 is a classic top-loading internal-frame pack with enough thoughtful design elements to please most all-around backpackers, including those who use big packs to travel abroad.

The back panel features contoured foam for cushion and support, while generous cutouts screened with mesh provide decent ventilation. The harness is adjustable with hook-and-loop to customize the torso length for a more comfortable fit. Wide shoulder straps distributed weight fairly well across my collar bones, though the foam is thin and I wonder how it will hold up to long-term use under heavy loads.

Kelty-Coyote-85-back-panel
The Coyote 85 back panel and hip belt.

The hip belt was generally comfortable to wear even on long hikes and it fit my hip bones well. That said, I found the hip belt stabilizer straps would come loose when hiking and they required frequent tightening. I love hip belt pockets and the Kelty Coyote 85 has one medium-sized zipping pocket, which fit a phone well enough, and one open stretch mesh pocket. The stretch mesh was great for storing mid-hike snacks or stashing micro trash.

1-1-Kelty-Coyote-85-hip-belt-
One zipper hip belt pocket, one stretch mesh hip belt pocket on the Kelty Coyote 85.

The Kelty Coyote 85’s frame is built for stably carrying big loads. A frame sheet is surrounded by a contoured wire frame and is bisected by a flat metal stay creating a rigid structure to support weight that maintains enough twist (torsion) to allow the pack to move with the wearer. Even when scrambling over boulders, ‘shwacking through rabbitbrush, and walking up slickrock, the Coyote 85 stayed with me and didn’t get in the way.

Organization is key, especially in top-loading packs, and the Kelty Coyote 85 combines a ton of pockets and two access points to keep your gear at your fingertips. Two large side wing pockets and two slash pockets on the front of the pack bag are perfect for layers, a pack cover, a PBR: those essential items you may need at a moments’ notice. The pack’s brain only has one pocket, and I found the opening a bit small for the volume of the compartment and items were hard to get in and out when the pack or brain were full.

Kelty-Coyote-85-exterior-side-pocket
The side wing pocket on the Kelty Coyote 85 has a pass through for poles, and is ample space for quick access items.

Behind each side pocket is a pass through which holds tent poles, fishing poles, and other long items in place. Two water bottle pockets at the hip offer functional storage on the go. Finally, a bottom zipper allows for access to your sleeping bag or whatever other horrible-smelling garments lurk at the bottom of a trekker’s pack. I find using stuff sacks to organize my gear in a top-loader works best for me. Having the bottom access zipper was great for getting to items buried at the bottom and middle of the pack.

Kelty-Coyote-85-packing-it-up
Packing up the top loading Kelty Coyote 85.

Comfort – 4 Stars

The Kelty Coyote 85 scores well on comfort for a pack in its price tier. Thoughtfully placed cushioning and a secure harness system make for a comfortable carry even when weighed down (tested with 50 pounds on an uphill trek) and while on long hikes.

That said, the foam cushioning is pretty thin compared to other backpacks, and doesn’t inspire dreams of long-term cushiness.

Durability – 3.5 Stars

Overall, the materials and construction of the Kelty Coyote 85 are appropriate for the price and the pack held up well in tough conditions for almost 20 nights in the field. It’s a budget-priced pack, so keep that in mind.

I noticed the cinch collar at the top of the pack has already started to tear away from the stitching that attaches the cord lock near the drawstring hole. This is a problem I’ve seen in other Kelty packs of a similar generation.

Packability – 4 Stars

Packing the Kelty Coyote 85 is easy. The two large openings and copious pockets made it simple to organize and find what I needed. I would like to see a second pocket or compartment on the brain and more volume for the two slash zipper pockets on the front of the bag, as it was a challenge to access items in these pockets when the pack was filled to the brim.

Kelty-Coyote-85-top-lid-pocket
An overstuffed top lid makes it hard to access items.

Fit and Adjustability – 4 Stars

The Kelty Coyote 85 has a very simple harness for an adjustable torso length. This is great for basic adjustments, and will fit most people. The pack does not have a sizeable hip belt or additional load lifter strap ladder locks to further fine tune fit and feel, but its adjustability lines up with its price.

Grievances

It’s 2020: every trekking pack with a removable brain should have the ability to turn said brain (top lid) into a day pack. The Kelty Coyote 85’s brain has a low IQ for this reason (along with minimal space when packed full). A convertible brain-pack may have been limited by the price point of the Coyote 85, but I think it would really enhance the package, especially for international travellers who often leave the large pack at the hostel for daily adventures in a new city. (Editor’s Note: The old version of this pack, the Kelty Coyote 80, did have a brain that converted into a day pack. Why the change?)

Kelty-Coyote-85-top-lid
The top lid could use some fine-tuning, including a more gusseted pocket, another pocket, and the ability to convert to a day pack.

I mentioned issues with the collar fabric on the pack, and I have to mention it again here. The tearing began within the first three days of using the pack, and tore with little force. I am happy overall with the performance and durability of the pack so far, but I am concerned as to where and when the next construction or materials issue may arise.

As with all gear, only time will tell.

Where to Buy Kelty Coyote 85

We tested the new version of the Kelty Coyote 85, which was updated from the Kelty Coyote 80. The new version has a different front zippered pocket (instead of a mesh catch-all), pass-through wing pockets, and a new system for customizing the torso fit. It’s also five liters bigger.

Kelty offers the same general Coyote design in a Women’s 60 liter version, which has a specific harness and shoulder strap system that’s built for a female physique, though we think the lack of a larger version (around 80 liters) is unfortunate (women can carry big packs too!).

Kelty also offers the Coyote 65 and Coyote 105. The Coyote 65 is great for shorter backpacking trips, and the Coyote 105 is simply massive — as in, too big for our tastes.

Compare Men’s Kelty Coyote 85 and Women’s Kelty Coyote 60  prices below.

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Seb-biophoto1

Seb Cancino

Seb devotes their energy to hiking, backpacking, camping, and cycling in the mountains and deserts of the western USA. Their favorite trek was a thru-hike of the Big SEKI Loop in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, and they are planning a thru-hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail in 2021. Peek on their Instagram to see where their latest adventures are taking them!

Review Policy: We do not accept payments or gifts from brands and vendors, and strive to provide unbiased, independent advice. Brands typically provide review samples which we return, and in some cases we purchase the item so we can keep using it long after the review. Affiliate Policy: We support the hours that go into our reviews and testing through affiliate commissions on purchases made through links in this article. These don't effect the outcome of our reviews or selection of gear, as per our Review Policy.

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