The new-for-fall-2013 Kelty Ascender 22 ($349) is the active travel fiend’s dream: It’s a 40-liter capacity carry-on. It’s a 70-liter capacity checked suitcase. A backpack!
Unique to the Ascender 22 is the external chassis. It expands and shrinks with a quick adjustment, allowing you to roll it through airports in both configurations. The chassis can also detach completely to use as a backpack for day use.
How did it work on its inaugural trip to Tulsa, OK?
Infinitely better than I expected.
I originally turned up my lip at the aluminum tube chassis. It’s like a retro accoutrement from Kelty’s external-frame backpack days*. I wondered if the chassis would prevent it from fitting into an overhead bin.
*If you remember those days, you are O-L-D
On the trip to Tulsa, it wasn’t a problem because the crew of the Smurf Jet (CRJ) made everyone check their bags at the gate. The flight home was on a normal plane and the Ascender 22 fit into the overhead bin without any issues.
Expanding the bag is quick and easy with the pressing of two buttons on the frame. It then locks into position with a firm snap. There’s nothing wobbly about this bag or any of its movable parts. The roller handle requires a solid tug and rolling it through airports is smooth and efficient with the inline skate wheels.
The Ascender 22 comes with stow-away adjustable shoulder straps that allow you to carry it as backpack. I think this feature is a little overly optimistic because if I’m going someplace that requires a backpack, I would take a backpack, not a wheelie. Still, I came up with two scenarios in which I would salute the backpack feature:
1. Taking public transportation to/from the airport and trekking through a construction zone that was once a sidewalk. I could hoist the bag onto my back if the detritus is too much for the wheels to roll over.
2. Enhanced maneuverability around the many piles of yak-doodly-doo in Kathmandu as I make my way from the airport to the hostel.
An added bonus to hoofing it backpack-style is that the zippers are against my back to help prevent theft in said crowded markets or construction zones. Unfortunately, it does not have a hip belt so if I had to carry a heavy load, I would likely spend the next three days in traction.
So, lots to like about this piece of “luggage”. Aside from the expandability and organization, I like the padding on the bottom, sides and top. The tough 1280D ballistic polyester protect bag contents and internal compression lets me stuff the bag to a new level of capacity.
In my testing and review period, I could come up with only two minor annoyances worth mentioning.
1. Weight: At 8lbs, 4oz empty it’s on the heavier side. However, if it was too lightweight, I would question which features or parts were omitted to get it so light. Nothing was omitted in the Ascender 22.
2. Pricetag: At $349, it’s like taking a bullet. However, it is three bags in one and it’s modular. Once you have the Ascender 22, you can swap the frame for the water-resistant Ascender WR Duffel or to the customizable Ascender Trunk. Both attach to the Ascender 22's chassis.
Overall, I love the Ascender 22 because it’s a great, versatile piece for anyone’s travel closet. What makes this design stand out is that if I get a little too crazy in the souvenir shops in Amsterdam, I can expand the Ascender 22 into a suitcase and bring it all home.