Aug 14 2015

Kelty Ascender 22 Review

What do you do when you have a business trip planned but very rarely make trips by yourself? You can either use one of your daughter’s pink suitcases or, if you’re lucky like I am, you can ask your tech-savvy, world-travelling uncle if he has a bag to borrow. I have nothing against the color pink, but I opted to try my luck with my uncle.

(Editors note: Having a technically oriented nephew in the midst of ludditedom is the kind of saving grace that can make a bag bigoted person like myself weep with joy at a family function. Plus, he looked so silly with a Barbie suitcase that I took pity on him.)

I was given the option between a suitbag or the Kelty Ascender 22. I wasn’t planning on wearing any suits, so I opted for the Ascender. My first thoughts when looking at the suitcase online were, “This looks pretty cool. The colors are masculine and I don’t have to check the bag.” Then my uncle pulled it out and showed it to me. My initial thoughts were blown out of the water. The green ballistic polyester body looked tough. The zippers are heavy gauge and felt very sturdy. The top, bottom, and sides are padded, but they have enough give to them so that you don’t have to worry about how things are going to fit in the bag.


After running through the basic features, my uncle told me that the bag expanded. Not like a normal rolling suitcase would expand, that would be boring. It’s better. The front expands to give 37.5% more storage volume. While that is cool, here’s where the Ascender wins. It also expands along the top side. You can expand it to get another 37.5% more storage. For those bad at math, that’s a 75% increase in your storage volume.


Another nice feature Kelty included is that the top side expansion can separate from the rest of the bag. It’s a great place to keep your dirty clothes or an extra pair of shoes. Even a pair of shoes that are totally trashed from a 5K mud run. They won’t trash the rest of your clothes.

The Kelty Ascender 22 holds 40L without expanding and 70L when fully expanded. What does this mean? If you pack thoughtfully, you’re going to have a hard time filling up this bag, even if you’re taking a really long trip.


The bag weighs just a shade over eight pounds, but it doesn’t feel that heavy, and you could shave a bit more weight off if you elect to remove the external chassis. You read that correctly; you can remove the wheels and hard frame and the suitcase becomes…a backpack. You can roll the Kelty Ascender 22 or you can wear it. Because the straps are on the front of the pack, you could even do both at the same time, although you might not want to do that for a long period of time.

The aluminum frame gives you great inline skate wheels and an extendable handle to make the Ascender a roll aboard that is tough and portable.


Because I was in the midst of changing jobs (and moving to another city), I didn’t actually make the business trip to Las Vegas. I spent weekdays in one city and weekends in another. The Kelty Ascender 22 was my go-to travel bag the entire time. Here’s what I took away from all my time with the bag: I honestly couldn’t seem to fill it up. I practically lived out of the bag for a month, using it in both its backpack and rolling suitcase forms. While I haven’t had these particular needs, I could see the backpack really coming in handy if you needed to get between two places in a hurry or if you’re trying to get across uneven terrain. It’s really the best of both worlds.

If you need to extend the concept farther, the Ascender Trunk and Ascender Duffle will fit on the same aluminum roller frame to give you the ultimate in flexibility.

The Kelty Ascender 22 is far cooler than it looks online. No offense, Kelty, but your website just doesn’t do this bag justice. The Kelty Ascender 22 is certainly a well-designed, multifunctional traveling bag. After all, at its most basic it can still be two things: a suitcase or a backpack. It is well-designed, from the tough ballistic polyester and zippers to the incredibly flexible expansions. The Kelty Ascender 22 is a fantastic travel bag that can cover a range of needs from business travel to extreme outdoor.

Tough and made to travel it can cover all the basis.


Kelty Ascender 22 $349

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