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Thursday, January 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Asher Kelty, backpack innovator, dies at 84

By Dennis McLellan
Los Angeles Times

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LOS ANGELES — Asher "Dick" Kelty, whose innovative aluminum external-framed backpacks with waist straps revolutionized backpacking in the 1950s, has died. He was 84.

Mr. Kelty, who had congestive heart failure, died Monday at his home in Glendale, said his wife of 57 years, Nena.

For more than 50 years, the Kelty name has been synonymous with backpacks and backpacking.

A one-time cottage industry launched in the Keltys' two-bedroom home in Glendale in 1952, Kelty Packs earned a reputation as the Cadillac of backpacks.

From heavy and cumbersome wood frames and canvas bags, Mr. Kelty went to a lightweight aluminum frame contoured to the human body and a nylon bag. He also padded the shoulder straps and added upright partitions inside the bag. His "hold-open frame," which was threaded through the top of the bag, allowed easy access.

But most significantly, Mr. Kelty added the waist strap, which took the weight of the pack off the shoulders and redistributed it to the hips.

"By taking the weight off the hiker's shoulders and putting it on the hips, he took the misery out of the sport. He made it enjoyable for people to go backpacking," Nick Clinch, an explorer for National Geographic magazine, told Nena Kelty in "Backpacking the Kelty Way," the book she co-wrote with Steve Bogain in 2000.

Kelty Pack is now owned by American Recreation Products headquartered in Boulder, Colo.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Kelty is survived by his son, Richard, of Santa Barbara, daughters Anita Nitta, of Manhattan Beach, and Angie Herman, of Willits, Calif.; five grandchildren; and three great grandchildren.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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