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Kelty CBD Pain-Reliever Review: How Much Help, How Much Hype?

Photo credit: Alex Kirk
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Kelty’s new topicals live up to the brand’s pain relief claims, all while smelling great and not getting you high. But is CBD the key to success here?

Outdoor enthusiasts know Kelty for its value-forward camp gear. Think backpacks, sleeping bags and pads, tents for camping and backpacking, and more. But now the brand has some skin in the CBD game.

Last month, Kelty announced its latest release: a line of “pain-relieving” CBD topicals. And, according to Kelty, that particular pain claim is what sets its products apart from both CBD- and non-CBD-infused competitors.

“You’ll look across CBD products and see ‘soothes this’ and ‘soothes that,’ but depending on the ingredients in the product, you can’t say ‘this product relieves pain’ unless the ingredients are FDA-approved,” Russ Rowell, Kelty senior vice president and general manager, told us. But Kelty noted it uses ingredients that do carry FDA approval.

So, we put it to the test. For this review, we tried Kelty’s CBD Pain Relief Cream ($40-50) and CBD Pain Relief Salve ($40-60), both in one-ounce quantities and 500mg strengths.

In short: In our testing, the topicals did reduce the testers’ muscle aches and joint pain, all while emanating pleasant peppermint and citronella oil fragrances. But here’s the rub: We’re not convinced CBD did the heavy lifting here, as it’s not even listed as an active ingredient. (More on that later.)

Kelty CBD Topicals Review

Kelty CBD 3
Photo credit: Alex Kirk


The purported benefits of CBD, which works within the body’s endocannabinoid system, are many. Although there isn’t a strong scientific consensus for most of these claims, evidence does exist in the emerging field of CBD research that lends some credibility. CBD has been said to help with pain, acne, some mental and neurological disorders, and even cancer symptoms.

In our testing, the Kelty CBD topicals we used performed as advertised, providing “relief from minor aches/pains in our muscles and joints.” The salve eliminated one tester’s minor shoulder muscle pain for a couple of hours.

The topicals also made knees less stiff and provided a greater range of motion. Our female tester’s knee pain wasn’t “minor” to begin with — more like moderate in level, and sharp in nature, leading up to the application of the topicals — so it was still present, but greatly reduced.

These topicals aren’t for severe or chronic pain and don’t claim to be. That said, our male tester found that the topicals reduced his chronic back pain for a couple of hours — by at least two levels on a pain scale of 1 to 10.

Both testers really appreciated the higher relative comfort level the topicals provided.

Cream vs. Salve

The cream and the salve behaved a bit differently in testing but had comparable levels of effectiveness. The two have the same active ingredients, in the same quantities, and none of them are CBD-related: capsicum (0.23%), capsaicin (undisclosed percentage), and menthol (4%). However, their textures and fragrances differ.

Kelty’s CBD Pain Relief Cream acts like a medium-thin lotion that smells strongly of peppermint (which we loved). It feels quite cold on the skin, so it’s best used on smaller areas. (Note: The box says “warming and cooling relief,” but our testers felt the cooling a lot more.)

It spreads easily, and you don’t need a lot. Our female tester, who used these products on her knees and shoulders, preferred the cream to the salve because it worked better for massage.

The CBD Pain Relief Salve is a thicker, balmy substance that smells of citronella. It doesn’t spread as far and doesn’t work well for massage — just application. Our male tester preferred the salve because the cream was unpleasantly cold when applied to his entire back.

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Kelty CBD Topicals: Here’s the Rub

Although we got positive results in our testing, it’s important to ask why. Looking to other pain-relieving topicals on the market may provide answers. Kelty’s stuff is basically a liniment with a trendy, under-researched ingredient — CBD — mixed in.

Although CBD is the center of Kelty’s marketing for these products, the brand’s topicals share ingredients (like menthol, capsaicin, and camphor) with other pain relief products like IcyHot or Bengay that have been around for many years.

We suspect these ingredients play a role in the positive results we got, as the FDA has approved them. As yet, CBD isn’t recognized by the FDA except in a drug for two rare, severe forms of epilepsy.

When we asked Kelty why CBD is not listed as an active ingredient in these topicals, the brand said, “The FDA does not recognize CBD as an active/OTC ingredient, which is why it is placed under ‘other ingredients’ [on the packaging].”

Kelty CBD 2
Photo credit: Alex Kirk

And when we spoke to Kelty last month about this product launch, the brand touted its FDA-approved ingredients. “We get to wear that stamp of approval using these ingredients,” Rowell said.

According to the FDA, CBD is not one of those ingredients the brand can claim as a pain-reliever. Because we know at least some of the other ingredients are FDA-approved, as discussed above, we assume the “stamp of approval” is on those.

Do You Need CBD Topicals?

The short answer is no. The prices of the CBD Pain Relief Cream ($40-50) and CBD Pain Relief Salve ($40-60) are competitive in the CBD market. But you can get non-CBD pain-relieving topicals for much less than that (under $10 for the same quantity or more). And regarding whether CBD topicals work better than their non-CBD counterparts, the current scientific consensus is shaky at best.

When we asked Kelty to compare its CBD topicals to non-CBD pain-relieving ointments, the brand said, “CBD topicals work in similar fashion to the other topicals that do not contain CBD (such as IcyHot and Bengay). They are both intended to soothe or relieve pain (ours relieves pain with FDA-approved ingredients). These just have the added benefits that cannabidiol provides for pain relief.”

That said, if you want to assess the “added benefits” of CBD topical pain relief for yourself, Kelty’s line of CBD topicals is as good as any, won’t cost you more than the competition, and smells great.

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