OUTDOORS

Best Internal Frame Backpack: Your Best Friend on the Trail

internal frame backpack featured
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

If you’ve never had the chance to head out on a backpacking trip you are probably looking at the title to this article with a confused look.

Well, once you set out on your first adventure you will quickly realize how important your backpack is to you and to your trip. It goes wherever you go and it will be how you carry all of your gear and possessions that are essential to your trip.

Man on peak of mountain

We are going to be taking a look at one particular type of backpack, the internal frame pack, to review the different options and to try and determine the best internal frame backpack.

Choosing the right bag will really have a big impact on your overall enjoyment when you head out camping or hiking and so we want to make sure you have all the necessary information and are familiar with some of the top options out there so that you can be sure you are making the right choice.

Before we start looking at specific bags on the market, though, we are going to go over some general information for backpacking to help make sure you are as prepared as you can be for your next trip out into the great outdoors.

Tips for backpack hiking

Going out into the wilderness with nothing more than a backpack is pretty different from other types of camping. The first obvious difference is that you will be carrying everything that you might need or want on your back. This means you need to be fully prepared and be sure you have packed thoroughly.

Hiker taking break and enjoying the view

Also, going on a backpacking trip probably means you will be heading out further from any facilities or services than you normally do and this requires its own set of preparations and precautions. However, we are going to leave that discussion for another day and focus on some tips for using your backpack so that you get the most out of it and your trip.

Pack light

This might seem obvious as it is a general rule of thumb for most camping adventures, but it is especially important when you are heading out with just a backpack.

Like we said earlier, everything you take with you goes on your back. Most people when they head out for their first backpacking adventure underestimate how heavy their bag is and end up regretting how much they brought.

A good strategy to get used to using is to pack your bag with all the things you think you need and then to go back through and try to get rid of 15 or 20 percent of what you packed.

Young couple hiking

Often times we end up wearing clothes multiple times or not using a lot of the stuff that we bring so try to get used to packing the minimum amount so that it’s easy to carry everything on your back.

Know how to pack your bag

Packing a backpack isn’t as straightforward as you think. There is a logic to it that will help to reduce the stress on your back and shoulders and to help make carrying it for longer periods of time much easier. Essentially, you want the heavy stuff at the bottom.

This is the part of the bag that will rest on your hips and will be carried largely by your stronger lower back. As you start filling the bag the lightest stuff will go on the top. This will help to reduce the load on your shoulders, which will help to make the experience much more pleasurable.

Wear your bag right

If the last time you used a backpack to go on a trip was in high school, you are probably used to loosening the straps as much as you can so that the bag hangs as low as possible. Well, with this type of backpack, doing that could be one of the worst decisions of your life.

Man wearing backpack

It will put a ton of pressure on your shoulders and will force you into a position that is uncomfortable at best and damaging at worst. The center of the bag should rest on the small of your back with the bottom part on your hips.

These types of backpacks always come with straps that connect in front of your body. Using these when you were a kid was unthinkable, but now they are absolutely essential. They help provide extra support and make carrying the bag much easier and more comfortable. Don’t think twice and strap up.

Protect your back

All of these tips really boil down to the same thing: protecting your back. Anyone who has struggled with back pain or problems knows how devastating this type of injury can be both in the short term and the long term.

Most people who ignore others’ advice to stand up straight,sit correctly or wear a back brace or belt end up regretting this decision later on in life. When going out on a backpacking trip it is important to know your limits and to be responsible about how you treat your back.

Ready for hiking

The right bag and proper usage can help mitigate back problems, but if you already have issues or aren’t used to this type of stress, think about other options or about doing some sort of practice run first to see if you can handle it. When you are out on the trail don’t be afraid to take breaks and if you notice discomfort don’t ignore it; stop and adjust your bag because often times this can be the source of pain when carrying everything on your back.

Just remember, the further out you go the longer it will take you to get back. Ignoring pains and discomforts will only bring you more problems. Respect your body and take the necessary precautions to protect it.

What to look for in an internal frame backpack

Now that we have gone over some basic tips for backpack that will help save you lots of unwanted pain and discomfort, let’s take a look at the specific features you will find in backpacks on the market so that you know what to look for and are better equipped to find the one that is best for you.

Frame or no frame

This is one of the first major differences you will notice among the different options on the market. In this review, we are focusing just on backpacks with frames, but let’s take a moment to go over the difference between the two types. Basically, the framed bags give you a fixed structure that works to try and distribute the weight of the bag, which tends to make them easier to carry and also able to hold more weight.

Frameless backpacks are good for smaller loads and also for storage–they can be rolled up and stuffed into small spaces so they are easy to keep out of the way when not in use. In this sense, they are good if you are planning to bring your bag on an airplane. A framed backpack has a fixed shape, which makes storage a bit more complicated.

If you’re going out for more than a few days or even weeks at a time you will probably want something with a frame so as to allow yourself maximum comfort, but if you’re just doing day trips or short overnights, this might be too much and you can stick with just a normal frameless bag.

Size

One weird thing about backpacks is that they are measured in liters. This is somewhat non-intuitive even for people who are familiar with the metric system. To prevent you from trying to figure out how many soda bottles fit inside the backpack you are looking into buying, we’ve divided them into the following categories to help you sort out what you might need.

30 liters and less

These are your standard school or daytrip They will almost never come with a frame and are really too small for anything other than a short overnight or day hike. If you’re heading out to do more than this you will want to look for something bigger.

30-liter backpacks

30-60 liters

Backpacks this size start to fit the needs for someone heading out for longer trips. These are what you might see travelers carrying as they bum around Europe.

You probably won’t start to see bags with frames until about 50 liters, but sometimes you will see one that is smaller. These bags are good for most short trips where you don’t need lots of heavy duty gear.

60 liters and up

These are the bags that are designed for the long-term trips we are talking about. Almost all of them will have frames and in fact, if they do not you should be weary of purchasing it. A 60, 70 or 80 liter backpack fully packed will be rather heavy and not having a frame could put dangerous stress on your back.

The bags we will be looking at are going to be on the larger side, but hopefully, this helps you get an idea as to what might be the best size bag for you and your needs.

One thing to look out for is that sometimes bags will be listed as being 40 liters + 10/15. This extra space comes from the top compartment that is used to seal the bag. The backpack may be advertised as 55 liters, but by splitting it up this way you do lose some space in the principle storage area.

Space for external storage

There is a bit of a debate amongst hikers, campers, and travelers as to the value of pockets and external storage containers. Some think that they are great as they give you extra space and a place to store things that you might need easy access to.

Others think they give you an excuse to pack more than you need and that their position on the bag causes it to become unbalanced and therefore less comfortable.

osprey backpack featured hikers

There is really no way to settle this debate for you other than having you try one and see if you like it. A few pockets probably aren’t a bad thing, but keep in mind what we said earlier about having top carry everything that you bring with you on your back and don’t go overboard.

What’s it made of?

Almost all backpacks made for this purpose will be made of some synthetic fiber because of its strength and durability. You might find some made from canvas or even leather, but these are rather rare and aren’t very practical.

What you want to look for is if the fabric is waterproof. Most backpacks are not and will to make them resistant to water you will need to  get a separate rain cover.

Waterproof hiking backpack

The other thing to look for is whether or not the bag features some sort of breathable fabric. The place to look for this would be the part that touches against your back. This can get very hot and sweaty and having a nice fabric that helps you keep cool will be very much appreciated out on the trail.

Try before you buy

With some hiking gear you can get away with looking at it online and just purchase, but with backpacks, it is a good idea to at least try a few before making a purchase. You will want to know how it fits and where the different parts rest on your body.

As we mentioned earlier your bag is going to be your best friend and you don’t want to be out in the wilderness wishing you had purchased a different one. For this reasons you should ask a friend to try theirs or head to a local store so that you can get a feel for the different styles and fits.

Taking your time with this purchase will really pay off later on so make sure you know what you are looking for before making any decisions.

What’s on the market

After having the chance to get to know the essentials in terms of backpack buying, it’s time to go through some of the different options on the market to be able to compare them and help you get an idea of which one might be best for you.

Fjällräven  Kaipak

Fjällräven  Kaipak

Dimensions: N/A

Weight: 1 pound

Volume: 28 liters

Material: Polyester and cotton (not waterproof, somewhat breathable)

Storage: None

Best use: Intense day trips or light gear hikes

This is a rare find in that it is a backpack under 30 liters with a frame. This makes it a good option for people who are going to be doing serious day trips or who are going on longer trips that don’t require lots of gear. With a framed backpack that is so small, you will hardly even notice that you are carrying your gear on your back.

However, if you are planning on going out for multiple days or longer and need to take things like tents and sleeping bags or warm weather clothes, the Fjällräven Kaipak bag is simply too small. Also, because it has a frame it loses some of the storage advantages of a small bag since it cannot be compressed down.

Nonetheless, this is a safe option for shorter excursions and will help alleviate back pressure during whatever activity you do.

Check the price on Amazon

North Face Banchee 65

North Face Banchee 65

Dimensions: 9 x 14 x 25 inches

Weight: 2.5 pounds

Volume: 65 liters

Material: Polyester

Storage: Dedicated sleeping bag and tool compartments—top loading

Best use: Long trips that need lots of gear

If you’re headed out on a trip and know you will be gone for a few days or even longer and require a good amount of gear, this could be the bag for you.

The North Face is a well-respected brand for this kind of product and can be trusted to last. What sets this bag apart is its dedicated storage compartments. One is specifically designed for sleeping bags and the other for tools. This is the perfect balance so that you don’t bring too much stuff like we mentioned earlier but also have a place for some key gear.

Also, it features a beavertail pocket at the bottom so that you can dry gear that gets wet. In general, the size of this bag plus its features makes it a very nice option for more heavy duty hikers and campers that are headed out on extended trips.

Check the price on Amazon

High Sierra Titan 55

High Sierra Titan 55 Frame Pack

Dimensions: 29.5x14x8.25inches

Weight: 4.5 pounds

Volume: 55 liters

Material: Polyester

Storage: Several external pockets plus dedicated sleeping bag compartment

Best use: Long-term hikes and treks

This is yet another great option for long term hikes and treks.

The High Sierra Titan 55 bag has more external compartments than many other options; we know that whether or not this is an advantage or a disadvantage has lots to do with your personal preferences, but if you want lots, you got it.

What is nice is that it has a dedicated pocket for storing your sleeping bag. This will be a necessary piece of equipment for any longer term trip so it is a convenient feature that you can carry it easily with this bag.

One downside of this bag might be its weight. At 4.5 pounds it is heavier than some other bigger bags. If you aren’t planning to use all this space you might want to look for something that is a little lighter so that you can reduce your overall load. Otherwise, this is a great backpack for serious trekkers.

Check the price on Amazon

Teton Sport Scout 3400

Teton Sport Scout 3400

Dimensions: 30 x 17 x 12 inches

Weight: 4.5 pounds

Volume: 55 liters

Material: Polyester

Storage: Many external pockets and compartments

Best use: 2-4 day trips—good for kids.

It is hard to find too much to complain about with this backpack.

With 55 liters of capacity, it is plenty big enough to fit all of the equipment you might need for a trip lasting several days, or even longer if you are an expert packer.

Additionally, the Teton Sport Scout 3400 bag comes with a lifetime warranty for zippers and seams. This is a huge plus since this is likely where the bag will break down from use. Knowing that the company will stand by its product is a big advantage when buying something you want to last for a long time. There are tons of external storage compartments on this bag, but it might have been nice to see one specifically for a sleeping bag.

One other thing to point out is that the bag weighs 4.5 pounds, which might be heavy for some. If you are planning on bringing lots and lots of gear, trying to save a few pounds with a lighter bag might be the better option for you. In general, though, this is a solid option for any multi-day hiker.

Check the price on Amazon

Deuter Air Contact

Deuter Air Contact

Dimensions: 10.24 x 11.81 x 33.07 inches

Weight: 4.8 pounds

Volume: 65 + 10

Material: Nylon

Storage: No extra compartments

Best use: Long trips—more than 3 or 4 days.

The Deuter Air Contact bag combined with its top storage compartment gives you 75 liters worth of space to put stuff in. For this reason, it is a great bag for trips that are going to last more than just a few days.

Filling and bringing a bag of this size on a shorter trip would be overkill and would probably cause more problems than it’s worth. That being said, if you are planning to use it for trips of this length it really is a great option. It is equipped with all sorts of breathable fabrics and adjustable straps so that it will be as comfortable as possible.

Also, it has a zipper on the middle part of the bag so that you can access contents in the middle or the bottom without having to tear your bag apart. It is also decently light. For the extra space it provides it weighs about the same as a smaller bag.

Being made from nylon also gives it an extra level of durability so you know it won’t rip or tear. In general, this is a great option for the more serious hikers and campers.

Check the price on Amazon

The North Face Cobra 52

The North Face Cobra 52

Dimensions: 21.6 x 13.4 x 9.4 inches

Weight: 3.8 lbs

Volume: 52 liters

Material: Polyester

Storage: No extra compartments

Best use: Medium trips, mountain hiking

This backpack was designed with alpine conditions in mind. This can be  seen by the emphasis placed on spaces for storing certain mountain climbing equipment such as aa helmet and picks.

Apart from this, the The North Face Cobra 52 bag serves as a nice option for medium length trips with minimal equipment. There is not much in terms of external storage compartments and there is no dedicated sleeping bag spot, but this might be necessary for the types of trips it was designed for. With 52 liters of capacity and at a little under 4 pounds, it is a nice mix of space and weight that make it a great option for carrying your stuff around for a few days.

Check the price on Amazon

Osprey Atmos 65

Osprey Atmos 65

Dimensions: 10 x 16 x 23 inches

Weight: 3.9 pounds

Volume: 65 liters

Material: Nylon

Storage: Five storage compartments and three slip pockets

Best use:  Long-term hikes or treks

This nylon bag is both big and durable. With 65 liters of capacity and multiple storage compartments, you will be able to carry lots of gear with you that will allow you to go out on longer term hikes. The Osprey Atmos 65 bag also comes with some compression straps so that you can shrink down the size of your gear, fit more and make it more comfortable.

Be careful with this, though. Just because you can bring more doesn’t mean you need to. It is also considerably light. At less than 4 pounds it weighs less than some of the other bags we looked at with less capacity. This all comes from a brand, Osprey, which is well-known and well-respected in the field of hiking and camping bags.

All in all, if you are looking for something to take out with you on a longer trip, this is a perfectly viable option.

Check the price on Amazon

My bags are packed and I’m ready to go

Your backpack is an essential part of any hiking or camping trip. It will go with you wherever you go and will likely become one of your favorite possessions. Because of this, it is important to make sure you are picking the right one when it comes time to purchase one.

plan a backpacking trip featured

The information provided here should help guide you towards the different options available and the one that is best for you. If you take anything away, remember, less is more!

Are you an experienced backpacker? Any tips for those looking to buy their first bag that we missed? Let us know what you think so we can spread the work. Now, let’s get to packing so we can get out on the trail as soon as possible!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dennis Owens
Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.

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