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Internal VS External Frame Backpack: Which One do You Think it Suits You the Best?

Internal VS External Frame Backpack
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

The backpack, one of the essential tools in the wilderness, it’s like a hiker’s best friend, it becomes a part of him and has a major role in his ability to survive.

A backpack can have a huge influence in our hiking trip,so it’s important to know what type of backpack we should choose for every type of trip we make.

Backpackers in mountains

We use backpacks almost everyday  to transport items more easily, but do we know which bag to choose for a beautiful holiday hiking trip? The comparison we want to take a look at and see thecontrastis for internal VS external frame backpack. Each of these bags has advantages and disadvantages which will allow you to choose the backpack that fits you the best.

External frame backpacks

Positive features

Considered an “old school” backpack, the external frame backpack features, as its name calls it, an external frame which was designed to help people carry more weight and also to help them keep a straight posture while hiking.

In addition, the external frame backpack has unique characteristics, such as simplicity in coordinating your gear thanks to its large number of compartments  and the ability to have more small packs attached to its frame.

Hiker with backpack in forest

Moreover, the rucksack’s structure provides its user with a ventilated space between the user’s back and the bag’s external frame, allowing the person who uses it to feel more comfortable in hot weather situations.

Drawbacks

Although the backpack can be used to carry heavy loads, its size is also one of the biggest drawbacks of this kind of backpack. Because of its bulk composition, the pack tends to lose its stability and it’s less balanced compared to the other types of backpacks.

Furthermore, the bag’s aspect is not helpful at all when hiking in dense vegetation areas nor when traveling by vehicles. Due to its square-shaped appearance, the risk of getting caught in branches is pretty high so it’s recommended you use this type for wide areas and well-known hiking trails, and because of its bulkiness, it might get damaged when carried by various vehicles.

External backpack frame

Finally, the shoulder straps on external frame packs are harder to adjust, narrowing the range of heights for the people who want to buy one.

What more should I know about this type of backpack?

Compared to a frameless backpack, the external frame one offers the user better weight distribution and protection due to the fact that the frame is made mostly of aluminum, which is equipped with tight netting to prevent the frame making contact with the wearer’s back.

The price range for a good external frame pack is around  $150-$250 USD, which is a lot cheaper than an internal frame pack and also it is highly recommended that the back of the bag is made from waterproof material in order to protect your belongings in case of storms.

Man hiker with backpack

Moreover, pockets are also important for this type of bag. Depending on the length of the trip, choosing the number of pockets determines how much gear you can take with you. If it’s a short trip, a small number of pockets will make it easier for you to organize your gear, but if it’s a longer trip you need as many pockets as possible, especially elastic side pockets which will simplify access to the items you are going to use the most often on your trip.

Naturally, you have to pay attention in choosing the right capacity of your internal storage too, because this is very important for a hiker’s survivability.Same as choosing the number of pockets, choosing the capacity of the internal storage is also based on the length of the trip.

Young man with a backpack

The storage is measured in liters and starting with a one-day trip, the recommended capacity is between 20-50 liters, for a weekend trip between 50-60 liters and for 5 or more nights, over 80 liters.

Most popular external frame backpacks out there

There are tons of rucksacks on the market nowadays, but the following three are in the center of attention and they are classified as being “best sellers”: The ALPS OutdoorZ Commander Freighter Frame Plus Pack Bag, the Kelty Yukon External Frame Pack and the Kelty Trekker External Frame Pack.

All of them have features like top loading, adjustable suspension, mesh water bottle pockets and padded shoulder straps in common, but what makes them unique are the few elements whichmakes a bag being the perfect choice for you.

Kelty external frame pack

For example, if you go on a hunting trip, you might want to choose a bag such as the ALPS backpack which has a rifle holder and a top loading fit for big game, or if you are afraid that the rucksack will get damaged after its first use, you can choose one of the Kelty backpacks available on the market, which include limited lifetime manufacturer’s warranty. So, to sum this up, the choice is held in place by the limits of your needs.

Internal frame backpacks

Positive features

In the last decade, that kind of bags became the most popular amongst hikers due to their internal, strategically built frames and their ability to integrate on one user’s back.

As they form onto your body, and “become a part of you”, the internal frame rucksacks offer extreme mobility and balance, making it easy to take tighter turns on narrow hiking paths, also making climbing steep hills or traveling mountain paths feel like a piece of cake.

Young couple with backpacks walking in countryside

In addition, compared to the external frame pack bags, the internal frame bags have a compact structure, making it easy to transport them by car or by plane, and also, the shoulder straps, in this case, are easy to adjust, so you don’t have to worry if another family member wants to use the bag.

Furthermore, these backpacks offer a large internal capacity that allows you  to store most of your gear inside to prevent accidents like snagging onto trees or bushes, and because most of them are made from waterproof material, your equipment is perfectly safe inside.

Drawbacks

Despite their large internal storage capacity, the internal frame rucksacks tend to be messy when it comes to organizing your gear. Having only one large compartment inside, coordinating your equipment along the trip might prove quite difficult.

For example, imagine you need your flashlight, and when you search for it,remember that you packed it first so it is at the bottom of the bag, then you have to dig through all of your belongings to find it.Imagine doing this at night.

Inside of backpack

Moreover, the bags become uncomfortable when carrying heavy loads for longer periods of time, and unlike the external frame backpacks, the weight shifts to the lower part of the bag, forcing you to lean forward transferring the weight to your lower body.

Additionally, as the rucksack is made to be “glued” to your back, there is no ventilation between them, this making the bag feel very uncomfortable when hiking on hot temperatures.

Take a brake

Lastly, attaching external gear to these backpacks proves to be very challenging, as you must make sure the extra equipment is safely strapped to the bag and also if it still provides you quick access to your internal storage at the same time. Be careful

Is this backpack for you?

Being the most used type of hiking rucksacks nowadays, we must ask ourselves, why do people choose this bag? The answer stays in its mobility, aspect, and feel. The internal frame bags look “sexier” than the external ones, due to their compact form and modern look, so it’s pretty obvious why they are so appealing to us.

On the contrary, a professional hiker never chooses his backpack only by its look, it must be good quality too, being the most important tool in a traveler’s survivability, so naturally, internal frame bags are much more expensive with a price range of above $200 USD.

Price

The backpack’s internal frame is also made from aluminum, plastic or titanium, and it’s covered in large fabric, so we can pretty much say it has a brilliant structure. Also, the frame is sustained in place by complex series of straps, so the weight shifts less than the bulky external frame bags.

Over the years, the evolution of the internal frame pack bags can be easily noticed, as a result of their improved storage capacity and  comfortableness when casually walking, and in consequence, they replaced the external frame bags in different many activities.

Internal frame hiking backpack

Don’t be fooled by the internal frame backpacks with large capacity, as they may not feel heavy when you try them on, but after a longer day on thetrail, with all that heavy load on your back, you ought to feel extremely uncomfortable.

What internal frame backpacks do people use today?

The most popular internal frame bags found on the market are either Osprey, Gregory, or High Sierra rucksacks, the High Sierra bags being the cheapest and respectively the Osprey bags being the most expensive ones.

Firstly, I want to talk about the Gregory Stout 65 backpack which can be found within a price range of $140-$360 USD on the market and which is made mostly from polyester. It features dual pockets for water bottles or accessories, dual HipBelt pockets which you can use to store electronics, snacks or different accessories  that you want quick access to.

Gregory Stout 65 backpack

The bag also has raincover integration, which can be also used as an extra pocket for accessories in mild weather, and U-zip access, making the main body contents more accessible .This backpack is recommended for urban exploration and  day hikes.

Secondly, the High Sierra Appalachian is a 75L expedition-sized backpack and is the cheapest one from the list of the best sellers with a price of $100 USD. The bag offers top loading compartment with drawstring closure and adjustable top lid and can be easily made to fit your back. In addition, its molded foam back panel with airflow channels can be a lifesaver in hot weather conditions.

High Sierra Appalachian 75 backpack

Finally, one of the best and most expensive backpacks found out there, is the Osprey AG pack. Its price range usually goes over $300 USD, depending on the volume you choose for your backpack to have. Unlike the other backpacks, the Osprey AG bag has a trekking pole attachment and a peripheral frame to transfer the load to the hip belt, making it easy to carry heavy loads.

Osprey AG pack

Moreover, the back panel provides an external hydration sleeve which simplifies refilling and protects the contents from spilling.

Summary: In the end, which backpack is the best?

The answer to this question is simple: all of them. There is no such thing as the perfect backpack, yet, but instead, each one of them  is fit for at least one kind of trip. After we decided what kind of trip we are going to make, there are a few more aspects which we need to take into consideration when purchasing a backpack, such as fit, volume, durability, weight and the features it provides us.

Two hikers in the snow mountains

The external frame backpacks are good for hiking trails, while the internal frame backpacks are the best suited for rugged, uneven terrain. Even so, the external frame pack bags don’t need to be left out, as you cannot find another type of bag which offers the same carry capacity as this one, and in addition, they are way more comfortable because of their ability to shift weight properly.

Also, be aware when traveling with public transport, no matter of what type the bag is, it still has pockets that can be easily accessible to anyone, so lock them up until you reach your hiking destination.

Tourist couple hiking in forest

In conclusion, each type of bag is like a different identity which only fits a user with the same personality, it’s like a partner you choose and trust, so don’t be hasty in your decision, take every information into consideration and equip yourself with what suits you the best.

Also, bear in mind that you don’t need to limit yourself to only one backpack, you can have one for every type of trip. The most important thing, however, stays the same, always think about safety when you’re out there hiking, and never let anything stop you!

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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