External vs internal frame packs

10:04 a.m. on August 15, 2013 (EDT)
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I am in the market for a new expedition backpack. I started my hiking/backpacking with a Jansport D3 back in 1978 and then went to a internal North Face pack in the mid 80's and have had internal packs ever since. But I believe the external framed pack was more sturdy and made heavy loads feel better and hold up better. 

Am I right is the best way to go for a long trip (2-4 weeks) better with a external pack than a internal? Whats your opinion.

12:54 p.m. on August 15, 2013 (EDT)
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I just bought two used Kelty externals off of eBay for $28 each. It is my idea of the perfect solution for trad backpacking and/or a 2-4 week load.

2:13 p.m. on August 15, 2013 (EDT)
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Care to resell one of them? I want a new pack but like you don't want to spend 100s of dollars. What volume are they? Have a picture?

4:16 p.m. on August 15, 2013 (EDT)
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Sorry I asked, I see lots more on Ebay myself. You can carry on your back and one on the front. I found the first backpack I owned on Ebay, see my new post here. I may just buy it for nostalgic reasons. 


I was 21 when I had this pack in 1977 my first season on the road. I got Parkay Margarine in it when the container it was in opened inside my pack. I found it where I had stashed it in Yosemite and Ants had gotten all over it.

When I got back home after the first 8000 miles I had one of the lower side pockets full of rocks I had collected.

I worked a month and then hitched back to Seattle and flew by Alaska Airlines and lived in Alaska 2 1/4 years.

11:04 p.m. on August 15, 2013 (EDT)
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Gary - That orange pack looks amazingly like my first pack that I got as a teenager around 1975 or so...they could be twins.

It is my opinion that internal frame packs are better for rough trail/off trail because the center of gravity is closer to you and it is easier to balance on rocks with them.  On the other hand, external frame packs may be better for general trail use and heavy loads.  

11:15 p.m. on August 15, 2013 (EDT)
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Likewise that looks like the first pack that my parents bought me....maybe 79 or 80.....it's at my dads house so I have no way to verify.......but that orange is forever burnt into my memory...

11:39 p.m. on August 15, 2013 (EDT)
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Nearly everyone in a discussion about packs refers to the advantages of internal packs on rough terrain and "off-trail." It is a legitimate concern for mountain climbers maybe, but what backpackers hike "off-trail"?

12:58 p.m. on August 16, 2013 (EDT)
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I don't think there is any question that internal frame packs are more stable. The waistbelt and the frame are integral parts of the pack, rather than a strap and frame to which the pack is fastened, and that makes the load less likely to shift. 

Personally, I like them because of that factor. The feel is more as if the pack is part of your body, and less something swinging back and forth behind you. There are many hiking trails around here that are rough, rooted or slippery, and if you slip, a wobbling pack can knock you down.  

That being said, many people like the external  frame packs, especially for heavier loads, and if the path is smooth and level any motion should be easy to control. 

And (as we see here) a lot of people grew up with external frame packs, and there's a certain nostalgic feeling to them.

4:55 p.m. on August 16, 2013 (EDT)
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i agree with a couple of comments above:

1.  most hikers and backpackers don't spend much time fully off-trail, so the usefulness of having a pack without an external frame that can get grabbed by branches is relatively limited.  but, if you are one of those people who likes a good bush-whack, or who finds himself or herself on seldom-used trails that are heavily overgrown, i think internal frame packs have clear advantages in that area. 

2.  external frames have a definite and noticeable 'lurch factor' because the frame is so stiff.  most people refer to that as 'stability,' which to me means the propensity of your backpack to go in one direction while you are moving in another.  the bottom line is that with a reasonably full external backpack, i think you are somewhat more likely to lose your balance than with most internal frame packs of the same weight.  as a result, the extent to which a hiker/backpacker finds himself or herself on precarious trails where keeping your balance is an issue, or who does a lot of scrambling, internal frames also have advantages in those areas.

in addition, i might add that:

-dollar for dollar, i think external frames can carry more weight for less money than internal frame packs - hands down.  no matter how little you spend on an external, you are getting a frame that can haul a lot and that can expand capacity by attaching more stuff with bungy cords, straps, utility cord, whatever.  less-expensive internal frame packs also tend to have much less robust suspensions and support rods. 

-there is no such thing as an ultralight or even light weight external frame, in my experience.  if you tend to travel light, you don't need (and probably don't want) an external frame. 

i followed a trajectory similar to Gary - started out with externals, then moved to internals with a TNF Snow Leopard.  my current large internal frame pack can carry 60-80 pounds comfortably in terms of impact on my hips and shoulders - though my legs tend to start screaming at me if i'm not in the best shape.  

12:15 a.m. on August 17, 2013 (EDT)
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ppine, I do a fair amount of off trail, and my most recent trip was no exception.  It included one day that had close to a mile of true boulder hopping with a full pack.  Although I have used external frame packs for many years, I appreciate the stability of an internal frame when scrambling off trail.  Here is a pic from my recent trip to illustrate the terrain that I do regularly in the sierra high country (pic is of Patman)


11:29 a.m. on August 17, 2013 (EDT)
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Sugar pine,

You are one of the few people that would be best served by an internal frame. That picture looks a lot like the Chilkoot Trail between Alaska and BC ini summer.

12:36 p.m. on August 17, 2013 (EDT)
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I think external frame packs are great for loads that exceed 1/3rd of your body weight, large or awkward items, and most "utility backpacking" for trial maintenance, natural resources maintenance, or research purposes. I've seen 120 lb kids carry 90 lbs of wood chips up steep trails with external frame packs!

For the vast majority of recreational hikers- internal frames have significant advantages.  They are lighter, more flexible, easier to transport and have smaller profiles.

That said- I have a few externals and take them out for nostalgia!

6:11 p.m. on August 17, 2013 (EDT)
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Well I plan to hike along a river canyon called Kanab Creek and I am not sure what the country will be like probably anything from rocks and cobblestone to layered sediments of sandstone and basalt. Its in SW Utah between the Paunsaugant Plateau near Alton Utah and the town of Kanab Utah.

9:49 p.m. on August 17, 2013 (EDT)
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I hear from a lot of people that internal frame packs are lighter, but I don't think this generalization holds true.  When I decided to bite the bullet and get an internal frame pack several years ago (to better do off trail routes) I compared what was available with internal frames with the external frame pack that I was using at the time (Jansport Carson).  I had a hard time finding an internal frame pack with similar capacity and POCKETS that weighed less.  A lot of the internal frame packs that boast low weights have no external pockets, which is a huge problem for me.

Another advantage that external frame packs have over most internals is much better back ventilation.  In addition to my need for external pockets, when I got my internal I required good back ventilation, which is hard to find in internal frame packs.  I do not do very well hiking in heat, and this is a very important factor for me.

7:23 a.m. on August 18, 2013 (EDT)
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ppine said:

Nearly everyone in a discussion about packs refers to the advantages of internal packs on rough terrain and "off-trail." It is a legitimate concern for mountain climbers maybe, but what backpackers hike "off-trail"?

"On trail" and "Off trail" depends a lot on your definition of trail. Technically this is "On trail" where I go.


Internal definitely is better for this sort of place and for bushwhacking. External is my preference if I have extra gear I want to lash to my pack like snowshoes or an ax.

7:28 a.m. on August 18, 2013 (EDT)
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LoneStranger : That above looks like an old forestry road that has not been used s much and has lots of natural dead fall on it. Looks like many of the routes I have followed over the years in the Teton Wilderness SE of Yellowstone park. Heavy spring bear country and wolf area

3:16 p.m. on August 19, 2013 (EDT)
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Ascent on the Chilkoot. Definitely a few similarities. 


One of my groups just came back from that trail. I had to miss it, but it looks like a once-in-a-lifetime trip. 

10:46 a.m. on August 20, 2013 (EDT)
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I can see now why the miners did it in winter! I hope to make if there this next spring. 


11:32 a.m. on August 20, 2013 (EDT)
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Don't go too early. It is the North. I have mentioned before that the closest I have ever come to freezing to death was Aug 31 near the top of the Pass.

I am sold on externals because I like the air between the back and the frame. They have great pockets. They are nostalgic and  a good one like a Kelty Tioga weighs only 4 1/2 pounds. They are also easy to fit, and you can put the weight on the hips where it belongs.

12:12 a.m. on August 21, 2013 (EDT)
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I'm so used to seeing pictures of the Chilkoot Pass with snow...but in summer it's my kind of place.  I'd like to do that.

PPine states my biggest reasons in favor of external frames - lots of air between your back and the pack, good pockets, and load carrying capability.  Try to find an internal frame pack with similar features and similar weight, for anywhere near the same cost.

6:03 a.m. on August 21, 2013 (EDT)
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I like the hybrids personally. I am head over heels with my Kifaru Bikini frame and Highcamp bag.

10:29 p.m. on August 21, 2013 (EDT)
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Kelty Super Tioga user here. Love the pockets, love the air flow, and love the ability to choose where I put the weight; shoulders,  hips or combination. Its a large capacity pack which allows me to be somewhat sloppy in my packing. The pockets allow me to group like use items, and make those items easily available. Its really convenient when hiking with other people to have them open a pocket and grab something.

12:07 a.m. on August 22, 2013 (EDT)
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All through my teen years and young adult years I used an External frame pack, or packs.  I had never even tried a internal frame pack until the late 90's.  One thing I noticed right a way the the heat difference.  I tend to sweet a lot and the back of internal frame packs are normally soaked after a day of hiking.  I wonder what that does to the materials.  I never really had that problem with the external packs.

But now I am trying to get my weight down, I am about 20lbs for a base weight, and use a smaller internal frame pack.  Either a GoLite 50 or one from REI that is a 65.  If I am carrying more then 40 in either of these packs I can really feel in on my hips, I have to make it very tight to keep it from moving and to keep the load off my shoulders.  As a young adult, I often carried close to 75 lbs and on one trip out to the coast I started at close to 90lbs.  If I tried that today, I probably would not make it 15' past the car! 

For the hot desert and for the cost, I would try to get a lighter and thus smaller external frame pack.  I know money is always a issue and externals seem to resale at a much more reasonable price.  The guy I bought the GoLite from originally wanted $100 for it, where GoLite had it listed at $80.  True they were out of stock, but come on, that was almost the same price as original retail.  I got it for $75, an OK price but the main reason I got it was it has a large size frame so it would fit me, which it dose.

Gary if you can find something decent and at the right price, I would go for it.


6:12 p.m. on August 25, 2013 (EDT)
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Or you could get a Dana Design external, which is somewhat of a hybrid.  The belt is similar to an internal system belt.

I prefer an internal pack.  I like how tight they are to the body, creating a thin profile and more natural center of gravity resulting in less back compensation.  My back tends to get sore, so that is a key factor for my use and comfort.

April 25, 2018
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