large external frame pack for at thru hike

11:29 a.m. on September 6, 2012 (EDT)
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I am planning on a northbound thru hike of the at this coming season.

I will have my girlfriend in tow, I am 6'3" and have a long torso. I already have a kelty tioga 5300 and love it. I have taken countless week-two week trips with it. I generally stay below 35 pounds fully loaded. I love my pack and the way it carries. I feel that if I carried the same load in an internal frame pack It would feel like more weight. Ever notice that people with frameless and internal frame packs tend to lean forward?

money isn't really the issue here, I wouldn't mind springing for a new pack. Love getting new gear. But I have a feeling that it ain't broke, so why fix it.

I'm considering carrying this pack on my thru hike and carrying the bulky items like sleeping bags and tent, and my girlfriend is interested in the kelty trekker 3500. We like the upright walking style. 

has anyone thru hiked the at with a big external like this? I don't plan on filling it all the time, but the space may come in handy in cold weather and thru the 100 mile wilderness (hundred acre wood) where resupply gets tricky.

any input negative or positive is greatly appreciated.

thanks, and happy trails.


11:32 a.m. on September 6, 2012 (EDT)
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You have answered a lot of your own questions.  I am a big fan of external Kelty packs and would bring one for a thru hike.

11:33 a.m. on September 6, 2012 (EDT)
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btw if it helps, my other big 3 is henry shires rainshadow 2, full length blue walmart closed cell sleeping pad(might get the z-rest instead), and I'm leaning towards the ray way 2 person quilt or 2 standard ray way quilts.

11:35 a.m. on September 6, 2012 (EDT)
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I just wonder if anyone here has taken this pack down the green tunnel, and if there where trip specific issues related to this specific pack..

good point though, I have answered a lot of my own questions. Lol.

12:07 p.m. on September 6, 2012 (EDT)
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Since the beginning of the AT when external frames ruled people been useing them and still hike the AT with them. I know David "AWol" Miller carried a Kelty but I am not sure if it was external.I know he had to do a repair in NH.I know because it was in his book AWol on the Appalachian trail. But regardless I am sure you'll have a great hike...

9:42 p.m. on September 6, 2012 (EDT)
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I am a fan of kelty external frames and for a long hike there is nothing better, imo. now you just have to get your girlfriend to haul a 5200!

11:02 p.m. on September 6, 2012 (EDT)
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I have hiked many parts of the AT both with and without external frame packs.  I prefer external frames for carrying heavy (more than 1/3 of my body weight), bulky, or awkward loads. External frame packs hike cooler than internal frame packs too, a benefit many enjoy in the mid-atlantic when things get steamy. My personal feeling is that these benefits of an external frame don't kick in until you're carrying far more weight than you are, and that the price you pay in weight for the pack won't be justified by your load.  If you're disciplined enough to carry 35 lbs on a 2 week hike, I'm guessing your load will dwindle even more after a month on the AT. In other words, you probably won't need to tote a load heavy enough to make you glad for the best qualities of an external frame pack.

For heavier, bulkier loads, all this advice is moot, and may be anyway if you hiking style is sufficiently different from mine,  so ignore it and have a wonderful time on the AT!

5:38 p.m. on September 7, 2012 (EDT)
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wildmandan said:

Ever notice that people with frameless and internal frame packs tend to lean forward?

Hi, Dan. Just curious about this comment. The first thing I show people wearing a backpack for the first time is how to put it on so they DON'T have to lean forward. It's just a matter of getting all the weight on your hips, then adjusting the shoulder and sternum straps from there. This works with internal as well as external-frame packs.

If I see somebody carrying a heavy load who's bent over by more than a degree or two, their pack isn't adjusted properly.

8:19 p.m. on September 7, 2012 (EDT)
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I have both an external and internal frame pack, and have never had to lean forward with either of them. of course I don't carry monster loads either, so what do I know!

1:16 p.m. on September 8, 2012 (EDT)
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I'm in the camp that understands that nowadays you don't need a big pack to carry big, heavy gear because smaller, lighter gear is available.  This is especially true for less than week-long hikes, which is pretty much what the AT is, a collection of short hikes between lots of resupply points.  It is not expedition hiking, not a Lewis and Clark kinda' thing. 

It is also my understanding that the AT is in way too many places a poorly engineered trail in terms of slope (goes straight up the hill, which is never much fun, and then straight down the hill, uselessly even less fun, or so I have read) and that means it is a struggle not improved by carrying a heavy load.  Rumour, of course, never been on it, don't intend to ever be on it, not my kind of trip.

That being said I used externals for many years because, well, there weren't any internal packs.  I never had a problem that mattered much but then my walking was all "PCT" sorta' stuff.  Rational slopes, mostly.  Walked north to Yosemite out of Cedar Grove in '65, solo, wool clothing and combat boots kinda' thing, no-name (I'm sure it had one but I don't remember what it was, long before marketing took over) external pack.  Great trip.  Mostly good-enough switchbacks, unless they were blown-out or MIA, rational engineering generally.  No trail at all that I could find in some places but I was just a kid and my skills then were not what they are today.  Pretty much nobody up there, taking my life in my hands crossing heavy water and other terrors as well.  Heavy load, lots of work, would have been way better using our modern equipment.

It was the most memorable walk I ever took.

I don't even own a frame today.  I would if I was going expedition/no resupply for weeks on end into the bush, if I needed to haul significant wood to a base camp, move meat, that sort of thing.  Too old for that now, never gonna' do it again, but I have done it and were I to do it again I absolutely would take a frame.

But not on the AT.  

You can use whatever pack suits you of course, HYOH always, but I would advise that you get your load weight down as low as possible and spend some time checking out internals.  You don't have to spend a lot of money on the bag.  I can do a couple of weeks in good weather with a $110, 4 pound Kelty Lakota.  There are other perfectly serviceable bags out there that will work well enough for little money.  Of course, depending on what equipment you already own, you may have to spend some potentially serious money on the gear that you put inside whatever bag you select. 

Whatever, equipment is pretty cheap when you consider the benefit of walking around in the weeds.

Decrease the suffering, increase the joy and always practice simplicity.

Make it a great experience!

3:30 p.m. on September 8, 2012 (EDT)
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goofing off at the trail head before a 2 person christmas time week long hike here in florida.

the more i read and think about this, the more sure i am that this pack is the way to go.

i plan to spend as little time off trail as possible. just because the resupply option is there doesn't mean i need it. or want it. i am masochistic like that. might purposely go 10-14 days between resupplies or towns, to save money and for a more authentic "wilderness" experience.

i have carried internal frame packs before, and they seem to ride to low and have too much pack space way behind you. i always felt like a small child had me in a full nelson, trying to take me down.

ive read that externals are the best option for carrying 35lbs or more on trail, and that internals are best for scrambling, skiing and mountaineering. wont be doing much of that on the beaten path, will i? (actual question, not sarcasm)

as far as balance issues, and such, i have never had issues with my kelty dancing on my back. maybe nobody knows how to adjust externals anymore.

my local trails suffer extreme boar damage. these pigs dig large holes up to 1" or more deep while rooting for grubs, and the grass grows up again to mask it and trick the unsuspecting hiker into thinking its level ground. and these pits are everywhere here. every couple feet you bounce up or down by about 6-10". not what i would call a groomed trail.

never had issues with the pack swaying or taking me off balance.

maybe im just set in my ways, maybe im just old school, maybe its the ease of packing due to compartments, or the romantic squeeking that my pack wispers in my ear.

i just feel like the only arguement that internal packers use over externals is that externals weigh more. well if my pack carries 35 pounds better than an internal or frameless carries 30, isnt it worth the extra couple pounds that my pack weighs?

im not going to bring the kitchen sink with me, but i will have a 2.5ish pound tarptent, and i am leaning towards bringing a canister pocket rocket style stove, possibly an unltralight hammock for in camp and zero days. i feel these additions to my pack will make the trip more enjoyable for myself and my girlfriend, and if we find ourselves overpurchasing groceries in town, i'll at least have the option of carrying it without blowing out the seams on some handsewn frameless job.

i hope this doesnt sound like im arguing with your advice, im just explaining my train of thought. is it a bad idea to have my target pack weight be 35 and comfortable? i am very fit and have carried a load of twice that size for a 16 mile hike that i completed in less than 5 hours. and was hungry for more miles.

3:31 p.m. on September 8, 2012 (EDT)
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plus i think internal frame packs are just ugly as hell.. lol.

hyoh and look good doing it!

4:09 p.m. on September 8, 2012 (EDT)
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No worries mate.  I think you're gonna' have a very fine time indeed, and that mid-30's load should be pretty manageable.

As for internals being ugly, well maybe/maybe not, never had one as a girlfriend.  In my recollection the only truly ugly pack I ever saw was the one I made; followed the plans real close, too, but man was it ugly.  Didn't carry worth a damn either.  And tore up my wife's thread injector to the tune of about $100.  She still won't let me in the sewing room.

Which I like to tell myself, as she is a very accomplished seamstress (a term that I am sure is so politically incorrect that I will be consigned to the briny deep for writing it here), was sorta' the plan, but not, if you get my drift.

Yeah I think all of us would agree that you're gonna' be lookin' real good doin' that walk, especially if you wear that attitude the whole distance.


5:13 p.m. on September 8, 2012 (EDT)
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has your girlfriend bought her pack yet? curious as to what she will use, and how much she will be carrying. are bears a problem? I have never been a through hiker because i'm just too wimpy, but i like seeing the chics getting out there and going for it!

12:06 p.m. on September 9, 2012 (EDT)
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  • my girlfriend is leaning towards a kelty trekker 65.
  • we have an unofficial sponsorship from kelty, so we're also going to be getting lightyear down 40 bags, bag liners, sleeping pads and trekking poles from them.
3:40 p.m. on September 9, 2012 (EDT)
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good deal. don't know how much the lightyear bags weigh, but if your getting them for free or cheap goforit. have fun!

2:00 p.m. on September 10, 2012 (EDT)
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it's probably a mistake the characterize internal frame packs as being inferior to externals or inadequate for carrying 35 pounds  or for not having enough storage options.  there is a lot of variety out there in terms of pockets & storage.  there are a lot of internal frame backpacks that can make 35 pounds feel like it practically isn't there. 

internal frame packbags run longer up and down your back than external frame bags, and you can distribute the weight however you want.  most people who are savvy about it pack the heaviest items close to their back & in the area that runs from hips to shoulder blades.  if i anticipate being off-trail or in situations where balance & stability are concerns, i pack the heavier stuff somewhat lower so my center of gravity is correspondingly lower, helps with balance.  one downside of external frames is that they make it pretty difficult to lower your center of gravity b/c the pack bag rides so high.  off-trail, or on trails that are steeper or more treacherous, i think the high center of gravity you unavoidably have with external frame packs is a disadvantage.  on a trail like the AT, given your size and experience and the amount of weight you plan to carry, your center of gravity won't much matter. 

despite whatever misconceptions you may have about internal frames, the bottom line, in my opinion, is that you should wear what feels comfortable.  if you like what you have, and it works well for you, why replace it?

2:22 p.m. on September 10, 2012 (EDT)
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leadbelly2550 said:

despite whatever misconceptions you may have about internal frames, the bottom line, in my opinion, is that you should wear what feels comfortable.  if you like what you have, and it works well for you, why replace it?

Absolutely with ya on this one 100%. If it works for you and you are happy with the performance/comfort why change what works?

Well said leadbelly. 

6:45 p.m. on September 10, 2012 (EDT)
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it all boils down to fit and comfort. especially on a through hike. like you said before - "if it aint broke, why fix it"! have a great time.

7:59 p.m. on September 10, 2012 (EDT)
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wow, i am really pleased with the responses. you guys are great and i appreciate all the input.

now hold onto your britches..  my girlfriend and i went to the local gear store and she tried on a bunch of packs today. guess which one she wants... an internal frame kelty coyote 75l. so im packing up my things and moving out. lol. just kidding. its her pack, her choice. hyoh and all.

she preferred the coyote over the trekker 65 because the coyote's shoulder straps and hip-belt are designed for a woman's body. something that never would have crossed my mind.

i also must retract my previous statement about internal packs being ugly, because dang she made that pack look sexy.

i really got my money's worth out of this post because it reassured me that my pack is the pack for me, and you all reminded me that internal, external or frameless, her pack is her choice.

thank you all so much for the awesome advice.

6:09 p.m. on September 11, 2012 (EDT)
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I hope she tried the pack with a load... nothing like getting out on the trail with a pack for the first time and finding out it doesn't carry worth a crap! 

8:57 p.m. on September 11, 2012 (EDT)
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Its definitely a personal choice. I carry both styles internal and external. I just did a short section of the at in vermont. I will say that it would have been more difficult with an internal frame pack. I love my old external frame, but my gregory baltoro carries better under 45 pounds. I did the Glastenbury mtn section and it was a scramble for the first couple of miles. The section of the at you are doing will make a big difference in your pack comfort. I dont find the external to be worth the weight until about 50 pounds. It doesnt give me the torso flexibility I need when the trail is steep or technical. Its a personal choice of course, but the newer internals are amazing. I dont mean the frameless ul packs but the ones made for a heavy load.

1:31 p.m. on September 13, 2012 (EDT)
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yeah, we loaded her up with 30lbs total pack weight and she marched all over the store. she really loved the coyote, and the color brings out her eyes. *ow!ow!*

4:09 p.m. on September 13, 2012 (EDT)
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That 35-75LB range is right in the sweet spot for good quality internals, though there are a small few number of internal frames that can venture up into the 90-110LB range.  I've used internals most of my life, and when I've had back problems it was due to poor fitting, not poor design.  A properly fitted internal actually keeps a thinner profile than an external (more natural center of gravity), so it has less strain on your back and knees.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  If you like what you got and if it works for you, don't mess with the formula unless you have the time to adequately test other ideas.

I like externals, too.  Just what ever grabs my fancy at the time of getting ready.  I have no problems loading up my DD Terraframe for a trip.  Not my first choice most of the time, but if I take it, I'm never sorry.

4:54 p.m. on September 15, 2012 (EDT)
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since it is a 75l pack are you gonna load her up? how much will she be carrying? most all internal frames can carry 30.  it's when you get into the 40 - 50 range that they start to feel bad. Glad to see she found one she likes tho.

9:25 a.m. on September 16, 2012 (EDT)
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Zeno Marx said:

.....A properly fitted internal actually keeps a thinner profile than an external (more natural center of gravity).....

 not necessarily true. my pack rides ridiculously close to my pack and quite high. a way more natural center of gravity. when dick kelty designed his external frame, the marketing slogan was "stand up and walk like a human". and boy do i ever feel that's true. at least for my pack. ive never found an internal that had a smaller profile.

9:28 a.m. on September 16, 2012 (EDT)
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we'll be keeping her below a 30lb total pack weight. the more i carry to keep her there, the less i'll leave her in the dust on the trail anyhow.

but i do plan to keep myself between 35 and 45 lbs total weight.

one plus of us using these packs is that we can go with a synth-fill bag, as we will have the room for them. they are cheaper, so thats more money for pizza and beer! yay!

1:28 p.m. on September 16, 2012 (EDT)
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Trailjester said:

since it is a 75l pack are you gonna load her up? how much will she be carrying? most all internal frames can carry 30.  it's when you get into the 40 - 50 range that they start to feel bad. Glad to see she found one she likes tho.

 Not true.  DD Terraplane, Alpine, Astralplane, and all of the ArcFlex series can carry well within their limits to 100LBs.  The Osprey FusionEX series up into the 80LB range is within their limits.  Many internals from the 90s were designed to carry back-breaking loads.  When in that in that 50LB range, they performed incredibly well because it was well below their limits.

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