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External Frame Backpacks

Top Picks

How we choose: The best external frame backpacks highlighted here were selected based on 401 reviews of 101 products. Our top picks are those that are readily-available in the United States and have received the highest overall ratings from reviewers.

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If you've used a external frame backpack that you think should be listed here, please share your experience.

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Norrona Recon 125L synkroflex Pack

user rating: 5 of 5 (9 reviews)

High volume external frame with innovative features. Took 1/2 star off for hip belt tightening straps.

Reasons to Buy

  • Hip belt two-piece adjustable
  • Volume
  • Side pockets removable
  • Easy to adjust torso and hip belt for body size
  • Compression straps multiple
  • Pulk rings
  • External frame
  • Load lifter straps

Reasons to Avoid

  • Hip belt tightening mechanism
  • Weight
  • No pockets on hip belt

hip belt rotated counterclockwise   hip belt rotated clockwise right side Norrona, left side ALPS Z Interesting pack. The worst thing about the pack is the hip belt tightening. Instead of pulling the straps inward, you pull them outward. What I wind up doing is tightening the hip belt before I snap the buckle closed. Which leads me to another point. I am a 34-inch waist. The hip belt is adjustable but I doubt a 31-inch waist is in the range of adjustment. 33 is close to the minimum. The hip belt is unique.

Read more: Norrona Recon 125L synkroflex Pack reviews (9)

Kelty Trekker 65

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (8 reviews)

I started out with external frame packs in the '80s, joined the internal frame craze in the '90s, and joyfully returned to external frames with this pack about nine years ago. It is an eternally adjustable, heavy-load-eating comfort-monster.

Reasons to Buy

  • Endlessly adjustable
  • Excellent customer service support
  • Tough
  • Comfortable

Reasons to Avoid

  • Just a little heavy
  • Favors taller folks slightly

This pack can be tweaked endlessly to find that perfect fit. The frame itself can be shortened or lengthened, the pack body lowered or raised on the frame, the hip belt and shoulder straps replaced. To that end, I am a slender man, and found the factory-installed hip belt to be far too long. I couldn't tighten the hip belt enough to fully support the load on my hips—the webbing ran out and the padded sections ran into each other before I could get it to what felt fully tightened. I contacted Kelty and they sent me the "women's" hip belt and shoulder strap setup for the cost of shipping, and now I can adjust the hip belt to ride as high or low on my hips as I want.

Read more: Kelty Trekker 65 reviews (8)

U.S. Military ALICE Pack

user rating: 4 of 5 (42 reviews)

This tough and flexible backpack is my short trip backpack. The original bag is dirt cheap. The frames can be swapped, bags swapped, and all kinds of after-market suspension parts are available. See pictures below to see combinations that can be made for very little.

  Usmc bag, Tactical Tailor frame, MOLLE II shoulder straps and Tactical Tailor Super Strap kidney belt     Front view. Very comfortable with 70 plus pounds. ALICE configurations that can make the "green tick"  a viable modern option. Just examples from my collections over the years.    Australian XL ALICE pack bag on the Hellcat mod. Very comfortable.    Hell Cat modification    Two types of newer ALICE frames. MC 1606 and Tactical Tailor MALICE frames   The original ALICE.  I replaced the snaps on the outside pockets with quick clips and the shoulder straps and hip belt with the new MOLLE versions, but the original were fine for 15 years.

Read more: U.S. Military ALICE Pack reviews (42)

Nimrod Pack Systems Haul Frame Pack

user rating: 5 of 5 (2 reviews)

Nimrod Backpack System is one of the most versatile systems I've ever had the pleasure to backpack with. It's not only lightweight, customizable, and waterproof, but its also made in America. It may be a bit on the expensive side for some folks but if you can afford it I highly recommend checking them out.

Reasons to Buy

  • Well made
  • Versatile
  • Lightweight
  • Waterproof
  • Customizable
  • Great Customer Service

Reasons to Avoid

  • Expensive
  • Not advertised alot

If you are anything like me, a gear head. Then you know what it means to find a great product that provides all the luxuries you need while out on your hunt, backpacking trip. Before I started my search for packs I found that I needed something dual use and also customizable so that when I got to my hunt camp I could break down the pack to a smaller day pack. With the Nimrod pack system you can do this. As you can see in the provided flyer it shows you all the different parts of the pack that can be purchased.

Read more: Nimrod Pack Systems Haul Frame Pack reviews (2)

Seek Outside Paradox Evolution 4800

user rating: 5 of 5 (1 review)

I missed my external packs from the days long ago, until I found this one. It articulates as good or better than any of my internal frame packs and best of all, THE HIP BELT WILL NOT SLIP. I know, an amazing assertion, but true.

Reasons to Buy

  • Articulated frame
  • Can carry very large loads, or very small loads
  • Perhaps the best hip belt ever

Reasons to Avoid

  • There may be a short wait when ordering this pack
  • No built in hip belt pockets
  • Pricey, but is in line with packs of this caliber

PARADOX PACK by SEEKOUTSIDE 4800 WITH BASE TALON I found out about this external frame pack that feels like an internal frame on BACKPACKINGLIGHT. That (and other reviews, I read them all) haunted me until I purchased one and tried it out. It boasted an external aluminum frame that was articulated so that the shoulders could move forward and back without any more resistance than an ultra light pack and still maintain it's vertical stiffness. Being a lightweight EXTERNAL FRAME pack and not having the old problem of feeling like a stiff board on your back was very enticing.

Read more: Seek Outside Paradox Evolution 4800 review (1)

LuxuryLite StackPack

user rating: 5 of 5 (2 reviews)

I have used the pack for a total of 20 days—two trips into the Gila Wilderness and two into the Pecos Wilderness. My pack has an external frame and four 25-litre, waterproof bags. The bags only weigh 4 oz. each, and the total empty weight for a 75-litre backpack is 32 oz. It is very comfortable to wear, however unconventional its design is. No signs of wear yet. The most weight I have carried so far is 28 pounds (my first trip), as I am solo hiking (and kind of a newbie).

Reasons to Buy

  • Very comfortable
  • Ultralight weight
  • Exterior, strong frame
  • Easy entry to belongings
  • Waterproof pack

Reasons to Avoid

  • Can slide from side to side with its load
  • Better remember which bag in which you stored your stuff
  • Fairly expensive ($300 +/-)

The pack is infinitely variable, from the shortest length to the longest. The belt is very comfortable. The pack is not made to rest on your shoulders, but to rest on your hips. It is easy to adjust the pack height-wise to arrive at a best fit. The number of waterproof bags can be added or subtracted, according to one's needs (I carried the fourth bag because I had fly fishing equipment and spin fishing equipment). I'm sure I carried too much, but I have not hiked solo but the four times, so I would rather include too much rather than too little.

Read more: LuxuryLite StackPack reviews (2)

Barney's Sports Chalet Super Moose

user rating: 5 of 5 (2 reviews)

Barney's Sports Chalet ( makes (in USA) bags and frames (sold seperately) which are interchangeable with Camp Trails' Moose/Freighter Frame and Cabella's Alaska line. Both their frame and their bags are MUCH more expensive than either Cabellas or Camp Trails, but they have a cult reputation for MUCH better build quality among Alaskan hunters and guides, who have to haul out moose quarters weighing 165 lbs or more. The Barney's frame was too expensive for me--I purchased a Cabella's Alaskan Guide frame, which is considerably more robust than the Camp Trails Freighter Frame, and seems more than sufficient for my needs.As for the pack, I bought a Super Moose pack from Barneys.

Read more: Barney's Sports Chalet Super Moose reviews (2)

The Big Heavy

user rating: 5 of 5 (1 review)

The Big Heavy is my home away from home carrying everything I need except me.

Reasons to Buy

  • The Big Heavy is cavernous

Reasons to Avoid

  • Did I say The Big Heavy?

The Big Heavy is an amazing external frame backpack from the late '80s. This isn't one of those wooden framed canvas Boy Scout things mind you, but a bit newer and more high-tech. The Big Heavy is able to carry anything and I love it so! Starting with my sleep system I have a tarp. I've never liked the sound those plastic one's make so I found an old painters tarp. It's canvas so it weighs a bit more, and it gets wet, but it's quiet and I sleep well so it's worth it. Then comes my tent. Here I have to admit I pack an old Boy Scout tent.

Read more: The Big Heavy review (1)

Outdoor Products Firefly

user rating: 5 of 5 (2 reviews)

I have been hiking for years and this pack is a great pack. The frame is the same principal as the Coleman Peak 1 when they first came out. Moves and flexes well with the body while on the trail.This pack has plenty of room, plenty of pockets and adjusts great. The hefty padding on the hip and shoulder pads is perfect!! The middle pocket is just the right size to hold your rain jacket and pants. The side pockets help keep you organized and the main flap pocket is perfect for a map and a rain cover.

Read more: Outdoor Products Firefly reviews (2)

More Reviews of External Frame Backpacks

Trailspace reviewers have shared 401 reviews of 101 different external frame backpacks.

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Other Types of Backpacks

Find more backpacks reviewed in these related categories:

Daypacks (under 35L)

Overnight Packs (35-49L)

Weekend Packs (50-69L)

+9 more types

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