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JanSport Carson 90

The Carson 90 has been discontinued. If you're looking for something new, check out the best external frame backpacks for 2021.

photo: JanSport Carson 90 external frame backpack


Price Historic Range: $59.91-$99.99
Reviewers Paid: $69.99-$100.00


8 reviews
5-star:   3
4-star:   4
3-star:   0
2-star:   0
1-star:   1

This pack is great. I have owned it for over four years and it carries everything you will ever need to survive the wilderness.

Has lots of room for your tent and sleeping bag with plenty of room to spare. With a little bit of ingenuity you can carry even more stuff using the external frame to your advantage. Fits very comfortably after you get it properly adjusted for your height.

Just beware of the older version with the bad straps. If you do get the older version, just contact Jansport and they will replace them, no problem.

Size: 5500
Price Paid: $100

Good pack for the money. Was impressed with the durability. Held up as well if not better than my son's Kelty.

Plenty of storage capacity
Great accessibility to gear
Side pockets are very useful

No load lifters on shoulder straps.

This pack survived 4 long weekend shakedown trips on the AT and a 2 week 65 mile trek at Philmont Scout Ranch in NM. 4 of out 10 people in our crew used this pack. Only minor issues like one strap breaking-stitched on the trail, no worries. External frame very useful in strapping extra gear or sleeping bag/pad to create additional internal capacity.

Improvements recommended include adding load lifters, bigger hydration sleeve, and removable lid that converts to a waistpack.

Design: Front and top Loading External
Size: 5500 CI
Number of Pockets: 5
Max. Load Carried: 60 lbs
Height of Owner: 6'0"
Price Paid: $75

This is a lot of pack for the money. I REALLY like JanSport's quality of construction. And it only weighs 4 lbs. 13 oz. If I were buying a first pack for a large-sized boy I'd go with this pack since I can't find the Rainier any longer.

I like the way this pack can be adjusted, and once adjusted, the way it fits. It swallows large-sized gear readily and offers four handy places for small, often-used gear to sit. The zippers and buckles are rugged. The top and bottom lash points are well made and usefully placed. A boy can easily secure a foam sleeping pad and his part of a two-man tent to them, and parents can have confidence that they will stay put - if the (not provided) lash straps snugged properly. The powder-coated aluminum frame is solid and doesn't squeak, even when the pack is fully loaded.

The zip-down front panel is a big help, making for easy access to lunchtime and end-of-the day stuff. The lower compartment can be reached easily, too, providing handy access to a sleeping bag.

The twin side pockets are reasonably sized and can accommodate a pack cover, trail trowel, TP, tent peg bag, eating utensils, etc.

Longer items can go in the removable top pocket, along with a poncho and a personal first aid kit. Detached, this top pocket becomes an acceptable pillow, if stuffed with soft things.

The hip belt has lots of 'tail' in the webbing and accommodates my 36-inch waist with ease. Less than 32-inches? Try another pack. Over 36-inches? Pretty good chance it will accommodate your girth.

Why didn't I give the Carson 90 five stars? Read on.

There are no dual daisy chains, even though the "Buy Me" tag says that there are. Oooof!

The three horizontal compression straps are more decorative than useful. When snugged to their limit, their tails become a long, dangling mess, unless you use rubber bands to keep them under control. Fiddley.

I replaced my still-going-strong ten-year-old JanSport Rainier because I wanted a built-in hydration bladder. When I put a 2-liter bladder in the Carson 90's sleeve it bulges uncomfortably against my lower back until I can drink at least half of the water. I can live with it since it encourages me to stay hydrated, but I don't like it.

The twin pass-through holes cut in the rear of the panel divider are too small to accommodate my tent's nested poles. They will permit something of approximately one-inch in diameter to pass through. What might that be???

When the pack is fully loaded the front panel's hook-and-loop closure patches don't touch unless you reach through the top of the bag and force them together.

I REALLY miss the two zippered front panels on my Rainier. I also miss the single extra-long side pocket with its pass-through back and catch-cup below. Why couldn't JanSport have simply added a hydration bladder sleeve to the Rainier's tried-and-true design????

Will I continue to use my Carson 90 or will I sell it? I don't know. My Rainier still has lots of life left in it, and I've discovered that I can dangle a stand-alone water bladder from its top bar without it hitting me in the small of my back. Hmmm...

Design: Hybrid top-loader / panel loader; external frame.
Size: 4900 cubic inches
Number of Pockets: 4
Max. Load Carried: 35 lb.
Height of Owner: 5' 9"
Price Paid: $99

This pack has served me well on the types of trips I have been on. Some of the knocks on it are true. It does sway quite a bit when I hike and your maneuverability with it on is somewhat compromised, but the loading capacity and durability are excellent.

I abused the heck out of it on an Alaskan trip. I packed it with 60lb loads, dropped it in streams and down rock faces, all with no signs of wear. I would recommend it for any hiker.

Design: external frame
Size: 4900 cubic inches
Number of Pockets: 6
Max. Load Carried: 65lbs
Height of Owner: 6'1"
Price Paid: $99.99

This is just an okay pack unless you modify it to perform more worthy of a true backpacker pack, and that is exactly what I did. I modified the shoulder and waistbelt to where is performed like a high end pack. I switched out the waist belt for a Dana Design belt that comes on the Terraplane. And I stitched on two layers of old sleeping foam mats onto the shoulder strap.

I also added a custom designed pad to the center of the waist belt; somewhat simulating the similar feature that a Dana waist belt set up has. And I also designed a custom welded aluminum stand to fit onto the frame so that the pack could stand up on its own. Also I cinched down the pack at all the important areas that would make sure the pack would not sway and sit closer to the back.

After all this, now I could say that this pack rocks for its performance and user friendly appeal. I know it was a lot of work to do this but in the end it was well worth the ordeal to come up with a personalize external pack. Final cost $69.99 + $120 for the improvements.

Design: Top or Front loading
Size: Tall.
Number of Pockets: 2
Max. Load Carried: 5,500 cu.
Height of Owner: 5'9"
Price Paid: $69.99

DO NOT, (let me repeat that) DO NOT BUY THIS PACK! It is the cruddiest pack on the face of the earth. It is uncomfortable. The shoulder straps are hard to adjust. It hardly compressed. It literally sways when you walk, it sits so high the top of the frame reachs a foot above your head and the bottom of the frame reaches below your buttocks--who needs that except a packmule?

I hated this pack since the first time I used it (and wished I could get my money back). My friend let me borrow one of his internal frames AND I WILL NEVER WEAR AN EXTERNAL FRAME PACK AGAIN! WHY WOULD YOU SPEND $75-100 ON THIS PIECE OF JUNK WHEN FOR $200 YOU COULD GET A STATE-OF-THE-ART NORTH FACE, REI, OR MARMOT INTERNAL FRAME?

Design: top & front loading internal
Size: 5200 cu in
Max. Load Carried: 30 pounds
Height of Owner: 5'7"
Price Paid: $100

This is my first "serious" backpack, but I feel I've used it enough and observed others with various backpacks to fairly say this is a really nice backpack.

I really like the large storage space coupled with the ability to unzip the front panel all the way to the bottom. This nice little feature makes getting to anything in your pack a snap. I also like all of the pockets and the pocket for a bladder. I don't know if I would want a pack that wasn't hydration capable after owning this one. There's also a nice space at the bottom of the frame for lashing on a tent or sleeping bag. You've also got a little room at the top if you don't over stuff. The compression straps are a great feature as well. They really do come in handy.The pack is comfortable, lightweight and proved to be pretty stable over tough terrain.

The only thing I've observed in other packs that I wished this one had is load lifter straps (straps that run from the pack to the top of the shoulder). They seem to be pretty handy, but I wouldn't call them a deal breaker. If you've read other reviews you've probably came up on complaints about the shoulder straps breaking. This seems to be an issue on earlier packs but has now been resolved. I bought my pack mid 2004 and it already had the improved straps with metal grommets. If you do happen to come up on a pack with the old rubber, Jansport will replace them for free, so that's not too bad a deal. My pack also squeaks a little, but it's not so bad as to be a nuisance.

Overall I'm very please with this pack and don't regret buying it at all. There are certainly more expensive packs out there, and maybe many that people would consider nicer, but if you're just an average hiker/camper like me, this pack will more than serve your needs. It's been loaded down, tossed around and dunked in the river a couple of times with no real signs of wear yet. I think this pack will probably be with me for a pretty long time.

Buy the Carson and spend that extra money on more gear!

Design: front\top loading external with hydration
Size: 5500 cubic inches
Number of Pockets: 6
Max. Load Carried: 60 lbs
Height of Owner: 5'9"
Price Paid: $89

I love this pack. I chose an external frame pack because I tend to overheat and it helps to have the pack riding away from your back. I have carried loads up to 60 pounds in this pack without any difficulty. With the abuse I have put this thing through, I am very impressed. I can see the frame flex under the massive loads, never breaking. It is well constructed and holds a ton, not to mention the fact that you can still attach quite a bit to the frame. The wide and sturdy hip belt places the entire load squarely on your hips, making even a heavy load very comfortable.

The length of the frame is adjustible to accommodate a wide range of torso lengths. The hip strap is long enough for a big guy like me (6 ft. 1 in. and 290 lb.) This pack also includes sternum straps and load-stabilizer straps.

I highly recommend this pack for any budget-minded backpacker who wants an external frame. The only possible improvement would be to make the top compartment detachable so it could be carried separately. Other than that, it had everything I wanted.

Design: Top loading and rear-loading external-frame backpack
Size: 90 liters (5500 cubic inches)
Number of Pockets: lots! including a special pouch for a hydration pouch
Max. Load Carried: 60 pounds (27 kg)
Height of Owner: 6 ft. 1 in.
Price Paid: $99

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