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Internal or external frame?

backpacks-200x148I need a new backpack. What’s better: Internal or external frame?

– Confused Carl, Aptos, Calif.

Dear Confused, you must be a mind reader because thousands of other guys are wondering this same thing. Then again, if you really were a mind reader you wouldn’t need to ask me questions because you’d already know exactly what I was thinking, right?

I digress.

So, backpacking packs come in two types. External frames packs are those with a framework on the outside. These old-school-style packs are the best choice if you’ll be hiking mostly on groomed trails carrying lots of weight. They’re especially good at transferring the load so you can hike in a more comfortable upright stance. They’re also about half the cost of an internal frame pack, which has its support hidden inside like a skeleton.

Internal frame packs are usually more form-fitting, so they are better for guys who’ll be hiking rugged trails that require freedom of movement and balance. Most internal frame packs have one huge compartment with a couple of zippered access points, whereas external frame packs usually have lots of smaller compartments that make organization easier. You can also easily attach extra gear – such as a sleeping bag or fishing rod – to the frame.

Which type of pack is better is really up to you and your needs.

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26 Comments on Internal or external frame?

  1. TheyCallMeSam // January 11, 2010 at 9:58 pm // Reply

    I have a Kelthy 3950 external frame pack and have summited many mountains including Ranier and stuart. The only problem i have had with my pack is in climbing up steep rocky sloaps, dirt gets into the pins and makes a squeeky noise…..which i kinda like actually:) but overall i have no problems with hiking rugged trails. Just dont hike like a subaru driver and you will have no problem handaling one of these packs.

  2. Wandering Willie // January 10, 2010 at 5:17 pm // Reply

    I am thinking about getting an external backpack, because they seem cheaper and being in the Texas heat it allows air to flow threw your back so you don’t get all sweaty.

    • I am going for the external back pack because my son needs to clamp attach a tent, a sleeping mat and a sleeping back to it. To me these reasons alone would point to an external pack.

  3. soaringeagle // October 10, 2009 at 12:19 am // Reply

    I have used a External since late 2003 early 2004 and I love it. Sits comfortably and it holds plenty of stuff. I have taken my Kelty Trekker 3950 to Philmont (83 miles) and 43 miles in a canoe with very few problems. Never have had a problem packing it and it has never caused me to fall due to balance issues. This pack has also gone with me to the Sierra Nevadas where we did some rugged trails which was a bit difficult but nothing to serious. In the end I would definatly recomend External Frame Backpacks over Internals and yes I have used an internal and I hated it (not comfortable at all).

    P.S. I would recomend Internals if you are looking at doing alot of canoeing easier to get in the bottom of the canoe. Otherwise Externals ALL THE WAY!

  4. Seems like the sporting good stores have tons on internal frame packs and only a few choices with external frames. I recommend that scouts get external frame packs for non-technical hiking. I like them because you can tie bulky (not necessarily heavy) items to the frame like a closes cell foam pad and a tent. Look for a pack that you can tie something on top and something on the bottom.

    With a lot of internal frame packs your only going to fit it all in if you buy a new tent, a new sleeping bag, and fancy air mattress. Better to spend your money on red licorice.

  5. I own a gregory Z55 a smaller internal frame pack. It distributes weight very well and is very comfortable. I have used several other recent models of internal frame packs and found this to be a trend. I have looked at several external frame packs and found them to be good all around packs. I have also found them to be heavy. Not all internal frames are lightweight my other pack which is an internal frame alps pack is 5 1/2 pounds. But the lightest packs with frames on the market are internal frame packs. The most important thing is fit. Buy what feels the best and fits your needs.

  6. Thanks for all the imput, really helps when trying to make a decision between the two. I guess the bottom line is what kind of hiking you are planning on doing

  7. i was using a kelty jr tioga and it is external and i hate it.
    every time i trip i hit my head everytime i trip.
    so i got a new pack a kelty coyote 4900 and i love it
    so i would go with internal, but thats just me

  8. newscout 101 // March 5, 2009 at 4:06 pm // Reply

    i didnt know what backpack to get but now im getting an external frame

  9. I have recently heard about the Universal S-curve fit. Is that something better than an internal or external frame or is just another marketing gimmick?

  10. cool backpacker 101 // June 26, 2008 at 9:34 pm // Reply

    i like the internal frame packs because they are more comfortable,, and they allow more movement

  11. philmont 09 75 // June 4, 2008 at 4:01 pm // Reply

    I going to philmont in 2009 with scouts and I been backpacking and I use and exyernal framed kelty pack. One of my friends tells me how great internal frames are for philmont im not sure what to use

  12. Several of the perceptions of the internal frame pack “downsides” are no longer valid. Todays internal is more of a hybrid between the two styles than ever before. Osprey, Gregory, Kelty, Deuter, and most other brands are now producing internal frame packs capable of carrying a reasonable load with an eye to backpanel ventilation, external pockets, lash points, and other organizational perks.You only need to look at how few external frames are on the market to see which way the trend is going.

    I used an external in my 17+ year scout career and have now switched to an internal as I am active with the local Search and Rescue team. I prefer todays internal for weight to load bearing capacity, comfort, stability, and ease of use. While one of the primary reasons given for preferring an external frame is load capability. I think I would prefer to teach a scout to purchase gear and pack “smart” rather than heavy. There are several good internals that can be found for around the same cost as an external, including those with adjustible torsos that will grow with the scout.

  13. From what i have read more like the internal frame.

    internal-good for canoeing, rugged trails, you won’t get snagged on things, have a lot of room, and LIGHT WIEGHT, but it’s hard to strap things directly to the pack, and it’s a BIT PRICY.It keeps in heat wich could be good or bad depending on the weather.

    The external frame is balenced out, well organized, and is durable, but it’s bad for canoeing, it restricts movement, and it’s HEAVY. it also lets the air flow.

    Thanks for readin.

  14. BSA Scout // May 8, 2008 at 7:41 pm // Reply

    If you are looking at canoeing or going on rugged trails, I would recomend the internal frame. External frames tend to be heavier, but balance out better, and are good for the heat of Texas. I once went camping in northern Michigan, and I liked the way my friend’s internal pack worked in that kind of weather.

  15. i have a internal frame High Sierra Sentinel 65, it has served me well on my past few camping trips. i personally prefer an internal frame. but the problem is that it’s harder to strap stuff to the pack itself. i got it on sale so it was only 80 bucks!


  17. i am going to philmont in august 2009 it will help THANKS

  18. i had think it can be hard to strap and even fit certain external frame packs into canoes one boy in my troop had to strap it onto the gunnels wich isnt very desirable just somthing to think about

  19. I personally think Internal Frames are better

  20. Internal frames will ride snug against your body which can be great in tight spaces. The drawback I have noted on internal frames is that they DO ride snug against you…which means they trap heat against you….and you sweat more. That means you will need more water to drink, and if there is not a source you must carry the extra water weight making the pack weight potentially substantial. If you are cold weather packing…the extra warmth can be a real good thing though…

    So consider the type of hiking you plan…cold weather and caving or tight confines do lean toward the wether and long trips, the external with the air flow acrtoss the back and the extra capacity of hanging stuff outside the frame is very handy.

  21. Mr.Everest // March 8, 2008 at 6:17 pm // Reply

    I have an external frame kelty youkon 2900. It is good for open trails and long-term camping trips, and has a good amount of freedom to carry alot of gear. But however it has a down side, it doesn alow you to move in certain ways, such as if you need balence on the trail it does not move with your body and is rather stiff and makes manuvering difficult wich doesnt mean its bad but it would be nice to have alittle more freadom.

  22. Backwoods_Traveler // March 3, 2008 at 10:02 pm // Reply

    I have used both an internal and external frame. Having the opportunity to do guidework through NC in the Blueridge parkway area, I have had the opportunity to stay on the trail and do some fantastic bushwhacking, with both an external and internal frame. It is true that external Frames carrying weight fantastically and at times can be well organized. With that being said, I have a Kelty Stormcloud 5600 and it is fantastic. Well organized, carries weight well, excellent durabiltiy. The internal frame sits much closer to my back and allows me to do much more maneuvering, especially in tight bush areas or water scenarios. The internal frame pack also seem to be the lighter of the two. It all comes down to preference, however in certain conditions, the internal has always proved invaluable.

  23. I have a kelty coyote and its awesome. its internal

  24. I have the scout external frame, but personaly, i think internals are better,

  25. I’ve have a Kelty Sierra Crest, witch is a external frame, And I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    With some space on the inside and sides, you can put some importent gear in it, like food and stuff, and on the out side you can hang pot’s, tie fishing kits to it, and if your like my little brother, a helment.

    So I’d go with an External pack.

    Yours in scouting


    P.s. Kelty arn’t selling Sierra Crest’s any more.

    P.s.s. I’ve had my pack for four years now.

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