Ask the Gear Guy

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.

Comments about “Internal or external frame?”

  1. slim says:

    use a garbage bag to cover your external frame pack – easy/light enough

  2. backpacking bro says:

    external frames are good for lashing on stuff, but internal frames are streamlined. It’s really a personal preference.

  3. Alfa Force says:

    In my deployment I was issued an external ruck-sack so some of our most immediate special gear could be easily accessed, It worked very well. it works just as well now as a camping backpack. Though I have not seen any packs exactly like mine currently for sale I have seen a lot that are similar, lighter too.

  4. Hulda says:

    As you do, don’t stop where the two ends barely meet. Foam pillows (including “Memory Foam”) offer the most supportive positioning of all the pillows. In fact, they can be especially beneficial for young children who have a tough time getting to sleep.

  5. Delta Force says:

    After serving in the USAF for a stint, I have come to respect internal frames for their superior comfort with loads up to 75lbs.

  6. Loganmite says:

    I LOVE external frames since stuffing a sleeping bag in an internal framed pack is so hard rather tahtn being able to strap the sleeping bag on an external framed pack

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) says:

      Most internal frames have a special zipper pocket for your sleeping bag.
      in addition, most internal frames have a built in rain bag that you can pull over your stuff to keep it dry. Id like to see your external do that.

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) says:

        Same to you.

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) says:

        I was unaware that scouts got a 40%-60% discount.

      • Delta Force says:

        hmmmm…. Must have been a new upgrade to the externals. I have been packing with those old rigid things for years and they never had any rain covers. Only high end ones had sleeping bag compartments. And I checked the Alps Mountaineering website and I did not see them advertise rain covers.

  7. Amazing Allison says:

    Thank you this really helped.

  8. Hiking Expert 158 (aka Tom 101) says:

    External Packs are great for Hiking and distributing the load most efficiently vs other pack styles. External packs are also, usually, lighter. So unless your climbing with an ax and rope, Externals are the way to go. They breath better too, keeping you cooler in the summers heat.

  9. Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) says:

    Teton Internal 4000 Explorer… “The definition of durability with AirFlow comfort Technology.”

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