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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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39 Comments on Internal or external frame?

  1. I like external framed backpacks because then you can tie items on the back.

  2. I bought a Teton internal frame pack, but abandoned it and went back to my old Jansport External frame pack because it took me forever to find my stuff, and then to put it all back in compared to the external frame pack, and because the internal frame pack made my back all sweaty.

  3. Mountain Man // October 2, 2013 at 3:08 pm // Reply

    Externals for the experienced hiker!

  4. Off-Trail Monkey // October 1, 2013 at 10:41 pm // Reply

    External packs, buy them for life. :^)

  5. Internal for mountain climbers

  6. Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // April 19, 2013 at 1:11 pm // Reply

    All elite mountaineering climbers and hikers use internal frames. If you ever see films of people summiting Mt. Everest, not one of them will have an external. Internal is the best way to go for comfort and ease on the back. the best use for external packs is for heavy loads on trails.

    • WhiteBlaze // April 27, 2013 at 8:06 pm // Reply

      You are completely wrong. External frame packs put the load directly onto your hips and internal frame packs put A LOT more weight on your shoulders. People climbing everest do use internal frame packs because they’re covering steep, rocky terrain. If you’re not summiting K2 or Everest most people will be better served by an external frame pack.

    • Mountainclimbers use internal frames because that is the best option for mountain climbing, and many internal frames are tailored for this purpose (better balance, heat retention, ultra-light ultra-compact gear, etc…). Just because it’s good for mountain climbing doesn’t mean it’s good for everything else, and for any extended hiking an external frame is the best choice, even in rugged terrain.

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // September 17, 2013 at 11:59 am //

        You both have obviously never had an internal. Internals do not put a lot more weight on your shoulders. they tend to put a little more but not a lot. and did you ever consider that if an internals works for die-hard mountaineer’s then they will work for easy going trail hikers? I have taken mine on a five day hike through Idaho wilderness with no trail and it had plenty of room for all my gear. Your both wrong. and I think i have explained why very clearly.

  7. I like external frames as they are built very strong and hold my sleeping bag well away from my back and legs. Many Internal frames do not have a back mesh to separate the backpack form the hikers back, lack of a back mesh can also cause retention of more body heat making the internal frame backpack potentially more uncomfortable and sweaty when hiking.

    • I purchased two new Camp Trails bsack packs at a flea market internal I think as there was no frame with them. There is a u shaped rod in each one. Anyone know where I can purchase the frame for them?

  8. 4thYearScouting // November 15, 2012 at 6:55 am // Reply

    I personally prefer the external frame. I have never tried an internal but my brother has one but it isn’t to bad at all. My pack has lasted roughly 4 years and is going to retire soon. These packs work well with bigger individuals since they are designed for more wieght. I can carry mine fairly easy in my troop and I notice the smaller scouts generally use an internal frame.

  9. I myself have never used a external frame and I am sure they are good but the internals are very fitting to your body and if you pack it the right way they feel extremely light.

    • I totally agree with you! I have an REI 2010 Mars 85L internal frame pack and it is amazing! I would never hike with an external frame. I have plenty of air flow between my back and pack and love it. Internal frames all the way! I see a lot of people replying that you can’t hang much stuff off the outside of an internal frame. I can get snowshoes, an inflatable sleeping pad, 2 large backpacking water bottles, and a fishing pole on the outside, plus all of my ropes and stuff. You just need to find the kind of internal frame pack that has lots of hooks, loops, and clips for attaching stuff.

  10. Scouter35 // July 2, 2012 at 5:44 pm // Reply

    I need a backpack that is light, but can also carry a fair amount of gear. I also need it to be pretty good on the back. Any help?

  11. My scoutmasters have always recommended external frame backpacks, and i myself prefer them too.

  12. i love my external pack it has lots of pockets and has a great fit but can weight you down at times and is hard to pick up if you arte going on a long trip but is very adjustable so it can fit your size.

  13. Everyone talks about how external frames let you “strap on a lot more gear” remember you are supposed to cary only 25-35% of your body weight. The more stuff you can carry the more stuff you will carry. Even if you don’t really need it.

  14. my external pack has lasted 13 years its great

    • Hand me down // January 28, 2013 at 7:33 am // Reply

      I got my grandpas trail wise from the 1950-60s it is incredible no damage except pealing of wax on the waxed canvas inside and some slow zippers how can I fix the zippers all metal zippers other than that it is great

      • using wax or paraffin will greatly improve the zippers on the back pack. Just rub the teeth down and it should work perfectly.

      • You may only need to tighten the wings (the slotted side parts of the zipper head) of the head lightly and slowly so you do not over tighten with a pair of pliers so the head is seated better on the lips of the zipper. Also a little lubricant would go a long way here, after all trail miles are tough on a lot of things.

  15. It’s all a matter pf preference. Although this is not always true, internal frames tend to be lighter, narrower, and more flexible than external frames. External frames, however, are better for carrying more gear.


  17. I bought a new internal frame pack, but abandoned it and went back to my old Jansport External frame pack because it took me forever to find my stuff, and then to put it all back in compared to the external frame pack, and because the internal frame pack made my back all sweaty.

    • Steve-272,

      Most of the new internal frame backpacks have at lease two access points so that you do not have to remove everything to get at the things at the bottom. The newer ones also have designs that keep air space between your back and the pack. Try some of the backpack from Osprey.

    • Roger to hiking // September 2, 2013 at 9:05 am // Reply

      If you have an internal frame you have to buy expensive gear so it will fit. External frames you just strap it on the outside. External is better.

  18. soon to be eagle scout // August 7, 2011 at 8:07 pm // Reply

    thanks for helping me on my camping merit badge

  19. Rugrat Hauler // July 14, 2011 at 9:27 pm // Reply

    I use an external frame pack and like how I can fasten a mountain of gear to it. I backpack with wife and 3 small kids and need a pack to strap tons of stuff to. I have not seen an internal pack that can do that nearly as well as my external frame and it is comfortable. Although 80-90 lbs gets hard on the hips at times… Time for the kids to get bigger and haul their own stuff.

  20. I have all internal frame packs for hiking. I like the way that they fit your body. Also I hike allot of not very well groomed trails with my troop so the internal is good for that. Also I life the load more on my hips than my shoulders. At one time I was carrying so many textbooks in my normal backpack that it killed my shoulders so I ended up using my smallest internal frame pack I had. That really saved my shoulders. I also really like the adjust-ability of an internal frame pack.

  21. LewCaptLWS17 // May 12, 2011 at 8:16 pm // Reply

    Hello everyone! Im going on a 10 day very soon. can anyone please give me a good pack reccomendation. Im looking for a cheep, durable internal frame. Thanks 🙂

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // October 16, 2011 at 11:00 am // Reply

      I know this is to late (because you made the comment in May) but I would go with the TETON explorer 4000 I youed that thing for our no-trail 25 mile hike. I works GREAT!!! at sportsmans warehouse it is only $70! great pack!!

  22. I would seiriosly go with a external frame backpacking pack!!!!!!!!!

  23. owns many-a-pack // November 30, 2010 at 11:11 am // Reply

    The absolute best pack i own is a military issue large alice pack. They are no longer used, so it was very cheap, its external frame, but has a small and inconspicuous frame. Take the frame out to haul wood, etc/ Love it.

  24. pegazpegasus // August 17, 2010 at 7:33 pm // Reply

    i have both….and do must agree they both look great….but i would say that i prefer the external…..the reason is that when arrived at shelter time…my kelty come easly appart and the aluminium frame is a great harness to carry heavy loads with not much effort….attaching timber….water….anything with paracord…and eventually a harness modified with cordage for:example….and the kelty…by itself can be a food holder to be hung in tree to prevent scavengers been interested in it….etc…..the internal has all moderne “appliances” and thats all

  25. External frame packs tend to be heavy at 6 lbs or so. Getting the weight down is the best way to have more fun hiking and camping so I found the LuxuryLite external frame pack that weighs only 2lbs and it works great for me. And it automatically stands upright when I set it down.

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