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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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84 Comments on Internal or external frame?

  1. 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

  2. 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

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

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

  4. 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?

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

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