Internal vs External Frame Backpacks: Which One Should You Choose?

In the world of backpacking, the choice between internal and external frame backpacks is crucial. While the external frame pack was once the go-to choice, modern adventurers are now leaning toward the sleeker and more innovative internal frame varieties. In this guide, we'll delve into the differences between these two styles to help you make an informed decision that aligns with your backpacking needs.


man motorcycle and car in desert


External Frame Backpacks: A Classic Choice

External frame backpacks are characterized by their squarish design and visible frame elements. They are ideal for lashing bulky gear, making them popular among trail crews and hunters. They excel on well-maintained, graded trails due to their ease of use and stability. However, their unique features make them less suitable for rugged terrains and off-trail scrambling.

Internal Frame Backpacks: The Sleek and Form-Fitting Option

Internal frame backpacks offer a more streamlined design and a form-fitting shape. They hold the load closer to your body, enhancing stability on rough trails and during off-trail adventures. This design also minimizes the risk of your backpack catching on brush, branches, or rock faces.

Key Differences Between External and Internal Frame Backpacks:

  1. Selection and Innovation
    • Internal frame packs offer a wider range of choices due to their increasing popularity. Cutting-edge designs tend to favor internal frame options.
  2. Affordability
    • The notion that external frame packs are more affordable is no longer accurate. Bargains can be found in both types, making it important to focus on the frame style you prefer.
  3. Support and Mobility
    • External frame packs transfer load to the hips, allowing an upright walking position. Internal packs offer stability and agile movement, making them suitable for dynamic activities.
  4. Weight and Fit
    • Internal frames are inherently lighter, offering a range of options from lightweight to ultralight. Many internal packs come with adjustable suspension systems for a precise fit.
  5. Cooling and Storage
    • External packs provide air circulation due to the gap between the frame and packbag. Some internals offer ventilation channels, comparable to external frame airflow.
  6. Organization and Aesthetics
    • External packs typically include outer pockets for organization, while internals vary from minimal pockets to deluxe designs. The retro look of external frames has its fans, but sleek internal frame aesthetics are preferred by many.


Shop Ekster's internal frame Grid Backpack here 

 Ekster's Grid Backpack


When it comes to internal frame backpacks, several renowned brands offer a range of options to suit various outdoor enthusiasts. Here's a brief comparison of some of these brands:

  1. Osprey
    • Key Features: Osprey is known for its comfortable and ergonomic designs. Their internal frame backpacks often feature adjustable harnesses and ventilation systems.
    • Pros: Exceptional comfort, superior load distribution, and a wide variety of sizes and styles.
    • Cons: Some models can be on the expensive side.
  1. Deuter
    • Key Features: Deuter backpacks prioritize durability and functionality. They often include advanced organization features and comfortable padding.
    • Pros: Durability, well-thought-out pockets and compartments, and options for different activities.
    • Cons: May not be as lightweight as some competitors.
  1. Gregory
    • Key Features: Gregory backpacks focus on innovative suspension systems for maximum comfort and load stability. They are known for their adjustable harnesses and customizable fits.
    • Pros: Exceptional comfort, load stability, and great options for long hikes.
    • Cons: Some models can be pricey.
  1. Ekster
    • Key Features: Ekster offers an internal frame backpack designed for both urban and outdoor excursions. The GRID Backpack uses modular add-ons to customize the bag to specific needs.
    • Pros: Durability, weather resistance, comfort, and tech integration with trackers and chargers.
    • Cons: Smaller carry capacity than other models.


man carrying backpack in front of Jeep truck

Comparing External Frame Backpacks from Different Brands:

External frame backpacks have a different design focus, often offering additional stability and carrying capacity. Let's compare some popular brands that offer external frame backpacks:

  1. Kelty
    • Key Features: Kelty is well-known for its external frame backpacks, which are durable and designed for heavy loads. They often feature adjustable straps for securing gear.
    • Pros: Excellent load-carrying capacity, durability, and affordability.
    • Cons: May not be as comfortable for lightweight or technical activities.
  1. ALPS Mountaineering
    • Key Features: ALPS Mountaineering offers external frame backpacks that cater to both beginners and seasoned adventurers. They focus on practicality and durability.
    • Pros: Durability, affordability, and straightforward designs.
    • Cons: May lack some of the advanced features found in premium brands.
  1. Cabela's 
    • Key Features: Cabela's provides a range of external frame backpacks designed for hunting and outdoor activities. They often feature camouflage patterns and specialized compartments.
    • Pros: Designed for hunting and rugged outdoor use, durability, and specific features for hunters.
    • Cons: May be less versatile for non-hunting purposes.



    waterproof backpack in rain

    Choosing between internal and external frame backpacks depends on your adventure style and preferences. While internal frames dominate today's backpacking scene, both types have their merits. As pack designers continue to innovate, the future promises even more exciting options. Regardless of your choice, your backpack is your companion on your outdoor journeys. 



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