Best External Frame Backpack Guide

External Frame Backpack Guide

external frame backpack guide

Hi, Welcome to our GUIDE on external backpacks. Backpacks come in various forms the most popular are either internal or external frames, both of which offer there own set of pros and cons.

In this guide we will breakdown the key features of external packs. We will also discuss their Pros, Cons and will compare some of the most popular packs out there.

Use our navigation menu to quickly skip to the section your most interested in.

If your reading this guide with the intention of buying a backpack then the most important point to consider is that you do not just choose a backpack based on its outward appearance or its price. Instead you need to consider what you need the backpack for and what features you will support that need the best.

No matter what type of backpack you pick it is a crucial piece of equipment necessary for any successful trip.

The backpack you pick may differ based on whether you want to take it for long camping trip, or a short hike since each of those trips will require different equipment and will last for different periods of time.

So getting to why you may want an external frame backpack. These types of backpacks are generally better suited to carrying heavy loads more comfortably. Comfort is key especially if your on a trip that will last for a few days. Other then being more comfortable with heavy loads an external framed backpack will also offer much better ventilation than its internal frame backpack counterpart.

What is an External Frame Backpack?

An external framed backpacks standout feature is that it consists of an aluminum frame mounted externally. The aluminum frame is very durable which makes it extremely good for carrying heavier loads.

An external framed backpack is excellent for long backpacking trips, hunting trips and an assortment of other outdoor adventures. They are also designed to have man points for attachment, which makes it perfect for strapping down large loads, bulky camping gear, sleeping bags and even tents.

Advantages of an External Frame Backpack

There are numerous advantages to using an external frame backpack:

  • The biggest upside an external frame backpack offers is its ability to carry heavy loads and a lot of gear. External frame backpacks are perfect for long hikes and trips and can easily carry upwards of 100 pounds.
  • External framed backpacks also offer a lot more room between your torso and the actual backpack, which allows air to circulate much more and for a cooler, more comfortable, excursion.
  • A lot of people prefer external framed backpacks to an internal frame backpack is because of its price point. External framed backpacks can cost significantly less than an internal frame pack and are more affordable to outdoor enthusiasts of all levels of activity.

Disadvantages of an External Frame Backpack

I’ve never come across a piece of gear that is 100% perfect, so lets checkout some potential disadvantages:

  • External framed backpacks are on the heavier side, even when they are empty and a lot heavier than its internal frame backpack counterpart.
  • Another downfall to external framed backpacks is they can snag on trees, or other protruding objects in nature, if you are not mindful of where you are walking or find yourself in a very enclosed and tight space.
  • External frame backpacks are also more likely to shift from side to side with a heavy load, which can really alter a person’s balance and make hiking a lot more difficult – especially in thick vegetation, water, or other uneven surfaces.

What to Look for in a Good External Frame Backpack?

Choosing the right external framed backpack can really help make your next trip a success and far more enjoyable. Some of the most important things to consider when shopping for a good external frame backpack are:

  • Load support – look for a back which rides close to the body, but also allows ample circulation. Some of the more popular load supporting frames are constructed out of aluminum, polyamide, ABS plastic or molded foam.
  • Materials – Ideally the back should be made out of waterproof material to help ensure all of your belongings stay intact and are not ruined during a rain storm, in the accident case of falling into a body of water, or other unforeseen circumstances. It is also recommended to try and find a back which is made out of ultra light materials. Ultra light material, such as nylon, makes the pack a great deal lighter and is also far more durable.
  • Padding– while less padding can make the pack lighter, it will also sacrifice comfort and support. It is essential to have the proper padding in the hips, shoulders and lumbar regions of the pack. Having proper padding is especially important when carrying a heavier pack, as the added weight will put more stress and pressure on your hips and shoulders.
  • Pockets – you need to access how many storage pockets you will need and purchase a pack which will offer ample storage for all of your needs. If you are just going on shorter trips, it is not necessary to have as many storage pockets; however the longer trips will need to have various storage pockets in different locations of the backpack. Elastic side pockets are perfect for water bottles, small shovels, flashlights and other loose objects which you want access to frequently. Front pockets are perfect for less bulky items.

Choose the Right Capacity – Why does it matter?

Ensuring you have the right storage capacity with your external framed backpack is extremely important. Internal storage capacity is measured in liters. When considering what the right internal capacity is you first need to consider what your hiking and storage needs are.

Below is a standard chart which is used to help people find the right internal storage capacity based upon their needs.

  • Day trip – 20-50 liter pack capacity
  • Weekend trip – 50-60 liter pack capacity
  • Multiday/week – 60-80 liter pack capacity

Extended duration trip (5 or more nights) 80 or more liter pack capacity

Typical cost of an external frame pack:

Much like there internal frame counterparts, external frame backpacks can range drastically in prices. Smaller, less durable packs can cost as little as $35 USD, a middle of the road pack will cost approximately $99-$130 USD while a top of the line pack will run a person anywhere from $150 – $250 USD.

Comparison Table

Use our comparison table to quickly compare the key features of the best 3 external packs as rated by users based on price, ratings and manufacturer support.

Kelty Yukon External Frame Pack

ALPS OutdoorZ Commander Freighter Frame

Kelty Tioga External Frame Pack

Kelty Yukon

ALPS OutdoorZ

Kelty Tioga

(cubic inches)
















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Popular External Frame Packs

Kelty Yukon External
Frame Pack
Kelty Yukon External Frame Pack
Kelty Trekker External
Frame Pack
Kelty Trekker External Frame Pack
ALPS OutdoorZ Commander
Freighter Frame
ALPS OutdoorZ Commander Freighter Frame
ALPS Mountaineering
Bryce External Frame
ALPS Mountaineering Bryce External Frame
Kelty Tioga External
Frame Pack
Kelty Tioga External Frame Pack
JanSport Scout
JanSport Scout Backpack


Choosing the right backpack can seem like a very daunting task. When you walk into a sporting goods store, the walls can be lined with backpacks in all different sizes, shapes and colors. Some have large frames; others have frames which cannot even be seen upon first glance.

Regardless of how many backpacks there are, one of the most important things to take into consideration when purchasing the right external frame backpack is your own needs. There is no need to spend hundreds of dollars on an extremely large and bulky pack if you will primarily be doing short trips.

However, if you will be going on very long trips, or hiking often, it may be in your best interest to purchase a larger pack. External frame backpacks provide a satchel component which can easily be removed from its frame, allowing it to accommodate smaller, and larger, loads.

External backpacks also offer various storage places and are perfect for attaching bulkier items like tents and sleeping bags. With their lower prices, external framed backpacks offer plenty of bang for its buck.

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