External vs. Internal Backpack Frames

When shopping for a new backpack for hiking or backpacking, consider pack size and weight, design, and your typical hiking needs. Also, determine whether you prefer an old fashioned external frame pack or a more modern internal frame pack. Each pack style has advantages and disadvantages, so a careful self analysis can help you eliminate those that won't work for you.

External Frame Backpacks
The external frame backpack features a sturdy metal frame with a cloth pack suspended from the frame. Smaller stuff sacks and bags can hang from the pack frame as well. Multiple compartments make the external frame pack easy to pack and the frame allows backpackers to carry substantial weight relatively comfortably.

Internal Frame Backpacks
The internal frame backpack relies upon a frame built into the pack. The frame consists of flat, V-shaped, metal bars that provide support but offer flexibility as well. The wearer retains good arm movement, making it easier to navigate rough terrain. The internal backpack frame shifts the weight of the pack onto the wearer's hips, allowing for comfortable wear. It's light weight has made these a favorite of most hikers and backpackers for both short and long outings.

As demand for outdoor adventuring gear rose in the mid 20th century, camping and backpacking suppliers developed external frame backpacks. External frame backpacks were the standard until the 1970s. Internal frame backpacks came on the scene, offering a lighter alternative. Over time, internal frame backpacks have become the first choice for both experienced backpackers and climbers and novices.

External frame backpacks allow you to carry heavier loads, offering more even weight distribution. Distinct compartments, pockets and the ability to expand your storage space are all advantages to these packs. The internal frame backpack cannot handle quite as much weight as an external, and may offer somewhat poorer ventilation if you are hiking or backpacking in hot and sweaty conditions. This pack style is much lighter, more comfortable and easier to wear for long periods or on rough terrain.

Modern backpacking supplies have made internal frame backpacks the first choice for nearly every backpacker. Today's lighter tents, sleeping bags, stoves and water purifiers allow backpackers to carry less overall weight and bulk even on longer outings. Comfort can be a priority with lightweight and easy to carry internal frame packs and ultralight backpacking gear.