Hikers and backpackers never venture out unless they’re well prepared and that usually means filling their backpacks with a host of essentials like a change of clothes, sleeping bags or camping blankets, to name a few things. That usually means getting a good sized backpack.
One popular type of backpack among the foot frequent travelers is an external frame backpacks. It’s simply a backpack with a rigid aluminum frame. This frame allows the hiker to carry slightly heavier loads because it is great for load transfer to the hip belt.
The best external frame backpacks will make it easier to cart all of your stuff around without putting a lot of strain on your bag. We’ve chosen 10 of the best to make your load seem lighter and your travels easier.
The Best External Frame Backpack
ALPS OutdoorZ Commander is a great backpack for the serious hiker, hunter or camper. There are lots of pocket compartments so you can easily organize all of your things in a neat and effective way that makes access to your various bits and pieces quick and simple. For hunters, there is a drop-down pocket for your rifle and there are side pockets for things you need to get to fast. This external backpack is also H2O compatible so you can include a hydration port for extra water and the durable fabric will ensure your gear stays safe. The entire pack can be removed from the frame so you can use it to cart heavy objects or when it comes time to wash the pack. Versatile and practical, this is a backpack that will definitely take you places. Make sure you also check our guide to the best waterproof backpacks for more great products like this.
Made of durable Nylon Ripstop fabric
Multiple pockets made organizing your gear easy
Drop down pocket for your rifle
Side pockets ideal for accessories
- BrandALPS OutdoorZ
- Weight7.3 pounds
The radial frame on this Kelty Tioga External Frame Pack keeps the load closer to your body so the load balance is better distributed. The suspension system is adjustable so you can make it more comfortable for yourself and the yoke style shoulder pads are padded for extra comfort. There are two main compartments and a series of other pockets so all of your various pieces of equipment will have their own place. There is also a special place for your water bottle so you can get to it quickly when you need to and the entire bag is made from 420 denier coated packcloth with 1000 denier Kodra reinforcements for extra strength and durability. This is a backpack that will see you trekking the trails for several years.
External frame with adjustable suspension
Removable waist belt and padded shoulder straps
Top loading design
Sleeping bag compartment
5500 cubic inch carrying capacity.
- Weight 5.8 pounds
The serious mountaineer or hiker understands how quickly a few pounds can feel so much heavier when you’re lugging your gear up a trail. That when you’ll really appreciate a lightweight external frame backpack. ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame Pack has a fully equipped vented lumbar support so you won’t feel the strain on your back and the front lashing system features a heavy-duty carry handle. The waist belt pulls forward for easier tightening and adjusting and the entire frame is also adjustable so you can find a setting perfect for your body shape. Best of all, there is heaps of convenient storage for everything you need on your hikes. Our handy guide to the best college backpacks features more great products like this.
Lightweight polyester with Lycra
Removable sternum strap
Pull-forward tightening waist belt
Front lashing system with heavy duty carry handle
Fully equipped with vented lumbar support
- BrandALPS Mountaineering
- Weight3.92 pounds
Hiking is challenging enough without lugging around an uncomfortable backpack. You’ll rip through the trails with Kelty Trekker Hiking Backpack. This is a super comfortable and reliable backpack for all of your hiking activities and you won’t need to leave anything behind thanks to the ample storage compartments and pockets. The suspension is adjustable to you can set it for total comfort and the zippered side packets make it easy to access your gear. The shoulder straps are padded so you won’t have an uncomfortable strap digging into your shoulders and you can stabilize them for a little extra comfort. The material is durable enough for all of your different outdoor activities so you’ll get lots of enjoyment with this great backpack.
Comfortable and reliable for all your backpacking events
Top Lid converts to Sling Pack
Zippered side pockets, front pocket
Padded shoulder and stabilizer straps
- Weight4.3 pounds
This is a great top loading external frame pack that is ideal for those long haul hikes, or simply for when you need a weekend away with all of your creature comforts. This ALPS Mountaineering Bryce External Frame Pack has multiple side pockets for a completely organized storage system and it features a hydration pocket or port for super convenience. The shoulder straps are fully adjustable as is the waist belt so you can be sure your load will be evenly distributed for easy carrying. The suspension components are Lycra covered so they are smooth and durable and the entire pack is light enough and durable enough for any hiking adventure you choose to embark on.
Top Loading 59 Liter External Frame Pack
Features hydration Pocket
Lycra Covered Suspension Components
Multiple Side Pockets
- BrandALPS Mountaineering
- Weight4.81 pounds
Backpacks with external frames may look awkward, but if they’ve been designed and made like this one from Vargo, it will be anything but awkward. This Exoti 50 Backpack features an ergonomic lumbar support plate that evenly distributes your load and yet keeps your back in a comfortable position. It has an ultra-light titanium alloy frame that is super strong and won’t weigh you down unnecessarily. It also has an X-shaped load lifting compression strap system for added stability and it even comes with a hydration bladder so you won’t need to carry dozens of little bottles of water. With this exceptional travel backpack, there is no trail you won’t be able to trek through.
Ultralight titanium alloy external frame
Ergonomic Lumbar support plate
Ventilated, adjustable shoulder harness
Load lifting compression strap system
Hydration bladder compatible
- Model T-469
- Weight2.7 pounds
When comfort and versatility are important in external frame packs, you need a bag like ALPS Mountaineering Zion External Frame Pack. The telescoping frame means you can adjust the pack to sit perfectly along your lumbar region so you can get to the mountain peaks without any discomfort. Vented lumbar support and padded shoulder straps also make it easy to carry even heavy loads. The shoulder strap also has multiple positions so you can fit your pack snugly and tightly. There is a pocket for everything you need to carry and that is in addition to all the room you have in the bag itself. It is also hydration pack compatible for a little extra hiking convenience.
Top Loading 64 Liter External Frame Pack
Lycra Covered Suspension Components
Provides Vented Lumbar Support
Padded Waist Belt and Shoulder Straps
Multiple Shoulder Strap Positions
- BrandALPS Mountaineering
- Weight2.5 pounds
If your young person has outgrown their old metal frame backpack but isn’t quite ready for a full size, then they will definitely need a transitional size one like this Kelty Yukon Hiking Backpack. It’s also great for seasoned hikers planning on going on a shorter trip. It is made from durable polyester fabric and features hydration compatibility. The reliable external frame design has adjustable suspension so you can hike with comfort and all the straps and are nicely padded so you can trek in comfort and style. It features lots of pockets and compartments so organizing your next hiking trip will be a breeze.
420D Poly Small Back Stafford
Reliable external frame design
Dual density foam waist belt
Padded shoulder straps, stabilizer straps, Sternum strap
- Weight4.9 pounds
External Frame Backpack Buying Guide & FAQ
Features To Look For In External Frame Backpacks
Load Support – The construction of external frame backpacks have been specifically designed to distribute the load evenly across your shoulders, back and hips so that no one area will struggle with the load. By spreading the load in such a sufficient manner you can be sure you won’t over burden your lumbar region when you venture out in the wild.
Weight Capacity – Be careful not to overload your external frame backpack. The frame itself has a weight capacity so you don’t want to stuff 40 pounds worth of stuff into a bag that was made to take only 20 pounds. Even if the items are small, the weight will make the pack difficult to carry. If you’re not sure of how much weight you will need to carry, ask the experts at your local camping supply store or think of the things you want to take hiking with you and weigh them all. You don’t have to be completely exact, but it does help to at least have a close estimate.
Durability – Hiking can be tough at times and when you can finally lay down your load, you’ll most likely just dump your backpack down unceremoniously. That type of regular abuse can wear a bag out quite quickly. You also need to consider the variety of things you’re likely to stash in your bag. There can be tools and all sorts of things. The strength of the bag itself needs to be durable and long lasting but you also want the external frame to be solid and durable as well. Finally, the straps also need to last as you don’t want them snapping half way through a hike.
Material – The fabric or material used to make am external frame backpack needs to be quite strong. Hiking will see you travel over some rugged terrain and weather conditions can change quite unexpectedly. Strong, waterproof materials are always a good option to consider when choosing a good quality external frame backpack so avoid anything that looks or feels flimsy.
The material used in the frame is also important. There are super strong alloys that are lightweight and durable, but for a less expensive variation, an aluminum frame backpack is a great option. Stick with something that is lighter in weight. You’ll need to keep your load as light as possible when you venture out to your favorite hiking trail or camping ground.
Fit – Most external frame backpacks have adjustable frames so the fit may not be a big issue. However, keep in mind that some are more suitable for longer torsos and no amount of adjusting will make the backpack comfortable. The best way to avoid a poorly fitting backpack is to try a few on in a store that specializes in camping and hiking gear. You can try a few on for size and make any adjustments. By doing this you will quickly find one that fits you correctly and will be comfortable for you hiking trips.
Adjustment Elements – For extended hikes you may need to carry more equipment than you can actually fit in your hiking backpack with frame. That’s where you need a pack with multiple attachment elements. These elements allow you to clip on things like gloves, hats or extra shoes, as well as camping blankets or sleeping bags. At the very least, you want to have the things you use the most within reach so you can get to them quickly in a pinch.
Compression Straps – These straps are a necessity when it comes to a good external frame rucksack or backpack. Their main purpose is to compress the bag around the load you have packed. This keeps everything nicely secured and give you a more stable load to carry. This is especially important when you don’t need to fill your bag to its full capacity. The last thing you need is your gear constantly shifting in your pack, the compression straps can be adjusted to keep your things in a neat bundle making it easier and more comfortable to carry for extended periods.
Internal Frame Packs vs. External Frame Packs
The most noticeable difference between an internal frame pack and an external one is in the name. The internal frame pack has the frame hidden inside the pack while the external frame backpack has its frame on the outside. Both are great in their own way.
Internal frame backpacks are more form fitting because the bag provides a little bit of padding to the actual frame. These are usually preferred by those who like to hike the really rugged trails. The other main feature of internal frame backpacks is that they have one large central compartment with a couple of access points. There may be a couple of smaller pockets on the outside for water bottles, but for the most part, all the gear and supplies you plan on taking with you will be stored in one compartment.
External frame backpacks obviously indicates that the frame of this pack is on the outside. These bags usually have lots of smaller compartments and pockets which makes it a lot simpler to organize all of your gear. These are also quite good as you can attach things like sleeping bags and tents to the frame.
External Frame Backpack FAQ
Q: What is an External Frame Backpack?
A: An External Frame Backpack is a bag that is generally used for hiking that has a supporting suspension frame that distributes the load of the bag evenly so that no one part of the back, shoulders or hips will be over stressed by excessive or uneven load distribution. As the name suggests, the frame of these backpacks is on the outside of the back.
Q: Are External Frame Packs difficult to adjust?
A: The frame itself on an external frame pack is relatively simple to adjust. The telescoping frames can be shortened and lengthened to suit each individual carrier. The shoulder straps are also adjustable, however, due to their sheer size it involve a little bit of effort. Then there is also the waist band. This also needs to be adjusted so that the load will not be able to constantly shift as you try to hike. Finally, you have the compression straps. These can also be adjusted so that the load is held safely and securely within the confines of your pack.
Q: How should my External Frame Backpack fit on my back?
A: Provided you have chosen the right size back for your torso measurements all that is left to do is to make sure the pack fits snugly on your back and that it is properly secured. Lean the pack against your spine until you get it into a relatively comfortable position, some packs have a very definite ergonomic lumbar support so you want that to be in alignment first.
You will then tighten or loosen the waist and shoulder straps as needed. The pack should fit snugly without the straps being too tight or too loose.
Q: Is it easy to remove the Pack from the frame?
A: Many External Frame Backpacks can be easily removed so the bag can be machine washed. In some models, not only can the pack be removed, you can use the frame for other purposes such as carrying an animal you have hunted back to camp, or using it as a stretcher for an injured camper or just to assist with moving heavy objects. If you are worried about not being able to clean your bag in the washing machine, ask the salesperson in your camping supply store before you make the purchase. This would also be a good time to have the salesperson show you how to remove the pack when you need to clean it.
Q: Can you bring an External Frame Backpack on a plane?
A: You shouldn’t experience any difficulties in bringing your external frame backpack on a plane when you travel. Hikers and backpackers travel all the time and often need to catch a plane to get to their next hiking adventure. You will need to be aware of airline regulations with regards to the size of your backpack so check that aspect with the airline you will be flaying with. If your pack is a little on the larger size, don’t try to get it past the cabin crew. Size restrictions for luggage are in place because only certain sizes can fit in the overhead compartments. If it won’t fit in the overheads, it can be a dangerous hazard if the plane hits turbulence. The cabin crew will notice a larger pack and will insist on sending it below in the baggage hold.
Q: How to properly pack an External Frame Backpack?
A: When packing your external frame backpack, keep the heavier items close to your back and near the top so you can maintain a good center of gravity. This will make the load easier to carry. You should also plan on easily accessing the items you will need the most.
External frame backpacks have several pockets on the outside of the bag so you can easily segregate things like your shoes, clothes and anything else you need to get too quickly. There are also many points where you can attach a lot of your gear, in particular things like your sleeping bag and blankets.
Q: Is there any difference in External Frame Packs for men and women?
A: The differences between External Frame Packs for men and women are often very subtle. The most obvious difference would be in the torso range. Packs for women would be a little shorter, although a woman could just as easily make use of a men’s pack with a shorter torso range.
Women’s external packs also tend to have a lighter load capacity and the shoulder straps are usually not as thick or wide as they are for the men’s frame with packs. Other than these subtle differences, gender doesn’t really come in to play when it comes to external frame backpacks. It’s more important to have a properly fitting, comfortable pack rather than focus on the gender preferences of your pack.
Q: How do I clean an External Frame Backpack?
A: Some External Frame Backpacks are machine washable and it is only a matter or removing the bag from the frame and tossing in the washing machine on a gentle cycle. If your pack can’t be removed from the frame, or the manufacturer does not recommend machine washing, you can simply get a bucket of warm water with a little bit of detergent and wipe away any dirt and grime you may have picked up along your trails. Follow with clean water and then let your pack dry completely before you use it again.
The best external frame backpacks are the ones that are easy to use and simple to carry all of your essentials in. Choose the best one from our selection and start exploring the wonderful world out there. Just don’t go overboard with the packing.