external or internal frame backpack?

OK, seriously (although I don’t think I’ve seen this debate before).

My experience
with externals is with a Kelty frame outfitted with a Frostline kit bag and Trailwise hipbelt & mesh back panel (showing my age here!).

About ten years ago I bought a Lowe internal pack and had my eyes opened. Because the hipbelt attachments are in the small of my back, rather than over the hip bones, the weight is not raised every time you take a step. With the external’s belt mounting points being near the side rails of the ferame each step lifted the frame an inch or so, resulting in tender hips.

Newer frames might correct this; I have no experience with them. But the wxternal frame pack seemed cooler in the heat.

Externals don’t fit in tripping canoes easily.


Does it matter?

– Last Updated: May-31-07 1:36 PM EST –

I'll start by saying that personally, I prefer internal frame. (I have both and have used both.) But, here's my answer to you: Why does it matter if it's internal or external. You need to get the right pack for you, and what you want to do. Look at the pack's capacity and comfort level. Go to a store. Try them on. Throw some crap in them, walk around. See how the packs fit you. Don't worry about if it's internal or external. Get the best pack for you.

Again, Depends
Both have there advantages and dissadvantages.

Modern external frames ride better than the old keltys. They can be lighter, and transfer more of the load to the hips. The mesh back pannels help let sweat escape and keep you cool. They are generally considered the better choice on easier terrain.

Internals distribute the load more, and ride better on steep terrain. Usually are larger, to carry more junk. Is that an advantage???

I have both, and haven’t used the external frame in 20 years. But my backpacking is in the High Seirras.

Like the previous poster said, try them on with lots of weight in them. REI has bags of rice for testing the packs. Get the one that is most comfortable.


Ah, Frostline kits

– Last Updated: May-31-07 12:46 PM EST –

Recollect dem well. Ah' too be an' old but goodie fart.



External in hot climates.

Internal - In the Hatch…
External - In the Canoe…

I’ve never used an external
and am considering some significant trips this season, more than ever before in one summer.

No frame
at all in a canoe. A modern duluth type pack in the canoe.


Mountain Hardwear Packs!!! NM

ahhh Frostline…
I remember the bicycle panniers, and the coated nylon rain coat (…that I thought was just the greatest hard-core piece of gear I could ever own; and I’m no ol’ geezer…)

As to the orig question…

I’ve used both internal and external framed packs on and off for the last 25 years (! wow that

number kinda suprised me…)

I don’t recall my hips bruising more with the external’s hipbelt than it can with my internal’s - it all depends more on load and terrain.

My experience also counter’s the poster stating that internal frame packs have greater volume (Altho’ I guess INTERNALLY that may be true). In fact I’ve noticed internal framed pack volumes generally shrinking these days. I’m thinking it’s caused by lighter-better-smaller equipment being carried by the masses(?). My old Lowe Contour IV has an extended volume approaching 6K cubic inches. I don’t see many packs that size anymore.

Additionally many external packs are designed to allow attachment of bulky items (like sleeping bags, tents, and pads) outside of the main pack-bag. I’ve found external packs to be the load carrying kings - especially if you’ve got odd shaped loads like boxes, chainsaws, fuel/water containers, coolers, firewood, etc. While I haven’t looked at prices in awhile I recall external framed packs were a bit cheaper than the internal framed models.

Internal packs keep the load close to the body, often in one large ‘sack’, for control during movement. External packs often have more pockets and organizing options to allow easier access to individual bits of your kit.

Short answer:

INTERNALS = travel primarily off trail, climbing, skiing, alternative transport (planes, trains, busses, canoes, yaks)

EXTERNALS = travel primarily on trail, large loads, bulky loads, hot weather, organized access to gear

my 2c - YMMV

One offbeat use for an external…
I have a Kelty, bought about 1971, with an extension bar. I’ve learned to throw my Mad River Synergy up on top of that bar, where the boat balances nicely on the center seat of the triple saddle. The boat’s weight then rests mainly on the Trailwise hip belt, and I can carry the boat much farther than I can just balancing on my head.

I don’t think one can do that with internal frame packs. The extension bar should be set low so it is just above the top of one’s head. By the way, banana boats like the Synergy will balance easier than straight canoes. One’s canoe lifting/ throwing skills should be advanced before trying this system.

A quick check of REI’s site…
shows 27 internal frame packs vs. 5 external packs–all external packs made by Kelty. There’s alot more offered than that one website, but my guess would be that there’d be a similar ratio on most dedicated outdoor retailer sites similar to REI. In other words, sites that sell better stuff than the ‘Coleman’ level of equipment. Internals will carry any (big or small–I’ve got a couple of internals, one is 8000 cubic capacity) load more comfortably, securely and safely than will externals in general. The only time I would use an external was if I was carrying some very strange size load and had to lash it to a frame, but there’s packs that act as internals that do this better than any typical external frame such as this offered by Kifaru:


Owner of Kifaru used to own Mountainsmith and knows technical mountaineering pack design well. His hunting packs are very innovative and comfortable. I’ve got the longhunter above they are great packs–their custom made to your body measurments and convert from what is essentially an internal frame to be able haul awkward size loads such as elk quarters.

Good luck in your search. My suggestion would be to go to a local high quality outdoor shop and buy from them.

wow. great advice everyone! thanks

Campmor has tons of packs
My preference is the internal pack, had an external for years, then tried my son’s internal pack, much more comfortable.


Internal all the way
Dry weight of the pack, accessory pockets and fit are my top 3 choices (not necessarily in that order). I have a Gregory pack (dry weight 5lb.15oz) which is great for 5+ day trips and a Granite Gear Vapor (2lbs.) for 2-3 day trips. I’m just getting into kayaking, but I’ve noticed already that most of my backpacking gear will fit perfectly into my new sport!

External for Heat
For fit, I much prefer the “oneness” I feel with my internal frame packs. But for hard humpin’ in hot humid conditions, they are intolerably hot and apt to soak both me and my gear. For heat, an external frame and a very breathable mesh backband is my choice.

I’m 26 and I remember Frostline, my parents had a ton of Frostline stuff. Most of it is stuffed in a closet now, but I have been slowly liberating it. We had a ton of Frostline duffel bags that still get used all the time. I am looking at getting the down sleeping bag liners my folks have.

I would love to see outdoor kits being sold again.