TOP GEAR PICKS

Best External Frame Backpack: Carry Your Load With Ease!

Couple backpacking adventure
John C. Porter
Written by John C. Porter

When it comes to the gear we buy for our hiking and camping trips, we always ask ourselves how well will it work and how functional is going to be. Is it going to last longer than we expect?

Well… We say that we would rather have a functional piece of gear that will serve us longer and work well, not to mention to make our hiking trips comfortable.

This brings us to today’s topic – best external frame backpacks. We cannot but wonder why there has been a big replacement of external frame backpack with internal ones? Is it because they’re “sexier”? Who doesn’t want “sexy” gear? When it comes to functionality and looks, which one would you opt for?

To make this choice easier for you we did a review of eight amazing external frame backpacks that will make you wish you never thought of buying a “sexy” internal one (not that we’re against them of course, but they’ll have their separate place in our article). Let’s start!

Product NameWeightSizeSpecial FeaturesPrice
Kelty Yukon4 lb24 x 25.5 x 11 inches420 - denier polyester materials and a ripstop, double foam on shoulder straps and the hip belt, adjustable strap and belt stabilizers, pulley like scherer cinch system, 6 additional pockets and a hydration sleeve.Check price on Amazon
ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag7.3 lb15.4 x 6.7 x 2.4 inchesRemovable pack bag, durable material, multiple pockets with a hydration port, lashing points, clevis pin attachment system.Check price on Amazon
Vargo Ti-Arc3 lb5 x 31 x 15 inchesMain compartment + 4 additional pockets, non-open design top, made out of titanium materials, ergonomically designed lumbar support plate.Check price on Amazon
Kelty Tioga5 lb7 x 21 x 30 inchesWaist belt with scherer cinch, belt stabilizer and loaded straps, padded shoulder straps, ventilated hip belt, sternum strap, additional pockets on the inside, a separate compartment for a sleeping bag.Check price on Amazon
Alps Mountaineering Bryce4.8 lb5 x 18 x 33 inchesTop loading system, foam mesh shoulder straps and a waist belt, multiple strap positions, telescoping frame made out of aluminum, ripstop nylon material.Check price on Amazon
Black Pine Xterno II4 lb4 x 23 x 29 inchesHighly durable and long lasting, adjustable system, coated with a 2000 PU coating, mesh pouches and side pockets.Check price on Amazon
Outdoor Products Dragonfly3.9 lb4.6 x 14 x 30 inchesHighly durable and long lasting, adjustable system, coated with a 2000 PU coating, mesh pouches and side pockets.Check price on Amazon
Kelty Trekker4 lb22.5 x 29 x 13 inchesHighly durable and long lasting, adjustable system, coated with a 2000 PU coating, mesh pouches and side pockets.Check price on Amazon

Features To Consider Before Buying

If you look online, you’ll find a never-ending bickering about which one’s better – external or internal? We say that every product has its own buyer, so if one thinks that internal is better that doesn’t mean it will work for the other too.

Just like hiking boots, it doesn’t mean your hiking boots will be the right fit for your hiking mate too. This is why we’ll explain some features of the external frame that you need to consider before buying.

Load Support

External frames are designed to dispense a load off your gear to your hips as it keeps the weight you carry slightly off of your back. This way, you allow your back muscles to suffer less stress and you also have improved balance, which is quite important if you are going through some rough terrain.

woman hiking with backpack

This is a huge advantage if you usually carry a lot of weight and planning your hiking trips for a longer period of time.

Padding

Although those frame backpacks that have less padding are somewhat lighter than the ones that are double padded, they don’t provide as much support and comfort you might need on your longer hiking trips. It is really important to have double padding on shoulder straps, in the hips and lumbar spots of the back.

Even though it will be a bit heavier, it will be more comfortable so you won’t even know the difference between carrying more load or less.

Materials

Although external frames were heavier than the internal ones, the discovery of titanium made our lives easier and frames much lighter. Vargo was the first company who made this movement by adding titanium materials and constructions to the external frame backpack.

They recognized the need for lightweight frame packs and designed high-quality titanium gear that looks, guess how – “sexy”! We reviewed one of their frame packs below so read on.

Pockets And Pouches

You will need many storage places in your backpack, so it’s good to opt for external frame backpacks as they come with a lot of storage for everyone’s needs.

Even if you’re going on a shorter hiking trip you’ll want to have pockets and pouches in different places on your backpack so you can organize and reach your necessities with ease.

Top Product Reviews

Why go external, you ask? Well… a cheaper price is always a good place to start with, so to be sure we found really great deals and offers when it comes to external frame backpacks. Read our review of eight popular frame packs on the market today.

Kelty Yukon External Frame PackKelty Yukon External Frame Pack

Price: $160 – $180

Weight: 4 pounds

Dimensions: 24 x 25.5 x 11 inches

Specific features: 420 – denier polyester materials and a ripstop, double foam on shoulder straps and the hip belt, adjustable strap and belt stabilizers, pulley like scherer cinch system, 6 additional pockets and a hydration sleeve

Best use: Long weekend hiking trips, camping

Description: This Kelty Yukon External Frame Pack is perfect for young teens, scouts and adults who have a shorter torso.

The design includes a suspension that is adjustable which means it will “grow” with young hikers. This frame pack comes with a hip belt, a back panel that is ventilated and shoulder straps in order to help you to evenly place the load you will carry for a longer period of time.

To stabilize the load you carry in your backpack it also has adjustable straps and belt stabilizers. Double foam that is placed on shoulder straps and the hip belt will give you comfort like you’re wearing a cushion and with the placed Pulley Like Scherer Cinch structure, you will be able to easily adjust the fit on hip belt.

The frame pack has several storage pockets (six to be more exact) which are a great addition to the main pocket and a separate compartment with a zipper where you can place your sleeping bag.

Its hydration sleeve provides holder for a reservoir that can take up to 3 liters of fluid (can be bought separately), water bottle compartment, daisy chain and six additional zipper pockets that will make organizing your necessities easy.

Its hydration sleeve provides holder for a reservoir that can take up to 3 liters of fluid (can be bought separately), water bottle compartment, daisy chain and six additional zipper pockets that will make organizing your necessities easy.

Its size is perfect for a long weekend camping or hiking trip. It’s really comfortable to wear, nice looking and well designed.

PROS:

  • Lifetime warranty
  • Ample pockets are ideal to carry different gear
  • Adjustable suspension makes it quite comfortable

CONS:

  • Frame width is too much for shorter people

Related: The Kelty Rain Cover for the Kelty backpacks is a no-brainer item to buy alongside this bag. It’ll come in handy whenever you are in the outdoors and it might start raining.

Check the price on Amazon

ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack BagALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag

Price: $110 – $170

Weight: 7.3 pounds

Dimensions: 15.4 x 6.7 x 2.4 inches

Specific features: Removable pack bag, durable material, multiple pockets with a hydration port, lashing points, clevis pin attachment system

Best use: Hunting

Description: This ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag is great for taking all your gear to your hunting trip. It has front pockets with additional spotting pocket, 2 hinged pockets on both sides, the main compartment, a rifle holder and an H20 pocket (a hydration port). It also has a removable pack bag which means you’ll easily attach or detach the pack from the frame.

When attached you’ll have 5,250 cubic centimeters of storage space for your gear. It is made from durable material, charcoal nylon ripstop, which makes the design durable and strong.

If you’re looking for the best hunting frame pack than this one is for you. The frame will provide you enough space to carry your prey to your base camp and when empty it is easy to use it as a freighter frame as it is really easy to detach it.

It comes with lashing system that provides security for meat you might carry and a waist belt and shoulder pads with additional padding. It also has small pockets where you can place your knife or a flashlight. With this product, you surely get two frames in one.

PROS:

  • It has a unique carrying feature for crossbows or rifles
  • Quiver holder on each side of the bag
  • Very spacious
  • Very durable

CONS:

  • It includes clip rings to retain the mounting and adjustment pins, and these rings make a lot of noise

Related: This particular bag is commonly bought with the Tradespro Pin Assortment, which will help attach and hold together anything.

Check the price on Amazon

Vargo Ti-Arc BackpackVargo Ti-Arc Backpack

Price: $220 – $300

Weight: 3 pounds

Dimensions: 5 x 31 x 15 inches

Specific features: Main compartment + 4 additional pockets, non-open design top, made out of titanium materials, ergonomically designed lumbar support plate.

Best use: Off-trail hiking

Description: This lightweight Vargo Ti-Arc Backpack is a perfect combination of both internal and external frame packs. It is thinner than other frame packs and considering the fact that is made out of titanium material it has a much sleeker and finer look. It will seem like you’re wearing only the weight of your baggage because it’s ultra light.

If you don’t want a wide and bulky frame than this one is for you. Other external frame backpacks have a very wide frame, which makes it uncomfortable for slim people, which don’t have as much arm movement as they’d like. This doesn’t happen with this bag.

Because it’s only 14 inches wide, you won’t get caught on branches when hiking off trail. Even fully loaded this external frame backpack will provide you the feel like it fits like a glove.

This external frame backpack has the main compartment with additional two compartments on both sites plus 2 pockets on both sides as well and its lumbar support plate is ergonomically designed.

PROS:

  • Incredibly lightweight
  • Titanium construction, strong and durable
  • Frame not as wide as others

CONS:

  • Not enough tie down features
  • Shoulder straps aren’t very comfortable

Related: The OutdoorsmanLab Sleeping Bag is a good addition to this and any other backpack. If you’re planning a longer trip in the outdoors, you’ll definitely need one to sleep, and this is a very good model.

Check the price on Amazon

Kelty Tioga External Frame PackKelty Tioga External Frame Pack

Price: $170 – $200

Weight: 5 pounds

Dimensions: 7 x 21 x 30 inches

Specific features: Waist belt with scherer cinch, belt stabilizer and loaded straps, padded shoulder straps, ventilated hip belt, sternum strap, additional pockets on the inside, a separate compartment for a sleeping bag.

Best use: Backpacking, hiking, camping

Description: If you need something sturdier than this, Kelty Tioga External Frame Pack, is a number one choice. This one’s a really large pack that is below $300 price range and has enough space for essential gear, plus some additional stuff that you might need when cold outside and a sleeping bag.

It comes with three zipper pockets on the side, a stash pocket for small things and a big front pocket for more essentials. Additional pockets on the inside provide a place to hold a water bottle or any other hydration system up to three liters. The hydration system is not included and can be bought separately in any gear store.

It will serve your purpose of bringing all your gear you will need and it has enough space for longer trips where you will need to bring as much gear as you can, especially if you’re planning to visit places where the weather is colder.

What is special about this frame pack is that is so comfortable that you won’t feel any additional weight if you simply adjust load straps.

Waist belt with Scherer Cinch, belt stabilizer and loaded straps adds is what makes this frame even more comfortable plus shoulder straps that are padded with foam will improve the comfort of carrying an extra load.

H-frame that is adjustable due to its smaller tube shaped in an hourglass.  You’ll have the ability carry your pack a bit closer to your back and have more comfort.

The backpanel has an additional mesh band that will enhance ventilation during hot weather, more intense activity and a cooling effect. It is made out of double ripstop nylon, 420-denier nylon and 500 denier Kodra material, which makes it, long lasting. If you seek for sturdy, good, long lasting and dependable frame pack than this one is for you.

PROS:

  • Comes with a special sleeping bag compartment
  • Removable waist and padded shoulder pads
  • Very comfortable
  • External frame barely visible

CONS:

  • It’s one of the best reviewed

Related: The BuckleGear Accessory Straps can be very useful with this backpack. They will help you attach or add an extra gear to the backpack.

Check the price on Amazon

Alps Mountaineering Bryce PackAlps Mountaineering Bryce Pack

Price: $100 – $120

Weight: 4.78 pounds

Dimensions: 5 x 18 x 33 inches

Specific features: Top loading system, foam mesh shoulder straps and a waist belt, multiple strap positions, telescoping frame made out of aluminum, a ripstop nylon material.

Best use: Backpacking, hiking, camping

Description: If you compare this ALPS Mountaineering Bryce Pack with competitors you will see that you will get a lot more features for less money without giving away of the quality. This frame pack has 3600 cubic cm in, when it comes to space and an additional compartment for storing a sleeping bag plus top loading access.

It comes with many pockets in order to keep your essentials and gear handy and nicely organized. The main compartment that is spacious has a divider where you can store your bulky gear or a sleeping bag.

Designed with top loading system, an external pocket for hydration reservoir (hydration design) and a water bottle or a drink tube system.

The reservoir is not included but can be bought separately. It comes with four big pockets on the outside to keep your gear stored and organized and additional mesh pockets to store essentials you might need to reach quickly, like a first aid kit or a flashlight.

It also has shoulder straps that are padded and can be positioned in various ways, therefore, you will be able to adjust this frame pack to suit your body and back perfectly. On the back there, is a mesh shoulder straps made out of foam and a waist belt for additional comfort, especially when carrying additional weight.

A panel on the back of the frame made out of mesh will allow air to circulate when on intense hiking trips. Telescoping frame is made out of aluminum is adjustable and can accommodate different torso lengths.

The pack is made out of ripstop nylon material that is durable and long lasting. It also has daisy chain, lash tabs and ax holes in order to have your additional gear attached to the frame.

PROS:

  • Sleeping bag compartment
  • Hydration pocket for a hydration pack
  • Incredibly comfortable
  • Great weight distribution
  • Very good price

CONS:

  • A bit smaller than others

Related: The Hikenture Inflatable Pillow is a good idea to take with you on your camping trip. It’ll fit in your backpack easily as it is very small, and then it’ll help you have a better night’s sleep.

Check the price on Amazon

Black Pine Xterno II BackpackBlack Pine Xterno II Backpack

Price: $120 – $150

Weight: 4 pounds

Dimensions: 4 x 23 x 29 inches

Specific features: Highly durable and long lasting, adjustable system, coated with a 2000 PU coating, mesh pouches and side pockets.

Best use: All backpacking trips

Description: The Black Pine Xterno II Backpack is a great choice for all backpacking and hiking expeditions and adventures. It features a rip-stop body made out of 2000 PU (polyurethane) coat that will protect your gear from the bad weather and rain. This external frame gives a great division between the hips when it comes to carrying the load which will upright your walking posture.

It is also perfect for hot summer day trips as the frame itself, is moved from your back a little bit in order to provide a better airflow between your back and the pack. It also comes with side pockets, zippers, a section for sleeping gear, adjustable strap system and mesh pouches.

This is one of the well-known brands when it comes to sleeping bags and they’re in this business since 1999. They also have the best self-inflating air mattress, camping tents and other hiking/camping gear so no wonder that their frame backpack is so popular among hikers.

PROS:

  • The fabric comes with a very good coating, that resists quite a lot although not really waterproof
  • Very spacious
  • Very practical and large side pockets

CONS:

  • Might be too large for people not looking for long camping trips

Related: The Datechip Carabiner Keychain is a very useful item to have with you during any trip. Attach the carabineers to the backpack in order to hang or carry other things.

Check the price on Amazon

Outdoor Products Dragonfly BackpackOutdoor Products Dragonfly Backpack

Price: $60 – $120

Weight: 3.9 pounds

Dimensions: 4.6 x 13.9 x 30 inches

Specific features: 7 pockets, padded shoulder pads and hip belt, lifetime guarantee, bungee compression organization system, mesh suspension, made out of nylon material.

Best use: Backpacking, hiking, camping, designed for younger adults and pre-teens.

Description: This Outdoor Products Dragonfly Backpack is a proof that camping and hiking trips are not only for adults as it has been designed and manufactured specifically for teens and younger hikers.

It comes with top-loading system compartment and seven pockets of which two are on the side in which you will be able to carry a water bottle (approx. 32-ounces).

Another great thing about this frame is that it provides comfort. The padded hip belt and its padded shoulder straps are easy to adjust which means younger hikers will be able to carry more load during longer hiking trips without feeling discomfort or heaviness.

Another feature is a suspension system made out of mesh which comes in handy during hot summer days when you need to keep your cool while carrying heavy gear. This external frame backpack has a lifetime guarantee which makes it even more appealing to hikers and campers.

PROS:

  • Very lightweight
  • Ideal size for short and long trips
  • The padding is very comfortable

CONS:

  • The frame isn’t very wide or big, it might not be the best fit for big or larger people

Related: The Molle Accessory Straps are a good fit with this backpack. Buy them together with the bag and use them to attach or add extra things to the external part of the bag.

Check the price on Amazon

Kelty Trekker BackpackKelty Trekker Backpack

Price: $170 – $200

Weight: 4 pounds

Dimensions: 22.5 x 29 x 13 inches

Specific features: Mesh pocket for hydration system, adjustable and ventilated suspension, foam hip belt, padded shoulder straps that are padded, durable and lightweight.

Best use: Backpacking, hiking, camping

Description: If you’re looking for a frame backpack that can hold plenty of gear and has pockets for every need than this Kelty Trekker Backpack is for you. What is impressive about this frame are the welds.

They can carry pretty heavy equipment and gear without you worrying that it will break. If we would have to choose the toughest pack, then this would be the one. Due to its frame, you can strap your backpack wherever suits you best.

If you’re going on a longer hiking trip, let’s say longer than 2 weeks with constant walking and carrying this on your shoulders, then we would suggest adding some extra paddings, but if not, then this one’s pretty great.

This frame backpack comes with a foam hip belt, shoulder straps that are padded, Scherer Cinch pulley like and mesh back panel that can be stretched tightly that will allow you to balance the load you’re carrying.

Big loading on top of the pack with additional zipper pouches and pockets will make your gear organization stress free. It also comes with a mesh pocket where you can place your water bottle or any other hydration system.

It has the additional compartment where you can easily store your sleeping gear. You won’t have to dig through your gear inside the pack in order to unpack your sleeping bag.

Adjustable and ventilated suspension will also provide the comfort you need on longer routes. In order to seal out the weather, the company added Spindrift collar cinches on the main pack compartment.

It’s made out of 600-denier ripstop that is durable and lightweight and an Oxford polyester. It’s among the best packs you could find in this price range.

PROS:

  • Extremely durable
  • The comfort is fantastic
  • Very breathable
  • A lot of external pouches for storage
  • Great suspension

CONS:

  • Top of the pack is a bit too high

Related: The Katadyn Pro Microfilter is a good item to have during nay hike or camping trip, it will make sure that you drink clean water wherever you are.

Check the price on Amazon

Wrapping Up

External frame backpacks were considered something from the past, but we hope that after reading this article you won’t just buy them because of the “70’s throwback fever”, but because you actually understand how useful they can be.

A man with an external-frame-backpack-768x512

They are cheaper, sometimes more comfortable and stronger than common modern backpacks. Of course, they have their setbacks, but our job here wasn’t’ to compare them to the modern ones, but to give you an insight on the best features and the best models.

Now that you are ready to make your purchase, please tell us what you think. Which model you seem to like the best? Did we forget any particular external frame backpack that you know about? Please write you comments, thoughts and questions in the comment section below!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John C. Porter

John C. Porter

John is passionate about hiking long distances. His record is over 65 miles in one day with backpacking gear. John hiked over 10 thousand miles, tried over 100 hiking shoes and visited 56 countries so far. His favourite hiking route is West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.