Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
backpack, external or internal frame?
Display Avatars Sort By:
rob wil
(AUradar) - F

Locale: FL Panhandle (aka LA)
backpack, external or internal frame? on 02/20/2009 06:18:59 MST Print View

okay, I'm sure this has been disscussed numerous times. But again, I'm a newbie.

From what little I read, it seems the internal frame backpacks are the way to go. However, I did read one pro for the external backpack which was a con for the internal frame.

That was dealing with ventalation along the back. That really caught my eye as I live in the Florida panhandle. Very hot, very humid. For hiking in hot, humid conditions, does the venelation of the external frame backpack trump advantages of the internal? Or is the venelation not that much?

Keep in mind I need a backpack for me (6'2", 225 lbs) and my son (7, about 4' ???, 70 lbs)

Mike Whitesell
(madgoat) - F

Locale: Ohio
ventilated packs on 02/20/2009 06:54:37 MST Print View

External frame packs are pretty hard to find these days, especially if you are looking for a lightweight one. But, there are some pretty successful packs out there right now that combine some of the features of internals and externals.

Osprey makes a couple ventilated packs, the lightest of those is the Exos line, the heaviest is the Atmos. The frame of the pack curves away from your back allowing for an air gap between the pack body and your back. The pack is held away from the body by the frame curvature and mesh fabric.

Personally, I tried the Exos 46 and returned it. I didn't like how springy the weight felt on my back due to a slight trampoline effect going on but the biggest problem was the frame curves in around my hips (ample) and caused some discomfort. But, several people are raving about this pack, so your results may vary.

Russell Swanson
(rswanson) - F

Locale: Midatlantic
Re: backpack, external or internal frame? on 02/20/2009 07:43:05 MST Print View

There aren't too many proponents of external frame packs on this site and most backpackers use internal frame packs for a variety of reasons I won't get into here.

It is true that most internal frame packs, especially a lot of the minimalistic and frameless packs discussed on BPL are just plainly going to provide less (if any) ventilation to your back.

If you want to check out a weight-conscious external frame pack that is touted by folks here at BPL take a look at LuxuryLite's modular pack - Do some searched on BPL and you'll find lots of info.

There are internal frame packs that do try to mitigate the ventilation issue by providing some separation between you back and the pack bag using various methods. Gregory's Jetstream series and Osprey Pack's Aether use curved frame stays and mesh to increase ventilation. Both packs are fairly well regarded but a little heavier than most of the packs you'll see in frequent discussion here.

Ultimately, you'll have to just get out and try a few packs to see what you like. If you have a local gear shop (like an REI store) that will let you try/rent or has a good return policy you would probably do best by test-driving a few different types, but you'll probably have some difficulty finding external frame packs to try out.

Comfort is subjective. Some folks don't mind or care about a sweaty back. Others can stand it. You'll more likely have to learn by trail and error.

One word of advice when selecting a pack- make it one of your last gear purchases. That way, you can be sure of getting a pack with enough volume for your gear. Research the other major items first (sleeping bag/pad, cookware/stoves, clothing, etc). One bonus you have in Florida is that you won't likely need as bulky a setup due to warmer temps.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
External frame on 02/20/2009 09:06:03 MST Print View

I love externals. Just don't tell anyone, because it hasn't been cool since the 80's, and it's all about the marketing. If I really want to carry a lot of weight and not get hot, I use my Kelty 50th Anniversary. Hard to find, and expensive when you do. You can buy an external for so little money on EBay, you should get one just for fun. Look for a Jansport with the lever arms on the hipbelt. I guess if I really wanted to fit in with the cognoscenti and not get too hot, I'd use my Exos 58.

P. P.
(toesnorth) - F

Locale: PNW
Re: external vs internal on 02/20/2009 09:26:18 MST Print View

I have a Kelty 50th anniversary external, too, and love it! I rarely use it as I'm usually in the mountains but I will be using it this summer on a trip with my son and grandson.
They're going to do this trip a la Survivorman so I will be hauling enough stuff for them......just in case. ;-)

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: Re: backpack, external or internal frame? on 02/20/2009 09:39:58 MST Print View

"If you have a local gear shop (like an REI store) that will let you try/rent or has a good return policy you would probably do best by test-driving a few different types"

Just what did you have in mind by "test-driving" a pack and then using their "good return policy"? If the plan is anything other than returning it such that the store can still sell it as new, I have a really big problem with the plan.


Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Lots of options on 02/20/2009 10:03:39 MST Print View


There are some other internal frame options. The Deuters and REI Venturi's both have mesh panels. I have one of each. Are they cooler than an external? In a sense, no. I still occassionaly use my beloved external Kelty Serac with a full length bag. The mesh on it is only about 6" tall, so that is the only thing touching the back (rides on the mid back) plus the hip belt rides on the lower back. But the pack is heavier, causing you to use more energy to carry it.

The biggest thing is to get your pack as light as possible. With a 7 year old you are not going to travel a lot of miles, plus you will carry all the shared items like stove and shelter. A 7 year old can carry a pack with just the sleeping bag. This will save you a lot of volume in your pack. You can still go ultralight with a large tarp for shelter. Since you are hiking in warm/hot weather, you don't need much clothing in the pack.

Also, if can get your pack weight below 20 lbs, you don't have to carry it on your back. You can carry a frameless pack like a book bag on one shoulder, switching it from side to side as you walk. So I would get one of the larger frameless packs and keep the weight under 20 lbs. Now you have a pack you could use for solo trips in just about any weather, because it has enough volume to carry winter equipment. You might look at some of the ultralight packs with removable stays for a frame. Use the stays if you are cimbing Mt Ranier in winter or something similar, and take them out most of the rest of the time.

Kevin Egelhoff
(kegelhoff) - F

Locale: Southern Cal
Re: backpack, external or internal frame? on 02/20/2009 10:10:13 MST Print View

I will check in the garage tonight and see if I have my son's older external frame pack that might be perfect for your son. If I can locate it I will give it to you for free! Great little starter pack and I'm guessing your son won't be carrying much weight any way. Let me know if you might be interested.


Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
Re: backpack, external or internal frame? on 02/20/2009 12:20:44 MST Print View

For the past four years I have been carrying the Luxurylite, external frame, pack. It is adjustable to fit both you and, most probably, your son. I am 5'9", 220 lbs. Susan is 5'0" 105 lbs. We both carry LuxuryLite packs and love them. Of all the packs I have carried in the past 42 years, this pack is the best, and most comfortable; whether loaded for a day hike or a ten day backpack trip. I highly recommend this pack.

Bruce Warren offers a lifetime warranty and stands behind his products. Every time I have required his help he has responded immediately.
Me and Mike with LuxuryLite Packs
LuxuryLite Packs on the PCT, for a 10 day trip. My friend Mike, on the left, is using Susan's pack, and it fits him perfectly.

Joseph Morrison
(sjdm4211) - F

Locale: Smokies
Re: Re: Re: backpack, external or internal frame? on 02/20/2009 22:17:58 MST Print View

I have never been completely sold on a pack after trying it on at the store. It has to be on my back for three or four days straight on the trail before I can determine if it will work for me. So to me there is nothing wrong with returning a pack you end up not liking. The way I see it that good return policy not only protects the customer from less than satifactory gear it is also there to make sure they dont have to spend a fortune on packs they do not like just to get the one they do.
Usually when you return something to REI and it shows some use they declare it damaged and they don't return it to the shelf.

Joseph Morrison
(sjdm4211) - F

Locale: Smokies
Externals vs. Internals on 02/20/2009 23:08:07 MST Print View

I used to have a external frame pack: a Kelty Trekker, it was okay but I like an internal frame. They are lighter and more stable. Anyway, a few years back I was planning a section of the AT. I was using a Gregory G pack and the guy I was hiking with had a old Kelty Tioga. But what was strange is he had much lighter gear than I. Pop can stove, UL down bag and UL pad, sil tarp, trail runners. So he was really into the UL thing. I almost begged him to try out a few of my packs before we left but he ended up using his external frame. Some people just like them, thats all that really matters isn't it?

Unknown abc
(edude) - F
"backpack, external or internal frame?" on 02/20/2009 23:56:25 MST Print View

Yes, the main advantage of externals concerning us ultralighters is their ventilation. There have even been people making their own ultralight externals:

When I was yet but a baby by lightweight backpacking standards the only pack I had was an external frame made by some brand called Himalayan. That pack must have been 20 years old but I got it for $5 at Goodwill for my very first scouting pack. It weighs 2lbs. 6oz. (I just weighed it) but is very airy and holds heavy loads well. I even used it on my first 'lightweight' trip with only 26lbs(FSO) in it.

So again externals are not a bad choice if you don't expect too much rugged and dense vegetation. IMHO, they are actually pretty comfy even with light loads.


Rand Lindsly
(randlindsly) - MLife

Locale: Yosemite
Another Luxury Lite vote on 02/21/2009 01:37:16 MST Print View

Add one more vote for the Luxury Lite. Great ventilation over your back, straps are held off your shoulders, and the cylinders are fantastic as stuff sacks and to keep your various gear isolated and organized. No matter what you do with an internal frame pack and ventilation scheme, in the end, something will be pressing against your back.

Half Dome and Luxury Lite

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: Re: Re: Re: backpack, external or internal frame? on 02/21/2009 10:09:55 MST Print View

Sorry to sound confrontational, but I feel quite strongly about this point.

"I have never been completely sold on a pack after trying it on at the store. It has to be on my back for three or four days straight on the trail before I can determine if it will work for me. So to me there is nothing wrong with returning a pack you end up not liking. ... Usually when you return something to REI and it shows some use they declare it damaged and they don't return it to the shelf."

I know that some people do this, but I am amazed to find anyone publicly admitting doing so.

I very very strongly disagree with doing as you describe, and believe it is a cynical abuse of the system. The rest of us should not have to pay the higher price required to cover your indecision and personal testing.

Wear it around home all you like, but if you are going to return it for anything other than a manufacturing defect, it should be such that they can, and will, sell it as new. If it is more worn than that, you have bought it.


Edited by blean on 02/21/2009 10:10:39 MST.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
road testing gear on 02/21/2009 13:48:31 MST Print View


I have never done this either.

However, the expertise of sales people at places like REI is nowhere near the level that existed 30 years ago. If you spend a couple hours selecting gear based on the recommendations/expertise of the salesperson, and it is bad information based on your wants and needs, then yes you should be entitled to bring it back.

Keep in mind that many retailers want you to purchae the most expensive item, because it has more profit margin. It is just like buying a car. You may just need the base model, but they are going to try and sell you the model with all the bells and whistles, because it gives them more gross profit. Just a fact of business today.

The best method is to educate yourself ahead of time. And that is not easy. Heck even here on BPL, differences of opinion are noted on every thread when it comes to gear.

Adrian B
(adrianb) - MLife

Locale: Auckland, New Zealand
Re: backpack, external or internal frame? on 02/22/2009 03:07:36 MST Print View

If it's hot and humid and you're walking, your back is going to sweat even if you're carrying nothing.

I'm just surprised that a sweaty back is really a consideration in choosing a pack, it's never even occurred to me.

Sean Walashek
(caraz) - F

Locale: bay area
to Bob on 02/22/2009 03:32:38 MST Print View

"Wear it around home all you like, but if you are going to return it for anything other than a manufacturing defect, it should be such that they can, and will, sell it as new. If it is more worn than that, you have bought it."

You are wrong my friend,
If it is damaged you can still return it. If it is not as new you can still return it. I worked for REI, I always did my best to outfit customers with the products that would best fit their needs, however REI has and does stand behind a 100% satisfaction garuntee, that if for any reason a customer is not satisfied with a product REI should happily take it back. You do not pay any higher price, REI still offers everything at a better than competitive price than other retailers. So don't be afraid to try stuff out people.

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: to Bob on 02/22/2009 10:13:49 MST Print View

No, you misunderstand me. I understand that REI will take the item back. I am, however, firmly convinced that to do so is wrong.

REI, to its credit, is bending over backwards to ensure customers are satisfied. I appreciate that policy, and I hope that they continue it. I strongly believe that customers have the obligation to respond by not taking unfair advantage of the policy, though.

Taking something home, having second thoughts, and then returning it is fine. Taking your time and leisurely trying it out in a way that does not destroy its newness and then returning it is fine. Being able to thoroughly examine something in the relaxed atmosphere of your home, and then returning it is fine. Do these things and be glad for REI's generous return policy.

But to take something out for four days or more on the trail and then try to return it is a perversion of the system, even if REI will allow it. Taking advantage of REI's policy to return used gear that has no problem other than you have decided you do not like it is wrong (even though REI may allow it).

As to a "better than competitive price" -- sorry, but not these days. REI sells most things at MSRP. Things are often cheaper elsewhere. I have not noticed that REI sale prices are better than elsewhere, either. REI used to occupy a unique notch -- but those days are long gone. (I remember when it was a Seattle-area store, with mail order for the rest of the country. My COOP number is low 5 digits.)

As to the rest of us not paying more -- TANSTAAFL. He has caused an economic loss (the item is no longer as valuable as it was; his refund will be in excess of the value of the item) -- and someone eats that loss. Perhaps fewer evening events. Perhaps charging for things that used to be free. Perhaps smaller dividends for members. But the money that was lost on that unfortunate transaction has to come from *somewhere* -- it does not come out of thin air.

Furthermore, he has had an economic benefit (both the use of the item and the knowledge gained) and is unwilling to pay for that. Why?

Another loss to the rest of us -- REI does not sell much that is ultralight. With people taking advantage of their return policy such as we are discussing, I would not either. Selling gear you have to be careful of would be far too expensive, because of unfair returns. Now *there* is a loss -- REI is convenient and I get my dividend, but few of my purchases can come from there these days.

No, I remain convinced that trying to return items in less than new condition (unless there is a manufacturing defect) is a perversion of the system, is wrong, and costs the rest of us.

Please accept your personal responsibilities and do not do that!


Edited by blean on 02/22/2009 10:23:19 MST.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: backpack, external or internal frame? on 02/22/2009 12:16:28 MST Print View

I had never seen anything like the Osprey packs when I bought mine. I had not bought a backpack in decades. It's a pretty clever design and I found it very comfortable against my back.

But I used the air pocket to store my camelback bladder so I've never experienced the benefits of a pocket of air against my back.

I often wondered if having a bag of water against my back helped regulate the temperature against my back since it's not going to get any hotter than my body temperature and sometimes be a little bit cooler than my body temperature.

Nate Meinzer
(Rezniem) - F

Locale: San Francisco
Rei's Return Policy on 02/22/2009 12:29:42 MST Print View

You are forgetting that REI has a "satisfaction guaranteed" return policy. This means that if you are not satisfied with the item you purchase, they will take it back at full-price. How can you know if you're satisfied with an item unless you USE it in a real-world setting? What if you buy a sleeping bag only to find out that the zipper breaks, rips open the fabric and spills expensive down on your first night of a three-night trip? You won't return it?

I have returned a pair of shoes I wore on a hike around the city. These shoes were very expensive and sold as "top-of-the-line" and they hurt my feet after a mere hour wearing them. There is no way I could have found that out at the store, and unfortunately, they became "damaged goods."

Two things to remember about your economic argument:

1. REI doesn't swallow the loss. They sell the gear in a used gear sale and probalby recover most, if not all, of the cost of the gear.

2. REI has set this policy in part to attract customers. As such, their gear is not as cheap as in other stores without the policy. But, we don't know how many customers are attracted to REI because of this policy over/against the cheaper online competitors without it. (It may be that the policy pays for itself, in other words, by increasing sales and revenue flow.)

3. The expense operates like an insurance policy for gear failure. (And when you shell out big bucks for shoes or a bag or pack, you may want this insurance). If you do NOT want this insurance--SHOP ELSEWHERE. Get deals on closeouts online and deal with whatever shortcomings your gear may have. When you chose to pay for more, you get more. In this case, the option to return an item you are not satisfied with.

So, in conclusion, don't blame those people who chose to take advantage of REI's policy. They did not create the policy and are at no fault for the higher prices. Since they are paying the higher prices too, they are paying for the policy and then using it when they see fit. Would you expect someone to pay for a benefit and then not exercise it?

Edited by Rezniem on 02/22/2009 12:32:44 MST.