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External Frame Packs?
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Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

External Frame Packs? on 02/24/2013 18:13:45 MST Print View

Serious question: does anyone use external frame packs? I have some questions. I would hate to think I'm missing some valuable piece of information.

1) Are there any distinct or inherent advantages an external frame pack has over an internal frame pack?
2) Are there any Light or Ultralight external frame packs in production?
3) Why did everyone switch over? Was it just aesthetic? The idea that you aren't carrying a metal frame?

Burning questions...


Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

External Frame on 02/24/2013 18:30:18 MST Print View

Those are fair questions. Until a couple months, ULA sold the Ohm which was basically a light external framed pack (24oz). Now they're just selling the Ohm 2.0 which moves the frame internally. I've got an Ohm and it's great for its intended use (sub 30lbs).

I'm not an expert on the subject, but I think there was a fair bit of hype involved in the switch to internal frames and external framed packs have been somewhat unfairly vilified. For one, they're much nicer to use with the packraft because you can directly strap the frame to the boat.

Edited by dandydan on 02/24/2013 18:30:59 MST.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Also on 02/24/2013 18:34:42 MST Print View

It looks like the major thing is ventilation. External frames have a lot of airflow moving that internal frame bags go through hoops to replicate. Any bag with a trampoline system looks like it's just masquerading as an external frame.

I wouldn't mind picking up something like a Kelty Trekker as a beat-up pack. I bet it lasts as long as anything short of a McHale, and it's only 4lbs. Similarly sized Ospreys weigh that much.

My outdoors club kids all use external frame bags. The people that show up to my meeting on time get the brand-new Kelty Trekkers, and I've used them myself and I dig them. The kids who show up late get logo-free frame bags from the late 80's. Still going!

So, idk, ventilation. Worth it?

Harrison Carpenter
(carpenh) - M

Locale: St. Vrain River Valley
Re: External Frame Packs? on 02/24/2013 18:37:10 MST Print View

From what I remember, external frames enable you to separate the weight from your back, enabling you to hold more of it on your hips. An added benefit is that weight distribution allows you to walk more upright. I switched from my old Kelty Trekker in order to reduce my base weight, but there are days when I miss hauling it around, and envision myself walking around carrying everything old-school: external frame pack, wool sweater, leather boots, Sierra mug, etc.

I know Z-packs makes an external frame Exo. I've not had the money to try it. :)

Edited by carpenh on 02/24/2013 18:42:09 MST.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: External Frame Packs? on 02/24/2013 19:08:07 MST Print View

Internal frames came from the climbing world and were also better for balance with a load. Sleeker looking pack too so what Dan said is probably pretty fair.

For UL externals, besides the Zpack, think Backpacker mag classified the Osprey Exos series as external though a number of packs also have a raised suspension with a peripheral rod for ventilation and some sort of carry capacity (Osprey Hornet, etc..). Not sure it's exactly external, though, and think if there's a load bearing metal frame on the inside, you should (IMHO) call it an internal .. just feeling a '12 version of the ULA Circuit, '13 version of the Osprey Aether, etc..

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: External Frame Packs? on 02/24/2013 19:12:44 MST Print View

A good external frame will carry very heavy loads better. It's also nice to be able to strap bulky items to the frame. Internal frames are better for balance.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: External Frame Packs? on 02/24/2013 19:16:21 MST Print View

A fair amount of them squeak with every step.

I still have a Kelty Tioga floating around.

Was comfy.

Still see plenty on the trails here. Some are classics.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: externals on 02/24/2013 20:15:02 MST Print View

1) Are there any distinct or inherent advantages an external frame pack has over an internal frame pack?

>> An external is the be-all for 60+ pound loads. Select internals can do this, but making an external do it well is a lot simpler.

2) Are there any Light or Ultralight external frame packs in production?

>> Luxurylite if they're still around. But look at the issue this way; making a frameless pack which carries 20 pounds well is easy. Making an internal which carries 40 pounds is easy (though some manufacturers make this complicated). Making an internal which carries 50 or 60 or more is very possible, but requires a lot more thought (read $$ for the consumer). Given that externals shine for heavy loads, the "UL" standard for them will need to be a bit different.

3) Why did everyone switch over? Was it just aesthetic? The idea that you aren't carrying a metal frame?

>> Fashion/wanting to look like a mountaineer. 90% of casual backpackers (those who don't geek out on gear, carry 40ish pounds, and hike 2-6 times a year on trails only) would all be better served with an external. But externals are not sexy.

Externals are alive and well with backcountry hunters, and some interesting designs have either hit the market recently or will be later this year.

Edited by DaveC on 02/24/2013 20:16:32 MST.

Nick Larsen
(stingray4540) - F

Locale: South Bay
Re: External Frame Packs? on 02/24/2013 20:22:33 MST Print View

Take what I say with a grain of salt, as I'm somewhat new to backpacking and have never used an external frame.

While I really like my current internal frame pack, I hate the sweaty back and shoulders. And after a long day my shoulders start to feel a little sore from bearing some of the weight. Also, my bear can takes up almost all of the bag, makes packing hard.

I just recently picked up a used external circa 1970s. After removing the two unnecessary top bars, it weighs less than my internal frame by 10oz, at 3lb 5oz.

Just from trying it on, I noticed all the breathing room my back and the top of my shoulders have. Since all of the weight is on my hips, the shoulder straps leave my shoulders at a 45* angle and act more like load lifters.

1) not sure yet, but from what I've heard they carry a load more comfortably, and let your back breath. Allow you to carry bulky items like bear cans easier.
2) the luxury lite and zpacks exo, but neither truly replicate a traditional external frame IMO.
3) I think aesthetics, and marketing hype. Also the desire to think of ourselves as rock climbers and mountaineers, when really we hardly ever leave the trail...

I can see the balance advantage of internal frames for rock climbers and mountaineers, but I think that would go hand in hand with heavier fabrics, and kind of seems to be an oxymoron to UL backpacking IMO.

Of course I may be slightly biased as I am currently working on developing a true external pack out of UL materials.

Until then... You might want to check out the Jansport scout at only 3lb 10oz. It compares to even the lightest REI offerings. Also, you can take off the top "shelf" and top horizontal bar. Unnecessary IMO. Probably get it to 3lb or less.

P.S. just saw that David, above me, had some good points.

Edited by stingray4540 on 02/24/2013 20:32:21 MST.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
External Frame Packs on 02/24/2013 20:53:49 MST Print View

Obviously they are best for flatlands, especially if a lot of water needs to be carried (flat deserts surrounding Big Bend N.P Chisos Mtns or other western desert flatlands .... or other flat places).

An older hiking acquaintance of mine, when hiking eastern Big Bend, said his old 1983 Jansport external weighed 3lb. and change, but could handle more gear strapped onto it. He saw no reason to change, though that packbag was on it's last legs due to UV damage.

Obviously, the frameless rucksack is more de rigueur here, maybe with a little piece of foam for fanciness, than either internal or external frame packs.

Richard Lyon
(richardglyon) - MLife

Locale: Bridger Mountains
External frame packs on 02/25/2013 07:36:39 MST Print View

One of my backpacking pals takes his 4 x 5 camera set up on some trips and has designed an external frame pack to store the various pieces. Quite ingenious. I'd say ready access to various pockets is an advantage of externals. It's been so long since I carried one I hesitate to make other comparisons beyond that and better ventilation. Dave is right, fashion sense plays a part in the automatic preference for internals.


Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Fashion Sense on 02/25/2013 08:30:05 MST Print View

Maybe frame packs will sweep back into fashion like vintage T-shirts, and we'll see a mess of them in 2015. I like the Kelty Trekker; I'm honestly considering picking one up this year. If I find the new version on sale, I'm pulling the trigger. Not for fashion; I feel like a real load-hauler is something I can use when I'm carrying three tents for all the college freshmen who find it exasperating.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: External frame packs on 02/25/2013 08:32:20 MST Print View

The old style externals do have a different center of gravity and can be top heavy if not loaded prpoerly. Of couse they were designed for carrying bulky heavy loads. It may be that the large capacity contributed to the weights people were carrying then. They make it easy to strap stuff on, creating the monstrosities we like to ridicule.

They can be annoyingly noisy. A couple years ago, I took one on the short hike to Cape Alava on the Olympic Park beaches so someone could use my regular pack and it squeaked and rattled the whole way.

I had one of the "freighter" style bare frame with a tip-out shelf that worked well for hauling a 4x5 camera and accessories. They have been popular with hunters for taking out large game in sections.

The old Jansports were quite light and are still lighter than most of the internal frame packs of similar capacity. If you took an old Jansport frame and added modern UL suspension and pack bag, would would have a very light pack that could haul bulky heavy items well. If Jsnsport would make a Ti tubing frame and a Dyneema or Cuben bag and update the back panels a bit, you would have a very interesting pack.

The Osprey Exos packs do have a perimeter frame but I think they are more of a hybrid. You do get good weight transfer and air flow and "pack collapse" is non-existent. You can pack without concern for items poking you in the back and can concentrate on load balance and convenience.

Edited by dwambaugh on 02/25/2013 08:33:46 MST.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Re: External frame packs on 02/25/2013 08:32:25 MST Print View

Well, from a fashion sense, my internal-frame packs look to me like what they are: climbing gear. My external-frame pack looks to me like what it is: a high sierra backpack. I've used both for both activities, and the trusty Kelty (pictured to the left here) is still in service.

I am keenly aware that my Tioga is heavier than virtually all of the awesome internal/no-frame packs popular with UL backpackers and on this site. I am also keenly aware that, although it CAN easily carry 60lb of gear or deer meat, I don't like doing that anymore. That load capacity is not why I prefer the Kelty and not why I suggest the adjustable-frame Kelty externals to my Scouts.

I prefer the external frame packs because of the way they keep the load directly off the the spine, the ventilation behind the back, the stability of the packbag on trails (not climbing ladders or rocks or scree... not saying that), the ability to manage weight onto the hips, simplicity of strapping on gear and capacity/design to accommodate things like bear canisters.

I used to marvel at the cool and light Coleman Peak 1, flexible plastic external frame packs, particularly at their silence...a Kelty doesn't squeak like a Jansport but will inevitably require one to learn the skills with appropriate use of a crayon or candle. I've noted that those Coleman frames many of us recognize from the early 80's appear to be on other-branded packs I see on Sierra Trading every once in a while -- I need to get a weight on those. They aren't adjustable, but I recall them as being light.

One thing for certain, the not-trendy, not-UL external frame packs are not very BPL-core. Even REI doesn't carry them in our local store (they keep an old external with hideous straps as an exemplar to sell other packs, killin' me). It is true that these obsolete boat anchors weigh more, empty, than some hikers bags with their sleep systems in it. I have fantasized, briefly, about asking someone like Dan McHale to replicate my Tioga bag in some super-cool Dyneema grid or whatnot, but just can't cut the cord with my old buddy. For now, I remain happy, upright and proud of the old rig.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Squeaking on 02/25/2013 08:37:09 MST Print View

I am surprised at the squeaking comment. My group all uses externals, like I said before, and not even the ancient ones squeak.

I might put that in the same category as Thermarest crinkling; things I inwardly mock other backpackers for being bothered by. Then again, if my bike needs adjusting I have to do it on the spot because shifting will drive me Insane.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Re: Squeaking on 02/25/2013 08:51:43 MST Print View

Max, it's pretty common with metal-frmed externals for them to develop a squeak, but it's simply resolved most of the time. Some packs never do it, but it was pretty common "in the old days" to occur.

On a Kelty or other rigid-frame rig, the squeak usually pronounces as the pack shifts or jounces during stride. Mine, for example, will squeak on descents if I don't deal with it. On the flex-frame, metal Jansports, the squeak can happen during jouncing, but also as the frame torques or flexes. The plastic-framed rigs are, of course, silent.

Most of the squeaks are from either a back-band (mesh strap) or shoulder strap/grommet moving against the frame or, in the case of the Jansports, the sleeved joints rotating against one another just a skitch. In all cases, the classic fix is to rub a candle or crayon on the squeak point. I was reminded of this after I took my Tioga bag off to wash and repair, cleaned the frame and then forgot to "wax". Of course, I didn't note this until I was it was a funny reminder. Scrit... scrit... scrit...

kevin timm
(ktimm) - MLife

Locale: Colorado (SeekOutside)
Externals and Weight on 02/25/2013 09:36:40 MST Print View

Externals simply can carry weight much better and ventilate better. I think many of the older style externals may not work well for going through trees and scrub etc, but this is can be overcome. I carried a pretty good load this weekend in a MYOG external through steep canyon country and it performed pretty well. The difference between it and some of my light internals from a comfort and movement perspective was minimal but the difference in load carrying was significant. I'm a fan of externals.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Externals and Weight on 02/25/2013 13:07:26 MST Print View

My old Kelty external frame was very sweaty. Possibly a little better than a frameless pack.

And it squeaked. My brother has an external pack that squeaks.

Andrew Zajac

Locale: South West
external frames on 02/25/2013 13:33:43 MST Print View

I don't remember who told me this, but I have heard that it had to do with the silhouette. External frames tend to be wider and therefore aren't great for bushwhacking or for mountaineers who need to scramble and move through potentially confined spaces. So my impression is that the change was mostly an aesthetic move.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: External Frame Packs? on 02/25/2013 13:38:36 MST Print View

External frames are not the first choice of cross country skiers. Because of the way our arms move, we choose a narrow pack with little or no frame.


Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: External Frame Packs? on 02/25/2013 13:51:48 MST Print View

I've used an external frame rigged to carry a chainsaw, it works great for that. It carries the weight about as well as you could hope for (still feels heavy though...) but the biggest drawback is that the damn frame gets caught on every branch or bush that hangs into the the trail. If you're looking for something to haul a big load an external frame is a good choice.

Regarding the sweaty back thing, I sweat a lot and even without a pack my back winds up soaked after a long walk. I guess I've just grown numb to it because I don't notice any difference between my packs with "ventilation channels" and my "stuffsacks with shoulder straps."


Alasdair Fowler
(MessiahKhan) - F

Locale: Newcastle, UK
External Frame Packs? on 02/25/2013 13:55:35 MST Print View

My recently launched company are working on a lightweight, carbon fibre, external framed pack. ;)
It's still very early days, so it is only in prototyping stages, but the design is looking promising.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: External Frame Packs? on 02/25/2013 13:58:33 MST Print View

The old externals aren't great for scrambling, ducking under blow downs or getting over coastal headlands. Trekking poles would be very handy with these top heavy packs, especially going down root ladders and tall stone steps.

No one has mentioned that an UL base weight feels like nothing in a big external. There's no need for compression stuff sacks and bear cans are easy.

It is interesting that a SUL external pack hasn't been developed for long unsupported treks. A carbon fiber X frame on the order of the Colman Peak 1 plastic frame would allow for all kinds of size adjustments. Add a Cuben bag, a light suspension and garnish with a biped :)

jeffrey armbruster
(book) - M

Locale: Northern California
"External Frame Packs?" on 02/25/2013 14:06:36 MST Print View

I've strapped a GG pack to a Luxurylite frame. Works great; weighs just over two pounds. Oh and it carries a bear canister on the bottom flange (lip) like a dream. All the advantages of an external and then some because the belt is so comfortable, for very little weight.

Roger Williams
(KayDub) - M

Locale: Idaho
Re: Re: Re: External Frame Packs? on 02/25/2013 14:10:40 MST Print View

I can also attest to the fact that when XC skiing, an external has the ability to come flying over a guy's head and drive him face first into the snow. Skiers with higher skill levels might not have to deal with this phenomenon.

Barry Cuthbert
(nzbazza) - MLife

Locale: New Zealand
Roger Caffin on 02/25/2013 15:34:14 MST Print View

Our favourite Mod Roger Caffin uses a MYOG external frame pack that weighs under 1kg (~2.2lb).

He has even has a page showing his design

Daryl and Daryl
(lyrad1) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
MYOG Option on 02/25/2013 15:43:22 MST Print View

Here's an option for those of you who like to make your own gear.

External Frame Pack

Jake D
(JakeDatc) - F

Locale: Bristol,RI
Re: Re: Re: Re: External Frame Packs? on 02/25/2013 15:46:03 MST Print View

pff just go packboard Hut Croo style.. (do repeated resupply loads for 3-6 months.. become a beast)

Edited by JakeDatc on 02/25/2013 15:47:43 MST.

Richard Fischel
packboard Hut Croo style.. on 02/25/2013 16:21:26 MST Print View

and no waist belts. like movers they like to keep the weight on their shoulders.

Jake D
(JakeDatc) - F

Locale: Bristol,RI
Re: packboard Hut Croo style.. on 02/25/2013 16:32:55 MST Print View

From what i've seen they tend to hike like they are posing there.. hands on the bottom rails to help take some of the load. regularly do 50-80lbs with 100lb load being a prized accomplishment.

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: "External Frame Packs?" on 02/25/2013 17:10:35 MST Print View

I would like to see a leaner smaller external frame sized for modern UL loads. The pack bags can be changed and canisters and other things cold be strapped to it. The size of traditional externals seem too big for lighter loads and more compact gear. Would love to see what some modern external deigns would be like.

Nick Larsen
(stingray4540) - F

Locale: South Bay
Re: Re: "External Frame Packs?" on 02/25/2013 17:46:00 MST Print View

Like Mr. Fowler, I am also working on a UL external frame, although, you are likely to see his before mine. I think there is a lot of potential for UL externals. Time, and the market, will tell I suppose.

Jason McSpadden
(JBMcSr1) - M

Locale: Rocky Mountains
External Frame Packs on 02/25/2013 17:51:06 MST Print View

What I have done is used an old but beautiful Trailwise external frame that weighs 2 lbs 8 ozs. with just the frame, shoulder straps, waist belt and back mesh but no packbag. Laid down my silnylon Rayway tarp and put all my gear in it. And then wrapped it up neatly and tied it to the frame using a diamond hitch. I haven't used this set up often. Kind of just an experiment. I realize it puts my shelter at risk being used as the packbag/wrap. I've thought about sewing a lighter pack bag or using a silnylon ground cloth as a substitute for the tarp. But I haven't done that yet. It's not ultra light but it is very comfortable. I think I could carry quite a bit with it--but I don't want to.


Diamond hitch video

Edited by JBMcSr1 on 02/25/2013 17:54:52 MST.

John G
(JohnG10) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic via Upstate NY
external frame packs on 02/25/2013 17:56:12 MST Print View

My kelty has a MUCH higher center of gravity than my Lowe internal, which causes me to work more on rocky ”stair step like” trails. I think if the pack bag was attached 12” lower it would probably fix this problem.

The Kelty is also a lot wider, causing it to catch lots of branches on the trail, which almost pulls me over backwards sometimes. I think making the frame and pack bag 9-12” narrower, and mounting the bag lower would fix this.

The frame bars hit my shoulders when I swing my arms when walking naturally but quickly. I think making the frame narrower would fix this.

The many extra pockets were always ” not quite big enough to fit my filter, bowl, wind shell, etc, and I could never remember which pocket had which small item - so I ended up packing everything in the main compartment, and 1 big (lid sized) pocket.

The external pack swayed around when I walked. It didn't pull me around on rocky trails but an internal frame pack was much easier to hike with through rock / boulder fields.

The internal frame pack fit much better in a canoe or inside a tent, or in my car.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Thinking... on 02/25/2013 17:59:08 MST Print View

Thanks for the input. if I got the Kelty, it wouldn't be for moving fast or bushwhacking. Still, as you're not the first person to say this, I am giving more consideration.

I think I'll try one of the school Kelty's out for a weekend trip.

Nick Larsen
(stingray4540) - F

Locale: South Bay
Re: Thinking... on 02/25/2013 18:25:12 MST Print View

if you are undecided, check out Craigslist and eBay. You should be able to find an old jansport or kelty for $20. Cheap way to find out if you like it before buying a new model. Unless of course you can borrow one for a weekend.

Daryl and Daryl
(lyrad1) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
External Frame Pack Features on 02/25/2013 19:30:50 MST Print View

I like the following features of an external frame pack because they allow me to experiment with and fine tune the fit and use of the pack:

(1) Frame can be adjusted upward or downward on waist belt.
(2) Bag can be adjusted upward or downward on the frame.
(3) Waist belt, shoulder straps frame and bag can be replaced independently because they typically aren't sewn to each other.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: External Frame Packs? on 02/25/2013 19:35:54 MST Print View

Some classics on Craigslist up here.

Really on trail they are fine.

Edited by kthompson on 02/25/2013 19:36:38 MST.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Switched back and forth, stuck with internal frame packs on 02/25/2013 22:50:15 MST Print View

Started with external frame packs way back when (no-name Boy Scout, REI, Trailwise). Switched to internal frame in the 1980s - MUCH more comfortable, and smaller volume meant I had to carry less, enforcing a kind of lightweight discipline.

Skipping ahead to early 2000s, tried a variety of internal frame packs that handled traditional weights poorly. Tried the Luxurylite, but I hated the fit and the rigid frame (other people love them). So went back to internal frame and learned to pack much lighter! I can tolerate occasional overloads to 35 lbs (e.g. long water carries), YMMV.

I sweat like a pig with either internal or external frames, no major difference for me. A good synthetic t-shirt works wonders.

HMG Windrider is my current pack of choice.

Generally speaking, if you want light weight and comfort, internal frames work best. If you want or need to carry a lot of weight, check out external frames.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Light vs. Comfort on 02/26/2013 07:22:54 MST Print View

Generally speaking, if you want light and narrow at the expense of comfort and ventilation, the internal- or frameless-backpacks and rucksacks are better.

If you want comfort, ventilation, high-placement of your load and/or the ability to carry more load, an external-framed pack will be better.

If you want what's most trendy, the last few decades give you an internal frame and these days you need some translucent, disco material to really make the grade. All the cool kids have it. The link to Roger's home-built, UL external-frame backpack with UL materials crosses all boundaries and must therefore somehow be immoral and likely illegal in Australia. :)

"Generally Speaking", implies the existence of exceptions and acknowledges that we might all be "more comfortable" with the product(s) we've invested in.

The largest-capacity packs one can buy are internal-framed rigs with far more capacity than any commercially-available, external-framed packbag. I think back to a couple we met on the PCT a few years ago, he with a giant, blue cordura internal-frame that must have been 40" tall and which he reported to be 80lb for their 7-day trek. when he set it down, I think I felt it thump the earth... His comment at my Kelty was that he used to have one, but it couldn't carry enough stuff! All I could think was how that entire load rode right on his back. Nuts, man. Probably very comfortable!

Noting the absence of UL-Externals on the commercial market, it's also notable that the typical internal-framed backpack, say at REI, weighs far more than an external-framed pack of similar volume capacity. They're heavier, less comfortable, more expensive and cantilever the load out off the back with a narrow profile. This is another reason why the reliable, light, comfortable, ventilated external-frame packs are still preferred by many youth and adults that care (and that carry higher-than UL load weights). Go with the stuff that weighs less and works better. How cool would it be to have external-framed, commercial packs with UL-quality packbags? VERY.

Daryl and Daryl
(lyrad1) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
Car analogy on 02/26/2013 11:35:04 MST Print View

How about this as a comparison?

External frame packs are like pickups and Honda Fits.

Internal frame packs are like BMWs and Porsches.

Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
advantages of Internals is mostly hype on 02/26/2013 13:12:15 MST Print View

external frame packs work just fine. We did the JMT using them in 1971. Of course there were no internal frame packs them. Part of our route was over a cross country pass, and over snow.

John Muir Trail cross country pass

We also used external frame packs in all other situations: going cross country, going through brush, with heavy loads, ski mountaineering, with irregular or strap on loads. They are definitely better for heavy loads, like 60 lbs plus, and they work fine in the other situations.

That being said, I still have my Kelty Tioga, but use an REI Flash 65. My current gear fits in it perfectly, and its compact.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: advantages of Internals is mostly hype on 02/26/2013 15:26:26 MST Print View


The 2nd guy from the bottom looks like his pack is working against him :)

In general, I agree with you. But a properly fitted internal works better in the kind of terrain in your picture and in cross country travel where tree branches and shrubs are likely to be obstacles.

On advantage of a quality internal is the ability to bend the stays to match the shape of your back. A quality internal can carry big loads just like an external. A McHale hip belt is more comfortable than anything on the market -- past or present, and his larger packs can carry anything an external can with more comfort.

When both styles were plentiful, externals cost a lot less. Externals aren't the best choice for bushwacking or Class 3 and above travel. My Kelty D4 only weighs 3lbs 9oz, and my Kelty Serac tips the scale at just under 5lbs. An internal that can comfortably carry the same weight as these externals weigh more and have all sorts of adjusting mechanisms. I find it is much easier to "live out of" an external frame pack. I still use my externals occasionally, but my McHale packs are my "go to" packs. A properly fitted internal frame pack is going to be more comfortable than an external, assuming you have a quality internal pack.

As to why did externals become nearly extinct?

Colin Fletcher caused the change. In the Complete Walker III, published in the early 80's, Fletcher had switched from an external Trailwise to a Gregory Cassin (which was heavier) and extolled the virtues of internal frames. The "backpacking faithful" dumped their external packs and rushed out to get an internal. Gregory owes his success to Fletcher, and Trailwise no longer exists. Also the gear retailers saw a great opportunity. Most internals cost at least twice as much as an external, so there was more money to be made on an internal pack -- and thus the salesperson would recommend an internal. Some of us old farts just kept using our externals.



You might find these interesting

Vintage Keltys

Kelty D4 Trip

John G
(JohnG10) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic via Upstate NY
youth groups on 02/26/2013 17:33:21 MST Print View

Most of the scouts in my area use externals, but its because they are half the price, very sturdy, and more adjustable - which is important for parents who want a pack that will fit a 12 year old, and still fit a 16 year old later after they grow.

The scouts who can afford to, switch to internal frame packs after they get close to an adult height (and their parents are pretty sure they won't have to buy another pack next year). Part of the motivation may be to look cooler, but they do remark on how much easier they are to hike with on our trails (which are rocky, sawtooth hills with overhanging tree branches everywhere. Ie: big green tunnel :-) ).

In general, I would buy externals for a youth group like a college because you can adjust the width between the shoulder straps, torso length, swap out straps or hip belts when they get worn out or to fit different sized people, and they are more durable in a rental environment.

However, internals took over the market for a reason. Even though the externals were half the price, and are much easier to pack / live out of due to the big wide opening. ”Coolness” wears off quickly when something else works better, so I don't think internals were just more fashionable.

I personally think externals are great for hunters or people taking supplies to a remote cabin. Ie: who have to carry lots of weight. But for regular backpacking, I like internals a lot better. If I lived where trails were gently sloped, and didn't have lots of trees, then I might prefer the ventilation of an external.

That said, I did a lot backpacking over steep rocky trails with lots of trees with an external. So, if cost is a issue, get an external, drop the pack bag to its lowest setting if there are lots of trees or steep rocky trails - and enjoy your hike ;-)

kevin timm
(ktimm) - MLife

Locale: Colorado (SeekOutside)
Extenral / Internal on 02/26/2013 18:54:18 MST Print View

I will agree that old school externals are not the best for scrambling terrain, however for pure load hauling and efficiency of performance to weight, they win hands down. The reason a heavy duty Mchale carries well is because it has many of the external design features added to an more internal style design, but it is heavy by comparison.

I haven't carried a 100 lbs on my back as often as some I know, but i have carried weights above 75 a lot of times, and 100 a few times, on steep terrain without trails, and every time the external wins. I recently did a 90 lb test load on an external that was under 2 lbs. The base design flat works. The internal design when it comes to heavy loads , is mostly one band aid placed on another IMO.

I tend to think the actual range where an internal has much of an advantage is very small. If I'm going super light, I go frameless and use a sleeping pad, if I'm going somewhat heavy , I go external. The internal really wins in the 15 -30 lb range.

There are some sports where an internal has an advantage (XC skiing and climbing) but the advantage is mostly about the profile of the external, and not the design itself. I will admit, I wouldn't want to take a long fall with a an external on, but the reality is I don't want to take a long fall with any pack and if I took a long fall, the pack I'm wearing is probably the least of my problems at that moment.

jim logan
(jim_logan) - MLife
Another thought on external frame packs on 02/27/2013 04:59:14 MST Print View

My hiking buddy still uses his external even on some bushwhacks; at 65, he's a year older than I am and both of us have shed a lot of excess carry weight in the last few years from "the old days." For some time I have been looking at my old Tioga and planning on biting the bullet and pulling it out to join him, and this fall we will have the 3-day trip to do it on: no base camp and fairly flat. However, one big reason why I plan on using it is the accessibility of my gear: I love the many pockets and storage places. I am looking forward to not needing to undo everything to get to what I foolishly put near the bottom of the GoLite I would otherwise be using. I may even try it out before the fall even though our current plans for earlier hikes include significant bushwhacking.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Re: Another thought on external frame packs on 02/27/2013 06:43:52 MST Print View

Jim, if you pull out that old dinosaur Tioga, check out the shoulder straps. Mine hardened after 30 years and, when I called Kelty to see about ordering some just like those on my son's newer pack, they comped them out to me after I sent a photo. Now the new straps... ahhhh, better than the older ones ever were. They're contoured and slightly breathable.

I stuck with the waist band, mostly out of lazy but also because the Cam-Lok is so simple (and programmed into my head) compared to the newer clickers. It's heavier, of course, but so it goes.

I've left my extension bar in the pack, mostly because I use it for a handle when I spin the pack on or off, but you can obviously shave weight by eliminating it. Depending on the era and size of the Tioga, it might be just under 4lb of pack weight and 50 gallons of "cool". :)

jim logan
(jim_logan) - MLife
External Frame Packs? on 02/27/2013 09:48:27 MST Print View


You're absolutely shoving me into using it. Great ideas! Looking forward to playing with it on the trail -- and in the bush. Thanks.