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External Frame Packs?
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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.