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Internal versus External

42344 Views 67 Replies 44 Participants Last post by  azb
OK so this may sound redundant, I have read other posts but haven't been able to make up my mind about the type of pack I want.

I am planning on getting a pack that would serve me for 3-5 day backpacking/camping trips, I also plan on keeping this ready as a BOB or a GOOD pack.

I'm torn between an Internal and External Frame pack, and I see the merits of both but it seems any time I think about it I flip flop (damnit I feel like John Kerry - sorry for that 6 year old political joke). Anyhow, I have looked at numerous different kinds, internal and external, btu still can't make up my mind.

I have bookmarked a Kelty Trekker 3950 as I have used Kelty in the past and really love their packs, any comments?

Any help is much appreciated! Thank you!
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I use an external. I feel they carry more weight in comfort than internals. To get a good internal will cost $200+. Externals are more adaptable, you can attach/tie off more gear to the frame if need be. They say internals are better for going off trail. If you look at pictures of people in backpacking mag. a lot of them have their sleeping pad horizonal and sticking out on both sides, defeating the whole purpose of an internal pack. When you look at high end internal they have thick shoulder straps and thick belts. Why the need for all the padding? For a light and compact load I can see the benefit of an internal. If you think you'll be carrying more than 35lbs or want the ablility to do so, go with the external. Also if you can't afford all the lightweight gear/sleeping bag/ tent that seems to go hand in hand with the internal go with the external.
I like externals also. But think about the conditions for which you are going to be hoofing it. Are you going to be climbing? Is it mainly flat trails or areas?
Internal frames hang closer to the body giving you better balance when leaning forward or climbing. External frames haul massive amounts of weight.

Another thing to think about.. External frames can be adapted to use with other bags or taprs if you needed it if your bag was damaged. Your internal frames are pretty much useless if the bag were to be torn badly. You cant really transfer the frame to another bag. But it is pretty hard to damage a bag that badly nowadays.
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internal for me.
I am a smaller person and they fit me better
For 5 days of "camping",an internal frame. For 5 days of hunting,an external frame. I would load the internal frame lighter,simply because I probably won't need as much stuff camping as I would hunting. The external frame pack can haul more weight with greater ease,like animal meat.
Honestly, I think either one would suit you just fine. I'd pick an external, but that's because I've used an internal for so long. :D:
The Kelty you've linked is about 65 L, which is big for a 3-5 day pack but small for an expedition pack. For 5 day trips you can get away with something in the 40-50 L range (like this one), depending on how much stuff you are lugging. I'd go with an internal frame because it's easier to balance and move with them through tight/complex terrain. If you fit them properly they can also be more comfortable with a heavy load. For the record, I've packed 65 lbs into internal frame packs on alpine scrambles without a problem.

Also, when in doubt, go start trying on all the packs you can, load them up with 35 lbs, and see which one feels the most comfortable. You can't miss.
I use both, depends on what I am doing. Long multi day hikes, internal for me.
I use a Kelty Super Tioga and a smaller older Kelty. Both are external frame. The Tioga is a cargo hauling monster. It will haul far more than I want to & honestly its to big for most of my trips. The smaller one is perfect for weekenders with my sons scout troop. Whether you pick int. or ext. I firmly believe you cant beat Kelty as far as value for your $.
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I think the external frames feel sloppy, the tail is wagging the dog. For recreational uses plus to be as safe as possible, any equipment that's attached to you should be an extension of you. Your purpose is not to lend legs to your pack. To do this with a backpack, you need for it to hug your body, and that requires an internal frame. I feel that they are definitely suited for at least 50 pounds. Going beyond that isn't typically necessary unless you're in the army or bringing home some elk meat.
internal vs external frame backpacks

Asking about internal and external frame backpacks is like asking:

chevy or ford
dodge or toyota
apples or oranges
iron man or spider man

There are pros and cons to every argument - some of it depends on what you like, and what your going to be doing with it. Personally, I do not think there is a "right" or "wrong" answer here. All I can do is tell you why I pick my packs and go from there.

Cool weather, day hike, cool weather overnight camping trip - frameless or internal frame. Having the pack right up against your body helps retain some of your body heat.

Hot weather hiking, overnight camping trip - Here in east Texas summer temps can get stay in the 90s, day and night. The external frame allows your body heat to escape from around your back. Just having that little bit of air space can help out a lot.

I have seen people carry an internal frame pack during the summer. When they drop the pack, their back and their pack is drenched with sweat. Just having that little space between your back and the pack can really help out when its 90+ degrees during the middle of July and August.

External frame packs feel stronger then internal frame packs - it might be just me, when I have a heavy load, I like having something solid to grab onto. Internal packs just seem flimsy and week - but I know that is not the case.

Military testing - the military test a lot of stuff. So there has to be a reason why they continue to pick an external frame pack over an internal frame. I do not know the "exact" reason, but there has to be something there.

Heavy loads - When you start dealing with heavy loads, the closer you have the pack to your body, the better. Extending the pack off your body just a few inches can put more strain one yourself.

Its like when you carry something that is heavy. Do you hold it at arms length, or do you get it as close to your chest as possible? The same goes for your back. The closer you hold it, the better it carries.

We can sit back and say - this pack does that well, while that pack does this well. But a lot of it boils down to which pack serves you the best. It might take you 3, 4, 5 or more packs before you get one that fits well and carries well. Regardless of what you buy, later on you might find something that you do not like.

My pack lineup:
Jansport cloth backpack
Medium alice
Large alice
Maxpedition Falcon-II pygmy
Maxpedition Condor-II
Maxpedition Vulture-II
MOLLE-II 3,000 cubic inch with external sleep system
Large MOLLE-II 4,000 cubic inches
Kelty Big Bend, 4,000 cubic inches
and a couple of others

All of the packs wear well and do what they are supposed to do.
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+1 to what Kev said.
I've found that the external frame pack will carry more weight more comfortably than the internal packs. However, the internal frame packs are much easier to carry in difficult terrain where maintaining balance is critical.
I generally prefer the external frame packs, not because I carry a lot of weight, but because I usually hope to so do. If successfull at getting a deer or elk, I need the capacity to carry it out.
I do have an internal frame pack that I use when doing serious boondocking.
Military testing - the military test a lot of stuff. So there has to be a reason why they continue to pick an external frame pack over an internal frame. I do not know the "exact" reason, but there has to be something there.
My uncle was in the army rangers, the ruck sack he had to haul around weighed 110 pounds. I'd say that reason is just as good as any.

I mean, most people would have the most fun and go the most places off-road with a Jeep Wrangler... but sometimes in the military you need a 6-wheeled truck. However, just because the military has determined that it needs 6 wheeled trucks doesn't mean I have any need for one.
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One thing to consider is the how it will fit on your body . I have one of the KELTY 3950 mainly because its one of the longest frames available, so if you are over 6' you might have a harder time finding a pack that actually fits you correctly. Externals give a bit more versatility for fitting
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Take the Time to Choose the Right Pack

There are a lot of considerations to take into account before choosing a good pack. A pack that works well for one person may not work well for another. But first things first, lets begin with Cost. External Frames don't necessarily cost less. What has occurred is that the companies that still make external frame packs sell all their packs cheaper. Kelty for example, sells their external and internal frame packs of comparable size for roughly the same price. The higher end companies simply don't sell external frame packs anymore. However if you were to locate an old Dana Design K2 Long Bed External Frame Pack on Ebay it probably would sell for more than a brand new Kelty today. So cost is a tricky issue. Ultimately what you should consider is what you are going to use your pack for. Are you going to use it quite extensively or are you going to use it 1 or 2 weekends a year? Do you travel off trail in rugged terrain or are you hiking on trails on rolling hills? How much weight do you typically carry?

If you are planning on using the pack extensively then I would recommend a pack that can handle some abuse. Look for something made with nylon with high abrasion resistance. On top of that there are quite a few top end brands that offer amazing warranties…you pay more but the company takes care of you if anything goes wrong.

For off trail use an internal frame pack offers better balance and stability, however as Kev stated it does sit closer to the body and doesn't offer as much airflow. Ultimately find the right pack for you. Go to your outdoor store and fill up some backpacks, try different brands, styles, models. Having a good pack is a choice that can have far reaching consequences. Take the time to pick the right one for you
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I've used both internal and external, and I much prefer a good internal framed pack.

Just know that with an internal framed pack, you'll have to adjust the gear you're carrying accordingly. Like many have said, typically they don't carry as much weight as an external frame. Some people feel that's a down side to an internal frame. I feel the opposite. It keeps me in check, and keeps me from packing too much crap that I really don't need.

I spent 4 years as a Grunt in the Marine Corps, and during that time, I humped my fair share of packs that weighed damn near as much as I did. Because of that, almost the entire right side of my body has been broken at some point, almost always as a result of carrying retarded amounts of weight on my back. As far as I'm concerned, the lighter I can make/keep my pack, the better.
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External packs have gone out of vogue recently so you can generally pick one up at a flea market or craigslist for a song. Even on ebay the sell for very little.
I like soft backing personaly.. and the stuff inside makes the frame..
I like soft backing personaly.. and the stuff inside makes the frame..
I'm all about lightweight packs, but that will really limit the amount of weight you can comfortably carry over any considerable distance.
I like the MOLLE II USGI pack. You can adjust the shoulder straps and kidney pad up and down the lightweight plastic frame. And I use the word plastic loosley. So you can fit a lot of different body heights. The shoulder straps are wide and comfortable. There is also a pad attached to the shoulder straps that catch the upper middle of your back.

The kidney pad is wide and heavly padded. Waist strap is wide and has a quick release that makes it easy to get out of.

The pack is large and you have a ton of options you can use with it. Including a day pack that straps on top of it, sustainment pouches, shotgun scabbereds work etc.

And you can pick them up cheap compared to a lot of the higher end packs. They are designed for abuse. has them for $60.00 or two for $100.00

Comes with a sleeping bag carrier to. I figure if they can pass military inspection who am I to argue :)
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