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Old 07-20-2011, 13:57   #1
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Internal vs external frame backpacks

Which do you prefer and why?

Ask a group of backpackers which one they prefer and your sure to get a variety of answers. The truth is, asking about internal and external frame packs is like asking about:

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

This article is based on my personal opinion, established through years of hiking, backpacking and camping.

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 - Having the pack right up against your body helps retain some of your body heat in cold weather. Depending on how cold it is where your hiking at, this may or may not be a big deal.

Hot weather – Here in east Texas summer temps can get stay in the 90s, day and night. In July and August day time temps can easily reach the lower 100s. 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.

Strength – 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.

To counter the “having your load next to your body” debate, external frame packs seem to handle heavier loads better then internal frame packs.

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 – frameless
Fieldline – internal frame
Medium alice – external frame
Large alice – external frame
Maxpedition Falcon-II pygmy – frameless
Maxpedition Condor-II – frameless
Maxpedition Vulture-II – frameless
MOLLE-II 3,000 cubic inch with external sleep system – external frame
Large MOLLE-II 4,000 cubic inches – external frame
Kelty Big Bend, 4,000 cubic inches – internal fame
and a couple of others
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Old 09-28-2011, 07:36   #2
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Originally Posted by Kevin View Post
Hot weather – Here in east Texas summer temps can get stay in the 90s, day and night. In July and August day time temps can easily reach the lower 100s. 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.
That's the clincher for me. I've always used an external frame with a waist belt when hiking for more than a day.

For steep climbing that involves hands, though, I've always used a non-frame pack. It may be unnecessary but I'm just more comfortable having the pack closer to my back when climbing. In the mountains it's seldom hot anyway.

In heat, keeping a pack of any real weight a bit off the back to allow some airflow is much better, IMO. A frame pack can easily be let back a bit periodically, shifting nearly all the weight to the waist, to relieve shoulders for a few minutes and allow more cooling in back.
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Old 07-09-2012, 00:36   #3
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I'm currently using a Medium (should have went with the large) ALICE Pack. It is serviceable, but fully loaded and with my load bearing equipment it just kills me. As soon as I can sell that pack or justify the extra expense i will be buying the CFP-90 system. Sometimes known as the "Ranger Rucksack," the system is in almost every way the exact midpoint between the ALICE and MOLLE packs (numerous features carried over to the latest issue system) and has been called by some hardcore backpackers the "best and most comfortable military pack ever made."

It's an internal frame w/ adjustable suspension system and, depending on who you ask, can carry 100 to 120 pounds comfortably in its nearly 6,000 cubic inches (when patrol pack is added.) It's in woodland camouflage (CAN'T STAND digital) and has numerous attachment points for ALICE/M-1910 components, so when you factor in all its other features i haven't mentioned... It really seems to be the best option I can find that fits my needs and preferences.

Last edited by KillerSalmon; 09-16-2012 at 21:30.
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Old 07-22-2012, 13:06   #4
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I'll give my opinion,
I have an Osprey Aether, use it as my multi day and I routinely carry 50-60 pounds quite comfortably.

Osprey also makes several lightweight internal frame packs that have 4-6 inches of open space on the back. I know several guys here in E-TX who have those and love them for hot humid weather. I believe it may be the atmos model, not sure though.

I've used several different brands of packs in the past but found osprey to be the best of the best when it comes to load+comfort.

External frames and military packs such as ALICE etc... can carry massive amounts of weight, but that does not mean they are comfortable or will comfortably carry that weight for any extended period of time.

I've done 24 hour 60 mile endurance hikes with a full load 50lbs pack, as well as plenty other shorter hikes of similar intensity. Let me tell you, nobody in their right mind would attempt to do that kind of distance and hike with an external frame or ALICE pack. You will die if you do, it's that simple. They aren't made to be nice your body. You want whats fits nice and is comfortable. You will not find that with ANY external frame/ALICE pack.

My sage advice would be to stick with an internal frame build by kelty, gregory or better yet Osprey: Men's - Osprey Packs, Inc :2012: Official Site
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Old 08-30-2012, 08:44   #5
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Kelty

Kelty fan here. Tried other packs over the years, but I keep coming back to my old, red cloud classic. It, of course, has an internal frame. It carries the load close to my body and is more comfortable than external frame packs that I've tried-like the alice. The downside is, like you said, a sweat soaked backer in warmer temps.
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Old 08-30-2012, 09:28   #6
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Originally Posted by jamurfjr View Post
Kelty fan here. Tried other packs over the years, but I keep coming back to my old, red cloud classic. It, of course, has an internal frame. It carries the load close to my body and is more comfortable than external frame packs that I've tried-like the alice. The downside is, like you said, a sweat soaked backer in warmer temps.
Holding the pack closer to your body is one of the benefits of an internal frame pack.

Because of having the weight of the pack closer to your body, I think internals carry the weight better then external.
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Old 08-30-2012, 14:27   #7
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Have been using the same external for nearly 40 yrs. It still serves me well. A bit ragged and worn but I am also--lol. Changed waist bands, added pads, new pins, and tightened the back straps is all that has been done to it. I like that air flow--even in cooler weather. Have carried 72#s starting off on hikes--but I was a lot younger also.
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Old 09-25-2012, 18:29   #8
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I have an 'Alpine' day dack that I can load for an 'overniter'.
I have an external for longer trips - and when I may have to drop the pack off and use the frame to haul an awkward/heavy load such as outboard engine, chain saw or even firewood. I have done that yuears back on a trip 5 miles off the nearest jeep track when we hauled a scanoe, supplys and a saw and fuel for both in after we set up camp. this was over a trail, but rocky and rugged. we each made 3 trips in one day, to stay 4 days. then had to pack out but our bellys were full of fryed fish and rice and the packs much lighter.
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Old 10-23-2012, 17:44   #9
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A great many people "think' that they can pack a lot more weight than is safe. One winter, after 2 months of conditioning of walking up to 20 miles at a stretch, with 40 lbs or more, I attempted to jump over a little bitty stream, maybe 2 ft wide, with the pack on my back. I pulled a calf muscle so badly that I had to leave behind all the sandbags and hobble the mile or so left to home. Without the walking stick, that would have been pure hell. had that been valuable stuff, it would not have been there when I went back, either. Especially if it was food or something else that animals value, like nesting material.
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Old 10-24-2012, 12:57   #10
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I like the external frames. Just my thought on the issue.
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Old 10-26-2012, 13:18   #11
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can stash stuff inside the hollow frames

of the external types. :-)
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Old 10-26-2012, 21:47   #12
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Originally Posted by whoa View Post
can stash stuff inside the hollow frames
Originally Posted by whoa View Post
of the external types. :-)
What kind of stuff?
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Old 10-27-2012, 19:50   #13
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I went ahead and bought an issued CFP-90 w/ patrol pack made by DJ Manufacturing. I really love this pack, the patrol replaced my buttpack for use with my enhanced TLBV and I can finally fit all my gear in the main pack. I have to get used to the weight but beyond that it really is a super comfortable pack that can be customized to fit your body. I do wish it was a little more off the back like the external frame ALICE; which I'm keeping in standby. I can see that the adjustment piece is a weak-link, so when i pick it up i try to spread the weight.
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Old 10-30-2012, 14:00   #14
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Originally Posted by Jeff F View Post
What kind of stuff?

That cocaine that Mr. Davis was caught with of course.
those hollow tubes would be just the place to stash a bit of Yayo.

that was in addition to the lousy illicitly home built Supressors he was trying to sell.

isn't that right Convict?

I know everything about you Boyo, I have you by the balls.


He probabably won't answer - since I posted his mug shot, and made a comment asking why a convicted felon would be carrying a firearm concealed - which he pretty much admited to doing in one of his posts. In and of itself that particular statement is enough to cause a review of his parole.
I think it might have scared him off, as I've seen none of his sad spamariffic posts today.

too bad... if he goes away, I'll have to go back to to my wooden crate and hibernate till we get another troll
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Old 11-09-2012, 20:36   #15
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I don't do any hiking in the summer around where I live-but in the winter/late fall I do and I like the internal frame/frameless packs for the comfort(when packed correctly).Heck I even used alice(large) pack with the frame removed and inserted a piece of thinwall conduit for the straps to connect to,and it is quite comfortable to use.Colder wet months here are the times to hunt coyotes,mushrooms,cougars,etc.
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Old 11-09-2012, 20:39   #16
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I'll give my answer first, and then I will read the other posts and comment on them.

I like my external frame pack because I can separate the frame from the pack and use the frame to carry bloody meat bags full of venison bungeed to it instead.
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Old 11-09-2012, 20:40   #17
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Originally Posted by magnomark View Post
I don't do any hiking in the summer around where I live-but in the winter/late fall I do and I like the internal frame/frameless packs for the comfort(when packed correctly).Heck I even used alice(large) pack with the frame removed and inserted a piece of thinwall conduit for the straps to connect to,and it is quite comfortable to use.Colder wet months here are the times to hunt coyotes,mushrooms,cougars,etc.
So *where* is "here"?
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Old 11-09-2012, 20:44   #18
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Originally Posted by KillerSalmon View Post
I went ahead and bought an issued CFP-90 w/ patrol pack made by DJ Manufacturing. I really love this pack, the patrol replaced my buttpack for use with my enhanced TLBV and I can finally fit all my gear in the main pack. I have to get used to the weight but beyond that it really is a super comfortable pack that can be customized to fit your body. I do wish it was a little more off the back like the external frame ALICE; which I'm keeping in standby. I can see that the adjustment piece is a weak-link, so when i pick it up i try to spread the weight.
So one good benefit of the externals is that they are indeed off the back, and cooler, for hot weather backpacking.

Whereas the internal frame packs are warmer in the cold weather.

And you have both now. That works.

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Old 11-09-2012, 20:45   #19
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Originally Posted by SSGNasty View Post
I like the external frames. Just my thought on the issue.
In Arizona for the Grand Canyon and such the external frames are perfect since they are cooler.
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Old 11-09-2012, 20:48   #20
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Originally Posted by whoa View Post
A great many people "think' that they can pack a lot more weight than is safe. One winter, after 2 months of conditioning of walking up to 20 miles at a stretch, with 40 lbs or more, I attempted to jump over a little bitty stream, maybe 2 ft wide, with the pack on my back. I pulled a calf muscle so badly that I had to leave behind all the sandbags and hobble the mile or so left to home. Without the walking stick, that would have been pure hell. had that been valuable stuff, it would not have been there when I went back, either. Especially if it was food or something else that animals value, like nesting material.
I carried 55 lbs in my external frame medium sized pack last month while climbing Mt Whitney. And this was after stripping out anything that I absolutely did not need for the 4 day backpack trip. And I am an old man. Almost 60.
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Old 11-15-2012, 19:58   #21
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When I was younger all we used were external frame packs but now all I use are internal frame packs. I like the internal frame packs much more than the external ones because there is just so much more room inside that I can carry everything in there. I dont usually choose to attach anything to the outside of my internal frame packs, but I can if I need to. They have loops that allow you to attach various stuff outside like a tent. But there pictures around showing how not to pack your pack with guys hiking with all sorts of loose camping supplies drooping off the back of the pack!
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Old 11-15-2012, 20:13   #22
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A good external frame with paracord lashings is very useful for carrying large, bulky loads to remote locations. Back in the day I remember watching Korean farmers carrying incredible loads on their "A frames," a low tech version of an external frame backpack. Internal frames rule for "tactical" applications. Both types have their applications.
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Old 02-16-2013, 05:41   #23
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Been using an internal for over 20 yrs now - after an external - wont be going back anytime soon
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Old 04-14-2013, 05:12   #24
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Hi, as an old Boy Scout I have used both external and internal frame backpacks. The external frame is best when used on an open clear trail, the internal for hiking through dense brush. Both have their benefits and disadvantages.

Regards,
Richard
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