The Ultimate Guide to Packing an External Frame Backpack 

 July 29, 2023

By  Keith Terrell

Becoming a traveling maestro doesn't occur overnight; it often starts with a basic task— mastering the art of packing an external frame backpack. Imagine having to pack an unwieldy collection of essentials into your backpack or packing a month's worth of supplies into your travel carry-on—all without exceeding the strict luggage weight restrictions at the airport. It’s quite a challenge isn’t it? Welcome aboard as we present the ultimate guide to packing an external frame backpack.

For optimal weight distribution when packing an external frame backpack, make sure that heavier items are placed closer to your back so that you can easily access frequently used items. It is equally important to distribute the weight evenly on both sides of the frame to increase stability. Adapt your gear according to the prevailing weather and trail conditions. Remember to pack essentials such as food, a first aid kit, clothing, and other necessary items in your backpack.

Whether you're exploring the sun-drenched trails of Joshua Tree National Park or embarking on a journey to European heritage sites, it all starts with perfecting your packing. Prepare to become a master packer with our ultimate guide!

Advantages of an External Frame Backpack

If you enjoy camping or hiking, you know that a backpack is an essential item to carry all your gear on your trip. However, choosing the right backpack can make a big difference to your outdoor experience. The external frame backpack has been around for a long time and is less popular than the internal frame alternative. Nevertheless, it offers many advantages over its counterpart.

One of the main advantages of an external frame backpack is its better weight distribution. When you are carrying heavy loads, the design of the external frame backpack ensures that the weight of the backpack is outside of your body and closer to your center of gravity, putting less strain on your lower back and hips. This feature also creates a space between the backpack and your back, which allows for better air circulation. This makes it easier to hike in hot weather without sweating excessively.

Also, external frame backpacks are usually more durable and have a longer lifespan than internal frame backpacks. The materials used to construct the frames are stronger and heavier, so they can carry more load. Because external frame backpacks are simpler in construction, they also have fewer moving parts that could break. They are also much easier to repair compared to their counterparts.

Some argue that external frame backpacks are bulkier and more unwieldy to navigate through narrow trails or technical terrain compared to internal frame backpacks. However, this argument is not always valid as most external frame backpacks can be adjusted to fit different torso lengths and hip sizes. With proper adjustment and fitting, navigating wooded and rocky terrain with an external frame backpack is not much different from doing it with an internal frame backpack.

Now that we have learned about some of the advantages of an external frame backpack, let us look at how it can improve ventilation and provide better weight distribution.

Better Ventilation and Weight Distribution

An external frame backpack provides better air circulation when you are hiking or camping in hot weather conditions and gives the user of the backpack a refreshing and cooler experience. The space between your back and the bag allows air to circulate freely, keeping you cool even on long hikes. When hiking in winter, however, internal frame backpacks offer a different experience as they trap your body heat inside the backpack.

Better weight distribution is another advantage provided by external frame backpacks, which can significantly improve your hiking experience. Hiking with an incorrectly loaded backpack can be very tiring for your body, especially if you carry heavy loads for a long time. 

Think of your body as a bridge. If you want to carry heavy loads across it without sagging in the middle, you must attach the support (backpack straps) at both ends (the hips). This way, you can distribute the load evenly over your entire body span. If, on the other hand, you carry too much weight on your shoulders, these muscles will be unnecessarily strained, leading to fatigue.

Some claim that internal frame backpacks work better in difficult terrain than their external frame backpack counterparts since they have a more streamlined shape that fits snugly against the user's back but can lead to sweating. However, most modern external frame backpacks are equipped with adjustable straps that provide better stabilization and minimize motion transfer when hiking in rocky terrain.

Thus, we can see how important choosing a suitable backpack is for your outdoor experience if you want to enjoy many benefits such as better ventilation, proper weight distribution, and stability. However, buying the right backpack alone is not enough to ensure a comfortable experience if your equipment is not properly organized and packed..

Essential Gear for Your Trip

If you are preparing for my next backpacking adventure, packing the right gear is absolutely essential. After all, you do not want to be unprepared and face potential difficulties along the way. Below are some essentials that I always like to take with me based on my various outdoor experiences:

  1. Invest in a well-fitting sleeping bag and a comfortable sleeping pad. These two things will ensure you are well-rested and ready for another day of hiking. Also, pack plenty of food that is easy to prepare and store, such as dried fruit and nuts, trail mix, energy bars, and dehydrated meals. Don't forget to bring enough water, or pack a filtration system if there is no easy access to clean water in the area.
  2. A reliable light source, such as a headlamp or flashlight, is also necessary if you are setting up camp after dark or hiking in poor light conditions. Bring extra batteries and remember to pack a solar-powered charger to keep your electronic devices charged away from civilization.
  3. Packing appropriate clothing based on the weather forecast is also important! Just as a captain studies the weather forecast before setting sail, hikers should also plan accordingly based on what nature has in store for them. Good rain jackets and other waterproof clothing can save you from hiking soaking wet all day.
  4. Although some believe that toiletries are not necessary when backpacking because there are few showers or toilets, personal hygiene is still crucial for health on the trail. Basic items like toothbrushes, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, and sunscreen can help prevent illness and discomfort.

Key Takeaway

When preparing for a backpacking trip, it's important to pack the right gear and supplies. Prioritizing a well-fitted sleeping bag and comfortable sleeping pad, enough easy-to-prepare food and sufficient water or a filtration system, reliable lighting, appropriate clothing based on the forecasted weather, and a basic supply of toiletries is essential. If you are well prepared and have the right equipment with you, you can enjoy your adventure without encountering any potential difficulties along the way.

Choosing the Right Equipment and Supplies

When it comes to buying gear for your backpacking trip, there are countless options, but not all of them will be suitable for your needs. Here are a few things to consider when choosing your equipment and supplies.

  1. Assess the type of terrain you'll encounter on the trail. Will you be hiking through rocky terrain or crossing streams? If so, you should invest in sturdy hiking boots that provide proper ankle support and waterproofing. Choosing the right footwear can make or break a trip. If something happens to your feet, it will likely ruin your adventure.
  2.  Consider the size and weight of your backpack. External frame backpacks usually give the hiker more space to maneuver larger loads, which is particularly useful for longer hikes where you may need to carry more food or supplies. However, certain hiking trails may require smaller backpacks that offer more freedom of movement due to narrow trails or rugged terrain.
  3. Factor in the durability of your gear. Backpacks with reinforced seams and high-quality zippers can ensure that they don’t break apart at an inopportune moment in the middle of your hike. Think of it like investing in a quality car - if you don’t want to end up stranded miles away from civilization because of a breakdown.
  4. It's also important to match your equipment to your abilities. While experienced hikers are comfortable with minimal gear, novices should pack more and more until they get used to a lighter load. It's not just about having light equipment but also about safely tackling unexpected obstacles in unfamiliar terrain..

Organizing Your Backpack

 One of the most important considerations in organizing your backpack is how to pack in a way that you can find what you need quickly and easily. It's also crucial to think about how you will balance the weight within the backpack and ensure that heavier items stay close to your back..

One strategy for organizing your backpack is to group similar items and put them in separate compartments. For example, you could put all of your cooking utensils in one compartment, first aid supplies in another, and clothes in a third. This makes it much easier to find what you need when you need it without having to rummage through everything in your backpack.

Another important aspect of organizing your external frame backpack is weight distribution. As mentioned earlier, it is important to carry heavier items closer to your back. Not only does this help with balance, but it also puts less strain on your body overall. Also, try to distribute the weight evenly on both sides of the frame so that the backpack isn't lopsided.

Of course, there are different opinions on how exactly the weight should be distributed in a backpack. Some people recommend putting heavier items at the very bottom of the backpack, while others prefer to place them higher up. Ultimately, every hiker has to experiment for themselves and find out what works best for them.

Think of packing your external frame backpack like building a house - you want a strong foundation (heavy items closer to your back) and make sure everything is balanced (even weight distribution). Just as a house with a weak foundation can collapse under pressure, an improperly packed backpack can cause discomfort or even injury.

Arranging Gear for Easy Access and Balance

Now that you've organized your backpack by grouping similar items and ensuring proper weight distribution, it's time to think about the arrangement of the gear within each section. This means deciding where to place each item so that you can easily access it when needed and doesn't throw off the balance of the backpack.

A useful strategy for arranging your gear is to place frequently used items near the top or in easily accessible pockets. For example, you could store your water bottle, snacks, map, and sunscreen in a pocket on the outside of your backpack or in a specific compartment at the top. This way, you don't have to rummage through everything else to get to these things.

To maintain balance in your backpack, it's important to consider both weight and placement. Heavier items should be placed closer to your back but also further up in the designated compartment. This keeps everything balanced and your body is not overloaded or strained while hiking.

Frequently Asked Questions

How should I distribute the weight when packing my external frame backpack?

To improve balance and prevent fatigue, place heavier items closer to your back and in the middle of the backpack. For example, the sleeping bag should be at the bottom of the frame, followed by cookware, food, and water containers. In addition, make sure the weight is evenly distributed on both sides of the frame to keep you stable when hiking on uneven terrain.

How can I organize my backpack with an external frame so that it is easily accessible and protected?

  • Keep frequently used items such as sunscreen, insect repellent, snacks, or a hiking map easily accessible on top or in the side pockets.
  • Pack less frequently needed items, such as spare clothing or an emergency kit, at the bottom of the backpack.
  • Use packing cubes or dry bags to compress your clothes to save space and protect your belongings from damage on long hikes.
  • Invest in a waterproof cover to keep your backpack and belongings dry and protected from rain, dirt and dust, especially during unexpected weather changes.

By following these tips, you'll be able to pack your external frame backpack with ease and comfort, knowing that everything is perfectly placed while maximizing space.

About the author

Keith is a one bag traveler and the owner of Backpacks Global. His go to backpack is the Osprey FarPoint 40.

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