What is an Internal Frame Backpack? Benefits and Features Explained 

 September 30, 2023

By  Keith Terrell

If you hike regularly, you've likely heard of internal frame backpacks, but maybe you haven't given them the attention they deserve. Before you set out on a backpacking adventure, you should learn about the features and benefits of this type of backpack and how you can make your trip more enjoyable. 

An internal frame backpack is a backpack with an internal metal or plastic frame that distributes the weight of the backpack evenly. It provides great stability and support for carrying heavy items, allowing for comfortable long hikes.

In this blog post, we'll explain everything you need to know about internal frame backpacks, covering the construction, features, and benefits of this particular backpack. Let's start with a primer on the benefits of an internal frame backpack and why it is so popular with outdoor adventurers.

Internal Frame Backpacks

Internal frame backpacks are a modern and lightweight version of the traditional backpack, making them popular for various activities such as hiking and camping. What sets these backpacks apart from other designs is the use of aluminum or plastic frames, which support most of the weight of the backpack and allow it to be evenly distributed across the shoulders and back. This makes for a more comfortable carry and better stability during movement.

Furthermore, internal frame backpacks have a customized fit made possible by adjustable components such as padded hip belts, chest straps, and sternum straps that can be tightened or loosened depending on the user's physique.

For those who believe in traditional backpack designs, there is still an argument against internal frame backpacks as they do not offer as much storage space or durability as compared to other models. For example, many backpacks with internal frames cannot accommodate tents, sleeping bags, or other bulky items due to their design, while backpacks with external frames can be used for storage without any problems. Moreover, conventional backpacks tend to be more durable and resilient since their rigid structure prevents components from shifting too often.

Despite these drawbacks of traditional backpacks,  internal frame backpacks are still very popular because they have a slim design that provides a lot of comfort and support without putting too much strain on the wearer. However, with careful selection, it is not impossible to find  an internal frame backpack that offers enough storage space while still providing all the advantages of this type of backpack design.

Although internal frame backpacks have some limitations in terms of durability and storage space compared to traditional models, these modern backpacks are equipped with features that provide comfort and stability during any activity. Now, when we look at how these backpacks differ from other versions, let's consider what advantages each can offer in different situations.

How Internal Frame Backpacks Differ from Traditional Backpacks

When looking at different types of backpacks, it is important to understand the differences between an internal frame backpack and a traditional one. Traditional backpacks usually have an external frame that supports the backpack, distributes the weight evenly, and adds structure to the contents. An internal frame backpack, on the other hand, does not need a supporting frame, but instead has its frame integrated into the padding and construction of the backpack.

An internal frame backpack is often considered more streamlined than a conventional backpack. Its integrated frame is hidden inside the backpack, making it easier to navigate tight spaces such as crowded buses or narrow stairwells. The backpack is also much less likely to get caught on an object while on the move—an advantage when you need to get through an airport or into the countryside quickly.

It should be noted that internal frame backpacks are generally better for carrying lighter loads—items weighing more than 25 lbs cannot be optimally supported by an internal frame alone. However, whether you should choose an internal frame depends on your individual needs and preferences. With this basic understanding of the differences from traditional backpacks in mind, let's now discuss some of the benefits that make an internal frame backpack the optimal choice for travelers ready to embark on their next adventure.

Key Takeaway

Internal frame backpacks are more streamlined, concealed, and navigable than traditional backpacks and are better suited to carrying lighter loads (under 25 lbs). It is important to know the differences between the two types of backpacks to find the right one for your needs. Benefits such as ease of navigation in tight spaces and avoiding getting stuck help prepare travelers for their next adventure.

Benefits of Internal Frame Backpacks

The advantages of a backpack with an internal frame are obvious: for many outdoor lovers and travelers, the convenience and comfort of an inner frame are a big plus. Internal frame backpacks offer more comfort and support than conventional backpacks because their frame shifts the weight from the shoulders to the hips.

Another advantage of backpacks with internal frames is that they are more breathable. Conventional backpacks tend to come into contact with the back, causing discomfort and heat build-up. Internal frames keep the backpack further away from the body, improving ventilation and allowing air to flow in both directions. This advantage means that you sweat less due to the increased breathability and less odors build up on your clothes..

In addition to all these features, the internal frame's curved shape provides better stability when you're carrying heavier things and makes it easier to keep your balance no matter how heavy  you are. For those who enjoy challenging hikes or going on expeditions in rough terrain, this type of structural stability is invaluable as it allows you to move through difficult environments without worrying about slipping or losing your balance.

The benefits of an internal frame backpack make it appealing to many people who are looking for something that is comfortable and will help them carry heavy loads over long distances. All in all, it's easy to see why so many people prefer the structure and comfort of an internal frame backpack—and why it's worth considering these features for anyone looking to improve their performance on the trail.

As such, it’s evident that an internal frame offers plenty of comfort and support compared to traditional backpacks—but in terms of long-term comfort, there’s nothing better than trying out different models before committing to an option.

Structural Features and Constructions

The structural features and designs of backpacks with internal frames are very important when it comes to the benefits of this type of backpack. Internal frame backpacks have several features, such as thick shoulder straps, a supportive hip belt, and robust frames made of aluminum or reinforced plastic, which distinguish them from their external frame relatives.

As already mentioned, the internal frame of these backpacks offers significantly more comfort and support. However, it is debatable which construction is best for certain activities or environments.

For instance, some argue that a sturdy aluminum frame provides better support and durability and is suitable for carrying heavy loads when hiking. Others argue that the lighter plastic frames are better because they take up less space and don’t add weight to your luggage. Both opinions have convincing evidence for their claims.

Those who prefer aluminum frames can point to studies in which backpacks with aluminum and plastic frames were loaded with the same weight and the distance walked was used as a benchmark: Those who wore the aluminum-framed backpacks could run further before they got tired than those who wore the plastic-framed backpacks.

On the other hand, those who prefer plastic-framed backpacks can refer to further studies that indicate that their lighter weight compared to aluminum-framed backpacks reduces the strain on the user on longer journeys. Ultimately, both types of internal frames offer more comfort and stability compared to external frames, but depending on individual needs and preferences, either an aluminum- or plastic-framed backpack may be more suitable for certain applications.

Materials Used in the Construction of Internal Frame Backpacks

The materials used in the construction of internal frame backpacks can vary depending on the use and quality of the backpack. Some internal frame backpacks are sturdier, while others are lighter and less expensive. Common materials include nylon or a water-resistant coating, strong rip-stop material such as zippers or Velcro straps, adjustable shoulder straps, supportive plastic frames, and thicker reinforcements at stress points such as the bottom corners.

When it comes to deciding which fabric is better for an internal frame backpack, there is much debate. High-end fabrics such as X-Pac VX21 and VX07 offer excellent strength and durability for everyday use but can be too expensive for some budgets. On the other hand, inexpensive fabrics such as 2- layer 200D nylon offer good performance at a fraction of the price.

When choosing backpack material, the intended use should also be considered—a daypack for light trips would benefit most from navigating unpredictable terrain or frequent inclement weather, while an occasional traveler might prefer a lightweight option that offers less protection from bad weather. Ultimately the decision on which material to use for an internal frame backpack is a matter of cost versus durability and protective function.

Regardless of the material, all internal frame backpacks should have sufficient structure and support to prevent their contents from shifting during rigorous activity—this is important to understand how an internal frame backpack effectively carries loads.

How Internal Frame Backpacks Carry Loads

The way internal frame backpacks carry loads largely distinguishes them from other types of backpacks. Unlike external frame backpacks, where the basic structure is outside the backpack and the straps used to carry the load, internal frame backpacks rely on a strong internal framework for stability and support. The internal support system distributes the weight evenly across the wearer’s body and keeps  items safe and secure.

For those who carry heavy loads, an internal frame backpack can be more comfortable over long distances as the load remains balanced and close to the body. This not only makes it easier to move around with a heavy load in tow but also relieves the wearer’s posture and helps distribute pressure more evenly across the back and torso.

The disadvantage of an internal frame is that for some, it is less breathable than an external frame. With an internal frame, the fabric rests directly on the wearer's back, so air circulation is not as strong as with an external frame with minimal contact points. Depending on where you are traveling, the climate, and your preferences, both types of backpack can have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to temperature control.

With modern advancements in the materials used to construct internal frames, traditional objections regarding lack of air circulation or ventilation no longer apply as much. Construction elements such as contoured shoulder straps and foam cushioning between the backpack fabric are becoming more common for recreational and expedition use.

Whether you choose an internal or external frame ultimately depends on your needs and preferences on trails and expeditions. Both designs have advantages and disadvantages depending on factors such as the size of the load, how often you carry it, and the intended use, which you should consider when choosing a new backpack.

Below we will look at how backpacks with internal frames are organized and how they have different storage compartments that you can easily access on your hikes.

Organization and Pockets of Internal Frame Backpacks

Organization and pockets are two important features you should look for in backpacks with internal frames. With a well-organized internal frame backpack, you'll have the things you need on the go at your fingertips, while the pockets provide extra storage space. Internal frame backpacks have many different organizational styles and pockets depending on their size and purpose.

There are a few different types of backpacks you can consider. A top-loading backpack is a general type of internal frame backpack and usually features a large compartment with a lid, perfect for keeping items safe without spending time organizing them all in small pockets.

Backpacks that open like a suitcase provide easy access to your items and help you find what you need quickly. This type of backpack is ideal if you use your backpack often throughout the day and like to stop frequently along the way. Finally, pocket backpacks offer several discreet storage compartments where you can keep certain items separate from others—they're ideal for weekend trips where efficient packing is key.

Organization isn’t the only factor when deciding on an internal frame backpack to buy; the pockets also play an important role. Internal frame backpacks often have numerous pockets for various items. Many have side mesh pockets that are perfect for carrying water bottles and snacks, as well as hip belt pockets for things like your smartphone or headlamp so you always have them within reach. Smaller pockets are also great for storing accessories like trekking poles or first aid supplies that don’t take up much space but still need to be easily accessible.

How much and what kind of organization and pockets you should look for in an internal frame backpack depend largely on how and where you plan to use it. If multi-day camping trips are part of your routine, then daypacks with multiple organizational features may be right for you. However, if you only plan short day hikes, simpler top-loading backpacks may be better suited to your needs.

Whatever type of backpack you choose, make sure it offers the level of organization and storage you need for your individual needs so that nothing is forgotten on your next outdoor adventure.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is an internal frame backpack?

An internal frame backpack is a special backpack that provides structural support and storage space for clothing, food and supplies. It usually has a hip belt, shoulder straps and an internal frame made of materials like aluminum or plastic for support and weight distribution. This design allows you to carry heavier items closer to your body, making it more comfortable to carry. Other features can include adjustable/detachable components such as hip belts, top-loading options for more storage space, and padded backs/straps for extra comfort on long hikes. The main advantage of an internal frame backpack is that it distributes weight evenly, reducing fatigue on long hikes.

What are the benefits of an internal frame backpack?

The main benefit of an internal frame backpack is its comfort. An internal frame backpack adapts to the person's body and relieves back muscles and joints, making  a more comfortable carrying experience. Additionally, the backpack’s close-fitting design makes it aerodynamic,which reduces air resistance and saves energy when walking or hiking.

Internal frame backpacks also offer great stability during movement and prevent the items stowed inside from shifting too much, which further increases comfort. Finally, many models offer customizable fit options and adjustable torso length to ensure optimal comfort for any body shape and size.

Where is the best place to purchase an internal frame backpack?

The best place to buy an internal frame backpack depends on your budget and the features you want. For example, if you are looking for an inexpensive backpack with basic features, consider buying from a large shop or an online retailer like Amazon. If you are looking for more specialized features or higher quality, you should visit an outdoor retailer such as REI or Wild Earth.

At a specialty retailer, you can get expert advice on the different types of backpacks and make sure that you get one that fits properly so you can wear it comfortably. They also often offer extended warranties in case of manufacturing defects later on.

How do internal frame backpacks compare to external frame backpacks?

Internal frame backpacks are designed to keep the weight of the backpack closer to the body for better balance and comfort. This is due to the internal support structure that wraps around your torso and distributes the load evenly across your body. Unlike external frame backpacks, internal frame packs have flexible designs that make it easier to tackle difficult trails or terrain. They also tend to offer a wider range of adjustment options in terms of fit, allowing you to customize the pack to your.

In addition, these backpacks are usually lighter because the material they are constructed from is supported by an internal wire frame. As such, internal frame backpacks offer superior portability and convenience for those looking for a lightweight but sturdy piece of luggage on their next adventure.

What should I look for in an internal frame backpack?

When shopping for an internal frame backpack, there are several features that you should look for:

  1. Comfort: You should look for a backpack with adjustable straps and/or padding that sits comfortably on your back and gives you enough support and comfort when carrying the weight.
  2. Capacity: Internal frame backpacks come in various sizes and capacities, so choose one that best suits your needs. Consider how much gear you want to carry and whether the backpack offers enough space without sacrificing comfort or stability.
  3. Ventilation: The air circulation system is just as important as its large capacity and stable fit. Look for an internal frame backpack with extra lumbar support, breathable padding, and proper ventilation to ensure optimal comfort when traveling or trekking with heavy luggage.
  4. Versatility: Many modern internal frame backpacks have extra pockets, zip-off daypack compartments, and/or special organizational compartments designed for specific items such as hydration systems and laptops. Choose a backpack that adapts to your needs and gives you options depending on your activity and use.
  5. Durability: Look for an internal frame backpack made of materials that can withstand long hikes, heavy loads, inclement weather, and extended trips away from home or civilization.

The combination of these five criteria will help you find an internal frame backpack that provides both comfort and exceptional performance on outdoor adventures.

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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