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Which Is Better? An Internal or External Frame Backpack 

 June 28, 2021

By  Keith Terrell

There are so many ways to determine what makes a good backpack. But you must pick one that suits your specific need. Are you picking one for everyday use or for a camping trip? Will you be hiking or is it a drive to campsite and chill kind of trip? Are you carrying gear in it or is it just supplies?

If you are going hiking on a steep trail, go for an internal frame pack. But if it is a flat trail, external frames are good. If you have a lot of gear, go for an external frame. For everyday purposes (with devices), pick an internal frame pack but if you want more compartments and pockets, an external frame is a better option.

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The list of pros and cons of a backpack depend on these very fundamental questions. For those of you who want a direct answer, focus on what you are shopping for. Both internal and external frame types serve a specific purpose.

But if you want to dig just another level deeper, you can pick one that suits multiple purposes. Look for volume and make sure there are as many compartments as you need. Are you a ton of pockets kind of person or do you just want to throw all of it into one sack? Why are these questions of any importance? We’ll take a look.

There are many key differences between the two frames which make all the difference between a pleasant experience or a torturous one. This is particularly important if you are going to take it along on a multi-day trip or if you are planning to make this your carry-on backpack while flying from one place to another.

Difference Between Internal and External Frame Packs

All backpacks have some similarities but if you look closely, here’s where internal and external frames vary. There are factors you should look for in these styles backpacks. Here’s a few of them.

Affordability

Unlike the good old days, today you will find bargains for all backpacks. So, start with price. Once you have a few options in both internal and external, you'll know which best fits your budget. You can do it the other way round too. And that will tell you which frame you subconsciously prefer.

But for starters, it is important to remember that back in the day, internal frame packs used to be more affordable. This is because they have very little to no structure at all.

They are essentially like a sack of rice on your back and sit snugly where they are placed. But, over time, that feature has changed. Today, a lot of pricey backpacks are internal frames because the world is moving towards a techy style.

Selection

Since many are opting for internal frames, there is an abundance of choice in this area. Those who like new-age designs will find more variety in internal frames compared to their external counterparts.

Support

External frames are excellent for support. They keep the load on your waist which makes it easy to walk upright. So, if you are looking to carry your gear for a hiking trip, this is something to keep in mind.

External frame packs are comfortable to carry on your back during long walks. But they are not always so great if you are going for brisk walking exercises.

Internal frames are more stable because they have suspension systems. As mentioned before, there are a lot of models in this design that make it easy for you to keep the load sitting on your back while you twist and turn.

Fit

External frames do not have suspension systems that are adjustable. So, if you are getting one of these, make sure the size is right for you. You won’t have that problem with internal frames because they fit snug as a bug.

Weight

Some external frames are thick, which makes them a tad bit heavier. Some manufacturers are tweaking the designs and materials to address this issue. Internals, on the other hand, actually come in light to ultralightweight options.

Cooling

There is a significant amount of gap between the actual pack and the frame on an external pack. This makes it easy for air to flow across the surface of your back which gives you breathability. Internal frames don’t have that but some might come with a ventilation channel or a mesh back panel. This gives a little bit of cooling but not as much as an external frame pack.

Organizing Ability

External frame packs have a lot of pockets on the outside which makes it easier to organize your gear. Internals are usually about keeping it light. So, there are a few pockets but depending on the model, you can get deluxe varieties that have a ton of pockets too.

For external packs, the access is usually through the main compartment while for the internals, you will find side zippers or front panels which means you can access them easily when you are on the move.

Storage

This is a big one. You can check the capacity specs and it’s usually the same for both backpacks. But with an external pack, you will get an exposed frame which is good for you to hang bulky objects on the outside. The internal ones, on the other hand, have pockets for small gear.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Internal and External Frame Packs

Internal Frame Backpacks

Internal frame packs come with pros and cons. Take a look at each of them to know if they suit your purpose.

Pros

  • It stays pretty close to the body and fits well. This gives it stability.
  • The stability also gives you room to move your arms freely.
  • Internal packs do not bounce on your back, which helps you maintain your balance.
  • They are narrower and more comfortable than external frame packs and are easy to store in smaller spaces.
  • The design is sleek and they are often lightweight.
  • They come with a range of pockets which makes organizing gear easy.

Cons

  • These bags are close to the body which makes them relatively less breathable.
  • Most internal bags have only two sections if not one which is a downside if you want multiple large compartments.
  • Internal frames are not as good as external when it comes to distributing the load uniformly. So, you might experience stress on your shoulders.
  • They are the trend and can be quite pricey.

External Frame Backpacks

External frame packs, while excellent in terms of structure also have a few setbacks. Take a look.

Pros

  • External frames are excellent for load distribution because they transfer it well to the hips instead of putting stress on your shoulders. This helps you walk long distances.
  • The gap between your back and the pack also ensures breathability. That means you won’t be over-sweating on a hike because of that. It will be because of the weather.
  • These bags come with adjustable frames that fit the shape of your body.
  • External frames also come with a lot of compartments that make packing and locating your gear easy.
  • Usually cheaper than internal frames.

Cons

  • These bags can be bulky and also a little heavier than internal frames.
  • If you are on uneven terrain, these external frame packs can bump on your back.
  • Not very suitable for steep hikes because of the weight distribution.
  • If you’re on a narrow trail, they can get caught onto branches or rocks because of all the pocket zippers sticking out.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is the older style, an external frame backpack or internal frame?

External frame bags have been around for longer than internal frames.

How can you an tell an internal vs external frame backpack

External frames are slightly square-ish in shape and are bulky whereas internal frames usually contour to your back.

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