I have been away from backpacking for a while, why the shift away from external frame backpacks?
Submitted by – Micheal – Milford, MI
Good question, Michael, and there really isn’t a definitive answer. My take: Internal frame packs are sexier, pure and simple. And who doesn’t want sexier gear?
The benefits of external frames are thus: They position the weight high on your back, allowing good vertical load transfer to the hips and a more upright walking posture. (With an internal frame, have you ever found yourself leaning forward while you hike to counterbalance the load on your back? You don’t have to do that with externals.) They also work great in hot weather, because the frame keeps the pack suspended away from your back, allowing lots of airflow between you and your pack. And, they tend to be very affordable.
The downsides to externals are that, because they carry the weight high and away from your back, they don’t have the best stability. So, you run the risk of feeling tippy and off- balance during scrambling maneuvers or when climbing or descending dicey terrain. The packbags also tent to be big and square-ish (not compact and streamlined like internals), so if you find yourself in a bushwhacking situation, you’ll likely get hung up on branches and brush. For those reasons, externals are best suited for hiking on established trails.
In the last 10 or so years, packmakers have clearly focused their attention on internal frame packs. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw a new or innovative external. That said, you can still find tried and true externals from packmakers who still believe in their utility. One of our favorites is reviewed in our Time-Tested Gear article from November 2010.