External-frame packs fell out of vogue during the first Bush presidency. Why? They’re generally heavy, clunky, and, let’s face it, way less sexy than sleek internal frames. But in terms of inflicting the least amount of impact on your body, this time-honored concept—a packbag lashed to a stiff, metal frame—makes sense, because the bulk of the load sits higher on your back and allows better weight transfer to the hips and legs.
With the Ti-Arc, Vargo updated this old-school design with a titanium frame and integrated lumbar plate that presses weight squarely onto your pelvis. Like externals of yore, the frame offers ample top and bottom lashing space for a tent and sleeping gear. “It easily supported 35+ pounds during my week in Zion,” says a tester. “The higher center of gravity meant I didn’t have to hunch over like a caveman.
At the end of the day, I had less shoulder and lower back fatigue than I do wearing an internal frame with the same payload.” Gripe: We wished for better access to the packbag, and internal frames are still better for off-trail hiking and scrambling. $300; 2 lbs. 13 oz.; vargooutdoors.com