External Frame Backpacks

10 Best External Frame Backpacks in 2020 – Buyer’s Guide

(Last Updated On: September 19, 2020)

If internal frame backpacks are just not enough for you, you are not alone. Those back-busting fabric bolts don’t cut it-all the remedy you’re searching for is an external frame. Designed to haul more weight, have more storage space, and also look great, external frame backpacks are your go-to-bag to bring large loads, all without adding undue pressure on the back. This will last a lifetime if you are careful and are trying to make things even simpler. And even though you’re not trying to bear a little person on your back, if you’re really hunting for your perfect go-to bag, an external frame backpack might be just the thing to do.

It’s an all in one with enough room, helping you to pack everything of all in one piece. Whether it’s a sleeping bag, bottle of water, and even hunting gear. One of the other strongest benefits being the uniformly distributed weight of the backpacks. Which means you carry the heavy load comfortably for longer distances. They’re typically kept very robust because of the design of these backpacks. This means that even as everyday backpacks they will last for a long time and are of great value for their price. Many thru-hiking expeditions, such as the Appalachian trail, almost always use internal frames. These are built to weigh less and have an unlimited amount of connection points for your gear.

In a Hurry? The test winners after 12 hrs of research

Kelty Tioga 5500 Classic External Frame Backpack

Kelty Tioga 5500 Classic External Frame Backpack – Premium Pick

Why is it better?

  • This pack does a great job of distributing weight
  • Many adjustment options allow a great personal fit
  • Lots and lots of packing options with this pack
  • The frame is great for strapping things too

ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame Pack

ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame Pack – Best Value

Why is it better?

  • Nice range of storage inside
  • Plenty of room on the frame for attaching goodies
  • Great for a small person
  • Budget-friendly choice

Best External Frame Backpacks – Overview

External frame backpacks are much more durable than internal frame backpacks and can hold even heavier weights. They offer your load more strength and protection, and guide the weight more to the hips than to the shoulders, making it easier on the back. They can also be more flexible by requiring more equipment to be stowed or mounted externally. External frame backpacks also enable a gap between your back and gear, resulting in good ventilation that can be appreciated in hot weather. There are also certain downsides. If you’re looking for a backpack with an ultralight external frame, you probably won’t get far. With that, check our selection of the best external frame backpacks for your next trip.

External Frame Backpacks Reviews

1. Kelty Tioga 5500 Classic External Frame Backpack – Premium Pick

Kelty Tioga 5500 Classic External Frame Backpack

A trail-tested workhorse, the Kelty Tioga 5500 Classic External Frame Backpack offers heavy load-hauling capability, convenient access points and fit adjustability. An array of features adds to the Tioga 5500’s reputation for providing reliable backcountry performance. Equipped with many zippered pockets, the Tioga 5500 allows you to separate and organize gear while providing quick access to whatever you might need

The Tioga 5500 Classic’s rigid aluminum frame provides excellent stability and support. In fact, if you’re carrying heavy loads over well-maintained trails and even terrain, it’s hard to beat an external frame pack. However, it is important to remember that the rigidity of an external frame can hamper flexibility for off-trail scrambling. Other features on the Tioga 5500 include an enclosed sleeping bag compartment, a lid pocket, zippered side pockets, and a mesh water bottle pocket

Key Features:

  • Hydration compatible
  • Top loading
  • Sleeping bag compartment
  • Daisy chain and lash points
  • Multiple zippered side pockets

Specifications:

  • Brand: Kelty
  • Capacity: 90L
  • Dimensions: 31″ H x 23″ W x 16″ D
  • Weight: 5.56 lbs
Pros
  • This pack does a great job of distributing weight
  • Many adjustment options allow a great personal fit
  • Lots and lots of packing options with this pack
  • The frame is great for strapping things too
Cons
  • The least convenient part is how the straps work on the bottom of the pack

2. ALPS Mountaineering Zion External Frame Pack

ALPS Mountaineering Zion External Frame Pack

If you’re looking for a feature-rich yet budget conscience pack ALPS Mountaineering is sure to have a pack to meet your specific needs, and the newly updated ALPS Mountaineering Zion External Frame Pack is no exception! The Zion is a large top-loading telescoping external frame pack that has a total of 3,900 cu. in. of storage and is made to fit torso ranges from 17 – 24 inches.

The lower door on the Zion pack is the perfect place to store your sleeping bag. Pockets throughout the pack help keep gear organized and in reach when needed. Padded shoulder straps and waist belt are both Lycra-covered and are completely adjustable in order to ensure a comfortable fit for your body. The many features found on the Zion make this pack top-of-the-line and ready for your next backpacking venture!

Key Features:

  • Telescoping frame
  • Padded shoulder straps
  • Vented lumbar support 
  • Tightening waist belt

Specifications:

  • Brand: ALPS
  • Capacity: 64L
  • Dimensions: 22″ H x 15.7″ W x 7″ D
  • Weight: 4.94 lbs
Pros
  • The external frame gives many opportunity to lash on extra items
  • The sleeping bag pocket is great
  • The adjustable frame is nice
  • Large side pocket for a water flask
Cons
  • No hip pockets

3. TFO External Frame Hiking Backpack

TFO External Frame Hiking Backpack

Compared to normal backpacks without a frame, the TFO External Frame Hiking Backpack effectively removes the pressure and transfer most of the weight from the shoulder to the hips and legs by the metal frame. Also, the metal frame with mesh separates your back from the backpack, which keeps air flowing and your back cool even on a long trip. The mesh EVA pad works as Shock Absorbers to relieve pressure when hiking.

Durable, tear-resistant, and water-resistant, this backpack features high-quality nylon fabric. A waterproof rain cover is inserted at the bottom of the backpack to protect baggage on rainy days. This backpack includes a spacious main compartment, a front pocket, and 2 side pockets. 4 adjustable compression straps suit for hanging tents, mats and sleeping bags. Hang trekking poles by 2 extra attachment points in front of the backpack. The shoulder hooks can be used to hang kettles or communications for your convenience. The waist zipped pocket is easy to put in and take out items.

Key Features:

  • Rain cover
  • SBS zippers
  • Duraflex buckles
  • Load lifters

Specifications:

  • Brand: TFO
  • Capacity: 40L
  • Dimensions: 23″ H x 15″ W x 7.5″ D
  • Weight: 3 lbs
Pros
  • Sturdy lightweight material
  • Capable of carrying heavy loads
  • Plenty of useful pockets
  • Lots of clip-on straps
Cons
  • It needs more external pockets

4. ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag

ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag

The ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag is made of durable nylon ripstop fabric, giving you a long-lasting use in the harshest weather environments. With a 5250 in³ main compartment, spin-drift collar top, lashing loops, and multiple exterior pockets, the Commander Pack has ample room for your essential gear. Organize your gear in one of the many pockets: two side accessory hinged pockets, main, front, and spotting scope pocket.

Keep your essentials close with accommodation for a clip-style holster, drop-down rifle pocket, and hydration pocket and port. Designed for hauling meat, the Commander frame offers a unique lashing system. For extra-large loads, three extensions straps are included. Keep your heavy loads secure utilizing the freighter shelf. Simply lash the load to the frame and adjust the straps on either side of the shelf, to maximize the support. Be sure to also check out our list of hunting backpacks for more great items like this.

Key Features:

  • Lower door access – #10 zippers
  • Frame and lashing straps included with pack bag
  • Pockets: two side accessory hinged pockets, main, front, spotting scope pocket
  • Internal horizontal divider

Specifications:

  • Brand: ALPS OutdoorZ
  • Capacity: 86L
  • Dimensions: 40″ H x 17″ W x 6″ D
  • Weight: 7.31 lbs
Pros
  • Very spacious for all of your gear and then some
  • Padding is comfortable during heavy loads
  • Ease of changing out from bag to lashing for meat hauling
  • Unlimited adjustability
Cons
  • Zippers are noisy while opening and closing

5. ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame Pack – Best Value

ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame Pack

The ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame Pack is built for a younger crowd. There is a “hold-open” bar to top-load entry. The Red Rock uses wide # 8 zippers, has top lid lash tabs, and a daisy chain with a hold handle that’s both things you’ll love while you’re exploring the great outdoors.

The specific pockets mean you can organize your kit and hold water bottles and smaller things handy. The reinforced shoulder straps have various locations, enabling you to match your body tailored to the belt. With this excellent exterior frame backpack, you’re going to appreciate the great outdoors! You may also be interested in some of the best bow hunting backpacks from our list, so check them out.

Key Features:

  • Lightweight polyester
  • Removable sternum strap
  • Front lashing system
  • Vented lumbar support

Specifications:

  • Brand: ALPS Mountaineering
  • Capacity: 34L
  • Dimensions: 16.5″ H x 14.1″ W x 7″ D
  • Weight: 3.68 lbs
Pros
  • Nice range of storage inside
  • Plenty of room on the frame for attaching goodies
  • Great for a small person
  • Budget-friendly choice
Cons
  • Not for taller people

6. Kelty Yukon 48 External Frame Backpack

Kelty Yukon 48 External Frame Backpack

While your Mom’s vintage and fairly large external frame pack might hold some element of sentimental value, it does smell a whole lot like mouse urine after having been stored in the attic all these years. Lucky for you, the folks over at Kelty have revamped their trail-hardy and classically styled Kelty Yukon 48 External Frame Backpack. Constructed with a smaller scaffolding system, the Yukon is ideal for teens and smaller-framed adults.

Specifically speaking, the Yukon is equipped with a lightweight aluminum frame that provides structure and stability and the adjustable suspension straps disperse the weight of your load with ease while the padded shoulder straps, dual-density foam waistbelt, and load lifter and belt stabilizer straps ensure an element of down-home comfort. Not to mention, the Yukon is endowed with a vast multiplicity of storage pockets ranging from its generous main compartment to a dual-use laptop or hydration sleeve–so however tempting it may be, we’d just recommend leaving “War and Peace” at home for a rainy day. The gear loops, ice-ax or trekking pole carry, as well as a sternum strap, seals the deal on having a grand ole time.

Key Features:

  • Top Loading
  • Zippered side pockets
  • Front pocket w/ organization
  • Stretch front pouch
  • Hydration Compatible

Specifications:

  • Brand: Kelty
  • Capacity: 48L
  • Dimensions: 23″ H x 22.5″ W x 11″ D
  • Weight: 5.06 lbs
Pros
  • The main compartment is separated in two for easy organization
  • A sliding strap system allows you to pull the shoulder pads together without any adjustment
  • The hip and shoulder straps are very comfortable and easily adjustable
  • Smooth colored metal frame
Cons
  • The bottom compartment zipper particularly was hard to zip shut fast without catching

7. Vargo Exoti 50 External Frame Backpack

Vargo Exoti 50 External Frame Backpack

The Vargo Exoti 50 External Frame Backpack takes the best from both internal and external framed backpacks for unprecedented load transfer and carries comfort. The full-size 50-liter bag holds plenty of gear for overnight or weekend guards (or ultralight thru-hikes!), while the X-shaped load-lifting compression strap system keeps the load high and tight for a more stable carry you’ve come to love about internals.

Meanwhile, its titanium alloy frame and lumbar support plate efficiently transfer the weight to your hips the way only an external frame can. In short, you’ll never have to comprise on backpack styles ever again.

Key Features:

  • Ultralight titanium alloy external frame
  • Ergonomic Lumbar support plate
  • Ventilated, adjustable shoulder harness
  • Load lifting compression strap system
  • Hydration bladder compatible

Specifications:

  • Brand: Vargo
  • Capacity: 50L
  • Dimensions: 25″ H x 14″ W x 3″ D
  • Weight: 2.7 lbs
Pros
  • Its nicely put together
  • Pretty light
  • Has some nice lower lumbar support as well
  • Picking up the pack is also really easy with the titanium frame
Cons
  • The top of the bag gets a little narrow

8. Allen Rock Canyon External Hunting Pack Frame

Allen Rock Canyon External Hunting Pack Frame

The Allen Rock Canyon External Hunting Pack Frame is a lightweight, yet heavy-duty, sturdy aluminum frame that allows you to pack out your gear or harvest with ease. The frame is adjustable from 33″ to 36″ for increased load capacity, the bottom folding shelf gives you extra support when needed but folds flat for easy storage, and the exterior lashing points quickly secure heavy loads.

The contoured frame rests naturally on your back, and the dense foam padded waist belt and shoulder straps with cool mesh backing, plus the chest strap, help keep you comfortable. The pack also features a mesh back support panel for added stability

Key Features:

  • Adjustable pack frame lets you pack out your gear or harvest easily
  • Sturdy aluminum frame with folding shelf for extra support
  • Lashing points help secure heavy loads
  • Foam padded waist belt and shoulder straps
  • Cool mesh backing helps keep you comfortable

Specifications:

  • Brand: Allen
  • Dimensions: 33″ H x 14.25″ W x 4″ D
  • Weight: 5 lbs
Pros
  • This frame is great for developing a highly adaptable gear hauler
  • The weight is distributed evenly and comfortable to carry
  • Good padding for hip and shoulders
  • Aesthetically nice
Cons
  • The black mesh does not support and protect the back

9. Eberlestock Mainframe Pack

Eberlestock Mainframe Pack

The Eberlestock Mainframe Pack represents what is arguably the greatest innovation in modern pack making, the holy grail of a great modular pack system. It will haul any man-portable load with the same alacrity and a lot more comfort (and quiet) than a giant freighter frame.

With the Mainframe, you can build what the mission of the day calls for — so you can always have the right gear, right when you need it. The Eberlestock modular system works with an ever-growing number of add-on accessories. The Mainframe can function as a freight pack or a day pack, and transforms to a meat hauler within seconds. With the solid NT7 or 1000-denier nylon fabric, depending on your color choice, coupled with our ultra-light Intex ll aluminum frame, the Mainframe shaves off pounds while maintaining superior strength and comfort.

Key Features:

  • Intex ll aluminum frame
  • Three built-in horizontal compression straps
  • Adjustable ladder harness system
  • MOLLE webbing matrix covers

Specifications:

  • Brand: Eberlestock
  • Dimensions: 29.5″ H x 11″ W x 4″ D
  • Weight: 4.5 lbs
Pros
  • The weight is distributed more on the hips
  • The pack adjusts nicely and allows a custom fit
  • Material is great quality
  • Stitching looks professional
Cons
  • Could use some more built-in attachments

10. Vargo Ti-Arc External Frame Backpack

Vargo Ti-Arc External Frame Backpack

Finally, the next step in external frame backpack evolution-an ultralight pack with traditional external frame support. The Vargo Ti-Arc External Frame Backpack combines the best features of internal and external frames for an unparalleled support-to-weight ratio of any pack. At its core is a formfitting titanium alloy frame with an ergonomically designed lumbar plate to provide excellent load transfer to the hips and sag-free comfort.

A streamlined 36 Liter ripstop nylon “Arc” bag holds plenty of gear while leaving room for attaching bulky items to the frame. Ventilated mesh shoulder harness is fully adjustable for various torso lengths and dialing in fit. Additional pockets and options allow for greater organization and carry.

Key Features:

  • Lightweight, dependable, and innovative outdoor products
  • Titanium construction
  • Titanium alloy external frame
  • Ergonomic lumbar support plate
  • Streamlined “Arc” suspension bar

Specifications:

  • Brand: Vargo
  • Capacity: 36L
  • Dimensions: 31″ H x 15″ W x 5″ D
  • Weight: 3 lbs
Pros
  • Titanium frame – so much lighter and stronger than the aluminum and plastic externals
  • The area below the bag is awesome for strapping on a bear canister
  • Ultra lightweight external frame pack
  • The rear load is great
Cons
  • There are not enough tie downs, lashing places

Buying Guide

Weight

External frame packs tend to be somewhat heavier than internal frame backpacks because they are designed to carry more weight, so they need to be stronger. Yet there are some impressively light choices out there, to claim that. So if you are going to be thru-hiking, definitely go for an external frame pack with a lighter weight. For the weight of an internal frame, you’ll get the flexibility of external frame construction.

Comfort

Although it’s more important to look for a backpack comfort than design. You get comfort because of the structure, material, size, and weight. Finding a comfortable backpack that excels in design will make your journey not only simpler but also more enjoyable. It will relieve the traveling burden to reduce the hassle and give you a more relaxed experience of the entire trip. The external frame provides its form and function to the backpack making it more sturdy and the frame disperses the weight, making it easy to bear heavyweights.

Straps

Carrying an external frame backpack ensures you’ll definitely bear large weights. It makes the strap system much more vital here. Such straps can decide how secure you will wear the backpack. Both straps will have ample reinforcement to keep the straps from cutting through the skin and it is a plus to have flexible shoulder straps so then you can hold the bag as securely or loosely as you want. The padding amount on the backpack should be higher than average for the belts and the hip ties.

Lashing Points

When it doesn’t have tons of lashing points, you miss out on any of the perks of an external frame backpack. Above all, the flexibility of being able to add additional equipment is a major part of the appeal. Test a decent selection of required lashing points and straps.

Materials

Good quality materials can be used to create a decent backpack. The greater the quality of the backpack the better the material it is made of. The most important factor in this may be the use of waterproofing material which protects from moisture your essentials. Cordura is a substance that renders water-resistant to your backpack while shielding the inside from water damage. This renders the bag durable; immune to physical harm, and thereby rendering the bag prone to wear and tear.

Frequently Ask Questions

What is an external frame backpack?

External frame packs are positioned further away from your torso, which improves airflow against your back – which decreases the sweat effect. The weight is placed higher, allowing the lower body to have easier load transfer and a more straight walking stance.

Which is better internal or external frame backpack?

External frame packs are ideally suited for use on well managed trails that are well graded. In contrast, the internal frame packs are sleeker and more shapely. They keep the load tighter to the body , making them more secure on rocky terrain and off-trail as you scramble.

How do you use an external frame backpack?

Place any lightweight things you don’t need to have access to during the day, including your sleeping bag, at the very bottom of your external frame backpack. Then you should put medium-weight objects in the center and furthest from your back. Place the heaviest things at the top next to your back.

Conclusion

We hope this guide was helpful for finding the best external frame backpacks as well as our guide on features to look for in an external frame backpack. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this guide, feel free to let us know in the comments section.