Internal Vs External Frame Backpacks (Differences Compared)

No matter if you need one for work or for heavy-duty camping trips, a backpack is a smart accessory to have. If you like backpacking and camping, then you might be stuck between an internal vs external frame backpack. We will talk about the pros and cons of each in this article.

What is an Internal Frame Backpack?

An internal frame backpack, as the name implies, is a backpack with a frame to give it shape and support on the inside. These frames are made out of some kind of rigid material, most commonly composite or some kind of metal.

Internal frame backpacks provide shape and support to the bag, so it is easier to wear and carry and also keeps things from getting smushed. Frameless backpacks, in contrast, do not contain any rigid internal frame.

Pros & Cons of Internal Frame Backpacks

What We Like

  • Lightweight and easy to carry
  • Maximize interior storage space
  • Very customizable and adjustable
  • Compact and easy to transport
  • Great balance and minimal load shifting
  • Organized interior

What We Didn't Like

  • Might be bulky
  • More expensive than a frameless pack
  • Difficult to strap external gear to
Internal Vs External Frame Backpacks

What is an External Frame Backpack?

An external frame backpack, as the name also implies, is a pack with an outer frame, usually made of metal of some kind of composite material. External frames provide a kind of exoskeleton to your pack, so it makes it easier to carry.

For example, with hiking backpacks, external frames redistribute the weight load around your hips and waist rather than shoulder or back so that you can walk for longer more comfortably.

Pros & Cons of External Frame Backpacks

What We Like

  • Great for heavier loads
  • Increase ventilation
  • Distributes weight load around hips and waist rather than back
  • Less expensive
  • Great for organization and space efficiency

What We Didn't Like

  • Tend to be heavier
  • Bulky and hard to maneuver
  • Not very customizable
  • Might be hard to carry if you have back problems

Internal vs External Frame Backpacks (What’s the Difference?)

Internal and external frame backpacks share a lot in common but differ in a few key ways. Either way, both are a useful choice for most occasions that you need a backpack for.

The most obvious similarity between the two is that they have some kind of rigid frame. In both cases, the frame helps maximize the available space in the bag and makes organizing things much more manageable.

Frames can help you compartmentalize your gear, so it is easier to find when on the trail. Both internal and external frames let you carry a lot of stuff, too, while minimizing the total amount of load shifting that you experience.

The main difference between the two is the profile and how they handle while out on the trail. Both internal and external packs do a great job of redistributing the load around your waist so that you can carry heavy things without hurting your back and shoulder.

However, internal frame packs are more compact and sit closer to the body than external frame packs. This means that they are often a better choice if you are on narrow trails where you do not have much freedom of movement.

In other words, internal frame backpacks are really versatile and can be used for a lot of things, but we would recommend external frame backpacks specifically for camping trips with a lot of heavy gear.

Choosing Between Internal and External Frame Backpacks for Hiking

Here are some key things to look for when you are searching for different backpacks for hiking.

  1. 1
    Capacity/weight distribution - The most obvious thing is how large is the pack? You will need a pretty big pack if you want to spend weeks outdoors at a time.
  2. 2
    Breathability and comfort - Another important feature is breathability and comfort. A sack that won’t breathe will make you sweat profusely and be very uncomfortable.
  3. 3
    Body fit and adjustability - The pack you get should be adjustable in some ways. You should be able to adjust shoulder straps, waist belts, frame tightness, etc.
  4. 4
    Cost - And of course, the price is essential to consider. Internal frame backpacks tend to cost more than external frame backpacks, but this is not always true.
Choosing Between Internal And External Frame Backpacks For Hiking

People Also Ask (FAQs)

How do you pack an internal frame backpack?

With an internal frame pack, your pack contents should be concentrated in the middle of your back with heavier items on the bottom.

What is a frame sheet?

The frame sheet is the part of the frame that gives the bag most of the structure and distributes weight around the waist and hips.

How do you attach a sleeping bag to an external frame backpack

Want to learn how to attach a sleeping bag to a backpack? External frames should have a tie point on the bottom. Put your sleeping bag in and pull on the straps until it is held in place.

What are the loops at the bottom of a backpack for?

The bottom loops are for holding tools that have longer handles, like a shovel or an axe.


Whether you are on the trail for a few hours or are out for a week, you need a good backpack to make things easier. Internal and external frames are both excellent choices; it just depends on what your specific needs are.

  • Updated November 2, 2021