ALPS OutdoorZ Commander (External Frame Backpack)
Slumberjack Rail Hauler 2.0
ALPS Zion Mountaineering Pack
If traditional cloth packs just aren’t enough for you, you’re not alone. Those back-busting bolts of cloth don’t cut it – an external frame is just the fix you’re looking for. Designed to hold more weight, provide fuller storage capabilities, and just look freakin’ awesome, external frame backpacks are your go-to secret for carrying heavy loads, all without putting unnecessary strain on your back. These can last a lifetime if you’re smart and aim to make that life a hell of a lot easier. From the dream of the crop to every reason why we chose them, keep scrolling; we’re just getting started.
The Best External Frame Backpack
The king of external frame backpacks rears its head, and quite frankly, we were shocked that such an excellent price was attached to the top pack. We believe you get what you pay for, but in the case of ALPS, they try to give you more features and benefits than what the asking price suggests. Designed for the hiker and hunter in you, the OutdoorZ Commander comes with all the necessary woodland fixing for hunting and hauling game meat. A drop-down tray for additional rounds or masking items to prevent prey from catching your scent, rifle mount along your right side, and a dedicated compartment specialized in transporting fresh meat.
However, all the fun and games don’t stop there. You want an external frame backpack that’s going to stand the test of time, and be there for you through the worst of it. ALPS crafted this one of nylon ripstop fabric, ensuring that you can put it through hell and back (like we know you will), and still rely on it time and time again. Empty, this weighs just over seven pounds, and includes a hydration pocket. From price, comfort and capacity, we had to throw the crown on ALPS.
Includes hunting tray
Unique lashing system to bring home fresh game meat
Carrying capacity: 5,250 cubic inches
Empty weight: 7.5lbs
- BrandALPS OutdoorZ
- Weight7.3 pounds
Kelty – you just can’t get away from them, now that you know how awesome they are. We’ve been a fan of their products for years, but were surprised to find that a lot of hardcore hikers really didn’t know about them. As gear enthusiasts, we felt it our duty to bring their epic packs out into the light, and it doesn’t just end with the Trekker 65. This pack comes with a killer design at a median price, and offers one of the highest load capacities of any packs on our list. If you’re looking for high carry and have the back to support it, you’ve met your match.
However, if you’re about to push the limits, you don’t need to be a jarhead to carry this pack. Stabilizer straps and padded shoulder straps alleviate the pressure of your pack’s weight, while the dual density foam waist belt helps maintain your center of gravity, without adding extra strain or pulling on you. Hang it over a branch when you take a break, and access items via an organizer located in the top pocket – Kelty’s got your back.
Adjustable suspension feature
Padded shoulder and stabilizer straps
Dual density waist belt w/ padded foam
Carrying capacity: 3,960 cubic inches
Empty weight: 5.4lbs
- Weight4.5 pounds
ALPS already won our hearts with the top pick, but when a brand really kicks ass, you can’t help but notice their other immensely efficient and cost-effective packs. If you’re about to hike and camp out for the night, this is your inexpensive go-to. Designed to fit a lower capacity than our top winner, this is ideal for a one to three day camping trip, or low-maintenance hiking from a seasoned professional. ALPS enjoys keeping their prices low, and for this, you’re paying well undera Benjamin for a great introductory pack. As time goes on, you may end up opting for a larger pack, but this has one benefit that larger packs don’t: convenience.
ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock Pack works well as a luggage bag for brief overseas hiking excursions, as well as the ultimate weekender pack to just grab, and go. Additional features include a stellar vented lumbar support system, keeping your pack off your back, and reducing sweat. Apart from that, you get padding along the shoulder straps and belt, helping you out when you’re lugging back a heavy load from a five-mile hike. Support, comfort, and keeping green in your wallet.
Vented lumbar support
Padded waist and shoulder straps for fatigue reduction
Lycra-covered suspension components
Carrying capacity: 2,050 cubic inches
Empty weight: 3.7lbs
- BrandALPS Mountaineering
- Weight3.92 pounds
In case you couldn’t tell, we like Kelty. As if all their other packs weren’t excellent, the Tioga takes the cake on storage capacity, and a few other aspects we truly adore. You get an adjustable suspension system, designed to be a little easier than most packs. Making necessary adjustments while out on the trail will be a breeze, allowing you to mitigate fatigue depending on your current energy levels. Either that, or if you just need to cool down, there’s an accessible water bottle pocket that can hold up to a 1.5L bottle, giving you sweet relief whenever you need it.
At an astonishing 5,500 square inches of space, this 420D denier-coated parkcloth pack gives you maximum protection against the elements. Gents have even taken the inaugural trek with this pack over fifty miles in the Sierra, and felt secured every single step of the way. While they’re not promoting it, the Tioga comes with an internal divider and compression system, as well as a nice exterior pocket for quick access items, whether it’s a cell phone or EDC kit. From the killer price and the wide waist possibilities of the padded belt straps, we’re happy to put our trust in Kelty once again.
Designated sleeping bag compartment
Adjustable suspension system
Accessible water bottle pocket
Carrying capacity: 5,500 cubic inches
Empty weight: 5.1lbs
- Weight5.8 pounds
By now, you probably know that we love ALSP and their stellar external frame packs. This one falls a bit lower than our top pick, but dammit if they don’t put their heart and soul into every individual lineup and model. The Zion comes with vented lumbar support, making it ideal for both men and women to use on long hiking trips. For storage and getting things ready, such as packing up the SUV, you get a heavy duty carry handle that can withstand whatever you’ve loaded up your pack with. These guys didn’t leave a single feature up to chance.
From the lycra covered suspension components, for additional durability, right on down to the 3,900 cubic square feet of space, all for under a Benjamin? We would have called them crazy, if we hadn’t purchased and tested it for ourselves. There’s enough external pockets to keep you close to your gadgets and small items, like a wallet or EDC kit, while the buckle closures and adjustable straps keep everything tight to the frame, safe and secure. Low budget and high expectations? We’re serving this one up on a silver platter.
Vented lumbar support
Heavy duty carry handle
Lycra covered suspension components
Carrying capacity: 3,900 cubic inches
Empty weight: 4.94lbs
- BrandALPS Mountaineering
- Weight2.5 pounds
Coming in on the silver stage is the fan favorite of nature enthusiasts everywhere. If you haven’t heard of Kelty before, you’re missing out. Crated of ultra durable ripstop, this new model of their famous Yukon line allowed us to be one of the pioneer testers. From stem to stern, we absolutely love this pack. Your back stafford is crafted of 420D poly, but the additional support doesn’t simply stop there. You get a dual density waist belt made of padded foam, allowing extra pressure on your body without weighing down on your energy levels.
At an excellent empty weight of just 5.1lbs and a 2,929 cubic inch capacity, you get a smaller loadout than our first one, but a more optimal pack for novice hikers, or those who are still improving their physical performance and want to start with a smaller pack. Buckle closures all around the pack allow for maximum support, and easy adjustments. Beginners and seasoned professionals who carry less gear alike – this one’s for you.
420D poly back stafford
Buckle closure for maximum support
Dual density foam waist belt
Carrying capacity: 2,929 cubic inches
Empty weight: 5.1lbs
- Weight4.9 pounds
We don’t know what happened to 1.0, but whatever improvements there were really made us happy. Built for hiking and hunting, the Rail Hauler allows you to toss up to two major weapons along the sides, usually being a crossbow and a rifle. You get an excellent capacity of 4,000 cubic inches despite the narrow look of the pack itself. Giving you absolutely excellent capacity for game, ammo, and other essentials. If you’re just going the hiking route, you’ll be pleased to know that you get padded shoulder straps to couple the vaulted suspension system. Say goodbye to back pain.
This was built to last through long, rugged terrain. Whether it’s the hiking trail, or a six-mile walk through the woods to your hunting tree stands, you’ll be good to go in any environment. While the interior isn’t waterproof, the frame makes it super simple to hang over a tree branch, or simple place on its front to prevent leakage. The unique design and harness system pulls weight forward to the frame, keeping everything as tight-knit as possible. Whether you’re just getting started, or you’re replacing that old external frame pack of yours, this is the way to go.
Built for rough trails and jagged terrain
Designed to also carry multiple weapons from rifles to crossbows
Vaulted suspension system
Carrying capacity: 4,000 cubic inches
Empty weight: 5.7lbs
- Weight6.15 pounds
Truth be told, we didn’t know much about Allen Rock before we slipped into the straps; we’re glad we did. This new favorite of Gear Hungry staffers comes with a sturdy aluminum frame, which is adjustable within 3” to allow for heavier loads, and an increased capacity. One thing that Allen Rock thought about, is that nature happens, and the beautiful part about that is we can’t control it, no matter how hard we try. When it’s rain and there’s no shine to be seen, pull out the 50L waterproof roll-top bag to completely enclose and protect your Canyon Hunting pack.
While this pack looks like it has a fairly standard shape to it, the good folks at Allen Rock already addressed the issue of your COG (center of gravity, explained in our comprehensive guide below). Reversible compression panels allow you to offset unexpected interruptions to your hiking experience. You’re spending under a Benjamin, for one of the best external frame packs on the planet. If that isn’t beautiful, we don’t know what is.
Adjustable frame to carry larger loads
Waterproof roll-top bag
Folding shelf for hunting or stopping to eat on the hiking trail
Carrying capacity: 3,050 cubic inches
Empty weight: 6.8lbs
- Weight6 pounds
We’re winding down the list before our guide, but we have a few more hidden gems to showcase. Black Pine crafted a seriously killer external frame backpack, and it’s one of the most durable yet. Made up of 2000 PU-coated diamond ripstop fabric, this pack looks more fragile than its counterparts on this list, but actually withstands the woodland elements far better than you’d realize (even we underestimated it when it arrived). You get plenty of side pockets for quick access items, and they’re sturdy enough to hold your cell phone without worrying.
One key sign of a great external frame backpack is adjustments. If you can adjust the frame, you’re in the presence of a brand who knows their stuff. Move this within 3” to add additional storage, should you need it, and get the most out of your carrying capacity. By the way, it holds 6,102 cubic inches, which is the equivalent of 100 liters. High durability, low weight, and ripstop tough to keep on keeping on.
2000 PU-coated diamond ripstop body
Adjustable external frame
Side mesh pouches for quick access items
Carrying capacity: 6,102 cubic inches
Empty weight: 4.0lbs
- BrandThe Backside by Black Pine
- Weight4 pounds
Last but not least, we had to delve in and see what all the fuss was about when Amazon decided to put out their own external frame backpack. At the lowest price on our list, they did a far better job than we initially gave them credit for. Choose between 55 liters, 65, or 75, and swap out the black accents for olive green, should you choose. While the aesthetics and storage capabilities are nice, the function is what’s going to put you head over heels. Utilize the multi-directional compression straps to adjust your weight distribution on-the-go, all while breathing easy under the protection of your all-inclusive water resistant rainfly.
With AmazonBasics Hiking Backpack with Rainfly you get dedicated storage for your sleeping bag, while the extension collar offers a few extra nooks and crannies to stash all your goodies. Lumbar support is a must, so they threw that in, while including thick, well-padded shoulder straps to reduce fatigue, and maximize your good time. AmazonBasics products, of course, come with a one-year limited warranty, though after using this ourselves, we doubt you’ll ever need to call upon it.
Dedicated sleeping bag storage compartment
Integrated water resistant rainfly
Multi-directional compression straps
Carry capacity: 3,350 cubic inches
Empty weight: 4.27lbs
- Weight4.27 pounds
External Backpack Buying Guide
Weight - When you are considering making a purchase for a bag that you can carry over a long distance, the last thing you need is one that comes with its own excessive weight. Lighter weight bags mean that all you’ll have to think about while packing are the items you plan to stuff inside.
Capacity - The bigger the capacity of the bag the more of your belongings you can haul in it. When looking at capacity, consider what it is you need the bag for and therefore how much you’ll need it to carry.
Durability - External Frame backpacks are outdoor bags that will most likely see every weather condition and carry all kinds of items. Invest in a bag that is durable to avoid something that wears out after only a short stint.
Sizing/Fitting - This too should be considered with regards to what you intend to put in the bag. As the size and fitting of the bag will not only determine its capacity but also what type of items it will hold.
Material - The material of the product will determine factors such as durability so that it can be used for more and for longer, it will also determine comfort.
Benefits Of An External Frame Backpack
It is an all in one with ample storage, allowing you to pack everything and anything in one bag. Whether it is a sleeping bag, water bottle, and even hunted game.
The evenly distributed weight of external backpacks is one of its very best benefits. This means you comfortably carry heavy load for longer distances.
Because of the nature of such backpacks, they are usually made quite durable. This means they’ll last long even as everyday backpacks and are great value for their prices.
External Frame Backpack FAQ
Q: How do you pack an external frame backpack?
A: External frame backpacks are often set up in a way that each section is specified for different objects. So the section for a water bottle is clear as well as that for a telescope, rifle or sleeping bag. Other items are packed according to the user on the external sections of the bag.
Q: How do you clean an external frame backpack?
A: External frame backpacks can be cleaned with some soap, a washcloth or sponge and a dry rag. Each pocket should be cleaned separately with the soap and sponge first before running the dry rag through. Ensure that an excess amount of water is not used.
Q: What’s the difference between an internal and external backpack frame?
A: As the name suggests, internal frame backpacks focus on storage spaces in the interior of the bags, while the external frame is equipped with large pockets and lashing on the outside of the bag.
Q: Can I hike faster with an external backpack frame?
A: At the end of the day, it will depend on the weight you carry. If the backpack is too heavy, it may slow down your hike. However, the idea of an external frame backpack is to evenly distribute the weight on your back making it easier to carry.