Best External Frame Backpacks in 2021
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.
Volume – 83L
Made from durable rip-stop nylon
Drop-down rifle holder
Spotted scope pocket
Quick-access side pockets
Freighter shelf with lashing system
- BrandALPS OutdoorZ
- Weight7.3 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.
Volume – 90L
Enclosed sleeping bag compartment
Adjustable suspension system
Mesh water bottle pocket
Multiple exterior pockets
- Weight5.8 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.
Volume – 33.6L
Made from lightweight polyester
Vented lumbar support
Removable sternum strap
Padded waist and shoulder straps for fatigue reduction
Lycra-covered suspension components
- BrandALPS Mountaineering
- Weight3.92 pounds
If you have a smaller frame than most, you will find it difficult to find a comfortable backpack. Like the clothing industry, backpack manufacturers have a tendency to design packs to fit ‘most’ people. Unfortunately, that means if you’re on the smaller side, there isn’t much on the market for you. The Kelty Yukon 48L Backpack is actually designed for teens and, in terms of size, sits between their junior and adult packs. However, it’s suitable for anyone on the smaller side. It has a lightweight aluminum scaffolding system that makes it much stronger than regular packs. Plus, the combination of padded shoulder straps, a dual-density foam waist belt, and load lifter/belt stabilizer straps allow you to spread the weight of the pack equally and comfortably. In terms of storage, it has a large main compartment, a laptop/hydration sleeve, and multiple gear loops. In short, it’s got plenty of space for a multi-day hike or any other outdoor adventure.
Volume – 48L
Designed for smaller frames
Lightweight aluminum frame
Padded shoulder straps and foam waist belt
Integrated gear loops
- ModelYukon 48L
- Weight5.1 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.
Volume – 64L
The telescoping frame (fits 17”-24” torso)
Vented lumbar support
Sleeping bag compartment
Lycra-covered suspension components
- BrandALPS Mountaineering
- Weight2.5 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.