Internal Vs. External Frame Backpack – Which One Is Better & Why?

If you are new to hiking, trekking, or any other similar activities, there are a lot of things you need to prepare for before you start your journey. This includes preparing your mind, your body, and your gear properly.

However, the main gear you may be conflicted between choosing is an internal vs. external frame backpack. Both are well-beloved and used worldwide. But what sets them apart, and which one is best for you?

Let’s dive in to find all there is to know about the internal frame and external frame backpacks.

Types of Backpack

There are two types of backpacks if classified by frame structure- internal frame backpack and external frame backpack.

The external frame backpack used to be the only kind of backpack available since the late 1800s. Internal frame backpacks were discovered much later compared to its counterpart.

Over the last two or three decades, the internal backpack has gained a lot of popularity. There have been newer and more creative modifications of the internal frame backpack.

It is now mostly used and loved by backpackers all around the world. To the point, we would not be surprised if many backpackers do not even know of or haven’t ever seen an external frame backpack!

Internal Frame Backpack

internal frame backpack

These are the type of backpacks that have the frames fitted and hidden inside like a skeleton. Most of these have one huge compartment with a single zippered point of access. These are slimmer, sleeker, lighter, and more form-fitting, granting better balance and movement.

They can more stably hold your luggage close to your body, hence less likely to get caught on natural obstacles like bushes, branches, etc. there are many designs available at the market with different advantages focused.

External Frame Backpack

external frame backpack

External frame backpacks have their frame structure set on the outer side of the bag. They are usually comparatively heavier and bigger with more compartments. This makes it easier to carry and transfer loads, as well as organizing your other gears/things.

Because of the frames, some space is granted between your body and your backpack, which makes it easier to breathe and adjust the weight. As they are a little backdated, the average price is much more affordable than that of internal frame backpacks.

The outer frames also allow you to strap on some necessary things to your backpack easily.

Internal vs. External Frame Backpack

compare backpacks

Many characteristics set these two types of backpacks apart. Here, we will dive deeper into them so we can help you understand better which kind you should buy.

Support

Internal backpacks sit close to your body because of their frame. This provides you with stability and better balance.

Most of the internal frame backpacks come with suspension systems. This helps to transfer the weight to your hips evenly and efficiently- preventing any chance of hip and lower back pain or injury.

However, many argue that the internal frame shifts the weight more to your lower body, which requires you to lean a little forward to balance weight and move forward. This may seem problematic to people with posture or lower back problems.

External backpacks transfer the load to your lower back in such a way that supports upright walking position properly. The stiff frame keeps your back straight and upright, improving your posture.

No matter the weight, the framework keeps you from leaning forward. This promotes increased endurance for longer treks or hikes. The top-heavy design is better suited to help keep your posture unaffected while you move around.

Weight and Fit

Internal backpacks have always been designed to be lightweight, or at least lighter than external frame backpacks. With progressing use of technology and newer materials, designs- these backpacks remain lightweight to this day.

Using better tech, now these lightweight backpacks are even stronger and better structured. The internal frame backpacks can now be found from lightweight to ultralight.

Many or most internal backpacks come with adjustable suspension. This allows you to get a better, more precise fit which provides more comfort in carrying. However, even though the pack fits your body so well, some may find it discomforting.

The lack of ventilation to the back may cause you to sweat, which may cause distress to many, even lead to catching a cold. Very few designs include suspended mesh back panels, allowing ventilation channels that grant some airflow. Some of these backpacks are smell-proof as well.

External frame backpacks usually have thick and heavy frames sewn/set on the outside. This makes the packs comparatively heavier than internal frame backpacks. In fact, it is one of the main reasons this kind has seen a decline in popularity.

Very few external frame packs were renovated using lightweight materials; hence they are not readily available either.

Most of the external frame backpacks do not come with suspension on the back. So, in order to buy an external frame pack, you need to find one that is a decent fit for your body.

Otherwise, you may end up injuring yourself or facing accidents. But external frame packs do not come in many sizes or designs, so the search for your fit may be tiresome.

However, the frame of the external frame backpack grants some space between your body and the luggage. This allows ventilation and cooling to the back. As hiking/trekking is a tiresome sweat-breaking activity, many appreciate this feature of the external frame backpack.

Storage and Organization

Capacity measurements that come with the types of backpacks are done the same way. So, if an external frame pack and an internal frame pack are advertised to have a similar range of capacity, they will provide the same range of capacity.

Internal frame backpacks can range from ultralight containing fewer pockets to deluxe designs with an abundance of pockets. The access point also varies and depends on the design.

There may be a central access point at the top of the main compartment or several access points like side zippers to reach items resting at the bottom of your luggage. Very few designs of internal packs also include lash patches. This allows you to attach additional gear to the pack.

The external frame backpacks mostly come with a central access point, usually on the top. This is why it is often compared with sacks. There are usually a lot of outer pockets that help you organize things with ease.

More importantly, the external frame structure allows you to hang gears or equipment to the pack. Many find this extremely convenient.

Looks and Durability

The internal frame is more sleek-looking, while the external frame packs look retro. Aesthetically, the internal frames come in many designs, colors, and even patterns. The wide range of looks to choose from has something to offer to everyone with different preferences.

However, many prefer the vintage, retro look that external frame backpacks provide. Internal frame backpacks have a range of products to choose from. The cheaper ones are usually equipped with lighter material frames.

This makes them less durable for long-term or regular usage. The ones that use lightweight but durable material are on the pricier side and may not seem affordable to many.

Now the external frame backpacks come with bulky, robust structures of the frame. While this means heavy to many, this ensures durability to others.

They are genuinely better suited to carry larger, heavier loads and sit on the ground without falling over, ripping, or making a mess. Between the internal and external, the external pack of the same capacity range will last you longer.

Affordability, Availability, and Variations

Initially, for a long while, internal frame backpacks used to be extremely cheaper compared to the external ones. They used to have a less supporting frame and were not as durable.

Now, since technology has evolved, most internal backpacks mostly have frames made of lightweight yet durable material. The use of newer innovations incorporated to upgrade designs has hiked up the price of internal frame backpacks.

To incorporate and provide different characteristics, many designs have emerged and are widely available in the market. So, there is now a wide range of designs and variations available, the price ranges from affordable to costly.

On the other hand, lesser and lesser use of external frame backpacks has made them less demanded. There are not as many variations to choose from, so the average price range isn’t that wide.

Fewer demands and less availability of designs have struck down the price of these bags. External backpacks are thus generally cheaper or more affordable.

Though cheaper, they are not as available as the internal frame backpack. Even if you find them, there is a probability you will not have a good range of products to choose from.

When comparing the price of the same capacity/size of internal and external, you will find the internal ones to be twice as expensive. Considering durability and capacity, the external frame backpacks are more cost-effective and easier on your pockets.

Why It Is Important to Choose the Right Backpack?

right backpack

Choosing the right backpack will be one of the most critical purchases you will make. It’s the main ‘gear’ that will help carry all your other gears.

A backpack and gear set that is proper and right for you makes a difference in your performance. It heavily influences how much distance you can cover and how fast and easily you can do that.

A backpack serves as the luggage that you carry into your wilderness exploration. It needs to be durable, so it can serve you many trips and serve your money’s worth.

Choosing a backpack that works with your physical traits and needs is important because it will help prevent back pain, hip injury, physical discomfort, etc.

What kind of backpack feels comfortable for you to carry around should be the biggest determinant. Again, how you like to organize and carry your gears in your luggage is also a good determinant of which backpack you should choose.

The types of trails you like to follow can also help you understand and decide which kind of backpack you want- as different backpacks serve better for different trails.

Conclusion

Getting the right gear is so important for any kind of activity; hiking or trekking is no different. Internal vs external frame backpack has been a long ongoing debate for many backpackers.

Now that we have laid out all the facts and differences, we hope this article helps you figure out which kind of advantages you want in your backpack.

Find an affordable backpack within your budget that includes these characteristics- get your gear on, and hike on!

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