The difference between external and internal frame hiking backpacks

What is the difference between internal and external frame packs? That is one of the most important questions that any beginner hiker will ask. There are many different hiking backpacks on the market and most fall into one of these two categories. Before you start searching for the best hiking backpack, you should narrow down which type is most suitable for you.

In essence, all high-quality packs made specifically for outdoor activities and carrying heavy loads have a metal frame. It can either be on the outside of the pack (external) or built into the pack (internal). Most modern packs have an internal frame but there are a lot of hikers who still swear by external frame backpacks.

Woman with the hiking back

Advantages of internal vs external frame backpacks

Read through this list and determine which type suits your needs. Every type has its pros and cons and a lot depends on personal preferences.

Pros and cons of external frame backpacks:

  • Usually cheaper than internal frame options
  • Allows you to take more stuff (like sleeping bag, sleeping pad or tent) if you hang it to the outer frame
  • Even cheap external frame packs have good ventilation in hot weather
  • Easier to wash when you take the rucksack-style pack off its frame
  • Mostly recommended just for trail hiking with little need for maneuvering
  • They are bulkier than internal frame options
  • The rigid frame has limited adjustability and will not conform to your body like an internal frame pack would
  • More complex arrangement of compartments require some knowledge on how to pack an external frame backpack

Pros and cons of internal frame backpacks:

  • More options on the market to choose from
  • Designs tend to be more innovative and have more useful features
  • More form-fitting and comfortable on rough terrains where you need more freedom of movement
  • Wider variety of uses: hiking, trekking, ski trips, mountain-climbing and other outdoor activities
  • Made for user comfort with padded shoulder straps, wide hip belts and adjustable torso height
  • Usually more expensive than external frame packs
  • They usually have one large compartment and a lot of smaller pockets; you will need to pack carefully
  • Although modern internal frame packs have ventilation features, the pack hangs closely to your back; in hot weather it will make you sweat more than external frame packs

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