The Difference Between Internal and External Frame Packs for Backpacking

Over the last few decades, many modifications to bags and backpack designs have been made. They all used to have the same structure and were made from similar materials.

With the increasing demand for backpacks to accommodate different outdoor lifestyles, there are now many more choices.

Two of the most popular options for backpacking and hiking are internal and external frame backpacks. Each has different pros and cons and functions for backpacking.


To help which you ought to invest in, here we have the difference between internal and external frame packs and their strengths and weaknesses.

Such is the extent of the changes; it can be challenging to find external frame designs in your local hiking and mountaineering store. (Learn the Difference Between Hiking and Backpacking)

However, that isn’t to say they don’t have advantages, and by the end of our guide, you can learn the difference between internal vs external frame packs.

Pros and Cons of Internal and External Frame Packs

Internal Frame Pack


Internal frame backpacks are designed to fit close to your body when standing upright, thus offering a natural center of gravity. Straps and bag can be adjusted to suit your body, so you can avoid the bag from shifting on your back.

Consider yourself hiking on an uneven trail where you need to dash and climb a road, and it can lead to the contents of your backpack changing position.

With internal frame backpacks, all of your things remain upright instead of slipping or shifting.

Internal frame backpacks also offer a lot of internal space, allowing you to carry more gear on your trip. Besides this, shoulder straps on internal frame backpacks are easy to change, making it possible to suit any body type and height. The backpacks are also very lightweight, making them much easier to pack in car trunks or checking in luggage at an airport.

Finally, they are constructed using two aluminum stays which comprise flat bars running across the back of the bag to provide extra support as required.

The stays bend to adjust to your back shape as you carry your backpack on the trail.


Although internal frame backpacks are supposed to be better, it doesn’t mean an internal backpack frame suit everyone.

First, internal frame backpacks can create more sweat on your back as they present a close fit to your back. As a result, they can become uncomfortable during extended hikes and higher temperatures.

An internal frame backpack tends to be more expensive than external frame backpacks. Also, they distribute weight lower than other pack designs, so you’ll be transferring weight onto your lower body rather than on your shoulders and stronger upper back.

Lastly, you can find it harder to strap gear to parts of internal frame backpacks, so it fits easily and offers comfort.

External Frame Packs


External frame backpacks fit away from a person’s torso, thus increasing ventilation to reduce sweating on your back. Also, you find the weight distribution is held higher on the stronger parts of your body, such as shoulders and upper back. These make these backpacks suitable for anyone wanting to backpack, walking trails, camping, and hiking.

An external frame design backpack is often cheaper than an internal frame backpack and easier to attach a lot of gear to the frame or outside of the pack. With this, you find more flexibility when packing gear and also when you need something quickly.

Most external frame backpacks are designed with including many side pockets; thus, it is easier to load and access smaller items on the trails without stopping. The shoulder straps can be harder to adjust, yet they can accommodate backpackers with smaller physiques. (Read Calories Burned Hiking)


External frame backpacks are not as adjustable when changing straps. Their design is large and offers more space than internal frame bags, and for many individuals, it can make them more challenging to store away when travelling to your destination.

external frame pack

Purpose of a Backpack

Internal and external packs are used to carry all the gear a backpacker needs. When choosing, decide on the number of days, you’ll spend on the trail.

With an idea of how long you’ll be away and the amount of gear, you’ll be carrying can make choosing easier. Each pack is given a volume rating that will comprise cubic inches or liters. Using this, you can determine how much room is in the main compartment and pockets.

A manufacturer can claim the number of day’s gear their backpacks can carry. Many backpacks offer a waterproof sleeve to hold the water bladder and hole for the drinking tubes to pass.

They’ll have padded shoulder straps, a hip belt, and many have load lifter straps that can ease pressure on the shoulders. Here you can see where the difference is between an internal vs external frame backpack.


The old school external frame backpack design used to be the more dominant pack on the market. However, over the past twenty years, internal frame packs have become a standard. If you use planes, trains, and many other forms of transport, you can’t equal internal frame packs.

Aside from this, when venturing off a designated trail to choose your own route, you must choose an internal, since they are compact and allow you to move freely as the backpack is more balanced with your body.


You can find a diverse range of internal frames. Before, internal frame packs used pre-bent aluminum stays inserted into vertical pockets inside your pack bag for support.

Since then, there’s been much innovation, and now you find frame sheets comprising aluminum and alloy stays built-in. Frame sheets with these external aluminum bars act as a mini leaf spring, and X frames offer multidimensional suspension.

Now, you have a better internal frame pack profile to reduce the chances of snagging on rocks or branches. Thus, they are now suited to mountaineering. Internal frame packs are now designed to be loaded with more weight, which sits in an area between the small of the back and your shoulders.


By changing the torso length and the hip belt, a comfortable fit can be found. Bearing heavy loads isn’t the most pleasant experience, yet an accurate fit help ease the strain.

Internal backpacks may be hot since they rub on your back; however, many now offer thick back padding or synthetic mesh to wick moisture away from the skin.

To hang small objects on the outside, loops and daisy chains are attached at accessible points to answer the problem of not reaching your gear. On some models, a small pocket sitting on the top can be used as a hip bag.


Many internal frames are top-loading. Loading your gear has to be done from the top. Nowadays, to access compartments easier, there are compartments with a front panel where you can access certain things.

External frames are better suited to strapping things onto the outside of your pack. Additionally, internal frame packs do not cater to heavy loads as well as external frame packs.

If you need to transport gear to remote locations or off hunting, your internal frame offers the size and enough features to be the better option.

Internal frame packs distribute more weight to the shoulders, yet it moves with the wearer.

Additional Features

Backpacking and Hiking

External frame backpacks are uncommon yet are more economical than internal frame packs. Thus, if you’re on a budget, external frame packs could give you a great advantage. (Read What to Wear Hiking)

They are designed to carry heavy loads, and lots more stuff can be fastened outside, such as a sleeping bag, sleeping pad and possibly your tent. The attachment of bulkier items to the outside means you may not run out of space, as you tend to do with an internal backpack.

The Difference Between Internal and External Frame Packs for Backpacking (1)