Best External Frame Backpack for Hiking & Hunting
Kelty Trekker 65L
Best External Frame Backpack
The Kelty Trekker 65 does so many things well it is difficult to pick just one thing, but the massive 3950 cu in of volume capacity stands out which when combined with the maximum weight capacity of 55 lbs, means you can shift a lot stuff with relative ease.
The Kelty Trekker 65 is made out of 600D polyester, which is both durable as well as water-resistant. The 5 external pockets combined with the expansive bottom shelf also provides this pack with plenty of outer storage capacity for all of your immediate needs.
When it comes to extra features, the Kelty Trekker 65 once again offers things few competitors do like an ice ax loop and a hideaway daisy chain loop. Of course, this pack also comes with some of the other more common, but still coveted extra features, like hydration pouch, and top-loaded hold-open bar design.
Bottom Line: This external frame pack offers great weight and volume capacities, plenty of storage options, and is one of the more durable products we found.
Whether for a day trip, weekend, or extended journey, backpacks are one of the more necessary pieces of equipment for an enjoyable and safe hike. Of course, the type and location of the hike play a critical role in determining which type of pack is the right one for you.
This is especially true if you plan to hike for an extended period or plan on taking a lot of supplies with you. Concurrently, you also want a pack that is comfortable to wear, both in terms of the balance and for heat.
That is why we put together a list of the seven best external frame backpacks, identifying what each pack does better than the others. Then we provide a helpful buyer’s guide, so you can figure out what kind of external frame pack is best for your next hike.
What is an External Frame Backpack?
External frame packs are a backpack that is fastened to a rigid metal frame so that it can support a more significant amount of gear than most other types of packs. While external frame packs tend to find more use in extended hiking and backpacking excursions, it can still offer plenty of benefits for shorter trips too.
External frame packs are a unique type of pack to use if you need to fasten additional equipment on the exterior for quick use. On top of that, an external frame pack is an excellent idea for people who otherwise have issues with back pain or poor posture.
Benefits Of An External Frame Backpack
While internal frame packs are currently the typical choice for many hikers and backpackers, there are many reasons why an external frame may be superior to an internal frame pack for you.
- Has plenty of storage
- Is easier to access than internal frame packs
- Is better for posture than internal frame packs
- Provides plenty of ventilation
- Are less expensive than internal frame backpacks
What to Look For When Choosing the Best External Frame Backpack
Considering that an external frame pack finds its best use for extended hiking trips, it only makes sense that the weight is one of the more important qualities to consider. With all of the gear and supplies needed for extended hiking trips, there is no reason to compound that circumstance with heavier external frame packs.
That said, you often have to pick your poison as the lightest external frame backpacks rarely offer the largest volume capacities. As such, you usually either have to opt for a heavier bag to carry all of your equipment and supplies or sacrifice potentially vital tools to cut weight.
The size of external frame packs can be taken in a couple of different ways, whether you consider the actual dimensions of the pack, the various capacities, or the fit. Likely, the most critical size aspect to consider is the various capacities, especially for a backpack designed for extended hiking use.
In this context, the size refers to both the maximum weight capacity as well as the maximum volume capacity, though not every manufacturer provides a maximum weight capacity. Of course, any extended trip backpack (whether internal frame or external frame packs) needs to offer at least a solid maximum volume as you can almost always cut weight with shrewd packing.
For the physical dimensions, this matters more depending on where you plan to hike with rough or more treacherous terrain favoring compact, smaller dimensions for balance. The fit will vary depending on the manufacturer, but most offer products that fit active lifestyles.
When purchasing an external frame backpack, it is common to get one with a bag already included. Of course, if you already have a backpack, then you may only need the external frame to assist with comfort and rigidity.
It is worth noting that backpack external frames often account for more than half of the total cost of an external frame pack. As such, unless you already own a high-end pack, you are probably better off getting an external frame backpack that includes the bag– even if it costs a bit more in the long run.
Other things to look for in the bag, are extra features such as a sleeping bag compartment, water hydration pack storage sleeve, compression straps and other attachment elements.
The durability of an external frame pack is measured both in terms of the frame itself as well as the backpack’s fabric. The frame rarely presents issues with strength as most frames use aluminum, iron, or even titanium.
The backpack fabric, on the other hand, can be a bit more hit or miss with many manufacturers using average quality materials. Look for backpack fabrics made out of either polyester or nylon with a high denier (D) quality as these materials also offers some natural water-resistance.
The lashing points can refer either to where the external frame connects the backpack (if the frame is purchased separately from the pack) or how the backpack fastens other pieces of equipment. Much like with the fabric of the backpack, you want to make sure that the lashings offer plenty of durability.
This might be more important for the lashings than the backpack proper as the tools connected can fall out while a small hole will rarely ruin your goods stored inside the bag. While plenty of lashings are nice, it is important to remember that you can always use your own rope or other lashings to secure equipment to the frame.
The shelf is generally a spot on the frame, below the backpack bag, where you lash equipment for additional storage. Things like sleeping bags or other large, bulky items are the primary pieces of the equipment fastened to the shelf of an external frame pack.
So long as an external frame backpack’s shelf can accommodate your external gear, you should not worry about this too much. That said, many high-end backpacks now offer specific pockets to keep your sleeping bag safe from getting snagged.
Best External Frame Backpack Reviews
MT Military Surplus Rucksack Alice Pack
Best External Frame Pack for Durability
- The ALICE Large Pack consists of a pouch with draw cord closure and three outside pockets. Three more smaller pockets are provided at the top of the pouch for carrying ammunition. Of the three lower outside pockets, the two outer ones are tunneled to the pouch so that long objects can be carried between the pouch and each pocket. The lower pockets have draw cords at the top for better sealing of the pocket before closing the flap. The ALICE large pack must be used with the LC-1 Field Pack Frame.
- The pouch has a separate pocket to accommodate the Radio. Tie down cords and D rings inside the pouch can be used to shorten the pack when it is not to be filled to capacity. The pouch flap has a pocket that can be opened by pulling two tabs apart. Small flat items can be carried in this pocket. Pressing flap sides together closes it. Hangers are also provided for carrying individual equipment. The ALICE Field Pack is carried on the soldiers back by attaching to the pack frame.
- An envelope pocket is located at the top, back of the pack and padded with spacer cloth, into which the field pack frame is inserted when the field pack is used on the field pack frame. Buckles and straps at each side near the bottom are used for anchoring the field pack to the field pack frame. Two rectangular wire loops located at the top back of the field pack and D rings on each side at the bottom of the field pack are used to provide shoulder strap attachment.
- ALICE Rucksack Large Size System padded and easily adjustable shoulder Straps help relieve pressure, meanwhile the Kidney Pad strap on the frame also helps heave loading. Quick Release Buckle allows the whole pack to drop immediately while in emergency situation. Mixed Aluminum and Iron External Frame makes it lightweight but stronger.
- All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) introduced in 1974 was made up of components for two types of load: the "Fighting Load" and the "Existence Load". The ALICE Pack system was designed for use in all environments, whether hot, temperate, cold-wet or even cold-dry arctic conditions. It is still quite popular among not only military users, but also Camping, Traveling, Hiking, Hunting, Bug Out, and Soft games.
The military needs to make products that not only work for all kinds of people and situations but can hold up under some of the most punishing conditions the world can throw at them. This is where the MT Military Surplus Alice Rucksack shines the brightest with a build that outclasses most other products we reviewed by a mile.
For one, this is the only backpack on our list that is made out of 1000D nylon, which is not only a more robust material but features the most durable construction we came across. On top of that, the MT Military Surplus Alice Rucksack reinforces the natural water-resistance afforded by the nylon material with an 1800 mm waterproof coating.
In terms of capacities, the MT Military Surplus Alice Rucksack is a bit up and down with one of the larger maximum weight capacities on our list at 40 pounds. However, this backpack also has the smallest maximum volume at just 2000 cu in making it better suited for a weekend camping trip.
That said, the MT Military Surplus Alice Rucksack makes excellent use of everything afforded to it with one of the most reasonable price tag on our list. However, the shoulder straps are not the most comfortable, but the adjustment hardware is some of the more durable as well.
- Made of 1000D nylon
- Has 1800 mm water-resistance
- Has a maximum weight capacity of 40 pounds
- Is a less expensive backpack
- Has a smaller volume capacity
- Not the best shoulder straps
Bottom Line: The military is known for making things that last, and the MT Military Surplus ALICE Rucksack can do that better than any other product on our list.
Vargo Exoti AR2
Lightest External Frame Pack
- Ultralight titanium alloy external frame for excellent load transfer and carry
- Ergonomic Lumbar support plate efficiently directs weight to your hips for increased comfort
- 3/4 length 46 liter water resistant bag with space below for attaching bulkier gear
- Removable floating lid to help save ounces when they count
- Ventilated, adjustable shoulder harness to reduce back sweat and fits torso lengths 16-22 inch (40-55 cm)
The Vargo Exoti AR2 is one of the more high-end options we found, and its construction and specs make that point abundantly clear. By far, one of the best things about the Vargo Exoti AR2 is that it only weighs two ⅗ pounds, which is almost half the weight of most other external frame backpacks that we reviewed.
A big part of how the Vargo Exoti AR2 sheds so much weight compared to other backpacks is through the use of a titanium frame. Not only is this material lighter than aluminum, iron, or steel, but it is stronger than all of them as well.
That said, titanium is a significantly more expensive material than other metals commonly used for external frames, and this price is reflected in Vargo Exoti AR2’s cost. Still, you get what you pay for, and the Vargo Exoti AR2 offers a surprising amount of volume capacity at 2807 cu in for its lightweight design.
This backpack combines that lightweight build with an ergonomic design that sits better on your shoulders and offers better ventilation than some of the other products we reviewed as well. The main issue with the Vargo Exoti AR2 is that it does not provide a true shelf and only uses lashings for external storage.
- Has a 2807 cu in volume capacity
- Only weight 2 ⅗ lbs
- Has a titanium frame
- Is more comfortable
- Is a more expensive external pack
- Not external carrying
Bottom Line: For those extremely weight-conscious hikers, the Vargo Exoti AR2 sheds enough pounds to add a couple more in gear, unlike other external frame hiking backpack we reviewed.
Allen Rock Canyon External Hunting Pack Frame
Best Hunting Frame for an External BackpackAllen Rock Canyon External Hunting Pack Frame Tan, One Size
Hunters who already have a small pack, will love the Allen Rock Canyon which has ample room for lashing on your bag, your rifle and any other supplies you need to take on your trip.
Easily the most significant benefit of this approach is the fact that you do not have to pay for the backpack, which makes the Allen Rock Canyon significantly less expensive than most of the other products that we reviewed. On top of that, this external backpack frame is made out of aluminum, so you do not have to worry about its durability.
On the other hand, the Allen Rock Canyon External Hunting Pack Frame is 5 pounds on its own, which will only make the whole arrangement heavier when you add the backpack. Still, this external backpack frame features a contoured design to make carrying it for long distances easier and more comfortable.
Even better, the Allen Rock Canyon External Hunting Pack Frame works with pretty much any backpack on the market, thanks to the numerous lashings it provides. Of course, you can use some of these lashings to secure equipment outside of the backpack as well.
- Is made of aluminum
- Has numerous lashing points
- Has a contoured frame
- Is a less expensive frame
- Does not come with a backpack
- Is heavier than most
Bottom Line: If you already have the back and just need the external frame, the Allen Rock Canyon has the lashings and durability that you need.
Kelty Trekker 65L
Largest Volume Capacity External Frame BackpackKelty Trekker 65 Backpack, Garnet Red
The Kelty Trekker 65 is, without a doubt, the most impressive overall external frame backpack that we encountered with great specs at every point. This begins primarily with a substantial maximum volume capacity of 3950 cu in, the most on our list.
However, the Kelty Trekker 65 doubles down and combines that massive volume capacity with one of the largest maximum weight capacities of 55 pounds on top of it. The ability to offer the largest maximum volume and the second-largest maximum weight capacity is likely due to the use of 600D polyester material.
Not only does this material afford the Kelty Trekker 65 these top-tier capacities, but it also makes this one of the most durable external frame backpacks we reviewed too. Of course, you do not get something for nothing, and this external frame backpack is one of the more expensive options on our list– though not egregiously so.
The Kelty Trekker 65 also comes equipped with plenty of external storage, whether you need to stow something in easily retrievable pockets or on its solid shelf. The only potential concern with the Kelty Trekker 65 is in challenging terrain where the top-heavy load balance might be unsafe.
- Has a 3950 cu in volume capacity
- Has a maximum weight capacity of 55 pounds
- Made of 600D polyester
- Has plenty of external storage
- Is a more expensive backpack
- Has a top-heavy load balance
Bottom Line: The Kelty Trekker leads or comes in second in so many major categories that the somewhat high price is more than worth the investment.
ALPS Mountaineering Zion
Best All-Around Value External Frame Backpack
- Top Loading 64 Liter External Frame Pack with Hydration Pocket/Port and Lycra Covered Suspension Components
- Provides Vented Lumbar Support, Water Bottle Pocket, #10 Zippers, Multiple Side Pockets, Ice Axe Loop
- Front Lashing System with Heavy Duty Carry Handle
- Padded Waist Belt and Shoulder Straps, Multiple Shoulder Strap Positions
- Weight: 4.94 lbs., Cubic Inches: 3900, Torso Range: 17-24"
ALPS Mountaineering is known as a high-end manufacturer of outdooring equipment for every stage of the process and provides the best all-around value that we came across. Not only does this external frame backpack offer some solid specs, but it does so at a lower price than most of its other competitors too.
For starters, the ALPS Mountaineering Zion provides the second-largest maximum volume capacity on our list at 3900 cu in, which is just a hair off of the top place spot. Even better, this hiking backpack comes in at a hair lighter than many of the other options we reviewed and employs an excellent ergonomic design for increased comfort.
It is worth noting that the low cost shows up a bit in terms of the materials used as the ripstop nylon and fastening hardware do not offer the same level of durability as many of the other options on our list.
- Has a 3900 cu in volume capacity
- Has plenty of external storage
- Is more comfortable
- Is a less expensive pack bag
- Not the most durable
- Not easy to adjust
Bottom Line: The ALPS Mountaineering Zion offers plenty of storage, inside and out, at one of the better prices we came across.
Largest Weight Capacity External Frame Backpack
- Yukon's popular with scouts and young adults as they transition into a full sized pack with great features from our full sized packs, it's Kelty Built
- Tradition meets feature rich pack reliable external frame design for your next adventure
- Features: Top Loading, Top Lid converts to Sling Pack, Zippered side pockets, front pocket w/ organization, Stretch front pouch, Hydration Compatible
- Suspension Features: Adjustable suspension, External Frame, Dual density foam waist belt, Padded shoulder straps, stabilizer straps, Sternum strap
- Dimensions: Size (L x W x D) 22.5 x 23 x 11 in, Weight 5 lbs 1 oz, Volume 48 L, Optimal Carry Weight: 20-60 lbs
The Yukon is another Kelty product, but this model aims to offer a great set of specs at a more reasonable price than the flagship model. That said, it is still a little bit surprising that the Kelty Yukon offers the largest maximum weight capacity on our list at 60 pounds.
This is even more surprising considering that this external frame backpack has a maximum volume of 2900 cu in, which is good but still far short of the top of our list. Of course, this is likely once again due to the use of 600D polyester fabric for the construction, providing plenty of structural integrity as well as general durability.
It is worth noting that while this is technically a less expensive Kelty product, it is still slightly above average in price compared to the other products on our list. However, the Kelty Yukon makes up for this with plenty of external storage, including easily accessible pockets and a great shelf.
From a functional standpoint, the only potential issue with the Kelty Yukon is that the zippers can be a bit difficult to use when the pack is fully loaded. Like the other Kelty, the Yukon is another exceptionally comfortable product, but this model does not have the same top-heavy issue due to the smaller volume capacity.
- Has a 2900 cu in volume capacity
- Capable of carrying loads of up to 60 pounds
- Made of 600D polyester
- Has plenty of external storage
- Quite pricy
- Zippers are difficult
Bottom Line: When you need a smaller pack that still has some top of the line specs, the Kelty Yukon has you covered.
ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock
Best Budget External Frame Pack
- Lightweight polyester with Lycra covered suspension components
- Removable sternum strap and pull-forward tightening waist belt
- Front lashing system with heavy duty carry handle
- Fully equipped with vented lumbar support, telescoping frame, hold-on bar, H2O pocket/port, and padded waist/shoulder straps
- Capacity: 34L/2050 in³, Weight: 3 lbs. 11 oz. , Torso Range: 13" – 18", Waist Belt Range: 20" – 40"
ALPS Mountaineering rounds out our list with one of the least expensive products that we came across that also offers solid functionality. Outside of the extremely low price, the ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock is also one of the lightest products on our list, weighing only 3 ¾ pounds.
An area where it excels is in the external storage aspect, with some of the largest side pockets we encountered. It also does not hurt that this model provides one of the better shelves for lashed storage, either.
That said, when you pay this little, you should expect to give up something in return, and one of the biggest concessions the ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock makes is its volume capacity at only 2050 cu in, and is not as capable of carrying heavy loads as some of its competitors. As if that were not enough, the polyester material is also the least durable out of any other product we reviewed.
On the other hand, the ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock uses stretchy Lycra with the polyester to increase its flexibility. This, combined with an all-around ergonomic design, padded shoulder straps, and hip belt, makes this one of the more comfortable external frame backpacks on our list.
- At the cheaper end of the scale
- Pretty lightweight product
- Has plenty of external storage
- Very comfortable
- Has a smaller volume capacity
- Not the most durable
Bottom Line: The ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock offers a good mix of a lightweight design with a comfortable build at a price that cannot be beaten.
Last update on 2020-10-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API