6 Best External Frame Backpacks (Review) in 2021

Brad Robinson
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If you’re an avid backpacker like me, then you know that the right backpack can make or break an outing. Just because you’re an experienced hiker doesn’t mean you would automatically trust any backpack. You need a backpack that meets your personal comfort level, accommodates your gear, and can handle the weather you’re facing.

To make your job easier, we put together this list of our favorite external-frame backpacks that are tried and true, have excellent reviews, and would work well as a 2-5 day outdoor backpack.

NameCategoryProduct
Kelty Tioga 5500 Classic External Frame BackpackBest OverallKelty Tioga 5500 Classic External Frame Backpack
AmazonBasics Internal Frame Hiking BackpackBudget PickAmazonBasics Internal Frame Hiking Backpack
ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack BagUpgrade PickALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag

1. Kelty Tioga 5500 Classic External Frame Backpack

Our rating: 9 / 10

Kelty Tioga 5500 Classic External Frame Backpack

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Pros:

  • A lot of pockets inside: One large compartment, one large reinforced pocket, two smaller ones, and one convenient pocket for things we need to get to right away
  • Plenty of features
  • Very light and comfortable
  • Good size for tall people

Cons:

  • Some users complain of a squeaking frame
  • Some find the shape of the hip belt to be not particularly comfortable
  • The nylon fabrics used in the backpack are not that strong

Kelty is regarded as one of the pioneers of lightweight outdoor gear for camping and hiking. The Kelty Tioga has long been one of their best backpacks. If you are looking to buy only one external frame backpack, this would be a good choice.

It is a classic external frame backpack made out of nylon.

First of all, if you are looking for a comfortable backpack, especially if you are tall, the Kelty Tioga is going to get your attention. This backpack measures 17.5 X 14 X 6.5”, and its weight is 5.6 pounds. The advantages of the backpack are that the size is roomy, and the main compartment is huge. The price is good.

2. Kelty Yukon 48L Backpack

Our rating: 9 / 10

Kelty Yukon 48L Backpack

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Pros:

  • A feature to add additional storage
  • Good organization options
  • Fit

Cons:

  • Weight on the higher side
  • Needs a little more space

The Kelty Yukon 48L Backpack is a lower-priced solution than some of the other top brands, but it is well-made and offers plenty of different pockets and comforts including a sleeping bag compartment.

The pack is huge, but still has a decent weight range of just over 5 pounds, so it can be carried by most hikers. It is ideally suited for trips ranging from 2 to 4 days.

The Kelty Yukon is made from 600+ denier polyester and has a total of 6 compartments, including a large main compartment that is capable of carrying up to 48 liters.

3. ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag

Our rating: 9 / 10

ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag

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If you’re in the market for a durable external frame backpack, then you’ll want to check out the Commander + Pack Bag by Alpss OutdoorZ.

This pack is constructed out of military-grade fabric and is extremely versatile. The Commander + Pack Bag can be used as a daypack, overnight pack, and even a load hauling beast.

The pack is covered in MOLLE straps, which is a military fabric used for attachment possibilities. The Commander + Pack Bag also comes with thick foam for maximum comfort.

4. ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame Pack

Our rating: 9 / 10

ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame Pack

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The ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock backpack has the same characteristics you find in other packs from the Red Rock collection: durable, versatile and built for comfort. The recreationist or camper, hunter or hiker will not be disappointed with this backpack.

The Red Rock external frame backpack by ALPS Mountaineering is one of the most comfortable and versatile packs out there. The 34-liter pack can hold a large amount of gear and does so without the user feeling weighed down.

The pack is adjustable, adjustable straps and frame allow the pack to fit just about anyone. For a pack that will hold so much, it remains lightweight, weighing in at only four pounds. Water-resistant fabric keeps whatever the pack contains dry.

5. AmazonBasics Internal Frame Hiking Backpack

Our rating: 8 / 10

AmazonBasics Internal Frame Hiking Backpack

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Pros:

  • Easy to adjust
  • Suspension system transfers the weight evenly
  • Easy to adjust

Cons:

  • Too heavy for some
  • Can be a little tricky to find the right fit

If you are looking for an internal frame backpack then this mid-range model from Amazon is a fantastic option.

This is a reasonably sized backpack with a reflective safety trim and plenty of pockets and safety features which is great for beginners who do not know what to look for in this type of gear.

The rainfly has two zippers to create a wide opening from which you can easily access any gear you have stored inside. The manufacturer has also included a reflective design on the rainfly to improve its visibility in a dimly lit area or at night.

6. ALPS Mountaineering Zion External Frame Pack

Our rating: 8 / 10

ALPS Mountaineering Zion External Frame Pack

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The Alps Mountaineering Zion features a removable lid with a built-in pocket, two mesh water bottle pockets and a large zippered pocket on the front which makes it easy to access things you need in a hurry.

It is a great looking external frame backpack that has an adjustable shoulder strap which is a nice feature if you are not a fan of having a fixed shoulder strap. The ALPS Mountaineering Zion is great for hiking as it can carry up to 60 pounds worth of items.

This backpack is the perfect size for an overnight backpacking trip. It has enough room for everything that you require and has lots of pockets to organise all your needs and keep things extra safe.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the best external frame backpack?

It is the Gregory Pakobo 40 pack. Its frame is off the back to the side making it the most comfortable fit. Since the height of the pack is fixed, the load is shifted forward, requiring balance. However, this model with its later frame can change the center of gravity and moves the load back, making the model a comfortable one. With padded waist belt and shoulder straps that ensure a comfortable molding of the pack, the weight is really adjusted perfectly. It has a removable waist belt and a bottom zipper thus you can have more versatility in loading. It will never get lost or stolen in crowded places since you always carry it on your back.

Pros:

Does anyone still use external frame backpacks?

More and more people are turning to internal frame backpacks and leaving external frame packs behind. This trend was very prominent from the late 60s to the late 70s but these packs have made a noticeable comeback over the last couple of years. They're still loved by hikers attempting more technical trails. But as more and more companies have released lighter I-frame backpacks, more people are slowly adding them to their kits.

Are external frame backpacks good?

Simply stated, yes! External frame backpacks are a great choice for outdoor enthusiasts, hunters, recreational hikers and more.

Is Gregory a good backpack brand?

Gregory is one of the most reputable backpack brands. You can trust its quality. The main reason why most people trust this brand is that it focuses on hiking. Being an expert in this field, the brand produces the best backpacks for you.

Conclusion

There are many intangible and practical advantages to owning an external frame backpack, the most significant being its unique protection against pressure points. External frame backpacks can hold an incredible amount of weight without ever rubbing against your shoulders or back. They are very durable and long-lasting as there are fewer elements that can wear out or break off. In fact, the military still relies on external frame backpacks to carry equipment and supplies for their operations.

Our Recommendation

NameCategoryProduct
Kelty Tioga 5500 Classic External Frame BackpackBest OverallKelty Tioga 5500 Classic External Frame Backpack
AmazonBasics Internal Frame Hiking BackpackBudget PickAmazonBasics Internal Frame Hiking Backpack
ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack BagUpgrade PickALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag