6 Best External Frame Backpacks

6 Best External Frame Backpacks

Ask any seasoned backpacker and they’ll tell you that an external frame backpack is the way to go if you have a way to go.

The secret?

The way the external frame shifts the load from your shoulders to your hips. You’ll find you can pack more and feel it less.

Of course, you can’t just pick up any old pack and expect it to change your life. You need something that works with your body and the type of hiking or camping you plan to do.

Luckily, any one of these external backpacks could be the one that changes your life. They’re all comfortable, affordable and made to stand the test of time.

While you’re at it, why not pick up a new tent or sleeping bag to get ready for your next awesome adventure?

Why trust us: Faveable has spent thousands of hours researching, interviewing experts, and testing products to come up with carefully selected lists trusted by millions of consumers since 2013.

6 Best External Frame Backpacks

  • 6. Vargo ExoTi 50 Backpack
  • 5. ALPS OutdoorZ Commander
  • 4. Kelty Unisex Yukon 48
  • 3. ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame Pack
  • 2. Kelty Tioga External Frame Pack
  • 1. Kelty Trekker Hiking Backpack

Best lightweight external frame backpack

#6

Vargo ExoTi 50 Backpack

Best lightweight external frame backpack: Vargo ExoTi 50 Backpack
Comfort and Support
9.6
Capacity and Storage
8.6
Materials and Construction
9.2
Overall
91%
91 % Editor Score
80 % User Score
28 Bought

Why People Love it

  • Amazing fit in the lower lumbar region
  • Super comfortable and lightweight
  • Excellent quality and easily adjustable

The lumbar plate and lightweight titanium alloy frame make this super comfortable. Also features an X-shaped load lifting compression strap.

Water bottle pockets don’t stretch, and there is a lack of external pockets (but you can fix with attachable pockets).

Expert Ratings

Comfort and Support

9.6 / 10

Wow oh wow on the comfort levels you get here. The ergonomic lumbar support is real and there’s also a ventilated, adjustable shoulder harness. Mix that with the X-shaped load lifting compression strap and you’ve got magic.

On top of that, this will accommodate hip sizes between 24-60”, which is an amazing range, and this pack does carry vertically more than horizontally, so just about anyone can enjoy it.

It’s stable, with sturdy straps and balances the load (which can’t be that big) exceptionally well.

Capacity and Storage

8.6 / 10

You can fit 3051 cubic inches (50 liters) of gear inside this external frame backpack and it comes with a removable floating lid and two zippered hip belt pockets.

There’s also space inside for a hydration bladder.

But, we do need to point out that there aren’t any zippered pockets on the exterior which can be bothersome for some backpackers.

Apart from that, though, you get a whole lot of quality and storage without sacrificing comfort, which is amazing.

Materials and Construction

9.2 / 10

You’re not going to complain about the weight here. It’s a mere 2.7 pounds and it packs away flatly when you’re not using it.

All that boils down to the strong titanium alloy frame.

But, once again, you’re going to need to purchase some form of water protection for this external frame backpack, which is perhaps the one thing that’s holding this bag from taking over the world. Yes, it is that good.

Overall Editor Score

9.1 / 10

Best external frame backpack for hunting

#5

ALPS OutdoorZ Commander

Best external frame backpack for hunting: ALPS OutdoorZ Commander
Comfort and support
8.5
Capacity and storage
9.5
Materials and construction
9.2
Overall
91%
91 % Editor Score
82 % User Score
28 Bought

Why People Love it

  • This pack is big and packs a lot
  • Excellent for taller and wider folks
  • The tray and the pouches on the belt are excellent

Amazing price for a better-than-average hunting backpack. The rifle mount, hunting tray and lashing system are ideal, and the entire pack can be removed for carrying and washing.

Not waterproof, you’ll need to purchase protection separately. And this pack does not feature load lifters.

Expert Ratings

Comfort and support

8.5 / 10

This external frame backpack is especially comfortable for larger folks planning to be out for a few days to over a week.

The waist belt (which has storage compartments) is very comfortable. And the frame offers both stabilization and stability.

But, there are a few things we would improve if we could, including load lifters and the ability to make adjustments to your frame easier.

If you’re just using this pack to get to and from your site, and not necessarily carrying it around all day every day, you’re going to love it.

Capacity and storage

9.5 / 10

This is big, really big. It can hold 5250 cubic inches (86 liters) of whatever you want to carry. And, that’s before you count for the extra storage available on the shelf.

There are several organizing compartments along with a dedicated rifle mount. In addition, the lashing system enables you to bring fresh game back to camp or back home and the extra lashing system makes it possible to use the frame without the pack which makes this super versatile.

The hydration pocket it sufficient and we think that this pack actually transcends its purpose beyond hunting and for anyone with a larger frame that wants to carry a lot and keep it all organized.

Materials and construction

9.2 / 10

The 1680D heavy duty nylon ripstop fabric won’t give you anything to complain about. Nor will the durable, sturdy frame. This will truly hold up well over the course of time, even when beaten about on particularly grueling trips.

But, you will definitely need to invest in some form of rain protection as the pack itself offers none. For the value for money that you get, you’ll be able to afford something that works for your situation.

And, you should note that it weighs a solid 7.5 pounds before loading it with gear, so it’s what you’d call lightweight.

Overall Editor Score

9.1 / 10

Best external frame backpack for women and teens

#4

Kelty Unisex Yukon 48

Best external frame backpack for women and teens: Kelty Unisex Yukon 48
Comfort and support
9.3
Capacity and storage
9.1
Materials and construction
9.0
Overall
91%
91 % Editor Score
86 % User Score
29 Bought

Why People Love it

  • Wonderfully comfortable, especially for petites
  • Very adjustable and easy to make these adjustments
  • Takes the weight off the shoulders

Dual-density foam waist belt, strong 420D poly back Stafford fabric, and fully adjustable with stabilizer and sternum straps.

The hydration pocket isn’t ideal, and it doesn’t feature any load lifting straps.

Expert Ratings

Comfort and support

9.3 / 10

Comfort is the name of the game with this external frame back pack. Users, especially women, petites and teens find this to be an exceptionally comfortable fit.

One of the best things is that it’s fully adjustable, which means it can grow as you do (or your teen does). That also makes it usable by a few different people if you’re not all going hiking together.

The dual-density foam waist belt is adjustable and removable (you can work with another if you have one you already love). There are also padded shoulder straps, stabilizer straps and a sternum strap. That said, it doesn’t have load lifting straps like other Kelty models do.

With every element working together to balance the weight, you can expect good things from this external frame back pack.

Capacity and storage

9.1 / 10

This stores 2929 cubic inches (48 liters) which is middle of the line; you’ll find smaller packs and you’ll definitely get bigger ones. But, users find it packs a lot more gear than the mere space allowance suggests. You can get a few nights gear easily into this.

There is one drop pocket and 6 additional pockets which keep everything organized. The external lashing points are just as useful.

A few features we really appreciate are the opening at the corners of the internal pocket which allow for storage of a few long, thin items. And, the top comes off as a sling.

Materials and construction

9.0 / 10

We are in love with the ultra-durable ripstop and420D poly back Stafford fabric. The frame is also very durable.

But, it does weigh 5.1 pounds which is on the heavy side for a pack of this size. That might be the biggest downside, especially given the frame of the people this is aimed towards.

Overall Editor Score

9.1 / 10

Best external frame backpack for kids

#3

ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame Pack

Best external frame backpack for kids: ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame Pack
Comfort and support
9.0
Capacity and storage
9.5
Materials and construction
9.0
Overall
92%
92 % Editor Score
89 % User Score
29 Bought

Why People Love it

  • Great size for younger campers and hikers
  • Adjustable for growth
  • Amazing value

Vented lumbar support, lightweight with a telescopic frame, and removable sternum strap and front lashing system.

Not a great fit for bigger hikers.

Expert Ratings

Comfort and support

9.0 / 10

For younger hikers and campers, you can’t go wrong with this external frame backpack. The pull-forward waist belt ranges from 20-40” and it can accommodate torso lengths from 13-18”.

The whole pack is completely adjustable to fit a range of body types and you can remove the adjustable sternum strap if it makes the wearer more comfortable.

The padding on the shoulder strap and belt keep it comfortable. And, the venting on the back keeps kids cool. The suspension components are covered with Lycra for comfort.

Capacity and storage

9.5 / 10

Given the target age group for this external frame backpack, you get plenty of storage. It carries a good 2050 cubic inches (34 liters) of gear. And, it’s very functional and user-friendly.

There are 6 pockets, including a zippered pocket on the top lid and a couple of stretch pockets.

The daisy chain and attachment loops are in great places for the center of balance for smaller hikers.

Materials and construction

9.0 / 10

The polyester fabric with Lycra-covered suspension components is sturdy enough for the wear and tear of a few years, but this isn’t necessarily a bag that can be passed down through generations.

But, the telescopic frame and adjustability of it does ensure its usefulness for several seasons with the same or a variety of users.

Also, it weighs 3.7 pounds. This is about right for all but the smallest users – and, even then, if you’re not hiking for extended periods, it should be just fine.

Overall Editor Score

9.2 / 10

Best large capacity external frame backpack

#2

Kelty Tioga External Frame Pack

Best large capacity external frame backpack: Kelty Tioga External Frame Pack
Comfort and support
9.5
Capacity and storage
9.2
Materials and construction
9.2
Overall
93%
93 % Editor Score
92 % User Score
136 Bought

Why People Love it

  • Wildly comfortable, especially given the size
  • So huge you can carry everything
  • Excellent weight distribution and stability

Fits a range of torso lengths easily, adjustable suspension with a removable waist belt and padded shoulder straps, and, of course, it's enormous (90L) and versatile. Additionally, thanks to the adjustable suspension, you can customize the backpack to be as comfortable as possible.

There aren’t any compression straps (except on the top), and the hydration bladder pocket is short and wide (you’ll need the right bladder or to make adjustments).

Expert Ratings

Comfort and support

9.5 / 10

For those who want to pack it all, this Kelty backpack is an awesome choice. The external frame makes it easy to carry heavy loads, and you get over 5,500 cubic inches of carrying space. The top-loading design is convenient for packing and unpacking. 

Above all, this pack is comfortable – or it will be as long as you don’t overload it (which is fairly easy to do).

The dual-density foam waist belt works with the frame and stabilizer straps for an awesome distribution of weight that works with your center of gravity rather than against it.

There are padded shoulder straps and the frame is adjustable to just about any torso length (between 16-22”).

In addition to excellent ventilation from the mesh back panel, the fact that everything is super adjustable and the pack itself is stable makes this an amazing choice whether you’re out for 3 nights or 13.

Capacity and storage

9.2 / 10

Yes, you can pack a whopping 90 liters (5500 cubic inches) of gear on the inside of this pack. And that’s huge, more than you’ll need for a few days.

But, there are a few things to note before buying.

First, the hydration pocket is built for short, wide bladders, so you may need a new one to make it work perfectly. Secondly, there aren’t any compression straps and the internal divider and compression system may not suit your needs.

That said, there are several external lashing points, a sleeping bag compartment, an adjustable internal pocket (floor on the top section is adjustable), various pockets and an expandable collar.

Basically, it’s amazingly versatile, but you should expect that given the space you have to work with.

Materials and construction

9.2 / 10

We can hardly complain about the 420D denier-coated packcloth with 1000 denier Kodra reinforcements.

A few buyers express concern over the durability of the aluminum frame, mainly due to the weights they intend to carry. But, it doesn’t appear to be an issue as this is a super reliable, durable, long-lasting external frame backpack.

Plus, let’s be realistic about the weight. For what it carries, 5 pounds 9 ounces is super reasonable.

If you’re often out for several nights at a time, this is the obvious choice for comfort along the way.

Overall Editor Score

9.3 / 10

For those who want to pack it all, this Kelty backpack is an awesome choice. The external frame makes it easy to carry heavy loads, and you get over 5,500 cubic inches of carrying space. The top-loading design is convenient for packing and unpacking. Thanks to the adjustable suspension, you can customize the backpack to be as comfortable as possible.

Best overall external frame backpack

#1

Kelty Trekker Hiking Backpack

Best overall external frame backpack: Kelty Trekker Hiking Backpack
Comfort and support
9.5
Capacity and storage
9.3
Materials and construction
9.2
Overall
93%
93 % Editor Score
96 % User Score
24 Bought

Why People Love it

  • Super comfortable, even when fully packed
  • Big and versatile
  • High-quality, long-lasting pack

Easy organization features, adjustable suspension, and padded shoulder and stabilizer straps.

The adjustable waist belt doesn’t accommodate slimmer waists.

Expert Ratings

Comfort and support

9.5 / 10

The frame works with the load lifter straps on this external frame backpack to take the weight off your shoulders and stabilize the load. That alone is enough of a reason to sing the praises of this pack.

But, you also get the padded shoulder straps (should you want to transfer the weight to your shoulders) and waist belt to make everything super comfortable.

There’s an adjustable sternum strap and this easily fits a range of torsos and waistlines except for slimmer bodies. (You may want to check out our pick for women and teens if that’s the case for you.)

With great ventilation for your back on top of everything, this is definitely one of the most comfortable external frame backpacks out there.

Capacity and storage

9.3 / 10

You can fit up to 65 liters (3960 cubic inches) of gear inside this pack – and that’s not to mention the myriad of options you have to secure extras to the frame, the loops, or daisy chain down the front of it.

There’s an organizer in the top pocket and the top lid converts to a sling pack which makes this ideal for all sorts of hiking and exploring adventures.

The large front pocket combined with the zippered side pockets would be enough to convince us, but there’s also a dedicated sleeping bag compartment and an internal hydration reservoir sleeve.

Basically, it’s perfect as a 5-day pack given its capacity and comfort levels, but it won’t do much longer than that unless you can really live on the basics and have the option to restock every few days or so.

Materials and construction

9.2 / 10

At 5.4 pounds, this is far from the heaviest pack available, especially for the load you can carry comfortably. But, it also doesn’t fit into the super light category.

That said, the aluminum frame and 600D polyester ripstop fabric are both remarkably strong and durable. Combined with the front handle to make this pack easy to pick-up-and-go, you’re getting a deal and a half.

The real testament to quality here are the regular users who brag about the condition of this pack - even after it has seen its fair share of action.

Overall Editor Score

9.3 / 10

Faveable Ratings: 6 Best External Frame Backpacks

6 Best External Frame BackpacksComfort and supportCapacity and storageMaterials and constructionOverall
Kelty Trekker Hiking Backpack Thumbnail
Best overall external frame backpack
#1Kelty Trekker Hiking Backpack
9.5
9.3
9.2
93
Kelty Tioga External Frame Pack Thumbnail
Best large capacity external frame backpack
#2Kelty Tioga External Frame Pack
9.5
9.2
9.2
93
ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame Pack Thumbnail
Best external frame backpack for kids
#3ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame Pack
9.0
9.5
9.0
92
Kelty Unisex Yukon 48 Thumbnail
Best external frame backpack for women and teens
#4Kelty Unisex Yukon 48
9.3
9.1
9.0
91
ALPS OutdoorZ Commander Thumbnail
Best external frame backpack for hunting
#5ALPS OutdoorZ Commander
8.5
9.5
9.2
91
Vargo ExoTi 50 Backpack Thumbnail
Best lightweight external frame backpack
#6Vargo ExoTi 50 Backpack
9.6
8.6
9.2
91

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Article Staff

Katie’s Cleveland proud; but she’s also lived in Australia, Switzerland and now stays in South Africa. That’s a roundabout way of saying she can’t sit still; she’s always moving, always busy.

She has a BA in International Relations from Kent State University and work towards a Masters in Human Rights. She speaks French, is learning German and used to dream in Spanish. For years, Katie worked as a producer on fashion and advertising shoots before she realized her passion was the written word.

Katie’s far more interested in guy’s gear than women’s, except she has a wardrobe brimming with little black dresses. She drinks her beer out of the bottle and is raising her two boys to be better men.

Editor Jenna Holtz
Researcher Ronnie Langston
Art Director Cherry Barbacena

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6 Best External Frame Backpacks

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