Best External Frame Backpacks

If you are a hiker who feels like you need to finally retire your old pack, or you want to retire your internal frame for something different, fear not. There are still plenty of external frame backpacks on the market, you will just have to sift through a lot of the more modern internal frames to uncover the real gems. It may take a little bit of digging, but it will certainly be worth it in the long run. Luckily for you, we have done the sifting and found some of the best external frame backpacks that are currently on the market that will likely become a welcome addition to all of your outdoor adventures in the coming years.

Standout Picks

Tofine External Frame Backpack
This hiking backpack from Tofine is a great external backpack and if you are looking for a backpack that will fit into your budget then this is one to check out. Great quality at a great price.
Amazon Link
ALPS Mountaineering Zion External Frame Pack
Here is a great external backpack for you, and this particular model is offered at a slightly lower price point than other ALPS Mountaineering packs, and it holds just a little bit less than the Commander. However, users can feel confident that they are getting the best quality in materials and design when selecting this external frame.
Amazon Link
$148.45
Kelty Trekker Hiking Backpack
Kelty is a great company that has been making the gear that campers need, since their humble beginnings in 1952. This external backpack delivers everything that a hiker would want in a backpack. It is simple to load up, it fits comfortably on the body and distributes weight evenly, and it has tons of additional features to keep your necessities safe, secure, and organized.
Kelty Trekker Hiking Backpack
The ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock is a great external backpack that isn’t as tall as some of the other backpacks that are currently on the market. If you are looking for a backpack frame that doesn’t sit as tall and still has the same level of storage, this is an excellent choice that is offered at an affordable price.
Amazon Link
$153.88
ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag
ALPS OutdoorZ is known for making great travel gear for hikers and hunters. The Commander external backpack frame offers that classic design the users love in a pack, it is comfortable, and it has loads of additional features to keep you organized.
Amazon Link
Kelty Unisex Yukon 48
The Kelty Yukon is a little bit different from the Kelty Trekker in terms of how the frame is designed, and where the bag is held on your body. Some hikers prefer a design that doesn’t sit up as high on their shoulders, and this external backpack accomplishes that task.
Vargo Exoti 50 Backpack
From a brand you may not have heard of, the Vargo Exoti 50 is an incredibly well designed external frame backpack. With its 50-liter capacity and sleek design, it has even been mistaken for an internal frame on the trails. This bag combines the best features of an internal backpack with an external frame.
Amazon Link
$299.95
Allen Rock Canyon External Hunting Pack Frame
The Allen Rock Canyon doesn’t hold as much as some of the other external backpacks frame out there, but it makes up for it in its durability and innovative design. If you are a hunter or a hiker that doesn’t need the excess storage that some of the other models offer, this is a great option that is offered at an affordable price.
Amazon Link
$128.32
Kelty Tioga External Frame Pack
Kelty is gracing this list with an excellently designed pack that sports a comfortable fit and has a lot of extra features that ensures your next camping or hunting trip will be easy and enjoyable.
Amazon Link
$188.95
Eberlestock Mainframe Pack
This external backpack is a great addition to our list. It offers the support you expect for an external backpack and takes the stress off your back while it supports the weight of your gear.
Amazon Link
$249.00

Criteria Used for Evaluation

Weight

The average weight for an external frame backpack usually weighs anywhere from 5 to 7 pounds. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule, and there are some lighter backpacks out there on the market. Lighter models typically weigh less because they either they are just smaller, meaning that they don’t carry as much, or they are made from lesser quality materials. Before you take the financial plunge, make sure that the lighter models are lighter because they are smaller, and not because they are made with inexpensive materials.

Materials

Durability is something that is incredibly important when shopping for a new external frame backpack. This gear is meant to really take a beating out in the middle of the wilderness, so you want to make sure that it can hold up to not only difficult trails but also inclement weather. Ripstop nylon is the material that you want in a pack because it is incredibly durable without being too expensive, and it has a modest level of water resistance. Ripstop nylon that is coated in polyurethane gets bonus points in our book, and packs that come with a waterproof cover that snaps onto the frame gets a gold star.

Durability

When you come across those seasoned trail veterans out there, they love to tell you about how long their external frame backpack has lasted them. There is just something about an external frame that is able to endure the test of time. To be able to last, the most important feature is the frame itself. Good frames are typically made from solid steel or aluminum.

Value

Some external frame backpacks can really cost you a pretty penny, and some of them cost more unnecessarily so. Some of the name brands such as Kelty and ALPS offer excellent packs that use the highest quality of materials and will not break the bank. They do cost more than a traditional external frame backpack, of course, but considering how many years it will last, it makes them well worth the slightly padded price tag.

Top Ten External Frame Backpacks

1. Tofine

Where to buy
Amazon Link
Tofine External Frame Backpack
Amazon Link

This hiking backpack from Tofine is a great external backpack and if you are looking for a backpack that will fit into your budget then this is one to check out. Great quality at a great price.

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Materials

The pack is made from rugged diamond ripstop nylon, so that is able to really take a beating on those untraveled pathways, and the nylon is coated with a polyurethane coating that will keep materials dry when the weather turns ugly.

Weight

This external backpack frame is very lightweight and comes in at just under 3 pounds.

Price

The price tag on this backpack frame is excellent and if you are looking for a backpack that will not break the bank but give you some quality and durability, then this may be the external backpack for you.

Amazon Link

2. ALPS Mountaineering Zion

Where to buy
Amazon Link
$148.45
ALPS Mountaineering Zion External Frame Pack
Amazon Link

Here is a great external backpack for you, and this particular model is offered at a slightly lower price point than other ALPS Mountaineering packs, and it holds just a little bit less than the Commander. However, users can feel confident that they are getting the best quality in materials and design when selecting this external frame.

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Materials

The materials that were used to compose this pack are high quality and durable material is that sturdy enough to take a beating and will keep contents dry in even the most miserable weather. It uses number ten zippers to ensure that campers get quality and durability.

Weight

The weight of this unit is 4.94 pounds, making it one of the lightest external backpack frames out there on the market. It is able to hold 3,900 cubic inches of portable storage, with the option of hanging more things off of the frame.

Price

One of the better features of this backpack is the price. It is one of the more affordable packs to make this list. That being said, it still is a bit of an investment, but external backpacks are famous for being virtually indestructible, so it should be the only pack you will need to buy for quite some time.

Design

This external backpack frame is only available in a neutral charcoal color with sharp royal blue accents. The frame that the bag attaches to is a painted matte black. The padded shoulder straps buckle in the middle to help evenly distribute weight.

Additional Features

In addition to padded shoulder straps, this model also comes with support that wraps around the waist to help distribute weight over the entire torso. It also has pretty good sized pockets on the side that is perfect for holding a bottle of water, energy bars, phones, and wallets for easy access.

Summary

This is a great option for hikers and hunters that need an external backpack frame that is able to comfortably hold all of your camping gear so that you can head out on even the most difficult trails without missing a beat.

Amazon Link
$148.45

3. Kelty Trekker 65L Pack

Kelty Trekker Hiking Backpack
Amazon Link

Kelty is a great company that has been making the gear that campers need, since their humble beginnings in 1952. This external backpack delivers everything that a hiker would want in a backpack. It is simple to load up, it fits comfortably on the body and distributes weight evenly, and it has tons of additional features to keep your necessities safe, secure, and organized.

Read more

Materials

The exterior is constructed from a thick and sturdy material that will keep all of your things safe and secured. The zipper design makes this model a top-loading unit so there is minimal risk of losing things due to faulty zippers.

Weight

This frame and backpack are significantly lighter than most, weighing in at just over 4 pounds. It is able to comfortably carry up to 55 pounds of gear.

Price

Kelty is known for providing great quality products at an affordable price, and this backpack is no different. It is slightly more expensive than some of the other external backpacks out there but is by no means the most expensive. Considering the quality of materials and sturdy design, this external backpack frame comes at a great price.

Design

This model only comes in red. It has silver bars that serve as the frame that the bag affixes to. In addition to having padded shoulder straps, it has a nice padded belt that cinches at the waistline to ensure that all of the weight is distributed evenly and doesn’t slow you down.

Additional Features

What makes this external backpack great is how you load up your gear. You flip open the top flap and load all of your stuff in from there. Once loaded, simply lower the flap into place and secure. The flap acts as a rain guard and as an additional measure to ensure that your things will way safe and dry. It also has 4 good sized pockets that can be easily accessed to store energy bars, water, cell phones, and wallets.

Summary

For hikers that want something that sports a simple design, but is impeccably well crafted to easily tote all of your camping gear in, this external backpack frame is definitely worth the slightly padded price tag.

4. ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock

Where to buy
Amazon Link
$153.88
Kelty Trekker Hiking Backpack
Amazon Link

The ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock is a great external backpack that isn’t as tall as some of the other backpacks that are currently on the market. If you are looking for a backpack frame that doesn’t sit as tall and still has the same level of storage, this is an excellent choice that is offered at an affordable price.

Read more

Materials

As with all ALPS Mountaineering packs, this model is made from high-quality materials that are able to withstand even the harshest camping conditions.

Weight

The weight of this external backpack frame is one of its best features, it weighs in at just over 3 pounds, making it one of the lightest backpacks out there.

Price

For an ALPS Mountaineering pack, this backpack is offered at a very affordable price point, and it is one of the least expensive external backpacks out there. If you were looking to try a brand name external frame pack but didn’t want to spend the additional money, this is a great option.

Design

This bag is only available in red. Some of the other backpacks out there sport a long and narrow design, but this external backpack frame is a little bit different. It sports a short and fat external backpack frame design that doesn’t sit as high up on the shoulders, which makes it great for those that don’t like a backpack that hangs up over their heads.

Additional Features

There are many pockets on the exterior that is perfect to gain quick access to the hiking tool that you need the most, such as water, energy bars, and cell phones. Straps along the bottom may not be big enough to hold a full sized sleeping bag, but they can carry additional blankets or mats.

Summary

For hikers that want an external backpack with a lower profile than some of the taller models, and want to buy a brand name without the added cost, this is an excellent option.

Amazon Link
$153.88

5. ALPS OutdoorZ Commander

Where to buy
Amazon Link
ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag
Amazon Link

ALPS OutdoorZ is known for making great travel gear for hikers and hunters. The Commander external backpack frame offers that classic design the users love in a pack, it is comfortable, and it has loads of additional features to keep you organized.

Read more

Materials

The exterior of this product is made from high-quality ripstop nylon, meaning no matter what kind of weather conditions that you find yourself in, all of your belongings will stay safe and dry inside this bag. The padded shoulder straps have a buckle in the middle to distribute weight evenly over your torso.

Weight

The weight of just the frame alone weighs in at approximately 7 pounds and 5 ounces, and the bag that clips to the frame weighs just over 2 pounds. The interior of the backpack is quite large and offers 5,250 cubic inches of storage space.
Price

This bag is modestly priced and sits roughly in the middle of the road. It is not the most expensive unit on the market, but it is by far the least expensive.

Design

Due to the fact that this external backpack frame is used primarily for hunters, the only color option available for this model is brown. It has a painted black frame that the brown bar affixes to via a secure latching system.

Additional Features

Since this bag is designed for hunters, there is an additional place to hold a rifle that runs along the side. On the bottom of the external backpack is a place to affix a blanket or a sleeping bag. In addition to shoulder straps, this pack also cinches around the waist and has additional pockets that can be used to store your wallet or your cell phone.

Summary

For hikers and hunters that want a great external backpack that checks off of the boxes of what a great pack needs to do in the wilderness, this model accomplishes that and then some.

Amazon Link

6. Kelty Yukon Hiking Backpack

Where to buy
Kelty Unisex Yukon 48
Amazon Link

The Kelty Yukon is a little bit different from the Kelty Trekker in terms of how the frame is designed, and where the bag is held on your body. Some hikers prefer a design that doesn’t sit up as high on their shoulders, and this external backpack accomplishes that task.

Read more

Materials

As with any Kelty product, this external backpack frame is made from the highest quality materials that are able to take a beating and can hold up on even the most difficult of trails.

Weight

This model weighs in at 4.5 pounds, which is pretty much the norm when it comes to external frame backpacks.

Price

For a Kelty product, this backpack is sensibly priced. It is not the most expensive unit on the market, but it is not the least expensive.

Design

The design of this model is made for hikers that find that some of the other designs on the market are a tad too big for them. Not all hikers are over 6 feet tall, and it sometimes feels like other backpacks were made for taller people. This external backpack frame has a short and squat profile to enhance stability and distribute weight more evenly.

Additional Features

There are pockets on the exterior that are perfect for holding a bottle of water, energy bars, and cellphones. The padded shoulder straps and waist strap means that the weight will be evenly distributed so that you can keep up with the backpack.

Summary

If you often find that many of the products out there on the market seem to favor only the tall campers, the Kelty Yukon has your back. It’s offered at an affordable price and supplies with all of the things you want from an external backpack frame to make your hikes a little bit easier.

7. Vargo Exoti 50

Where to buy
Amazon Link
$299.95
Vargo Exoti 50 Backpack
Amazon Link

From a brand you may not have heard of, the Vargo Exoti 50 is an incredibly well designed external frame backpack. With its 50-liter capacity and sleek design, it has even been mistaken for an internal frame on the trails. This bag combines the best features of an internal backpack with an external frame.

Read more

Material

The backpack is made from a durable, uncoated Nylon and is finished with a DWR finish. This doesn't make the external backpack completely waterproof but it will keep your items dry until while you run for cover. The external frame is made from titanium alloy and is ultralight. The hip belts are comfortably padded with a thickness of 1.5-centimeters.

Weight

Altogether, the pack and frame of the Exoti 50 only weigh 2.11-pounds. Vargo doesn't recommend using the frame to lug more than forty pounds, which is great for your back but can be inconvenient if you were hoping to strap on a few extra tools, tents, or gear.

Price

The price of this external backpack frame runs a little bit on the high end in terms of price but is by far not the most expensive pack on the market. The way that the frame and backpack distribute the weight on your hips and shoulders has been described as "priceless."

Design

With the age-old argument of internal versus external backpacks, Vargo has combined the best of both. The padded titanium hip belt sits in the perfect spot on your lower back, taking tension off of your shoulders. The hip belt also features two zippered pockets for easy access to important items. The X shaped load lifting compression strap system is what makes this external frame bag feel more like an internal frame. The X system keeps your items from falling to the bottom of the bag and provides a more stable feeling within the bag.

Additional Features

The shoulder harness and hip belts are adjustable and ventilated for maximum comfort. The backpack is hydration bladder compatible and also features a mesh water bottle pocket on each side.

Summary

For someone who is just transitioning to an external frame backpack, the Exoti 50 is perfect. While on the more expensive side, this bag provides the best of both worlds and is slowly gaining a cult following. It may seem like a big investment at first, but with the confidence that this bag will last you for many years, in the long run, it pays for itself.

Amazon Link
$299.95

8. Allen Rock Canyon

Where to buy
Amazon Link
$128.32
Allen Rock Canyon External Hunting Pack Frame
Amazon Link

The Allen Rock Canyon doesn’t hold as much as some of the other external backpacks frame out there, but it makes up for it in its durability and innovative design. If you are a hunter or a hiker that doesn’t need the excess storage that some of the other models offer, this is a great option that is offered at an affordable price.

Read more

Materials

One of the best features of this backpack is the rugged materials that make up the pack. It is able to really take a beating out of difficult trails, and it has waterproof in case you get caught in rainy weather. The straps are well padded as well to ensure your complete comfort.

Weight

This model weighs in at just over 7 pounds, which is a little heavy for an external backpack that doesn’t hold as much weight as some of the other packs out there.

Price

The price of this external backpack frame is one of the most affordable packs on this list. If you were ever unsure of giving an external pack a try, this pack will make an excellent start.

Design:

Due to the fact that this backpack is designed with hunters in mind means that it one comes in one color, neutral tan. It sports reversible compression panels that are designed to keep your center of gravity stable while scaling treacherous terrain.

Additional Features

Padded straps on the shoulder and along with the waistline keep pressure off of your back, so that you won’t be completely exhausted when you make it to your destination, no matter how much stuff you pack into your bag. When the rains really start to come down, a waterproof cover is affixed to the bag to cover your pack and keep your belongings safe and dry.

Summary

If you are in the market for a new external frame backpack, the Allen Rock Canyon External Frame Pack is a great choice without holding you back or breaking the bank.

Amazon Link
$128.32

9. Kelty Tioga

Where to buy
Amazon Link
$188.95
Kelty Tioga External Frame Pack
Amazon Link

Kelty is gracing this list with an excellently designed pack that sports a comfortable fit and has a lot of extra features that ensures your next camping or hunting trip will be easy and enjoyable.

Read more

Materials

The materials used for this pack are tough and strong and will be able to handle whatever the mountain throws at you. The zippers are concealed, so that they will not rust when the weather gets rough, ensuring that your belongings will stay safe for the duration of your hike.

Weight

The weight of this frame pack runs about the middle of the road, weighing in at approximately 5.8 pounds, which is pretty normal for an external frame backpack. What makes this pack great is that is able to store 5,500 cubic inches of gear.

Price

Due to its superior carrying capacity that comes from the trusted brand of Kelty, this frame backpack is a little bit more expensive than some of the others and is one of the more expensive packs on this list. However, if you are a hiker that doesn’t like to travel light, this will be well worth the money.

Design

This external frame backpack only comes in black. It offers a top-loading design so that loading things into it is simple and easy, and the top flap is sure to keep items safe and protected. The padded shoulder straps and waist cinch are sure to keep your body from becoming stiff and sore when you finally make it to your destination.

Additional features

Just like any other Kelty pack, the Tioga provides many side pockets to provide quick access to trial necessities such as water bottles, energy bars, and cell phones. It also has a bottom unit that is able to simply affix a sleeping bag.

Summary

If you are a camper or a hunter that needs all the room you can get to carry and all of the essentials for a great camping trip, this bag will give you all the room that you need and then some. It does cost a little bit more than some of the others, but all of the additional features make it well worth the slightly higher price.

Amazon Link
$188.95

10. Eberlestock Mainframe

Where to buy
Amazon Link
$249.00
Eberlestock Mainframe Pack
Amazon Link

This external backpack is a great addition to our list. It offers the support you expect for an external backpack and takes the stress off your back while it supports the weight of your gear.

Read more

Materials

The materials used for this bag are made from 100 percent nylon, making it incredibly tough and durable. It has padded shoulder straps that keep your arms comfortable, and a vented back to ensure that your body stays cool and comfortable even on those long heights on hot summer days.

Weight

This is one of the lighter external frame backpacks to make this list, weighing in at just over 4 pounds.

Price

The price is a little steep for this backpack but that is due to the fact that it is built to last and does an excellent job at what it was created to do.

Design

This external frame backpack comes in a variety to camo and military colors.

Amazon Link
$249.00

Sources

  1. Kristin Hostetter, Backpack Buying Guide,