CAMPING & HIKING

Best Internal Frame Backpack: Save your Shoulders from Agony

Orange backpack and tents
Jerry Mueller
Written by Jerry Mueller

When you were in school, picking out a backpack was always fun. You could pick a really bright and colourful one, one with cartoon characters on it, or even a plain one. There were all different styles, and sizes. Oftentimes the actual functionality and comfort of the backpack wasn’t overly important. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to picking a pack when going backpacking, particularly choosing the best internal frame backpack for you.

Not only will you be wearing it for possibly days on end, but it will be packed with things that you will literally need to survive. There’s no convenient food stand out in the wilderness. Plus, since backpackers are constantly on the move, an ill-fitting pack can turn from an inconvenience to a serious problem very quickly.

Backpacking in mountains

So, what can be done about this? Well, first of all, what type of pack best serves your purpose? There are internal frame backpacks, and external frame backpacks. As previously mentioned, for the purposes of this article, only the first will be covered, as nowadays, they are far more commonly found, more modernly designed, and less bulky than an external frame backpack.

How well does it fit?

You could have the most technologically advanced pack in the whole world, but if it doesn’t fit you, it will be absolutely useless. A properly fitted backpack is sized correctly for your torso length, and is comfortably snug on your hips.

How is this achieved? A tape-measure and a friend are a good place to start. In order to find a backpack that fits your torso properly, you must first figure out exactly how long your torso is. To do this, as you’ll be measuring from the back, you will need a little bit of assistance.

To find the starting point of the measurement, envision a straight line between the top points of your hips (iliac crest). The center point of this line (your spine) is where you will measure your line. The top point of your torso measurement is the place where your neck meets with your torso, in between your shoulders.

Solo backpacking journey

The second measurement you will need to take is that of your hips, as this is another place where your pack will be laying. This is a much easier measurement to take, and can be done flying solo. Simply wrap the tape measure around the top of your hips, ensuring that you are including the iliac crescent.

Now that you have these measurements, you can start looking at backpacks. Most packs will have some sort of guideline with them to let you know what measurements are best suited for it. Some even have adjustable shoulder straps, which move up and down the pack itself.

There are also packs that are specifically made for women, as they tend to be more slender. However, these packs are also useful for youth, or for those who are particularly slight of build. If you still aren’t too sure if it fits properly just ask an employee at the store. If it’s at a specialty sporting store, the staff should be knowledgeable and helpful.

How long will you be living out of this bag?

There’s a huge difference between going on a weekend camping trip and a week-long excursion. The size of these packs are measured in volume, or litres. The larger the litre, the larger the pack. On a typical weekend trip, a 30-50 litre pack is usually sufficient, on a 3-5 day trip, a 50-80 litre pack will do, and on a week or longer trip, a 70+ litre pack will be needed.

Watching sunset carrying new backpack

The size of the pack you chose also depends on how you pack. The lighter you pack, within reason, the quicker you can move and the smaller pack you can get away with. This requires very careful planning, and a great deal of self-discipline. You want to pack light, but on the other hand you don’t want to leave something crucial at home when you might need it.

The most popular size of backpack is the 50-80 litre range, as they are large enough that you don’t have to pack overly light. They are also versatile enough that they can be taken on any type of trip from long to short. So, if you only plan on buying one pack and using it for a large variety of trips, ensure that you are choosing one in this range.

What kind of features will you need?

As with most things, there is a long list of different features that packs can have. One of the best features of the internal frame backpack is that it hugs close to the body, and allows the person wearing it to keep their center of balance fairly easy, especially over rough terrain.

Short hiking trip

When finding a correct fit, the following must be considered:

  • Ventilation in the back panel: To avoid the dreaded “sweaty back syndrome,” manufacturers have added a mesh layer with an air pocket on the back panel, or some other mechanism such as a chimney-like system. These allow for air flow between the snug fitting pack and the wearer’s back.
  • Pouch Access: When out in the middle of no-where, a top opening large pack may not be enough access when you’re trying to find something in the bottom of your pack. To circumvent this, manufacturers have made packs that have many small external pockets, as well as packs with zippers that run all the way down the front of the large pouch allowing easy access to the bottom without having to unpack everything. Some packs also have detachable day packs or fanny packs for day trips.
  • Sleeping Bag Compartments: On some packs these are zippered pockets located at the bottom of the pack. These are not only useful for storing a compact sleeping bag, but also for storing other items that you want easy access to.
  • Padding: Adequate padding on a pack’s straps prevents rub sores and un-needed agony for the wearer. However, if the pack doesn’t fit properly, all the padding in the world won’t help.
  • Attachment Sites: These are areas where gear that either won’t fit in the pack or could potentially damage it, such as an ice axe for mountaineering, can attach to and be easily carried.
  • Rain Shield/Fly: While most packs are reinforced and waterproofed to a certain extent, driving rain can still soak its contents. A rain shield goes is made of waterproof material that wraps around the outside of the pack, keeping its contents dry.
  • Water Reservoir: These are a great substitute for carrying water bottles around, as they are usually simply a bladder, as opposed to a hard-sided water bottle.

So, now that you know exactly what to look for, below is a compiled list of recommendations on high quality packs.

List of Top Internal Frame Backpacks

TETON Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Backpack

TETON Sports Scout 3400WEIGHT: 4.5lbs

DIMENSIONS: 3400 cubic inches/55 liter capacity

SPECIFIC FEATURES: One of the top selling packs on Amazon; Great price; Multiple pockets; Built in bladder compartment; Rain cover included; Unisex; Limited lifetime warranty

BEST USE: Best used for shorter trips.

TETON Sports Scout 3400 pack features amazing lumbar support, and is the correct size for both men and women to wear. Its multiple pockets are great for stashing anything that could possibly be needed. It has both internal and external flap pockets, and a special padded pocket in the main pocket designed to keep a water bladder cool on hot days.

There are multiple mesh pockets on the outside of the pack for storing small things that need to be accessible throughout the day. This high quality backpacks, for a low price, are very comparable to packs that are twice its price making it a great choice for a beginner.

RELATED: Made by the same company as the Sports Scout 3400, the Mountaintop 40 Liter Water-resistant Camping Backpck-5812I reflects the same amazing quality. Although this pack is a little bit smaller, sized in at 40L as opposed to 55L, it still has many pockets all great for storage. It also features many attachment sites for various gear that may be needed, and has a breathable mesh back. The Mountaintop 40L is a great choice for a shorter trip, and is as reasonably priced as its counterpart.

Check the price on Amazon

High Sierra Appalachian 75

High Sierra Appalachian 75WEIGHT: 6.54lbs

DIMENSIONS: 34.0″ x 14.25″ x 10.25″

SPECIAL FEATURES: Large pack for multi-day trips; Breathable mesh back; Removable media pouch; Multiple pockets; Tuckaway rain cover

BEST USE: Best used on multi-day trips

Sizing in at the large 75L, the High Sierra Appalachian pack is great for multi-day trip. With its multiple pockets and removable media pouch, not only is this pack great for the long haul, it also works well for shorter day trips. It’s attached rain cover ensures that the contents and all of your precious possessions won’t get wet or damaged.

Not only does it have a sternum strap for added stability, but it’s breathable mesh back ensures that its wearer never has to suffer from the dreaded “sweaty back” syndrome.

RELATED: Made with the same high standards of the High Sierra company, the Karadon 65L W S-M shares many of the same qualities as the Appalachian 75. Although it is a little smaller, it still has a lot of great pockets and pouches for gear storage. Also, even though this has nothing to do with the actual usage of this pack, it comes in many fun and wonderful colours.

Check the price on Amazon

Mountaintop 65L Internal Frame Backpack

Mountaintop 65L Internal Frame BackpackDIMENSIONS: 65L

SPECIAL FEATURES: Multiple pockets for storage; Multiple gear attachment points; Compression straps; Hydration system compatible

BEST USE: Best used for long multi-day treks.

The Mountaintop 65L Internal Frame Backpack may not have a fancy name, but what it lacks in name it more than makes up for in quality. This pack not only has multiple pockets for storage, it also has many attachments for other gear that might be needed.

As its large enough to be taken on multi-day trips, it’s great for those going mountaineering, or even being used as a carry-on during air travel. It also features multiple compression straps for your tent, sleeping bag, and anything else that will fit.

RELATED: Also made by Mountaintop, the Mountaintop 55L+10L Water-resistant Hiking Backpack is very similar to the 65L model. It features the same internal frame that allows for even distribution of the load. With its well designed pocket placement it’s great for taking on multi-day treks.

Check the price on Amazon

WASING 55L Internal Frame Backpack

WASING 55L Internal Frame BackpackWEIGHT: 2.95lbs

DIMENSION: 55L

SPECIAL FEATURES: Foam back panel with airflow channels; adjustable aluminum frame; Built in rain cover; Water bladder sleeve; Gear attachment areas; Sleeping bag compartment; Cost effective

BEST USE: Best used on multi-day trips

Even though this pack comes at a minimal cost to the consumer, it sacrifices no quality. This pack is available in multiple colours, and is light enough that it’s no bother to take anywhere. Even though it is an internal frame system, no one wearing it needs to be concerned about getting a sweaty back during arduous hikes, as it’s foam back panel has multiple airflow channels.

It’s adjustable aluminum frame allows for the perfect fit, so rub sores will never be a problem. Not only does it have multiple pockets, including a designated zippered sleeping bag compartment, but it also has multiple attachment sites for any gear that won’t fit into the pack itself. When it comes to water, the WASING 55L backpack is made of water-resistant material for those damp days, and has an attached rain cover for when it’s pouring rain.

RELATED: Sizing in at a 65L, the ARCHEER 65L Internal Frame Hiking Backpack is not only priced similarly to the WASING 55L, it also has very similar features and qualities. This lightweight backpack features many pockets, water resistant construction, and multiple gear attachment sites.

Check the price on Amazon

High Sierra Long Trail 90 Internal Frame Pack

High Sierra Long Trail 90WEIGHT: 6.9lbs

DIMENSIONS:90L

SPECIAL FEATURES: Adjustable aluminum frame; Back airflow channels; Multiple gear attachments; Internal hydration reservoir sleeve

BEST USE: Best used for long 7+ day trips

This large pack is great for long trips. It’s quite light for its size, and has an adjustable aluminum frame for maximum comfort. Both the waist belt and the back of the pack are  made of a vented foam, and have multiple airflow channels.

As it’s meant for longer trips, the Long Trail 90 has multiple external gear attachments. With an internal hydration reservoir sleeve and attached rain shield, whether you want water or not it’s always your choice.

RELATED: When it comes to large and multi-day packs, the HBAG Discovery 80L Internal Frame Camping Backpack is quite similar to the High Sierra Long Trail 90. Even though it is slightly smaller, it also features multiple pockets, padded shoulder and waist straps, and multiple gear attachments.

Check the price on Amazon

TETON Sports Explorer 4000 Internal Frame Backpack

TETON Sports Explorer 4000WEIGHT: 5lbs

DIMENSIONS: 65L

SPECIAL FEATURES: Thick back panels channel airflow; Adjustable aluminum frame; Straps adjust on the back of the pack; Multiple pouches and pockets for gear; Multiple gear attachment sites; Integrated rain fly

BEST USE: Best used on 3-5 day hikes

This medium sized pack is great for multi-day hikes. With its multiple pouches and gear attachments, it has superior storage. The adjustable aluminum frame and back straps, it accommodates hikers from 5’1″ to 6’4″. That is impressive!

Its thick back panels allow for large air flow channels to keep the “sweaty back” syndrome at bay. The Sports Explorer 4000 also features a specific pouch for a water bladder to keep up hydration, and for those days in the rain when hydration is the last thing on your mind it also has an attached rain fly.

RELATED: Made with the same quality and attention to detail the Fox 5200 Internal Frame Backpack, although a little larger at 75+10L, is another example of an amazing backpack made by TETON. It has the same adjustable straps and frame, making it a very versatile pack. It’s great for multi-day hikes, and it’s multiple pockets and gear attachments sites ensure that nothing important gets left behind.

Check the price on Amazon

Kelty Redwing 50 Backpack

Kelty Redwing 50 BackpackWEIGHT: 3lbs 11oz

DIMENSIONS: 51L

SPECIAL FEATURES: Panel & top loading; Multiple large pockets; Removable waist belt; Mesh back panel; Dual use laptop/hydration sleeve; Multiple gear attachments 

BEST USE: Best used on shorter multi-day hikes

This medium sized pack is great for multi-day hikes. Since it is also a panel loading pack, it is easy to get to things on the very bottom of the pack no matter what the weather.

The mesh back panel allow for adequate airflow between the hikers back and pack itself, preventing the horrible “sweaty back” syndrome. The multiple pockets and gear attachments ensure that all of your gear can be stowed efficiently and easily.

RELATED: Much like its regular counterpart, the Redwing 50 Reserve combines style with comfort and versatility. It also features multiple pockets and gear attachment sites, and as it’s made by Kelty, it embodies the same high quality. The Redwing 50 Reserve also features the same mesh back panel for great airflow, and the same laptop/hydration sleeve for both city and back country travels.

Check the price on Amazon

Gonex Military Molle Backpack 900D

Gonex Military Molle Backpack 900DWEIGHT: 2.5kg

DIMENSIONS: 70L

SPECIAL FEATURES: Cost effective; Water resistant; Adjustable back straps; Back airflow channels; Multiple pockets & gear attachments

BEST USE: Best used for multiple day hikes.

This high quality and spacious pack is not only cost effective, but also very versatile. It’s adjustable back straps allow for a highly customized fit, and the back airflow channels ensure that your back breathes and sweats no more than absolutely necessary. Since the Military Molle 900D features multiple pockets and gear attachments, it is easy to pack adequately for any type of hiking trip.

RELATED: Also made by Gonex, the Hking Camping Trekking Backpack 900D Tactical Molle Bag has many of the same features as the Military Molle Backpack 900D. With the same high quality as well as low costs, this is not a bag to pass up. It’s multiple pockets and gear attachments go a long way to ensure that nothing is left behind when going out backpacking.

Check the price on Amazon

Bolang Summit 45 Internal Frame Pack

Bolang Summit 45WEIGHT: 3.2lbs

DIMENSIONS: 45L

SPECIAL FEATURES: Fluorescent colours; Built in emergency whistle; Built in rain fly; Multiple gear attachments sites; Multiple pockets

BEST USE: Best used on shorter multi-day trips

This medium sized pack in all of its bright colours will ensure that any hiker is easily spotted out on the trails. It’s size is large enough to be able to pack whatever is needed, yet small enough that it isn’t overly heavy or straining on your back.

It features a built-in whistle on the sternum strap, and it’s mesh double layered back ensures that no one gets overly sweaty with no need. With its many large pockets and gear attachments sites,  all of your gear can be stored properly and within easy reach. With its water resistant build and attachable rain fly any gear you bring with you is guaranteed to stay dry.

RELATED: Sizing in slightly larger than the Bolang Summit, the CHANGKU Packable Lightweight Outdoor Hiking Backpack 50L shares much of the same features. It has many large pockets for gear storage, as well as multiple sites to attach gear that won’t fit into the main pack.

The material it’s made of is water resistant as well, with a built in rain fly just in case. It’s light enough to be a very versatile pack, and can go as many places as you do.

Check the price on Amazon

SOG Barrage Tactical Internal Frame Pack

SOG Barrage Tactical Internal FrameWEIGHT: 5.5lbs

DIMENSIONS: 91.7L

SPECIAL FEATURES: Hydration compatible pouch; 180 degree zippered openings to main pouch; Padded waist belt with quick release buckle; Top carry handle

BEST USE: Best used on longer trips.

Not only is it stylish, but the SOG Barrage Tactical is also large and light enough to take anywhere. It’s 180 degree zippered opening on the main pouch ensures that you can get whatever you want whenever you need it. With its hydration compatible pouch, hot days are never a huge deal.

The SOG Barrage Tactical also has padded shoulder straps as well as waist belt. The quick release buckle on the waist belt allows for the wearer to get out of the pack quickly and easily in emergencies as well.

RELATED: Made in the same heavy duty way that SOG prides themselves in, the Seraphim 35, although a little smaller, does not disappoint. It has a large main pouch, and many different attachment sites for extra gear. Its hardy build allows it to be taken anywhere, and its light weight ensures it.

Check the price on Amazon

Pack it up and out

So, no matter where you plan to go or how long you plan to be there, ensure to carefully chose the pack you will be wearing. This one piece of equipment that can single-handedly decide whether or not you have a good trip, a great trip, or a trip you’ll never forget for all the wrong reasons. Luckily, there are many options out there, so you never have to settle on an ill-fitting pack.

Backpack on wheel

Have you ever had a great or terrible experience with a pack that was reviewed? Leave a comment and let your fellow outdoor enthusiasts know all about it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Mueller
Jerry Mueller

Jerry ‘Boy Scout’ Mueller spends 99% of his time camping or teaching others how to live in the wild. He became an Eagle Scout which is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting division when he was 17 and after that he still lives the scout life. Jerry always plans neatly every trip, takes leadership very seriously and if you listen to his tips and stories, you can learn tons of useful things.

  • Adam White

    Yes yes yes a million times yes. This is the best article. I have some pretty bad lower back problems and it is difficult to carry things. It’s also really important to make sure everything is even over both shoulders, not just lug things unevenly on one shoulder. It is extremely important to spread out the weight.

  • Tonya Murphy

    I really like how these packs have the strap around the waist. What great support. I know after a couple hours I am going to get tired and my back will hurt. Just seems like a good idea to be prepared, especially with long hikes or camping trips.

  • Jerry Mueller

    I understand your predicament all too well. Indeed, these backpacks will do you good. Internal frame backpacks are ergonomically designed so it hugs nearer our bodies. This usually keeps everything well-balanced so you can comfortably walk your way even on rough terrain.
    Also, it would be great if you don’t overpack to further refrain from hurting your back.

  • Jerry Mueller

    Hi Tonya and thanks for taking the time to write us. Almost everyone has a back problem nowadays. Poor posture, long hours of just working behind a desk and chronic pain all adds up. I’m so pleased that you have discovered these internal frame backpacks. Do read each reviews and I hope it helps widen your options.
    As I kept saying, don’t overpack your bag, limit the things you’ll bring to camp and keep it to a bare minimum.

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