Best External Frame Backpack: Protecting your Gear and your Back

Couple backpacking adventure
Jerry Mueller
Written by Jerry Mueller

The best external frame backpack is what you will need if you want to go on long hike in total comfort while you are hauling a bunch of gear with you. The external frame, while not as popular as the internal frame backpacks available today, is still a practical choice for hikers looking for a hands-free way of toting necessary gear over rough and sometimes seriously difficult terrain without having to strain the back or run the risk of potential injury.

External framed backpack

Choosing an external frame backpack is something that takes a bit of planning. You will need to know what you are looking for in a bag and that will be based on your size, and the cubic capacity you need for the gear you need.

Features to Expect as You Shop

The external frame backpacks available today have a variety of features, and some commonalities. The typical features you can expect in a frame are as follows:

  • Metal framework or suspension: The frame itself is often made of an anodized aluminum alloy, since the metal is suitable for handling heavier loads. Aluminum is also rigid enough so that the frame will not bend out of shape and the rigidness of the construction also allows for the ease of heavy weight distribution throughout the frame. The framework is likely to feature an array of convenient attachments as well; some backpacks come with straps for carrying poles, tents, sleeping bags, canisters, and other heavy camping gear.
  • Bag material: The external backpack frames that feature bags (and not all of them do) are often made of nylon or polyester. Some of the bags come with added features like rain covers, water-resistant and tear-resistant properties, and you can rest assured in the durability of their design.
  • Storage: Most bags are fitted with 2 to 8 pockets. Some pockets are slip in units and others have durable zippers to secure belongs nicely inside. The bag sometimes comes with dividers and special compartments for sleeping bags and mesh areas for water bottles. In addition to pockets, bags range in carrying capacity from around 2050 cubic inches to as much as 3080 cubic inches or greater. The longer your hiking trip the greater the amount of storage space you will need.
  • Ergonomic Comfort: Today’s external frame backpacks come with padded shoulders, adjustable waist belts, and a range of sizes to ensure a suitable fit. The frame’s design helps with spreading weight distribution and minimizing sway when the gear is in use.
  • Pack-less external frames: If the frame does not come with bag, it is a frame fitted with padding, shelving, and it is used for hauling things like firewood or other bulky items around.
  • Top loading and hold open bars: The majority of the external frame backpacks are top loading. An open bar handle helps to keep the bag open while you are sifting through your gear.

Choosing the perfect external frame backpack takes a bit of forethought, research and, without a few tips under your belt, a whole lot of comparative shopping. Here, we review the top ten external frame backpacks on the market to help you narrow down your choices.

External framed backpack on packwheel

The reviews here reveal some of the finest features of each bag, and there is enough variety in terms of price, features, and design, that everyone should easily find at least one backpack to suit their personal preferences.

A Look at the Best External Frame Backpacks

Outdoor Products Dragonfly External Frame Backpack

Outdoor Products Dragonfly ExternalFrame BackpackSize: 24” length x 14” wide x 8” depth

Weight: 10 Pounds

Color: Cobalt Blue

Specifications: Top loading main compartment; nylon materials, hip belt, and shoulder pads. Dual side pockets: Compatible with 32-ounce water bottle (not included). Mesh suspension system integration.

Bungee compression system included. External frame made of Enduroflex. Comes with a lifetime guarantee on the product covering materials and the product’s workmanship.

Best Use: Camping and hiking adventures. Created for pre-teens and adolescents.

The Dragonfly External Frame Backpack by Outdoor Product is available to you at cost between $50.00 and $75.00. This entry-level external frame backpack is among the top ten list of options because of its excellent price and superior design.

The interior offer a sizable capacity of 2780 cubic inches so there is plenty of room for all your important gear. The main compartment is a breeze to get into since it is top loading, and the hip belt along with the padded shoulders promises maximum comfort when the bag is in use. The Dragonfly backpack has nylon as its primary material so the unit is water resistant, durable, and breathable.

The Mesh Suspension System ensures your pre-teen or adolescent remains dry and cool. The Bungee compression system positions bag contents in place and lends stability to the gear as one walks. For storage, you get seven spacious pockets.

Related: When looking for an equally affordable alternative, you can try an external frame backpack like Kelty’s Sanitas Backpack at a cost of about $120 to $130. The backpack has a generous interior capacity of 2050 cubic inches and it ensures a comfortable fit when in use.

Check the price on Amazon

Kelty Yukon External Frame Pack

Kelty Yukon External Frame PackSize: Small/Medium and Medium/Large; 24” x 25.5” x 11 inches

Weight: 4 pounds 14 ounces

Color: Gray

Specifications: Top loading external frame backpack; 420 denier polyester fabric; daisy chain included, ice axe loops, lash tabs; hold open bar for ease of use; water bottle pockets; patented cinch; reservoir sleeve; spindrift collar; zippered pockets and a compartment for the sleeping bag. Sold with a limited lifetime warranty.

Best Use: pre-teen and adolescent use, particularly those transitioning into a bigger pack.

Kelty Yukon’s External Frame Pack is available at a cost between $140.00 and $170.00. The backpack is one that has proven a popular selection with scouts members, pre-teens, and adolescents across the world. The bag is well-ventilated and offers mesh pockets for storage of water bottles.

The bag has shoulder straps for comfort during carrying, and the hold open bar gives kids easy access to the interior of the backpack. The suspension of the bag is adjustable to ensure the bag is weighted correctly when in use. The waist belt is made of dual density foam and is removable.

Related: For around $180.00 to $190.00, you can opt for the Kelty Trekker featuring a top loading design, an area for the sleeping bag, the dual density foam waist belt, and adjustable suspension; the bag has a 64 Liter Volume.

Check the price on Amazon

ALPS OutdoorZ Commander Freighter Frame + Pack Bag

ALPS OutdoorZ Commander Freighter FrameSize: 15.4” x 6.7” x 2.4 inches

Weight: 7.3 pounds

Color: Gray

Specifications: The bag is made of highly durable nylon ripstop fabric and features a rifle holder. The pack is top loading, has a hydration pocket and port; a draw cord on the spindrift collar, one large main pocket, front pocket, two side pockets for accessories, and one spotting scope pocket. This pack has a hold open frame, lashing straps, an internal horizontal divider, and plenty of storage.

Best Use: Outdoor use, especially when hunting big game and carrying a weapon.

The Commander Freighter Frame and Back Pack costs between $130.00 and $150.00, and it is a spacious bag allowing your teen to carry lots of gear in one durable pack: The unit has 5250 cubic feet capacity.

This unit is a bit heavier than some other external frame backpacks, but the extra weight contributes to the durability of the bag overall. The bag features #10 ten port zippers, a hydration pocket, and a holder for a rifle if the user wants to carry a weapon in the pack.

The bag is a big game pack with top-loading features. It comes with clevis pin attachments, webbing loops for lashing, lashing straps, and it fits around the torso at a range of 17 to 23 inches with considerable comfort.

Related:  An exceptional alternative, you can opt for the external back pack by Alps called the Mountaineering Zion pack featuring 3900 cubic inches of carrying capacity and a price tag between $95.00 and $110.00. The bag is made of polyester, is hydration compatible, and features vented lumbar support, padded shoulders, and a padded waist belt for comfort along with a whole host of convenience features for the mountaineer and hiker.

Check the price on Amazon

Kelty Super Tioga External Frame Pack

Kelty Super Tioga External FrameSize: 31″ x 23″ x 16 inches

Weight: 5 pounds 10 ounces

Color: Dark Gray

Specifications: Top loading design; adjustable suspension; 5500 cubic inches in carrying capacity; padded shoulders; comfortable waistband; sleeping bag compartment. Adjustable torso, polyester ripstop material, aluminum alloy frame material, seven pockets total with two main compartments; unisex design.

Best Use: Outdoor backpacking; pre-teens and adolescents.

Kelty’s Super Tioga External Frame Pack is about $180.00 to $190.00. The unit is super spacious with a full 5500 cubic inches of carrying space inside. You can put a sleeping bag in the special compartment, and the top loading design give easy access to the bag’s interior. The padded shoulders promise comfort while the unit is in use, just as the adjustable waist belt also promises lasting comfort. The suspension of the unit is both external and fully adjustable to ensure even weight distribution and shock absorption when being carried and full of gear.

Related:  The Kelty Sanitas Backpack (Cypress) design is a reasonable alternative to the Tioga. The bag is about $120.00 to $130.00 and features 2050 cubic feet of carrying space for toting along gear. The bag is a like three pounds six ounces, and it the ideal bag for kids ages eight to 12.

Check the price on Amazon

Vargo Ti-Arc Backpack

Vargo Ti-Arc BackpackSize: 15” x 31” x 5 inches

Weight: 3.5 pounds

Color: Gray

Specifications: Arc suspension bar streamlined, ergonomic lumbar support plate, titanium alloy external frame construction, spacious, plenty of storage, and lightweight design.

Best Use: For pre-teens and teens backpacking and hiking.

The Vargo Ti-Arc Backpack costs between $270.00 and $300.00. The backpack is extremely light when compared to some of the heavy versions available, and the spacious interior ensures lots of room for gear and personal belongings.

The bag’s frame is made of titanium alloy hosting a lumber plate with a special ergonomically correct design for superior back support. The backpack comes with a 36-Liter capacity, is made of durable, high quality ripstop nylon. The shoulder harness is ventilated and adjustable.

The torso lengths are also adjustable. The pockets on the bag provide excellent organization options.

Related: Vargo doesn’t make many external frame backpacks, but they do have the Vargo Ti-Arc CF Backpack for about $400.00 as more costly option if you are seeking an upgraded version of the Ti-Arc. The CF is light, made of titanium alloy, and it has lumbar support as well as a streamlined Arc Cuben Fiber bag design.

Check the price on Amazon

Jansport Scout Outdoor Backpack

Jansport Scout Outdoor BackpackSize: 33” x 14” x 12” inches

Weight: 3.8 pounds

Color: Forge Gray

Specifications: 3850 cubic inches of carrying space; top loading bag, aluminum alloy frame; comfortable design; durable fabric. Includes a water bottle holder.

Best Use: pre-teens and teenagers will like the back when backpacking or camping.

There is little doubt in the popularity of the Jansport Scout’s Outdoor Backpack as consumers are waiting for it to become available again in the market. The backpack has a frame made of aluminum materials, and it is adjustable for ease of carrying, ergonomic handling, and simplicity of use. The bag comes with 3850 cubic inches of storage for toting around belongings during an outdoor hike.

Related: Jansport Katahdin 20L Backpack is an exceptional backpack with an external frame, especially if you are waiting for the Scout to come back on the market. The backpack has a back panel that is a fully padded EVA design and the hip belt is padded to give the user comfort when wearing the pack.

Check the price on Amazon

Osprey Men’s Atmos 65 AG Backpacks

Osprey Mens Atmos 65 AGSize: Small, Medium, or Large; 10” x 16” x 23 inches

Weight: 3.9 pounds

Color: Absinthe Green, Graphite Grey, and Cinnabar Red

Specifications: This external frame backpack features an adjustable harness, front panel pockets with dual zippers; a fit on the fly hip belt; Stow on the Go trekking pole attachment; sleeping pad straps; tool attachment; internal reservoir sleeve with a top lid that removes easily for fill and cleaning.

Best Use: pre-teens and teens, especially those looking to carry tools and hiking equipment. A bit pricey so best for the truly dedicated and enthusiast hikers and campers.

The Atmos 65 AG Backpacks by Osprey is a nylon external frame back pack priced between $250.00 and $420.00, so this backpack is on the upper end of the scale when it comes to backpack selections. The features and superior design, however, make the pack more than worth it.

The bag comes in three awesome colors, and has a total of eight pockets including five exterior pockets and three slip pockets. The bag is fitted with an adjustable harness, a comfortable hip belt, and the user can always remain hydrated with the inclusion of the internal reservoir sleeve with a floating top lid. The bag has a couple of sleeping pad straps.

The bag has an anti-gravity suspension system coupled with a back panel with a seamless design along with breathable, light mesh make the bag durable and practical. The bag is guaranteed by the manufacturer so that if it has a defect or it is damaged, they will repair it or replace it under their “All Mighty Guarantee.”

Related: If you are looking for a backpack for an adult, the Osprey Men’s Aether external backpack is affordable priced between $210.00 and $300.00. Available in Arroyo Red, Bonsai Green, or Midnight Blue, the back comes with the Stow on the Go Trekking pole attachment, a hydration sleeve, a LightWire peripheral frame, and New IsoForm CM hip belt for comfort.

Check the price on Amazon

Kelty Trekker Frame

Kelty Trekker FrameSize: 22.5” x 29” x 13 inches

Weight: 4 pounds 14 ounces

Color: Brick Red

Specifications: The external suspension features a patented Scherer Cinch, sternum strap, load-lifter/stabilizer straps, padded shoulder straps, and a removable dual-density wait belt made of soft foam material. Plenty of storage pockets; top loading pack; water bottle storage; key fob; lash tabs, ice-axe loops, and a hold bar. The bag has aa 3950 cubic inch carrying capacity. Sold with a limited lifetime warranty.

Best Use: For pre-teens and teens

Kelty Trekker’s pack is an external frame costs between $180.00 and $200.00. The backpack itself is made of 420 denier polyester Ball Shadow Body and Oxford reinforcement fabrics. It comes with a big, spacious front pocket, a hold open bar for ease of gear access, and a key fob.

The pack is also equipped with lash tabs, a daisy chain, ice axe loop spindrift collar, and mesh water bottle pockets for storing water while allowing condensation to dissipate. The unit has a reservoir sleeve, side pockets for gear organization; zip enclosures for securing gear, a compartment for the storage of a sleeping bag, and finally, a top loading feature for ease of access to the gear carried inside the bag.

Related: Any of the alternative Kelty external frame backpacks are ideal for alternative selections here. ToFINE, while not on the top ten list, deserves at least an honorable mention here in the world of external backpack frames the ToFine Hiking Backpack comes with a rain cover and costs between $60.00 and $70.00. The nylon bag is both tear and water resistant and comes with a 32-liter capacity for toting gear.

Check the price on Amazon

A.L.I.C.E. Frame/Backpack

A.L.I.C.E. Frame BackpackSize: 12.5” x 3” x 20.5 inches

Weight: 2.4 pounds

Color: Dark Grey

Specifications: external frame. Comes with shoulder pad straps, and waist belt.

Best Use: Use for carrying heavy or bulky items over rough and tough outdoor terrain with injuring your back doing so.

The ALICE Frame and backpack comes equipped with superior shoulder straps to help in avoiding back strain. A special pad is available for the purposes of protecting the lower back and a waist belt comes with this highly durable frame in order help to ensure even weight distribution the frame unit is in use. The manufacturer tests the frame to ensure the durability of the unit and the frame is made for rough and tough use.

Related: Sandpiper of California Pack Mule Frame System is a great option as a frame for carrying heavy objects, but the price tag is on the upper end of the scale. It comes with a mesh cargo carrier kit and a deluxe shoulder and belt set. This unit is called the most versatile of frames on the market today.

Check the price on Amazon

Mountain Hauler Pack Backpack Frame

Mountain Hauler Pack Backpack FrameSize: 32” x 16” x 1 inches

Weight: 3.55”

Color: Black

Specifications: Fold away shelf; rugged design, polyester padding; anodized aluminum framework; weave mesh back band to ensure the breathability of the fabric while you are carrying the unit on your back – keeps you dry and cool. Hip belt included. Padded shoulder straps ease the burden on the upper back. Ergonomic design for safety.

Best Use: For toting firewood, wild game, and other heavy objects.

The Stansport Mountain Hauler Pack Frame costs about $49.00 to $70.00. The unit a foldaway shelf, padded should straps, a leno weave, breathable mesh back band, and a hip belt of comfort. The unit also has padding made of 100% polyester.

This frame is prefect for use when looking to carry bulky items when on rough terrain or things like firewood and wild game. A hip belt promises extra security and comfort.

Related: The Badlands Ox Take Down Frame Backpack costs between $211.00 and $299.00. The unit is made of zero-weld aluminum, and it is an eternal frame backpack fitted with an ergonomic suspension made of molded foam. The unit comes with a meat shelf, frame ports for the use in cargo rigging, and adjustable web lash straps.

Check the price on Amazon

Get Your Choice Right and Ensure Lasting Comfort

Choosing an external frame backpack involves a lot of consideration, especially when you want to maximize and ensure comfort when using the bag in question. You need to go into the selection effort with a good idea of the size bag you need and some of the accessories you might require.

However, you also must couple your desired features and design with finding a backpack that is durable, long-lasting, functional, practical, and affordable as well. If you have found a penchant for one or more of the above external frame backpacks or you have questions about the products mentioned here, we invite you to weigh in, share your questions and concerns with us in the comments below.

Under the shade of trees

Have a penchant for another brand? Tell us why and what makes the backpack ideal for hikers and camping enthusiasts! We look forward to hearing from you.


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.