Top 10 Best External Frame Backpacks in 2018

Man in the mountains with external frame backpackExternal frame backpacks might seem a bit old-fashioned, but they are actually a great choice if you need a backpack that allows you to carry a lot of stuff.

So if you have decided you need an external frame backpack, you will need to choose the right model.

This can be surprisingly difficult as there are quite a few models to choose from + you need to find out which of the backpacks that are of good quality and have the features you need.

Having checked tens of external frame backpack reviews, we can say that the Eberlestock Mainframe is the best choice for most people.

Eberlestock Mainframe

Eberlestock Mainframe

The best reviewed external frame backpack
Rated 4.95 out of 5

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PS: We have checked 162 reviews to make this top 10 list!
1Eberlestock MainframeEberlestock Mainframe4.95Check Price
2Kelty Super Tioga 5600Kelty Super Tioga 56004.90Check Price
3Kelty Trekker 65Kelty Trekker 654.84Check Price
4Kelty Trekker 65Kelty Trekker 654.84Check Price
5ALPS Mountaineering Bryce 59LALPS Mountaineering Bryce 59L3.94Check Price

How we rate the bags

We have checked 162 external frame backpack reviews, so we can show you the weighted average rating of all the bags.

Using the average ratings, you can check what all the reviewers think instead of just viewing the subjective opinion of one specific reviewer.

It’s much simplier to find the best bags that way.

Not sure what external frame backpacks to choose? Read on as we are going to take a closer look at each bag!

1 – Eberlestock Mainframe

5 review stars Rating 4.95 based on 33 reviews

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Eberlestock Mainframe

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Eberlestock Mainframe:

Reviewers like these things about the Eberlestock Mainframe

  • Many reviewers noted that the Eberlestock Mainframe pack is the greatest innovation in modern pack making.
  • Other reviewers pointed out that the bag is very comfortable with plenty of adjustment.
  • Testers also noted that its construction is very tough.
  • Many users found that it is narrow and short, ensuring that it does not go past the shoulders or head and get caught in the brush.
  • They also mentioned that it is comfortable with a lot of amount of weight on it.
  • Several reviewers found out that its straps and padding don’t overheat.
  • Many of the users noted that it is intuitive and functional.
  • Users pointed out that the bag makes ducking through and underbrush very easy.
  • They pointed out that it works well with a duffel.
  • Several testers also felt that the bag is an excellent hunting pack.
  • Other users pointed out that it is lightweight and offers an excellent range of motion.
  • Reviewers also noted that the bag’s supporting shoulder straps and belt are far more comfortable.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • A user said that the bag is too pricey.
  • Another user thought that the zippers that attach it were installed to zip down rather than up, gravity tends to pull them apart.

2 – Kelty Super Tioga 5600

5 review stars Rating 4.90 based on 69 reviews

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Kelty Super Tioga 5600

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Kelty Super Tioga 5600:

Reviewers like these things about the Kelty Super Tioga 5600

  • One user love how the external frame holds the pack up off his back, and the weight seems to fall on the lower body.
  • Backpackers thought it’s a good classic bag that holds up well and pretty comfortable.
  • One user thought it’s an excellent classic pack with some modern features.
  • Others love how it easily straps to a tree or stands inside the tent vestibule, keeps everything out of the mud, easy to find.
  • Many users agree that the materials used feel strong, and feels like it will last a long time.
  • One user said that this pack rocks, old school style with amazing benefits.
  • Some users find the color and size spot on.
  • Others liked how it’s easy to adjust and comes with large pockets with huge holding capacity.
  • Many find the multiple pockets good way to store specific gear to gain fast access.
  • A lot of users agree that this pack is very well built, the shoulder straps are not too wide or too narrow and but are nice and thick.
  • The waist with very nice padding is also a favorite feature among users.
  • Some reviewers particularly like the hip belt system.
  • using just your thumbs, the cinch straps loosen like butter, but tighten up easily and don’t loosen unless you want them to.
  • Others love how the shoulder straps have two cinch points, designed for maximum comfort.
  • Others liked the padded belt that is large and comfy and doesn’t pinch as you hike.
  • One user specifically liked how the frame allows to adjust the width of the strap mountings in order to have the pack ride appropriately.
  • Many users love that it comes with sufficient pockets and attachment points.
  • Others find the suspension, fully adjustable, able to carry heavy loads.
  • Some hikers thought separation of main area from the bottom is great for sleeping gear that is light weight yet bulky.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • Some users noted how the the load lifters would easily slip off the shoulder straps and dig into my collarbone.

3 – Kelty Trekker 65

5 review stars Rating 4.84 based on 15 reviews

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Kelty Trekker 65

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Kelty Trekker 65:

Reviewers like these things about the Kelty Trekker 65

  • Testers and reviewers say that it is a great light weight backpack.
  • The testers also said that the built fabric the pack is highly sturdy and durable over the years.
  • Some of the testers have also complimented the good load to hip transfer and good suspension system. They said that the manner in which the load is distributed didn’t hurt their shoulders or neck for longer carry.
  • Some reviewers are highly satisfied with the great storage capacity of the backpack.
  • Some travellers have complimented the ventilation system of the pack. They said that they travelled long with sweat only under the hip belt.
  • A few of the travellers also mentioned about the good and adjustable waist and shoulder straps that helped them to make the pack a perfect fit.
  • A couple of the reviewers also liked the external frame pockets to carry their gears for easy access.
  • Some mountaineers have said that they were able to carry long tools easily for climbing and trekking.
  • A few of the reviewers have said that they have used the pack as a daypack also as the bag can be compressed using adjustable straps.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • Some travellers complained that the top of the pack goes above their head when fully loaded. This made them to duck at places with low hanging branches.
  • Some travellers are also dissatisfied with the less number of external compartments for carry emergency gears.
  • A few of the reviewers have also complained for minor noises from the adjustment rivets while commuting.

4 – Kelty Trekker 65

5 review stars Rating 4.84 based on 15 reviews

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Kelty Trekker 65

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Kelty Trekker 65:

Reviewers like these things about the Kelty Trekker 65

  • Many reviewers noted that the bag has a simple design yet functional.
  • Other reviewers pointed out that the bag is comfortable and reliable for all their backpacking events.
  • They also said that its top lid converts to sling pack.
  • Many users noticed the presence of zippered side pockets.
  • Several reviewers found out that its fabric is durable.
  • Many of the users felt that the front pocket with organization options is a big help in organizing things.
  • Users noted that the bag has a hydration pocket.
  • They pointed out that it has a dual density foam waist belt.
  • Several testers recommend the use of the bag for trekking.
  • Other users pointed out that the external straps and attachment points are incredibly convenient for carrying tools, helmets, rope, etc.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • A user said that the top of the pack sticks out above her head so that it can get stick on low-hanging branches.
  • Another user thought that the bag could not carry too much weight.

5 – ALPS Mountaineering Bryce 59L

4 review stars Rating 3.94 based on 30 reviews

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ALPS Mountaineering Bryce 59L

Here’s what the reviewers think about the ALPS Mountaineering Bryce 59L:

Reviewers like these things about the ALPS Mountaineering Bryce 59L

  • Most users said that this pack is well made and sturdy.
  • Many users said that it has plenty of storage for a weekend.
  • Many other users said that the side pockets make convenient places to store items that might be needed in a pinch.
  • Most users said that the pack is very adjustable and came with extra locking pins and rings.
  • Most reviewers said that there is lots of pockets and room.
  • Many other users said that it has attractive design.
  • Many other users said that the pack is very lightweight.
  • Reviewers said that the pack has very large capacity.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • One user complained that the hydration compartments are not deep enough.
  • Another user said that he needs more padding on the back.

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Buyer’s guide to external frame backpacks

So, they may be old school as far as backpacks are concerned but you will be hard pressed to find a better workhorse than an external frame backpack. If you are planning on carrying as many items with you as possible, this is the pack that is going to help you do that.

Just because these type of packs are considered old fashioned doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to examine. You are going to need to understand the construction, capacity, suspension system, and more with these backpacks. Fortunately for you, we have taken care of all of this. Whatever you wanted to know about external frame backpacks, you will be able to find here.

Everything You Need to Know About External Frame Backpacks

External frame backpacks aren’t used all that often these days so it can be quite difficult to find information about these type of packs. To make sure that you get the best possible one for yourself, you will first need to understand all of the various elements regarding this category. Here is all of the relevant information:

What are External Frame Backpacks?

First things first, let’s take a look at just what these packs are and how they are built. Essentially, this type of backpack consists of a fully exposed frame from which a pack is suspended. The actual design varies from manufacturer to manufacturer although the basic components remain the same.


More often than not, the frame is made from aluminum although it is possible to find more flexible plastic frames as well. The aluminum frames do work well when you are trying to carry a significant load for an extended period of time. However, where they fall short is their restriction of movement. These frames are quite rigid and as such, don’t follow the natural movement of the body. This means that moving or twisting your upper body can be very difficult.

Plastic frames help to offset these inconveniences. Due to the properties of the material, these are more flexible, making it easier for you to twist your upper body. As a result, these tend to be more comfortable to carry as well.


The two vertical bars on the frame can be joined in a U-shaped formation or be apart from one another at the top and bottom. All frames do have crossbars, however, which join the two bars together. Sometimes, these crossbars can extend far above the top of the backpack. This creates a greater amount of space to tie additional belongings to. Then there are other designs still, which have ledges. This, too, is for additional storage purposes, like for a sleeping bag.

The Pros and Cons of an External Frame Backpack

As with all backpacks, there are advantages and disadvantages associated with the external frame design. To know if this is the right type for you, you will need to weigh the pros against the cons:


Carry Lots of Gear and Weight
While this may be considered an old fashioned or outdated backpack, there is a reason that it is still very much in circulation – it works. In fact, you will find it very difficult to replace the external frame pack when it comes to carrying weights.

If you are not the kind of person to travel light or are heading towards harsh conditions which require a lot of supplies, this is the pack for you. It has been built to allow you to carry much more than you thought possible. For instance, with the right pack, you may be able to carry up to 50kg without really feeling it.

They Are Comfortable in Warm Weather
External frame backpacks come with a rather important feature: they create a lot of space between your back and the pack. As a result, there is more air circulating in this area, cutting on how hot you feel. Therefore, it is a great option for hiking or camping in the summer.


Side to Side Movement with Heavy Loads
These backpacks aren’t a great option for someone who isn’t sure footed. This is because when you are carrying a very heavy load, the backpack can sway. As you can imagine, this impacts your balance and the way that you walk too.

Heavier than Internal Frame Packs
While the external frame packs do help you to carry a greater load, there is the matter of them being quite empty themselves. Even when the packs are empty, you can expect them to weight quite a bit more than their internal frame counterparts.

What Capacity Do You Need?

As mentioned, these external frame backpacks can be quite hefty on their own. Therefore, it isn’t a good idea to go for a pack that is larger than strictly necessary. By choosing a backpack with the capacity that you are most likely to need, you can keep the overall weight down.

  • Day Trip (25 to 40 liters): if you will only be outdoors for a day and will not be camping overnight, you aren’t going to need too much. With a backpack of this size, you should be able to carry food, water, cameras, emergency kits, an additional layer of clothing, and perhaps a couple of personal devices.
  • Weekend Trip (50 to 70 liters): if you will be camping outdoors for at least two days, you are going to need more food rations and water. You will also need a tent, sleeping bag, and a greater number of clothes. A portable stove may be able to fit into this space.
  • Multiday Trip (60 to 80 liters): for this type of trip, you will need a bag that can accommodate all of the above equipment just in a greater number. So this means more food, more water, and more clothes.
  • Expedition Trip (80+ liters): these trips may require actual gear such as walking poles or rope in addition to the food, water, and clothes. Depending on the season, you may need the pack to accommodate winter versions of the gear.
  • Size of the Pack

    Along with the capacity of the pack, you should also be concerned about its size. This refers to both the frame as well as the backpack itself. The size of the backpack, as you can imagine, is determined by its capacity.

    If you want a mid-sized pack, then look for ones that will be no longer than your torso. It must sit comfortably between the base of your neck and the top of your hip bones. This will make the bag proportional to your size and easier to carry.

    For oversized, expedition sized bags, clearly, this will not be possible. Still, the bag should not be much taller than the top of your head, when it is on your back. Any longer than this and you will find it quite difficult to walk around, especially on rougher terrain.

    If you do decide on longer crossbars so you can take more items with you, the same rule as above applies. It should just clear the top of your head so that you will find the load easier to carry.

    Pack Material

    The material that the pack is actually made of is also important as it will determine how heavy or light the pack will be, among other things. Now, you will have to decide whether your main goal is a lighter load or a more durable material. Most times, the thicker materials are tougher but are also heavier. In certain instances, such as with rip stop material, you can get the best of both worlds.

    The material that you choose will also depend just how waterproof your backpack is. If you are planning on trudging through rain, you should look for materials that are waterproof or water resistant. Laminated polyester and nylon or tarp material are the best for this particular property.

    Strap System

    When you are carrying the kind of weight typically associated with external frame backpacks, the straps are even more important than usual. This is because they are what will determine how comfortable you are for the duration of your trek.

    The shoulder straps should be well padded and have features that make it easily adjustable for your torso length. The sternum strap on this type of packs are often quite thin but they should be strong and be adjustable so that the pack can be secured more tightly.

    You will find that most of the hip belts on the external frame backpacks have a greater amount of padding than usual. Since you are supposed to carry most of your weight around this area, this stands to reason. Look for thick and comfortable padding so that there will be no friction around your hips and the load will be easier to bear.

    Pack Accessibility and External Storage Features

    Most external frame backpacks have a top loading feature. This means that there is usually only one large internal compartment where all of your items have to go into. The main downside of top loading backpacks is that you need to unpack everything just to find one item, especially if they have moved around during the trek.

    The best way to overcome this disadvantage is to rely on external storage pockets. Therefore, the more there are, the better. This allows you to organize your pack a little more. It also gives you better access to items without requiring you to stop and reach around your pack. This is particularly important in the case of water bottles and gear that you may need on your trek.

    Speaking of gear, you should look for a pack that has lashings, D-rings, or other attachment points. This will allow you to keep your equipment on hand for when you need it.

    On the same note, if you will be taking a sleeping bag with you, look for frames with ledges. This way, you can carry the sleeping bag on the frame and save space inside your pack.

    There is quite a bit to get through with external frame backpacks. Still, by knowing all of this information, you can make a better decision and find a good pack for yourself.

    Notes about this top 10 list

    The list was last updated 19/09/2018.

    The list shows the best reviewed external frame backpacks from a much bigger list of selected products. The list should not be considered a complete list of all available, excellent external frame backpacks

    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

    About MightyGoods

    Here at our site MightyGoods, we have checked thousands of reviews in order to build the biggest directory of backpacks, luggage, handbags and lots of other bags.

    So far we have checked more than 2,1 million reviews!

    Using our bag review summaries, we aim to help you find the perfect bag without having to spend a lot of time reading an endless list of reviews.

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