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Top Internal frame backpacks Reviews and Buyer's Guide

Last updated July 2, 2019

Most modern backpacks are internal frame backpacks, but not all of them are equally fantastic. There's a lot of difference between the best and the worst backpacks on the market!

So if you are looking for a new backpack, you need to spend some time comparing the different brands and models.

Check that the backpack you are buying is of great quality, so you don't risk that it falls apart in the middle of one of your adventures!

The Best Internal Frame Backpack

Having checked thousands of internal frame backpack reviews, we can say that the Kelty Red Cloud is the best choice for most people.

The Kelty Red Cloud got a rating of 4.29 out of 5, while the average rating in the list below is just 3.98.

Kelty Red Cloud
This is the best reviewed internal frame backpack.
How we rate the bags

We have checked 11,596 internal 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.

Also Great

If the Kelty Red Cloud isn't your style, you might also consider the Teton Sports Outfitter.

The Outfitter is a close runner-up with a rating of 4.13 out of 5 - and it's usually cheaper than the Red Cloud.

Teton Sports Outfitter
The second-best reviewed internal frame backpack.
Finally, you might consider the High Sierra Pathway.

The Pathway is the third-best rated internal frame backpack with a rating of 4.09 - and it's usually cheaper than the Red Cloud.

High Sierra Pathway
The third-best reviewed internal frame backpack.
Below is the list of all top 9 best internal frame backpacks. Great if none of the three bags above are your style.

The 9 Best Internal Frame Backpacks

PS: We have checked 11,596 reviews to make this top 9 list!

RankInternal Frame BackpackRating
1Kelty Red CloudKelty Red Cloud
Available on Amazon
Check Deals
289 reviews
2Teton Sports OutfitterTeton Sports Outfitter
Available on Amazon
Check Deals
2,065 reviews
3High Sierra PathwayHigh Sierra Pathway
Available on Amazon
Check Deals
314 reviews
4Teton Sports ScoutTeton Sports Scout
3,493 reviews
5Boreas ButtermilksBoreas Buttermilks
61 reviews
6Boreas Lost CoastBoreas Lost Coast
31 reviews
7Teton Sports ExplorerTeton Sports Explorer
4,798 reviews
8Kelty LakotaKelty Lakota
64 reviews
9High Sierra ExplorerHigh Sierra Explorer
481 reviews

Buyers Guide to Internal Frame Backpacks

Bearded man with internal frame backpack [toc] If you are planning on exploring the wilderness, the most important tool that you can have at your disposal is a backpack. Not just any pack, however, but an internal frame pack to be more specific. This type of backpack is the new breed, quickly taking over the outdoor gear industry.

Your Guide to Understanding Internal Frame Backpacks

To truly appreciate an internal frame backpack, though, you need to understand the various factors surrounding it. This includes its design, purpose, advantages and disadvantages, and more. Here, you will be able to answer any of the burning questions that you have had about internal frame backpacks. Happy Reading!

If you are shopping for a backpack to take on your travels or while exploring the great outdoors, you are more than likely to almost exclusively come across internal frame versions. This modern design has all but taken over for external frame backpacks due to its improved attributes. Here are the various details that you should be aware of regarding internal frame backpacks:

The Structure of the Internal Frame Backpack

The first thing you need to consider is the frame of the internal frame backpack. As the name suggests, the frames of these backpacks are not visible as they are placed within the structure of the backpack. This frame consists of any number of metal stays. These can be placed in a varying manner but the intention behind the design is the same. The frames need to hug the natural curvature of the back, making the backpack more comfortable and stable for you.

The actual outline of the frame can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Not to mention, that the structure has changed quite a bit since its inception and now there are a greater number of options available. In the beginning, internal frame backpacks used one or aluminum stays that sat right behind your back. The stays were pre-curved to fit the natural curvature of your spine although it could be adjusted for a more custom fit.

These days, however, you can also find X shaped frames that provide you with a multidimensional suspension system that offers up even more stability. Another popular invention is the introduction of frame sheets. Some of these have metal stays incorporated into the sheets while others have external bars that as small springs. The main focus of this evolving technology is to improve the comfort and balance associated with this type of backpack.

The stays and the frames on these backpacks were typically made from aluminum. While this material is still quite common, alloys are also growing in popularity. They tend to be more versatile and have greater durability as well.

Is an Internal Frame Backpack Right for You?

While these are certainly well-designed backpacks, they are also suited to specific types of individuals and outdoor activities. To determine if an internal frame backpack would be the right choice for you, look at some of the benefits and downsides associated with this design:


Greater Stability

One of the key features of the internal frame backpack is that it hugs your back more closely. This provides you with the ability to keep your center of gravity closer to what it normally is. As a result, when you are constantly shifting your body weight and balance on uneven terrain, it is easier to maintain stability. It makes your journey a lot safer. Not to mention, because of the close fit, the pack is less likely to move around and through off your balance.

Large Internal Capacity

These backpacks have large internal areas, which allow them to accommodate a greater number of items. Most, if not all, of the gear can be stored inside the bag. As such, these types of backpacks are well suited for long trips.

Protects Gear

As mentioned, with internal frame backpacks, most of the gear is kept inside the backpack. This helps to protect the gear on climbing expeditions or when you are crossing rough terrain. Since everything is stored internally, there is no chance of rocks or branches snagging on anything that you are carrying with you.

Ideal for Travelers

This type of backpack is relatively flexible which makes it easier to store and travel with. This is particularly true when traveling by plane. With these bags as your luggage, it is easier to store your backpack in the overhead luggage, depending on its size.

Offers Custom Fit

Yet another one of the perks of internal frame bags is that the straps on these backpacks are simple to adjust. Due to this, it is very easy to have almost any bag fit your height and size perfectly. This makes it much more comfortable for people of all sizes to carry.


Odd Weight Distribution

While internal frame backpacks are capable of carrying greater loads, they don’t do so comfortably. Due to the design of the backpack, you are tasked with having to shoulder much of this weight. This is largely because the backpack causes you to carry the weight lower than usual. To compensate, you will need to walk while leaning forward so that the weight is distributed better.

Poor Ventilation

While one of the benefits of this backpack is that it hugs your back, it can also be seen as a disadvantage. This is particularly true when the weather is quite warm. This close fit means that there is no room for ventilation or for air to pass through. Therefore, your back can get quite sweaty during your hike.

Few Internal Components

One thing that internal frame backpacks can’t really offer you is organization. These typically are top loading backpacks and have precious few internal storage options. This can be quite frustrating to dig through, especially if you are carrying a lot of gear.

Minimal External Storage

With these backpacks, it is all about keeping your gear on the inside. So, there are few options available to carry gear externally. So, if you want easy access to your belongings or want to carry gear on the outside of the backpack, the internal frame backpacks can be quite frustrating.

What Size Do You Need

Since the internal frame backpacks are meant for a variety of outdoor excursions, they tend to be of all sizes. Here is a rundown of the most common capacities and for the activity and duration that they are suited for:

  • Daypack (20 – 40 liters): Backpacks with these capacities are typically meant for hikes that last no longer than a day. These capacities can carry enough stores of food, water, and gear for a short trip. There is usually space for an extra layer of clothing too. Some of these designs come equipped with external hydration packs.

  • Multiday Pack (40 – 80 liters): Backpacks of these capacities are capable of carrying supplies for between two to five days. There are perfect for overnight trips where you need to carry additional gear along with more clothes and food. You should be able to fit in a foldable tent in here as well.

  • Expedition Pack (80+ liters): This type of pack is great for outdoor trips that require a considerable amount of gear and supplies. Although external storage features aren’t usually found in internal frame packs, they are sometimes present in backpacks of this size. These packs can also be used for traveling purposes as well.

Length of Pack in Relation to Torso

As seen above, the pack capacities indicate that the internal frame backpacks usually range from medium-sized to quite large. The actual length of the backpack often plays as large a role as the capacity. The length is often directly related to how much stability to you can expect from your backpack. This is why, for the best hiking experience, your back needs to sit at a specific height on your back.

Ideally, your backpack should be no longer than your torso. In fact, it should sit between your shoulders and the topmost part of your hip bones. A backpack this length will be the most comfortable to carry around as it will distribute the weight around more evenly.

This is not always possible with the larger expedition packs. With these backpacks, the packs are longer than they are wide to help with stability. At the same time, you should look for a backpack that is only a couple of inches above your head. If it is any longer than that, it can have a negative effect on your back, posture, and balance.

The Suspension System

The more that you want to carry in an internal frame backpack, the more important the suspension system in place is. To start with, you will need wide straps with a little bit of padding. This is so that the straps will be spread evenly across each shoulder and will not dig into the skin. The straps should be adjustable so that you can change the length according to the length of your torso.

If you are opting for a really large or heavy backpack, you should consider a sternum strap. This should sit several inches below your collarbone and hold the pack securely to the upper portion of your chest. This strap will be important to minimize the movement of the bag while you walk.

One of the more important components of the suspension system is the hip belt. This is because they are responsible for distributing the weight of the bag across your hips. Since this is the way that you are naturally supposed to carry the weight, it is much better for your posture. The hip belt should sit just above your hip bones, be padded, and be fully adjustable as well. This way, you will be able to get a custom fit.

For women, getting a suspension system that has been fashioned just for ladies could be very useful. This will ensure that the backpack sits precisely where it needs to on your back. The straps will also be comfortable as they are meant to accommodate wider chest and hips.

This is what you need to know about internal frame backpacks and how to choose one that is specifically suited to you.

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Last updated on July 02, 2019