Best Internal Frame Backpacks: Complete Guide with TOP 5 Reviews 2020

Are you considering an internal frame backpack?

We give you the essential information regarding internal frame backpacks you need and recommend the best internal frame backpacks we found.

What is an Internal Frame Backpack?

An external frame backpack is a popular style hiking backpack used by folks who hike overnight, multi-day or thru-hikes to carry gear.

The internal frame is, as the name implies, built into the back of the backpack.

The frame can be sturdy plastic, composite material, a stiff sheet, aluminum alloy or any combination of creatively paces and manufactured material that support the backpack from within.

Now that we have defined what an internal frame backpack is, the next question is naturally why use an internal frame backpack.

Why Choose an Internal Frame Backpack?

two hikers with large backpacks

When you are exerting yourself you notice that you breathe faster and deeper. Naturally, this happens during a strenuous hike.

When you take a breath, particularly a deep breath, the shoulders are lifted as well. Imagine a backpack that weighs 25, 30, 40 pounds or more sitting on those shoulders, then imagine taking a deep breath.

Maybe at this point you envision a fish out of water struggling for air.

This is one of the benefits of an internal frame backpack.

These backpacks come with a hip belt that tightens around your hip bones, carrying the weight of the backpack.

Instead of the weight hanging from your shoulders, impeding your breath and straining your shoulders, the weight is anchored to your hips and supported by the backpack’s internal frame.

When this backpack is properly fitted and adjusted, the hips should ‘shoulder’ 80 percent of the weight and the shoulders only 20 percent or less.

External vs. Internal Frame Backpack

hikers on trekking trail

External frame backpacks serve the same purpose as internal frame backpacks in that they shift the weight from your shoulders to your hips.

External frames are the predecessors of internal frames.

The external frame backpack can be clunky and awkward and may need to be assembled similarly to a tent with the frame on the outside of the backpack, supporting the bag.

These were popular with hikers in the past, until the sleeker, more streamlined and easy to use internal frames came out.

External frames are still used for awkward loads and special purpose backpacks, and to be fair, they have great ventilation between the backpack and your back.

How to Pack an Internal Frame Backpack

General Packing Tips

  • Place items you won’t need, such as a sleeping bag, near the bottom of the pack.
  • Pack heavy items close to the back and at your center of gravity. Men have a higher center of gravity than women so heavier items should be packed higher. Women should pack heavier items a little lower.
  • If you use fuel to cook, seal it well and place it at a lower level, in case it leaks.
  • If you use a hydration system, pack that in its pouch first since it will be very hard to put it in the pack once full.
  • Essential items you need while hiking should go in outside pockets.
  1. Start with your sleeping bag. It should go in the bottom of the bag.
  2. Pack the stove and cooking gear next. The camping tent and camping hammock, if you have one, should be packed.
  3. Pack extra layers and jackets next, filling spaces. Hats, gloves, long johns, etc. These are lighter items. We are building up with lighter items until we reach the center of gravity.
  4. Camera gear and food bags are next, followed by water and toiletries, which should sit near your back, at the level of your center of gravity.
  5. A rain jacket, first aid kit, and any other item you may need easy access to should go on top.
  6. The outside pockets are for essential items, like the days food and water, compass, map, wallet, sunscreen, backpacking knife or multi tool, chapstick, keys, cash, etc.
  7. Tools and hiking poles, rope, chair, sleeping pads and items like these will be attached to the hooks, loops and straps on the outside, so these will be packed last.

5 Best Internal Frame Backpack Reviews 2020

TETON Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Backpack

Budget-friendly hiking backpack with a ton of awesome features. 3400 Cubic inches. 4.5 lbs, ripstop nylon. Bungee cords on the lid for attaching light gear or a jacket.

The lid is a zippered pocket, with another zippered pocket on the inside of the lid. The backpack has bungee on the front for securing gear, and a mesh pocket you could use to allow items to sit outside the backpack to dry.

The pack has loops for poles or picks. The bag has several strategically located compression straps.

There is a zippered sleeping bag compartment and several elastic tie loops on the outside for attaching gear, like flashlight or GPS.

Zippered side pockets with mesh water bottle pockets at the bottom. There is a zippered pocket on the bottom that holds the included rain cover. Hydration system compatible.

Thickly padded hip belt and lumbar system with adjustable straps and a system for holding the strap left hanging.

The harness is adjustable to accommodate several torso lengths.

PROS

  • Fairly large backpack, separate sleeping bag compartment, lots of ways to attach items to the outside.
  • Well padded secure hip belt and adjustable harness.
  • Great price.

CONS

  • The water bottle pockets are smallish and awkward to access.

CONCLUSION

A great price high quality medium size pack with all the features you need for a successful 2-4 day hike.

One of the best internal frame backpacks we reviewed.

The Backpack most similar to the Camp Trails Wilderness internal frame backpack.

The Camp Trails Wilderness Internal Frame Backpack was a high-quality internal frame backpack made by Eureka!, owned by Johnson Outdoors, and sold at sporting goods retailers, on TV shopping networks and in big box chain stores.

Unfortunately, this pack is no longer available. It had 2 main compartments divided by a drawstring, a sleeping bag compartment, 6 + pockets, tool loops, a rain hood, and many other features hikers loved.

It could be loaded from the top and the bottom. It has side tunnel pockets to load poles and similar tools, and the hood has a gear pocket and could be dethatched and used as a fanny pack.

It had a large capacity maxing out at 6669 cubic inches.

In the spirit of the Camp Trails Wilderness backpack we searched for one most similar to this pack.

ALPS Mountaineering Caldera 5500 Internal Frame Pack

This is the pack we found that is most similar to the discontinued Camp Wilderness Trails internal frame backpack.

It is a high-quality internal frame backpack that also has a floating lid with a top pocket that converts to a fanny pack.

The backpack holds 5500 cubic inches, and weights 5 lbs 8 oz. The backpack is supported by aluminum stays, the shoulder and hip straps are padded.

The suspension adjusts to your specific torso length, and the waist belt adjusts too. This pack also has a daisy chain for attaching gear and a separate sleeping bag compartment. The main compartment can be accessed from both the top and bottom.

The backpack has several compression straps to adjust overall size and stabilize the load. This pack has some extras too, like a pocket for a hydration system and a rescue whistle on the sternum strap.

PROS

  • Large backpack at a budget price.
  • Hard to find a backpack with so many features at such a low price.

CONS

  • The side pockets can be narrow, especially when the backpack is full.

CONCLUSION

A huge pack with a ton of features and extras and a budget price.

High Sierra Titan 55 Frame Pack

The High Sierra Titan 55 internal frame backpack is a medium size 55 liter backpack for hiking. The price is accessible and quality high.

There are loops, Velcro and straps to attach gear. This backpack has two handles on the side, which may make it easier to use the backpack traveling, lifting into overhead bins and luggage carousels.

The front zippered pocket is about 12 inches deep and opens wide, panel style. The bottom compartment/sleeping bag stow can be accessed separately from the main compartment. There are two water bottle style pockets on the sides.

The backpack has a padded hip belt to hold the weight at your hips, and as an added bonus, the hip belts have zippered pockets. Nice!

The harness is adjustable to torso size easily using the Velcro stays. Includes sternum strap and is hydration system compatible. The backpack includes a rain cover. The lid has a zippered pocket. Inside of the lid has printed safety tips.

The backpack has several compression straps. The main compartment has a few hooks for securing items. The frame is removable, and closes with a drawstring.

PROS

  • Generous size, well padded hip belt, with many useful features.
  • Adjustable harness, hydration system compatible.

CONS

  • Cell phone pocket does not fit modern cell phones.

CONCLUSION

A reasonably priced medium sized backpack with a nice harness and hip belt suspension system.
Our internal frame backpack reviews showed us, this is one of the best.

High Sierra Appalachian 75

This large budget priced backpack is full of features with plenty of room for a multi day or thru-hike.

The pack hold 75 liters and weighs 58 pounds, unpacked. The backpack has a separate sleeping bag compartment, a cell phone pocket, and drawstring close of the main compartment.

The harness is adjustable to your torso length using the Velcro adjuster, the hip belt is generously padded but unlike high sierras smaller Titan, does not have zip pockets on the hip belt.

The backpack has two zippered side pockets, two mesh stretch water bottle pockets on the side, padded contoured shoulder pads, a zippered pocket in the lid and a mesh back for good ventilation. The pack has an included rain cover.

PROS

  • 75 liters room, lots of storage, adjustable harness, sturdy hip belt to carry weigh on your hips, not your shoulders.

CONS

  • The backpack can be too large for some ladies, as it is marketed as a unisex bag.

CONCLUSION

A larger version of the high sierra Titan with many of the same features, great price and high quality.

Osprey Men’s Aether 85 Backpack

A very large 85 liter multi-day or thru hiking backpack. The suspension is excellent. Soft contoured shoulder pads, ridged foam back for ventilation. Frame is aluminum and very supportive to securely carry heavy loads.

The harness can be switched out for a custom fit. The hip belt has zippered storage pockets. The main compartment has three access openings. The top opens and secures shut with a drawstring.

The front has a luggage type opening that allows you to the contents in the center of the backpack.

The bottom opens to the sleeping bag compartment with a separator panel that can be removed to access the main compartment.

There is a stretch mesh pocket on the front that can be used to store wet items. There are stretch mesh pockets on the sides which have two openings each, and one of the openings is angled in such a way that you could put the water bottle in the pocket at an angle to access it easily.

The lid can convert to a lumbar (fanny) pack as it is detachable.

The backpack has several compression straps that can extend all the way around the pack, compressing it quite a bit.

The backpack is a hydration system compatible and the nice feature is the hydration pouch is outside of the main compartment in its own pouch behind your back, making it easy to access and change out. The bag has tool loops and bungees to attach tools and gear.

PROS

  • Many access points to the main compartment, clever innovations like well-placed hydration pouch and angled opening for the water bottle.
  • Lots of great organization features and very high capacity.

CONS

  • Several hikers mention that the backpack size runs on the large side. Measure carefully before ordering.

CONCLUSION

A high quality luxury large capacity backpack for multi-day or thru-hikes.

This concludes our reviews of the best internal frame backpacks we could find.

Happy hiking!