The 10 Best Internal Frame Backpacks

Updated October 26, 2017 by Brett Dvoretz

10 Best Internal Frame Backpacks
For those who take their camping and hiking seriously, we have put together a comprehensive selection of internal frame backpacks. Boasting capacities as large as 100 liters, they should enable anyone to tote everything they need for an extended stay in the wilderness. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best internal frame backpack on Amazon.

10. OutdoorMaster 70L+5L

The OutdoorMaster 70L+5L has a lot of features at a reasonable price for those just getting into hiking. There are pockets all over for anything imaginable and the zippers are easy to access, thanks to the plastic pulls, but the shoulder straps aren't very comfortable.
  • clip for hydration hose on the strap
  • two axe loops on the rear
  • doesn't have a great fit like others
Brand OutdoorMaster
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

9. SOG Barrage Tactical

If you want a sturdy, compact backpack that won't break the bank, the SOG Barrage Tactical is a solid choice. It features left and right hydration hose ports with Velcro closures and a rear-access hydration compatible pouch, but it doesn't have great ventilation.
  • plenty of small interior pockets
  • strong top carry handle
  • straps are not reinforced
Brand SOG Specialty Knives
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

8. Wasing 55L

The Wasing 55L is a durable and useful backpack that rests comfortably on your hips while hiking. It has a rubber backing for added protection and an extension collar with two drawstrings on the top that can increase the main compartment capacity by 5 liters.
  • sternum strap with a whistle buckle
  • can be used as carry-on luggage
  • not large enough for week-long trips
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 3.6 / 5.0

7. Gonex Tactical

The Gonex Tactical will serve you well on long rugged adventures, thanks to its water and tear resistant 900 denier Oxford construction and enormous 100 liter capacity. It can easily accommodate all of your gear, including a tent, sleeping bag, blankets, jackets, and more.
  • extra wide shoulder straps
  • 8 different adjustable sizes
  • only available in black
Brand Gonex
Model pending
Weight 5.7 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

6. Mountaintop 5805III

The Mountaintop 5805III is a versatile choice for camping, hiking and backpacking, made of a water-resistant rip-stop polyester that repels water nicely. It also has a waterproof rain cover stored in the back pocket, should you need full protection from heavy rain.
  • d-shape hooks and bottom loops
  • distributes the weight evenly
  • mesh side pockets aren't very deep
Brand Mountaintop
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 4.4 / 5.0

5. TETON Sports Explorer 4000

At under $60, the TETON Sports Explorer 4000 is a great deal loaded with features that you usually find in more expensive models. It has a padded interior bladder pocket that can accommodate up to 3 liters, plus both shoulder straps have hydration tube bungees.
  • fits large and small frames
  • top zippered pocket for accessories
  • stitching is not reinforced
Brand Teton Sports
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

4. Gregory Mountain Products Wander

With its adjustable VersaFit suspension design, the Gregory Mountain Products Wander makes a great fit for smaller-framed users. Although it's a bit on the pricey side, it can hold up to 70 liters of equipment, making it ideal for extended stays in the backcountry.
  • top cinch closure for quick access
  • super durable polyester construction
  • ideal for teenagers
Brand Gregory
Model WANDER 70-Red
Weight 6.6 pounds
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

3. High Sierra Appalachian 75

The High Sierra Appalachian 75 is a dependable choice that provides a customized fit for maximum comfort while exploring. It has a top load main compartment for easy access and a molded foam back panel with airflow channels to keep your back cool and dry.
  • built-in rain fly
  • comes in 3 stylish colors
  • has a water bladder compartment
Brand High Sierra
Model pending
Weight 5.8 pounds
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

2. TETON Sports Scout 3400

The TETON Sports Scout 3400 is a sought-after quick trip backpack due to its amazing price and 55 liter storage capacity. It provides a great support system for your back thanks to the durable dual aluminum frame that contours naturally to your shoulders and waist.
  • lightweight at under 5 pounds
  • multi-position torso adjustment
  • gear loops to hang accessories
Brand Teton Sports
Model TSIFB-01
Weight 16 ounces
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

1. Osprey Aether 70

The men's Osprey Aether 70 boasts a clean, lightweight design with versatile features that make this a best-selling model. It features dual access side pockets and an IsoForm CM hip belt that adds just the right amount of stiffness and padding for heavy loads.
  • strong j-zipper on the front panel
  • top pocket converts to a lumbar pack
  • handy sleeping bag compartment
Brand Osprey
Model 013070-685
Weight 5.1 pounds
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

Internal Versus External Frame Backpacks

As you may have guessed by the name, external frame backpacks have a clearly visible frame on the outside of the pack. Some may consider external frame backpacks as old school or outdated, but this design offers some distinct benefits. It also happens to have some inherent disadvantages.

External frame backpacks usually have a large number of pockets and segregated compartments. This makes it easier to keep your gear organized and quickly accessible. The external frame also provides you with a place to attach gear externally, like hiking poles and hatchets. Because of the way the pack attaches to the frame, it often sits an inch or two off your back, providing a large ventilation channel, helping you to stay cooler. The rigid external frame helps to promote a more upright posture while walking, as well, which can reduce the chances of back pain after a long hike.

Most of the downsides to external frame backpacks stem from their large size. They tend to be bulky, difficult to maneuver when donning and removing, and can easily knock a person off balance if they lean too far to one side or the other. Due to the way they sit a little bit off the body, they drastically change your center of gravity, which takes some getting used to. They also make it difficult to thread your way through tight trails, as the large frame can get caught up on branches and rock outcroppings.

Internal frame backpacks excel in the very areas where external frame models fail. There is no chance of the frame getting caught on anything, since it is fully integrated within the pack itself. They also sit very close to the back, thereby only minimally altering your center of gravity. The form-fitting design practically hugs the body, essentially becoming one with the hiker. Because of this, there is less chance of losing your balance due to the shifting weight. Their slim shape also makes it easier to safely maneuver through tight areas of the trail.

As with external frame backpacks, internal frame backpacks do have some downsides. They tend to have less external organizational pockets, though this isn't true for all models. The lack of a frame also means there is less space to affix external gear. Many manufacturers combat this by adding MOLLE-style straps. The biggest disadvantage to internal frame backpacks is they don't provide as much support or weight distribution as external frame models.

Front-loading Versus Top-loading Designs

Internal frame backpacks come in both front-loading and top-loading designs. Front-loading designs offer a higher degree of security than top-loading models. This is because you can use a padlock to secure the zippers, effectively preventing access. Top-loading designs usually have a simple drawstring and plastic clasps, making it practically impossible to lock them in any manner. The downside to front-loaders is that having zippers adds a failure-prone mechanical opening device to your pack. For this reason top-loading packs are more durable. Front-loading backpacks are easier to pack and unpack, however, since they essentially open just like a suitcase, giving you physical and visual access to almost the entire interior compartment. This means you can quickly retrieve a specific item, no matter where it is in the pack, without having to remove a bunch of extra gear.

Top-loading packs are often slimmer than their front-loading counterparts. This can make them better for smaller people who may have trouble handling a wide, bulky pack. It is also makes them easier to maneuver though tight spaces. Since top-loading packs are long and thin, as opposed to wide and short, they offer better weight distribution. Instead of the majority of the weight sitting on your mid-back, it will be more evenly distributed between the lower, middle, and upper portions. Most top-loading packs also have a skirt that expands upwards to give you more storage capacity. Front-loading packs are limited to the size of their design, as they won't have any manner of expanding their capacity. Neither style of pack is inherently better than they other. It just comes down to a matter of preference.

What Else To Consider When Choosing An Internal Frame Backpack

Capacity is one of the main factors that you must take into account when picking between the different models. Obviously a backpack that is perfect for a short two-day hike won't be as well-suited to a three-week excursion, as the type and amount of gear you will need to bring along will vary greatly. Hiking packs are measured in either cubic inches or liters. The larger the pack, the more it can carry, but the more cumbersome it will be. It is important to note the weight of a pack greatly affects a hiker's endurance. Your best bet is to make a list of all of the gear you plan on bringing along, or even better, lay it all out in front of you to help you better determine how much capacity you need. If you don't have a specific trip in mind, or don't know exactly what gear you are going to bring along, a 4,000-cubic-inch (65L) pack is a good middle of the road size that works well for both short and long trips.

You should also take into account comfort and fit. Most internal frame backpacks have a good degree of adjustability, allowing you to customize the harness to fit your torso length, but it is still important to keep in mind the size of the user when purchasing a pack. As you might imagine, it can be nearly impossible for a slim, 110lb. woman to navigate a hazardous trail with giant 75-liter pack on her back, whereas a 220lb., 6-foot guy might be able to do so with ease. Thick padding on the back panel, shoulder straps, and waist belt can great enhance the comfort a pack offers when it is fully loaded, so these are smart features to look out for. A breathable mesh backing is also a nice touch.

Other features that can make or break a backpack include the number and size of external pockets, options for attaching external gear, overall durability, and level of water-resistance.

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Last updated on October 26, 2017 by Brett Dvoretz

A wandering writer who spends as much time on the road as behind the computer screen, Brett can either be found hacking furiously away at the keyboard or perhaps enjoying a whiskey and coke on some exotic beach, sometimes both simultaneously, usually with a four-legged companion by his side. He hopes to one day become a modern day renaissance man.

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