Best External Frame Backpacks Reviews Of 2020

Nowadays, it is hard to find external frame backpacks, especially with the emergence of ultra-light and internal frame backpacks. Most companies are no longer producing external frame backpacks, and this means it will be challenging to find one. All in all, there are those old school backpackers who would rather use an external frame pack than any other type.

In case the new packs are not cutting it for you, then I would suggest that you go for an external frame because it is designed to hold more weight. Besides, it offers impressive storage capabilities as compared to its counterparts.

Investing in the best external frame backpacks will allow you to pack everything you need, without putting so much strain on the pack. These bags are designed to handle heavy loads, and they are so easy to organize. Below are 10 of the top-rated external frame bags that you should consider buying.

Reviews Of Top 10 Best External Frame Backpacks

In this section, I will be reviewing ten external frame backpacks that are considered to be the best. All these backpacks are worth every penny, and they will serve you for years. Let’s get into the details of every one of them.


ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag

The ALPS OutdoorZ has always been a key player in the outdoor industry. This company never fails to impress with its outdoor products. I own the Commander backpack, and I can confirm that you can never go wrong with this external frame pack. It is one of the backpacks that any old-schooler would buy in a heartbeat. What does the Commander bag have to offer?

The ALPS OutdoorZ Commander is one of the backpacks that come with many pockets. It has a very spacious main compartment, a front zipper pocket, two side accessory hinged pockets, and a spotting scope pocket as well. All these compartments will offer enough room to pack all your gear. I really like the main compartment because it offers 5250 cubic inches of space.

This pack has not only been designed to serve campers and backpackers but also hunters. As I mentioned earlier, it comes with a pocket that is specifically meant for a spotting scope. Apart from the scope, it features a well-made drop-down rifle holder. The rifle holder allows you to keep your hunting rifle close to you without holding it.

The external frame of this pack is the most fantastic thing about it. The commander frame has a unique lashing system that comes in handy when you want to haul meat or extra-large loads. Secondly, this frame offers torso adjustments so that it fits you well. Apart from that, the frame has an extension that is known as a freighter shelf. This shelf supports your heavy loads so that they remain secure.


  • Comes with a drop-down pocket that holds your hunting rifle
  • It is made from a nylon ripstop fabric which is durable
  • The external frame is adjustable and detachable as well
  • Has multiple pockets that should help you to organize your gear
  • Has several side pockets that are ideal for packing your accessories and scope


  • It is a bit heavy especially with the frame on
  • Does not come with a rain cover

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TERRA PEAK Adjustable Hiking Backpack

If you are looking for an excellent external frame for hiking, backpacking, and camping, then the TERRA PEAK pack might be your best bet. It is a high-quality backpack that most professional backpackers would vouch for. This awesome pack will handle whatever you throw at it, and that’s why I consider it one of the best hiking backpacks.

TERRA PEAK is a unisex backpack that provides enough space to pack all your hiking and camping gear. It is an 85 Liters backpack, and this tells you what you need to know about its capacity. As you would expect, this impressive pack comes with plenty of compartments that should help you pack your gear in an organized manner.

Apart from the internal pockets, the TERRA PEAK comes with deep butterfly expansion pockets and multiple tool attachment points. The pack offers eight compression straps, an elastic bungee cord system, and a trekking pole attachment. All these features are meant for hanging stuff like hammocks, tent, sleeping bag, and any other gear. The other fantastic thing is that the pack has a sleeve that is compatible with a hydration bladder. You access the hydration bladder from the side of the pack. Isn’t that awesome?

This hiking backpack comes with a built-in rain cover that should protect your belongings from getting wet. Besides, the fabric used to make this pack has a water-repellent coating that works pretty well during light rain.


  • Has a padded and breathable mesh back panel
  • The shoulder straps are well padded to provide the required comfort
  • The pack comes with a carabiner keychain clip
  • It has remarkable water-resistance properties
  • Has a 2-year manufacturer’s warranty


  • The stitching along the seams is not well done
  • Comes with cheap plastic buckles

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Kelty Trekker 65L Backpack

I have been a fan of Kelty products for long, and I have to admit that they are pretty good. The company has been producing quality backpacks, and there is no doubt that the Trekker 65L Backpack is worth every penny. Any hardcore hiker will find this external frame backpack to be an excellent choice for hiking, backpacking, and trekking as well.

If you are looking for a bag that is hella comfortable, then the Kelty Trekker should be your number one choice. You can carry up to 100 pounds with this pack without straining or feeling uncomfortable. It can provide the utmost comfort because of its beefy frame and hefty straps. The external frame has been designed to cushion and balance whatever load you will be carrying. Besides, it comes with an adjustable waist belt that helps distribute the weight of the backpack.

The other awesome thing about the Kelty Trekker is the fact that it has multiple compartments. The pack features a top lid compartment that converts to a sling pack, a hydration bladder sleeve, a stretch front pouch, front pocket, and a sleeping bag compartment. These pockets will help in organizing your stuff pretty well.


  • This backpack weighs around 5 pounds which is not super heavy
  • Has a mesh vent back panel that provides excellent ventilation
  • Has a hydration bladder compatible pocket
  • Comes with multiple pockets to facilitate easy organization
  • The backpack is super stable and comfortable as well


  • The pockets on the side are too small
  • The pack doesn’t feel comfortable when hiking on technical trails

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ALPS Mountaineering Zion External Frame Pack

If you are searching for a backpack that offers comfort and versatility, then you should check out the ALPS Mountaineering Zion. The Zion is a top-loading backpack that also comes with a bottom compartment. The pack has a capacity of 64 Liters or 3900 cubic inches. Although it can support up to 64 liters, this pack measures 4.95 pounds and is lighter than other similar backpacks.

The ALPS external frame backpacks never disappoint when it comes to organization. The Zion pack has so many pockets, and the good thing about them is that they are spacious. It boasts of a sleeping bag compartment, a hydration bladder sleeve, multiple exterior pockets, and a bottom pocket as well. At least, you can keep your gear and foodstuff organized.

The other feature that I really love is the telescopic frame. It is sturdy and has multiple adjustment points that make it easy to customize the fit. The company claims that this telescopic frame can fit anyone who has a torso range of 17 to 24 inches. Another good thing about this frame is the fact that it facilitates weight distribution. Besides, it offers multiple lashing points to enable easy access to the pockets

I am pretty sure you guys will appreciate the unmatched load handling of this pack. You can pack a lot of weight on this bag, and it will handle it without causing any discomfort. Thanks to the padded shoulder straps, waist belt, and vented lumbar support that create the utmost comfort.


  • Comes with adjustable shoulder straps that are nicely padded
  • Features lycra covered suspension parts
  • It has a telescopic handle that has multiple adjustment points
  • It offers vented lumbar support
  • It is lightweight and sturdy


  • Some of the components are poorly stitched
  • The material is not as durable as the company claims

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ECEEN Solar Hiking Backpack

As the name suggests, ECEEN is an external frame backpack that comes with a solar panel. This feature is its main selling point, and that is why I have included it on this list. Also, you need to know that ECEEN is a 42L backpack, and it might only be ideal when you want to pack lightly. All in all, it has some excellent features that we are going to be discussing in this section.

The first notable attribute of this pack is its comfort. Despite being a low-capacity bag, it has all the features that make a bag comfortable. For instance, it has adjustable suspensions that conform to different torso lengths. Other than that, it has a dual-density foam hip belt, a mesh back panel, and padded shoulder straps as well. The straps have a 3D breathable fabric cover, which improves air circulation, and comfortability as well.

With this backpack, you won’t have to worry about charging your devices on the go. As I mentioned earlier, ECEEN comes with a 7W Solar panel that can absorb solar energy and keep your phone or any other device charged. Apart from the solar charging technology, it comes with a high capacity 10000mAH battery pack. The solar panel will store its energy in this battery pack, and you can use it later to charge your devices.

Unlike most backpacks, ECEEN comes with a 2L hydration bladder. This pack is safe as it has passed the FDA and European Union LFGB food safety detection. At least you won’t have to buy a hydration bladder separately.


  • It has plenty of comfort features
  • Comes with a 2L hydration pack
  • Comes with a removable solar phone panel charger
  • It is backed by a 12 months warranty
  • Has a 10000mAH battery pack that comes with two USB output ports


  • It does not have enough space to pack for a two days trip
  • The zippers are not strong enough

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ALPS OutdoorZ Commander Lite

It is evident that the ALPS OutdoorZ is one of the most popular brands in the backpacking industry. They are really good at making high-quality external frame backpacks. The Commander Lite model is yet another awesome pack that should serve you for a long time. According to its name, this is the smaller profile of the OutdoorZ Commander backpack that I reviewed earlier. So, if you didn’t like it, then the Lite model should cut it for you.

Commander Lite is a backpack that is well designed to accommodate people of all ages and genders as well. Its small profile is quite exceptional because it allows you to move easily.  The pack is lighter than most models. You don’t have to worry about the backpack weighing you down.

Just like its predecessor, this backpack has been designed with enough comfort features. You will have a good time hiking because the bag comes with adjustable padded shoulder straps. The straps allow for comfortable movement, and they help to minimize pressure on your shoulders. Apart from that, it has a mesh back band that does a great job in terms of ventilation. I am pretty sure that you will like the padded waist belt as well because it is nicely made.


  • This pack features a lashing system that secures your kill
  • It is small and lightweight thus making it comfortable to carry
  • Comes with an aluminum frame that enables you to carry a heavy load
  • Has organizational wing pockets and two pockets on the waist belt
  • The waist belt is designed to accommodate clip-style holsters


  • The capacity of this pack is not decent enough

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Vargo Exoti 50L Backpack

The Vargo Exoti is an incredible backpack if you are looking for something sturdy and unique as well. This external frame pack has so many helpful features, and this is why so many people rate it. Apart from the features, the pack weighs approximately 2 Lb 11oz, and this shows it is ultra-light. Let’s look at the other attributes that make it one of the best external frame backpacks.

Vargo Exoti is a top-loading backpack that comes with a removable lid. This makes it easy to pack and access your items quickly. The main compartment is quite spacious, but it does not have dividers. Apart from the main pocket, it has two mesh side pockets, two zippered pockets on the hip belt, and a zippered pocket on the lid. With all these pockets, this bag has a load capacity of more than 40 pounds.

This pack comes with several attachment elements and compression straps as well. For example, it has two yellow straps that are designed to cinch the backpack and stabilize your load. It also features a couple of webbing loops that should make some good attachment points. You can also use the external frame as a place to attach any additional gear that you might carry.

The other good thing is that the pack comes with a rectangle frame that runs along the perimeter. The frame is made using a titanium alloy and has reinforcement bars on all four corners. This backpack provides full torso adjustability of around 16 to 22 inches.


  • It is compatible with a hydration bladder
  • Comes with an adjustable sternum strap on the front
  • It has massive lumbar padding to facilitate air circulation on your back
  • Has enough pockets to keep your items organized
  • Comes with padded shoulder straps and hip belt to enhance comfort


  • It does not have a rain cover
  • Does not come with a bottom compartment

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Kelty Yukon Backpack

If you are searching for a bag that is designed for adults with a small frame, then the Kelty Yukon Backpack should be your go-to option. It is a great external frame backpack for both adults and youths. There is no doubt that Kelty is good at making external frame packs since this is the second model I have covered in this roundup post. Below are a few attributes that I like about the Yukon Backpack.

Just like most of the external frame packs, the Kelty Yukon is a top-loading backpack. It comes with a large but rigid top opening that makes it easy to pack your stuff. The lid is nicely made, and it converts to a sling pack when needed. Apart from the main compartment, Yukon has a stretch front pouch, four zippered side pockets, and a front pocket as well.

The external frame of this bag has been made in a way that allows for length adjustment. You can adjust the harness of the frame and the frame itself. If you look closely at the frame, you will notice that some rings allow you to extend or reduce it. You can adjust the harness in the range of 13 to 19 inches.

This backpack will provide you with high levels of comfort because it features padded shoulder straps. These straps are adjustable and have been covered with a breathable mesh. Moreover, the pack comes with an adjustable sternum strap and a nicely padded hip belt.


  • Has so many zippered pockets that are good for organizing your belongings
  • The pack is compact and nicely built
  • Can accommodate a hydration bladder
  • It has a sleeping bag compartment
  • It has so many features which include an ice axe loop, lash tabs, key fob, daisy chain, and load lifter straps


  • It is a bit heavy for its size
  • Does not come with a rain cover

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ALPS Mountaineering Red Rock External Frame Pack

The Red Rock is yet another external frame pack by ALPS, and it is a good choice for teens, youths, and women as well. This pack is red, and that is why it is attractive to the ladies and the young generation. I also tend to think that it got its name from the red color. All in all, it is an excellent tool for anyone who wants to take part in a scouting trip, hikes, or treks as well. Let’s see what this little beauty has to offer.

For starters, the Red Rock is a normal top-loading backpack that has a capacity of 34 liters. The capacity is not that great, but it is enough for an overnight trip. Besides, the pack is meant for people with a smaller frame. Although it has a low capacity, you can take advantage of the frame to attach additional gear.

The Red Rock pack utilizes a polyester fabric to enhance durability. Moreover, all the suspension parts are covered by lycra. The material is top-notch, and it contributes to the lightness of this backpack.

This good looking backpack has plenty of functional pockets that will help you organize all your items. It provides a total of 6 pockets; some are zippered while others are not. At least you won’t struggle to access your items whenever you need them quickly.


  • It comes with a sturdy telescoping external frame
  • It is built using a durable and lightweight material
  • Boasts of having padded shoulder straps and waist belt
  • It is ideal for women or people with small body frames
  • Has plenty of pockets to aid in organization


  • It is a bit small for people who would like to go for long trips
  • It is only available in one color

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TOFINE External Frame Backpacks

Our last pick in this roundup article is the TOFINE External Frame Backpack. You might think that it is a lousy backpack, but that is not the case. This is just like any other backpack in the market. Besides, it has a few good features that we are going to look at. Most people have not yet tried this pack because it is pretty new. All in all, I have had the chance to use this pack, and I will be giving a detailed review of it.

TOFINE is a versatile backpack that you can use for various activities such as hiking, backpacking, camping, and mountaineering. It has been made from high-quality ripstop nylon fabric. This material is quite durable, and most importantly, it has incredible water-resisting properties. Nylon is designed to withstand harsh outdoor conditions such as rain, terrain, and heat.

The TOFINE backpack has components that are meant to provide high levels of comfort. For instance, it comes with adjustable padded shoulder straps and two breathable cushions at the back panel. Fortunately, the back of this backpack is reinforced with a steel frame that provides stability and balance. Furthermore, it makes it possible for you to carry heavy loads.

Although the TOFINE is a top-loading backpack, it has a bottom compartment that you can use to pack your shoes. Its main compartment also can house a 5-liter bladder, and the entire backpack has a whopping 60L capacity.


  • This pack has a back system that conforms to ergonomics
  • Comes with adjustable shoulder straps that are heavily-padded
  • Has a decent capacity of 60 Liters
  • It is available in four colors
  • Has a super breathable back system
  • Comes with a waterproof removable cover


  • Its external frame is not sturdy enough
  • The zippers are not the best quality

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What is an External Frame Backpack?

I am pretty sure that the young generation is used to frameless backpacks to the extent that they do not know whether external frame packs exist. In case you haven’t heard about them, I will try to paint a clear picture of what an external frame backpack is.  Besides, external frame backpacks are easy to distinguish because of their rigid structure. Unlike the frameless backpacks, an external backpack comes with a metallic frame that runs along the back panel. The frame gives the bag extra strength and stability as well. An external frame backpack is ideal for camping, hunting, and mountaineering. This type of pack is meant to be used on flat terrain because it is not as flexible as frameless or internal frame backpacks.


Internal Frame Backpacks Vs External Frame Backpacks

Many people do not know the differences between external and internal backpacks. This section will help you differentiate them and know which one is ideal for you.

As you well know, internal frame backpacks are the most popular backpacks right now. Most people prefer them to external frame backpacks because of their versatility, comfort, and capacity. Internal and external frame packs are similar in the sense that most of them are top-loading types. This means that you have to load the backpack from the top section. Of course, you might get some that have front panel access, but they are rare to find.

In terms of packing, internal frame packs are ideal when you don’t have a lot of items to carry. On the other hand, external frames are great when you have a lot of items to carry. You will notice that the external frame allows you to strap items onto the pack.

Another difference is the way both backpacks sit on the back. For instance, an internal frame pack is designed to be close enough to your back. On the other hand, external frame packs are made to create a bit of space on your back.

Finally, an external frame backpack comes with an H-like frame, and this means that its center of gravity is high. This feature makes external frame packs ideal for simple trails, hunting, and mountaineering. Internal frame packs are different in that they are more suited for boulder hopping and bushwhacking.

Why you need External Frame Backpacks?

External framed backpacks provide more room between your upper body and the actual backpack. This allows air to circulate properly, thus helping you to enjoy your trip. Besides, the entire weight of the backpack is positioned higher, thus allowing improved load transfer to the lower body. At least, you will be able to walk in a more upright position.

Most people prefer purchasing external framed backpacks because their prices make them more affordable.  External backpacks can cost significantly less compared to internal frame backpacks and can be used in a lot of outdoor activities.

The frame of the external backpack is quite sturdy, and this makes it easier to carry heavy loads during long hikes and trips. These bags can carry a weight of up to 100 pounds. Furthermore, external frame packs are great when you are going out for hunts. The frame allows you to carry your kill easily.


What Key Features To Look For When Buying a External Frame Backpack

Choosing the best external frame backpack can make your trip more exciting and enjoyable. You should always be keen and careful when choosing the right backpack for any outdoor activity. Some of the things you need to consider include;

  • Material

It is pretty obvious that the backpack should be made out of a waterproof material so that your items remain dry and undamaged during rainy conditions. Secondly, make sure that the material is tough because you will be encountering rough terrain and harsh weather conditions as well. I would recommend that you purchase a backpack that is made using lightweight materials such as nylon or polyester. Such materials make the backpack lighter and also more durable.

  • Ability to support a load

When choosing the best backpack for your next hiking trip, look for a backpack that offers more room between your torso and the bag. Space is crucial when it comes to providing enough support, and most importantly, it allows air circulation. The best load-supporting frames are made of polyamide, aluminum, and molded frames. Be sure to check which material is used in the frame

  • Compartments/pockets 

It is quite obvious that the more items you will need to carry with you, the more pockets required. You should, therefore, consider purchasing a backpack, which will offer enough storage for all the items you will need for your trip. If you are going for a long hike, you will require more pockets to arrange all the items you will carry. On the other hand, having a backpack with several compartments is not necessary when going on short trips.

  • Durability

External frame backpacks are bags used for outdoor activities. It is therefore advisable to choose one which can withstand harsh weather conditions such as rain and heat. You should invest in a bag that can serve you for several years. It is not wise to settle for a bag that wears out after using it for a short period.

  • Padding

Choosing an external frame backpack that is nicely cushioned is an added advantage. This helps you to remain comfortable when carrying any additional weight during long hikes. You need to have proper padding in the shoulders, hips, and lumbar regions to prevent adding pressure and stress.

  • Weight

A lightweight backpack is much better than a heavy pack when you are hiking or backpacking. You do not want a bag that comes with its own excessive weight because it will weigh you down.

  • Brand

Most of the top brands are consistent in making top-notch backpacks. Choosing the most popular brand which you can rely on is a good start. In most cases, you end up with a backpack, which is just perfect for you, thus making your trip more enjoyable.


Frequently Asked Questions

The issue of external frame backpacks will always raise so many questions, and it is only fair that I answer some of them. Here are a few selected questions that I have been receiving in my inbox.

  • How can I differentiate an external frame pack that is designed for men and women?

Well, most people would like to have a backpack that suits their gender. Unfortunately, the industry of external frame bags produces unisex backpacks. All in all, you can tell whether a pack is meant for women by checking a few factors. For instance, you can check the shape of the hip belt. In most cases, the harness for women is narrower, and the torso length is a bit shorter. The color of the pack might also give you a hint on whether it is ideal for men or women.

  • Is an external frame pack hard to adjust?

Well, there is no clear answer to this question, but the truth is that some packs are quite tricky to adjust. In fact, it is so easy to adjust an internal frame pack as compared to an external frame pack. However, you can get a few external packs that are easy to adjust.

  • How do you know the ideal size for you?

Most backpacks can fit you, but the only sure way is to buy a pack that matches your torso length. Also, check whether the waist belt matches the size of your hips.


If you are struggling with frameless or internal frame packs, then there is no harm in heading the old school way. You will be assured of stability, comfort, and balance as long as you choose the best external frame backpack. All the backpacks I have reviewed are top-quality, but I would suggest that you go for the ALPS OutdoorZ Commander or the TERRA PEAK backpack.