Comparison Between Hiking Backpack Internal Vs. External Frame

Which is better for your hiking backpack: internal vs. external frame? Each has pros and cons, making them stand out differently. Let’s see how they can help!

Top 4 Good Budget Internal Frame Hiking Backpacks

#1. Hiking Backpack Internal Vs. External Frame: Comparison Table

Backpacks with internal frames have a rigid framework inserted into the interior of the bag. You can’t see the frame because the fabric of your backpack covers it completely.

Meanwhile, backpacks with external frames have a sizable frame that protrudes externally. The frame has two sides: one attached to the hip belt and shoulder straps, and one connected to the main body of your backpack to hold your gear.

They are different from each other, right from their appearance. Let’s check this comparison to discover more about their features.

Criteria  Internal Frame External Frame 
Support More stable More supportive
Weight 2 to 4 pounds 5 to 10 pounds
Ventilation Moderate Excellent
Comfort  Adjustable and easy to flex Breathable but not adjustable
Storage 25 to 90 liters 60 to 90 liters
  • More lightweight
  • Easily adjustable
  • Easy to bend
  • Larger storage
  • Cheaper
  • Better cooling
  • Good for posture
  • Easy to attach heavy gear
  • More costly
  • Less breathable
  • Difficult to pack external gear
  • Heavier
  • Not adjustable
  • Hard to speed up
  • Less stable

#2. What Is The Difference Between Hiking Backpack Internal Vs. External Frame?

Internal and external frames are easy to distinguish at first sight. However, the difference in their structure leads to other differences in their breathability, support, comfort, and storage ability.


A backpack frame’s essential duty is to evenly distribute the burden of the load across your shoulders and hips.

External frames are better at spreading the load pressure to your hips. They don’t flex and can transfer the burden to your padded hip belt. As a result, you will carry relatively little weight.

As a bonus, you can walk comfortably and upright thanks to this design. However, the drawback of this kind of support is that you can only move slowly.

External frames hold the load of your backpack away from your body, changing the center of gravity. Hence, you can’t speed up.

Backpacks with internal frames keep the weight closer to your back. The center of gravity will remain more or less where it ought to be. Thus, you will feel more stable when hiking on uneven terrain.

The disadvantage is that internal frames don’t transmit the pressure to your hips as efficiently as exterior frames do. Moreover, since they can flex, they don’t offer much support for heavy backpacks.


Internal frames are more lightweight. They often weigh from three to four pounds, with the ultralight variants being under two pounds.

The average weight of external frames for hiking backpacks is five pounds. Some heavy-duty frames may weigh up to ten pounds, and the lightest models are three pounds.

The difference in weight comes from the material used to construct the frame. Most internal frames are thin aluminum tubes, whereas the external models are thick and large aluminum tubes.


External framed backpacks promote ventilation. The external frames can keep your bag away from your body, leaving some space in between for the air to move freely.

On the contrary, the internal frames sit close to your back. Hence, you will get sweaty quickly and feel uncomfortable.

Some new internal framed backpacks have a foam or mesh layer to improve breathability. There can also be some ventilation channels in the back panel to solve this problem. However, having an external frame from the start will be more straightforward.


Internal frames allow you to move comfortably because they can flex and form your back. So you bend down slightly to pass a tree branch.

Moreover, these frames are easily adjustable. You can customize your backpack’s stabilizer straps, shoulder straps, load lifters, and hip belts.

Unfortunately, to some people, breathability is essential. They don’t feel comfortable with their sweaty backs. Thus, they go for other options.

External frames can help you stay cool. Moreover, the gear won’t poke into your back because those frames keep it away from you.

Nevertheless, some hikers find the external frames too stiff. They won’t move with you when you bend down, affecting your comfort.

Furthermore, most external framed backpacks are not adjustable. Hence, you will have difficulty locating a perfect fit.


Internal frame backpacks are available in more sizes, from 25 to 100 liters. Meanwhile, their external framed counterparts come in larger sizes, from 60 to 90 liters.

Internal framed backpacks also give you more compartments and pockets to store things. However, you can’t attach external gear to your bag easily.

In contrast, backpacks with external frames are mostly large and only suitable for those who carry a lot of luggage. But they can allow you to hang external equipment to your backpack.

#3. Hiking Backpack Internal Vs. External Frame: Which One Is Best For You?

External and internal frames for hiking backpacks are both good, but they offer different benefits.

When should you use a backpack with an internal frame? Consider these cases:

  • You are looking for a lightweight bag.
  • You need a bag that can encompass your body well for improved comfort.
  • You want many compartments and pockets to store things.
  • Customizability is vital to you.

You will need a backpack with an external frame if:

  • You carry heavy loads and need a solid structure to support them.
  • You hike in the summer. Hence, ventilation is your priority.
  • You want to improve your posture and keep it upright during long trips.
  • You need a backpack that can stand still.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the faqs about the comparison between hiking backpack internal vs external frame:

Does anyone still use external frame backpacks?

Yes. Hikers, tactical owners, and hunters like externally framed backpacks because they can shoulder heavy luggage. They are also suitable for your walking posture.

What is the advantage of an external frame backpack?

By wearing an external framed backpack, you can carry a heavy load and walk upright. Moreover, it’s helpful to hike with this kind of backpack in the summer because it allows for adequate ventilation.

Do you need a frame for a hiking backpack?

The most significant difference between a framed and frameless backpack is its breathability. If you choose the latter, your backpack will sit directly on your back, preventing air from moving and wiping away your sweat.

What is an internal frame hiking backpack?

An internal frame hiking backpack has its frame hidden inside the fabric. The frame can be aluminum, plastic, or titanium.

Why are backpacks frameless?

Frameless backpacks have less structure. Hence, you can store and stuff your belongings easily. You can even fold or roll it to fit in tight places.

Of course, this option has pros and cons. Before switching your framed backpack to the frameless one, check this video first:

Do you need an internal frame backpack?

Yes, if you need a lightweight and adjustable backpack. It can also encompass your body, giving you comfort while walking across different terrains.

What is a non-framed backpack?

There is neither internal nor external stiffness nor structure in a frameless bag. While it sometimes has cushioning or a foam insert to lend them some form, most backpacks are just fabrics.

What does the frame in a backpack do?

The frame evenly distributes the pressure of your luggage so you can carry it more easily. A framed pack can be the best choice if you want to hike for a long time.

Are Hyperlite packs frameless?

No. Instead, a Hyperlite pack has a 1/4″ rear foam panel cushion with two curved metal tubes to fit into the pack’s back.

Why do hiking backpacks have metal?

It’s because a metal frame keeps the pack’s structure and makes it simpler to pack and look for items within.

Do Hyperlite backpacks have a frame?

Yes. But instead of a stiff wire frame made of rigid plastic, they use a lightweight frame called frame stays.

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