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Why Do Hiking Backpacks Have Frames? An Overview of External and Internal Frame Backpacks

When I first started hiking, I was a total novice. I didn’t have any gear and had no idea what to expect on the trail.

One of the biggest surprises I encountered was how heavy my backpack felt, even with just a few essentials inside. The weight of the backpack seemed to pull me down and made every step a struggle.

It wasn’t until I talked to a seasoned hiker that I realized the importance of backpack frames. She explained that the frame is the backbone of the backpack. It can provide a structure and support that evenly distributes the weight of the load.

With the right backpack frame, my hiking experience could be transformed, and I could hike longer and farther with less strain on my body.

That conversation was a turning point for me, and I’ve never gone back to a frameless backpack since.

Key Takeaways

  • Hiking backpacks with frames can offer several benefits, including weight distribution, gear protection, added capacity, ventilation, and suspension systems.
  • There are two main types of backpack frames: external and internal. External frames provide better ventilation and gear organization, while internal frames are more versatile and streamlined.
  • Hiking backpack frames make backpacks more durable, allowing them to withstand the wear and tear of hiking through rough terrain.
  • Investing in a hiking backpack with a frame is essential for any hiker who wants to carry a heavy load over long distances comfortably.

External Frames vs. Internal Frames

First, let’s discuss the two main types of frames found in hiking backpacks: external frames and internal frames.

two hiking backpacks on the ground

External Frame Backpacks

External frame backpacks have a rigid frame that’s usually made of lightweight aluminum or another sturdy material.

This frame is attached to the outside of the backpack and is designed to support the weight of the pack and distribute it evenly across your body.

External frame backpacks typically have a larger capacity than internal frame backpacks and are great for carrying heavy loads over long distances.

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They also offer better ventilation, which can help keep you cool and dry while hiking.

Internal Frame Backpacks

Internal frame backpacks, on the other hand, have a flexible frame that’s built into the backpack itself.

This frame is usually made of lightweight, bendable materials like plastic or composite materials.

The flexible frame conforms to the shape of your body, which helps to distribute the weight of the backpack evenly across your back and hips.

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Internal frame backpacks are generally more versatile and are better suited for rougher terrain, as they offer more freedom of movement and can better accommodate awkwardly-shaped loads.

Benefits of Hiking Backpacks with Frames

Now that we know the difference between external and internal frame backpacks, let’s look at some of the benefits of using a framed backpack for hiking:

1. Weight Distribution

One of the primary benefits of using a hiking backpack with a frame is that it helps distribute the weight of the pack evenly across your body.

a man with a hiking backpack with frame stays stable through terrain with many stones

This can help reduce the strain on your back and shoulders, making it easier to carry a heavy load over long distances.

Hiking backpack frames are essential for distributing the weight of the backpack evenly across your entire body, making it easier and more comfortable to carry a heavy load.

Frames provide stability and support when you’re carrying a heavy load, preventing the backpack from sagging or shifting and throwing off your balance.

2. Hold the shape of the Backpack

Another benefit of using a backpack with a frame is that it helps keep the backpack’s shape, even when it’s not fully loaded.

This can make it easier to pack and organize your gear, as you won’t have to worry about your backpack sagging or losing its shape.

3. Protect Your Gear

Framed backpacks are also better at protecting your gear than frameless backpacks.

The frame provides a layer of protection between your gear and the outside world, which can help prevent damage from rocks, branches, and other hazards you might encounter on the trail.

4. Add More Capacity

a man uses hiking backpack to store many things

Framed backpacks are also better suited for carrying larger loads.

External frame backpacks, in particular, can accommodate larger, bulkier items like tents, sleeping bags, and camping chairs.

5. Ventilation

External frame backpacks also offer better ventilation than internal frame backpacks.

The space between your back and the backpack allows for more airflow, which can help keep you cool and dry while hiking.

6. Suspension Systems

two hikers with hiking backpacks in the forest

Finally, many framed backpacks come equipped with suspension systems that help distribute the weight of the backpack evenly across your body.

These suspension systems can also help improve your balance and stability while hiking.

Cons of Using a Framed Backpack

While there are many benefits to using a framed backpack for hiking, there are also a few drawbacks to keep in mind:

1. Weight

a man is hiking on the mountain with hiking backpack with frame

Framed backpacks are generally heavier than frameless backpacks. This can make them less suited for shorter hikes or day trips when you don’t need to carry as much gear.

2. Less Flexible

Framed backpacks are also less flexible than frameless backpacks.

The rigid frame can make it more difficult to maneuver through tight spaces or uneven terrain.

3. More Expensive

Framed backpacks are often more expensive than frameless backpacks.

This is because they’re more complex to manufacture and require higher-quality materials.

4. Not Suitable for Every Hiking Situation

Finally, framed backpacks may not be suitable for every hiking situation.

For example, if you’re planning a fast and light backpacking trip, a frameless backpack may be more appropriate as it’s lighter and more flexible.

a girl with small hiking backpack sitting on a mountain peak

When to Use a Hiking Backpack with frames

Despite the drawbacks of using a framed backpack, there are many situations where they can be a great choice. Here are a few examples:

1. Long-Distance Hikes

a group of four people on a long distance hiking trip

If you’re planning a long-distance hike, a framed backpack can help distribute the weight of your gear more evenly across your body, making it easier to carry a heavy load over long distances.

2. Rough Terrain

If you’re planning a hike through rough terrain, a framed backpack can help improve your stability and balance, making it easier to navigate rocky or uneven terrain.

3. Heavy Gear

a big hiking backpack with frame and mats on the field

If you’re planning to carry heavy gear like tents, sleeping bags, and camping chairs, a framed backpack can provide the additional support and capacity you need.

4. Hot Weather

If you’re planning to hike in hot weather, an external frame backpack can provide better ventilation, helping to keep you cool and dry.

Conclusion: To Frame or Not to Frame?

So, should you choose a hiking backpack with a frame or a frameless one?

The answer depends on your specific needs and the hiking situation you’re planning for. If you’re planning a long-distance hike, carrying heavy gear, or navigating rough terrain, a framed backpack may be the better choice.

If you’re planning a shorter hike or day trip, a frameless backpack may be more appropriate.

Ultimately, the most important thing is to choose a backpack that fits well and feels comfortable. Try on different backpacks and test them out with a load of gear before you commit to a purchase.

With the right backpack, you’ll be able to enjoy your hike to the fullest, without worrying about discomfort or injury.

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