12 Best External Frame Backpacks in 2018

If you are reading this article, you may have spent some time with a knapsack on your back. Whether it was for school or leisure, they are useful, and all are made to help you transfer your belongings from one point to another. When you get into the realm of backpacks built for the wilderness, the options expand considerably. With external frame packs, more features come into play, which means there are more things to consider.

Some backpacks have internal frames, but we aren’t going to be dealing with them. If you are looking for the best external frame backpack on the market, you will want to keep on reading. Whether you simply need a frame for your favorite pack or an all-in-one solution for the wilderness and mountains, we have you covered.

Top 12 External Frame Backpacks Comparison Chart

DesignNameWeightWith PackRating (1-5)
  1. Eberlestock F1 Mainframe Pack 4.5 lbs. No 4.9
  2. Kelty Tioga External Frame Pack 5.9 lbs. Yes 4.8
  3. Kelty Trekker 65L Pack 4.3 lbs. Yes 4.8
  4. ALPS OutdoorZ Commander Freighter Frame 4.5 lbs. No 4.5
  5. ALPS OutdoorZ Commander Freighter Frame + Pack Bag 7.3 lbs. Yes 4.4
6. External Frame Pack Hiking Camping Backpack 4.6 lbs. Yes 4.2
7. Kelty Yukon External Frame Pack 4.9 lbs. Yes 4.2
8. Outdoor Products Dragonfly External Frame Backpack 3.9 lbs. Yes 3.9
  9. Stansport Mountain Hauler Pack Frame 3.8 lbs. No 3.8
  10. Lucky Gourd 80l Sport Outdoor Military Rucksacks 3.8 lbs. Yes 3.7
  11. Stansport Deluxe Freighter Aluminum Pack Frame 4 lbs. No 3.7
  12. Vargo Ti-Arc Backpack 3 lbs. Yes 3.3

Frame and Backpack or Frame Only?

Sometimes the best solution isn’t getting the entire frame and pack together: you might want to consider the advantages of buying just the frame (which we will discuss shortly).

Frame Packs

The main one we are focusing on involves an external frame with a backpack or sack attached; this puts you one step closer to the trail as you simply need to load up and adjust. These setups are perfect for consumers that aren’t sure of what they need but want a solid pack and frame that can handle whatever comes its way.

Aside from the fact that these come ready to go out of the box, there are other advantages to these packs. Some come with extras like sleeping bag covers pockets built for hydration bladders. You will also still have plenty of access points to clip on gear and other goodies due to its external nature.

Frame Only

More experienced outdoorsmen may prefer to go another route however by putting together their pack. If you know what you’re going to need on the trail or just prefer to use your backpack with an external frame, we have included options for you as well.

All of the frames we picked will come with multiple lashing straps which allow you to strap down your gear tight. Ventilated back pieces and adjustable shoulder straps are a given although you will want to keep your torso size in mind as well. The basic design is the same as the frames with packs although some of those don’t come with a freighter shelf, which is handy if you plan on hunting or hauling.


Backpacks can come with just as many extra bells & whistles as more high tech items. That means there are certain things you will want to look for, and several features you can probably live without.

  • Hydration Pouches – Will you be in the wilderness for days or just a few hours? No matter how you slice it, you need to stay hydrated and while you can buy an add-on, some bags have them included. If hydration is a concern, make sure your pack has an option for easy access unless you are just purchasing the frame.
  • Connectivity – Even in the wild, some people need to stay connected or just can’t leave their favorite gadget behind. Some backpacks actually offer up a measure of connectivity by allowing you to charge your phone through solar power with included accessories. There are also specialized solar panels designed just for external frame backpacks which can clip on to access points or tie down across the top.
  • Firearms – This is definitely an “extra” that could come in handy for some but be useless to others. If you are packing a pistol, stowing it away isn’t an issue but having it at the ready could be. The belts on some bags are designed to handle clip-fed pistols while others come with special holders for rifles.

Top 5 Best External Frame Backpack Reviews

1. Eberlestock F1 Mainframe Pack

The first choice on our best external frame backpack list belongs to Eberlestock. Their F1 Mainframe pack is just the frame, so you will need to provide your own bag. That said, the way this one is setup allow for a wide degree of customization and as you would expect, it is compatible with Eberlestock’s lineup of bags or dry duffels like the SuperSpike Duffel.

When it comes to the build quality, it’s hard to beat the tough Intex II aluminum frame; this gives it strength, but keep things light as the unloaded pack weighs in at only 4.5 pounds It should fit a wide variety of body types as well measuring 26” x 11” with several points of adjustments. It also has something called an adjustable ladder harness which helps with the fit and your load.

This modular pack will work with accessories from Eberlestock and others, so you can haul your belongings, gear or boned out meat on this beastly pack with ease. The pack is available in six different colors with the standard Military Green and Dry Earth along with camo versions in Western Slope, Timber Veil, and Unicam Dry.

2. Kelty Tioga External Frame Pack

Not interested in strapping down your own bag or hauling around half a carcass? Well, we have got something for you with the Kelty Tioga 5500 External Frame Pack. As the name suggests, this pack offers up a whopping 5500 cubic inches of storage capacity but will still be comfortable under heavy loads with a ventilated back panel.

Your back will also thank you for the padded shoulder straps and dual density waistbelt, which help with the fit while providing additional comfort. Needless to say, there are several levels of adjustments you can make from the stabilizer and load-lifter straps all the way down to the sternum strap. The pack is rated to fit torsos lengths ranging from 16” to 22”.

Suspension aside, the pack itself features two main compartments to go along with several front pockets and two short side pockets. There is also a long zippered pocket on the other side, a water bottle holder and even a holder for an ice-axe if you are a climber. The pack also has a sleeping bag compartment and a lined sleeve on the inside for hydration systems although you will have to provide your own.

3. Kelty Trekker Hiking Backpack

The Kelty Trekker is similar to the Tioga is some ways, but it smaller with an internal storage area of 3950 cubic inches. The sizing range remains the same, however, which means you will get the same degree of comfort. That’s a good thing unless you as you won’t have to fear for back pain with this particular pack.

Every strap you can think of is on the Trekker, which means you can adjust and cinch the belt stabilizer, hip belt, shoulder straps, sternum straps, and the load-lifters. Needless to say, if you can’t find a good fit with this pack, an external backpack may not be for you considering Kelty makes some of the most comfortable rigs around.

The Trekker has plenty of spaces to stow your gear on the outside as well with four side pockets, and several larger pockets on the front. If you want to hydrate, that won’t be an issue, and the top lid can even convert into a sling pack if needed. This pack is only available in Garnet Red and sized Medium-Large.

4. ALPS OutdoorZ Commander Freighter Frame

The second freighter frame pack to make the cut on our best external frame backpack list comes from ALPS. This one is the OutdoorZ Commander, and it’s a frame that lives up to its namesake. The tough frame isn’t meant to be pretty, but it will command your attention and your friends once you see what it can actually do.

Whether you want to haul game, firewood or just some heavy gear the freighter shelf will lend a hand. Even under the heaviest of loads the padded waist belt and shoulder straps will cut back on the burden while the mesh back offers up a degree of ventilation for those humid days on the trail.

While this freighter pack is built for hauling, it does come with some perks you won’t find on other models. Those would be holders for a knife, flashlight and a shooting sticks holder. The bag will fit torsos from 17” to 23” and is available in Green.

5. ALPS Freighter Frame + Pack Bag

If you liked the look for the Commanders Freighter Frame but want a little something more, you’ve found it with the Commander Pack; this is the same frame, but with a “big game” pack which should be self-explanatory if you’re reading this review. The rifle holder is a large step up over that shooting stix holder as well.

Being able to bring your rifle with you is a definite plus, but there is still room on this rig for your handgun. It can go in one of the many pockets or on the belt which is built to accommodate clip-fed handguns. The ripstop nylon fabric is tough, and the pockets are aplenty. In additional to the rifle holder, you will also get a spotting scope pocket and hydration pocket to keep you refreshed.

This pack is rated to hold 5250 cubic inches, has an internal divider and weighs in at only 7.3 lbs. unloaded. That is quite impressive, especially considering there is an aluminum freighter frame hiding beneath that large black pack.