Hiking and Camping Backpack Guide – External and Internal Frames

Chapter 2: The Best Camping Backpack for Your Needs

When shopping for camping backpacks or bags, you get to be more subjective. Sure, there are several non-negotiable factors that every camper has to consider like weatherproof protection, size or storage capabilities, and weight. But beyond that, you should look for a camping backpack that seems tailor made to your needs and preferences.

Internal versus External Frame

Camping or hiking backpacks use either internal or external frames and each type has its own unique pros and cons. Backpacks with internal frames are more often used nowadays and perfect for those who require greater mobility and flexibility for outdoor activities such as skiing, hiking, and climbing.

In fact, backpacks with internal frames were initially designed by rock climbers that wanted backpacks that wouldn’t restrain arm movement but provided a more secure fit. They wanted a backpack that was able to meld itself to follow the user’s back, moving with you rather than pushing you to one side or another. A backpack with the latter problem could affect the user’s balance, which in turn could cause a safety issue if the user was, for example, attempting to tackle a particularly challenging ski trail or rock-climbing course.

Backpacks with internal frames are also typically taller, with narrower bodies. They also possess fewer external pockets; this helps limit the risk of the pack accidentally snagging branches and other natural protrusions. However, fewer pockets mean fewer items within easy reach. In addition, internal frames can cause your body to overheat due to the proximity of the backpack to your back.

Backpacks with external frames preceded those designed with internal frames. Because the frames areexternal, the frame of your backpack is visible and it’s typically made of aluminum tubes. All in all, they are excellent for those who don’t expect to tackle advanced or expert trails that demand a fine sense of balance and flexibility when moving.

This type of backpack is also surprisingly lighter to carry than those with internal frames, despite their somewhat tougher appearance. Due to the external frame, your backpack won’t stick to your back as closely as those with internal frames, and hence provide better ventilation when travelling. The frame also transfers the bulk of the backpack’s weight from your shoulders to your hips. And as pointed out earlier on, external frame backpacks offer more external storage pockets.

Of course, backpacks with external frames are far from perfect. As you can probably guess, these backpacks will constrain your movement and flexibility. So consider the type of trail and activities you are going to encounter during your camping trip when choosing the type of frame for your backpack.

Storage Capacity

This is another essential factor to consider when shopping for the ideal camping backpack. When you start browsing selections of backpacks, you’ll notice that the storage capacity is generally indicated in terms of cubic inches of space.

A backpack with at least 700 cubic inches of space can only be good for a half-day outdoor trip. This type of backpack can sufficiently make room for a single meal’s worth of food and water, storm equipment, and other basic devices.

If you are planning an outdoor trip that you expect to last the entire day, you will need more than double that amount of storage space, perhaps anywhere from 1,700 to over 2,000 cubic inches. In addition, make sure to look for backpacks with waist belts as well as padded backpacks because you’re staying long enough in the outdoors to feel discomfort if your backpack doesn’t offer these features. Further, look for backpacks with easily accessible external water bottle pockets. You’ll be thankful for them soon enough.

For weekend getaways, you will need backpacks that offer anywhere from 3,000 to 4,500 cubic inches of space, or about 1,125 cubic inches per day. You’ll also need an upgrade in terms of straps: this time, look for those that come with load lifters because you’ll find your pack getting heavier and heavier – even if nothing has technically changed with its content – as time passes.

Finally, if you are thinking of camping in the wilderness for an entire week – or maybe even longer – then you will need the biggest and the best. Look for backpacks that offer 6,000 cubic inches of space. Whether they come with internal or external frames is almost immaterial.

At times, you will be confronted by backpack selections that describe storage capacity in terms of volume and liters. If so, keep in mind that a minimum of 30L would only be sufficient for a weekend camping trip. You’ll need twice that amount if you plan to stay for a week.

Load Type

You are probably familiar with backpacks with front-loading panels. This basically means that the backpack’s opening is at the top. But today, there are backpacks that offer side panels as well. This makes access to important objects or gear quicker and it certainly helps with organizing your contents. Of course, any additional features mean additional materials used, which ultimately translates to a slight increase in the backpack’s price and weight.

There are also camping backpacks that offer bottom panels specifically for sleeping bags. This way, you won’t have to take everything in or out just to get your sleeping bag.

Safety, Security, and Durability

These three have been lumped together because they can often be seen or offered by the same feature. The type of materials used for your camping backpack, for instance, determine how safe and durable your backpack is. High-quality and heavy-duty materials will make it more difficult for thieves to sneak in and cut into your backpack to steal your stuff. Likewise, such materials won’t be easily damaged when you place them on the ground or when exposed to environmental factors.

Another thing to consider is the type of closures used. Avoid backpacks in which the majority of its quick-access pockets are simply equipped with snaps or buttons for closure. Even though these are quick-access pockets, they are still better off with zippers for closures to prevent anything from slipping in or even bugs or insects coming in without your knowledge.

Last, look for backpacks with rain mesh and waterproof features.


In most cases, backpacks are designed for unisex use. But if you have a particularly unique body size or shape compared to the majority of your gender then that’s the time you’ll need a backpack specifically designed for your sex. Men who are exceptionally taller or wider, for instance, would definitely benefit from using backpacks that offer longer torsos and wider straps.


This is by far the most subjective of all criteria because you have to consider how all the other factors come together. Unfortunately, testing the comfort factor of a camping back isn’t really possible. It’s not like shoes that you can try on and walk for a few steps and see how they feel.

Overall, you’ll do best by making a list of what you’re looking for from a backpack and then find the one bag that meets as many of those qualities as possible.