Updated: December 2017

Internal Frame Backpack Reviews:

Hiking in the backcountry is an incredible experience, but you need to have the right equipment to make the journey memorable in the best way possible. Buying the best backpack is the most imporant thing to do before going out on any extended day hike. Backpacks have come a long way in the last decade or two and internal frames are now the way to go. No longer do you see hikers lugging external frame backpacks up the trails, although they do serve some purpose as we will get into below. I did a 7 night backpacking trip into the Sierras about 20 years ago using an external frame backpack and I remember the darn pack digging into my sides and not being very comfortable. The modern internal frame packs are narrower and have more adjustments you can make to get the "best fit". Avid backpackers say your overall balance and movement is much better when using an internal frame backpack versus the external frame models.
internal frame backpacks

Choosing the Right Internal Frame Backpack - There are several variables that go into selecting the right backpack for you. First, you need to determine how long you will be gone for. Will it be just a few days like a weekend trip, or will you be out in the woods for a week or more. How much gear will you need? Remember, when you go backpacking, you are bringing in all your food, clothes, sleeping bag, pads, climbing gear, etc. It can add up in a hurry and soon you'll be carrying 60 pounds of stuff before you know it. Backpacks come in a variety of sizes to help keep your load balanced and comfortably fitting inside. If you want a simple daypack, get something that holds 1800-2500 cubic inches or 30 to 40 liters worth. Weekend trips (2-3 days) require more storage space, so go with a pack that holds between 3000-5000 cubic inches (50 to 80 liters). For the longer hauls of a week or more, you'll need all the space you can get and we recommend a backpack with 80 liters of storage space (5000 cubic inches) or more. Some people can travel light and don't need a tent in the backcountry while others need all the comforts of home and will surely pay for carrying all those extras with a very heavy pack. Before you go out, do a practice packing of the backpack to see what will fit. Perhaps you can do without the tent and get by with just a bivy sack at night. Trust me, when your first out on the trail and realize your pack is 55 lbs versus the 40 lbs of your hiking friends you may quickly see that you have too much stuff. Experienced backpackers have widdled down the necessities so that they carry the least amount of gear possible. The other consideration with any pack is to make sure it fits properly and will keep you going for days on end. The pack needs to be balanced properly so you can walk for miles and up and down hills or boulders and feel comfortable. I have seen some hikers try to cross a stream with an unbalanced pack that didn't fit snugly and you can probably guess what happened to them (they got wet). Much of hiking is not on level ground, so you want a pack that is snug to your body and works as one with your movements so you can traverse all kinds of terrain with ease. Most of the straps are completely adjustable on backpacks, but make sure you find one that is closest in size to your requirements. They do come in ladies sizes and usually include small, medium and large capacities. The hipbelt is crucial since it supports much of the weight of the pack so you need lots of padding there as well as in the shoulders and sternum straps. The pack should be easy to pack or unpack and have side compartments for things you may want access to quickly without having to sort through clothes or food items. There should be a separate compartment for your sleeping bad (usually below the main storage area). Above all, try on the pack in a store like REI first before you buy anything. If you can get some weight in the pack at the store, that will also give you an idea of what it might feel like when it's fully loaded. As for brands, Gregory, Arc'teryx, Osprey, and Kelty are the leaders, but you can find deals on other manufacturers like GoLite, Granite Gear, Deuter, The North Face, and Mountainsmith. Expect to spend at least $150 for a decent pack and upwards of $300 for a top of the line backpack for extended day trips. Internal Frame Backpack Reviews - There are dozens of online websites like Trailspace.com, Outside Online, Bigbackpacks.com, and Backpackgeartest.org that offer expert opinions and owner feedback to help guide you. The reviews cover all types of backpacks and give you specific pluses or minuses of each product. You can find recommendations for students traveling throughout Europe with backpacks to hardcore hikers scaling top peaks in North America. REI is an excellent store to visit if you have one in your area, the staff is informative and they can guide you to the right pack for your needs. I highly recommend visiting your local mountaineering store to get their opinions as well. You can browse the best selling internal frame backpacks online here.

Top Rated Internal Frame Backpack:

You can spend a lot on an internal frame backpack and the two leading packs this year are the Arc'teryx Bora 80 ($370) and the Gregory Denali Pro ($455). Both are designed for extended day stays in the backcountry and the Bora 80 comes in various capacity sizes of 76, 80, and 84 liters. The colors on the Arc'teryx Bora 80 are deep blue and mercury. You can get it in short, regular, or tall sizes. It features 6 external compression straps, a full length size zip, an interchangeable unisex thermoformed hipbelt, and a Kangaroo pocket with drain hole. The sleeping bag compartment and water bottle pockets make for easy packing. As for the Gregory pack, the Denali Pro is meant for mountaineering and it does the job plus some. All the reviews we read about this pack were high in praise. For more traditional backpacking, the Gregory Palisade 80 and the Baltoro 70 ($270) are excellent choices as well. Check out the top selling Gregory packs here.

Best Value Internal Frame Backpack:

Kelty has been making backpacks for years and I wore an external framed Kelty on my first backpacking trip in the 1980's. Their current selection of internal frame packs get solid ratings from reviewers. The Kelty Red Cloud 5000 ($165) is a great womens pack that has a torso fit range of 12-17" and weighs about 6 pounds when empty. The top lid converts to a fanny pack and the pack has both top and front panel loading capabilities. There are zippered side pockets and a separate compartment for the sleeping bag. It features an adjustable suspension and padded shoulder straps. For men, a very reasonably priced backpack is the Osprey Talon ($160). It's a bit small and probably best for weekend trips, but that's what most of beginner to intermediate backpackers take on. It's got a comfortable fit, all the pockets and zippers you need, sleeping pad straps, dual ice axe loops, and it's hydration compatible. It's under 3 pounds in weight. RECOMMENDED - High Sierra is a trusted name amongst backpackers and their High Sierra Long Trail 90 Frame Pack is considered a "great value" by many that own it. It's a 90 liter pack with a top load main compartment that features a gusseted drawstring closure. The drop bottom sleeping bag compartment is what hikers like for convenience and the foam padding helps keep you comfortable even when carrying heavy loads. Owners say it's "versatile" and "high quality pack for a great price". We agree wholeheartedly on this one.

Internal Frame Backpack vs External Frame:

Internal frame backpacks have proven over time to be more popular than the older external frame packs. That's not to say that external frame backpacks don't have their uses as well. Firstly, external frame packs are much cheaper than their counterparts and they are certainly fine for overnight or 2 day trips with kids or groups like cubscouts. For longer trips, definitely an internal frame pack will provide you with more comfort. The design of the internal frame packs (IFP) allow the weight to be carried by your hips and not directly on your shoulders and back. As mentioned above, the IFP wear close to your body so your movements are easier and traveling on rougher trails or terrain is not as hard as with external frame packs. When you do off-trail backpacking over boulders and across streams you'll count your blessing you are carrying your load on an IFP versus an external frame. You will pay more for an IFP, but the more you use the pack you'll realize what a difference it makes. The one advantage to external frame packs is that they can carry big loads and in hotter weather you may find they are cooler since they aren't snug to your body like the IFP ones. In stores, you will probably find that 80% of the packs are internal framed versus the 20% or so that are external frames so selection is definitely limited on the external framed models. Check out REI.com to see what they offer for backpackers.

Rent versus Buy:

With the chance to do a 7 night, 8 day trek back into the Sierras this year, I was a little hesistant to say yes, but I knew this could be the chance of a lifetime. It's been 20 years since I was last out and so before I turn 40 this is a good challenge to see what kind of shape I'm in after all these years. I don't own any current equipment, so my options are renting from a store like REI or purchasing a used backpack from someone on Craigslist or Ebay. I could always bite the bullet and go with something new, but I figured that's a big commitment. Renting for 8 days is not cheap (about $85) and buying a used pack is probably going to cost me a little over $100 for a used model. If you know this is going to be a one time event, go with renting a pack. That way you get a quality product and professional instruction from a store like REI on how to pack it and wear it comfortably. If you know you that you are planning on more excursions down the road, try buying a used pack for half the price you would find it in the stores. I went on Ebay and saw some great deals for packs used once or twice that will still in excellent shape. Buying something brand new is probably not worth it unless you are an avid backpacker and want the perfect product.