30 comments on “External Frame Backpacks – Applying the Old Ways to the New Journeys – Edit

  1. I use my external frame for summer, which is much cooler due to better air circulation, and heavy loads, relegating the internal frame for ski touring where stability of center of gravity must be carefully controlled or the light local daypack to fit in a locker. It almost always pays to see previous solutions to problems and see how and why they worked, as well as why later changes, i.e. to get a patent to insure profit from a novelty or a real benefit.

    • I agree that internal frame backpacks are better for situations that require more agility. But given that over 95% of new backpacks are internal frame, I also wonder how many 50-70lt internal frame backpacks are used for dynamic outdoor activities and how many are used for simple trail hiking? Could regular trail hikers benefit more from an external frame backpack? I think they could if only there was an updated external frame pack design that looked as technical and compelling as existing internal frame packs.

  2. Excellent overview!

    If I might make a suggestion though, the Kifaru Duplex Frames (the original – http://www.kifaru.net/tactical_haulers.html ) (and the new, lighterweight Bikini – http://www.kifaru.net/bikiniframe.html ) are an great hybrid between an external frame pack and an internal frame pack. While it can be worn with the designed bags inside the bags, they can be easily removed and almost anything conceivable (injured people, barrels, quartered elk, outboard motors, dry bags, etc.) lashed on.

      • Dana Designs (the Dana is now the man behind Mystery Ranch) and MountainSmith (the Smith is now the man behind Kifaru) are from a similar era and approach. But I’m not sure which design came first. Both are still committed to building high quality packs in the USA, among the few that still do.

        The Bikini frame can carry the same loads as the earlier iteration, but shaves a considerable amount of weight off.

        Having carried two different barrel portage packs, I can attest very vociferously that there was no comparison to the Kifaru frame. Both the barrel carriers were about the same level of technological development as a book bag. All the weight was carried on the shoulders. There was no load transfer to the hips. Brutal experiences.

  3. I’ve used an aluminum frame I bought at the thrift store for a couple of trips. I change out the straps and a few pins and it worked just fine. I used it to haul firewood to camp which was much appreciated by those I was hiking with.

    • I can relate, the external frame is very underrated. The same thing happened to me when planning for a long trip to Central America. I wanted a pack that I could easily fix, that was waterproof and that was as versatile as my 4×4 truck. As an experiment I bought a very nicely welded frame at Goodwill for $ 2, I found a well padded Arcteryx hip belt at an outdoor store and replaced the bag with a 60L dry bag to protect from the tropical rains. Despite the lack of lateral pockets my fully loaded rebuilt external pack was the most comfortable I had worn. It also kept my back ventilated and the contents mostly dry (given the high humidity the dry bag didn’t let the damp clothes and hammock inside it dry). But that will be my next backpack experiment.

  4. I’m 89 now and have owned many rucsacs in my life.The favourite is stil a 1930′s Bergans ski pack with a little wheel controlling the leather straps.Just a gimmick probably,but it sure was a capacious and super comfortable pack.This site is most interesting and informative.Thank you

    • Thanks Ken. I’m curious as to how your 1930′s Bergans ski pack held up over the years? I will certainly appreciate any new gear that I still own and can use 50 years from now.

  5. Thank you for this, it is the best article on this subject I have seen and I am tempted to make one of the older versions myself as a project.

  6. What a fantastic overview!
    Guess that took a while to collect and order.
    Do I have your permission to reblog or link to this post on my blog? I’ll be doing a small bit on Scandinavian backpacks.
    You can find a link to it under my name.
    Thanks for the post!

  7. Just wondering if anybody knows of a source for replacement hip belts for an old (1972) external frame backpack. It would need to attach to the frame via clevis pins. Thanks…

    • There isn’t a big demand for replacement backpack parts, especially for external frame backpacks. Good army surplus stores usually sell basic black straps and belts for a decent price..whereas good outdoor and hunting stores tend to be a bit pricier. I think the cheapest and wisest option is to look for used external frame backpacks at your local thrift stores and salvage the parts.

  8. Great history of packs. I found this site when looking at Otzi’s pack and am impressed with the various cultures methods of carrying loads around. Thanks.

  9. I just found a really awesome wood framed pack at a thrift store. Yellow canvas, cord lacing up the back… it’s in near mint condition and has a tag that says “made in japan” and a leather “property of:” patch that says “no. 577 pack bag”. I’ve tried finding out who the make is through web research and have come up with nothing. Any ideas?

  10. Fascinating article! I’ve been doing some reading up, and most places I’ve run across have been extremely snobbish with regards to external frames. I guess I’m “counter-snobbish” – if it doesn’t have a frame, it’s just a fancy rucksack! :) I’m half-way tempted to get some pictures of our two Goodwill finds – neither one over $8.00. One’s got a label that reads “Himalayan” (I’m guessing ’70′s era), the other is a lightweight canvas with a label that says “Bonanza” (’60′s?).

    • “Change is the illusion of progress”

      And that would be fine with me if products were sustainable. But although perceived innovation is important for a brand to stay competitive, it also encourages unnecessary consumption and pollution. If only the latest backpack technology, wasn’t an improved suspension system, but a more environmentally friendly solution. Be creative and choose what works best for the environment..If not for you, for your children and grandchildren.

      My “ghetto pack” works great for me as external frame packs did for millions of people before me.

      Don’t believe the hype, try things out for yourself.

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