Types of Frames InternalWhat is an Internal Pack?
Since the early 1990's, internal packs have become the dominant choice for backpackers. An internal pack has its frame
(members of the frame
are called stays) inside the pack. Some packs provide removable stays. Removable Stays can be removed and then bent to fit your back. Dual aluminum stays have parallel or X-shaped stays that provide additional support.
- Internal packs keep their center of gravity closer to the user's back and thus make it easier to bear additional weight while also increasing stability on uneven terrain.
- Everything you own goes inside the pack, so it's all protected from the elements.
- Because internal packs are more popular than external packs there are many more price points and features to pick from.
- Internal packs are made to fit to your back like a glove, which give it more support. Some packs, like the one pictured below, can even have their stays bent to the shape of the owner's back for a custom fit.
- Internal packs can typically be compressed better than an external pack which moves the pack's weight closer to your back and decreases the chance of having your load shift while you are hiking.
- What you see is what you get size wise. External packs have all kinds of external lashing points where you can strap extra gear on, most internal packs do as well, but they don't work as well as an external pack's.
- Typically, internal packs are more expensive (but you get what you pay for).
- Because an internal pack fits closer to the back, they typically build up more heat and can be uncomfortable for that reason. There are exceptions; Osprey has come out with packs that have back supports that are as breathable as an external pack.
UltralightWhat is an Ultralight Pack?
An ultralight pack is one that is specialized in being lightweight. Most models are meant to carry at most 25 pounds of weight.
- Really lightweight.
- Because things like a robust suspension system, frame, etc. aren't needed, they are usually quite a bit cheaper than any other pack.
- Ultralight packs can be very versatile, as they can be used for backpacking and day hikes very easily.
- Ultralight packs usually have no frame, so they have to be packed with care, so that the load itself becomes its frame.
- Because many ultralight packs have no packsheet, if they aren't packed right you can easily have something poking you in the back.
- Can only be used with light loads.
External PackWhat is an External Pack?
Though external packs were extremely popular until the early 1990's most models have been retired. An external pack is a pack with the frame
on the outside.
- External packs usually have better organizational systems like pockets, etc.
- Because of the increased distance from the user's back, they promote more airflow.
- External packs are typically cheaper than internal packs.
- Because the frame is on the outside, they seem to snag branches, etc. while bushwacking and on some unkept trails.
- The increase in distance of the load from the user's back puts the bag's center of gravity farther away from the user, which forces the wearer to lean forward more to compensate and thus can strain their back.
- External bags can't be compressed very well.
- Many (if not all) external packs require things like the sleeping bag to be worn on the outside of the pack, which puts them in danger of getting wet and unnecessarily exposes them to branches and other elements of mother nature that they might not have been intended for.
- Because external packs are so much cheaper than a typical internal pack, it's difficult to find well built ones. For example, on cheaper products, manufacturers will often use heavier fabrics, they will not seam seal, tape or weld seams, and the stitching is often inferior.
- Because the pack's center of gravity is farther from the user, it can cause a lack of stability on uneven terrain.
How should a pack fit?
A good backpacking pack should be comfortable and should be able to transfer weight from your shoulders to your pelvis.
is a crucial measurement to backpackers, because if you get the length wrong, your pack will be unable to properly transfer weight away from your shoulders and onto your hips.
Torso length by convention is measured from the C7 vertebrae to the iliac crest. To identify the C7 vertebrae, simply feel the back of your neck and feel for the most prominent bone at the base
of your neck. To identify the iliac crest (see picture below), find the top of your pelvis and follow the ridge a few inches on the top around to the front of your body.
The easiest way to measure your torso length is to take a belt and put it around your waist at the iliac crest, then have someone measure the distance from your C7 vertebrae to the middle of the belt.
Once you've measured your torso length, you can check out manufacturer's websites to figure out what size pack will fit you best. Keep in mind that each designer builds packs in a range that will fit multiple torso lengths, and the shoulder harness
can move up and down to better fit the user.
The trick is that the shoulder harness
needs to be set at a position where you can transfer about 75% of the pack's weight to the hip belt, and about 25% of the weight to the shoulders. To get the pack's weight distributed properly you need to adjust the load levelers (see diagram below) and the harness
The next thing to focus on is how closely the pack's back support aligns with the wearer's back. Ideally, it should follow the contours of your back perfectly without any areas that are pressing too hard against your back, or any areas that are not in contact with your back. Many manufacturers make great "one back support fits all" systems like Gregory, unfortunately, they don't always live up to their name. Most of these systems can fit between 70-80% of people well (which are pretty good betting odds), but leave nothing for the rest of us. Another option is that Arc'Teryx and Marmot offer bendable aluminum stays that you can bend to the contours of your back for a more custom fit.
Pack covers are lightweight, water-proof covers that can be placed over your bag if you get trapped in bad weather.
A good suspension
system trumps every other feature on a pack. If the pack doesn't fit right and doesn't feel good with weight in it, then all the bells and whistles in the world shouldn't sell a pack. With that being said, here are some other features to look out for.
- Lids that double as daypacks (some even incorporate a buckle that is the same size as the hip strap's buckle, so in the event of a buckle failure, you can have a backup).
- Kangaroo pouches on the outside of packs with drainage holes. If you have to pack a tent with a wet rain fly, then you can stuff the fly in one of these pouches, and let the fly dry. The alternative is to tie the fly to the outside of the pack and unnecessarily expose it to branches, thorns and anything else mother nature wants to conjure up.
- Pivoting shoulder harnesses and hip belts. These help fit a variety of different people's bone structures. There are also pivoting hip belts out there like North Face's Pivotal pack, that don't pivot for fit, but allow the user an extended range of motion.
- Roll top bags. Instead of having a lid on top of the bag, these roll and are buckled close (see Arc'Teryx Needle). They allow for a much bigger entry into the pack.
- Compression systems. Some packs have compression straps/systems that are much more effective than others. See image below.
- Pack sheet. This is a piece of plastic (usually formed) that goes in between you and your pack. It helps cut down on things poking you through the bag if you load your pack improperly.
- Hydration reservoir compatible. This feature will allow you to drink water without stopping or removing your pack.
Heavy vs. Ultralight
This is a debate that has been going on for quite some time, and there doesn't seem like there is much middle ground. Usually, if you are running at about 30-35 pounds or more, you are typically considered a "heavy."
One of the problems that most people run into is that as soon as you start adding things like a better mattress, more clothes etc., you need a bigger, heavier pack to hold it all in. Once you have a bigger pack, you need boots
that support the increased load better... and now you've entered into a vicious cycle. Although it can be more "comfortable" going heavy, ultralight backpackers can usually go farther, and feel more refreshed at the end of a long hike.
Here are some questions to consider when choosing a backpacking philosophy.
- How avid of a photographer are you? If you have to bring a tripod with you, you might as well just write heavy across your forehead.
- Are you going climbing? If you've got a trad rack with you, then you need to go heavy.
- How far are you going? If you're hiking less than 10 miles, you can afford to ride in style.
- How much experience do you have? Ultralight backpacking is seriously not recommended for someone that hasn't moved up through the heavy ranks. You simply don't know which corners you can cut, and it's better to be safe than sorry.
Packing your Backpack
Your heaviest items should be packed as close to your back as possible. This will help maintain your center of gravity (therefore reducing how much energy your legs use to maintain balance).
Attaching items to your backpack
On extended trips it is not unusual to have to attach your sleeping bag, sleeping pad
to the outside of your bag. Always try to attach these items to the bottom of your bag. Attaching heavy items to the top of your bag or to a side will affect your balance.
Keep things accessible
- Insect Repellent
- Navigation Tools
- Rain Gear
- Sun Protection