Internal or External, That is the Question

This is one of the most asked question I answer related to backpacking. It is too bad there is not a simple answer. Don’t you hate it when someone answers your question with a question? Well unfortunately I have to ask. What kind of backpacking are you going to be doing? What kind of backpacker are you? There are many variables here. Let me give you the basics of the packs and the design issues involved and hopefully this will help you make a more informed decision. The design of the backpack internal or external is designed to make the load in the backpack more comfortable to carry. One way that these packs do this is to distribute the weight to areas of the body that are better able to carry this weight, like the hips and to a lesser degree the shoulders. This is a challenge for a backpack since it is usually a bag of sorts. Aha..in comes the frame. External frames distribute the weight to the frame and then splits the weight between the hips and shoulders through a waist belt and shoulder straps. The internal frame does the same except it has a frame inside the packs fabric. The internal frame pack design attempts to keep the weight closer to the body than the external frame pack. This makes sense if you think of someone standing with a bowling ball in their hands. If that person holds the bowling ball at arms length (Farther away from the body) the weight of the ball feels heavier than if the person held the ball close to the body. The weight is the same but the position makes a real difference. Thus internal packs can make a payload feel lighter than its external counterpart. However, the internal pack has some downsides. The first is heat and airflow. The pack is directly against your back and this will retain heat and inhibit airflow. Another downside is pockets and accessories. The internal pack does not have a frame on the outside of the pack to tie things onto and designers of internal packs generally try to keep the packs size and shape narrow and slim, usually minimizing the additional pockets etc. There are additional issues about pack design to write about but this is a good start.  Backpacks are a very personal item and is subject to personal preferences. There are some situations like trail running and climbing that the internal pack is obviously a better choice but for general use and backpacking it is to each his own. I will post more on pack design and concepts.

What is the heaviest thing you carry backpacking?

This is the question you often ask yourself while you are huffing and puffing up the trail. This and how do I get rid of some of this weight. So what is the heaviest thing you carry backpacking? It may surprise you to learn it is probably the backpack itself. Most people think about the capacity and the durability of their pack and forget to think about the weight of the pack. Most pack weights exceed 5lb. when empty. I know that doesn’t seem too heavy but it is when you have to carry it all day over extreme terrain. I suggest you reexamine your pack size and see if you can downsize your pack to a smaller size to save some weight. Pack materials have improved and the pack weights have come down as a result. Look for a lightweight pack that fits your needs and try to avoid buying a pack that is bigger than what you really need. Most weekend backpacking trips should not require over 3000 cubic inches. This is a tight squeeze for some but it can be done. Think about what you pack and ask yourself “Am I sure I will use this item this weekend?” If your answer is “I might not” then you should probably leave it out.

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