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My Favorite and the Best High Sierra Backpacks: Review External Frame Packs | High Sierra Backpacker

My Favorite and the Best High Sierra Backpacks: Review External Frame Packs

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 03 August 2016

Member's Favorite External Framed Backpacks


Alex                    Classic Camp Trails external framed pack for Summer uses.

Camp Trails McKinley (trailspace) reviews. My favorite pack, when customized for me: "Camp Trails McKinley 7 Pocket Pouch External Frame Backpack" (amazon ad)


Polvito1977          Kelty Tioga (none new)
                             Trailspace Kelty Super-Tioga review


More Backpacks

Internal Framed Packs

Ultralight Packs



Favorite and Best High Sierra Backpack?

I say, "My Favorite" and "The Best" of High Sierra Backpacks because these two catagories are not necessairly the same. What I like, what I need, and what I have may be different.
First, my style of backpacking requires different solutions than the packs that may be considered "best" by folks with different body types, tastes, and preferences. The other is cost. There are some fine packs out there that I could never afford.

I find my pack preferences shifting with the seasons, and changing with the changing characters and carrying requirements of different kinds of backpacking trips.

The Basic Question
How much will I be carrying for how long over what kind of terrain through what kind of weather? 

Thus we have packs better suited for the heat of Summer, and packs best for the cold of Winter. Next we consider application, are we hiking maintained trails, or are we going to be scrambling and cross country, and maybe doing some climbing? Maintained trails protect ultralight materials, scrambling tears them up.

Next, we have loading. External framed packs manage huge loads better, while internal framed packs offer superior balance while carrying heavy loads. The difference between the leverage generated by climbing over a treefall with an external framed pack is much more strenous than climbing over with an internal framed pack hugging your back.
Finally, it all comes down to how much weight we are carrying, in what temps, over what kind of terrain? Answering each of these questions brings us a bit closer towards determining what pack solution best fits your typical backpacking situations. The final answer only comes by adding in what best fits your body type, what you actually feel comfortable with, and what you can afford.


The Best External Framed Backpack--For Me
Standard Summer Trails 
That leaves us with what works and why it works. In my case my best solutions have proved to be a classic Camp Trails external framed pack for Summer uses.

Up to Darwin Bench while hiking the John Muir Trail
Carried my Internal Framed backpack to Darwin Bench while hiking down the John Muir Trail. Note the blue daypack loaded for some extensive scrambling-running around.

 Camp Trails McKinley (trailspace) reviews. My favorite pack, when customized for me:
"Camp Trails McKinley 7 Pocket Pouch External Frame Backpack" (amazon ad)



It deploys heavy long distance backpacking loads with stability and comfort, providing a nice "space" for cool air to circulate between the small of my back and the pack.


Nowadays most folks use internal frame backpacks for all seasons.
Best Internal Framed Packs

I split my pack use between types of backpacking trips and for different seasons.

The Best Backpack--For Me
Winter-Snow-Cross Country Travel
An old internal framed North Face pack has proved an excellent backpack for Winter, snow conditions, and the worse of Summertime cross country navigation and climbing situations.

Image of the North Face Brown Label Expedition. In action, below:

My old buddie Greg carrying the Internal Frame North Face Pack to the East Carson River in Late Winter Conditions.
Above: My old buddie Greg carrying my Internal Framed North Face West towards the East Carson River breaking the first trail through Late Winter Snow Conditions.


The close fit of the internal framed design between pack and back aids stability and warmth during Winter or on sketchy routes during any season.


For Summer Use I deploy my McKinnley.


Backpack Weights
The Camp Trails external framed pack weights-in at an even five before I add my selection of straps, clips, and lashing "extras," with which I assue the strapped-on elements of my load stay attached to the pack frame during wrecks. Camp Trails weighs 5.5 lbs after adding my lashing and clipping gear.

Ultralight Packs commonly weigh-in at half this weight. Internal framed packs are rarely lighter than my external framed Camp Trails! Some weigh considerably more while offering much less comfort.

The North Face internal weights an even five, the same as my stripped-down Camp Trails. Consider that the North Face is constructed of heavier material than the Camp Trails! I could find a lighter version of the North Face internal framed pack, but lighter materials reduce the durability and lifespan of the pack in ratio to their reduced weight.

The stress of off trail, Winter, and cross-country usage requires heavier pack fabrics.

This marks me as a heavy-heavy backpacker, being one who deploys heavy gear during both Summer and Winter. This reflects my style and approach. The best choices for you will shift to suite your specific applications in context of your style.


The One Pack
Or you can buy The One Pack that unifies all wild activities under one set of straps...

The Camp Trails McKinley will do everything during all seasons when circumstances make custom gear solutions impossible


Four Season High Sierra Gear List

Gear List: Best High Sierra Backpacks


Check the Members Favorites for

Best Internal Framed Packs


Best Ultra Light Packs


Best Backpacking Boots


Best Backpacking Socks


Best Trekking Poles


Best Backpacking Stoves


Best Backpacking Cookware


Best Backpacking Water Purification


Best Backpacking Tents


Best Sleeping Bags


Best Sleeping Pads


Best Backpacking Shirts & Pants


Favorite High Sierra Gear


Best Backpacking Camp Chairs


Post up your experiences in the gear forum, and your favorite gear bits in the "Member's Favorites" for each type of gear.

I love my gear.


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