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Gear Guy

Which external-fre packs are better: Kelty or Dana Design's?

Way back in the late '70s, like many of my generation, I put aside my trusty old Kelty pack in favor of one of those newfangled internal-fre packs: first a Lowe, later a Gregory, and currently a Dana ArcLight. But as geezerhood creeps up on me and I spend more time on trails than off, I'd like to return to my roots and enjoy the better weight transfer and coolness of an external-fre again. My choice is between the Kelty 50th Anniversary Pack and the Dana Loadmaster Terrafre, discontinued but still available on closeout on the Web. Price is not an issue. There's no way I can try them side by side—if you've used them both, which did you think was the better pack? David Portland, Oregon

A: Funny thing—we're sort of on the same path. I still use and like my internal-frame packs, especially my Osprey Aether, but couldn't resist getting a $99 Terraframe (originally $275 or so) when I had a chance to buy one back in June. Promptly carried it up Mount Rainier, and loved it.

Dana Design Terraframe

Aside from price, it's a tough call between the two. Like the Loadmaster-style frame that Dana developed, the Kelty 50th Anniversary ($240; uses non-metal "springs" (in this case, carbon fiber) to match some of the flex that is so appealing in an internal-frame pack. I don't doubt that the Kelty engineers looked very carefully at the Dana packs and used them as a reference point.

The trouble with the Dana packs currently available is that it's hard to find the Loadmaster Longbed, the most successful design in my opinion. Their Terraframe is essentially a Terraplane internal-frame pack bag grafted on to an external frame, and the wedding is not 100 percent happy. To my mind, a really well-designed external-frame pack bag is easier to pack than an internal-frame one. So while I like my Terraframe—it carries big loads like a dream—I wish it had the Longbed bag.

Still, all that said, a decision on what to do is pretty easy, really. If you can find a Terraframe for $99 that fits, buy it.

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