GearHiking
Gear Guy
Q:

Are external-fre packs yesterday's gear?

For multi-day trips to the Sierras, I've been using an REI Wonderland external-fre pack, 5,000 cubic inches of cavernous, organized, old-school pack. Everybody I see these days, though, has internal-fre packs that look so comfortable (maybe they're fooling me). I still living in the '80s with my Wonderland? Is it time for an internal-fre pack? If so, any suggestions? Alex Chino Hills, California

A: Wow, I can't even REMEMBER the Wonderland, so that must be an oldy-but-goody. Really, in a lot of ways, internal-frame packs were, and are, great. They're effective at distributing loads, keep your back cool, and are usually easier to pack than internal-frame models. But, external-frame technology sort of ossified with the rise of their internal-frame brethren, and it was soon supplanted by the upstarts' better design and quality. Generally speaking, I've long preferred internal-frame packs, and have used a Dana Terraplane ($400 these days; www.danadesign.com) for years without complaint.

Four or five years ago, Dana Design tried to revive the external-frame concept with its Longbed and related packs. This retrofit incorporated flexible rods into the external frame, for a pack that was less rigid than other models. I thought it fabulous, as did a lot of other folks. Alas, Dana discontinued these packs last year. I picked up a Dana Terraframe—a Longbed frame with a Terraplane pack—for $99 from Northern Mountain Supply. Lugged it up Mount Rainier in July and loved it. For the first time in years, my fractured collarbone didn't ache from a pack load.

Still, with technology marching forward, you might take a look at one of several new packs. In the external-frame category, Kelty makes an updated classic called the 50th Anniversary Pack ($240; www.kelty.com), extremely highly rated by reviewers. In internal-frame packs, Gregory's Shasta ($249; www.gregorypacks.com) is a classic pack, really well designed, comfortable, and big. And of course, the Terraplane remains a superb pack if I'm going to play favorites.

Support Outside Online

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.

Contribute to Outside
More Gear