Gear Guy

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; 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;, extremely highly rated by reviewers. In internal-frame packs, Gregory's Shasta ($249; 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.

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