Last updated on August 2nd, 2022 at 08:59 am

How to Pack an External Frame Backpack (Guide and Tips)

how to pack an external frame backpack

One of the most important tools of a hiking trip is your backpack and one of the key exercises of a hiking journey is properly organizing that backpack. Packing a backpack does not simply mean throwing everything inside just to make sure that nothing important is left out. Rather it is an art, which you can master with some practice. Follow the best practices for How to Pack an External Frame Backpack in this guide and embark on a comfortable and memorable trek.

External frame backpacks have a long history. They were introduced in the 50s particularly to facilitate those who carried heavy loads. Since then, they have been used by avid hikers, scouts, and the military. Contrary to the perception that external frame backpacks have lost their charm, they are still popular among the masses for their ability to hold heavier items and the storage flexibility they offer.

How to Pack an External Frame Backpack

Let’s look at the different ways you can pack your external frame backpack. We’ll show you how to use different pieces of gear and also some simple packing strategies that will keep everything organized and easily accessible.

Divide Your Items into Groups

The first and most important step in packing a backpack efficiently is making a list of things you need to carry and then distributing those items into groups as per their weight and urgency of use. This exercise will help you in balancing your backpack by spreading out the weight equally and will also enable you to access key things in case of an emergency.

Make Use of Ziplock Bags

Make Use of Ziplock Bags

Pack your food items and other essentials like lotion and sunscreen in ziplock bags before placing them in your backpack. This will help you fit things closely and will also provide you extra protection against any accidental leakage. You can also use large ziplock bags to pack your clothes to keep them safe.

What to Pack at the Bottom Frame?

Your sleeping bag and mat are the ones that have some mass but are lighter in weight. So these two items are perfect to be placed at the bottom of your backpack. Make sure that they are tightly rolled up. Use any kind of straps to fasten them. It is also preferable to also cover them with some waterproof material before fixing them in your backpack.

What to Go in the Main Compartment?

The main compartment is the place where you can pack heavier items. This is also the place that is close to your upper back and placing weighty articles here ensures smooth and equal distribution of weight to your body. Storing heavy things here also prevents the weight from pulling your shoulders back.

Depending on the need of your trekking adventure, tent, food items, pans, and stove are among some of the hefty things which you are required to pack in the main compartment. Keep the weight in mind here as well and place the heaviest of items on top. For your tent, you also have the option to attach it to the top of your external frame backpack.

What to Place in the Bottom Compartment?

There are some articles that we carry during our hiking trip but we don’t use them until we reach the destination. These items are important but they can be packed in the bottom compartment for later use. These include but are not limited to spare clothes, books, toiletries, kitchen utensils, and gadgets.

What to Store in Outer Pockets?

Outer pockets are meant to store items that you want to get instant access to during the hike or in case of an urgent need. Storing such articles here will save you a lot of time and prevent you from any potential trouble during your journey.

The selection of these essential things can vary according to your requirements but can include gears such as a first aid kit, phone, map, flashlight, fire starter or matches, snacks, and water, etc.

Attach More Items to External Frame

Now it is time to fix the larger but lighter in weight articles to your backpack. These items are crucial but cannot be adjusted inside the pack. One of the advantages of external frame backpacks is that you can attach as many items as you want to their frame depending on the weight you can carry.

Trekking and tent poles are some of those items that can be fastened to the frame of the backpack. You can vertically fix the poles to your backpack but don’t forget to use both sides of the pack to ensure that the weight is distributed uniformly.

If you have other items like camping chairs and ice axes etc, you can also attach these items to the external frame of your backpack without any issue considering that you are tying and balancing them rightly.

How to Properly Lift Your Backpack

  • Never lift your backpack by shoulder straps to avoid causing damage to the bag.
  • Unfasten the straps so that the pack can slide on your back comfortably.
  • Place your bag on the ground in a vertical position with the back panel facing you.
  • Come close to your pack and bent your knees.
  • Use the haul loop of your bag to slide it up to your thighs.
  • While keeping hold of the haul loop with one hand, pass your first arm through the shoulder strap.
  • Throw the bag onto your back and pass the second arm through the remaining shoulder strap.
  • Now fasten the straps to suit your body.

Important Points to Remember

  • While packing in the main compartment and outer pockets, put softer items around the harder ones to ensure that they are securely held in one place.
  • You can take advantage of your tent and other softer articles like clothing to fill empty spaces inside your backpack and also create a partition to separate things.
  • The weight of your pack should not exceed 25 percent of your weight.
  • It is the hip bones that should hold the weight of your backpack.
  • Keep minimum distance between your upper back and your bag.


External backpacks are the ultimate choice of hikers who want to travel long distances with the maximum number of camping gear. These backpacks offer you the flexibility to adjust almost everything, be it heavier items or bulky equipment.  

To make your journey comfortable, the only thing you need to do is to learn how to pack an external frame backpack properly to make sure that the weight of your luggage is distributed evenly.

We hope that with the help of this article about How to Pack an External Frame Backpack, you would now be able to set your bag in an efficient manner. You can also read our tutorial on How to Attach Tent to Backpack which exclusively covers different backpacks.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you pack an external backpack?

When packing an external backpack, it is important to use a few simple guidelines in order to ensure that everything fits snugly and securely. First, make sure that the heaviest items are packed near the center of the backpack and closer to your back. This will help distribute the weight more evenly and prevent the backpack from tipping over. Next, use the compression straps to cinch down the backpack and keep the contents from shifting around. Finally, tie any loose items to the loops on the backpack so they don’t get lost during your journey. By following these simple tips, you can be sure that your external backpack will be packed properly and safely.

Does anyone still use external frame backpacks?

External frame backpacks are not as popular as they once were, but there are still many people who swear by them. These backpacks are designed with a frame that sits on the outside of the backpack, which can provide better support and stability when carrying a heavy load. They also tend to be more affordable than internal frame backpacks.
So if you’re considering an external frame backpack for your next adventure, you’re not alone. These backpacks may not be as trendy as they once were, but they’re still a great option for those who need a durable and affordable backpack.

Should I get an external frame backpack?

Whether or not you should get an external frame backpack depends on several factors. One factor to consider is the type of hiking you’ll be doing. If you’ll be doing a lot of day hikes on relatively level terrain, an internal frame backpack may be a better option. However, if you’re planning on doing any backpacking or hiking in rougher terrain, an external frame backpack will likely be a better choice.
Another factor to consider is the amount of gear you’ll be carrying. External frame backpacks have more space and are designed to carry heavier loads, so if you have a lot of gear, an external frame backpack may be a better option.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to get an external frame backpack is up to you and depends on your specific hiking needs.

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