External Frame Packs

This isn’t a retro thing, this just came to me when Bobinson, Craig and I were looking at Haglöfs LIM packs the other day.
For all I love the features and the carrrying comfort of the LIM 45, I have often expressed the opinion that it looks like a burst couch. D’you why? It’s an external frame pack.

Stay with me here, the harness is attached to the rectangular aluminium frame that gives the pack it’s shape, it’s strength and allows the wearer to move and flex without pulling at the main compartment of the pack. And why? Because the compartment is hung off of the other side of the aluminium frame.
The load carrying and load bearing part are separate, like you only get on a proper external frame pack. I used one back in the early ’80s and never had an issue, so what happened?

They look clunky, and even the current ones from the likes of Kelty look horribly dated, but as a tool for carrying loads is has a lot of advantages, a drier back for the wearer, the ability to tie stuff on all over if needs be, the possibilties of volume adjustment and a modular approach are huge, and on non technical trails the sticky-out bits aren’t an issue.
Maybe internal frame packs are just sexier looking and easier marketed, so fashion rather than performance dictates choice once again.

Haglöfs took some of the advantages of an external frame and hid it inside the LIM packs. Once you know though, the way the pack sags a bit when loaded, and the compartment hangs off of the frame, it’s just so obvious. There’s plenty of other packs out there are taking wee elements from external frame designs, Gregory, Golite, Osprey, Berghaus, but none that I’ve seen so far have gone so far as the LIM.

I’d love to see a high end manufacturer having the bottle to come up with a unashamed external frame pack for the modern backpacker.

43 thoughts on “External Frame Packs”

  1. I’ve never owned an External framed pack but I’ve been tempted by old ones I saw on ebay. Never quite got around to it. I’m sure I read that for really heavy loads or for reducing clammy back syndrome they’re better than internal frames. Mil-Tec do an external frame sack as do Bergans, the 2800 Finnmark.

  2. Oops, sorry, you’ve already mentioned load carrying and clammy back. In my defence it’s almost 1.00am and I’m speed reading :-)

  3. Where does the bergahus bioflex sit into this?

    yes i know its heavy and it has “moving parts” but its the most comfy sack ive ever carried when loaded up with everything apart from the kitchen sink!

  4. it all came down to weight. The frame for an external pack was always larger/heavier than the internal.

    BTW – the sweaty back syndrome was still there as far as I recall

    (I’ve an old 70’s Karrimor sack & am open to offers if any one is really that nostalgic!)

  5. Reading at 0100 means your excused for writing anything :o) I’m going to have a look at those packs you mention.

    The Bio Flex is kind of a frame that the pack hangs from as well. The movement concept is relatively recent (90’s maybe?), but it’s taking the bones of the pack outside again.

    I suppose the sweaty back would depend on what they used against your back, I’m going to have to have a look in my folks loft and see what I can find from my youth…
    Today with the materials technology that’s available you could have a carbon fibre/titanium and dyneema external frame pack that would weigh FA.

    Might be interesting that. As would the price.

  6. Met a guy on the hills who had a pack with the bioflex system. He was being driven mental from the squeaking that came from it and after half a day, we had to part company or I would have murdered him or the pack.

    I have a Berghaus with the Freeflow system, almost an external frame pack. No sign of a sweaty back, but, as with the bioflex bag, the creaking is unacceptable.

    When carrying a light load, is it actually necessary for it to be carried away from your back?

  7. There are a few others I remembered about this morning, the Luxury Lite modular pack is one of the lighter ones, the others seem more aimed at military use.


    Must confess I like the look of the Bergans one though ;-)

    I said I didn’t have an ext frame pack but that isn’t strictly speaking true, I have an ‘A’ frame canvas one made by Bergans but that doesn’t count and a Karrimor Papoose which was brilliant (but not a rucksack) hmmm wonder if I could make something, sew up a really light giant stuff sack or attach an Ortlieb roll top to the frame some way.

    Disappears to garage………. ;-)

    Hi John,

    might be interested but need more info. want to e-mail me?

  8. audiophile, I think some of these air-gap back systems are there just to get folk to buy packs rather than for technical reasons. The Gregory Z35r I’ve got had an air gap, but the load isn’t stuck far away from your back and with a camping sized load it hasn’t made me unstable on rough ground. I think though with a bigger load 45L+, where the ventilation might be most welcome, the load being further away from your back would be difficult on rough and steep ground.
    I suppose it depends on the pack, the user and the terrian though.

    R MacE, there’s a couple of things in the works from a couple of brands not a million miles away from what you’re thinking of, on soft packs though.
    Good idea I think, modularity.

  9. What goes around comes around, wool is back (Merino), Windproof/Water Resistant/Breathable like Ventile (Softshell)

    External Frames are pretty inevitable, what next? Ultralight footwear with screw-in studs (Triconi’s?) for mixed winter conditions, they do that already on the soles of waders. You could have a variety of different studs for different conditions, just carry a selection and mix & match. They’d weigh less than the lightest crampons and work better on ice free stoney stretches.

    Next thing you know somebody will suggest using a wood burning stove ;-)

  10. LaSportiva are on the case, they have AT Grip Spikes that screw into the soles on their Crosslite trail runners.
    I wear Icebugs with small spikes, it’s just trying to convice folk that there’s world outside of what Blacks, Tiso and GoOutdoors stock.

    Different is good!

  11. Here’s me thinking I was on a winner :-(

    Must have a look at the sportivas and icebugs, my old Sidi mtb shoes can have 3 studs fitted at the toe.

  12. One set of Icebugs I’ve got have a removable set of studs called a BugWeb. Half a dozen studs mounted in a rubber frame. Works well.
    Available over here too.

  13. Seriously though I’m tempted to stick a pair on my Saucony runners to “winterize” them.

    I’m looking at crosslites for when the warmer weathers back. I’m a little unsure of the fit though, I’ liked the snugnes around the mid section of my foot but I’m not sure about the toe box on my left foot. cant be much worse than the TNF ones I’m using though.

    I was out on the hills/moors behind Muirkirk yesterday with my Mantas again with no probs, the fit is still good and I’m not noticing the ankle cuff so much. Actually I was glad I had them as they were good for kicking steps.

  14. Do the Bugweb ones retract like the other Icebugs? That may be better for road/trail running where Im likely to encountr patchy ice.

  15. Aye, everything has it’s place. I’ve had boots on the last few trips out and been quite happy.

    We’ll have a footwear meet at somepoint! Need to show you the LaSpotiva Skylite’s that are out this summer.

  16. The BugWebs are quite supple so they do deflect a bit. Good for mixed terrain. But the Icbug sole compound is really soft, so you have to keep off the tarmac.

    My new Icebug Speeds are are on their may from Sweden, happy I am :o)

  17. I’ve ran in the Kahtoola Microspikes fitted them to Sacouny Triumph, Salomon XA Ultras and Speedcross 2, great gadget, also had them on B2 boots without issue. I’m going mountain biking in a few weeks, and have already tested their fit on Northwave boots, they’ll be perfect for hike a bikes or icy stretches.

    As for back systems, I just got a Berghaus Extrem Expedition pack, 80l+ of space and its got a CYCLOPS III back system, so you can dream of frames, airspaces, this and that I’ve got a Cyclops (any one know why its called that?) :o)

  18. What surfaces and conditions were you wearing the saucony triumphs and Kahtoola microspikes DNF? Would you reccomend a pair for road running in snow and sliperry conditions?

  19. Just been looking at the Cotswold Outdoor site and see that they stock something called Magic Spiker, which are retro fit spikes for mud, snow and ice. Am visiting the shop tomorrow and will report back.

  20. Bobinson that’s interesting stuff that is.

    I can see me having to get microspikes so I can join in all you guys fun!
    DNF in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king :o)

    Magic Spikers? I shall away and see…

  21. External Frame packs! They probably went out of fashion because they were too good at what they were designed for.
    My Camp Trails frame is still up in the attic, waiting for a decent sack to hang on it.
    That system was far and away the most comfortable way of carrying backpacking loads that I have used in the last 40 years.
    I would like to think that they will come back sometime.

  22. Somebody will come out with a new techno one, it’ll die on its arse and then come back year later from someone else and be hailed as a genius idea.

    It’s the way of it.

  23. The Saucony’s with them on, on the road are little off putting, but better than landing on your backside, conditions needed to be icy for them to bite into something, didn’t rate them for mixed conditions, ice tarmac more ice.
    Offroad they excel, if it is just snow I just use the speedcross they have great snow/mud lugs, but if there is any ice, no question I use the the spikes. They stay in place brilliantly.
    Also wandered over Kinder Scout the other week in them, the river was frozen so I just walked on that, zero slips.

  24. Aye, and they could sex ’em a bit too!

    It’s a nice product liting on that site right enough, wat better than all the stock shots we’re used to.

  25. Blimey – you are not wrong.

    I still haven’t had the chance to see a LIM pack in the flesh (or even in the nylon), but I managed to find some evidence for the prosecution here (commenary in German, sadly) :


    I presume the external frame/ load lifters on steroids effect is the less pronounced on the 45, and perhaps more aesthetically pleasing too?

  26. Good grief.
    Words almost fail me here, the stoopid in the video has the got the pack sitting about a foot too high up his back, that’s why the straps are rubbing and it looks so weird.

    I’m reminded of a Vaude tent review in a UK outdoor magazine where the tester pitched the tent with the poles in the wrong sleeves and caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth when he reviewed it in that condition…

    Martin Rye has got a 55 http://summitandvalley.blogspot.com/ and I’m sure it hasn’t made him fall over.
    Here’s a couple of shots to show how it should sit :o)



  27. You’ll also notice in that top photie that the bottom yellow strap threads through the pocket not on the outside so it jams like the German boy’s.

    If something’s shite, it’s shite, but you have to know what you’re looking for…

    It could do with some tweaks to sharpen it up for sure, but it’s a fantastic backpacking sack.

  28. And a fantastic backpacking sack is what I’m after.

    I really need to see one of these boys for myself, especially to help decide between a 45 and a 55 if I do go for it (A ‘generous’ 45 litres might do me. Then again it might not).

    I’m surprised Craigdon in Aberdeen don’t have them

  29. The photies abover are from my WHW trip last year and the 45’s half full, it’s cavernous. The 55 is out of production this year, I think the 45 has been enough for most folk.

    I’m testing OMM’s new backpacking sack as we speak (that’ll not be available until the end of the year at the earliest), I’m looking at some new Gregory stuff in a bit and there’s a Golite Jam on its way right now. I’ll be able to update my reference points and see if the LIM’s still as good as it was before the snow started last year when I last had it out on the hill.

    I think Escape Route in Pitlochry have one LIM pack at least, don’t know what capacity though.

  30. I reckon the maximum gear it would need to handle would be for a high level Spring or Autumn backpack with 4-5 days food max, possibly carrying a two man tent but no kitchen.

    But given your experience on the WHW, it sounds like the 45 could manage that comfortably.

  31. I found a marked difference in fit between the 45 and 55. I was all set to get the 55 because a) I felt sure my kit would fit in it, and b) it was on a great offer price at F&T (a year ago, before they only stocked Karrimor….). But when I tried it on I just couldn’t get the back comfortable, despite all the adjustment.

    A few weeks later I tried the 45 in OW’house and succumbed immediately – by far the comfiest 1kg backpacking pack I’d ever worn, the hipbelt beats my Crux AK47 by a mile!

    And my kit all goes in (the big, stretchy pockets help a lot! :))

  32. That’s interesting Matt. I wonder if there’s issues with the 55 then, maybe the capacity is too much for the format?

    The stretchy pockets and the hipbelt are some of what makes it a killer, almost makes up for it looking like Terry Jones as “Brian’s” mother strapped to your back…

  33. I’ve just picked up a LIMM 55. I’m hopin’ it’s no’ a turkey :o( 2nd hand tho’ so it’s no’ the end of the world if it disnae work oot. Looks nice enough :o)

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