The most visible of the big three, your backpack is the most crucial piece of gear that you carry. It is literally with you every step of the way and making the right pack selection could be the difference between your hike being a success or being unbearable.
Generally, a backpack should be the last piece of gear you get or the last piece of gear you upgrade to when making the transition to ultralight. This is because each pack has its own unique space and weight limits. If your tent is still a bulky 5 pound behemoth, a tiny 30L frameless pack probably isn’t the right fit for you.
You could buy the best pack in the world, but if you don’t use it right you might as well have bought a $30 pack from a big-box retailer (not to diss cheaper packs nothing wrong with crushing miles on a budget), but you get the idea, good gear only works if you use it correctly.
When buying a backpack one of the most important decisions you have to make is frame or frameless. Frameless packs are very popular right now, but are they worth the hype? Frame packs have been around for as long as hiking has been a hobby, and are what more hikers carry. Deciding what pack to buy can be difficult, so let’s make the first step a little easier.
Framed backpacks can be divided into two categories, external frames, and internal frames. I’m not going to go over the differences between the two in this blog, instead, I will just highlight the features both share.
Photo Credit- deuxpasverslautre
Framed packs offer something that frameless packs could never, ventilation! A framed pack can get your gear off your back to prevent sweat from pooling. This might not seem like a big deal, but when you’re hiking in hot, sticky, humid weather, you’ll be thankful to have a little breeze on your back.
Carry More Weight
Framed packs have higher weight limits. The frame distributes weight and allows you to carry the load more comfortably. If you are planning on hiking long stretches with infrequent resupply a framed pack may be the way to go.
Because framed packs can carry more weight they have a higher liter capacity. A larger liter capacity is useful for a whole host of reasons. More space allows you to have bigger gear, carry more luxury items, or give you the flexibility to add more gear if needed. Some frame packs can get up to 100L (but if you’re carrying 100L into the backcountry… why?)
Photo Credit- @iamdetails
If you are looking for a budget option, a frameless pack may be something to consider. Frameless packs tend to cost less because they use less material and have no frame components. An added bonus, if you spend less on your pack, you can spend more on your other gear!
Lighter/ Less Capacity
Frameless packs cost less for the same reason they weigh less. You don’t have any unnecessary parts weighing you down. Because frameless packs are lighter they also have smaller liter capacities. This could be a pro or a con depending on your viewpoint. If you think the smaller capacity is a con, a frameless pack probably isn’t your thing.
More Forgiving Fit
One of the things that makes looking for a backpack difficult is sizing. If you get the wrong size pack the best case is you have some discomfort, the worst-case scenario is you injure your back. With a frameless pack, you don’t have to worry about torso size. This makes getting a second-hand pack a lot easier and removes the worry of a pack not fitting if you ordered it online.
TLDR; If you aren’t very experienced with backpacking a frameless pack probably isn’t for you. You have to have your pack list dialed in and have a relativity small base weight to make it comfortable. A frame pack will allow you to pack heavier gear and luxury items to get you familiar with the backcountry.
If you have some experience under your belt, consider a frameless pack. You probably already have your go-to gear list and are looking for a way to “up your game” gear wise. You will really be able to enjoy the benefits and simplicity of a frameless pack.
About the Author
Olivia Magee oversees Social Media at Zpacks and helps monitor trends within the industry. Her contributions to the hiking community includes her work with the American Conservation Experience where she performed trail maintenance in the Smoky's and across the Southeast.