How to Pack an External Frame Backpack: Some Tips

By Thomas Sorheim •  Updated: 05/07/20 •  6 min read
Man with the backpack standing on the rock

Depending on what type of activity you’re going to do, you can pack your external frame pack accordingly. Some people think that just throwing their possessions into their pack unorganized is the simplest method, but the truth is that this can be bad on their body and also cause the backpacking experience to be poor. Learning how to properly organize your gear before your journey can help eliminate your load and also help you remember all the items you need before you head out on your journey. Packing your bag efficiently can also give you increased comfort and more stability while you’re out on the trail. In this article, we will show you how to pack an external frame backpack.

External Frame Backpack Packing Tips

Before shoving all of your gear into your backpack, you need to assess if you have enough space to fit all of your items. If you don’t, then you will end up packing your bag and trying to jam all of your gear in there last minute. The very first step that you would need to take is to gather all the essential items and eliminate any unnecessary weight. With external frame backpacks, you can sometimes get away with packing things on the outside of your bag by connecting them to the frames, making them easier to access.

Weight Distribution

External frame backpacks are designed to carry a lot of items, so chances are, you won’t have any trouble fitting everything you need into the bag. But, you will need to pack the bag evenly so that your back won’t hurt later. Even distribution of weight is vital when packing a backpack for your trip.

Start by packing the most substantial items on top and close to the back of the backpack. This way, the weight will be over the hips and middle of the back and allow you to stand up in a better position while you are carrying it. Choose a frame and place it in the center of the backpack. This helps you put any heavy gear in the middle of the bag and improve distribution. You should then put any lightweight items on the lowest part of the bag.

Do not overload your backpack; if you notice that you have to push and shove any of your items into the bag, then you need to either invest in lighter equipment, get a bigger bag, or eliminate some of the things you are carrying. A key reference point for you is that the bag should not exceed at least 25% of your bodyweight, or you would to start to feel uncomfortable when you’re out on the trails.


Lay all of your gear out on a table and get it organized. This is one of the best ways to make sure that you have all of your items and that you’re not missing anything. You will then need to organize the items by weight and group together items that are similar in weight and size.

When you load your backpack, be sure that there is good weight distribution, as mentioned above, since this will help you in the long run. The lightweight items should be at the bottom of the bag, and the sleeping bag should go in first with any other lightweight supplies. After that, pack your medium weight items and then at the very end put your heaviest items in.

Always make sure that you fill any space with smaller items. This can help prevent your items from shifting while you’re out on the trails. You can put your snacks or clothes inside of pots, tape your gear together, and place them inside zipper lock bags. This can help save you space and room, making everything fit.

Any items that you need to access during your hike or trip should always be placed inside the smaller compartments that are located on the outside of your bag. This is because you don’t want to have to sit down during your hike and unpack all of your gear looking for one essential item and then having to repack everything again. This is a definitely a huge waste of your time, and you can prevent this situation by just placing all of your essential gear like GPS, phone, wallet, insect repellent, and matches in the outside pockets.

Externally Packing Your Gear

As mentioned, with an external frame backpack, you will be able to get away with packing some of your gear outside of the bag instead of inside. To avoid stability issues, always make sure that you’re balancing the external items out, preventing you from tipping over when you’re hiking and climbing.

Bulky items such as your sleeping pad, tents, or sleeping bag can be attached to the top of your pack. Remember to have even weight distribution and make sure that the heaviest of items get attached to the top of your bag, and the lightest gets attached to the bottom of your bag. This will help ensure that you have excellent stability while you’re hiking and prevent you from accidentally falling over when you’re climbing over obstacles.

If ever you have trekking poles, they can be vertically attached to the bag on each of the sides of the bag beneath the compression straps. If you also plan to bring a tent, you can connect any tent poles to the outside of your bag as well. Make sure to place them on both sides of the bag for even distribution.


External frame backpacks can be an excellent choice when you’re planning a camping or hiking trip. The only thing you need to be aware of is that any of the objects that you attach to the outside will make it harder to store the bag inside your car or any transportation you take to your location. If you’re riding on a plane, we highly suggest that you pack your essentials in the bag first and then focus on attaching the extra items on the outside only after you arrive at your destination. This can help you ensure that all of your gear is there and that none of it fell off during your trip.

Hopefully, this article has demonstrated how to pack an external frame backpack for your trips.

Thomas Sorheim