External-Frame Backpacks

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

In this column last month, I covered two major companies, Kelty and JanSport, who will introduce retro-style, external-frame backpacks in 2011. The article pitched external-frame packs as throwbacks — bulky, exposed and skeletal products that were left behind two decades ago by anyone serious about carrying loads in the great outdoors.

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External-frame packs from Mountainsmith, High Sierra, Coleman, Outdoor Products and JanSport

But the external-frame lives on, and it’s not just for the retro crowd. A new entry in the category, High Sierra’s External Frame pack series, includes the classic exposed-frame look but with modern touches like hydration-reservoir sleeves and eco-minded PVC-free construction.

One pack in the High Sierra line, the Foxhound 50, has a top-load main compartment, contoured straps, and a mesh panel to let air flow between your back and the pack load. There is a removable media pocket on the front to store a GPS unit or an iPhone. It costs $110.

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High Sierra Foxhound 50

High Sierra is hardly the only company in the external game. In addition to their retro lines, Kelty and JanSport sell modern external-frame models. Other companies that sell externals include ALPS Mountaineering, Mountainsmith, Coleman, Texsport, Cabela’s, and Outdoor Products.

ALPS, a small company in rural Missouri, offers two external models. The Red Rock, a 2,000-cubic-inch model, costs $89.99.

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Outdoor Products’ Dragonfly Youth Pack

Budget brand Outdoor Products has a couple packs in the category, including the bargain Dragonfly External Frame Youth Pack. It costs as little as $39.99 on web retailers like Campmor.com and features a plastic-composite frame.

Coleman’s Bozeman X 60 has water repellency and a slick, modern look with silicone-treated nylon in a diamond rip-stop pattern. It costs about $150. There is an adjustable torso pin-and-ring system for positioning the frame and pack on your back.

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Coleman Bozeman X 60

The Youth Scout model from Mountainsmith is made for kids. It costs $109, weighs about 4 pounds when empty, and is marketed as offering a “supportive external frame that provides a comfortable backpacking experience for kids.” Its frame is made with 6061 aluminum and it has a “sleeping bag sling,” which looks like a small hammock hanging on the bottom of the pack.

Why go external? Cheaper price is a good place to start. To be sure, you can find deals on internal-frame packs. But at retail, external-frame packs are often cheaper than comparably-sized internals.

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