Loading Your Camping Backpack

Before you start jammin' goodies into that backpack, you need to decide whether to go with an internal frame or external frame (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Internal frame (left) and external frame backpacks.

Internal frame backpacks have a streamlined shape because the frame, a flexible one, is inside the backpack. Because the pack is flexible and carries close to the body, it offers a comfortable fit, a low center of gravity, flexibility, and a relative freedom of movement to the user.

Those features make internal frame packs good for rock scrambling, off-trail work, winter ski touring, and mountaineering. The drawback with internal frames is that they do not carry unwieldy loads easily and can become quite unstable and uncomfortable if you end up lashing large amounts of gear to the outside of the pack.

External frame backpacks feature rigid, rectangular frames that are usually made of alluminum. The weight carries higher than a pack with an internal frame, so correct loading is essential. The frame carries the pack away from your back, improving ventilation and making the pack a cooler choice. Because the pack frame is somewhat rigid, however, it tends to restrict moment.

External frame packs also typically have a higher center of gravity, making them feel a bit top-heavy unless you load them properly. External frame backpacks are ideal for very large and bulky loads and for long backpacking trips.

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Unlike an internal frame pack, the rigid external frame can carry ridiculously awkward loads quite comfortably and offer numerous lash points for attaching items. This feature may be appealing to the parent carrying almost all the gear while the other carries the child.

Loading your external frame pack

Use these guidelines to ensure that your backpack is properly loaded before you take off through the wilderness:

  • Load heavy gear like stoves, water bottles, and tents to the top and against the frame of the pack — near your shoulders.

  • Midweight gear like clothing and pots should take up the middle space.

  • Load the lightest gear to the outside and toward the bottom of the pack. Your sleeping bag goes under the pack.

  • A woman needs to load her pack with the weight lower and the sleeping bag attached at the top (because a woman carries her center of gravity lower than a man).

Loading your internal frame pack

Make sure that your internal frame pack is loaded correctly for your comfort and safety. When you load your pack, build from the sleeping bag on up, keeping heavy items close to the back of the pack (against the framesheet). Middleweight items need to occupy the middle of the pack with light items nesting to the outer edges and top of the pack.

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