Mr. W's Gear Guide - Backpacks
EXTERNAL Frame: External frame backpacks have rigid, rectangular frames, usually made of round aluminum tubes. They carry the weight higher than internals, allow a more upright walking posture and comfort because the load is more effectively transferred to the hips.
Externals are also cooler to haul in hot weather as the pack bag is away from your back, allowing air to circulate and cool a sweaty back. Good quality externals come equipped with solid, comfortable, and supportive shoulder straps and hip belts built for handling the load.
INTERNAL Frame: Having the frame inside the backpack provides for a streamlined shape allowing you to slink through the thick brush without getting hung up. The body hugging design is more suited for climbing, rough scrambling routes, and off-trail hiking. The down side is that most internals have just one cavernous top loading bag to stuff your gear and guaranteed the item you want is at the bottom. There is a wide variety (depending on the manufacturer) of techniques to stiffen internal frames, the goal being to distribute the load without poking you in the back, while at the same time remaining flexible. Every material from plastic frame sheets to graphite rods are used. Suspension systems that actually connect the pack to your shoulders and hips are even more diverse.
For our scouts, and beginner Dads I recommend the external frame packs, as we rarely venture off trail. They are cheaper, and are easier to organize the placement of "stuff", thanks to pockets, compartments and lash-on spots - for securing things like tent poles, sleeping pads or tarps. The pockets allow separation of water bottles, first aid, personal items, and trail mix.
Personally, I have always used and external of my own design until last year when I experimented with two designs of internals. I am still undecided as to whether I will migrate to an internal.
There are at least 50 name manufacturers of packs. Kelty makes 13 of the 39 external designs, Pacific Trails, JanSport "Yosemite", Peak 1 "Ocala", Eureka "Talon", Camp Trails, Alpine Lowe, and REI's own brands are all suitable for Boy Scout abuse.
If buying a pack for a Scout Mom, be sure to ask for the women's design, where the hip belts are canted more to accommodate Mom's more flared hips, plus the frame and suspension is different.
PACK FITTING 101:
1 - Fit thy Torso: Your height does not determine your torso length! To measure your torso, drape a soft or flexible measuring tape and measure from the seventh vertebrae (this is the bony protrusion at the base of your neck) down along the contour of you spine to the low point between your hip bones. To find this point, place a hand on each hip with your thumbs pointing in. The line connecting you thumbs is what you're measuring to. If your torso measurement is less than 18 inches you will typically require a small frame, 18 to 20 inches calls for a medium frame & 21 inches or more demands a large frame. most external frame packs are adjustable across two sizes.
2 - Console thy Hips: That's a hip belt, not a waist belt. It should ride on your hips, transferring the weight to your skeletal structure. Its because of this belt-to-bone contact that the belt requires padding. Hip belts also come in small, medium and large sizes. When the belt is fully cinched around you, a gap of at least the width of your hand should exist between the two hip pads.
If this is to be your first experience of backpacking I recommend renting a pack (Sport Chalet and REI are good providers) for what is typically about $12.00 per weekend. Then if after your experience, you decide that this particular experience is "for the birds", you do not own another item for a garage sale.
Should you decide to buy, Campmor - campmor.com (with whom Troop 787 has a non-profit organization account) and the Sierra Trading Post - sierratradingpost.com are good discount mail-order sources.
As usual, I am available (949) 589-1232 should you need further info.