Framed vs Frameless: How To Choose The Right Backpack For You!

Framed vs Frameless: How To Choose The Right Backpack For You!

How To Choose The Right Backpack For You!

One of the most common questions we get here at Waymark Gear is, should I get a framed or frameless backpack for my hiking and backpacking trips? While this seems like a simple question on the surface, the reality of it is a lot deeper than you think. With multiple pack models available from us here at Waymark, both framed and frameless, our goal with this article is to help you understand which style of pack makes the most sense for you. 

What is a frameless backpack?

To start, let's go over what a frameless pack is and how it is different from a framed pack. A frameless backpack is going to be a backpack of any size that does not have any kind of rigid structure built into the backpack. Typically this means a pack size of 40 liters or smaller. With the pack not having a rigid frame, the amount of weight the pack is capable of carrying comfortably is significantly reduced, as frameless packs are often built without a padded hip belt. Not having a hip belt means that all of the weight of the pack and your gear is resting on your shoulders. What this means is, as a hiker you'll be focusing a lot more on reducing the weight of all your gear and eliminating redundant and unnecessary gear items. 

Here at Waymark Gear, we've found the threshold of comfort for most hikers is about 20 pounds of gear total in a frameless pack like our EVLV ULTRA. In order to not overload a frameless pack with too much weight, the target base weight for a frameless pack would be 10 pounds or less. 

It's also important to keep in mind that the idea of frameless carries into smaller day packs as well. Day packs in many cases are smaller in capacity, and as a result cannot be loaded with excessive weight and therefore don't need a rigid frame to carry the weight comfortably. 

What is a framed pack?

A framed pack is going to consist of what most hikers would already be familiar with. A rigid structure/frame against the back panel of the pack that is designed to distribute the weight of the pack from attached hip belt of the pack up through the torso to the load lifters at the top of the pack. Depending on the design of the frame, a framed pack will be able to carry 30-45+ pounds of gear comfortably.

In the case of Waymark Gear for example, our THRU, LITE and EMBR packs that feature a full frame system will carry 35-40 pounds of gear comfortably. 

Frame systems in a framed pack will typically consist of one or a combination of materials like aluminum, carbon fiber, and hard composite plastics. How these materials are used in the design of the frame will dictate the ability for the pack to perform in carrying the weight. Which essentially means that not all framed packs are created the same, and it's important to do research to determine how the frame system attaches to the hip belt and transfers the weight from the hip belt up to the load lifters. 

Okay... So which pack style is best for me? 

The first step in choosing a pack is to take a look at all your gear that needs to go inside the pack, before food and water. This is your base weight. Weighing each item and getting a total weight of your gear is the best place to start. If your base weight is well above 10 pounds, then looking at a framed pack is going to be your best option. This will ensure that you do not overload the pack with more weight than it can handle, resulting in an uncomfortable experience in the trail.

So you've determined a framed pack is the best option. What you will need to do is determine how much volume you need. Take into account the amount of food and water you will be needing to carry for your trip or between resupplies if you are doing a thru hike. All of your gear may fit into a 40 liter pack like our THRU · 40L, but you may need additional space for an increased amount of food for more days on the trail. In which case, our LITE · 50L would be a better choice for your trip needs. 

Let's say however that you weigh your gear and you find yourself in the 11-12 pound range. Which style in that case is the better option? If the option of reducing the weight of your gear a bit more is available, then going frameless could be the right choice. You will still want to keep in mind the length of your trip and will the amount of food and water you carry put you over 20 pounds of weight? If so, we would still recommend going with a framed pack like our THRU · 40L to ensure you're able to properly carry the pack weight. 

Using a frameless pack requires dedication to keeping your gear system minimal and appropriate for the environment and conditions you'll experience during your trip. If your base weight is consistently 10 pounds or less, then using a frameless would be a great option. 

My base weight is right in the range that I think I could use a frameless pack, but I am scared to use a frameless pack. What can I do to make it more comfortable for me? 

This is a common question we see, and completely understand the hesitation of using a frameless pack. Because there is not a rigid structure in the pack, you will have all your gear right against your back. Things like a stove and pot kit, food bags, and other hard items can poke against your back while you are hiking. To make a frameless pack more comfortable, you have to pay a lot more attention to how you pack your gear and the placement of your gear. 

A common thing we suggest is to make use of the popular 1/8" closed cell foam pads or a Z-Lite style pad, and place the pad on the inside of the pack against your back. This not only provides comfort in gear poking into your back, but also can provide structure to the pack and act as a frame sheet that can make the pack carry more comfortably. 

For the vast majority of hikers, a framed pack is going to be the best choice, as it will provide more flexibility with backpacking in more situations. However, if saving as much weight as possible and having the lightest weight pack possible is your goal, then frameless packs will allow you to accomplish that goal more easily. 

Learn more about Waymark Gear Framed and Frameless pack below. 

Framed Packs: Follow Link To Learn More
- THRU · 40L
- LITE · 50L
- EMBR · 60L

Frameless Packs: Follow Link To Learn More
- MILE · 28L 

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