What is a Breakaway Backpack?

Mysetry Ranch Terraframe 65 Backpack

A breakaway backpack is a fairly recent innovation for external frame backpacks that lets you overload your pack by inserting gear in between the frame and the pack bag. While originally developed for hunters to haul meat, it is useful for anyone who has to carry a heavy or awkwardly shaped load into or out of the backcountry such as search and rescue personnel, firefighters, trail maintainers, packrafters, climbers, surveyors, geologists, and expedition backpackers.

Unlike an internal frame backpack, you can often separate the pack bag on an external frame backpack from the frame itself. On old school external frame packs, like the iconic Kelty Trekker 65 (still available), the pack bag is connected to the aluminum frame with clevis pins that slot through grommets in the pack bag and into the frame. This is done to raise or lower the pack bag to adjust for torso height. But those clevis pins aren’t meant to be removed frequently or easily, although they do break occasionally.

Mystery Ranch Breakaway Backpacks have an fabric shelf between the frame and the pack bag in addition to buckles and strap
Mystery Ranch Breakaway Backpacks have a fabric shelf that acts like a hinge to link the frame and the pack bag in addition to buckles and straps.

But it is very easy to separate the pack bag from the frame on a breakaway backpack because they’re connected by webbing straps and buckles. For example, Mystery Ranch links their carbon fiber frame (shown above), including shoulder straps and hip belt, to their pack bags with buckles, webbing straps, and a fabric shelf that links the two and acts as a hinge with the bag is released from the frame. The fabric shelf also helps prevent items from falling through the gap. It’s great for carrying a chain saw into the woods, let me tell you!

Make / ModelPag Bag VolumeWeightPrice
Mystery Ranch Terraframe 8080L / 4882 ci5 lbs 14.4 oz$450
Mystery Ranch Terraframe 6565L / 3967 ci5 lbs 11.2 oz$400
Mystery Ranch Terraframe 3-Zip 5050L /30515 lbs$350
Seek Outside Short Tail42.5L / 2592 ci3 lbs 13 oz$499
Seek Outside Peregrine 350057L / 3500 ci3 lbs 14 oz$509
Seek Outside Goshawk 480079L / 4800 ci3 lbs 8 oz$499
Seek Outside Fortress 480079L / 4800 ci3 lbs 10 oz$499
Seek Outside Lannier 540089L / 5400 ci4 lbs 4 oz$549

Most breakaway backpacks are sold for use by hunters to haul meat out of the backcountry after a harvest.  But Mystery Ranch and Seek Outside sell breakaway backpacks for non-hunters (see table above), including backpackers who need to haul heavier loads. Breakaway backpacks aren’t going to appeal to thru-hikers or weekend backpackers, but if you need to haul big, heavy, or awkwardly sized things into places without roads and can’t use pack animals, the utility of these backpacks should be pretty obvious.

How much weight can you carry with these packs? Mystery Ranch’s breakaway packs are rated for max recommended load of 150 lbs while Seek Outside’s packs are rated for 200 lbs. In other words, your body will be the limiting factor in how much weight you can carry, not the backpack.

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9 comments

  1. I’ve gotten involved with doing MYOG and have made my hiking pack and day pack. This will probably be my next pack project. Looking to just buy a frame from one of the back-country hunting companies and then build my pack around it and make it in the breakaway manner like these are.

    • I’d like to see someone adapt this idea with a really lightweight pack bag. I think it’s so cool! Not only that, it’s ventilated.

      • It’s a great concept. In some ways similar to the US Army lightweight rucksack of the 1960s. Later versions allowed for the pack bag to be moved to 3 or 4 positions on the aluminium frame. The whole thing weighed around a bit more than three pounds.

  2. That’s the internal debate I have now as I think about the build, do I want to make it lightweight with something like X-Pac or 210d gridstop or should I eschew weight concerns and make it with a thicker, more bomber material. Lots of things to consider and a few other projects to complete before I get there but it’s been on my mind for a while.

    • I am not sure you can put external frame pack and lightweight pack in the same sentence. I remember the external frame Kelty I had as a Scout helped me keep things organized and I could carry a lot of stuff.

      The Army gave me a ALICE Pack (large Ruck with frame) and again I carried a lot of weight in it. Around 70lbs. The ALICE was bomb proof. I don’t care for the one they issue now.

      I did see a picture of a frame set-up that had trail maintenance tools like a chain saw, fuel, etc. and that got me thinking to get a frame to better carry trail maintenance tools.

      Interesting to see if we see more of the external frame pack in the back-country but with modern take on it.

      • Seek Outside has done it. I have two of their packs and they’re nothing like the old Kelty’s.

      • My Seek Outside frame pack is the most comfortable I have owned. Pretty light too. Nothing like the external frame pack I started with in 1971.

    • For MYOG, perhaps a repurposed frame from an old, classic external and design new harness and bag.

  3. Ula Equipment still sells its Epic modular backpack that uses a 65L dry bag as the main pack, total weight about 3 lbs. I own one and have used it for combined hiking/packrafting trips in Alaska. The nice thing is you can easily switch dry bags if you need larger or smaller pack volume. You can also insert items between frame and bag or even remove the bag and use the frame by itself for hauling firewood, caribou carcasses, etc. The dry bag also makes the pack essentially waterproof, I know because mine got dunked when I flipped and went swimming in glacial whitewater, and my partner had to chase my Epic and the packraft it was tied to about a mile downstream.

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