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.
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 / Model||Pag Bag Volume||Weight|
|Mystery Ranch Terraframe 80||80L / 4882 ci||5 lbs 14.4 oz|
|Mystery Ranch Terraframe 65||65L / 3967 ci||5 lbs 11.2 oz|
|Mystery Ranch Terraframe 3-Zip 50||50L /3051||5 lbs|
|Seek Outside Short Tail||42.5L / 2592 ci||3 lbs 13 oz|
|Seek Outside Peregrine 3500||57L / 3500 ci||3 lbs 14 oz|
|Seek Outside Goshawk 4800||79L / 4800 ci||3 lbs 8 oz|
|Seek Outside Fortress 4800||79L / 4800 ci||3 lbs 10 oz|
|Seek Outside Lannier 5400||89L / 5400 ci||4 lbs 4 oz|
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.Editor's note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed or recommend on SectionHiker, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we may (but not always) receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!