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Seek Outside Divide External Frame Backpack Review


Seek Outside Divide Backpack



The Seek Outside Divide is a 4500 ci (74L) lightweight external frame backpack capable of hauling up to 70 pounds even though it only weighs 44 ounces.

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The Seek Outside Divide ($349) is a 4500 cubic inch (74L) lightweight external frame backpack capable of hauling 50, 60, and even 70 pound loads even though it only weighs 44 ounces. Best suited for backpacking, packrafting, hunting, fishing, and expedition style trips, the Divide fills a niche that isn’t addressed by any other ultralight or lightweight pack manufacturer. I guarantee that you’ll be amazed by the added comfort, carrying capacity, and control that this well engineered external frame backpack can provide if you need to go heavy.

The Seek Outside Divide - This is NOT Your Father's External Frame Backpack
The Seek Outside Divide – This is NOT Your Father’s External Frame Backpack

The Divide is also made using X-pac R21, which is a waterproof laminate like cuben fiber, but less expensive and easier to work with because it has a woven face fabric. While X-pac and cuben fiber are waterproof materials, backpacks made with them are not and it’s recommended that they be seam-sealed, seam taped, or lined with a plastic bag if used in wet conditions.

Custom Made Gear

When you buy a Divide from Seek Outside, it’s important to know that all of their backpacks are custom made. While you can purchase the Divide in its standard configuration, the company sells a variety of options that you can use to swap in different components or add additional features.

It also means that the weight of the pack made for you can differ from manufacturer’s specs by a few ounces. If gear weight is very important to you, make sure you call up Seek Outside and tell them how much you want the pack to weight before they make it for you. While they try to stick to their product specs, there is some variability (plus or minus a few ounces) in the weight of the packs they produce.

The rear pocket has heavy duty mesh so you can see the contents. It cinches shut with a elastic cordlock along the top and is further secured by the top Y strap
The rear pocket has heavy duty mesh so you can see the contents. It cinches shut with a elastic cordlock along the top and can be further secured by a Y strap

Organization and Storage

The Divide has a large main compartment that closes with a roll top, two side water bottle pockets, and a large back pocket made with solid fabric and heavy duty mesh. The internal volume is 4500 cubic inches (74 L) with an additional 1200 cubic inches of storage (20L) of storage provided by the rear mesh pocket and side water bottle pockets. There’s no hydration pocket in the main pack bag to hang a reservoir, no hydration ports, and no hip belt pockets.

The side water bottle pockets can hold two 1 liter water bottles, which are reachable while you’re wearing the backpack. The pockets have a fabric slit in the bottom to drain water, but you need to be careful not to put small items there, lest they slip out. There’s also an elastic cord with a cord lock that runs through the top of each side pocket, so you can cinch it tight and keep taller items like tent poles, a paddle, or fishing rod secure. The lower side compression strap runs over the side pocket and cannot be routed through or over it like other backpacks.

The Divide has two side water bottle pockets capable of storing two 1-liter bottles or extra gear like this fishing rod
The Divide has two side water bottle pockets capable of storing two 1-liter bottles or extra gear like this fishing rod.

The rear pocket is made using solid fabric and stiff, heavy duty mesh which provides some visibility into the pocket so you can check to make sure you have all your gear. I use this pocket to hold wet and smelly items that I don’t want in my pack like my wood stove, a wet rain fly, wet cook pot, and wet water filter. The top of the rear pocket has an elastic draw cord that you can cinch tight like the side water bottle pockets. You can also add a Y-strap option to the pack (shown above) that runs over the roll top, attaching to a daisy chain on the outside of the pocket with a webbing clip.

The Divide has a pair or rear straps that can be used to secure a bear canister, sleeping bag, or tent to the back of the pack
The Divide has a pair or rear straps that can be used to secure a bear canister, sleeping bag, or tent to the back of the pack.

Compression and External Attachment Points

What the Divide lacks in convenience features like hip belt pockets, it makes up for with external attachment points, including two-tiers of side compression straps, daisy chains sewn to the outside of the shoulder straps, and webbing loops on the exterior of the hip belt. There are also two removable webbing straps on the stock pack that you can secure a sleeping pad, tent, or bear canister to the bottom/rear of the pack.

The sides of the pack are wide enough that you can lash snowshoes to the sides of the pack, there are two ice axe loops on the rear of the pack to secure climbing gear, you can lash rope or a bear barrel to the top of the body with a bungie cord if you don’t want to buy the optional Y strap, an avalanche shovel fits into the rear mesh pocket, and so on. The possibilities are nearly limitless. (See my Backpack External Attachment Guide for more ideas.)

All of the side compression straps on the pack are secured using metal hook-style buckles using a cinch and pull system. They’re more durable than plastic male/female style connectors, but I miss hearing the “snap!” when they lock in pace. The only exception are the buckles that secure the ends of the roll top to the frame, which are traditional male/female buckles with adjustable webbing so you can apply top compression to the pack bag by pulling them tight.

The Divide's shoulder strap suspension is highly adjustable and modular providing many different types of fit and capacity adjustments not found on more conventional internal frame backpacks.
The Divide’s shoulder strap suspension is highly adjustable and modular providing many different types of fit and capacity adjustments not found on more conventional internal frame backpacks.

Backpack Frame and Suspension System

The Divide’s external frame and suspension system is nothing short of ingenious, providing a level of modularity and many types of adjustments that are not available on conventional internal frame backpacks.

Adjustable torso length

First off, the torso length of the Divide is adjustable, by raising and lowering the height of the shoulder harness or the hip belt If you have a very long torso or need to carry a very heavy load, you can also add vertical extensions to the external frame to make the torso length longer. If that sounds confusing and you want to know more, watch this 20 minute video which explains all the ways that the Divide can be adjusted. It’s pretty phenomenal, actually.

The shoulder pads on the Divide are positioned fairly wide, which may be uncomfortable for people with narrow shoulders. The only way to adjust the width is to tighten the sternum strap but that may still be insufficient given your build. The shoulder pads are backed with lightly padded mesh and have bar tacked daisy chains along the front for gear attachments.

Comparable External Frame Backpacking Packs

Make / ModelVolume (L)WeightPrice
Kelty Trekker65L5 lbs 2 oz$180
Kelty Yukon48L5 lbs 1 oz$170
Kelty Tigoa90L5 lbs 9 oz$200
ALPS Mountaineering Bryce59L4 lbs 13 oz$140
ALPS Mountaineering Zion64L4 lbs 15 oz$170
Mystery Ranch Terraframe50L, 80L5 lbs$400
Seek Outside Gila57L2 lbs 10 oz$339
Seek Outside Divide74L2 lbs 12 oz$349
Seek Outside
Unaweep 4800
79L2 lbs 11 oz$399
Vargo ExoTi AR246L2 lbs 12 oz$300
Vargo ExoTi 50L2 lbs 11 oz$300
ZPacks Arc Blast55L1 lb 5 oz$325
ZPacks Haul62L1 lb 8 oz$299

Adjustable load lifters

The angle of the load lifter straps is also adjustable so you can maintain them at a 45 degree angle. To change the angle, you raise or lower a buckle the runs along the front of the shoulder strap. Many high-volume expedition packs have this feature and it’s quite useful to counter loads that pull you backwards and off balance. The load lifters on the Divide also work a lot better than those ultralight backpacks with frame stays because the Divide has a real frame, not floating and unanchored rods in the back of the pack bag.

External frame

The external frame is made using aluminum tubing and slightly curved to conform to the curvature of your back. Being an external frame, back ventilation is good because there’s an air gap between your shirt and the pack bag.

The frame is extremely rigid and there is no sag of the pack bag against your back. In fact, you can length the torso so that the entire load rests on your hips if you want, very unlike an internal frame pack where the weight is always split between your hips and shoulders by design.

The pack bag is secured to the frame with webbing loops, locking nuts, and pole sleeves that keep it properly positioned. If you want, you can replace the pack bag provided with the Divide with a higher volume version sold by Seek Outside or attach additional accessories.

Horizontal stay

There is an optional horizontal stay positioned below the shoulder pads that keeps the pack bag from barreling or bulging into you back if you overstuff the pack bag. It’s quite effective. This can be an issue on any roll-top backpack if you try to over stuff or over compress it. The horizontal stay also helps increase airflow behind your back.

The Divide has a very wide hip belt that is bolted to the bottom of the external frame.
The Divide has a very wide hip belt that is bolted to the bottom of the external frame.

Hip belt

The padded hip belt is quite wide (5″) and provides an outstanding fit that won’t slide down your hips even if you wear it fairly loosely. The hip belt is covered with spacer mesh to wick sweat and tensioned with pull forward adjusters that are easy to tighten with a heavy plastic buckle for durability. There are no hip belt pockets however, just webbing straps, for attaching accessory pockets.

The hip belt is bolted to the bottom of the external frame with heavy-duty webbing and is probably the most important feature on the Divide and the other backpacks that Seek Outside manufactures. When you connect a hip belt to a rigid external frame that eliminates torso collapse, there’s an un-dampened transfer of kinetic energy from your hips and torso to the pack, providing excellent load transfer and control. This is vital for going heavy and well worth the extra pack weight, but less necessary for lighter loads which is why most ultralight pack makers have stopped making external frame packs.

The Seek Outside Divide Backpack on the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail
The Seek Outside Divide Backpack on the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail


The Seek Outside Divide Pack is an ultralight-style version of the manufacturer’s other external frame backpacks with some of the features that lightweight backpackers prefer like a rear mesh pocket and better side water bottle pockets that can hold water bottles. While 44 ounces might seems like a heavy backpack to some, the external frame Divide backpack is unequalled in its ability to carry heavy multi-sport loads when you want to carry a lot of equipment and supplies in the backcountry.

If you’re currently using a much heavier expedition size backpack like a Gregory Denali or an Osprey Xenith, I’d encourage you to try the Divide or one of Seek Outside’s other high volume external frame packs. They blow the doors off large internal frame packs in terms of comfort and you can slash a few pounds off your gear weight with a single purchase.


  • Awesome, no-slip hip belt with mechanical advantage pull-out straps
  • Bombproof and waterproof durable X-Pac fabric
  • Horizontal frame stay prevents pack bag barrel-rolling and provides back ventilation
  • Load lifter angle adjustments, an advanced feature found on high-end expedition class packs
  • Heavy duty mesh on back pocket provides view of contents
  • Side bottle pockets with drain holes
  • Optional and removable sleeping pad/bedroll straps


  • Shoulder pads are a bit on the wide side
  • Lack of hip belt pockets
  • Most webbing straps have unfinished ends and can slip off buckles and clips (ask to have these bar tacked when ordering)

Seek Outside provided Philip Werner with a sample backpack for this review.
Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

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  1. What Tenkara rod your have stuffed in there.

  2. Thanks for the review..But I’ll keep my Kelty 50th Anniversary external which is like new condtion after all these years, for those big loads I carry every now an then…

  3. Wow, great write up, Philip! This looks like a pretty interesting pack.

    I had just about written the external packs off, but man this looks fantastic for those interested in an external frame for carrying more weight.

    I bet this would make a great hunter’s pack, too?

    This is a great review too, with so much info and really wonderful explanations of the features. Thanks.

    I hope you caught some fish on the Tenkara rod while you were there?

  4. eddie s, that was a great pack and to bad Kelty decided not to refine and develop the design!

    Phillip, another awesome review. I can’t help not noticing a resurgence of the external from design by such manufacturers as Seek Outside, Vargo, Exped, etc and I have personally discovered the comfort of using the external frame design to carry ultralight equipment based on many of your reviews.

  5. I can’t comment on the Divide packbag, but the Seek Outside suspension is a masterfully functional design. Unless a person is particularly wedded to UL methodology, the utility of having one pack that does so many things so well, for such a low overall weight penalty, is beautiful. Mine was an excellent investment.

  6. Oh man, I tried this pack on a month ago in a local store that carries them. The Mountain Shop in Portland has em for the same price as their website. It was butter. I’d never had a pack feel that good before. It really was amazing. I decided against it only due to cost… it was superior to any other pack I looked at as far as fit and feel go. Thanks for reviewing this one.

  7. How would you compare and contrast the Divide and the Unaweep 3900 you previous reviewed?

    • Basically the same except for a different packbag. Don’t think they make the 3900 anymore.

      • Thanks. The packbag of course is bigger, but is it taller? Wider at the base? Easier to get bulky things into the bottom?

      • Think it’s wider but can’t remember. They’ll make anything you want..I suspect.

      • Thanks for the terrific review. We still make a 3900 fortress pack but the Divide is much more popular for the lightweight backpacker. The 4500 Divide is a couple inches shorter than a 3900 , wider at the top and more shaped as was mentioned in review. Carry on

      • Thanks, Kevin. I have a Unaweep 3900 I bought early last year. I like it a lot, but that narrow top frustrates me some. I’d consider the Divide, but 3900 ci is already more volume than I need. Any thoughts on how to get a Divide-style pack with, say, 50-55 liter volume inside the bag? Or would that not work with the frame?

  8. IMO we find that 50 Liter is just too small on the frame and the top opening is too small and becomes a source of frustration. We did make a 50 liter last year, and I used it a fair amount. The Divide, if used and rolled down to frame height is closer to 3500 CI and the wider opening is easier for access. The weight penalty is ~1 ounce , and you aways have room for more volume if needed. I’m trying not to be to involved in the thread and I thank Phillip for the thorough and excellent review, I just want to make sure the thread is as accurate as possible, since sometimes statements become fact over time, even if they are not. IMO, for a great ~ 50 liter pack, the framing has to be a bit smaller which will give a larger top opening.

  9. Phillip what is your torso length? Are you using the 2″ extensions or feel a need for them with this Divide 4500? I’m trying to decide between the Divide 4500 vs the Fortress 4800. Kevin was great answering all my questions over the phone and suggested the Fortress 4800 might be a better match up for my 20.5″ torso length. Thanks for this timely and in-depth review. I appreciate your insights. Kevin might want to chime in as well to provide some clarity about these two different bags and how they relate to torso length.

  10. At a 20.5 torso you would probably like a 26 frame. The divide is based on 24 and you can add two inch extensions. Fortress packs are based on a 26 frame / pack bag. A fortress with a mesh talon is a pretty similar pack mostly a difference in shaping / attachments and hardwear

  11. I’ve seen external frames making a comeback lately and I’m impressed at how light this one is (if you get it at the 44 ounce weight anyway). While I will never have use for a 100-lb carry capacity (as I weigh only slightly more than that!) this pack seems like a decent mountaineering option! Thanks for the write-up!

  12. I’ve had a difficult time getting the suspension straps on the frame tight (the straps behind you back that connect to the shoulder straps and adjust the height). Any tips on that? It’d be helpful for Seek Outside to have a little more instruction on their site or youtube.

  13. Nice review Phiip, thanks.

  14. We here in the states look for pack that can carry in upwards of 150-180lbs,sure a smaller may do but we go big over here,will your 80lb pack take 150??
    Maybe talk down under should look to Japan or Taiwan for comfort, just sayn

  15. Great review, as all of yours are! I just got my Divide this week, and I have never wanted to love something so badly. It’s truly an amazing bag. HOWEVER…I cannot for the life of me figure out how to keep the bottom of the frame from digging into or grazing my tail bone. I’ve tried it on the different grommets, and just about every iteration of packing I can imagine, and it’s still there. Perhaps it’s just my anatomy, but I wanted to ask if you have any suggestions…

  16. contact us, send us a side profile photo. Probably just a simple adjustment

  17. As always, thanks so much for the honest and thorough reviews. I just have one question while Seek Outside are doing their 15% off sale. When you say “The lower side compression strap runs over the side pocket and cannot be routed through or over it like other backpacks”, does this mean that you can’t add the additional side pocket depth as a custom option like you ordered with your Unaweep 4800? I have a ULA circuit with shorter pockets that I use for week long backcountry fly fishing trips (this bag would replace that duty as I’ve moved further towards the comfort threshold of the “comfort/ultralight” ratio) and the amount of Smartwater bottles that have fallen out of it’s pockets while landing fish is staggering. My next pack has gotta be able to hold those better(their shape is so useful for packing reasons). Thanks again,

    • Suggest you contact the mfg and ask. They’ll do anything you want.

      • I called them and it was HIGHLY suggested I not order any customization to the Divide 4500, to point i was told “ANYTHING custom starts at $50 and goes up from there.” He also said the side pockets are ordered in bulk now so it would be significantly higher than $50. I was definitely interested in taking advantage of their 15% off sale but that sent me away, especially after the excellent custom services I’ve received from other cottage industry makers.

      • What did you expect? Customization always costs extra.

  18. As always we appreciate the attention from Philip and his readers. A great group.

    Here at Seek Outside we no longer do custom work on backpacks. Full stop. When Philip got his Unaweep 4800 with custom pockets almost two years ago the bottle pocket design was considerably different, and the volume of our pack sales and sales in general was exponentially less than it is today. Our sewers (who are real people with families and interests outside work) are currently working flat out to fill orders. Pulling cut pieces and doing one-off mods is just too time inefficient. One man shops like Zimmerbuilt can make this work, but for us it just isn’t realistic. The bottle pockets on the Divide can’t really get much taller without beginning to impede on the fly access, and it is the very rare person who finds them less than satisfactory.

    To clarify one more issue, the added weight in Philip’s test Divide came from the thicker walled Guide frame he was given due to product availability at the time. Fabric weight does vary from lot to lot, but only to the extent that it might cause 1 oz total variation in a pack like the Divide with uses 1 1/3 yards total.

    Carry on folks.

    -Dave Chenault, Seek Outside Project Manager

    • Dave – Good to you’ve taken a job with Seek Outside. Can’t wait to see what happens next. :-)

      One request. Seek Outsides UL shelters look interesting, but are super confusing to understand, spec, and purchase. Any way to simplify that? I’m not a wood stove user….cheers.

  19. How does this SO Divide 4500 compare to the Exped Lightning 60?

    • In a nutshell, it’s a lot tougher. Read my exped Lightning 60 review.

      • Thanks Philip. Would you say they carry 30 to 45 lbs equally well? I’m focused on a pack for packrafting, ski touring and expeditions (may include some bushwhacking)

      • That’s not even heavy. I’d still go with the Divide. You can carry much more and I think it’s easier to configure than the exped with it’s somewhat odd external compression system. Plus you don’t have to worry about ripping the crap out of the side water bottle or hip belt pockets on the Divide off trail. :-)

  20. Hi Phillip,

    I’m very torn between the divide and the Unaweep series. I mostly go out backpacking or canoeing for 8-10 days and do not obsessively count ounces. I have the sense that the divide would be slightly small but without seeing one in person cannot really tell. Did you notice a significant volume difference between the Divide and the Unaweep 4800? I would also consider the 6300 since the weight difference is negligible. Any thoughts are appreciated. Thanks so much.

  21. Hi Phillip,

    Thanks for the great review. I just received the Divide 4500 and made some of the same observations. I’m wishing the shoulder straps were a tad narrower as I’m a relatively small dude (5’7 / 160lbs). I’m going out on the maiden voyage this weekend and have loaded heavy just to see how it goes.

    I’m a gear tester for Trailspace and may review there after a season or two of use, but you’ve already done a great review and I’d be hard pressed to not be influenced by it. :)


    Patrick Mason (Patman on Trailspace)

  22. Hi Phillip,

    I mostly use an Ohm 2.0 after downsizing from a ULA Circuit. I’ve also tried the HMG Windrider 2400. I like the ULA fit and features.

    Now I’m planning a Philmont Trek and hear I’ll need more space and more weight for the heavier group required gear and food/ water you sometimes need to carry. The Divide looks like an interesting option for heavier trips like this.

    Would you recommend this pack for someone otherwise using the Ohm or Windrider? Is it worth it for a handful of days with more weight on a long trek, or should I tough it out when necessary?. My normal base weight is ~ 13 lbs with the Ohm, but I’ll probably be a few lbs more for Philmont.

    Later I’m looking at a possible JMT hike, which also has some stretches that force a big food resupply, but not any dry camps like Philmont as I understand it.

    Thanks as always for your advice.

    Bob (slbear)

    • I think that would work well. Especially since you’ll be able to attach a bear can to the external frame an dnot have to carry it in the pack bag. But I do know people who’ve done Philmont with 60L Mariposa’s too. Perhaps you can scale back on the gear you personally need to carry if you don’t insist on a patrol approach where everyone cooks out of the same same pot, etc.

  23. I highly recommend their optional lumbar pad (and either permanently sewing it to the belt) or using heavy industrial strength pins to secure it to the belt so it does not shift left-to-right nor up-or-down on the belt. Unfortunately it is a “removeable lumbar pad”. It made all the difference between the pack being comfortable with me though on my 45 day hike with one of their models last year.

    I got their Revolution Suspension with a mesh talon and use the Zpacks airplane bag so that the end result is a pack that comfortably carried my 15″ tall bearikade bear canister (horizontally). With two hip belts (theirs) plus two zpacks shoulder pockets, and the weight of the Zpacks airplane bag, the pack (with Lumbar Pad) weighs 4.09 lbs (that includes their Mesh Talon, a Talon is required with their Revolution Suspension).

  24. A talon is NOT “required” on revo suspension. I dont think it’s required on any of the bags, maybe fortress? Just additional pocket and compression storage for most of their bags.

  25. I am just starting to use my revolution goshawk 4800. Lots of adjustment and attachment points. Comfy for sure. One thing that may not have been addressed is that the customer service has been spot on!

  26. Langleybackcountry

    A couple questions:
    Does the bag accommodate a Bearvault 450 and/or 500? Or does it have to be lashed on to the outside?
    How does the frame move? Is it OK for scrambling (e.g. following a ridge or bagging a scramble summit while on a backpacking trip)? Or am I still better off with an internal frame? Would it be too rigid to ski with (assuming I am not skiing steep and gnarly lines)?

    • You could put a bear in this backpack. The canister isn’t a problem.
      The frame is fine for scrambling. I climb mountains with it all the time (and not on switchback-style trails).
      The hip belt has plenty of movement in it. It’s not like its glued to your back.

      • Langleybackcountry

        Thanks. And just to clarify, I was referring to the size/shape of the pack bag with the canister, not any questions about the weight.

      • Fast conversion between cubic inches and liters. 4500 ci = 90 liters. (multiply by 2)
        90 liters is a very high volume backpack.

      • I LOLed at that one! I’m trying to figure out which of my packs to use for a three-day trip in RMNP this summer. Of course I have to carry – first time for me – a bear canister, so I bought my first, a BV500. I’ve been itching to try my Divide but it seems to be too much pack for this trip. But I will test-pack it anyway, along with a few others. I don’t have a bear handy to pack in it, but I do have three cats, one of which hates the other two. That should be a first-approximation of a packed bear!

  27. I believe I have read somewhere that the BV500 fits in the pack horizontally – can you confirm please?

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