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How Important is a Waterproof Backpack?

Exped Torrent Backpack in Use - Photo Courtesy of Exped
Exped Torrent Backpack in Use – Photo Courtesy of Exped

Most overnight and multi-day backpacks are not completely waterproof (even cuben fiber backpacks), and the widespread use of polyester and nylon instead of pack cloth in modern backpacks means that you don’t have to worry about the material of the pack becoming water logged and heavier because it has gotten soaked by rain. Still it’s best to line your pack with a heavy trash bag or use a pack cover if you’re concerned about moisture leaking through the pack seams, external zippers or hydration ports in heavy rain.

Some backpacks with completely waterproof storage include:

How important is having a waterproof backpack where the contents of your pack stay dry even if your pack is fully immersed in water? Do you feel it’s a must-have feature in a backpack or is it a nice-to-have? Why?

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38 comments

  1. I don’t feel its needed for myself. I do line my pack
    if rain is in the forecast. I also carry a pack in those
    times.

  2. I line my pack and also use a dry bag for any electronics or other moisture-sensitive items. Waterproof-ness has never been part of the equation when I’m choosing a pack.

  3. Waterproof pack is not important. We put everything in dry bags, and use a compactor bag as a pack liner. We never had anything in our packs get wet on our whole 6,month AT thruhike.

  4. For backpacking I just put critical stuff in lightweight dry bags inside the main pack. However, I do have a couple of fully waterproof day packs that I use a lot for activities in really wet weather (which has been known to happen around here), and/or around the water. I do a lot of trips which combine day hiking with boating and/or sea kayaking, and they work great for that purpose.

    One from SealLine is basically just a medium size roll top dry bag with pack straps. I used it just last weekend for a field trip where we were frequently getting in and out of a boat, walking to shore across mud flats, and day hiking in rainy Alaska coastal conditions.

    The other one is a fanny type pack, the “Hip & Deck Pack” from Sagebrush Dry Goods, a little mom and pop outfit in SE Alaska (http://www.sagebrushdrygoods.com/). It has a dry suit zipper, and is totally waterproof. I have used it a lot in some really wet conditions, and it works great. I highly recommend it if you need a seriously waterproof small day pack.

    In the situations where I use them, I find it comforting to know that my extra clothing and survival gear will stay dry even if I get soaked in a biblical deluge, or take a spill into the water.

  5. I don’t feel waterproofness is a must-have. Certainly fit/comfort and the desired features would be number one. However, I still think it’s a nice secondary feature. I see pack covers as an ineffective nuisance, and full size pack liners as an effective nuisance. With a waterproof pack it’s simply much easier to dig through it without worrying about punctures, plastic getting everywhere, deciding what you need to rearrange to protect and not protect if you are running out of space, etc. In fact, I keep my pack liner tuck away, and with standard packs I deploy it at the first sign of an impeding storm.

    When carrying a pack made of cuben or VX I know I don’t have to worry too much if the rain looks like a passing shower, even if it happens to linger a bit too long or it’s a little heavier than expected (and if it doesn’t stop I know I’ll have to bust out the liner during a break).

    That being said, regardless of the pack and the conditions, the sleeping bag is always inside a dry sac as a worst-case scenario precaution.

  6. I find it annoying to use my pack when lined with a trash bag, so I keep items that absolutely must stay dry – sleeping bag and clothing – in waterproof stuff sacks. And, I’ll put on a pack cover. I’d appreciate a truly waterproof pack as long as it didn’t add much weight.

  7. I don’t feel like a waterproof pack is essential. I pack my gear in a heavy duty trash compactor bag and use a pack cover when it’s really coming down. I certainly wouldn’t pay extra for a waterproof pack.

  8. Waterproof pack? It depends.

    For backpacking I just use a pack liner AND pack cover.

    For canoe trips however …. waterproof stuff sacks for clothing and sleep gear and those go into a waterproof pack or a pack plus a pair of doubled liners.

  9. Waterproof not required. Pack liner and additional dry bags as needed.

  10. What JimC said.

  11. Being from the Pacific NW, I would go so fast as to suggest a truely wp backpack could be a disadvantage. In an area of almost guaranteed rain, much of my gear is going to be wet from use even if my pack is waterproof. And thus, I will have moisture inside my backpack regardless of the backpack waterproofness. The inside of dry bags does not dry out very easily and tends to get stinky (kinda like wp shoes). Also, I have to pack my truely dry grear in a garbage bag or dry sack to keep it dry inside my backpack anyway. So, I’m not convinced a truely dry backpack is s good thing, even if the weight and other features could be kept comparable . . . Except on trips in a dry climate where there is a high risk of a good soaking along with ample opportunity to dry great out overnight with the pack empty and open.

  12. I don’t think the fully waterproof feature is that important. I often have gear riding on the outside of the pack anyway – because I want ready access or because it won’t fit inside at the start of a trip. A pack cover and light dry bags for important items seem to do the job most trips. If I’m going someplace reliably wet – Scotland say, or the North Cascades – I’ll add a full pack liner. I expect the pack itself to use materials that, while water resistant, focus on resistance to puncture and abrasion while keeping the weight light.

  13. Well I would definitely like one! I use my Deuter backpacks for short section hikes (3 days ish), climbing approaches, and even multipitch climbing. They do repel rain but eventually stuff gets wet and it rains so much where I live now that you pretty much have to plan for rain and not treat it as a rare hardship to be endured like I have in the past.

    I feel like a lot of time is wasted putting on pack cover, taking it off to retrieve things from pack, putting it back on again. I have to pack while thinking that whatever’s at the top might get wet. If I’m on a long climb and my pack is going to sit at the bottom of the cliff for a couple hours, I have to decide whether to put the pack cover on or else it could rain and my stuff might already be wet by the time I get back down. If I’m bivvying and hang my backpack from a tree, and it rains in the night and doesn’t wake me up I could wake up to soaking wet gear. It’s just an annoying thing to have to worry about.

    I think if you often hike in the rain, if you add up the additional weight and expense and time taken up by liners, dry bags, pack covers, ziplocks, etc., I think it would make more sense to just have a waterproof bag. I wouldn’t need a bag to survive submersion, but heavy rainfall or being set down in a puddle for a minute? Yes please!

  14. Very useful in wet canyons! I’ve been using the orange Exped you have in your photos for about 7 years now, and it’s still going strong! :)
    For bushwalking, I just use a LW pack and use a number of dry bags to keep gear dry!

  15. I did not feel it was important when I was hiking in the Southern California Deserts and on the Southern portion of the PCT for years. It was very important when I was in the Military, It was important as I grew up in up State New York. Now that I moved East and South, I learned very quickly that no matter what NOAA says is going to happen Mother Nature makes the final decision over-ruling NOAA at every one of their estimated guesses they fabricate. I like so many others, I line my Pack with a 40 gallon Trash Bag and then as certain products became available I bagged individual items in separate bags, such as Long Underwear, Socks, Coats and Sweaters. To my chagrin, I should have thought of it in the first place,,, all those individual bags added to the weight of my Pack! So I went back to lining the Pack with a heavy duty construction site strength garbage bag and reselling the waterproof bags to other hikers or used them for packing gear on my Boat. My Kitchen Gear I place in a Net bag just to keep it all together and of course there is the Bear Bag..

    • P.S. My Current Backpack is an Osprey Kestrel 68 which has a built in Rain Cover which has come in very handy down here in the South….I had wished for this feature for some 30 years….But I still use the Garbage bag to be on the safe side…

  16. Steve McAllister

    Waterproof packs can get stinky if you don’t air them out regularly and will not be 100% waterproof if it gets damaged.

    Pack liners are difficult to make 100% waterproof. I have seen people try and fail.

    Water gets in your pack or liner when you have to open them in the rain.

    I have always used good watertight drybags for my food, clothing, electronics, first aid and quilt/sleeping bag.
    The other stuff can get wet. My tarp and/or hammock will dry out very quickly after they are pitched.

    I can open and unpack my backpack in the rain without worry. And open the drybags under the tarp after it is set up.

    This has worked well for me, including a 10 kayak expedition where it rained every day.

  17. Not important in Sierra. I throw a garb bag in pack bottom. Never need it. Only use a dry bag for emergency sleep bag, bivy and fly for long day hikes. Keeps it all together and it stays packed as a unit.

  18. For backpacking it is not important, trash compactor bag is plenty. For any river/water trips or pack rafting then yes, a waterproof bag or sack system is definitely required for me.

  19. on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being absolutely critical, about a 1.3.

  20. As many are saying, a waterproof bag is not a requirement as I keep the things that I want to keep dry in watertight stuff sacks in my pack. I usually bring my pack into my tent or vestibule at night.

  21. Not necessary for me. I keep all my stuff in stuff sacks and any down is in a CF dry bag. I have hiked in a lot of rain and been up to my chest in stream crossings and still slept dry with this method. (Plus it keeps my stuff organized)

  22. Not important to me. I use dry bags or a pack liner for critical gear. I would prefer to have a pack that water will drain out of if I fall into the drink while fording a stream!

  23. Not important to me, although I suppose if all else was equal it would be a good differentiator.

    I notice the pictured Exped Torrent doesn’t appear to have water bottle pockets. I consider water bottle pockets to be infinitely more important that waterproof-ness.

  24. Since I’m not usually hiking for very long periods, I can often pick my schedule around the weather forecast so waterproofness (is that a word?) isn’t as big an issue for me as it might be with others.

    My down bag and extra clothing go in waterproof sacks. My electronics–something I couldn’t imagine when I started hiking in the ’60s, also go in waterproof bags. I find Ziploc bags of various sizes work quite well. They certainly worked better than a few “waterproof” silnylon stuff sacks I had when I kayaked 83 miles on the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande in late December. I was happy I double bagged my sleeping bag on that trip.

    I’ve tried lining my pack with a trash bag but find that it bunches up in places and restricts capacity. The trash bag liner did come in handy a couple years ago when the grandkids and I got caught in a sudden storm on a mountain top. We were equipped to handle the rain but the poor family we found trying to seek shelter under a tree wasn’t. The liner became a rain poncho for one of their young girls and we shared our other gear to help them warm up and we all descended the mountain in the rain as a team. The teamwork continued right up through the father splinting the wrist I broke in a fall during that descent.

    I have a pack cover for my GoLite Pinnacle but I’ve started using a smaller GG pack for most hiking and I don’t use a pack cover on it. The Pinnacle with pack cover will get used when hiking with the grandkiddos because I have to carry some of their gear.

  25. I interrogated Deuter about this topic a while back, and it turns that two of the problems they encounter were the ultrasonic seam welding that weakens the fabrics, as well as just overall friction that destroys the waterproofing.
    Now one of the reasons there are no new ways being developed to make waterproof bags, is that there’s simply not enough demand, as most of use air-tight containers and other apparatus.

  26. Waterproof fabric won’t absorb water, which is the main way stuff inside a “non” waterproof pack gets wet, in my experience. Seams are not that important unless they’re particularly poorly placed and exposed. So, waterproof fabric = good, generally more than adequate to keep things dry in anything short of submersion. Anything vital gets its own dry bag for reassurance.

    Paddle trips, though, for those I require a dry bag, whether by itself or lining a pack.

    • In my experience, the stuff inside of a backpack gets wet from condensation and the fact that you have to store wet stuff inside your pack because it lacks enough external storage or it gets damp and you need to keep it from getting wetter (think wet socks, for example). Seams also leak, particularly through the bottom when you put your pack down in a puddle. Just my experience. Lining a pack with a garbage bag and using packs with some sort of external mesh pocket usually addresses these issues.

      • I usually carry some plastic bags (the super light kind newspapers and produce come in) and store stuff like wet socks in there so they don’t spread their dampness. Shelter for me goes in an outside pocket.

        I’ve not had a lot of problem with leaky seams. Maybe I’ve just been lucky.

  27. For me it’s a question that you can’t answer with “Yes” or “No” because it depends. Just like JimC I often use for backpacking just a pack liner and pack cover. If there is a high chance of rain you still can use a waterproof stuff sack instead a whole waterproof backpack in my opinion.

    If you’re likely in the water, e.g. on a canoe, then I definitely would use a waterproof backpack!!

  28. I would love to have a waterproof backpack but only if it didn’t sacrifice any features. Having one sack with a roll top is great for smaller bags but is a pain for a bigger bag. To not have to worry about lining your back or covering it (partially) with a pack cover would be less to worry about.

  29. It would of course be nice to have a waterproof backpack that stays that way for years, is no heavier than the bag it replaces and has similar pockets, compression straps etc. So I concur with the posters above: the backpack that is light enough to carry will leak anyways sooner or later, so I just use waterproof bags inside it.

    kiravuo

  30. With 30+ years of roaming around, If its gonna rain for an extended period, my pack will get wet, and my gear will at least get damp from use. I used to think a waterproof pack would be the solution but I find careful packing, and a good camp system to be the best bet to stay a dry as possible. It’s been a long time since I’ve been truly soaked, so the system works reasonably well.
    I pack food, and my clothing in water resistant bags lined with a plastic bag. Sleeping system goes in a dry sack. All my gear gets treated with a water repellent coating, (GearX is my choice at the moment) which really seems to help run the worst of it off.
    Combine this with a pack liner, and I can stay pretty dry for a long time. But I know I’m just staving off the inevitable, so on long trips, I take advantage of dry sunshine as much as possible.
    Since I hike alone most of the time, I frequently use a dont-shoot-me-Orange pack cover. But that’s because my wife tells me I have to :-)

  31. waterproof and yet have a way to incorporate an outlet for a water bladder hose… that will be perfect!

  32. It appeals to me more in a daypack than anything else. The ability to dive in and out for camera gear easily without having to fish through a dry bag and to keep insulating layers dry when needed is an advantage. Waterproof is a backpacking bag would be nice, but I’d probably double up with a pack liner or dry bags anyway – though perhaps I could be convinced after a bit of usage in the rain.

  33. Waterproof Packs? Nope, unimportant. Mostly the pack just contains the gear you want to bring with you. Hiking cloths are a don’t care, too. Sleeping cloths/quilt/bag. Yes. I need dry sleeping gear. Tents don’t matter nor do cooking gear. Food? Yup, I want it to be dry, also. So, I bring two dry bags: 1) sleeping bag/cloths, 2) food. Nothing else really matters. (Well, ‘cept maybe a lighter or matches.)

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