Backpackers are split about 50/50 when it comes to using a backpack rain cover or lining the inside of their backpacks with a plastic bag or backpack liner designed for that purpose. When I started backpacking, I used a backpack rain cover but found it awkward so I switched to a backpack liner. Since then I’ve used five different backpack liners (in the past 10 years) and thought it would be useful to compare their strengths and weaknesses. While all of them work, they have some pros and cons that are worth considering if you’re thinking about using one.
But first, consider what attributes are important for waterproof backpack liners:
Volume: So you can fit all your stuff inside.
Durability: Important if you backpack a lot.
Weight: Definitely a factor if you’re counting your ounces.
Price: Always a factor.
Closure: A roll-top can be important for very wet trips.
Ease of Repair: Liners take abuse and it helps if you can repair them easily.
Multi-Purpose: Can it serve multiple functions to help reduce your gear weight?
Interior Visibility: Does the liner make it easier to find your gear in a backpack?
Let’s apply these criteria to the following backpack liners.
1. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pack Liner (44L)
Hyperlite’s Pack Liner is a 44L (XL-size) roll-top stuff sack made with Dyneema Composite Fabrics. The roll-top portion is sewn, but the rest of the liner is taped. It weighs 2.1 ounces, but the $75 price is very high considering the cost of the other pack liners below. I started using this liner for packrafting trips, but it quickly developed numerous pinholes. While DCF can be repaired with tape, I’d lost faith in the longer-term viability of the liner. It also proved too low volume for my needs and made it harder to find gear in my backpack because it’s darkly colored.
The Exped Schnozzel Pumpbag is a 45L pack liner and pump bag that can be used to inflate Exped sleeping pads with flat stemless valves (also compatible with Sea-to-Summit and REI pads.) It’s a durable silnylon sack with a drybag closure that weighs 2.3 oz. The bright color makes it easy to find gear inside darkly colored backpacks. I’m not sure I’d trust if for a trip where I could experience full immersion (like packrafting), but it’s more than sufficient for keeping gear in your pack dry in rain. The price is not bad ($39) and it’s a good adjunct if you have a compatible sleeping pad.
Gossamer Gear sells clear plastic pack liners that are surprisingly durable, and I used them for many years, going through a pair of bags per year. Weighing 1.2 oz, they’re lighter weight than trash compactor bags and easy to patch with clear tape if you poke a hole in one. They’re open at the top so you have to fold them over or twist tie them to hold them closed, but they good a good job of keeping your gear dry. Priced at $5/pair, they’re also quite affordable. Clear as they are, they inherit the color of your pack’s interior and have a neutral impact on making your gear easier to locate. I stopped using these pack liners when I stopped sending my retirement savings to Gossamer Gear and started using backpacks from another company, but I think they’re still a good option.
Weighing just 0.91 oz each, Nylofume Pack Liner Bags (available from Litesmith) are thin plastic bags that are surprisingly tough. At 51.9L, they have enough volume for most of the packs I use regularly, plus some extra so I can fold over the top to seal out moisture from above. You can patch them easily with packing tape and they’re purportedly odor-proof, which might make them useful for food bag liners. Priced at $2.50 each, they have one fatal flaw in my book. These bags make a crinkly potato chip sound that I find unbearable. But for that, these pack liners would a slam dunk.
My current pack liner is a Hefty White Trash Compactor Bag. Weighing 2.2 oz, these are thick plastic bags that are thicker than regular trash bags and harder to tear. They’re easy to patch with tape, lightweight, and inexpensive, costing about $1.25 per bag. Durability is excellent and I typically only use one or two per year. While they are high volume, they have multiple uses. For example, I’ve used a trash compactor bag as a makeshift bivy bag more than once to stay warm on a freezing night, which is only possible because they’re large enough to pull over my legs and quilt. Being white, they also make it easier to find gear in a dark backpack. When you buy them it’s important to get “unscented bags” if you’re hiking in bear country and not to confuse “compactor bags” with “contractor bags.”
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