A backpack rain cover serves several purposes. It prevents rain from leaking through the fabric and making your gear wet. It also can protect your backpack from getting torn if you have to hike through dense vegetation. However, whether you need a rain cover or not, or whether it’s worth carrying one is a long-standing debate in the backpacking community.
Leaky Needle Holes
If you turn a backpack inside out you’ll see a lot of seams that have been sewn together to form the pack bag, add pockets, and zippers. Seams create a lot of needle holes that can leak water if the outside of the pack gets wet or saturated with water. The same is true of the shoulder straps and hip belt. All of these needle holes can leak in the rain.
Most backpack rain covers only cover the front of a backpack and not the shoulder straps and hip belt, so you can still experience leakage even if you do use a rain cover. Most people address this by packing their gear in waterproof stuff sacks or lining the inside of their pack with a heavy-weight trash compactor bag so water can’t reach it.
Protect External Gear
Rain covers can also protect gear stored on the outside of your backpack from getting wet. If you store a tent, food, a stove, or clothing in the outside pockets of your pack because you prefer to, or because you don’t have enough volume inside your backpack, a rain cover can keep them dry and protect them from damage.
|Make / Model||Volume||Weight|
|Zpacks Pack Cover (L)||Up to 70L||1.7 oz|
|Zpacks Pack Cover (M)||Up to 55L||1.4 oz|
|REI Ducks Back Rain Cover (XL)||90-100L||7 oz|
|REI Ducks Back Rain Cover (L)||70-85L||6 oz|
|REI Ducks Back Rain Cover (M)||50-65L||5 oz|
|REI Ducks Back Rain Cover (S)||35-45L||4 oz|
|REI Ducks Back Rain Cover (XS)||18-30L||3 oz|
|Osprey UL Pack Cover (XL)||75-110L||3.4 oz|
|Osprey UL Pack Cover (Large)||50-75L||3 oz|
|Osprey UL Pack Cover (Medium)||30-50L||2.8 oz|
|Deuter Rain Cover III||45-90L||4.6 oz|
|Deuter Rain Cover II||30-50L||3.2 oz|
|Deuter Rain Cover I||20-35L||2.9 oz|
|Granite Gear Storm Cell Cover (XL)||98-115L||6.9 oz|
|Granite Gear Storm Cell Cover (L)||74-90L||6 oz|
|Granite Gear Cloud Cover (M)||54-66L||3.9 oz|
|Granite Gear Cloud Cover (S)||41-54L||3.4 oz|
|Granite Gear Cloud Cover (XS)||30-41L||3 oz|
Some manufacturers make waterproof backpacks with fabrics that don’t absorb water and have been seam-taped so their seams don’t leak. This is fairly common with Dyneema Backpacks, like those made by Zpacks or Hyperlite Mountain Gear. It’s less common on waterproof packs made with other waterproof fabrics like X-Pac, waterproof Cordura, and polyurethane-coated high-tenacity nylon although it varies on a case-by-case basis. You can also seam-seal a backpack by yourself, but it’s a much messier process than seam-sealing a tent where you have much more space to work with.
Hybrid Rain Gear
There are also vendors that sell dual-purpose poncho-style backpack covers that can also be used as rain gear. These cover both sides of your backpack, the front and the back, and can prevent leaks from your shoulder straps and hip belt. The Packa is one example. Mystery Ranch makes the less cumbersome Hooded Pack Fly and Lighthear Gear makes a Hoodie Pack Cover which serves a similar purpose.
High Visibility Pack Covers
Another important use for a pack cover is for increased visibility during the hunting season. If you backpack or hike in areas frequented by hunters, covering your backpack with a Blaze Orange pack cover can be a useful precaution. Mystery Ranch and Dutchware Gear are good sources for Blaze Orange pack covers.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.