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Backpack Rain Covers

Backpack Rain Covers are a common sight on rainy trails.
Backpack Rain Covers are a common sight on rainy trails.

Do you use a backpack rain cover to prevent your gear from getting wet? In my experience, they’re marginally effective since moisture can easily leak through the parts of a backpack they don’t cover, such as the shoulder pads. Shoulder pads are sewn to the body of a backpack, creating needle holes in the fabric. This is true even if the backpack is made from a waterproof fabric like cuben fiber or XPac. When you poke holes in it from sewing, it will leak.

Packs made without waterproof fabrics, like Robic Nylon, Cordora, or Dyneema also leak at the seams, but the fabric they’re made with can absorb water as well, when condensation forms on the inside of your backpack cover and drips onto the surface of your backpack. Granted, these nylon variants are far less absorbent than the can pack cloth that vintage backpacks were made with,

Most long distance hikers who hike in climates where it rains, line their packs with a plastic garbage bag. White Compactor Bags are the best, the ones you line the inside of trash compactor with, because they’re quite tough and durable. I can get an entire season out of a compactor bag. It’s important to get the unscented kind to avoid attracting animals or bears. The white color makes it easier to see the contents of your backpack so you can find things more easily.

I still pack my smaller gear – first aid kit and electronics – in small stuff sacks, but pack most of my clothes and other gear loose inside. I trust the white plastic compactor bag to keep them dry, even when I put my backpack down on wet ground. Any rain that leaks into the seams of my backpack gets stopped cold by that plastic bag.

I using a compactor bag is too low tech for you, several companies sell pack liners that are just as effective and last longer. Hyperlite Mountain Gear sells a 44 liter dry-bag style cuben fiber pack liner  which I’ve used and is also effective at keeping your gear dry. Exped makes an excellent 45 liter dry-bag style silnylon pack liner called the Schnozzel, which serves double duty as a sleeping pad pump sack compatible with the flat values used on sleeping pads made by Exped, Sea-to-Summit, and Klymit.

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  1. I use the pack cover made for my pack. I have used a trash bag in the past and have many friends who use trash bags. I line my pack with a trash bag as a secondary precaution.

  2. Simon – what kind of pack do you have? How do you reinforce the slits you make for the shoulder straps so they don't tear apart?

  3. I use the REI Duck's back rain cover – 80 Liter size. It is made out of polyurthane-coated polyester/ripstop nylon and weighs 7.6 oz. It comes with a very nice zip carrying case that I use as hip belt pocket. However I think I am going to get a Cuben fiber one with weighs less than 2 oz.

  4. I always use a rain cover when the weather warrants it. I wouldn't choose a pack just because it has a built in rain cover. I'm impartial to using a cover from a manufacturer or from another company. I'm currently using a coated nylon rain cover that has worked well and held up well over the years.

  5. I always carry a rain cover. In fact, my large day pack (Osprey Stratos) came with a built in pack cover. I do not have a preference for material, as long as it is lightweight and affordable. I might purchase one backpack over another if it had a built in rain cover…it would certainly be a + when doing a feature comparison however, I don't think I would give any more weight to this feature over another. I don't have a preference for any specific manufacturer however, I have found that the model specific covers that are produced by some backpack manufacturers provide a better fit (i.e. less "extra" material to deal with)…cost also factors in to the decision. I recently purchased the Osprey branded UL rain cover for my backpacking pack (Aether 70) over the Sea-to-Summit UL cover solely based on the price difference. In addition to a rain cover, I always pack a contractor (trash) bag in all of my packs – it's probably the most versatile piece of equipment that I carry.

  6. I use it on my bug out bag. It keeps the dust off, will hopefully keep off some of the rain and more importantly hides the multicam on my pack -except for the shoulder straps.

  7. I hiked the Buffalo River Trail in Arkansas last week and it rained 36 hours straight on us. I had a 45 gallon contractor's plastic bag in my pack and everything went into the bag, it was rolled up and the backpack draw string pulled tight. To keep water from possibly getting in through the top of the pack where the drawstring was, I strapped my Gossamer Gear SitLight pad over the top of the pack. Everything stayed dry, other than the backpackers.

    One thing I liked about the contractor's bag was that I could put everything in it in the tent and push it into a corner and the contents didn't get wet or scattered about the tent.

  8. That sounds really good – not a benefit I ever really considered, but one I'll add to my reasons for an internal plastic bag.

  9. No. I put water sensitive items in stuff sacks, more organised and dont get wet when rummaging in it.

  10. Previously I just put a large garbage bag/compactor bag in my pack and let the pack get wet. My most recent pack comes with one that pulls out of the bottom pocket. I've only really pulled it out for night time to give me more space under the tarp.

  11. I do use one (the REI's Duck's Back that was made for my pack), but I do not think having a built-in one would influence my decision of whether or not to buy a pack. I don't have a material preference, and would have no issue with buying a general purpose cover as long as it fit my pack well. I bought the one I currently have because it was on sale and has worked well, so I've had no need to experiment yet. I like the idea of a contractor's bag for back-up, though.

    I found the pack cover useful at camp on my last trip. I camped in a few spots with uneven, sloped ground, and with the threat of storms, I set my backpack inside its pack cover under my tent's vestibule. If rain ran under the vestibule or pooled overnight due to the less than ideal ground situation, my pack and its contents were protected.

  12. Adding one more voice to the chorus of people who don’t use one. I use as a heavy-duty garbage bag as a liner, which is cheap and easy, and I can’t imagine trusting a cover enough to dispense with that. I also pack all my crucial gear inside smaller waterproof bags, just in case of leakages from my washbag or any other small accidents, and I’d obviously want to continue that if I used a cover. When I realised that, I decided a cover would just be unnecessary duplication, plus it would make it more difficult to access stuff in my pack’s external pockets and add to the time it takes to change to wet weather gear. Given that, I’d probably buy the pack without the built-in cover if I was faced with that choice, and I don’t really have an opinion on whether to buy the manufacturer’s own cover or a generic one.

  13. Another thing I considered with the trash sack was that I could use it for a small tarp to cover our cooking area if needed. As it turned out, that wasn't necessary.

  14. I guess this part of my post should be labeled: "Help stamp out and eliminate redundancies" since I should have mentioned this a couple minutes ago. I still package my food, clothing, first aid and repair kit, batteries and electronic gear in waterproof bags (usually Ziplocs). All that went into the contractor bag in the pack so there was added protection against the weather.

  15. British foul weather walker here :) I’m another one who doesn’t use pack covers, for a variety of reasons — The first one is that whilst they keep ‘most’ of the pack dry, in heavy enough rain your pack still gets wet from the gap between it & ones body (aka “where the harness is”) — The second main reason is that all my rucksacks are Original Karrimor (from when it was family owned and products bore a lifetime warranty). Most of my rucksacks are Karrimor Condor, all over 25 years old and all made with the legendary & bombproof KS100e waterproof fabric. Regularly re-proofed every year, even sideways rain just rolls off it — When I’m particularly cautious when carrying modern electronics, they go in a ziplock, but all my main kit is well tested, regularly abused and is as bombproof as the Condor in which it is carried, and also generally at least 25 yrs old and still going strong — The third reason is that as far as ‘waterproofs’ go, I always carry and use a poncho which covers both me & the pack and negates the need to carry/wear waterproof trousers. I’ve looked at combined ideas like the Packa but in all honesty a decent large (I have them custom made) regular poncho keep me & my pack dry & me well ventilated, as well as being able to be used for other duties, like a tarp, a groundsheet or for water collection

  16. Hiked the Fjällräven Classic this year in northern Sweden. Last day of the hike i started raining and it did not stop until the next morning. Me and my friend both used rain cover (I used Gregory). And because there was not room in the tent for our backpacks, we where forced to lay them outside with the rain covers on. The covers kept the packs ok dry. Not soaked. Think I will buy a Zpacks cubenfiber to replace my Gregory.

  17. It makes sense to use a pack cover and also waterproof bags inside the pack. The cover stops the bulk of the pack itself getting wet. A wet rucksack is unpleasant to handle, weighs more and is horrible to have in your tent if you need it in there at any point. But obviously it may not keep the inside of the sack 100% dry and so you want waterproof bags inside too. You don’t want just singe, large liner either if you’re backpacking because you need to keep certain things apart, notably your wet tent away from your sleeping bag. So most experienced backpackers have a several drybags for the tent, sleeping bag and clothes and then some cheaper ziploc bags for small items like first aid stuff etc.

  18. Has anyone used a rain cover to double as a travel cover for their pack? Seems like it would help keep straps contained on the airport conveyor belts, and maybe deter pickpocketing in cities. Thoughts?

  19. I’ve already commented on this a couple times detailing why I haven’t used a pack cover in the past. I did an overnight hike in early January this year in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park. The predicted sleet and snow for my trip turned out to be icy cold rain, fog, and drizzle. I decided to break out the pack cover I’d bought on clearance and I was quite pleased with it.

    My down sleeping bag was in another waterproof bag for insurance. Many of my smaller items are organized in Ziploc bags, which also protect them from water. I put my layers on top in the pack without any additional protection and they didn’t get wet. The pack cover did add to the fiddle factor when changing layers, etc. because I had to remove and reinstall it, however, that wasn’t too difficult. I’ll certainly bring it again if I’m going to be dealing with weather issues.

  20. Another case of I should have added this to my previous post:

    I also have a Ribz vest, which I use for day hiking, rather than overnight backpacking. On the hike last month in the cold rain, I had to add and remove layers several times to regulate my comfort as the exertion levels and weather changed. After removing the pack and cover a few times, I decided the next time I backpacked in that kind of weather, I’d also take the Ribz vest because it has the bulk carrying capacity to quickly stash the layers in it.

  21. I’m using Osprey Atmos with the original raincover. Sadly it’s not as waterproof as I would have liked, but it seems to keep the inside of the backpack more or less dry. I wouldn’t mind to buy another brand as long as the rain cover was fully waterproof. The material doesn’t matter and it can even be slightly heavier if it’s really waterproof. Inside the backpack I pack everything in pretty solid pastic bags from the grocery store. One for clothes, one for the sleeping bag, one for food and so on. It keeps everything dry and organized, and the plastic bags are much lighter and cheaper than drysacks, even though they won’t last as long.

  22. I live in Scotland, and we get a fair amount of rain! I put all my essential items in dry bags, but I still use a waterproof cover. If you have a half-length pad and want to rest your legs on your rucksack, you certainly don’t want to use a soaking wet one.

  23. I repeat my redundancy over and over. An REI pack cover, a trash compactor bag and a Sea to Summit dry bag for my clothing and sleeping bag with the other items in ziplocs. Maybe overkill but always dry.

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