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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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63 comments

  1. I used to use one. Now I just use Waterproof stuff sacks and ziplocks.

  2. I just started using a pack cover this past summer, I think because I finally stopped waiting for "perfect weather" weekends to go backpacking (they are few and far between). Unfortunately, I'm not home right now, so I can't remember who makes the 2 pack covers I've bought so far, but they definitely weren't integrated with the pack, and I don't think they are the same manufacturer as the pack either. It doesn't matter to me what the material is made of, as long as it's waterproof. I don't do much bushwhacking, so durability usually isn't an issue.

  3. no rain cover, use a liner or separate stuff sacks instead … youre going to have most of yr stuff in sacks anyways

    pack straps and foam against yr back will still get wet with a cover, and they are the most absorbent part of the pack

    make sure you have drain holes

  4. I use a rain cover. Bright don't-shoot-me-orange during hunting season, grey in the summer.I prefer something abusable. It gets sat on, stood on, I use it to collect gear in my shelter vestibule, and yes I use it as a rain cover.

  5. I've got a sea to summit and it works fine. Much cheaper than manufacturers option.

  6. Never use one. I use waterproof stuff sacks instead. I tried a couple (Sea-to Summit’s,) but I always got wet anyway. A pack liner is better, I used this for several years. I switched a few years ago when I started finding good waterproof bags in UL cloth. I even have a couple compression bags out of UL cloth. But, I intentionally buy gear that is minimally water resistant. Lights, stove, pot, spoon, bug dope, fuel, stakes & tarp, and pad don’t really need waterproofing. Soo, my sleeping bag and sleep gear go in one waterproof compression bag. My food in another. On longish trips, 7-45 days out, I will bring a third for a change of cloths. Last summer, I brought 4 bags, two for food (18pounds for two weeks.) The pack is no more than a UL sack to hold this stuff. They ALWAYS leak, plan on it. Covers don’t work because they leave the sides and bottom open. In a canoe, anything that is open is subject to getting wet.

  7. For 3 season and for limited length hikes in the winter I use a cuben fiber pack (MLD). I use a full Dyneema pack (McHale)for heavier loads on long hikes in the winter. Both are completely waterproof. My 3 season rain gear is a rain cape (Integral Designs) which covers not only most of my body, but also the relatively small cuben fiber pack.

  8. I don't use a pack cover — I live in Arizona. Even though we don't get much rain, I still use waterproof stuff sacks and zip locks (especially with my down bag).

  9. Over the years I have tried pack liners but always find them more difficult to deal with than waterproof stuff sacks for critical items and a silnylon pack cover. During hunting season I use a bright orange ULA cover and the rest of the year I use an Integral Designs gray cover. I like having a pack cover to put over my pack during those occasions when I have to or choose to leave my pack outside of my shelter.

  10. I use a Sea to Summit Sil rain cover AND an OR waterproof stuff sack, unless there is no rain in the forecast and then I use waterproof stuff sack only. I read once you can tell what somebody is afraid of by what they carry in their pack. Well I am definitely afraid of my stuff getting wet.

  11. Nope, just a liner. Pack covers offer a false sense of security; if you walk in the rain long enough, water will eventually soak through the back panel.

  12. I bring one, but only use it in torrential rain – perhaps 5-7 times on a 3 week trip on the AT. On shorter trips less than 1 week, I would probably not bring any pack cover. A pack having one or not would not influence my purchase. I strap a ridge rest to the outside so a specific fitting pad would be more difficult for me. I use a coated nylon universal cover from the early 90's.

  13. Yep, I don't prefer a type of fabric but I do want it to hold up to a liitle abuse. For all our packs except mu osprey we have generic covers and they are great. For the osprey, I got the manufacturers because it fit the kidney bean shape of the pack better.

    I don't know that a pack with a cover would matter to me over one that didn't have one integrated.

  14. I just put my gear in a heavy duty contractor's trash bag inside of my pack and make sure it's closed real tight at the top by twisting, folding, and rubber-banding it together. It manages to keep all of my gear dry. I think a pack cover is just extra weight with minimal utility.

  15. My wife and I always carry REI pack covers and have used them once. They are basically large mouth sil-nylon bags with a draw-string. You put them over your pack and tighten the string. They weight about 2 oz and we carry them with our rain gear.

  16. I use an Integral Designs Silcoat Pack Cover.

    I mean, if you use waterproof stuff sacs,

    your backpack will still get very wet, and will weight you down.

    And your stuffsacks will also get wet on yhe outside and mayby condense into your stuff.

    P

  17. I don't use one, but if I did or have a hankering to go back, I'd use the Zpacks version. Once I started lining my pack with a plastic bag and/or using cuben stuff sacks (or both), I felt it was redundant. Covers have inherent problems with them anyway as they aren't all encompassing being that rain will slip down the back panel (not to mention making getting things a pain). Because I hike in mostly heavy tree canopy, I think this also helps limit impact by rain. If I were in a more open setting, I may reconsider. Either way, you really can't go wrong with the Zpacks pack cover.

  18. I can't see myself using one. My poncho covers my pack and anytime I would want to cover my pack I would want to cover myself too so this seems the most natural solution.

  19. A heavy-duty 3mil contractor trash bag liner keeps my stuff dry and helps protects the bag if I mispack something sharp. I also carry a raincover, and I use it overnights even when it's not raining. Why? Helps keep out fieldmice!

  20. I also used to use rain covers, but I find a compactor bag for a liner at the bottom and then waterproof stuff sacks for things I need quick access to works much better. Rain covers still let water run down your back and soak through the pack that way, so I always found them to be useless.

  21. I prefer poncho/tarps, I used to use a GoLite poncho and I currently use a SixMoonDesigns Gatewood Cape, both of which pull triple duty as raingear, shelter, and pack cover. Carrying a separate or integrated pack cover would just be extra weight for me.

  22. I always carry one, though after several years of hardly using it, I'm starting to think I'll just leave it behind. I always carry my bag and spare clothes in waterproof stuff sacks, so my pack getting wet isn't a huge deal.

    What I do have (and love) the very lightweight Z-packs cuben cover, which is what I carry. It's always in my "odds and ends" bag and the weight is negligible so I continue to carry it. I have an old blaze orange one from Granite Gear which I do carry during hunting season, which is a good double-use for it, though it is 3 times as heavy as the Z-packs cover.

    A pack with a built-in cover would be of no advantage to me, since I really like the design/weight of the Z-packs version I have. So I'd rather just supply my own cover for a pack. My biggest consideration for a maybe-use item in my pack is weight, so cuben is a great choice for me.

  23. I have debated them on several occassions, but almost always take one (that is the "Be Prepared" in me I guess). On my long section I typically just put it on when it was raining, snowing or threatening, and left it on for the day. I use a Sea-to-Summit cover.

  24. For my full size pack, I purchased a Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre which came with a Lowe Alpine waterproof pack cover (bright orange) and a built in compartment to store it in, which is located in the floating lid.

    For my day pack, I use a Sea to Summit Silnylon rain cover, which was quite expensive for a plastic tarp!

    Along with other hikers, I also store my gear in waterproof stuff sacks inside my pack. I also use rain covers for the added insurance. Due to the size of some packs and the materials they are made out of, in a down poor, they can absorb a lot of water, making the pack that much heavier.

    To me, its worth the added extra weight (minimal) to have the rain covers and the stuff sacks. Being cold and wet is miserable and in most situations, dangerous!

  25. I still have a rain cover, not used any longer…

    3ml trash compacter bag liner + 2 waterproof Sea-to-Summit bags do the job now. How would u ford a river & keep stuff dry with a rain cover?

    Don't worry about the outside of the pack, worry about the inside.

  26. Another vote for heavy-duty trash bags. If I really really couldn't avoid extended periods in really heavy rain, I'd probably bring a stuffsack for a few essential clothing items. I don't otherwise use stuffsacks much.

  27. Addendum: Another option (at least in some cases) are drypacks like SeaLine's, or Exped's.

  28. I use a rain cover to keep the outside of my pack dry only because I take my pack into the tent and use it as a pillow (food/scented items, of course, stay outside in my Ursack). I do not depend on the pack cover to keep my pack contents dry. To keep my critical gear dry, I take one dry bag for my sleeping bag and another for my insulating clothing.

    The rain cover I use is in your picture–the Z Packs cuben! Mine weighs 1 oz.

  29. Me too, I use a trash bag for the few things that need to be kept dry. Simple, cheap, and light.

  30. I used to use one. My first UL packcover was made from sil-nylon. I always found with a pack cover, the back of the pack wasn't covered and water going down my rain jacket would seep into the pack anyway. And on windy traverses, the pack cover would often just blow off.

    Now, I line my pack with a thick garbage bag, like a contractor or compactor bag, and use lightweight sil-nylon drybags, like those from Sea-to-Summit. I twist the top of the garbage bag,double it over and secure it with a rubber band. Seems much simpler than a pack cover and much more waterproof. Plus, since most my trips are paddling trips now, the garbage bag trick fights bilge water, too.

  31. I have never met a rain cover that worked. For the last 30 years it’s been a poncho to cover me and the pack. During hunting season I use an orange pack cover. The inside of the pack is lined with a 50 gallon trash bag that does double duty as a gear/ground sheet for my occasional stays in a shelter (being a hammock user). A cuben fiber poncho would be nice, but the price tag is so scary.

    Other uses for a rain cover? Other than marking me as NOT A TARGET for hunters, they are good as a last hope for catching falling gear (but I like everything to fit in my bag).

    Good conversation on the silnylon compresion sacks! I'm tempted.

  32. Been a while since I took one on a trip. In principle they have a function but not essential.

  33. I have one that I bought for my old backpack, but I have switched to using a combination of cuben fiber pack liners, and cuben fiber stuff sacks inside the pack liner to make sure some items (down sleeping bag, clothes) don't get wet. Both the pack liners and the stuff sacks have the roll top closures, which are much more reliable when keeping water from entering the sack (unlike drawcords, etc.).

    My cuben fiber stuff sacks were made by MountainFitter/PacLite, and I can blow them full of air, roll them over and they stay filled with air and can bounce them like beach balls. If air isn't getting out, water won't be getting in! :)

    If I ever did get a pack cover, it would be cuben fiber and modified to attach to the pack by another means, not solely the drawcord fastener. I have heard too many stories of people losing their pack covers.

    Dug

  34. I never could figure out how a pack cover would keep rain from getting in between the pack and my back so I just bag the things I don't want getting wet and stuff them in my pack. I have some roll top sacks and also use gallon Ziplocs for many items.

  35. I've mostly used one for protection when hiking with a scout crew (keeps the pack out of the mud when they aren't as careful with your gear as you'd be). Like most of the above comments I'm a great believer in contractor grade bags and coherent packing strategies. It's occasionally been helpful when I've been in a gentle southern thunderstorm (1 inch in a half an hour), but of dubious use under more normal conditions.

    I've been using a antigravity gear silon cover which isn't outrageously heavy.

  36. I appreciate the volume of feedback everyone. This is a big help.

  37. I haven't used a pack cover in many years, and instead rely on a plastic garbage bag for a pack liner. I keep what I carry in silnylon stuff sacs and a few critical items, such as the first aid kit and camera, in ziplocs or Aloksak sacs. I carry an umbrella and that keeps most precipitation off me and much off the pack. I found that pack covers often trapped water; made it difficult to access things from a pack; didn't prevent a pack from getting wet since the shoulder straps, etc. are exposed; and occasionally catch stiff winds and balloon outward. Having written all this, the Zpacks covers do look attractive and sales would certainly increase if more backpackers knew of them.

  38. I haven't used on in years. My pack is fairly waterproof, important kit (down quilt, spare cloths) are in stuff sacks.

  39. I just got a zpacks cuben fiber one because the adk winter course I'm taking requires that you have a cover. I can see how it may be of limited use though when your back gets wet eventually but the nice thing with the zpacks is it's so light might as well take it. Last summer I favored an ems poncho for rain gear/pack cover and it worked great, can't beat the breathability, but on high windy ridges switching to a streamlined goretx shell was necessary. So maybe there is no perfect one size fits all solution for me. I'd love to get an ultralight poncho/ tarp thing but they're pretty expensive

  40. I use heavy duty trash-bags [two of], bright purple.

    One goes on the inside as a liner and the other gets a couple of holes slit in it to put straps through. I've tried covers before but they are more inconvenient and heavier, even if they do look a lot nicer.

  41. 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.

  42. 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?

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

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

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

  50. 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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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

  56. 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.

  57. 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.

  58. 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?

  59. 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.

  60. 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.

  61. 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.

  62. 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.

  63. 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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