Waterproof Backpack – Do I Need One? | Average Hiker
What is Waterproof?
A waterproof backpack is sometimes a topic of debate, and yet another factor to consider when Choosing a Backpack. I have yet to use a backpack that is 100% waterproof, but there are a few that appear to come pretty close.
If I’m backpacking I want to want to keep my sleep system and clothing dry. This is especially critical in cold environments, and can literally mean the difference between life and death due to hypothermia.
Aside from that grim reality, staying dry and warm can turn a long wet slog of a hike into an even longer wet night in camp. Wet clothes and sleeping bags are not much fun.
Fabrics to Help Waterproof My backpack
If you want to waterproof your backpack as much as possible then start by taking a look at what materials are used to construct the pack. This is your first barrier of defense, and while it may not be full proof, it is a good start.
Hyperlite makes the claim that their backpacks are 100% waterproof, but since I have not tried a Hyperlite backpack yet, I can't dispute this statement. They use a Dyneema Composite Fabric, which is inherently waterproof. You will sometimes hear this referred to as Cuben Fiber.
Companies like Zpacks and Ultralight Adventure Equipment are using both Dyneema Composite fabrics, HDPE materials and Robic Nylon Fabrics. Other than the Dyneema Composite these other fabrics are mostly water resistant.
In the case of my Zpack Arc Haul, HDPE fabric is used. The interior has a ethylene coating and the seams are taped. It is highly water resistant, which is all I need.
My Ohm 2.0 by Ultralight Adventure Equipment is not as water resistant, but the material is the most durable of any pack I own. It is a great pack for off trail hiking and bush wacking.
The larger backpack makers like Osprey, Gregory, Gossamer Gear, etc., use nylon in the construction of their backpacks. While these are typically not waterproof, or as water resistant as the smaller manufacturers, they often use very durable materials.
The Osprey Aura is a good example. I used this pack on both the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. It is a VERY comfortable backpack. I started with a pack cover and ditched it into the PCT hike. The pack would get soaked when it rained, but my contents stayed dry.
The poor Osprey Aura took tumbles down mountains on both trails, and was run over on the CDT. It is still in my basement waiting for it's next hike, a little stiff and dusty, but otherwise intact. I have nothing but good things to say about this work horse of a backpack that fits me like a comfortable glove.
Waterproof My Backpack or My Contents?
I don't use backpack covers anymore. I've typically found they don't keep my backpacks very dry, and often just make me more soggy. The last few times I used them they either made great wind sales or dumped little puddles of water down my back. I think I even got slapped in the face a couple of times!
Now I focus on keeping the contents of my backpack dry and don't worry too much about the backpack itself. Today's backpack materials dry very quickly, and even if they do get wet they don't stay wet very long.
Methods for Waterproofing My Backpack Contents
The first line of water defense for my backpack is a compactor bag. You can usually purchase these at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc. This bag fits inside my backpack and holds my sleeping bag/quilt and clothes. After thousands of miles, and some pretty brutal storms, I have never had these items get wet.
If I'm going to be on the water, and using my backpack, I'll put everything in the compactor bag and seal it with a tie. For backpacking and hiking I fold over or roll the top of the bag. I also don't use a stuff sack for my bag/quilt. I have never needed one.
My electronics and toiletries are kept in separate sil-nylon stuff sacks. I use two sacks and a food bag. Most items in the stuff sacks are kept in zip-lock bags. This includes, electronic, toiletries, food, etc. This prevents leakage and any type of cross contamination.
Waterproofing My Backpack – Final Thoughts
While there may very well be backpacks that are waterproof, or close to it, I don't take a chance. It would not be good to be 50 miles from the closest town, in a monsoon, to find out your backpack is actually not waterproof.
Make sure your contents are in waterproof sacks or liners. This will provide peace of mine, and ensure you are safe and warm when needed.
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