Imagine this: you’re halfway through a two week vacation in the Pacific Northwest and – no surprise – it begins to rain. A gentle drizzle suddenly evolves into a strong deluge, so much so that your rain jacket is merely another layer of wet on your skin.
The rain continues for hours and, before you know it, you’re at camp, ready to put those dry clothes of yours on and get out of the storm. You open up your pack and all of your stuff is saturated.
Unfortunately, you neglected to waterproof your bag. Looks like you’re in for a long, chilly, miserable night in your soggy sleeping bag.
If this has occurred to you previously, we’re not shocked. In truth, this circumstance is exceedingly typical among both seasoned a rookie hikers, alike. Thankfully, there’s a method to prevent this unhappy and perhaps deadly situation: waterproofing your bag.
Waterproofing your bag will help lessen your odds of rolling into camp after a thunderstorm and discovering that everything from your socks to your stove is soaking wet.
However, there are many alternative techniques to waterproof your hiking backpack, each with their own pros and cons.
Thus, instead of acting like there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to pack waterproofing, we’ve prepared this full guide on keeping your stuff dry, regardless of the weather. Coming up, we’ll guide you through why you need to waterproof your backpack and the best methods to go about doing so.
We’ll explore the benefits and downsides of each type of pack waterproofing and even propose the optimal application for each approach. Let’s get to it!
Why do I need to waterproof my backpack?
If you have ever found yourself in a predicament such to the one that was described at the outset of this essay, then you already have first-hand experience with the importance of waterproofing your backpack. To put it another way, sad gear is damp gear.
Even though there are many great new insulating materials available that can keep you warm when they are wet, there is nothing more depressing than putting on a synthetic puffy jacket that is drenched through and then shivering in a tent that is actively dripping water onto your head while wearing all of these layers.
Being wet for an extended amount of time is not only an unfortunate state of things, but it is also a guaranteed method to put yourself in risk of developing the possibly fatal condition of hypothermia if you are exposed to it for an extended period of time.
It is necessary to first explore the four primary forms of heat transmission in order to comprehend why something like this takes place. These heat transfer types are the means through which we, as humans, may lose heat to the surrounding environment and get chilled.
The fact that humans are able to sweat is one of the most important adaptation processes that allow us to endure life in hot environments. When the temperature at the centre of our bodies rises too high, our brain sends blood to our peripheries (our arms, legs, fingers, and toes) and to the surface of our skin.
This allows us to extract water from our very warm blood, expose it to the surface of our skin, and let it evaporate away. When our core body temperature rises too high, our brain also sends blood to our peripheries.
The sensation of being chilly that comes from sweating is caused by the release of heat from the body into the surrounding environment as a result of the evaporation of moisture from the skin.
Radiation is the process of heat transmission that takes place when infrared energy waves go straight from the source of heat (like a fire) to another object.
We prefer spending the night around campfires because they radiate heat into the surrounding air, and if we are close enough, we may benefit from that heat as well.
The process of conduction occurs when two things with different temperatures come into direct touch with one other, for as when a person’s skin and the cold ground come into contact with one another.
Heat then transfers from the warm human (core body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celsius) to the cold ground (somewhere between 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Celsius and 4 degrees Celsius).
Which is why we get cold so quickly when we lay on the ground. During the night, this is another reason why sleeping pads are such a crucial insulating layer for humans.
When we are drenched in the forest, the role of convection is the most important thing for us to think about when it comes to risk management. While evaporative cooling, radiation, and conduction are all important things to consider when managing risks outdoors, the role of convection is the most important.
Convection is the process of heat transmission that occurs when hot air and liquids rise to the surface while cold air and liquids sink. This occurs because hot air and liquids expand more quickly than cold air and liquids. This is the primary explanation for why there is wind here.
You probably already know this, but if you’ve ever been caught outdoors during a windy storm, you’ve seen firsthand how fast the wind can make you feel chilly. This phenomenon is referred to as the “wind chill factor.”
When you combine these factors with the chilling effects of evaporative cooling, you have a formula for feeling so cold that you run the risk of developing hypothermia if you’re out in the rain while wearing wet clothing.
Because of this, you should make sure that your bag is waterproof.
As someone who enjoys activities outside, it is your responsibility to ensure that all of your essential gear, including your sleeping bag and an extra set of warm clothing, is kept as dry as possible at all times.
Everyone else, however, has to take specific preparations to assist guarantee that their belongings will remain dry regardless of the weather. If you are in the desert, you probably won’t need to be too careful about this, but everyone else does need to take these precautions.
What is the best way to waterproof my backpack?
Now that we are all on the same page regarding the need of waterproofing our backpacks, it is time to delve into the nitty-gritty details of the many approaches that you may take in order to make your hiking pack watertight.
As was noted earlier, you may make your backpack waterproof in a variety of different methods, each of which comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Therefore, in order to assist you in making an informed decision regarding which method of pack waterproofing will work best for you in various circumstances.
We will take you step-by-step through the various methods and describe the benefits and drawbacks associated with each one. This will allow you to make an informed choice. Here we go!
Do nothing and hope for the best
Even while this isn’t really a way for making a pack waterproof in the traditional sense, it’s vital to bring up the fact that not everyone opts to take any additional precautions in order to keep their belongings dry in wet weather.
It may not be worth your time, money, or effort to waterproof your pack if you live in an area that receives very little precipitation (we’re looking at you, people who live in the Desert Southwest).
This may sound like a ridiculous thing to do, but if you live in an area that receives very little precipitation, we’re talking to you.
When you go to locations across the globe where the likelihood of precipitation is minimal, you may be able to get away with “waterproofing” your backpack using this approach.
Having said that, as you can probably guess, we do not suggest using this approach pretty much anyplace, with the exception of areas that are especially dry.
- It does not require any additional effort on your part
- There are no costs
- It’s simple and easy
- It is possible for things to go horribly wrong
- It does not waterproof your pack at all
Spray and Seam Sealer
In the case that there is light rain, the waterproofing spray and seam sealant procedure might be an efficient way to build up the weather protection that is already built into your pack.
However, this strategy is only effective if your bag is constructed from materials that are at least slightly water-resistant. Seam sealing and spraying a cotton drawstring bag or tote won’t do much for you in the long term even if you use them.
Before beginning to apply this procedure, you will first need to go out and get some seam sealer and a waterproofing spray for your own usage. After that, you should make certain that your bag is as spotless as it is humanly possible to be.
You may clean your backpack by first washing it down with water from a hose and then brushing it with bristles that are very stiff. Before washing it off and hanging it out to dry, it is helpful to immerse your backpack in a bathtub or bucket filled with warm, soapy water for a few minutes.
When your backpack is completely dry, you can then apply the waterproofing spray to it in accordance with the instructions provided by the manufacturer. In most cases, you will need to spray the bag one or two times and then hang it out to dry after each application.
After the pack has had enough time to dry, you will be able to go through it and use the seam sealant to tape up any and all of the seams in the fabric.
However, since there are so many seams in a bag, you should plan on spending some time on this step. Before you start using your pack, you need to be sure that the seam sealer has had enough time to completely dry.
This procedure is not the quickest one, but it does not need an excessive amount of manual effort. In point of fact, a significant portion of this procedure consists of waiting for your pack to dry, which means there is a comparatively little amount of work for you to accomplish.
However, at the conclusion of the process, you will have a pack that is somewhat more weather resistant than it was before. This might be useful for protecting yourself from showers that are mild to moderate in intensity.
Having said that, a “waterproofing spray” is essentially the same thing as a “durable water repellent,” abbreviated DWR for short. It does not make your bag completely waterproof as some other claims have made.
Instead, it helps enable water droplets (such as rain) to bead up and drain off your pack rather than soaking through it completely. On the other hand, seam sealant does little more than stop water from leaking through the seams of the fabric that makes up your pack.
Therefore, contrary to what the name may imply, the waterproofing spray and seam sealer procedure does not really waterproof your pack; all it does is make it a little more weather resistant.
In addition, you must constantly re-spray and re-seam seal your pack; this is not a task that can be completed once and left alone.
As a result, we do not advise using it as your only protection from the rain. Rather, it is an excellent way that may be used in combination with a number of the other approaches that we are going to go over in a moment.
- It is not very expensive
- Enhances the natural weather resistance of your packs
- It does not require any additional equipment
- It doesn’t actually waterproof your pack
- Sprays and seam seals need to be applied frequently to packs
- It takes a bit of time
Because of recent technical improvements, rain covers have grown lighter, more affordable, and more compact, making them an increasingly popular choice as a way for waterproofing a backpack. This has contributed to the rise in popularity of rain covers in recent years.
A rain cover is just a small piece of waterproof cloth that is stretched over the outside of a backpack. They are just a piece of nylon or another material that is waterproof and an elastic band that is tied to it in an attempt to keep it fastened to the outside of your bag. There is nothing fancy about them at all.
Because it is a piece of equipment that is both lightweight and small, a rain cover has the benefit of being able to be quickly stashed away in a pack until it begins to rain.
This is something that we have already highlighted. In point of fact, the overwhelming majority of individuals who make use of rain covers will only remove them after it begins to rain.
In point of fact, many backpacks now come equipped with a tiny pouch that has been created expressly for the purpose of keeping a rain cover within easy reach in the event of a storm.
The issue with rain covers is that they are not particularly good at preventing water from getting inside your backpack in the event of a severe downpour.
They do a good job at first, but as the wind gets up and you continue trekking, they generally manage to fall off of your pack when the rain is coming down the hardest.
In the best case situation, just a tiny portion of your stuff will be wet; but, in the worst case scenario, your whole pack will get wet, and your rain cover will have flown away and is now stuck in a tree someplace.
Having said that, many contemporary packs do feature some kind of attachment mechanism that might assist prevent this from occurring, so if you live in an area that often experiences high levels of wind, purchasing one of these packs would be a wise decision.
No matter what anybody says you about their pack cover being “universal,” pack covers are not a “one-size-fits-all” piece of equipment. Sure, you can put a 75-liter pack cover on a 35-liter day pack, but eventually, it will catch the wind and convert you into a gigantic umbrella flying in the wind.
Consequently, you will need to get an unique rain cover of an acceptable size for each and every pack that you own.
- It’s convenient
- Lightweight and small
- When it rains lightly, it works well
- Easily flies away and does so
- Every pack size needs its own pack cover
- River crossings shouldn’t be protected by gear
Pack liners are used to line the inside of your pack, which is pretty much exactly what you would imagine based on the name of these products. Pack liners are one of the most effective methods to safeguard your belongings, since they are constructed from fabrics that are both waterproof and seam-sealed.
Simply told, all you have to do is get a pack liner, insert it into your empty bag, and then load your belongings inside the combination of the pack liner and the empty bag. Voila! There is a waterproof pack waiting for you.
There are a few variations on pack liners that can be purchased, but the only sort that is worth the investment is one that is made by Osprey and looks like this.
Although it is possible to purchase a pack liner in the form of a plastic bag, doing so would amount to paying a lot of money for what is essentially a glorified rubbish bag. There is still another technique of waterproofing a pack, which we will go over in a moment.
On the other hand, the fabric pack liners are constructed from a lightweight, waterproof, seam-sealed material (similar to what you’d find in a dry bag) and employ the same roll-top closure that a dry bag has for the purpose of providing protection from the elements.
They often come in a rectangular design, which makes it simpler to store them inside of a backpack due to their dimensions.
You are able to reuse a fabric pack liner until it splits or develops holes in it, which is one of the nicest aspects of a fabric pack liner. This is in contrast to the trash bag technique, which we will examine in the next paragraph.
You may always use some gear repair tape to patch up a hole in your pack liner in the event that it ever develops, and then go on with your journey.
Pack liners are designed to be watertight, long-lasting, and reusable in addition to being very efficient at keeping your stuff dry.
You will need to make a financial investment in them, and they will add a few ounces to the total weight of your pack; but, this is preferable than suffering from cold because your down sleeping bag became wet.
However, unlike pack covers, pack liners do not prevent the outside of your pack from being wet. As a result, even if all of your stuff remains dry at the end of the day, your backpack will still be damp.
In addition, if you are travelling with any electronics or other really vital items (such as that sleeping bag), you should consider storing them in a second dry bag in the event that you tear a hole in the pack liner of your backpack while you are on your excursion.
- The best way to keep gear dry
- Easily reusable and repairable
- Gear can be packed easily
- It costs money
- They are available in a variety of sizes
- Make the pack a few ounces heavier
If you do not want to make the investment in a suitable fabric pack liner, you always have the option of substituting a trash bag for the pack liner in question.
In order to employ this strategy, you will need to acquire two compactor trash bags of a heavy duty, one of which should be designated for the disposal of yard waste.
Then, just line your pack with one of the trash bags, and place the second garbage bag inside your pack as a backup in case the first one tears.
This fast, simple, and uncomplicated procedure has repeatedly shown that it is quite successful in preventing equipment from becoming wet.
Since garbage bags are constructed from materials that are waterproof, providing protection for your belongings from the elements is not an issue unless you somehow manage to tear a hole in one.
In addition, they are quite reasonably priced, and you most likely already have some of them sitting around the home.
However, utilising a waste bag does come with a few limitations that you should be aware of. To begin, they are prone to tearing, which is the primary reason why you should never leave home without a backup in the event that you will be gone for more than a day.
In addition, waste bags are often constructed from plastic and are intended to be used just once before being discarded. Because of this, those who spend a lot of time outdoors will generate a significant amount of trash simply as a result of their efforts to ensure that their gear is watertight.
- A quick, simple, and easy way to get started
- Your pack won’t be weighed down by it
- Consequences for the environment
- The material is somewhat prone to ripping
It’s possible that you don’t need to waterproof your whole backpack if you just need to keep a few things, like your phone or headlamp, dry inside of it, as when you go camping. You might use plastic bags instead to safeguard some goods from getting wet.
People who merely need to keep a few items of gear dry often opt for a normal plastic bag that can be sealed again once it has been opened. You may double or even triple bag whatever it is that you are trying to keep dry if you want to ensure that no water gets through.
A 2 millimetre poly bag is a more long-lasting alternative to Ziploc bags since resealable bags have a propensity to tear apart after some time and the seal has a propensity to break.
Even though they do not have a mechanism for sealing them, it is simple enough to tie them off using an overhand knot, and once you do so, they are very well waterproof as long as you do not send them into a river.
The fact that these bags are sold in such large amounts is the product’s primary drawback; thus, you should probably look for a group of people who are interested in sharing a carton with you rather than buying one for yourself.
In addition, a plastic bag has the same damaging impact on the environment that a trash bag does, which means that using a plastic bag is not the most environmentally responsible choice.
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you might save money in the long run by purchasing an alternative to wet bags, even if they can be less expensive in the short term.
- An affordable price
- The lightest possible
- A versatile product
- Consequences of environmental degradation
- The material is not very durable
Best Use: Keeping small items dry in a backpack
Dry sacks are similar to Ziploc bags in that they are most effective when used to keep single pieces of gear or small groups of gear dry.
Because they are available in such a broad range of various forms, dimensions, and materials, you will need to carefully assess what it is that you want to keep dry prior to making a purchase of one.
Find a dry bag that is not too heavy, like the ones that Sealine sells, since this is one of the most crucial things to look for. There are dry bags available that are constructed out of a more resilient rubbery material, however the weight of these bags prevents them from being suitable for use when trekking.
Even while the weight of a single dry bag may not seem like much, when you have four or five of them, the total weight starts to mount up.
Additionally, it is preferable not to pack everything you own into separate dry bags and then put it into your pack since doing so will make it harder to load your bag correctly. Instead, it is ideal to pack everything you own directly into your pack.
Instead, we suggest that you use dry bags for pieces of gear that are more susceptible to damage, such as a sleeping bag or a phone, and that you also use a pack liner to preserve all of your gear.
In the end, when you go hiking, a dry bag is best reserved for a select few smaller things rather than the whole of your pack.
- A versatile tool
- A durable product
- Waterproof to an extreme degree
- The price is somewhat high
- You’ll have to carry more weight