13 comments on “Why a Waterproof Backpack?

  1. I was communicating with a novice AT thru hiker before he started, who was not able to understand why a waterproof stuff sack for his tent would not be a good idea. He does now.

  2. I have never understood the desire for waterproof backpacks either. You actually omitted another important point. Durable waterproof materials are often heavier. Waterproof stuff sacks or garbage bags for essentials is the best method imo.

  3. My understanding is that a lot of the push for waterproof packs comes from packrafters. When you have to strap your pack to a raft, it helps to protect it from spray and saves weight, so water is minimally absorbed into the pack materials or inside the pack itself. The main manufacturer behind this trend has been HMG, specifically designing a pack for packrafting–the Porter. ULA has begun using the same cuben-polyester hybrid material as HMG, appealing again to packrafters or others in similarly wet locales. And this fabric is lighter by nearly a full oz/yd2 than 210 Dyneema X.

    Also, don’t forget that in wet environments, there are several benefits to a waterproof pack, but whether or not those benefits work for someone depends entirely upon their hiking style and preferences. Personally, I find that a waterproof pack is more useful for me living in NW Montana (where our yearly rainfall is near to the PNW). Especially in spring and fall, when we have very mixed conditions (snow, rain, snain, sleet, and on and on) for a couple of months at a time, I much prefer my pack to absorb little and to keep my stuff dry.

    I’ll agree that waterproof packs are over-hyped right now, but there are good reasons to have one.

    • Funny that you should bring up HMG as the main pusher of waterproof packs– the conversation I mentioned at the beginning of this post started specifically because of HMG’s packs. Your point about packrafters needing good waterproofing is a very good one, too.

      As for the fabric absorbing less water, that’s an interesting conundrum. I’ve found that lightweight pack fabrics, whether waterproof or not, hold very little water compared to, say cotton or old pack cloth. But I don’t think waterproof fabric is necessarily better than water permeable fabric when it comes to holding water. I’d rather have water able to soak through my pack so that it can exit the pack, because it’s impossible to keep 100% of the water from entering. Especially in very rainy environments (last year was a fluke, but I’m used to hiking through days on end of heavy rain in New England, not to mention the last four weeks of the PCT in 2010).

      I’ll definitely be curious to see how ULA’s fabric change works out. Thanks for the heads up on that one.

  4. Hmm, well, I have a very different point of view. Starting from the other end than you, why *should* I accept that water is going to leak everywhere? My pack is waterproof, and it makes life sooo much easier, not having to manage loads of plastic bags and worry about what is sealed and what is not. If it’s in, its dry and stays dry. Your list of things-to-keep-dry seems to be most everything I carry; and your sleeping bag may survive wetting but my pertex/down bag doesn’t and surely most don’t? Basically you are saying how to make the best of a bad job! That can be done, but by golly I find life much easier not having to.
    I use, most of the time, a Gossamer Gear Miniposa that I seam sealed. So far, touch wood, it has proved 100% watertight, slightly to my surprise. It is nearly five years old so obviously avoiding holes can be done. It is behind you, after all. The tent straps to the top in its own bag. I also have a Gorilla, but have not so far succeeded in making it waterproof, I think it must be the different fabric… irritating!

    • I approach things from the age-old battle between humanity and the elements– which, in the long term, always goes to the elements. I protect what’s important, and let nature have the rest.

      My sleeping bag is 900-fill down with a 30D nylon shell, so it won’t survive wetting out any better than yours. On the other hand, the list of things in my pack that will survive getting wet (tent, ground cloth, stakes, cookset, fuel bottle, bear-bag cord, waterproof maps, rain jacket, sleeping pad, bug netting, GPS, water bottles) is substantial enough that I don’t need “loads” of plastic bags. One compactor bag and one dry bag is all. Unless you want to count the ziplocks that my food is stored in, but I’m guessing you don’t keep your food in the original packaging all the time, either.

      I also have no holes in any of my packs after a total of around 7000 miles of backpacking, so that’s not a given, either. But I like being able to get things out of and put them into my pack in any kind of weather. Because of the dry bag and the compactor bag, I can reach inside my pack in a downpour and get a snack without worrying about water infiltrating in the process. More importantly, my rain jacket, tent, and food bag are going to get wet at some point (unless you only camp in lean-tos). Yes, you can put those in their own bags like you do with your tent, but isn’t that the same as putting your sleeping bag in its own waterproof bag? Instead of keeping water out, you’re keeping it contained.

  5. I’ve always done exactly what you said… kept what needed to be waterproofed in plastic bags inside my pack. Or if the rain was heavy, I would throw a garbage bag over my pack. I’ve never had any real issues. I figured if you’re going to be hiking in the rain you might as well just accept that you and some of your gear are going to be a little wet. However that being said, I have thought for awhile that maybe I should look into a completely waterproof backpack. Now I think I’ll be content with what I have. Cheers.

    • I’ve never been too fond of pack covers either, but they do seem to help. The real trick for me is always just getting used to hiking in the rain– long distance backpacking gets you in the frame of mind that you have to keep going regardless of the weather, whereas when I’m in day-hiking or weekend backpacking mode, it’s easier for me to say “maybe I won’t go out in the rain today.” I like to go for a rainy hike in the beginning of each season so I can remind myself what it’s like 😉

    • I’ve never been too fond of pack covers either, but they do seem to help. The real trick for me is always just getting used to hiking in the rain– long distance backpacking gets you in the frame of mind to just keep hiking regardless of weather, rather than waiting for a less nasty day. I like to go for a nasty, rainy hike at the beginning of each season just to remind myself what the wet weather hiking is like 😉

  6. This is why I use a poncho. It covers my pack, and leaves plenty of ventilation. (Plus, it’s a shelter floor and emergency tarp. Multiuse!)

    • I have definitely been interested in trying poncho tarps for a while. My current rain protection experiment is an umbrella… Maybe next will be the poncho.

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