8 Steps to Choose a Waterproof Backpack for Hiking and Cycling

Best waterproof backpack

If you a person that tends to go on long hikes or extended cycling trips, you may be considering a waterproof backpack. After all, you probably have a lot of experience with wet weather and want to protect your belongings. When you are hiking or cycling in remote areas, shelter isn’t always available which means that you have to look for alternative forms of protection. Here are the steps that you should follow to determine the right waterproof backpack for you.

1. Do You Need a Waterproof Backpack?

The first thing you should ask yourself is whether or not you actually require a waterproof backpack. It makes little sense to spend time and effort on a bag only to realize that you have limited use for it. If you consistently have to hike or cycle in poor weather, then yes a waterproof backpack would come in handy. It is particularly important if you feel the need to carry around digital devices with you such as your cellphone and GPS systems.

Few people only go on hikes and cycle trips and do nothing else. If you are the adventurous type, it is quite probable that your trip includes other activities as well. For instance, do you like to go caving or canyoneering? If so, you are going to need a waterproof backpack if you want to take your belongings with you. These types of backpacks are also useful for hikers that have to frequently cross small rivers or streams. Since there is a good chance that you and your bag will get wet, you should be prepared accordingly.

On the other hand, if you get out only once in a while or you live in a region that is largely dry, then such a bag is not worth the cost. You will be better off simply getting a rain cover for an existing backpack. It is important to carefully consider what your trips might entail and to then decide whether or not a waterproof backpack is a reasonable option.

2. Understand the Difference between Waterproof and Water Resistance

There is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to terms such as ‘waterproof’ and ‘water resistance’. This is understandable as many manufacturers like to use these labels interchangeably. However, there is a considerable amount of difference between these two terms.

The problem with describing a backpack as water resistant is that it can mean a lot of different things. For instance, this label can be used to describe a bag that can withstand a spray of water or it can mean that you can stand in a storm and the material will not get wet. A good example of such a backpack would be the Under Armour Storm Hustle II bag.

A waterproof backpack is one that can, in short, be submerged. A bag that is completely waterproof will not let any water seep into the interior. Therefore, you should be able to sink the backpack in the water for short periods of time and not have it take on water. The Ortlieb Velocity is a backpack that is actually waterproof.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there are varying levels of waterproof. For instance, some manufacturers create backpacks that are waterproof as long as you expose them to daily hazards such as continuous, heavy rain. Then there are the waterproof backpacks that are can be taken into bodies or water or with which you can climb across waterfalls.

As mentioned, few companies are upfront about what they are actually selling you. A good way to determine if a bag is water resistant or waterproof is to look at the IP rating given to it. These ratings correspond to whether or not the bag can be submerged.

Ortlieb Velocity Backpack: White/Black
  • Article: How to choose an Ortlieb Pannier
  • Velocity Specs
  • Compare Ortlieb Backpacks Specs
  • Compare Ortlieb Materials
  • Ortlieb IP-Symbol

3. Examine Materials and Construction

Since you are can’t always take what manufacturers are saying at face value, you are going to need to examine the individual properties of these backpacks. The most important aspect of anything waterproof is the material that it is made from.

Due to the advances made in technology, there are now more materials that can be made waterproof. For instance, nylon and polyester can be coated with expanded Teflon or polyurethane. The bonds in these coatings are incredibly strong and repel water.

A fabric or material is tested as being waterproof by seeing how long it can hold water without letting it seep through. This number is measured in millimeters. Therefore, the greater the number of millimeters associated with the fabric, the more waterproof that it is. The material that you choose should, at the very least, be able to withstand cylindrical water pressure of 7000 millimeters.

The material that a backpack is constructed of is not the only indication that it is waterproof. One of the reasons that most backpacks are considered water resistant instead of waterproof is because the seams, zippers, and other features let the water in.

There are two options to overcome this. The first is to get seams that have been sealed. This is typically done by taping or laminating the seals. The zippers will need to be waterproofed or have weather guard features to prevent the water from coming in. The Sea To Summit Rapid 26L pack is one of the best designs.

These are not always foolproof. This is why many off-road cyclists and hikers tend to prefer the second version. These don’t have typical seams or openings. As a result, there is no place for the water to come through, keeping the bag sealed. The Voli Dry bag and the Backsak waterproof bag are two such models.

Såk Gear BackSåk Waterproof Backpack | 35L Pink
  • RUGGED ALL-WEATHER PROTECTION: BackSak is made from heavy duty 500-denier PVC to seal out the elements with watertight, welded seams and a roll-down top. Keeps your gear protected & dry in a variety of outdoor sports and activities.
  • COMFORT & CONVENIENCE: Sternum clip & padded back support help relieve pressure on muscles. Thick, cushioned straps adjust for custom comfort. Handy D-rings at sides hold water bottles & other gear.
  • 2 EASY WAYS TO CLOSE: Simply fold the roll-down the top at least 3 times, then click the top clip to create an instant handle. OR use the side clips & adjust for a snug, compressed fit - it's main compartment is IPX-6 waterproof either way!
  • ZIPPERED, PROTECTIVE POCKETS: Spacious interior pocket keeps electronics & other valuables separate from wet towels & swimsuits. Splash-proof outer pocket safely holds keys, IDs, more.
  • 25 LITERS & 35 LITER SIZES: Both our 25L and 35L sizes feature our sleek, simple design - no tacky slogans or garish logos. Available in a variety of colors and backed by Skog Å Kust's 100% satisfaction guarantee.

4. Check the Durability

There is little use in getting a waterproof backpack if it is going to get ripped easily. This will simply make all of the hydrophobic features completely redundant. This is why it is important to choose a tough material. Here, you are going to want to look at denier. This gives you an idea of the individual thickness of each strand. The higher the denier, the tougher the material will be.

If there is a chance that you will be hiking through the woods or snagging the bag on rocks and trees, you should consider rip stop material. This is the material that parachutes are made from. They have been designed to be impervious to most rips and tears. Of course, if you are looking for toughened materials such as these, you will need to make sure that they are coated with waterproof coatings. If you are looking for a backpack that can withstand a bit of use and abuse, try the Patagonia Black Hole 25.

If you want to go that extra mile and truly get a backpack that is virtually indestructible, you may want to look at one more feature. There are some bags that have ‘weatherproof’ features. What this actually entails, however, can be quite different depending on the manufacturer. Some brands are referring to a bag that will repel dust, dirt, and grime as well as water. Then there are others that have a coating that is UV resistant, to allow it to stay intact for longer.

5. Look at the Interior

The interior of the backpack can play a big role in deciding whether or not it is waterproof. This is a characteristic that is especially important if your waterproof bag has seams or zippers. Often, it is inside lining that will keep the water away from your belongings. The most common material that is used for this purpose is tarpaulin. When sewed into the inside of a bag, this material acts as a seal against moisture.

If you – and your bag – will be in contact with water for considerable amounts of time, then such a liner could be quite useful. For hikers who are looking for such a backpack, the Chaos Ready backpack will fit the bill perfectly. Not to mention, this bag actually floats when dropped in the water.

6. Study the Storage Space

Just like with any backpack, space and storage compartments are an important feature. This becomes especially vital when you are on longer trips. For the most part, you should be able to find waterproof backpacks of all sizes. If you are hiking and want to keep the size and weight as low as possible, the Boreas Monterey is a compact option. For cyclists, the Phantom Aquatics Walrus 25 may be better equipped to suit their needs.

To maintain the sanctity of the waterproof seals, most genuine waterproof backpacks have little to no exterior pockets. This is what helps to keep the water and moisture completely at bay. Therefore, if you do want exterior compartments, you may have to sacrifice the extent of the watertight features a little.

To make up for the lack of exterior compartments, many waterproof backpacks have pockets on the inside. This makes it easier to organize your belongings. Therefore, if you still want to separate your items, look for these pockets instead.

Phantom Aquatics Walrus 25 Premium Waterproof Backpack Dry Bag (Black)
  • Roll-top 100% waterproof backpack, Floats safely if dropped in water
  • Protects contents from dust, sand, dirt and water, Unique High Frequency welded construction
  • Two-way sealing system, Padded shoulder straps and lumbar support
  • Comfortable back panel with air-flow design, Elasticated front webbing
  • Super reflective patches on the front of the bag and both shoulder straps, Large internal zip pocket

7. Check All of the Other Features

A backpack that is wholly waterproof may be your main concern. Nonetheless, you cannot overlook other important aspects. This includes the fit of the bag. For instance, where does the bag settle on your back when it is slung on your shoulders? For a comfortable fit, you should look for ones that end around your waist or a little lower.

The other thing you should look at are the straps of the bags. Are they sturdy and are they capable of equally distributing the weight of the backpack? If you are planning on carrying a heavy load, you should opt for adjustable straps around your chest and waist as well. The heavier the bag, the more important it is to have padding where you will be bearing most of the weight.

If you are hiking or cycling in humid temperatures, ventilation is quite important as well. Make sure that the material is breathable enough so that you will not sweat while carrying the bag.

8. Consider the Cost

Typically, backpacks that are truly waterproof are going to cost more than traditional backpacks. Not only has there been a lot more attention paid to the design, the materials used tend to cost a lot as well. Presuming that you are on some kind of a budget, it doesn’t always make sense to go for the most expensive bag.

Usually, the more waterproof a backpack is, the more expensive it is going to be. Now, if you are someone who is exposed to rainy weather conditions or spends a lot of time on wet terrain, this makes sense. If you only need a backpack to protect you from the rain, there are plenty of cheaper options. To decide how much you should spend on a backpack, first look at what you need it for.

The tougher, more sealed bags can cost anywhere from $250 to $500. However, if you are willing to compromise on durability and how watertight it is. You may even be able to find one under $100.

These are the steps you will need to go through in order to find a waterproof backpack that is right for you. Remember, your backpack will continue to be waterproof only if you take care of it properly. With materials that have waterproof coatings, it is quite likely that these will wear off over time. This is why it is important to maintain your backpack well. It is a good idea to check if you can restore the waterproof coating once it has worn off. There are sprays and solutions that allow you to apply a hydrophobic layer on various fabrics.

Of course, these may not be as strong as the initial coating. Always check your backpack for wear and tear after each trip. By catching any rips or deterioration, you may be able to fix the problem before it worsens. At the very least, you will be able to prevent your belongings from getting wet the next you venture out into the rain.

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