how to waterproof a backpack

How To Waterproof A Backpack for Hiking (The Complete Guide)

If you love to hike, camp, or spend time outdoors, you know how important it is to have a good backpack. A backpack is one of the most essential gears for any outdoor activity. But if you don’t have a waterproof backpack, your gear can easily get ruined by rain or water.

The good news is that there are many ways to protect your gear while hiking in the rain: waterproofing your backpack. They include using pack liners, pack covers, and dry bags. 

This ultimate guide will explain how to waterproof a backpack so you can spend less time worrying about your gear soaking in the rain. 

The Importance of waterproofing a backpack

Getting wet on the trail is annoying, especially if you get all your gear soaked in the process.

While hiking, keeping yourself dry is vital to avoid cold-related ailments, but protecting your gear from rain is also critical. This is because wet gear can quickly fail while you’re out and about.

Electronics, such as a GPS or a headlamp, that you rely on to help you navigate the woods can stop working if they get wet. Plus, as anyone who has ever slept in a wet tent will tell you, sleeping in a warm, dry bag is far more comfortable.

It’s also worth noting that some insulated clothing, such as down jackets, will not keep you warm if wet. The little tufts stuffed into your puffy jackets clump up and can’t trap air next to your body to keep you warm. As a result, you have a perfect recipe for hypothermia, which you do not want while hiking.

When you go outdoors, keeping your backpack and gear dry should be your top priority. As a result, you must understand the various techniques for waterproofing your backpack.

Related: What is Backpacking?

How do you waterproof a backpack?

For any outdoor enthusiast, knowing how to waterproof a backpack is essential. You can use several methods to keep your backpacking gear dry while outdoors. Let’s explore both interior and exterior waterproofing solutions.

Interior waterproofing solutions involve using dry bags, which you place inside your backpack to protect your gear from rain. These methods cannot be blown away or ripped off your backpack as you hike. 

However, they allow the outside of your pack to get wet, which can be annoying.

On the other hand, pack covers that wrap around the outside of your bag are examples of exterior waterproofing backpack solutions. 

These can protect your entire backpack from the elements, but they are more prone to ripping or being blown away in a storm.

Let’s take a closer look at the four most popular interior and exterior methods to waterproof a backpack.

1. Use a pack liner

Pack liners are made of waterproof fabric that resembles oversized stuff sacks. They’re meant to line the inside of your pack completely. This keeps water from getting into your gear, preventing it from getting soaked while you hike.

waterproof hiking backpack
Backpack liner

Their advantages are;

  • Waterproof fabric that is long-lasting
  • Designed to withstand high winds
  • Tried and tested
  • You can reuse sack liners

Using a pack liner to protect your equipment is a proven method. Pack liners will not be blown away or ripped in high winds, making them ideal for use in stormy conditions. 

It’s easier to stuff loose gear into a pack liner than to stuff many smaller stuff sacks into a backpack.

However, they are usually quite expensive. If you want to save money, use a garbage bag instead of a specially designed pack liner. 

The disadvantage of using a new garbage bag for each hiking trip generates a lot of plastic waste as they easily tear

I recommend using a purpose-built pack liner to waterproof your backpack. You’ll love it!

Also Read: How to Organize a Backpack for Travel

2. Waterproof Stuff Sacks or Dry Bags

Waterproof stuff sacks (also known as dry bags) are prevalent in kayaking and other water sports. Still, you can also use them for hiking. 

waterproof rucksack
Dry bag

They’re small stuff sacks made of waterproof fabrics to protect the gear inside your backpack from rain. Their advantages are;

  • Small stuff sacks for specific pieces of equipment
  • For the best waterproofing system, combine it with a pack liner.
  • Superior to Ziploc bags

You should note that some dry kayaking bags can withstand submersion in water. However, most hiking models aren’t built to withstand anything more than heavy rain.

First, pack all your gear into dry backpacks. Then, before you hit the trail, pack all your dry packs into your backpack. If you want an extra layer of protection, put your dry bags in a backpack with a waterproof pack liner.

The waterproof stuff sack method works well if you only need to keep essential items dry. However, purchasing all those stuff sacks can be costly, and packing them into your backpack can be difficult. 

You could also use Ziploc bags instead of dry bags, which generate a lot of plastic waste, and Ziplocs aren’t 100% waterproof in the first place.

I recommend combining this technique with the pack liner method to waterproof your backpack rather than using stuff sacks alone.

3. Pack Cover

Using a pack cover is one of the most popular methods for waterproofing a backpack.

are backpacks waterproof
Backpack rain cover

These pack covers are made of waterproof fabrics and are designed to fit over the entire length of your backpack. When it rains, they’re quick and easy to install on your pack, allowing you to waterproof your gear immediately. 

Indeed, some backpacks now include pack covers tucked inside a special pocket for quick deployment in the rain. Their advantages are;

  • Made from a long-lasting material
  • Pack covers are simple to install.
  • It protects the entire backpack, not just the gear.

The most significant advantage of using a pack cover is convenience. Pack covers keep your entire backpack dry, not just your gear.

It is built only for rain and nothing else (heavy stormy weather), river crossing, and off-trail hiking.

On the other hand, pack covers aren’t ideal in windy or stormy conditions. They can be blown away in high winds.

Pack covers also rip easily when hiking below treeline or off trail because they get caught on branches and other debris. A single hole in a pack cover can mean the end of your entire waterproofing system.

Related: How to Put a Patch on a Backpack

Also, remember that pack covers will not adequately protect your gear when heavy rains occur. Still, their ability to keep your backpack dry throughout your adventures is limited.

Consider pairing it with dry bags if you want to use a pack cover. Always keep your essential items (i.e., anything that cannot get wet) in dry bags if your pack cover fails.

4. Waterproof Backpack

Using a waterproof backpack is the final option. This isn’t a waterproofing method, but it is a great way to keep your hiking gear dry.

waterproof backpacking pack
waterproof backpack

Waterproof backpacks are not ordinary for hiking because they are expensive and difficult to transport over long distances. 

However, some models, such as the SealLine Bigfork Dry Daypack, initially designed for paddlers, can perform well for short-day backpacking trips.

Waterproof backpacks have dependable waterproofing systems and features.

They are made of heavy-duty polyurethane-coated polyester and welded seams to keep water out at all costs. 

They also have roll-top closure systems to keep water out of your backpack when it rains.

Waterproof backpacks are unsuitable for long hikes and backpacking trips that require you to carry a lot of heavy gear. They are, however, a viable option for short day trips when heavy rain is forecast.

4 Quick Tips for Keeping Hiking Gear Dry and Clean

Using a pack cover, pack liner, or dry bag is just one step in keeping your hiking gear clean and dry. 

Here are a few more quick and easy tips for protecting your backpack and equipment while hiking in the mountains.

1. Double Bag Important Items

As previously stated, dry bags can be a valuable asset for waterproofing your backpack. You can protect your essentials and other vital gear while hiking with suitable dry bags, regardless of the weather.

However, you should double bag your most essential pieces of gear if you want to waterproof your backpack. Using two dry bags for your GPS, phone, camera, and sleeping bag can convince you that the gear is protected from the elements while hiking.

When in doubt, double bag any equipment that cannot be wet while outside. When caught outside in a rainstorm, that extra layer of protection for your backpack can be invaluable.

camping backpack waterproof
hiking gear

Have a Rule; No Shoes & Backpacks in the tent

Think about waterproofing a backpack when considering how to keep your gear clean and dry.

Hiking shoes and backpacks track mud and water into the tents. Instead, tuck them into your tent’s vestibule at night to keep them dry.

Related: How To Carry Your Tent While Backpacking

2. Always Use a Pack Liner

A piece of advice on waterproofing a backpack for all hikers is: Make use of a pack liner!

Pack liners are mostly underrated; while pack covers may appear flashy and cool, they are not as effective as pack liners.

Any hiker who wants to waterproof a backpack uses pack liners and smaller dry bags to protect essential items. 

3. Use Waterproof Spray on Your Pack(Seam Seal)

There’s a widespread misconception that seam seal and waterproofing spray can transform a regular hiking backpack into an utterly waterproof vessel for all your gear. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

When used correctly, seam seal and waterproofing spray can significantly improve your pack’s natural water resistance.

Consider sealing your pack and using a waterproof spray for an added layer of protection for your gear.

4. Take Advantage of Sunny Afternoons

No matter how hard you try, some of your gear will get wet if you go backpacking or hiking. Therefore, take advantage of any sunny afternoons on the trail to dry off your gear.

A sunny afternoon after a day of heavy rain helps set up a makeshift clothesline for drying your gear. 

It is critical to keep your hiking gear dry at all times. Use a pack liner, cover, or dry bag to waterproof your backpack and keep your gear dry on the trail.

How To Waterproof A Backpack: Final Thoughts

With suitable methods for waterproof backpacking, you have no excuse. Now that you know how to waterproof a backpack, we hope you’re ready to explore.

Also Read: How to Wash a JanSport Backpack

How can I make my backpack waterproof?

The simplest way to waterproof a backpack is to line the inside with a strong garbage bag or pack liner.  You can also use a rain cover to protect the outside of your backpack. Pack all your gear into small waterproof dry bags for extra rain protection.

Can you waterproof spray a backpack?

Yes, you can waterproof a backpack with spray, but it will only slightly improve the water resistance of your backpack. Waterproof your bag by lining the inside with a garbage bag or a purpose-built pack liner for better results. This will protect your equipment even in heavy rain.

How do you seal a backpack?

Apply seam sealer to the inside of all seams of the backpack to seal it. This can provide an extra layer of protection for your equipment. Keep in mind that this process will not waterproof your backpack. Use a pack liner or cover to keep the rain at bay while hiking.

How do I know if my backpack is waterproof?

To determine if your backpack is waterproof, check the manufacturer’s specifications. Alternatively, fill a bowl with water and place the backpack in the water. If it beads up on the backpack’s surface, then it is waterproof. If the water seeps through the fabric, the backpack is not waterproof.

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