Waterproof backpacks can be lifesavers. The last thing you want is your personal belongings inside your backpack to get soaked and damaged. And if you’re like most people, you carry valuable and expensive items in your bag, so it’s important to keep them away from water.
What to look for in a waterproof backpack
There are many factors to consider when shopping for a waterproof backpack. You should never read a description that says “waterproof” and assume the bag is going to be impermeable to water. A good, reliable waterproof backpack should have a few key qualities. Here are some important factors you need to consider:
Many waterproof backpacks are made of water-resistant material, which is different from waterproof material. Water-resistant backpacks are not going to keep your belongings 100% safe from water damage. You should look for backpacks made of waterproof fabrics such as mid to high denier polyester, nylon, and PVC Fabric. These types of bags are dense and provide a durable exterior coating that allows your bag to stay dry no matter how soaked the bag gets.
Just like with other gear, like your raincoat or your hiking boots, if you need true waterproofing, insist on it and don’t settle.
Depending on the type of activity or event you’re attending, you’ll want a waterproof backpack that isn’t too large or too small. Ideally, you’ll want a bag that provides you with maximize functionality while being relatively small in size. The smaller the bag is, the more comfortable it’ll be to carry on your back. Backpacks are generally measured using packing volume in liters. For reference, 15-30L backpacks are best for students and day hikes, 30-50L for 1-2 night trips, 45-55L for 2-3 night trips, and 55L+ for over trips longer than 3 nights.
In terms of functionality, you should look for a backpack that can do it all – it should be able to accommodate all your personal needs. This may include having multiple storage compartments, zipper compartments, interior waterproof compartments, water bottle pockets, dividers, and so on. Keep in mind that the functionality of a backpack is subjective — some people want a complex layout of pockets and zippers, others prefer the more basic ruckpack backpack style.
One of the most important factors to consider is comfortability. No matter how functional or durable a backpack may be, it must be comfortable to wear. If you’re investing money into a waterproof backpack, it means that you plan on traveling by foot. Therefore, the backpack needs to rest well on your shoulders, be as ergonomic as possible, and not having any weird and pointy objects stabbing into your back.
It is not a bad idea to treat your backpack with a waterproofing spray, just to reinforce the water-resistant qualities of the fabric. We recommend doing it yearly during the entire life of the backpack.
What to avoid in a waterproof backpack
Now that you know what to look for in a waterproof backpack, here are some things you should avoid:
Non-adjustable shoulder and waist straps
Having straps is important for any backpack because it allows you to adjust the bag until it feels comfortable to wear. If there are no adjustable shoulder and waist straps, it’s best to keep looking around. You should also keep in mind that many backpacks do not come with waist straps as they’re not completely necessary.
If you find a backpack that’s durable but has poor design and functionality, you’ll want to consider a different bag. An example of a poorly designed backpack is one with a compartment located directly at the back of the bag. This type of bag is inviting people to steal from you! Another example of a poorly designed bag is one that’s difficult or takes too long to open. You should be able to access your bag in a matter of seconds.
Since you’ll be traveling around on foot with your backpack, you’ll want to avoid purchasing one that feels heavy before you even put anything in it. Carrying a heavy bag is bad for your posture, and it could even lead to back injuries over time.
This may vary depending on what you plan on using the backpack for. An example of a waterproof backpack with low-functionality could be one that only has one compartment upon opening the bag. There are no additional compartments, zippers, or pockets to pack and separate your belongings. Again, the best backpacks are ones that are relatively small in size while providing the most functionality to meet your needs.
This is wear reading the label and manufacturer’s claims will be important. Words make a difference. Something that is waterproof should be impervious to water due to the materials and construction of the pack. The next best is a product that is water-repellent, as it has probably been treated and should be quite waterproof until the treatment inevitably wears off. Last in line is something that is water-resistant, meaning the manufacturer made efforts to have the pack resist water, but it is definitely not waterproof.
Finally, we would just mention that you are going to spend some money on a good waterproof backpack. Sure, you can get something that says “water resistant” on it, but will the $80 you save really be worth it when your books are ruined in a rainstorm, or your laptop damaged from a spill on the subway, or your dry change of clothes are soaked when you slip into a stream on your hike?
Best Waterproof Backpack for Hiking
This is our favorite waterproof backpack of any type, anywhere. We love it.
Hiking with a backpack in wet conditions poses a challenge: There is a good chance that the contents of your pack are meant to stay dry. If you plan on hiking, one of the best backpacks available on the market is the Patagonia Black Hole. You can check it out and purchase it directly from REI. It comes in four colors, good selection for a backpack lineup. Here’s why this backpack is the perfect waterproof option for hiking:
- Packing volume and functionality. As mentioned earlier, the bag is 25L which is best for day hikes. However, if you plan on doing an overnight hike, there are larger options available such as the 40L Patagonia Black Hole Duffel Bag which can also be worn as a backpack. The functionality of this bag is superior compared to other waterproof backpacks. There’s a laptop compartment, large main pocket for your big and bulky items, small stash pockets for your essential items and documents, internal mesh pocket with a key keeper and organizer panel, 4 exterior pockets, and even more! Hiking with this bag will allow you to bring everything you need at the best convenience, and the larger 40L one might even be big enough to cram a smaller tent inside.
- Durability. This bag is made of an eco-friendly polyester that’s been blue sign approved. It’s completely waterproof, great for the environment, and will last for many years if you take care of it. After several years of use, most users still consider the pack to be like-new…. not major tears in the fabric, and the seams hold tight even if you have been carrying heavy loads.
- Comfort. In addition to being durable, the Black Hole backpack also has padded shoulder straps and a molded back panel to wick away moisture and allows air to flow across your back. This will allow you to carry the backpack all day while providing maximum comfort.
It’ s not cheap, but it is a backpack you probably won’t throw out after a couple years. This will be one of your go-to’s for years and years.
Best Waterproof Backpack for Travel
Let’s say you are headed to England for a week, and plan to roam around and see various regions. Well, England can be a bit rainy, and you probably will want a pack that has some capacity.
One of the most common reasons why people are looking to buy a waterproof backpack is for traveling. It doesn’t matter where you’re traveling, whether it be in another country, to a friend’s house, or to a cottage, a waterproof backpack is perfect for any destination. The Patagonia we write about above would also make a great travel backpack, but another one of the best backpacks for traveling is the SealLine Black Canyon 65L which can also be purchased from REI. We love it, and can vouch for the fact that it is, in fact, waterproof. Here are some key features:
- Durability. The SealLine Black Canyon is made of 600-denier polyurethane-coated polyester which is completely waterproof and extremely durable. With adequate care, this bag can last you a lifetime.
- Functionality and comfortability. This bag is perfect for any wet adventure as it has a roll-top closure that allows you to completely seal and protect your belongings from water and thieves. You can also secure your accessories to the backpack using the lash points found on the sides. The integrated suspension system can support a moderate load of weight while the side compression straps are very effective in helping to stabilize things when you need to be on the move. To supplement the functionality, the bag’s also extremely comfortable to wear as it comes with padded shoulder straps, a hipbelt, and lumbar area. It’s completely adjustable, so it’s great for travel.
Best Waterproof Backpack for College Students
For college students who have to walk outside to their classes, the bus stop, or to home, the Yeti Panga Pack (find it here) is the best selection. You likely have a combination of electronics and papers in your pack that really need to stay dry. Here is what we like about the Yeti.
- Size and weight. Most college students have to walk long distances to get to their destinations. That’s why this 28L, 4lb bag works perfectly. 28L is more than enough packing capacity for the average college student who carries a laptop, textbook, pencil case, and a few other school necessities.
- Design. While it is not a computer bag per se, a good design and an internal sleeve make it versatile enough to carry a tablet or laptop inside, when needed.
- Durability and comfortability. The Yeti Panga is made of high-density nylon/thermoplastic urethane lamination, designed to resist punctures, abrasion, and stay dry while even when it’s being soaked with water. The bag has DryHaul shoulder straps which are ergonomic, and this is critical for students that walk daily. There’s also a removable chest strap and hipbelt to provide maximum comfort and stability throughout the day.
Best Waterproof Backpack for Laptops
The best backpacks for laptops share a lot of similarities for the best backpack for students, which we just wrote about above. Carrying a laptop requires a special set of features, such as a compartment that has some level of padding, a place for cords and peripheries, and at least some level of water-resistant material in case you find yourself in a rainstorm or spilling a drink on the backpack.
Some of the laptop bag makers also make backpacks, and we tend to go with their products, instead of the traditional outdoors companies, just because their products are so built-for-purpose. They start with the laptop, and build the backpack around it….. rather than trying to build any kind of all-purpose backpack that happens to have a laptop compartment. That means that popular brands like Targus, Samsonite, and eBags (among others) make the short list.
For a great waterproof laptop backpack, we go with the Chrome brand. The Chrome Bravo 3.0 (find it here), an amazingly waterproofed backpack that has an excellent look, suitable for a business meeting. The only downside is that is carries up to a 15 inch laptop, not big enough for people who rely on larger-sized laptops. But for those of us who carry around standard-issue or more compact laptops, this is a clear winner.
- Waterproof outer, plus a waterproof sleeve, giving you double protection for your valuable laptop
- Professional Look. Attractive, dark look that will not be out of place in a formal setting
- Work storage. Plenty of pockets for papers
- Comfort. Very comfortable shoulder straps
Now, if you are needing to carry a 17-inch laptop, we have a favorite but it is NOT waterproof…. just water resistant. The Ebags Professional Slim (here on Amazon). You won’t spend as much on it because it is not waterproof, and it might not last as long as the Chrome, but it provides a good option for larger laptops. If you don’t need the larger capacity, however, the Chrome is the better bag.
More Backpacking Content
While these are our favorite 4 waterproof and water-repelling backpacks, there are hundreds of good packs on the market. If you are looking for a built-for-purpose backpack, such as a fishing backpack, we have you covered too.