Do I Need a Backpack Rain Cover?

Do I Need a Backpack Rain Cover: Backpacker in a rainy forest walking the trail with a backpack rain cover on

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Rain showers can easily turn a delightful hike into a soggy ordeal. Nevertheless, the idea of carrying extra weight is rarely pleasant.

Hence, you may find yourself pondering: “Do I need a backpack rain cover?

In this post, we’ll break down the ins and outs of backpack rain covers to help you decide if they’re a must-have addition to your outdoor gear.

Key Takeaways

  • Backpack rain covers provide external protection for your pack against rain, branches, and thorns. However, they don’t cover shoulder straps or hip belts.
  • Pack liners are a lightweight, versatile alternative that fully waterproof pack contents by creating a barrier inside your bag.
  • You can skip rain covers and just use a pack liner. Or, use both for maximum protection. Consider your hiking style and priorities.

The Role of Backpack Rain Covers

Backpack Rain Covers: Close-up of a backpacker in a rainy forest with a nylon backpack rain cover on their backpack

Backpack rain covers are like trusty travel buddies for your gear, designed to shield your backpack from the elements. They are typically made from lightweight, waterproof materials like polyurethane, nylon or vinyl rated at 3000mm or higher for water resistance.

Here’s what they do:

  • Protection Against Rain: Shield your backpack from rain, typically using waterproof or weatherproof materials to keep your gear dry. A good rain cover is also moisture-proof.
  • Defense Against Tears: In dense forests or overgrown trails, rain covers protect your backpack from branches and thorns, reducing the risk of snags and tears on your adventures.
  • Safeguarding Outside Gear: Backpackers often store essentials like tents, food, stoves, and clothing in their backpack’s outer pockets. Rain covers provide extra protection, keeping these items dry and safe during unexpected rain.

How to Choose a Backpack Rain Cover

Selecting the appropriate rain cover for your backpack is crucial to ensure optimal protection. You have two options to consider:

  1. Backpack-Specific Rain Covers: Many manufacturers offer rain covers designed specifically for their backpack models. These custom covers are tailored to fit perfectly, providing maximum protection.
  2. Universal Rain Covers: Universal rain covers are designed to fit a range of backpack sizes. While they may not provide as precise a fit as backpack-specific covers, they are a versatile option if you own multiple backpacks or frequently switch between them.

In both cases, the most important things to get right are the following:

  • Material: The material should be lightweight yet waterproof, with nylon and polyurethane being good options. Look for a waterproof rating of at least 3000mm. Seams should be fully taped for waterproofness. Consider vents and accessible pockets/flaps to prevent moisture buildup inside.
  • Fit: Most rain covers come with an elasticized edge or drawstring closure to secure them snugly around your backpack. Make sure to adjust these features properly to prevent the cover from slipping off during hikes. Consider how water will drain off the covered pack. Covers with water-shedding properties may fare better than ones that collect and hold raindrops.

Do I Need a Backpack Rain Cover?


A backpacker, lacking a backpack rain cover, observes a misty lake with their uncovered backpack in tow

Consider a backpack rain cover as something you can choose to have, similar to deciding on dedicated sleeping clothes. It’s not a strict necessity but can be a helpful addition to your setup, making things more comfortable for you.

While we’ve highlighted the positives, remember it’s entirely up to you whether to use one, and we’ll also explore some negatives to keep in mind.

Where do Backpack Rain Covers Fall Short?

Backpack rain covers, despite their protective features, aren’t foolproof when it comes to keeping your gear dry. Here’s why:

  • Limited Coverage: Most rain covers only shield the front of your backpack, leaving the shoulder straps and hip belt exposed. Consequently, even if you use a rain cover, you might still experience leakage during heavy downpours.
  • Need for Additional Protection: To ensure complete waterproofing, hikers and backpackers often resort to extra precautions. This includes packing their gear in waterproof stuff sacks or lining the inside of their backpack with a heavy-duty trash compactor bag.

You might be wondering, “What should I do? I want to keep my stuff dry, but rain covers offer only limited protection. What’s the better choice?”

Pack Liners – An Alternative

Backpack Rain Covers: An alternative option is to use a Nylofume backpack liner

Backpack rain covers are beneficial as they provide external coverage for your bag. However, the most cautious hikers use a pack liner, while the most ultralight adventurers skip the rain cover and rely solely on a pack liner.

These handy plastic bags weigh less than 1 ounce (28 grams) and cost less than a cup of coffee. They are approximately 70% lighter than any regular rain cover.

Here’s how pack liners can enhance your backpacking experience:

  • Waterproof Layer: Pack liners are essentially large, waterproof bags (e.g., trash bags) that you place inside your backpack before loading your gear. They act as a secondary waterproof layer, creating an additional barrier between your belongings and external moisture.
  • Comprehensive Coverage: Unlike backpack rain covers that primarily protect the exterior of your pack, pack liners safeguard the entire contents of your backpack. They wrap around your gear, leaving no room for water to seep in, even through needle holes in the pack’s fabric or seams.
  • Versatile Protection: Pack liners can be used in any type of backpack, regardless of its size or design.
  • Cost-Effective Solution: Nylofume pack liners are often more affordable than backpack rain covers. Plus, they offer comprehensive protection for all your gear, making them a cost-effective choice for budget-conscious backpackers. You can find yours here.

Reminder: Skipping the rain cover means your outer pockets and pack fabric might get wet, adding weight. Combat this with a large raincoat that covers both you and your backpack.

Final Thoughts

Rain covers are good for keeping your backpack safe from precipitation and damage, but they don’t protect the shoulder straps and hip belt. Many hikers and backpackers use waterproof stuff sacks or pack liners to fully waterproof their gear.

Pack liners are versatile, cost-effective, and liked by those who want to keep their backpack light while still being protected. Some people skip rain covers altogether and go for pack liners.

In the end, your decision should match your backpacking style and priorities. If you anticipate encountering only rain, you might even think about using a waterproof backpack entirely. Make a thoughtful choice, and you’ll be well-prepared for any weather you might encounter on your adventure.

Looking for something even more waterproof? Be sure to check out our detailed post on waterproof backpacks.


What is the best material for a backpack rain cover?

The best material for a rain cover is typically waterproof nylon or polyester. These materials are known for their excellent water-repelling properties, keeping your backpack and gear dry during rainy adventures. Dyneema is another premium material known for its exceptional waterproofing abilities, making it a top choice for ultralight backpackers.

Is it necessary to have a rain cover?

Whether you need a rain cover for your backpack depends on various factors. Consider the weather, your backpack type, and your hiking style. Some backpacks come with built-in waterproofing, and ultralight backpackers might opt for pack liners. Keep in mind that rain covers may not be entirely waterproof, so additional precautions may be necessary.

Are backpack rain covers waterproof?

Most high-quality backpack rain covers provide excellent water resistance, but achieving true 100% waterproof protection is challenging. They are often described as rainproof, weatherproof, or water-resistant on the product page.

Can a backpack rain cover also protect against dust and dirt?

Backpack rain covers, designed for rain protection, also guard your equipment against dust and dirt in dry conditions. Materials like PU-coated nylon and taped seams provide water and dust resistance. The tight design blocks falling water and debris, with adjustable closures ensuring a snug fit. In very windy, dusty conditions, microscopic gaps may allow some dust entry. Taping ventilation ports is crucial for total dust-blocking. Despite their main function for rain, quality backpack rain covers can effectively serve as a barrier against light-to-moderate dust and dirt in dry terrain.

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Why you should trust us

At Hikinglite, we're all about helping you hit the trails with lightweight and ultralight outdoor gear that won't weigh you down. Our crew of content creators? Real outdoor enthusiasts who've logged countless miles on the trails.

Leading the pack is our editor-in-chief, Alex Jardine – an ultralight evangelist who's hiked over 10,000 trail miles across the globe. He's basically a walking outdoor encyclopedia. This dude loves testing out the latest and greatest products, so you can trust his recommendations are always well-informed and reliable.

We treat all our suggestions like advice from close trail buddies. No fluff, just real insights from folks who live and breathe the outdoor life.

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