Backpack Rain Covers: Do You Need One?

Backpack Rain Covers: Backpacker in a rainy forest walking the trail with a backpack rain cover on

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Rain showers can turn a beautiful hike into a soggy ordeal. That’s where backpack rain covers come in. They promise to keep your gear dry and your adventure enjoyable, but do you really need one?

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.

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 umbrellas for your gear, designed to shield your backpack from the elements.

Here’s what they do:

  • Protection Against Rain: A backpack rain cover’s main purpose is to shield your backpack from rain, typically using waterproof materials to keep your gear dry.
  • 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.

Leakage Concerns

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.

Size and Fit of Rain Covers

Choosing the right rain cover size for your backpack is crucial to ensure optimal protection. Here are some key considerations regarding size and fit:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Securing the 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.

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 lightweight 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 a 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.

Final Thoughts

Rain covers shield your backpack from rain and damage, but they leave the shoulder straps and hip belt exposed.

Many hikers and backpackers use waterproof stuff sacks or pack liners for complete waterproofing.

Pack liners are versatile, cost-effective, and favored by ultralight backpackers who prioritize minimizing weight while maximizing protection, often skipping rain covers altogether.

Ultimately, your decision should align with your individual backpacking style and priorities. Choose wisely, and you’ll be well-prepared to face whatever weather conditions nature throws your way.

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.

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