How to Choose a Waterproof Backpack for Hiking

Waterproof Hiking Backpacks: Hiker squatting on a hill wearing an Exped waterproof backpack

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

Unexpected rain or crossing a river can soak your gear, turning your outdoor escape into a wet challenge. That’s where the right gear, especially a good backpack, comes in handy.

In this post, we’ll delve into the realm of waterproof backpacks (sometimes referred to as dry packs). We’ll explore their significance, types, materials, and more.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Takeaways

  • Waterproof backpacks use materials like Gore-Tex, nylon, PVC, and PU-coated fabrics to repel water and keep gear dry.
  • Check the IPX rating – the higher the number, the better the backpack protects against water. IPX8 is fully waterproof.
  • Key features like sealed zippers, taped seams, roll-top closures, and waterproof materials make backpacks waterproof.

Waterproof Backpack Basics

Waterproof backpacks act as shields for your belongings, ensuring they stay dry even when you’re immersed in water during activities like river trail trekking. These backpacks are crucial for keeping your gear dry, which is essential for safety in such environments.

To make an informed choice, it’s crucial to understand two key aspects of waterproof backpacks: the material they’re made of and their waterproof ratings, which we’ll explore in the following discussion.

1. Waterproof Backpack Materials

When it comes to waterproof hiking backpacks, the right materials can be the difference between a soggy adventure and a dry, comfortable one. Here are some of the materials you’ll want to see:

  1. Gore-Tex: This is like the superhero of backpack materials. Gore-Tex is both breathable and waterproof. It’s made from a special material that has tiny pores, allowing water vapor to escape while keeping rain out. High-end backpacks often use Gore-Tex for top-notch waterproofing.
  2. Nylon: Nylon is a durable, water-resistant material used in many backpacks. It’s lightweight and can be further coated with waterproof layers to enhance its resistance to moisture.
  3. PVC (Polyvinyl chloride): PVC is an affordable, waterproof material found in budget-friendly backpacks. While it’s effective at keeping water out, it can be heavier and less breathable compared to other materials.
  4. PU-Coated Fabrics (Polyurethane-Coated Fabrics): These fabrics are lightweight and naturally water-resistant. They can be coated with a waterproof layer to boost their water-blocking capabilities. You’ll find them in various backpacks, often offering a good balance between cost and performance.

2. Waterproof Ratings

When it comes to choosing a waterproof hiking backpack, you’ll often come across something called “waterproof ratings.”

These ratings are like the backpack’s secret code, telling you how well it can keep your gear dry. Let’s decode this important aspect.

Waterproof ratings are typically expressed in the form of “IPX” followed by a number. Here’s what it means:

  • IP (Ingress Protection): This is a standard used to define the degree of protection provided by the backpack against solids (like dust) and liquids (like rain). It’s an internationally recognized rating system.
  • X (Solid Protection): The first digit after “IP” represents how well the backpack protects against solids (dust and dirt). It ranges from 0 (no protection) to 6 (completely dust-tight).
  • Second Digit (Liquid Protection): The second digit represents how well the backpack resists liquids, especially water. For backpacks, it ranges from 0 (no protection) to 8 (protected against continuous water submersion in underwater conditions):
IPX 0No protection
IPX 1Protected against condensation or dripping water falling vertically
IPX 2Protected against spraying water when tilted up 15 degrees vertically
IPX 3Protected against spraying water when tilted up to 60 degrees vertically
IPX 4Protected against splashing water from any angle
IPX 5Protected against splashing water from any angle
IPX 6Protected against low pressure water stream for any angle
IPX 7Protected against water immersion for 30 minutes at a depth of 3.28 ft (1m)
IPX 8Protected against continual water submersion in under water conditions
As defined in international standard IEC 60529.

So if you’re expecting heavy rain or plan to be near water, you’ll want a backpack with a higher IPX rating to ensure your gear stays dry.

Key Features of Waterproof Backpacks

What makes a hiking backpack genuinely waterproof to earn a higher IPX rating? It’s all about the features that protect against the elements and ensure your gear stays dry.

Let’s explore these key features:

  1. Sealed Zippers: One of the first lines of defense against rain is sealed zippers. These zippers have a special waterproof coating and are designed to keep water from seeping through the zipper teeth.
  2. Taped Seams: The seams of a backpack are like potential weak spots where water could sneak in. Waterproof backpacks come with taped seams.
  3. Waterproof Materials: The choice of material matters. High-quality waterproof backpacks are made from materials like Gore-Tex or other fabrics (as listed before) to repel water.
  4. Roll-Top Closure: Some waterproof backpacks feature a roll-top closure. This is like a giant waterproof lid that rolls down and seals shut, creating an airtight and watertight seal.
  5. External Pockets: While the main compartment of the backpack is crucial for waterproofing, external pockets are often designed to be water-resistant rather than fully waterproof.

These features work together to make your backpack a reliable guardian against rain, snow, and wet conditions.

How to Choose a Waterproof Backpack for Hiking

Waterproof Hiking Backpacks: Hiker on a hilly trail with a waterproof Exped backpack

Now that you are an expert in the basics. Let’s talk about how to choose the perfect waterproof hiking backpack for your outdoor adventures. There are several key factors to consider:

  • Waterproofing: Check the backpack’s waterproofing (IPX) rating. Look for sealed zippers, seams, waterproof materials, and extras like built-in rain covers.
  • Capacity: Consider your gear needs. Smaller backpacks (<30L) work for day hikes, but longer treks require ample space (>30L). Select the right capacity for your essentials.
  • Comfort: Comfort is vital. Seek features like padded straps, back panels, hip belts, and sternum straps to evenly distribute weight and prevent back pain. Even more crucially, ensure you have the correct fit. Unsure how to do that? Check out our post here.
  • Durability: Hiking is tough on gear, so choose a backpack with strong stitching to ensure it withstands numerous adventures.
  • Weight: Consider the backpack’s weight, especially for long hikes. Opt for lightweight designs using advanced materials to avoid unnecessary extra weight.

By considering these factors, you can choose a waterproof hiking backpack that matches your needs and preferences. Don’t know where to start? You can check out waterproof backpacks from Exped, Sea to Summit or Osprey.


In this post, we’ve explored waterproof hiking backpacks (also reffered as dry packs), their significance, types, materials, and waterproof ratings. Now, you’re equipped to choose the perfect waterproof backpack for your adventures, rain or shine.

Remember, these backpacks are about safety and comfort. So, pick the one that suits your needs, and venture into the wilderness confidently, knowing your gear will stay dry.


Are waterproof backpacks really waterproof?

Waterproof backpacks offer a high level of water resistance, but their true waterproofness depends on various factors like construction, materials, and design. To ensure your gear stays dry, select a backpack with features such as sealed zippers, welded seams, and waterproof fabrics. For added protection, consider using waterproof liners or dry bags for valuable items. Understanding your backpack’s waterproof features and using it correctly can help prevent water infiltration during outdoor activities.

Are waterproof backpacks worth it?

Are waterproof backpacks worth it? It depends on your outdoor activities. For adventures in wet conditions like hiking or kayaking, they offer valuable gear protection. However, if you’re mostly indoors or in dry settings, a standard backpack may suffice. Your decision should align with your specific needs and the level of gear protection required for your outdoor pursuits.

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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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