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The 9 Best Waterproof Backpacks for Any Excursion

Seal the deal with packs, bags, and duffels that protect your gear.

best waterproof backpacks
Staff, Courtesy of Ortovox

A backpack that can handle all seasons and any condition is crucial whether you’re running, commuting, hiking, or rafting. You might not think of your backpack as a fully waterproof piece of gear, but it can be. There will be a place and a time for it, even if it’s not your everyday carry. A myriad of both water-resistant and waterproof backpacks on the market use some of the most advanced material technologies available to keep your items safe and dry no matter what your next adventure has in store.

Best Waterproof Backpacks

    The Expert: As a professional gear tester for more than 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to see some amazing places. I’ve written for and contributed to various publications, including Backpacker, Men’s Health, Gear Junkie, 5280, and Elevation Outdoors. I started running competitively after college where my passion for hiking and climbing morphed into an unusual love for trail running. I’ve ticked off numerous 10Ks and half-marathons over the years, but now I spend more time on mixed surfaces than road so I can take my kids along for the fun. When I’m not in front of the computer, I’m out on the trails and slopes surrounding my home in Colorado. Find me on Instagram @definitelywild.

    Features to Look for in a Waterproof Backpack

    Waterproof Versus Water-Resistant

    First, determine if you need waterproof or water-resistant. There are recommendations here for both. Backpacks with the waterproof designation are reserved for something 100 percent fully submersible, while water-resistant backpacks are designed to keep rain and precipitation at bay and contents dry, but not guaranteed to do so. Therefore, waterproof bags and backpacks are the most reliable choice for undeniably wet circumstances like boating, stand-up paddleboarding, or bike commuting in Portland, Oregon, in November.

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    Waterproof bags are also preferable for protecting your electronics—laptops and tablets, for example—which won’t survive even a light dousing. If you often carry these things and there’s a chance you’ll get caught in the rain, opt for more protection. The trade-off for this peace of mind, however, is a bag that typically weighs a bit more and usually includes fewer bells and whistles.

    The alternative, a water-resistant backpack, still offers protection from the elements, blocking most moisture but not all. If your cargo is such that it doesn't need full waterproof protection, you can probably get away with something water-resistant. These backpacks are typically more user-friendly than fully waterproof ones because they don’t need to be as heavy duty. They resemble the types of packs you’re probably more familiar with, but with extra reinforcement in the outer shell.

    Material

    Waterproof and water-resistant materials are almost always a polyester and nylon construction with a durable water repellent finish (DWR). Polyester resists water but can’t block it out entirely because of the way the fibers are woven together, and nylon actually absorbs water unless treated with a DWR or poly coating—and there are an infinite variety of thicknesses and applications. These fabrics are used as traditional base materials for packs because of their durability and light weight. To make polyester and nylon waterproof or water-resistant, they’re lined with coatings like polyurethane (PU), or they’re accompanied by more protective fabrics like polyamide and polyethylene. Look for these materials in addition to basic nylon or polyester for reliable water defense.

    Capacity

    One of the most important features of any bag—waterproof or not—is volume: how much it holds. Different capacities serve different needs. If you’re headed out for a lunch run, you’re more likely to grab a small vest than a large hiking pack. Too large a bag for your adventure adds unnecessary weight and bulk on your back, yet too little space means making sacrifices that might have a big impact on your day. How much food and water do you need, how many layers, first aid kit, electronics?

    Minimalist running vests range from about two to six liters, more comprehensive vests up to around 15 liters, day packs in the 15- to 30-liter range, and bags for longer days or overnights upwards of 30 to 55 liters.

    For technical adventures like skiing or climbing, you’ll be on the higher end of those ranges to accommodate additional equipment. But for most nontechnical outings, more than 40 liters tends to be overkill. Colder temperatures and poor weather (probably the main reason you’re looking for a waterproof bag in the first place) also call for a little more space to fit gear and layers.

    Closure System

    Packs use a few tried-and-true systems for opening and closing the main compartment, with zippers and roll tops of various forms being the most common. That said, the main opening of your pack is also the easiest place for water to get in, so it matters what closure system a bag uses to prevent that from happening.

    Waterproof zippers use tape, rubber, wax, and other coatings to keep water from seeping through seams or teeth. They can sometimes be a bit stiff to open and close because of those added elements, so be prepared to apply a little elbow grease if they don’t slide smoothly all the time.

    Another common option for waterproof bags is roll-top closures. The name says it all: simply press the opening flaps together, roll them down tight, usually at least three full folds, and fasten the ends, typically plastic Fastex buckles that attach to themselves or to the sides of the pack or both. The process seals the layers of rolled fabric, making it impossible for water to weasel its way in. Roll tops double as compression to consolidate space and eliminate air pockets. They’re simple but take some getting used to with the open and close. With roll tops you’ll want to consider putting essentials like your phone and rain jacket in an outside pocket for easy access while hiking until it is time to really batten down the hatches.

    Weight

    Weight is always a top consideration for runners. As mentioned above, waterproof and water-resistant packs often weigh a bit more than regular bags because of the materials, coatings, and designs that keep out moisture. Most brands try to minimize the trade-off by using lightweight base materials (like nylon and polyester) and limiting features to cut weight. This is one reason why many of these waterproof bags don’t include an abundance of pockets or organizational details beyond the basics. Waterproof packs for commuting and cycling will weigh more than those for running.

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    waterproof backpacks
    Photos Courtesy of Aaron Bible // The main opening of your pack is also the easiest place for water to get in, so it matters what closure system a bag uses.

    How We Selected These Waterproof Backpacks

    These bags aren’t limited to only what you’d use while on a run. Waterproof bags make sense in plenty of scenarios. I’ve chosen packs that run the gamut—from ultralight running vests, daypacks, and commuter bags, to duffels, hiking packs, and traditional dry bags. There is a water-resistant or waterproof bag for every occasion. Whether it’s a grab-and-go bag to hold the essentials on your next rainy run or one with the capacity to hold everything you need for this summer’s float trip, you’ll find it here. I’ve provided depth and variety of brands and styles to help you make the right purchase, taking into account my decades of experience both getting it right and getting it wrong out in the elements.

    Best Overall
    Salomon XA 15 Hydration Pack
    Salomon

    • Internal and external storage options
    • Versatile yet no-frills volume at 15L
    • Accessible hydration

    • Runs large; might not fit small runners well

    Key Specs

    • Capacity: 15L
    • Material: Polyester, polyamide
    • Closure System: Roll top
    • Weight: 12.2 oz.

    Salomon has long been a leader in the running-pack category, and it’s responsible for some of the most durable, functional, and customizable fan-favorites out there. The XA 15 is no exception and is our choice for best overall pack. It’s perfect for run-commuting or traversing remote trails through questionable climes. Water-resistant outer fabric with taped seams plus a roll-top closure eliminate the risk of soakage and seepage. You can trust this pack to keep important items like your tablet and change of clothes safe, or even just your snacks, while you squeeze a run in during rainy shoulder seasons. Strap extras you don’t mind exposing to the elements under the external bungees and stay hydrated with two included front flasks.

    Best Lightweight Pack
    Osprey Ultralight Dry Stuff Pack
    Osprey

    • Ultralight
    • Waterproof
    • Durable
    • Packable

    • No padding
    • No internal structure

    Key Specs

    • Capacity: 20L
    • Material: Polyurethane-coated ripstop nylon
    • Closure System: Roll top, zipper pocket
    • Weight: 6.8 oz.

    This waterproof rucksack from Osprey will be there when you need it and can be out of your way when you don’t. On the go, it offers a no-frills option for protecting your gear and valuables without weighing you down. A roll-top closure and compression straps on the sides eliminate air gaps for compact storage, and a sternum strap minimizes bounce when you pick up the pace. At the end of the day, it packs down into its own zippered outer pocket. This pack prioritizes the essentials, so don’t expect to find hidden bells and whistles—but that’s what makes it ideal for grab-and-go scenarios when light weight comes first.

    Best On a Budget
    Exped Typhoon 15 Pack
    Exped

    • Waterproof
    • Lightweight
    • Good value

    • Flimsy waistbelt

    Key Specs

    • Capacity: 15L/25L
    • Material: Polyurethane-coated ripstop nylon, polyester
    • Closure System: Roll top
    • Weight: 13 oz./16 oz.

    Because waterproof products require higher-quality materials and extra coatings for durability, they often come with a higher price tag. But the Exped Typhoon pack will keep your belongings dry without sinking your bank account. Count on its roll-top closure, taped seams, and ripstop nylon to withstand sprinkles and downpours alike. More daypack than running pack—it doesn’t conform to the body—sternum and waist straps plus padding on the back panel make it comfortable for any hike. Available in two sizes (15 and 25 liter), depending on how far you’re headed and how much you need to carry, it includes two mesh side pockets for easy access to hydration, snacks, and layers. The Typhoon stays nice and light, under one pound for both sizes, thanks to an integrated liner for waterproofness.

    Best for Ultra-Small
    Black Diamond Distance 4
    Black Diamond

    • Ultra-low profile
    • Dry tech pocket
    • Trekking pole storage

    • No padding
    • Straps could chafe bare skin

    Key Specs

    • Capacity: 4L
    • Material: Polyurethane-coated ripstop nylon
    • Closure System: Zipper
    • Weight: 7.1 oz.

    When you’re looking to trim down volume to maximize speed and aerodynamics, the Black Diamond Distance 4 is a low-profile vest to keep you moving fast and light. Store electronics in the zippered waterproof pocket for the most reliable safeguarding; shove layers in the water-resistant back compartment. Stretchy mesh pockets along the back and sides, plus chest pockets above the hydration bottles, leave plenty of room for stashables that don’t need as much protection. Adjustable straps and stretchy fabric ensure that the Distance 4 fits like a second skin. This pack is for when the best option is the one you won’t notice, with room for the essentials to go the distance.

    Best for Commuting
    SealLine Urban Pack
    SealLine

    • Fully waterproof
    • Ample storage
    • Padded laptop sleeve

    • Could be hard to close when packed tight

    Key Specs

    • Capacity: 26L
    • Material: Polyurethane-coated polyester/nylon
    • Closure System: Roll top
    • Weight: 3 lb.

    You won’t want to run very far with this pack on your back, but the SealLine Urban Pack is perfect for a rainy city stroll or bike commute. The entire pack is fully waterproof, thanks to a durable polyurethane coating, welded seams, and a “burrito-style” roll-top closure covered by a protective flap. A small outer pocket made for easy-access items is still reliably resistant to light rain or splashes. The laptop sleeve fits computers up to 15 inches with plenty of room leftover in the main compartment for everything else you need for a productive day. This pack looks sleek enough for work while holding its own out in nature.

    Best for Travel
    SealLine Pro Zip Duffel
    SealLine

    • Extreme durability
    • Multiple carrying and attachment options
    • Large capacity

    • Lacks internal organization features

    Key Specs

    • Capacity: 40L
    • Material: Polyurethane-coated polyester
    • Closure System: AquaSeal zippers
    • Weight: 2 lb. 8 oz.

    SealLine is one of the most reputable brands for protective waterproof gear storage, and the Pro Zip Duffel features waterproofing rated for submersion in up to a meter of water, perfect for a day of tubing or other float trip, fishing, canoe tripping, and other foul-weather travel scenarios. It’s easy to carry this duffel in a variety of configurations: by hand, over the shoulder, on the back, or strapped down to your paddleboard or roof rack. The clean design won’t snag or rip when it rubs against rocks, trees, sand, the sides of your boat, car, or the overhead bin of an airplane. The space-to-weight ratio is also pretty noteworthy, lending a full 40 liters of storage at just over two pounds. Again, not a running pack, but certainly a piece of carryall gear to consider adding to the quiver this summer.

    Best for Day Hiking
    Ortovox Traverse S 28L Dry Backpack
    Ortovox

    • Waterproof
    • Ski and climbing gear attachments
    • Comfortable for longer outings

    • Few internal organizational features
    • Overkill for some users

    Key Specs

    • Capacity: 28L
    • Material: Polyamide, thermoplastic polyurethane
    • Closure System: Flap with clasps
    • Weight: 2 lb. 9.3 oz.

    The Traverse S from Ortovox is expertly constructed and precludes that all the extra gear you need for a big outing stays just as dry on a torrential spring trek as it would on the sunniest day, even if you are setting your pack down in the snow to pull out gear or lunch. Fully waterproof from top to bottom, this pack includes enough storage for a long day hike or even an overnight trip. Ski carry straps and climbing gear attachments make this the choice for any technical adventure through the mountains.

    Best in Style
    Black Diamond Distance 15 Pack
    Black Diamond

    • Clean and attractive design
    • Easy to organize
    • Technical gear attachments

    • No outer storage for ease of access

    Key Specs

    • Capacity: 15L
    • Material: Nylon, ripstop polyethylene
    • Closure System: Flap with clasp
    • Weight: 13.9 oz.

    For middle ground between a running vest and a hiking pack, try the very good-looking Distance 15. It’s got enough storage for more gear than a basic running pack, but not so much bulk that you’ll have trouble picking up the pace. The Distance 15 has a futuristic feel for a pack that both looks and acts like a tool for speedy technical outings. The main chamber is water-resistant, and the outer material is so durable that it’s stronger than steel at equal weight, according to the brand. There’s room for climbing gear and trekking poles for when the terrain steps up, and plenty of well-placed pockets for everything else you might need out there. Reflective material takes dawn patrol and after-dark finishes into account, so don’t be afraid to hang it out there with this pack.

    Best for Watersports
    Sea to Summit Hydraulic Dry Pack
    Sea to Summit

    • Waterproof and extremely durable
    • Backpack straps and removable waist belt
    • UV and temperature resistance
    • Endless capacity at 65L

    • Lacks compression straps
    • May be too large and too technical for the average hiker

    Key Specs

    • Capacity: 65L
    • Material: Thermoplastic polyurethane-coated polyester
    • Closure System: Roll top
    • Weight: 2 lb. 4.1 oz.

    Take along this option the next time you trade in your running shoes for Tevas and a paddle. The Hydraulic Dry Pack from Sea to Summit—a classic outdoor brand with a lifetime guarantee on all products—takes everything about a basic dry bag concept and elevates it in a pack that’s both waterproof and highly functional. True backpack straps make this bag a breeze to carry long distances, whether it’s on a long wet hike or portage with your canoe or kayak. Adjust the removable waist belt to handle heavier weights on longer treks or take it off for lighter loads. Lash it to the boat with low-profile attachment points that won’t snag or get in the way when you’re not using them. The TPU coating on this pack holds up to heavy usage and also resists damage from UV light and freezing temps, so there’s no climate it can’t handle.

    More Waterproof Backpack Buying Tips From Our Expert Aaron Bible
    sealline waterproof backpack
    Photo courtesy of Aaron Bible // Go with a trusted brand name to know you've got a quality pack.

    RW: How do you know if a backpack is good quality?

    A.B : Go with a reputable brand—which usually guarantees you’re getting the highest-quality materials, construction, and, more often than not, some version of a lifetime warranty. Price is another indicator: A good quality pack is not going to be the cheapest pack. It should have some heft to it—the materials, fabrics, buckles, and straps should feel sturdy and high quality. The number of features does not make it better, as some cheaper, more gimmicky packs might have a lot of features but not be the highest-quality materials. Fit and adjustability also come into play for larger, higher-quality packs.

    RW: Given the choice, do I want bound seams or taped ones?

    A.B.: Most waterproof bags and packs have taped seams, but some styles use bonded or welded seams. When talking about waterproof packs and waterproof garments, the emphasis is almost always on seam taping to achieve waterproofness.

    RW: What is the general lifespan of a waterproof backpack?

    A.B.: A high-quality waterproof pack could last a decade or more. If you clean the pack after each hard use, dry it out, keep it out of UV light, and store it in a cool dry place, a good waterproof backpack—given any unforeseen hard wear and tear—should last a long time, even a lifetime. Unless you are a guide or embarking on a very rigorous trip, where your pack could get torn by rocks, lost down a river, or cut by an ice axe or crampon, it would be difficult to wear a pack out or degrade the waterproofness of a good pack.

    RW: What is a dry backpack/daypack and in what scenario would I want one?

    AB: A fully dry or truly waterproof pack/bag is typically one that is submersible. This is the type of bag you want when your gear is guaranteed to get wet, such as during a canoe or tubing trip, on a paddleboard or fishing boat, or when canyoneering. It’s the type of bag you want when you can’t chance its contents getting wet (think: sleeping bag, extra clothing, electronics).

    RW: What is the most important feature to consider when buying a waterproof bag?

    A.B.: End use. What will you primarily be using the pack for, what problem are you trying to solve? That will dictate your purchase, and is also why most people have multiple packs.

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