Water. It comprises 90% of our body weight, is the giver of life, washes our bodies, baptises our babies and nourishes the very plant life we put on our plates. In certain circumstances, however, it’s also a mighty pain in the posterior. Ever spent a long trek eagerly awaiting that moment when you could whip out your fresh socks only to find them sodden by intrusive rainstuff? We feel your pain, dear CooloftheWilder! That pain, however, is largely avoidable. H20 is remarkable stuff. It has ways of evading the protection of even the best backpack rain covers and sometimes even manages to permeate the ‘impermeable’ waterproof materials so boastfully highlighted by our backpacks’ producers.
We at Cool of the Wild, however, got a bit tired of soaked socks, soggy sandwiches and nights spent in involuntarily waterbed-like sleeping bags. We said ‘no’ to H20 and a big almighty ‘yes’ to finding the best waterproof backpack for all your outdoor adventures. Here’s a sneaky peek at our top 10 choices, but for more information on each you can skip down to a summary of each backpack.
- The 12 best waterproof backpacks
- What makes a great waterproof backpack?
- Features of the best waterproof backpacks
- Extra features
- Different uses of waterproof backpack
Summary of the best waterproof backpacks in 2021
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|Stubble & Co Roll Top||Commuting and wet weather adventures||20l||Stormproof||$$$|
|GOT BAG 4 Ocean Rucksack||Commuting and wet weather adventures||23l||Stormproof||$$|
|Matador Freerain 22 Waterproof Backpack||Water or land-based day adventures||22l||Short submersions||$$$|
|Sea To Summit Hydraulic Dry Pack||Hauling and storing gear on water based journeys||35,65, 90 and 120 litres||Full submersion||$$$$|
|SealLine Black Canyon Boundary Pack||Hauling and storing gear on water based journeys||35,70 and 115 litres||Full submersion||$$$|
|Aquapa Toccoa Wet & Drybag||Water or land-based day adventures||28l||Short submersions||$$|
|Ortlieb Velocity Backpack||Water or land-based day adventures||20l||Stormproof||$$|
|Sea To Summit Flow Drypack||Hiking in wet conditions||35l||Stormproof||$$$$|
|BackSak Waterproof Backpack||Water or land-based day adventures||35l||Stormproof||$|
|Big Horn Products 30L Waterproof Backpack||Water or land-based day adventures||30L||Stormproof||$|
|OverBoard Waterproof Pro-Vis Backpack||Water or land-based day adventures||30L||Short submersions||$$|
|Umpqua Tongass 1800 Waterproof Backpack||Water or land-based day adventures||30L||Full submersion||$$$$|
The 12 best waterproof backpacks for all your outdoor adventures
In 2020, eco-friendly waterproof backpacks were few and far between; we only managed to find the below GOT BAG. However, new to the Stubble & Co line in 2021 is The Roll Top – a stylish and robust backpack that is also waterproof. Though it’s not designed for full submersion during extreme water-based adventures, the waterproof materials, sealed seams and roll top access make it very well suited to land-based missions through sideways rain in all seasons. In fact, it’s the perfect waterproof backpack for cycle commuting, whatever the weather.
The features include side bottle pockets, a laptop sleeve, a small zippered front pocket, internal mesh pocket, adjustable shoulder and chest straps, and a 20 litre capacity in the main compartment. It’s also finished with a very hand G clip to fasten the roll top, and reflective strips on the base.
- Easy to use G clip
- Made from eco-conscious fabrics
- No waist strap
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Stubble & Co
Another rare find on the more eco-friendly waterproof backpacks front is the GOT BAG 4 Ocean Rucksack. Each 23 litre bag is made from 3.5kg of plastic that is recovered from our oceans. Plus, to ensure maximum waterproofness, the fabric has a Bio-PU coating that is kinder to the environment than PFC-based treatments. It’s not the kind of waterproof backpack that you’d go swimming with, but it is 100% waterproof keeping your stuff dry in stormy and wet conditions. Its simple design features a flexible roll top, an external zippered pocket and side compression straps. Additionally, it houses a removable 15” laptop case making it an ideal commuter backpack and bridging the gap between wet weather adventures and everyday life superbly.
- Comes with a 2 year warranty
- Made from sustainable fabrics
- Can house a removable laptop case
- Not as robust as other options for water-based adventures
- Pricey for its size
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With the ability to pack down into a miniscule hand-sized package of only 3.75 x 3.75 x 5.75in / 9.5 x 9.5 x 14.6cm, this ultra lightweight and waterproof backpack is a superbly versatile addition to your outdoor gear stash. It has plenty of features that put it right up there with some of the best daypacks for hiking (minus some padding and support). These include a zippered front pocket, stretchy mesh side pockets, side compression straps and gear loops. It even has a removable waist belt, adjustable sternum strap and load lifters to improve comfort and fit.
But crucially, and despite the lightweight nature of this daypack, the Matador Freerain also steps up to outdoor life when it comes to waterproofness. The sealed seams, robic nylon fabric and roll top closure make the main compartment fully waterproof even when dunked in water for a short time. It strolls through rainy days on the trail or the bike, and makes for a highly convenient companion on SUP and canoe trips.
- Packs down super small
- Incredibly lightweight (P10.6oz / 300g
- Highly waterproof
- Lots of features as a daypack
- Not as bombproof as other options
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On our hunt for the supremely waterproof pack we came across something which is not only that but just might be bombproof too! The awesome S2S Hydraulic Dry Pack is a highly versatile, tough, durable, comfortable and superbly functional beast of a pack that will keep your gear and goodies dry even in the event of a biblical flood. At 35l, you might not be able to squeeze in as many animals as old Noah did his ark, but the hydro comes in 65, 90 and 120l sizes too, so you can at least take a few of your furry friends along with you. And they’ll be dry. Very dry.
The S2S Hydraulic Dry Pack is made of tough 600D laminated fabric and features a welded construction to avoid water sneaking in through any seams. The padding on the shoulders and back is ample and the waist belt removable, meaning wherever you go, you’ll go in comfort (even with two penguins in there).
- Heavy duty 600d laminated fabric
- Comfy waist strap
- User-friendly harness and strap system
- Weighs just over a kilo
- Best for canyoning, kayaking and canoeing; comfortable enough for dayhikes
- Penguins not included
Reasonably lightweight, durable and not quite as pricey as the S2S Hydraulic Dry bag, the Black Canyon offers stiff competition to its rivals in the fully dunkable dry bag category. It also comes with one winningly standout feature in particular – it’s bloody huge! At 115 litres, the capacity of the SL Black Canyon is the largest in our review and enough to throw in a few water-fearing family members should you wish. What’s more, this frankly enormous sack is entirely PVC-free, so it provides an environmentally-friendlier option for the eco conscious adventurer. While comparable to the Acquapac, S2S Hydraulic and Umpqua Tongass (below) in terms of comfort and waterproofing, if space is what you’re looking for, this is your guy/gal!
- Huge! 115l capacity
- Very light given its capacity
- Cheaper than the S2S Hydraulic
- Can deal with a dunking
- Best for kayaking and canoeing but maybe a bit large for canyoning
- Not quite as hard-wearing or durable as the S2S Hydraulic or Umpqua Tongass
The Aquapac Toccoa is an all round excellent and versatile waterproof backpack that is as at home on the river or under a waterfall as it is trekking through heavy rainfall. It has more padding and greater capacity than the Ortlieb Velocity, and more waterproofness that the S2S Flow. It also competes fiercely with the Overboard ProVis in almost all areas other than the lack of internal pockets where the ProVis has the upper hand. The Toccoa makes up for this with two highly useful side mesh pockets and daisy chain loops to clip gear onto the outside of the pack. Additionally, the roll top seals either at the top or the sides of the bag which further adds to its versatility. This is a super comfortable, durable and fully submersible day pack that is highly stable when carried in higher energy situations.
For more detailed information on the Aqaupac Toccoa, read our full review.
- Super comfortable
- Versatile for land and water-based adventures
- Can deal with short dunks
- Good value
- No internal pocket
- Only available in 28 litre capacity
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For a versatile, light-load day-pack with excellent waterproofing capabilities, the Ortlieb Velocity offers a tidy, well-made alternative to its bigger brethren. At 20l, this little pack is lacking in the capacity stakes and the multiple rolls required to fasten the velcro top closure can shave off a further few inches of storage. That said, the Velocity makes up for its diminutive proportions and relatively large price tag with very durable materials, a detachable waist belt and a useful inner pocket for keeping smaller bits and bobs separate. A decent option for the minimalist-minded, but all-in-all comes up just short of small pack competitor the Aquapac Toccoa in almost all specs and features (including size!).
- Well made
- Rear foam padding helps ventilation
- Handy removable inner pocket
- Detachable waist belt
- Best for day-hikes, cycling trips and short sea, river or lake outings
- Not a great deal of padding – can be uncomfortable with heavy loads
- Only 20l and, hence, fairly pricey for its size
- Quite heavy for its size (1kg/2.2lbs)
- Not ‘waterproof’ enough to withstand submersion (but good enough in heavy rainshowers)
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For hikers or multi-sport adventurers seeking something that is hugely versatile, the S2S Flow just might be the pack you’re looking for. Boasting the comfort, compartmentalised storage and overall functionality of a standard hiking pack and the waterproofing capacity of a canoeing pack, this is a true all-rounder that is at home in any environment. While not as sea or lake-worthy as its S2S cousin the Hydraulic Dry Bag, the S2S Flow has you covered for just about everything else you could get up to, barring a complete dunking. Far superior in terms of versatility and comfort to all other items in our review and offers a bit more storage space than the similarly versatile Aquapac Toccoa. Pity about the price tag…
- Possibly the most waterproof hiking pack you’ll find
- Very well made
- White interior for increased visibility
- Hydration sleeve
- More compartments than other items in our review
- Very comfortable
- Lighter than competitor the Umpqua Tongass
- Best for…a bit of everything!
- Verrrrrry pricey
- Just a touch heavy (1.2kg)
- Better options available for ‘full-submersion’ activities
With tough, welded seams, durable 500D PVC material and decent capacity, the Backsak 35L offers a very reliable and nicely priced alternative to its pricier competitors. While it may not offer complete dunkability, it will easily handle a downpour and is ideal for rainy trekking or cycling adventures. Features-wise, it boasts handy interior and exterior pockets for smaller items you don’t want to get mixed up with the rest of your gear, and a side-closure option to maximize storage. Bargain!
- High vis (bonus for cycling)
- Great value for money
- Decent padding on back and shoulder straps
- Best for short hikes, cycles and canoeing trips when full-submersion is unlikely
- Not suitable for long periods of submersion (the manufacturers, very honestly, even say so themselves)
- Minimalist waist belt a bit high for female users
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Durable, reasonably lightweight and pleasingly inexpensive, the Big Horn 30L is another decent all-rounder for those on a budget. The exterior webbing and draw-cords are handy features for drying wet gear on-the-go and side mesh pockets ideal for stowing water bottles. Compared to other budget competitors the Sarki and Backpak, the Big Horn offers a little less comfort-wise but is marginally more streamlined for canyoning or canyoneering pursuits.
- Lightweight (1.2lbs)
- External webbing lets you hang wet gear to dry
- Best for short hikes, cycles, canoeing and kayaking without full submersion
- Short on back padding
- Not as comfortable as other budget options
- Not suitable for full submersion
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While the OverBoard Pro-Vis is a touch on the skimpy side capacity-wise, it does a lot of things rather well. It’s very well-made, featuring a welded construction, high-vis and durable PVC, compression straps, reinforced side and bottom panels, good padding and a few handy pockets inside and out for organizing your gear. It offers less storage than the other budget options in our list and is similar in terms of waterproofing, but has the advantage of ergonomic, padded straps. These offer plenty of cushioning and a ventilated back panel as good as any you’ll find on a mid-range, out-and-out hiking pack. Compared to other low-capacity packs such as the Ortlieb velocity, the Overboard offers a more comfortable carry. For a bit more space and superior waterproofing, the Aquapac Toccoa is a better bet.
- Reasonably light (0.95kg)
- High vis
- Ventilated back panel
- Reinforced sides and base
- D-rings and bungee webbing for external attachments
- Comfortable: good padding on back and shoulder straps
- Low capacity – 20l (30l available)
- Suitable only for short submersions
Boasting complete dunkability, durable 420D welded nylon material, superior compartmentalisation to its competitors and a host of handy features, the UT 1800 is a love-it-at-first sight kinda pack. There’s a catch though, one that hangs by a little thread at the bottom of the sack and begins with a $ sign. Yep, all that goodness comes at a cost… For your extra $, however, the UT 1800 goes a lot further than most of its competitors. With an internal hanging pocket (which can be clipped on inside or out), a secondary roll-top compartment, waist belt pockets, fishing rod carriers, storage space between the two compartments, water bottle pockets and web tool attachment points on the shoulder straps, the features on this are rivalled only by the S2S Flow in terms of convenience, practicality and storage options. Compared to other high-end packs the SealLine Black Canyon and S2S Hydraulic Pack, the UT 1800 provides similar waterproofing and less in terms of storage, but a lot more in way of comfort, useful features and versatility.
- Versatility: suitable for any activity
- Can deal with a dunking
- Very comfortable
- Feature rich
- Rugged and durable
- Very expensive
- Heavy (almost 3.8lbs)
- Name nigh on impossible to pronounce
What makes a great waterproof backpack?
This no-brainer merits inclusion merely because there are, it seems, varying levels of how waterproof a pack can be. While some packs are able to withstand complete submersion on a kayaking, canyoning or canoeing trip, others are only waterproof as regards the stuff that falls from the sky – and in varying quantities at that. Knowing what level of waterproofing you need will simplify the selection process and help make sure you aren’t spending too much or otherwise getting something unsuitable for your outdoor adventures’ wetness levels. For canyoning, for example, you’ll probably need something 100% waterproof. For canoeing or kayaking, the same is true only if you happen to do a lot of rolls or are prone to involuntary capsizing. For hiking, cycling and other sports on dryish land, on the other hand, you can probably get away with something not fully submersion-proof.*
*Unless you live in the Pacific Northwest. Or Scotland.
As with any backpack, waterproof or not, you want yours to be comfortable on your back. Essential to comfort are the padding on the pack’s strap and back, the load distribution (how evenly the weight is shared across your shoulders, back and waist), and other features such as ventilation panels and a chest strap.
Weight and size
The less your bag weighs, the more gear you can potentially carry or the lighter the load on your back…always a bonus! Be sure to check your pack doesn’t lose too much in the way of capacity if it features a roll-top closure system. Some packs offer both this and an alternative closing option such as side clips, meaning you can vary the capacity to suit your load.
Best use/versatility and functionality
Certain packs excel in or are custom made for certain activities. While a kayaking pack might serve you relatively well on a wet hiking trip, it will likely lack many of the features you’d look for in an out-and-out trail pack such as multiple compartments, added comfort from padding, better load distribution, hydration bladder compatibility and lightweight materials.
Conversely, a decent waterproof hiking or cycling pack might just not be waterproof enough for seaborne adventures, m’hearties, so going for something of the PVC, moulded material, seamless, submersion-proof variety will serve you better!
Features of the best waterproof backpacks
For storing wet gear, water bottles, and flip flops, mesh pockets are a common feature on waterproof backpacks.
These are handy for accessing small gear without opening the main compartment. Internal zippered pockets are also useful for organising your gear.
Roll-top backpacks offer greater water protection for your kit as well as versatility. Most roll-top backpacks are secured with buckles on either the side of the pack or together at the top which creates a large carry handle or extra attachment point.
Access bits and pieces, such as a waterproof first aid kit or a waterproof camera, without getting the rest of your kit wet. The best waterproof backpacks are made with gear loops. These can also double as attachment points for securing the backpack.
Sturdy D-rings let you attach a carabiner clip and secure the backpack to a paddleboard, kayak, or canoe.
Straps on waterproof backpacks should be made from quick-drying fabrics. Some have a webbed design which allows them to shed water and dry even faster. The straps on waterproof backpacks are typically less padded than the straps on regular backpacks.
Waist and chest straps
Most dry bags are fitted with a simple waist strap that keeps the bag from bouncing. Larger packs should have a more comfortable waist strap as well as a chest strap.
These are usually found on the sides of the pack. They clinch down the roll-top but, to minimise gear movement, some have additional horizontal compression straps.
Another useful feature if you like to get out before sunrise or after sunset. The more are high-visibility strips the backpack has, the more visible you’ll be to passing cars or other adventurers.
A really useful feature for moving your bags from place to place. They’re also handy for pulling bags out of storage holes or out of other bags.
Bungee cords on the back of the backpack give you quick access to larger items, like your helmet or wet suit shoes.
Different uses of waterproof backpacks
Although waterproof backpacks are suitable for any outdoor activity where you’re likely to get wet, some have specific features that make them better for certain activities.
Below we’ve listed the most important features to look for in a waterproof backpack according to its use:
Kayaking and canoeing
- Roll top
- Compression straps (if you have a kayak with small storage hatches)
- Mesh pockets – for water bottles and storing wet gear
- Shoulder, waist, and chest straps are less important as you probably won’t need to carry the
backpack very far.
- Waterproof rating – should keep your kit dry if submerged
- D-rings – for attaching the backpack to your paddleboard
- Gear loops – for securing a mask and snorkel or waterproof camera
- Mesh pockets – for water bottles, reef-safe sunscreen, or wet gear
- Larger storage capacity – 25 litres or above
- Comfortable shoulder strap – should be more padded than other types of waterproof backpacks
- Waist and chest straps – for spreading the weight of the pack
- Zippered pocket on the waist strap (useful but not essential)
- Mesh side pockets for water bottles
- Bungee cords – for a top layer or rain poncho
- Gear loops
- Light loop attachment
- High-visibility strips – especially if you will use the backpack for road cycling or commuting
- Bungee cords or a big mesh pocket – for storing your helmet
- Waterproof rating – should be able to manage short submerges
- Extra durable fabric – whilst canyoning it’s very likely to get scratched and scraped on rocks
- Roll top
- Compression straps – to keep your gear from moving inside the pack and making it more compact, this is useful in canyons with very narrow sections
- Zippered pockets
- A large mesh pocket of bungee cords – for taking your wet clothes home
Skiing and snowboarding
- Comfortable shoulder straps
- Waist strap
- Bungee cords – for your helmet and ski goggles
- High-visibility strips
Keeping your gear (or penguins and family members) dry while out in the elements is a big deal and a tricky business. Whatever you plan on getting up to and whatever your budget, however, we’re sure in the above list of waterproof wonders you’ll find something suitable for your upcoming adventures!
Happy (and dry) adventuring!