When you’ve got a load to carry (and no one to delegate it to because you’re on leave), there just isn’t a better option than a backpack. They hold plenty of gear and keep your hands free, so what’s not to like? If they’re good enough for renowned explorer Dora Marquez, they’re good enough for us. You can find purpose-built backpacks for everything from breezing through airport security to logging miles in the backcountry. One downside of having all your belongings packed in one place is that, if it rains or your bag falls in water, they all get ruined together. If that’s high on your operational risk management (ORM) chart, you need a waterproof backpack to keep everything dry. Actually, if you made a backpack ORM chart, you probably need to relax a little, but that’s a conversation for another day. 

Don’t settle for something that’s only water-resistant if you need the real deal. We separated the heroes from the zeroes to only recommend the best waterproof backpacks out there. 

Skog Å Kust BackSåk

Stay high and dry with the best waterproof backpacks

If you spend a lot of time on your feet or hike in wet climates, the Skog Å Kust BackSåk is the most trail-ready waterproof backpack on our list. The body is built from rugged PVC and welded seams to achieve maximum waterproofing. The roll-top creates a tight seal at one of the most likely places for water to get into normal backpacks. Small, waterproof pockets inside zip shut to keep valuables tucked safely away. A discreet splash-proof zipper pocket on the outside keeps the items you use most often handy. A padded back support and shoulder straps make this bag the endurance champion of the bunch, so it’s the one to have if you plan on covering ground with your purchase. This backpack is available in sizes of 25 and 35 liters. [Buy]

Earth Pak waterproof backpack

Stay high and dry with the best waterproof backpacks

If you have a whole lot of gear that needs to stay dry, this bag from Earth Pak is the one to have. This heavy hauler is available in a common 35-liter size and a list-topping 55-liter size. Heavy-duty PVC outer material uses welded seams and a roll-top to achieve total water protection. Use hidden compartments and a waterproof phone case to keep valuables out of sight. An outer stash pocket uses a splash-proof zipper to keep things like keys or a map within arm’s reach. Got extra gear? A small MOLLE panel lets you attach things like an IFAC. Padded shoulder straps and a lightweight hip belt help distribute weight, but don’t confuse this for a rucksack–it’s still meant for covering relatively short distances. It sure makes a great boating companion, though. This bag is a great excuse to plan a Washington-to-Alaska kayak trip, now that we think of it. [Buy]

Idrybag waterproof backpack

Stay high and dry with the best waterproof backpacks

The Idrybag is packed with features, making it one of the more versatile options we found. It uses all the same materials and design elements of premium waterproof backpacks. Additionally, it has three inner pouches to keep smaller belongings organized. Two are open pockets for easy access, and one zips closed for important items. Outside, there is another zipper pocket that offers some protection, but shouldn’t be used to store water-sensitive belongings. One side features a fold-out water bottle holder that can be zipped flat when not in use to keep this pack streamlined. A reflective strip on the back increases visibility in the dark. The clip-on straps can be configured to wear this as a backpack or single-strap bag. It even includes a two-liter dry bag for additional storage or separating wet clothes. [Buy]

Runacc waterproof backpack

Stay high and dry with the best waterproof backpacks

When you head to the beach, do yourself a favor and ditch the old-school tote bag for this dry bag from Runacc. You’ll get waterproof protection for your belongings, but this bag also floats. That will come in handy when someone (definitely not you) drops this in the drink. Dividers keep wet and dry clothes separate. A separate phone case is included for an extra layer of protection. External storage is provided in the form of a large zipper pouch and a water bottle holder. The shoulder straps aren’t padded, but this bag’s size doesn’t really warrant extra cushioning. This 20-liter bag is smaller than most of the alternatives, but it’s also significantly lighter. If you don’t need your waterproof backpack to rugged enough for the wilderness, this is a great way to get the features you need without unnecessary cost and weight.  [Buy]

Marchway dry bag

Stay high and dry with the best waterproof backpacks

With four available sizes and 16 colors to choose from, this dry bag from Marchway is the choose-your-own-adventure option on this list. Take your pick from sizes of 10, 20, 30, and 40 liters. The ten-liter bag is carried cross-body, the 40-liter bag is worn like a backpack, and the other two sizes can be worn in either configuration. The simple seabag design doesn’t have extra pockets and dividers, but it uses the heavy-duty materials and welded seams you’d expect from a quality waterproof backpack. By trapping air with the airtight top, you can even ensure that this bag floats. We appreciate that this bag keeps things simple and comes at a bargain price without sacrificing build quality and usability. [Buy]

Heeta dry bag

Stay high and dry with the best waterproof backpacks

If you’re looking to add some waterproof storage to your gear list without breaking the bank, this Heeta dry bag is just the ticket. There are plenty of lightweight vinyl bags like this available, but Heeta uses material that’s twice as thick, seals seams twice as wide, and incorporates a more durable collar for a watertight seal that lasts. It’s also translucent, so you can see what’s inside. That comes in handy when you need several waterproof bags to organize your equipment. Each bag has a built-in carrying handle and attachment points for an adjustable shoulder strap. Being the budget pick of the group means you’ll have to do without some features, but you don’t have to give up utility. [Buy]

Related: 5 survival kits that won’t fail you when everything else does

Types of waterproof backpacks

Modern backpacks designed for the outdoors tend to offer a fair bit of water resistance, but they won’t keep every drop of rain out and certainly aren’t meant to be submerged. High-end options come with a rain fly, but those packs tend to be large enough for extended camping trips. If waterproofing takes precedence over everything else, you’re probably not looking for something that big, and you probably don’t want to mess with a rain fly all the time. Some of the options on this list are meant to be worn like traditional backpacks and can be worn comfortably for a long period of time. Others are meant to be worn crossbody or over the shoulder, and are better suited to getting gear on and off a boat, for example.

Key features of waterproof backpacks

Size: With a few exceptions, most waterproof backpacks offer 20 to 30 liters of storage space. The smallest are about five liters, and the largest can get as big as 55 liters. Just remember that these don’t have the support of a camping pack, so don’t plan on loading a 55-liter bag to the gills and hiking through the mountains. 

Materials: Rip-resistant synthetics and rubberized coatings are the name of the game. Each seam needs to be sealed to prevent a leak risk, so waterproof backpacks tend to be very simple, with minimal external features.

Intended Use: Waterproof backpacks are built to withstand the elements. Water sports, snow sports, and even commuting via bicycle or motorcycle are situations that allow waterproof bags to shine.

Fit: These bags aren’t designed to replace your assault pack or camping pack, so don’t expect padded hip belts, specialized compartments, and built-in hydration systems. 

Features: Watertight zippers, sealed seams, and roll-top closures are hallmarks of waterproof backpacks. If you don’t see these, consider another option or understand that “waterproof” might be closer to “water-resistant.” 

Benefits of waterproof backpacks

The obvious benefit to using a waterproof backpack is not having all your gear soaked, but they also offer great portability. Backpacks don’t keep water out, and hard cases are a pain to lug around. Waterproof backpacks offer the best features of both. If you’re out for a hike, cycling around town, or spending a day on the water, the last thing you need is to be fretting about keeping your gear dry. The options on this list offer large storage compartments and secure closures that eliminate leaky zippers. Sure, these aren’t as comfortable on a multi-day hike as a conventional pack or as rugged as a Pelican case, but the compromises result in a great product that’s incredibly useful.   

Waterproof backpack pricing

Since waterproof backpacks aren’t meant to be long-term camping packs, they save quite a bit of money that would otherwise be spent on things like ergonomic padding, ventilation, and lightweight materials. This means they can focus their money on waterproofing, and prices are generally very reasonable. Expect to pay less than $15 for an entry-level bag, and up to $60 for a premium option. As you move up in price, you’ll get features like more durable construction, heavy-duty buckles, and padded straps.

Related: 6 of the best hiking backpacks money can buy

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