If your commute, run, hike or ride takes you outdoors in inclement weather, then a waterproof backpack is a must. There’s no point in risking a laptop or notebook full of ideas ruined by the rain, and it’s a simple fix to avoid. There are tons of water-resistant bags on the market, but to be safe, go waterproof. We tested seven of the best waterproof bags on the market to see how they fared in a downpour.
Water-proof vs. Water-resistant
Most bags and jackets are coated with some form of DWR, or Durable Water Repellant. “It’s made from hydrophobic particles suspended in a solution,” Heidi Allen, VP of Marketing for Nikwax says. “This is applied to fabrics and materials both at the factory level and in the home to make them water-repellant.” While you’re likely familiar with this coating on your belongings, the bags included in our buying guide go beyond just DWR. TPU coatings are the main feature and are the big difference between waterproof and water-resistant bags. We looked for backpacks that could almost submerge in water and keep everything inside dry (in some cases the bags are fully submersible).
To make sure these bags hold up to anything the weather throws at them, I mimicked heavy rain conditions by putting them in the shower. In each pocket, I placed a tissue and a sticky note with “TEST” written on it (to make sure the ink didn’t run). I then placed all of the bags on the ground of two showers and turned the water on to see how each fared. The power of the shower is essentially a very heavy rainstorm. Every minute I rotated the bags or the spout of water to make sure each bag had its time to shine under terrible conditions. After six minutes, I shook them out and evaluated the dryness of the notes and tissues. One overarching theme: the outside pocket of waterproof bags should hold nothing that can’t get wet — it’s the inside that does all the waterproofing work.
Black Ember Citadel Minimal Pack
With an IPX6 waterproof rating, this bag offers a lot of protection from water, except when submerged. The minimalist all-black design has two pockets in front that open to the same pouch, which includes organization pouches for small items as well as a laptop sleeve. While the handles and padded shoulder straps held water, the interior tech sleeve stayed dry. With one towel wipe the front of the bag was dry as well, so you don’t have to worry about water pooling if you happen to leave it out in a rainshower.
L.L. Bean All-Conditions Waterproof Day Pack
With a roll-top, tapered seams and a TPU coated top panel, the L.L. Bean All-Conditions pack brings a lot of features to the table and also boasts IPX6 waterproof rating. Again, do not submerge. There are a few outside pockets: two stretch mesh hip pockets and an external shove-it pocket with drainage holes. Take note: the holes mean that nothing that can’t get wet should go in there. The easy-to-access small zipper pocket that’s near your head when the bag is on stayed 100 percent dry. The underside of the flap top was damp after testing, but the inside tissue and note were dry.
Sea to Summit Rapid 26L Drypack
While the colors offered in the Rapid 26L are a bit bright, this pack is truly minimalist and works great in harsh weather conditions. As the name suggests, you can go from Sea to Summit without fearing the bag will let water in. The abrasion-proof outer material is a TPU laminate, and the roll top seals with a clip, making it hard to penetrate. After 11 minutes, this bag and all of its pockets stayed dry. The straps aren’t as waterproof, but they’re also ventilated and breathe well on the trail. As for the inside, the interior was completely dry, and there are no exterior stash pockets for water to creep inside.
Arc’Teryx Granville Backpack
In four muted, yet distinct colors, this Arc’teryx pack is the only bag that isn’t entirely sealed in some way. The flip top has magnets that keep both sides of the flap down, and the waterproofing only works if you have the bag on your back, attached to a bike, or upright on the ground. While this one laid on the ground with all the others, the padded laptop sleeve in the back stayed dry, as did the pocket that’s right under the flip top lid. There was a small amount of water pooling in the bottom of the bag, but again, it laid flat, and there’s no way to secure the top all the way.
Patagonia Stormfront Roll Top Pack 45L
While this bag is also nonsubmersible, it was the driest of all the bags tested, even after I had to adjust the roll top because it wasn’t entirely closed when I first placed it in the shower. The uber-bright orange is a lot to get used to, but the bag also comes in a more subtle black and grey. It’s just one massive pocket, so you can max it out with towels, suits, sneakers, hiking gear, food — really whatever you need to bring with you when there’s a chance of rain. The 800-denier nylon with single side TPU and DWR finish mean everything stays as dry as the desert.