How To Waterproof a Backpack: A Step-by-Step Guide

As seasoned hikers, we know that our backpack is more than just a storage item – it’s our lifeline, carrying essential gear from spare clothing to survival tools, and even our trusty trail snacks. Unfortunately, Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate with our plans, and unexpected showers can put our precious gear at risk. That’s why waterproofing your backpack can be a game changer. This simple step can keep your items dry and make your hiking experiences more enjoyable, regardless of the weather. So how do you waterproof a backpack for hiking?

There are several ways to waterproof a backpack, including using a waterproof backpack cover, applying a waterproof spray or wax, or using a waterproof backpack liner. It’s important to choose the method that works best for your backpack material and intended use.

how to waterproof a backpack

The Three-Step Guide To Waterproofing a Backpack

Making your backpack waterproof is as easy as one-two-three, literally. Let’s walk you through it.

Step 1: Spray It On

First off, let’s give your backpack a new raincoat with a waterproof spray. Choose a spray that’s suitable for your backpack’s material and give it a good, even coating all over, especially on the zippers and seams – those are sneaky spots where water loves to seep in. Then, let it dry completely. Don’t rush this part, patience is key here!

Step 2: Cover It Up

Next up, we’re going for the double defense with a rain cover. It’s like a super stretchy hat that hugs your entire backpack. Find one that fits your backpack size, pop it over your bag and… boom! Instant waterproof shell. Remember to pack it when it’s not in use, it’s lightweight and easily stowable.

Step 3: Line It Up

Last but certainly not least, let’s fortify from the inside with a pack liner. This is like a waterproof bag for your gear inside your backpack. You simply place your gear inside the liner, roll or seal it shut, and your items are now in a protective cocoon, safe from any water that might break through the outer defenses.

And there you have it, a triple-whammy approach to waterproofing your backpack. With these three steps, you’re all set to go hiking in the rain.

Want to dive into the weeds of what waterproofing is all about? Keep reading and I’ll give you all the details.

The Basics of Waterproofing

Now that we’ve got you hooked on the ‘why’, let’s dive into the ‘what’. When we talk about waterproofing, what exactly do we mean? Is it some kind of magic shield? Well, not exactly, but it’s close enough.

Waterproofing is all about making your backpack repel water, like a duck’s feathers in a pond. The aim is to stop any water from soaking through the material and reaching your gear. The last thing you want when you’re halfway up a mountain is to reach into your bag for a dry pair of socks and find they’ve turned into an impromptu sponge.

There are a few ways to make a backpack waterproof – some bags come with this feature built in, while others might need a little help with special sprays or covers. But fear not! We’re going to break down all these methods for you, so you can choose the best one for your trusty backpack and hiking needs. Keep on reading, we’re just getting to the good stuff!

The Different Levels of Waterproofing

Alright, so you’re all set on the ‘what’, but let’s talk about the ‘how much’. Just like there are different degrees of being wet (think light drizzle versus full-on downpour), there are different levels of waterproofing, too.

At the one end, we have ‘water-resistant’. This is like your bag wearing a light raincoat. It can handle a bit of moisture, maybe some light rain or a spilled water bottle, but it won’t withstand a torrential downpour.

Then, we’ve got ‘water-repellent’, the middle of the road. This is like your bag sporting a sturdy umbrella. It can tackle more intense rain for a while, but leave it out in a storm for too long, and some water might sneak through.

Finally, there’s ‘waterproof’, the gold standard. This is as if your backpack has its own personal raincloud-proof dome. No matter how long or heavy the rain, a truly waterproof bag won’t let a single drop through.

Each level has its own benefits and is suitable for different situations.

Top Waterproof Materials for Backpacks

You might be wondering, “What exactly makes a backpack waterproof?” Well, the secret’s in the material. A little bit like how superheroes have their special suits, different materials can give our backpacks their superpower against water.

  1. Nylon and Polyester: These guys are the most common. They’re tough, lightweight, and with a special coating, they can repel water like a charm.
  2. Cordura: This is nylon’s big brother. It’s tougher, more abrasion-resistant, and with a waterproof coating, it’s a great choice for those tougher trails.
  3. Cuben Fiber (or Dyneema Composite Fabrics): This one’s the high-tech member of the family. It’s super lightweight and waterproof, but it comes with a higher price tag. Perfect for those looking to splurge for quality!
  4. Vinyl: This is the old reliable. It’s 100% waterproof and very durable, but it’s heavier than its counterparts.
  5. Tarpaulin: You’ve probably seen this material on tarps (hence the name). It’s waterproof and very sturdy, but like vinyl, it’s on the heavier side.

Each material has its pros and cons, so it’s all about what works best for your needs and hiking style. Regardless of what backpack you have, we’ll show you how to make each of these materials work for your waterproofing needs!

Understanding Waterproof Sprays

Waterproofing sprays are quite the lifesaver when it comes to keeping your backpack and its contents dry. These sprays work their magic by forming a protective layer on your backpack’s material. This layer repels water, keeping it from soaking through the fabric. The beauty of it is that while it keeps the water out, it allows the material to breathe, minimizing condensation build-up inside your backpack.

The Variety on the Market

There’s a wide array of these sprays available, each designed to be compatible with specific materials. Some are crafted for natural fabrics, some for synthetics, while others are jack-of-all-trades, suitable for all kinds of materials.

The Art of Application

Application involves spraying a fine, even coat of the product all over your clean, dry backpack. It’s important to pay attention to often overlooked spots like seams and joints, which can be vulnerable to water intrusion. Once sprayed, the backpack should be left to dry completely.

Effectiveness and Longevity

A host of factors can impact the effectiveness of a waterproofing spray. These range from the fabric type and the quality of the spray, to how well it’s applied. On average, the water-repelling effect of these sprays lasts from a few weeks to several months, depending on how frequently you use your backpack.

The Need for Reapplication

Like many good things in life, the effectiveness of a waterproofing spray isn’t eternal. Regular use and washing will gradually wear down the protective layer, necessitating reapplication to keep your backpack ready for any downpour.

A Note on Environmentally Friendly Options

A word of caution: older versions of waterproofing sprays often contained perfluorocarbons (PFCs), which aren’t the best news for our environment. Thankfully, many manufacturers today opt for more eco-friendly ingredients. It’s worth doing a quick check before purchasing to ensure your choice of spray aligns with your commitment to the environment.

Remember, while waterproofing sprays can substantially enhance your backpack’s resistance to water, they aren’t invincible shields against extreme weather conditions. For those more challenging scenarios, consider a backpack made from inherently waterproof material, or make use of a waterproof cover.

Waterproof Covers: Judging a Book By Its Cover

On to our next superhero in the fight against water: the waterproof cover. Think of it as a heavy-duty raincoat for your backpack. Covers can be a fantastic choice, especially when you’re expecting some serious rain or crossing through damp environments.

Here’s how it works. Most waterproof covers are made from strong, waterproof materials like nylon or polyester and come in a range of sizes to snugly fit your backpack. They’re typically lightweight and packable, so they won’t add much to your load and can be easily stowed away when not in use.

To use a cover, you simply stretch it over your backpack, making sure all parts are covered, and voila! Your backpack is now ready to brave the elements. The good thing about covers is that they’re pretty easy to put on and take off, so you can quickly adapt to changing weather conditions.

The downside? While they’re great at keeping the majority of your backpack dry, they might not provide 100% coverage, especially around the part that touches your back. So if you’re out in a serious downpour for a long time, some water might still sneak in. But for most hiking scenarios, a waterproof cover will be more than enough to keep your gear nice and dry.

Waterproof Liners: It’s What’s Inside That Counts

We’ve covered sprays and external covers, but what if we told you there’s a way to add another layer of defense from the inside of your backpack? Enter the unsung hero of waterproofing – the waterproof liner.

Imagine a waterproof liner as a sort of umbrella for your gear. These liners are essentially bags made from waterproof material that you place inside your backpack. You put your gear inside the liner, roll or seal it shut, and even if water does manage to penetrate your backpack’s outer defenses, your items remain dry inside this protective shell.

The beauty of waterproof liners is in their simplicity. They don’t require any application or drying time – just place it in your bag and you’re good to go. They come in various sizes and materials, from ultra-lightweight silnylon to the more rugged vinyl, so you can choose the one that best fits your hiking style and your backpack.

One thing to keep in mind with liners is that they generally don’t protect items in the outer pockets of your backpack – they’re mostly designed to safeguard the main compartment. So, if you’re carrying items in outer pockets that can’t handle getting a bit wet, you might still want to consider a spray or a cover.

Maintaining Your Backpack’s Waterproofing

Now that we’ve talked about the how-tos of waterproofing your backpack, let’s switch gears and talk about how to keep it in tip-top shape once it’s been waterproofed. After all, a little bit of care can go a long way in prolonging the life of your backpack and its waterproof abilities.

Firstly, let’s talk cleaning. It might seem counterintuitive, but even though your backpack is designed to handle the great outdoors, that doesn’t mean it enjoys a bath. If you need to clean your bag, a gentle spot clean is usually best. Use a damp cloth and some mild soap, gently scrub the dirty areas, and then let it air dry completely.

While it’s important to keep your backpack clean, avoid soaking it or putting it in the washing machine, as this could degrade the waterproof coating or damage the material. So remember, when it comes to cleaning your backpack, think less ‘deep clean’, and more ‘gentle pampering’.

waterproofing a backpack

Storage is another factor to consider. When you’re not out exploring nature, store your backpack in a dry and cool place, away from direct sunlight. Prolonged exposure to heat and sun can wear out the waterproof coating over time. So, no leaving it in the backseat of the car on hot days, alright?

Finally, keep an eye on the wear and tear. Over time, even the toughest of backpacks can start to show their age, especially at the seams and the bottom of the bag where it often rubs against surfaces. If you spot any damage or wear, it might be time to reapply your waterproofing method or consider a repair.

So there you have it, a bit of TLC for your backpack and it’ll be ready to face those rainy days for many hikes to come. After all, a well-cared-for backpack is a hiker’s best friend.

Jim Murphy

Jim's love for camping started at an early age. His parents would take him camping every summer, where he'd spend his days getting quality time in with his dad and his nights eating too many smores.

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