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Waterproof backpacks are a nice idea in theory.
Sorta like unicorns.
But can you get your hands on one?
Excellent question, dear hiker.
Let's find out.
Hikers live in fear of getting wet if the temperature is below what you would consider a balmy, mild summer day.
Lots of reasons:
...to name just a few.
To be fully waterproof is a tall order for a hiking backpack. Read this for some info on the difference between water proof, repellent, and resistant.
So here's the pivotal question for you as a hiker:
Do you really need a fully waterproof pack?
Yes, if you:
Otherwise, you might just need a waterproof pack cover to go over your water repellent backpack.
Or buy a dry bag to protect the camera or sleeping bag.
Or use a large heavy duty plastic garbage bag over your pack. (Not recommended, by the way, unless you also have duct tape to repair the inevitable rips and holes.)
It all depends upon the level of risk of getting wet you want to assume, and the amount of money you are willing to invest in a pack that can stand up to the demands of your hiking trip(s).
I have both kinds of backpacks:
When I'm way out in the sticks (Greenland, Alaska, Northwest Territories), I make sure I'm as protected from moisture as possible. There is very little margin for error out there, and the risks associated with getting wet are higher than on the PCT in August.
So pick your poison! I'd rather skimp on the shirt I'm wearing, and pay more for a backpack that will stand up to whatever Mother Nature throws at me.
Soggy sleeping bag after a hard day of hiking, yuck!!Double rainbows enjoyed from the comfort of my dry tent, hurrah!
The features of a waterproof pack include:
Here's one similar to the one I use (I bought mine several years ago, so this is as close to mine as I could find): Sea to Summit Hydraulic Pack.
Note that this pack is not built for extended periods of hiking, but it can be used to haul gear during a portage or when bushwacking to a campsite. That's how I used it, and I know it works well.
Not every hiker should chase the holy grail of waterproof packs.
They are expensive, heavy, and don't fit well enough to be used for lots of mileage.
However, they are absolutely necessary when you are up against wet conditions or will be mixing extensive water travel with hiking.
Dry bags inside your water repellent backpack are a great solution to keeping certain items of technology (GPS, camera, phone, stove) safe and dry inside your water repellent pack.
Please don't skimp on keeping your gear dry, unless you really have no other options.
Getting wet outdoors is risky even in warm weather, and because we live in such a technology-heavy world there's no reason to take chances with hypothermia.
A happy hiker is a warm dry hiker. Repeat after me...
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