The Ultimate Guide to Backpack Protection Devices

Backpack cover

Our mission is to get people outdoors, not sell gear. That's why our guide starts with the core function that needs to be addressed, then helps you evaluate your options holistically, since sometimes you may not need any gear & can use what you have at home. We want you to think critically about what you need, which is personal to you with no right answer (some people go venture outside naked without any gear, survive & have a great time).

Core function: Most hiking backpacks are water-resistant, but this does not mean that they are waterproof. You may need something extra to keep your gear dry.

Is either the core function or the outdoor-specific gear made for it an essential?

No .

For rationale, read our 'what you really need' protip

What to use & how to choose

Key factors

Cool zippers, new waterproofing, etc... sometimes it's easy to get lost in all the hype (over-spending happens on features). Our guide focuses on the fundamental factors you should always keep in mind (thus, this short list is similar across all items). Then only at the end do we have some questions to get you thinking about other minor features.

We highly recommend reviewing Type or Style first, where we review what you can use to address the Core function--a regular item you have at home may work! The other factors are secondary & depend strongly on the Type or Style you've picked.

While we encourage you to use regular items wherever possible, as an outdoor gear shop, we only carry outdoor-specific products

Type or Style

We've organized the most commonly used items people use to address the Core function below, with example images, characteristics, features, etc.

Name Exterior cover Interior liner
Hiking backpack specific Heavy duty trash compactor bag
Example images Backpack Backpack liner Trash bag
How effective is it? There are inevitable entry points for water. Even if just the shoulder straps are getting wet, that moisture can transfer to the inside of your pack. That said, unless it is raining really hard, generally these are sufficient to protect most gear Since they directly cover your gear, they perform better
Is it durable?

Similar technical fabric used in backpack itself

Does it protect gear strapped to backpack exerior?
Does it protect backpack itself from getting wet?
Does it keep contents separate for easy retrieval?

Covers don't affect how gear is organized in pockets

Once things go in a liner they all go in! That's why see-through liners are more popular, or some people bag up items individually for easier retrieval

Effect on secondary factors Price $20-55 $1-5
Weight 1.7-6oz (48-170g) 1-2oz (28-57g)
Rationale More technical (similar material to tents) Less technical (basically a plastic bag)

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Easy to use with less planning. Also many people who would go with a liner would choose a trash bag, which we explicitly don't carry

Not specific enough for outdoor use & there may be issues with durability

Price

One of life's certainties is the trade-off between price & quality. This creates an inherently unfair situation. If you save money today by buying something lower end, you'll end up replacing it more frequently, spending money & time each instance so that at the end, you probably haven't actually saved anything. On the other hand, if you decide to invest in something higher end, you'll need a lot more upfront money, and you need to be able to use the item frequently enough to make it worthwhile.

We developed our rental program to address this unfairness. We don't sell lower end items. But for our higher end items, we offer them for rent at up to 90% off retail price, generally well below the cost of buying even the cheaper option. That's a win-win!

It may seem like the price & quality trade-off is disappearing, because you can find a cheap version of almost anything for tens of dollars that still has good reviews (assuming the reviews are real). Remember 2 things:

  • Many reviews are written after only a trial use, first use, or infrequent use: We've seen entire review videos of gear done at home, which is very different than actually being outdoors!
  • The point of gear is to give you a good experience because you've already spent money to be on vacation from work! Don't let quality issues affect your relaxation

For gear specifically, the quality issues center around performance & durability.

For backpack covers, performance & durability are linked (ripped fabric lets in water!). Fabric-wise, lower end items tend to be made with polyester, which is less durable than nylon (more info in our clothing protip); and of course, if the fabric tears, performance is compromised. Finally lower end items may not have or may have less effective waterproofing treatments

Methodology notes on prices shown on this page

Capacity (size)

Cover: should have around the same Liter capacity as your backpack

  • What if it's bigger? The cover will be super "baggy" over the pack, which may make it easier to catch on a branch & pull off (especially if it can't be cinched down enough)
  • What if it's smaller? The cover won't cover everything! It'll also be easier for the cover to fall off if it can't cinch tight over the pack

Liner: should have around the same Liter capacity as the compartment within the backpack that it needs to fit into. If you have a 60 liter backpack, where the brain is 10 liters and the body is 50 liters, you may want a 50 liter liner for the body and a 10 liter liner for the brain. Some people also have many smaller liners to separate contents

As you can imagine, as capacity increases, so does price and weight & size.

Weight & Size (Compactness) for Backpacking

If you're thru-hiking 20+ miles (32+km) per day, every advantage counts! In this case, size refers to compactness. You can carry more gear in the same size backpack if all of it is very compact, or for more weight savings, you can get a smaller size pack.

Exterior cover

50-70L Capacity

Regular Ultralight
Nylon Nylon Dyneema
Weight

4.9oz

(139g)

2.6-4oz

(71-113g)

1.7oz

(48g)

Effect on other factors Price $33 $25-40 $55
Rationale Though the "denier" (thickness) of ultralight nylon is lower than regular nylon, it's not that much more expensive More technical fabric

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Standard for most outdoor uses

Most people who care this much about weight would choose the liner (specifically trash bag), which we explicitly don't carry (see Type or Style section)
Methodology notes

Minor features that may be important

Here, we give you a list of questions to start thinking about minor features. We hope our approach of savings these features for last gets you to more critically think about what you need & not get caught up in the hype of what's cool and over-spend your budget.

  • Does it come with a carrying case?
  • Does it have a drainage hole at the bottom for any water that does get inside?
  • Is there a drawstring to cinch the cover tighter or just an elastic band?

What we carry

General Notes

  • We choose what we carry based on extensive research on what's the best value to our customers (e.g., price given performance & durability features) across all the top brands. We specifically do not carry every brand & model; for details on why we do/don't carry certain items in the How To Choose section
  • Buy prices are MSRP with tax, i.e., what you see is what you pay. Prices may differ in-store due to change in models or discounts, but this is rare. If we don't sell what we rent, we list MSRP value with tax
  • Rent prices are the starting prices; enter trip dates on our Catalog to get exact prices (based on total trip length, not per day!). We also don't charge sales tax, an automatic savings of almost 10%!
Type or Style Backpack cover
Model Osprey backpack cover Sea To Summit backpack cover

Osprey backpack cover

Covers a single capacity, e.g., 60L

Sea To Summit backpack cover

Covers a range of capacities, e.g., 50-70L

Buy

MSRP with tax

$30-50

value, depending on capacity

Rent $5+
Capacity 50-90L backpacks

Weight

Regular weight-class, exact weight depends on capacity, ~5oz (139g)

When you rent online, we will pick a model for you. You can change the model if you pick-up in-store, subject to availability. On the Options page of our online order process, you can also select options or write-in any preferences. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others. We will only pick something else if it doesn't conflict with your choices indicated on the Options page; moreover, if there's a major functional difference (e.g., capacity), we will attempt to contact you first

Usage tips

Cover. Be sure to cinch it as tight as possible. You may even want to bring clips to ensure the cover doesn't slip

Liner. If an actual liner, use it like a dry bag in terms of rolling the top down. If a trash bag, twist off the end and keep it from accidentally opening with rubber bands or clips.

Maintenance tips

Repairing

Rips, tears, holes: For small ones, you can stick on a patch of Tenacious Tape yourself. For larger ones, you may need to sew on a replacement fabric patch; most tailors can help with this (if you're doing it yourself, most technical fabrics are rip-stop nylon and this is sold by many fabric stores; most meshes used in outdoor gear however is not widely sold). Remember, sewing compromises waterproofing, since it adds punctures. Ultralight gear with thinner fabrics may require specialists. Two repair specialists are Narain's & Rainy Pass Repair; both accept gear shipped in, expect to spend $30-100

Waterproofing: There are 3 components to waterproofing. It is entirely possible to buy these items & repair yourself, however unless you're treating a spot (in which case Tenacious Tape can work just as well), it can be difficult to get a large piece of fabric back to original performance integrity. (Honestly, this is true even for most manufacturers, who will often ask you to replace the piece that's no longer waterproof.) Rainy Pass Repair can help re-waterproof. As a benchmark, tent-sized fabrics may cost up to $100

  • Seam sealant: The seams where the fabric has been sewed together are water-proofed either by a seam tape, or a liquid seam sealant that's applied. With a tape, you may be able to visibly see it peeling away. While you can buy either to do at home, liquid seam sealant is more readily available & easier to use. Seam tape, which is more prevalent in clothing, requires you to match the exact fabric you're repairing, and each fabric has different application settings (e.g., appropriate temperatures to help the tape stick)
  • Waterproof coating: Sometimes, the seams are fine, but the fabric fundamentally is losing its resistance to water (you can tell if it's shedding or flaking out white stuff), which is derived from a polyurethane or silicon based coating treatment (different from the coating treatment below)
  • Water repellant coating: Called DWR (durable water repellancy), this is a coating treatment (different from the treatment above) that causes water to bead up & roll off the fabric. It can often be applied either as a spray or a detergent that is washed-in (we like products by NikWax or Granger's)

Cleaning & Storing

Gear not in use should be cleaned & dried and then stored loose & in a dark environment, check out our entire protip on the topic here.

We have a general protip on how to store & maintain gear that we highly recommend reviewing as well. If you send us video or a good photo series, we may be able to help you evaluate your repair needs.

The exact numbers (e.g., weights, dimensions, prices, etc.) used were updated as of September 2019 . That said, there usually isn't dramatic change; we update & review the market roughly biennially.


Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, the only outdoor gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow gear!