How to Waterproof your Backpack

There are several different approaches to ensuring that your gear stays dry inside your pack. As with all things in life, it’s just about finding out what works for you.

Sue and Dudley Float their pack down The Colo River

The important starting point is realising that your pack (unless it is a ‘drybag’, no matter what the shop assistant tells you) is not waterproof. It’s a little like raincoats… there’s no such thing as a waterproof rain jacket.

The most popular approach is to line your empty backpack with a large tough plastic garbage bag or two (the strong orange ones seem to be good) or commercially available pack liner or dry bag. Then everything simply gets packed into this as per normal.

Barrington Tops National Park, NSW
Notorious for needing to waterproof your pack!

This method has some advantages, especially if you know you’re going to be canyoning or using your backpack as a float/pack-raft along rivers. When you go to seal the liner, you can make sure that there’s a good amount of air trapped inside which will aid buoyancy.

Another approach is to use a Pack Cover like the one in this photo taken in Barrington Tops National Park during my Tops to Myall Heritage Trail trip.

However, for most trips, I use a method that sees the individual items waterproofed. (For me, I find that the all in one liner bag tricky to negotiate, whilst still ensuring a tight pack to my bag.)

Overnight Canyon Trips – Essential to keep dry 
Bowen Creek South, Wollemi NP, NSW

So in my approach, I have my clothes in a lightweight Drysil bag, my First Aid Kit is inside the waterproof plastic containers and all my food is in Ziploc bags.  Therefore, the only thing I need to waterproof is my sleeping bag. (If needed, I can put my matt inside a Ziploc bag also).

So here’s a video that shows you a little trick about how to waterproof your sleeping bag.

Q: Have you got another method that works for you?

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    • says

      Unfortunately Danny, Scotchguard products are water repelling, not water proofing. They will probably be ok for short periods of time in light conditions, but when you’re outside for extended periods of time in heavy rain, they won’t use won’t cut it. Especially if you’re going to be immersing your pack in creeks, rivers, etc.

      One of the major places that water gets in is through zippers. This is why single compartment packs, with only one access point through the top, are best.

      • Stephanie Leong says

        Hello, I was wondering if you know how long scotchguard would work? Like if it was raining and I was carrying my backpack from like a building to another for perhaps about 5 minutes. Would the things inside get wet? I’ve just recently heard about scotchguard. Trying to find out more about it.

        • says

          Hi Stephanie, It would all depend on how heavy the rain was and how long you were exposed to it for. I’d also take into consideration what is the type of gear inside your pack that you want to protect? ie. if you’re walking between buildings with a laptop or other electronic gear, then it’s pretty important to keep it dry. Whereas bushwalking or hiking gear is pretty robust and if it gets a bit damp or a few drips of water on it, it isn’t a problem.
          Let me know the specific application and I’ll be able to advise a bit more. Cheers Caro

          • Stephanie Leong says

            Hello, thanks for the reply. I was searching online on college essentials and basically on many websites, it said that it is really important to have a waterproof backpack. I would probably keep like my textbooks and stationery inside and most probably my laptop and iPad and my wallet and all those usual stuff.

  1. Danny Strong says

    Thanks for your advice. I was just hoping. I put a garbage bag in the pack first and then put other stuff in a smaller sealed bag that I need/want kept dry. Zip locks copped a flogging too. Of to the Border tracka dn Albert river track tomorrow afternoon. 4Lt of water, 6 meals and 3 days. Try out the new Tarptent Notch!

    Again, thanks


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  3. says

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  4. Janey says

    Great tip, thanks for sharing. My current system is to pack all my gear into a Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Pack Liner and the sleeping bag into a Sea to Summit eVent Compression Drysack. Stuffing a down sleeping bag into a small sack is a great way to warm up on a cold morning!

  5. Backwoodengineer says

    I know this is an older post, but for Christmas, my son wanted some “Camping/Survival” gear for our planned spring trip. After opening his supplies, he began to start stuffing them in this pocket or that in his new bag. I pointed out the flaw in that process (lovingly, as he’s 13 & I wouldn’t have thought bout it at 13, lol), & he said, “Oh, yeah! How do I do it?”. Here’s what I’ve done military & civilian.
    1: Scotchguard. As above, does not waterproof the bag, but if you’re mid-hike, & down she comes, steps 2 & 3 will keep your gear inside dry, but you’ll be left with a water logged, wet dog smelling pack. So, into the garage we went with 2 cans of Scotchguard (I got a new pack as well as my old one was leftover from my time in service, 20 years ago). We put a medium sprays worth on the exterior of both packs, let them air dry, light coat on the interior & dry, then a final heavy coat on the exterior again, let sit in the garage to air dry overnight (ours are still out there – even though we finished step 2 & 3, following, you’re not going to go wrong letting that “Scotchguard smell” air out)
    2- EVERYTHING, that is in the least moisture sensitive, waterproof box/tube/bag, or not, if able, gets put in an appropriate sized zip-lock. For multiple small items of similar nature, ie for fire, or 2 extra pair of socks/underware, get put together in a gallon zip-lock to keep them together.
    3- THE BEST “OUTDOOR ACCESSORY” I’VE EVER INVESTED IN, I learned from a military “lifer” – a SMALL heat gun. $10-$20 at any home improvement store or Walmart, etc., & a roll of “Boat Winterizing Plastic Wrap”. Simply unroll what you need, allowing for heating the seams. Open your pack as wide as you can, lay the plastic inside how it best fits your pack, take a sharpie & use the “dotted line”/”stitch line” – for you engineers/print readers, to make a pattern to trim the excess. Remove plastic, trim pattern, plug up heat gun (looks like one heavy duty hair dryer). When ready, fold seams (use leather gloves as when you heat & pinch the seam, the plastic will be HOT!!!), pinch or press the heated area of the seam you’re working on, repeat. ** KEEP THE HEAT GUN FAR ENOUGH AWAY AS TO NOT MELT THROUGH THE PLASTIC – AND – KEEP IT MOVING IN A QUICK, WHISPY, SWEEPING MOTION, AGAIN NOT TO MELT A HOLE IN THE PLASTIC! **
    Once done, you can submerge in the bathtub, pull it out, & check for leaks. If you took your time & did it correctly, it will make a custom “fit to your pack”, removable liner. If you prefer to make it permanent, thin lines of GORILLA GLUE (Superglue eats through the plastic), on the exterior of the plastic or on inside of your pack, press together – had to replace the one in my old pack once in the 11 years I’d used this method – won’t come apart, minus a poke through or slice of the plastic. If that happens, no biggie. Empty pack, cut a “patch piece” & use heat gun to patch it. Replace at earliest convenience.
    I’ve done canoe trips with the kids, rafting, Kayaking, duck/goose hunting (with 2 wet dogs sitting on our packs half the trip), hiking when a “monsoon” hit me, lol – has never failed me…always had me some dry socks & some way to get a fire going – magnesium flint, matches, lighters, & have yet to have a soaked holster/sidearm, except the small one I keep on me for snakes.
    Give it a try, I was VERY pleasantly surprised how well it worked!

    • says

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience Matt.

      Great that your son is interested in getting out adventuring and also that he’s happy to take advice on how best to do it! Once that addiction starts, you’ll never be short of gift ideas for Christmas and birthdays 😉

      That sounds like a lot of work to do to create what sounds like a dryseal bag liner for your pack. I’m guessing you’re working with a heavier, canvas style pack to begin with, rather than the lighter weight alternatives that are available these days? What about when you need to do a pack-swim in a river or canyon… how do you keep the water from coming in the openings at the top/lid?

      PS: Not quite sure why you’d need a gun though… as an Aussie we’re pretty averse to them and we have a stack of deadly snakes in our wilderness – I’ve never had to kill one yet :-)

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