Backpacks are a traveler’s best friends. Not only do they free your hands for juggling boarding passes, a camera, and maybe a coffee, but they also give you mobility to chase down a bus or climb five flights of stairs to your Parisian walk-up. And if they’re waterproof? Even better because chances are, the stuff you’ve stashed inside (like a passport, computer, or the next day’s outfit) really needs to stay dry.
Technically, backpacks can’t be labeled “waterproof” unless they can handle being fully submerged, and that requires waterproof zippers and seams and airtight construction (because anywhere air can seep in, water can too). Most of us don’t need anything that intense, so many of the backpacks we’ve included here qualify as “water resistant,” meaning that in practice, they’ll shield your valuables from extended exposure to snow and rain. Which one is best for you? Read on to find out.
1. YETI Panga Backpack 28
Buy now: $300, yeti.com Best for: Backcountry adventurers Capacity: 28 liters Weight: 3.9 lbs.
Fully waterproof and submersible, this airtight pack was built for the toughest, most abusive situations in world travel. Need to wade through a flooded stream? Strap your cargo to the roof of a Bolivian bus? Stow your camera on a whitewater raft? This is your sidekick.
YETI’s proprietary ThickSkin fabric lives up to its name: Not only does it repel water, but it’s puncture-proof and abrasion-resistant. That means anything made with the sturdy stuff can handle careless baggage-handlers and ride safely on the exterior of a vehicle. A plethora of daisy chains makes it easy to strap the Panga to a cargo rack or lash wet sandals to its exterior.
The zipper is sticky—you’ve got to apply some real muscle to yank it closed—but that’s because it’s waterproof and durable. Go ahead and plop the Panga on the beach; sand won’t jam these beefy zipper teeth.
The rigid ThickSkin shell makes it hard to overstuff this pack, but the 28-liter capacity is generous enough for most loads. And even when it’s full of heavy lenses and computer gear, the pack’s suspension ably supports the weight for a truly comfortably carry. The broad shoulder straps stay in place without slipping, and a removable waist belt provides extra stability when hiking in rugged terrain.
2. Patagonia Black Hole Backpack 32L
Buy now: $149, patagonia.com Best for: Chronic over-packers Capacity: 32 liters Weight: 1 lb. 12.57 oz.
Often find yourself carrying more than you’d planned? The 32-liter Black Hole will somehow manage to swallow it—while still fitting under an airplane seat. That’s because the pack’s boxy shape accommodates all kinds of cargo, such as a set of wine glasses in a heavy wooden gift box or your child’s stuffed giraffe.
Stretchy side pouches hold even more—possibly a water bottle or sunglasses case—and inside, a padded sleeve will cushion a 15-inch laptop. But even when you fill the Black Hole to bursting, you’ll feel nothing poking into your back, thanks to the thick, molded back panel that comfortably supports heavy loads and keeps them from punching your kidneys.
Although it’s not technically waterproof—the zippers will eventually let rain seep inside—the Black Hole’s extra-rugged, rubbery, thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU)-coated ripstop fabric keeps the worst deluge from soaking your stuff. That makes it ideal for outdoor festivals, bike touring, and adventures to places where covered bus stops are unheard-of luxuries.
3. Arkadia Supply Co. Sea to Sky Pack
Buy now: $67 (was $90), arkadiasupply.co Best for: Ultra-light packers Capacity: 24 liters Weight: 5.5 oz.
It’s not hard to find an ultralight backpack (like the REI Co-op Flash 18) that stores flat and weighs mere ounces—but few are waterproof. The Sea to Sky Pack manages to do it all: It’s waterproof, weighs just 5.5 ounces, and compresses down to the size of an orange.
Instead of using thick molded foam (which provides superior stability and load support) for the back panel and shoulder straps, the Sea to Sky employs ultralight Cordura fabric. That makes this bag crazy light, but also less comfortable when loaded with heavy items. Fill it with a couple of water bottles (which slide neatly into the two stretch mesh side pouches) plus a DSLR and lenses, and you’ll feel some shoulder strain and the pack contents jabbing into your back.
But that’s a fair tradeoff for the ultralight weather protection that this pack provides. The roll-top closure keeps rain or waves from entering the main compartment, while a water-repellent zipper provides fast access to a separate outer pocket. A waist belt and sternum strap made of lightweight webbing keep the pack from sliding around while you’re hiking. And the Sea to Sky is versatile enough to go beyond the trail: Use it as a market tote, a boat bag, or a purse for in-town exploration.
4. Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack
Buy now: $299, tortugabackpacks.com Best for: The most (or least) organized travelers Capacity: 45 liters Weight: 5.1 lbs
Some backpacks feature pouches and pockets on the exterior, but the 45-liter Outbreaker (also pictured at top) gets geeky about interior organization, which is handy in a bag this big. (At 45 liters, it fits most airlines’ carry-on regulations, but it offers more storage capacity than any other pack reviewed here.)
There are three separate storage areas: A central compartment for clothes, an outer section for electronics and miscellaneous essentials, and a laptop compartment located closest to the shoulder straps. Among those three zones, we counted 16 total pockets—not including open-topped sleeves and pouches.
The main storage area uses a U-shaped zipper, so it opens like a standard suitcase. Inside you’ll find six pockets for grouping smaller essentials such as socks, sunglasses, or underwear. The bag’s “lid” compartment organizes pens, a tablet (in a fleece-lined padded pouch), passport, and charging cords. There are even pockets for credit cards. A third compartment behind the back panel stores a 17-inch laptop. It’s a smart location for heavy electronics not only because are they safer there (the access zipper sits on the wearer’s shoulder), but also, heavy objects feel less burdensome when placed against your back.
Even the hip belt offers organization in addition to load support. Its two zippered pockets are perfect for stashing a passport, phone, and wallet—things travelers typically want within immediate reach.
Extra-sturdy carry straps help to keep heavy loads from feeling oppressive, and the back panel provides great ventilation. It uses two curved mesh pads separated by an air channel to dissipate heat and moisture.
Although the zippers can’t handle a dunking, they’re nearly waterproof, and the fabric is utterly rainproof: Instead of standard nylon, the Outbreaker uses four-layer sailcloth that’s not only waterproof but also extremely durable—and flexible. So instead of feeling like a rubbery dry bag, this pack is as supple as a grocery tote.
5. Mountain Hardwear Scrambler Backpack
Buy now: $120 (was $160), mountainhardwear.com Best for: Hikers Capacity: 35 liters Weight: 2 lbs.
Mountain Hardwear makes some of the best waterproof backpacking packs on the market: Its beloved Ozonic pack, for example, uses a layer of OutDry waterproof film to seal out water without adding substantial weight. Now, the company is phasing out its OutDry models (including the Ozonic and an earlier version of the Scrambler) and introducing a new Scrambler, which hit market in spring 2019.
The 35-liter Scrambler uses a four-layer Dimension-Polyant fabric that’s totally waterproof, so you won’t need weighty waterproof cases when you bring your camera or phone on a hike. The Scrambler is also perfect for canyon treks that involve wading through watery potholes because brief swims won’t soak your sleeping bag.
The bottom of the pack is reinforced with padding that resists abrasion from inside and out so neither rocks on the ground nor climbing gear you carry will poke through the fabric. There’s a sleeve for a hydration bladder and a port for its drinking tube. And the lid adapts to a variety of loads: You can remove it entirely to save weight (at the expense of some waterproofing) or you can raise it above the main compartment and use it to sandwich bulky cargo (like a tent) that doesn’t fit inside.
6. Arc’teryx Granville 20 Backpack
Buy now: $180, arcteryx.com Best for: Urban commuters Capacity: 20 liters Weight: 1.88 lbs.
Proving that weather protection can be both utilitarian and beautiful, the water-resistant Granville pairs rain-shedding fabric with a sleek, elegant design. The ripstop nylon keeps contents dry through hours-long exposure to drenching storms, and critical seams are taped over to ensure that moisture doesn’t seep through the stitching.
The uncluttered exterior includes a simple clip-in point for a bike light and a zippered pocket that allows fast access to a wallet or keys. The main compartment’s single clasp releases with just one hand, so you’ll never have to set the pack in a puddle to devote both hands to the job.
Inside, there’s a padded sleeve for a 15-inch laptop and another to keep papers tidy, plus a zippered, stretch mesh pocket to organize charging cords. But the rest of the 20-liter storage is open and spacious enough for a bulky neck pillow and pair of headphones. Although there’s no waist belt, the molded shoulder straps and sternum buckle help keep the pack from sliding around while you’re hiking or cycling.
7. Chrome Pike Backpack
Buy now: $170, backcountry.com Best for: Hipsters Capacity: 22 liters Weight: 2 lbs. 6.4 oz
Based in Portland, Oregon, Chrome has long been known for its industrial-chic courier bags (and their distinctive seat belt buckles), but the Pike Backpack, part of Chrome’s new Modal collection, aspires to origami-like elegance.
Aesthetically, the charcoal grey twill straddles the business and sport realms, and the pack configuration is just as versatile. You can buckle the top flap outside when you want more easy-access pockets (like a zippered pouch that’s perfect for a phone or wallet). Or, if security from theft and rain is more important, you can fold that top flap back toward the shoulder straps, to create a sleek, streamlined profile that keeps valuables out of reach. Top-loading packs can make it hard to access items stored in the bottom of the bag, so the Pike’s center zipper provides convenient access to the whole compartment.
The Pike can’t claim to survive a full submersion—not all of its zippers are completely waterproof—but it seals out extended rain exactly you’d expect a product from a Portland-based company would. The rain-resistant twill is backed with a densely-woven nylon fabric that provides a second barrier to incoming moisture, and a waterproof zipper closes the dedicated laptop pocket to keep a 15-inch computer safely dry.
The new aesthetic preserves Chrome’s famously comfortable carry: Wide, sturdy molded shoulder straps and a thick foam back panel minimize the burden, whether you’re hauling spreadsheets or champagne.
8. TUMI Merge Wheeled Backpack
Buy now: $459 (was $575), nordstrom.com Best for: Fashionistas Capacity: 26 liters Weight: 7 lbs.
For all their benefits, backpacks do have downsides: Their shoulder straps can wrinkle shirt fabrics, and back sweat collects under the thick bag. So for travelers who adore dry-clean-only fashions, there’s the TUMI Merge—a traditional roller bag that morphs into a backpack for situations that call for hands-free mobility.
Like many roller bags, the TUMI Merge uses an extendable handle (made of extra-sturdy aircraft-grade aluminum) and a clamshell-style main compartment that unzips on three sides for easy packing. Its two wheels are mounted on a proprietary, shock-absorbing mechanism that provides a silky-smooth ride. A zippered laptop compartment in the front makes it easy to remove a 15-inch computer at airport security, and TUMI’s Tracer tag helps owners locate their bag should it get lost in transit.
When you want to shift into backpack mode, a retractable fabric panel extends to cover the wheels and keep their road grit from soiling your clothes. Pull out the backpack straps (which tuck into the back panel when not in use) and clip them into D-rings near the wheels, and the Merge is ready for its piggy-back ride.
While not technically waterproof, the rain-shedding fabric on the main compartment provides enough protection to keep contents dry during a soggy commute. And the vented, zippered side pocket keeps waterlogged items (like an umbrella) from soaking the rest of your stuff as they dry out.
>>Next: Is Traveling Better in the Rain?
Kelly Bastone Happiest when she’s outside, Kelly Bastone lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, but she chases outdoor adventure around the world. She covers gear and outdoors as a freelance writer.