How to keep your walking gear dry in wet conditions: Tips for hiking in the rain

By: Andrew Forrest - January 2023

Selection of drybags and raincovers

Keeping walking gear dry in wet conditions is crucial for maintaining the function and longevity of equipment or any other items stored in your rucksack or backpack and importantly helps with your comfort and safety.

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The importance of protecting your rucksack and keeping gear dry in wet conditions

Water and dampness can make your electronic gear (cameras, mobile phones etc.) unusable or unreliable and when your hiking gear becomes wet, it can lose its insulating properties, making it harder to keep warm when it's cold and wet which can lead to hypothermia, which can be extremely dangerous.

Wet hiking gear can also become heavier and uncomfortable to carry, so you'll need to expend more energy. In addition, wet gear left wet on your return from a walk or hike can be susceptible to mould and mildew, which can cause damage and make it difficult to use in the future.

By keeping gear dry, you can help ensure that your walking gear will function properly and last longer, while also staying more comfortable and safer in wet conditions.

So, if you've ever wondered how to keep your rucksack from getting wet or how to keep your gear dry on a walk, read on.

What are the ways of rainproofing and keeping your gear dry inside your rucksack?

There are three main ways to keep gear dry in a rucksack:

  • buy a waterproof rucksack,
  • use a waterproof raincover on the outside of your rucksack or
  • use a waterproof drybag on the inside of your rucksack

My preference has always been to use a drybag and then for very important items, or just to separate items within the rucksack, use one or two smaller drybags inside the main one.

Interestingly, whilst out on my last 3 walks in the rain, I asked everyone whom I met what methods they used, and the majority used a similar method to me - drybags.

Of the 51 people questioned who were wearing rucksacks on a wet December day, this is what people used to keep their gear dry inside their rucksacks:

Waterproof rucksack 0 people (0%)
Raincover 4 people (7.8%)
Drybags 32 people (62.7%)
Raincover & drybags 7 people (13.7%)
No protection at all 8 people (15.7%)

We will now look at each method in turn.

Using a waterproof rucksack to keep your gear dry

A waterproof rucksack or backpack is designed to protect the contents inside it from water ingress and is typically made of waterproof or water-resistant materials such as nylon or polyester with a special coating or laminate applied to the fabric to make it resistant to water. The zippers and closures on a waterproof rucksack are also designed to be waterproof to prevent water from entering the backpack.

They are often more expensive than similar ordinary rucksacks and there is far fewer rucksack choice available. They are often heavier than equivalent rucksacks and may not breathe as well as non-waterproof rucksacks, so can make you quite sweaty.

All that said, for our choice of the best waterproof rucksack, have a look at our Best backpacks and rucksacks for hiking in 2024.

Using a waterproof drybag inside your rucksack to keep your gear dry

Whilst a drybag inside your rucksack won't keep the rucksack itself dry, it will keep the gear inside it dry. I have always used a drybag inside my rucksack, roughly the same size as my rucksack and then have a couple more 1-2l drybags to keep my phone/wallet etc. in.

I often also take a mid-size drybag, so that on days when the rain stops/starts, I can take off my waterproof trousers and if still damp put them in a drybag inside the rucksack, so as not to wet other items in the drybag. This one is also good post-walk for throwing your wet/muddy hiking boots inside when back at the car, to keep the car clean and dry until you get home.

My Osprey ultralight 30L drybag

My Osprey ultralight 30L drybag

How does a drybag work?

A drybag is made of lightweight waterproof or water-resistant material that is designed to keep the contents inside dry and typically has a roll-top closure that is sealed tightly to prevent water from entering. The material used in dry bags is usually made of nylon or PVC, which is durable and can withstand rough use.

Drybags work by using the roll-top closure to create a waterproof seal. You roll down the top of the bag several times and then clip or snap it closed to create a tight seal. This should keep water out, even if the bag is submerged.

My Haglofs 30L dryback with additional velcro closure

My Haglofs 30L dryback with additional velcro closure

There are also zip-close drybags, but these are generally water-resistant, rather than being completely waterproof, but can protect from light rain.

There are also compression drybags and ones with multiple compartments also available in which to sort your gear.

Using a waterproof raincover on the outside of your rucksack to keep your rucksack and gear dry

Raincovers are a type of protective cover designed to be placed over a rucksack to protect it and its contents from rain and other elements. They are again typically made of a waterproof and breathable material such as nylon or polyester, and often have an elastic or drawstring closure that secures the cover to the rucksack.

Raincovers come in different shapes, sizes and many colours and are constructed to fit a variety of different rucksack sizes and styles. Some can be bought to fit a specific rucksack or many are a universal fit that are suitable for a variety of different backpacks - so you need to ensure you buy one that will fit your rucksack.

My old Lowe Alpine raincover

My old Lowe Alpine raincover

How does a raincover work?

Raincovers work by creating a barrier between the rucksack and the rain, so they keep the rucksack and its contents dry, rather than just the contents as a drybag would. They are fitted over the rucksack, covering it completely and protecting it from the rain. The breathable material used in the raincovers allows air to circulate, preventing the build-up of condensation inside the rucksack.

The universal fit raincovers for rucksacks generally feature an elastic or drawstring closure to pull the raincover tight around the rucksack.

The custom-fit raincover, which is specifically designed to fit a particular model of a rucksack, is made to the exact dimensions of the rucksack/backpack and often has additional precise closures, such as clips, straps and buckles. They should then give a higher level of protection as they fit the rucksack exactly, but can only really be used on the rucksack they are made for.

Which is better - a drybag or a raincover for keeping your gear dry in a rucksack?

Firstly, both should work and give you protection from the rain.

For me though, it has always been drybags.

Drybags sit inside the rucksack and keep everything dry. You can have more than one to keep things separate and to 'double bag' those important items (phone/wallet/purse etc.).

I have used a raincover in the past, but I found in very windy weather they were a bit of a pain to fit and flapped around. Also, on wet warmer days and if you sweat from your back, the rucksack material touching your back can get wet and that in turn can cause dampness inside it. Drybags are also useful on dry summer days in this respect, so stop sweat from getting inside... or if the water bottle/bladder leaks.

A raincover will protect your rucksack from rain, but if you find yourself wading through a stream, they won't keep your gear dry - a properly sealed waterproof drybag should do.

That said, you could use a combination of raincover and drybags - the choice is yours!

Additional Tips and Tricks for keeping your walking/hiking gear dry

  • Proof your rucksack - for that extra bit of protection, try treating your rucksack with a waterproofing spray. There are quite a few manufacturers who make these sprays, such as Grangers, Nikwax and Fabsil.

    Always test a small area first though before treating your whole rucksack. These can help a lot but don't make it 100% waterproof as they don't seal seams/zips etc. You can though also buy separate seam sealers. As with jackets, do apply reasonably regularly.
  • I've moved onto drybags now, as I like their lightness, waterproofness and ability to compress, but for many years starting in my teens, I used bin bags/plastic rucksack liners and freezer/Ziplock bags etc. that all served a purpose inside the rucksack and I don't ever remember gear getting wet. This is a cheaper option, but not sure I'd trust these with my mobile etc. now and they are prone to tears/rips much more easily than drybags.

    Selection of plastic rucksack liners and freezer bags
    Selection of plastic rucksack liners and freezer bags
  • Ensure you pack your rucksack correctly and don't have anything sharp sticking out that could puncture your drybag/raincover/rucksack. Also, don't overstuff your drybag/rucksack.
  • Ensure you properly seal your drybag.
  • Pack essentials at the top of your rucksack, so they can easily be found if you have to open it in the rain.
  • Whatever you are using - check there are no holes!
  • Take a small roll of duct tape (mine is part of my first aid kit) - this can be used to tape any tears that happen along the way.
  • Always empty your rucksack on your return and dry it and its contents, so there is no mould or mildew build-up.

If you want to check out other top safety tips for when out walking, check out our Top 15 safety tips for hiking post.

Here's to happy, comfortable dry walking!

January 2023