Using Backpack Liners When Hiking in The Rain


This past spring, I did a 3-day hike where it rained continuously. The rain didn’t stop me, but it wasn’t fun. Trudging through fog, mud and freezing mist that just doesn’t want to stop isn’t my idea of a fun time. Almost everything inside my pack was soaked except for the contents of my pack liner.

What is a Backpack Liner?

As the name implies a pack liner is a waterproof bag that you store on the inside of your pack. When everything else gets soaked your liner should keep the most important gear dry.

Personally, I use one of these Osprey Ultralight Pack Liners. I’m not all that crazy about reducing my pack weight. Weighing in between 3-5oz I think the heavy duty bag is well worth it. If you want to shed a little bit of weight you can use a trash bag or contractor bag.

When Should I Use a Pack Liner?

I’m of the mindset that you should always use a pack liner(Ohio weather is unpredictable). A simple garbage bag liner really isn’t all that heavy. If you’re hiking in a climate with regular rain definitely use a liner.

A cheap bag liner will last your entire hiking life and a compactor bag should last the entire hiking season.

Separate Your Hydration Bladder

Hydration bladders can quickly soak your gear if you aren’t careful, and I’m not even talking about the occasional leak. With a hydration bladder you will always get condensation on the inside of your pack.

It’s not a big deal if you have a separate compartment, but it will quickly soak your gear in the main compartment.

What Should I Store in a Pack Liner?

When it comes to storage there’s two main lines of thought. Some people store all their gear in a pack liner and others just store their most important gear.

I actually use a large pack liner to line the entire bag and one of these small waterproof compression stuff sacks for my most important gear. Plus all my electronics, keys, first-aid kit, etc go in a smaller stuff sack.

It might be overkill, but my sleeping bag and clothes never get wet. Plus the compression sack really shrinks the size of your bag and extra clothes.

Is a Hiking Pack Liner Worth It?

Backpackers are split when it comes to using a rain cover or lining the inside of their pack with a pack liner. It all depends on whether or not you feel comfortable using a rain cover.

Rain covers always felt awkward to me. Plus I always ended up dealing with small leaks and condensation on the inside of my cover. Maybe they’ve improved over the last 5-10 years, but you don’t have to deal with those problems with pack liners.

For the price of a compactor bag(like 10 cents) you should definitely use some type of pack liner. It won’t add much weight to your pack and there’s a ton of benefits.

Using a Pack Liner With a Rain Cover or Stuff Sack

There’s really no reason to double up on rain covers, pack liners and stuff sacks. Using a rain cover with a pack liner is just redundant.

Will a Backpack Liner Keep My Gear Dry?

Throughout the years I’ve used a wide variety of pack liners and been satisfied with most of them. They all kept my gear dry but a few weren’t quite worth the price. Some of them ripped at the seams, while others were too heavy for my liking.

Compactor Bags are Cheap and Effective

I’ve tried a lot of different backpack liners throughout the years and I keep going back to compactor bags. These are the heavy-duty bags that line the inside of your trash compactor(these are the bags).

When it comes to convenience and durability you really can’t beat a basic garbage bag. Just replace it every trip and repair it with a little bit of duct tape on the trail. For the price and weight savings you really can’t beat it.

Consider Using Compression Stuff Sacks

Small stuff sacks are another option for short day hikes and weekend trips. A small waterproof compression sack(like this one) is all most people need on a short 1-2 day trip. It will keep your most important gear dry in the rain and will actually reduce the amount of room your sleeping bag takes up.

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