Any serious prepper will have a bunch of survival bags set up in various locations for a number of potential disasters. Everyone talks about what these bags should include, but almost no one talks about the bag itself. Today, that situation changes, and we’ll look at how we can choose a bag that should last more than the resources it holds.
Some folks have a bug-out bag at home, a get-home bag in their office, and an emergency kit for every vehicle. However, what will they do if the bags themselves don’t hold up?
What if you stuff them with supplies and they fall apart under the heavy load, or perhaps they get ruined by heavy rainfall or harsh winds? All your supplies will be soaked and useless or scattered across the muddy forest floor. You’ve put a lot of effort into making a three-day cache, and it is now worthless.
Since spring is just around the corner, I figured it would be a great time to look at what makes durable bags and how such characteristics will increase their daily carrying capacity while at the same time lasting the punishing weather.
Although I will also recommend a few models, this is not a buyer’s guide, and my intention is to make you aware of things you need to pay close attention to when choosing and buying your next bag.
What to look for
If you are looking to get a waterproof backpack, here are the things you should watch out for when choosing a bag.
A rain cover is like an extra bag for your backpack, and it will turn any bag into a stormproof backpack. These are seamless covers that have an ample interior coating made from polyurethane (PU) and are designed and sized matched to cover the entire pack, except for the suspension.
A waterproof and stormproof backpack should be durable, and durability should be one of your main concerns when picking one. The fabric should hold under a heavy load, and it should not let moisture in.
I recommend getting a pack with a Cordura layer that has a waterproof coating on the inside. Even if the backpack doesn’t have waterproof zippers or sealed seams, the backpack will still be extremely water-resistant.
For exterior coating, always go for something with a good durable water repellent (DWR) coating on the outside. The water repellent coating will pool water into beads on the fabric surface, and it will help your backpack shed the droplets much easier.
My bags have either taped seams or welded ones, and I would recommend paying attention to these since they are perfect for blocking water penetration. Even more, when the manufacturer adds these types of seams, the interior of the backpack is usually coated.
This may not seem like a big deal for some, and they look for sturdy and easy-going zippers. However, I recommend getting a backpack that has all the zippers covered with an external flap for added protection.
A backpack with a top-load design features a main compartment that can be accessed from the top of the backpack, easily and it can be opened almost instantly when needed. The front-load backpacks have a main compartment that unzips and has an n-shape opening. Such backpacks can be unfolded like a briefcase.
The second design is preferred by many, but if you want to keep your survival supplies dry, it’s recommended to go with a top-load design. Such designs with single or double quick-release buckles do a much better job at blocking the rain.
Avoid the following
There are also some things you should steer clear of, and these attributes should be avoided when buying your next backpack.
Stay away from lightweight fabrics since you want to have a sturdy and durable backpack in the wilderness. Thin fabrics are known to fray against rocks or snag on branches, thus allowing moisture to get in. Since durability is the main word, you should also avoid getting cotton canvas backpacks regardless of whether they are waxed or not.
Some folks will go for a Molle-style pack, and these usually come with a Pouch Attachment Ladder System (PALS) stitched on that has a lot of needle holes. As you can assume, these tiny holes are perfect doorways for moisture to get in. Not to mention that if you go for such a backpack, you will also attract unwanted attention from desperate folks when the SHTF.
A waterproof bag should not have any holes in it, and stay away from packs that have drain holes or access holes for wired earphones or hydration pouches. If you pick a backpack with drain holes, the chances are that you will set it down on a wet surface at some point during your journey, and it will soak up water without you even noticing.
Polyurethane – Coated Reverse-Coil zippers
There are many types of zippers out there, and a regular zipper has its teeth, slider, and puller visible on the exterior. There are new reverse-coil zippers with teeth on the interior so that the backside of the teeth can be coated with polyurethane. It is wise to avoid these kinds of zippers since they have the tendency to wear the PU coating the more you use them. Alternatively, you should pick a backpack with reverse-coil zippers, which are treated with DWR. These are better at repelling rain, but unfortunately, they are not a common option for today’s backpacks.
Putting it to the test
You will need to put your backpack to the test, and since you can’t wait for a storm to happen, here’s an idea to see if your backpack is waterproof or not. Take the backpack you just bought and stuff it full of newspapers or any type of paper you have lying around. The paper turns to mush when it gets wet, and it’s the perfect material for this test, rather than using your supplies.
Now set your backpack under a running showerhead for 10-15 minutes and after this water test, wipe down the exterior using a towel. Open the bags and notice if (and where) the paper got wet.
Since you may discover that your brand new backpack is not completely waterproof, there’s still hope if you want to keep your supplies dry. It goes without saying that the higher the standards of quality and functionality of a backpack, the higher the price. If you’re working with a limited budget, here are a few ideas to keep your stuff dry.
Get a waterproof pack rain cover since these are also sold separately, and they can cover a wide range of backpacks and sizes.
Separate your gear and items into waterproof and not-waterproof stuff. Those that are not waterproof can be placed in waterproof bags before placing them in your backpack. There are many airtight plastic waterproof pouches, like the reusable pouches from Loksak.
Another idea would be to protect your backpack when laying it on wet surfaces or when traversing a river. I know a few fellows that bring a heavy-duty garbage plastic bag, and they wrap or place their packs in the bags to protect them from moisture whenever the situation calls for it. Perhaps this idea will work for you as well.
Aquapac Wet and Dry Backpack
Aquapac’s Wet & Dry Backpack is a storm-resistant bag with an IPX6 rating, meaning it can withstand rain, splashing, and rough sea conditions. Unlike most dry bags, this one here has more than one compartment.
The bag lives up to its name with a sizeable internal waterproof bag for separating clean clothes from dirty ones. Also, this yellow bag has a clear pocket attached to it so you can quickly find your keys, phone, and other small objects without having to dig around inside the bag.
On the outside, there is a padded back support that can be removed to dry out, it can also be substituted with a hydration bladder, or act as an improvised seat cushion on rocky terrain. The available mesh pockets can hold water bottles or any other useful items. And there are multiple lash points so you can clip on carabiners, lights, or other equipment. At 25 or 35 liters, the Wet & Dry Backpack isn’t large, but it can serve as a stellar daypack in turbulent conditions.
Kelty Revol 65
The Revol 65 is an ergonomic pack that lets you lug around a poopload of life-sustaining cargo. It has an aluminum and HDPE plastic frame combined with PerfectFIT adjustable suspension system that keeps the cargo mass on your hips and shoulders rather than on your lower back. Furthermore, the lumbar support is adjustable and the Kinesis hip belt actually moves with your every step to increase stability.
If that weren’t enough, there’s also a trapdoor compartment at the bottom where you can access a any gear without unloading the entire pack. However, all this comes at a cost: weight. The backpack weighs around 4 pounds, and it’s the heaviest pack I had the pleasure of owning so far. If you load up the backpack to its 65-liter capacity, your 72 hours’ worth of supplies can easily weigh almost of 50 pounds.
As a top-loader with two quick-release buckles, the main section is virtually shielded from any rainshower or snow.
Scrubba Stealth Pack
The Scrubba Stealth Pack is a 4-in-1 solution: it is a weatherproof backpack, a camp shower, a compression bag and a portable washing machine. Yes, you read that correctly.
This invention came out of the mind of Scrubba founder Ash Newland of Australia as he was planning with a friend to climb Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro in 2010. After planning everything they soon realized their cold-weather apparel and camping gear takes up most of the cargo space. There will be no room left for more changes of clothes and they have to deal with limited clothing space. Soon enough this bag was born.
This versio combines a waterproof roll-top bag, a flexible integrated washboard, and a multifunctional valve in one durable package. When you plan to use it as a washer, place your dirty clothes with some water and cleaner inside the bag, close the roll-top closure. Now all you need to do is scrub the garments for up to 3 minutes and that’s pretty much it.
However, if you’re in need of a shower after wandering around in the backcountry, just fill the bag with water, hang it from a tree, and let it soak up some sunrays. Once the water inside gets warm enough, turn the valve and get a warm rinse in. If you’re traveling, this Scrubba can act as compression bag. Fill it with clothes, squeeze out all the air, and tighten the valve. It’ll stay compact, saving you luggage space.
As a dry bag, the Stealth Pack effortlessly passed our shower test with flying colors. For serious survivalists, the Stealth Pack won’t suffice as a primary BOB, but would shine as a valuable add-on thanks to its multipurpose design.
Resources recommended for preppers and survivalists:
How to build a cost-effective and out-of-sight shelter
The solution to becoming your own home doctor when SHTF
The only survival foods you need to outlast any crisis
The easiest DIY project to produce electricity during a power outage