A Buyer’s Guide for Bug-Out Bags That Can En­dure Ex­treme Weather

RECOIL OFFGRID - - Front Page - By Pa­trick Vuong

Any prep­per worth their weight in MREs will have SHTF packs set up in sev­eral lo­ca­tions for any num­ber of po­ten­tial dis­as­ters. A bu­gout bag at home, a get-home pack at the of­fice, and an emer­gency kit in the ve­hi­cle.

But what if the bags them­selves don’t hold up? What if they fall apart un­der a heavy load or get ru­ined in a tor­ren­tial down­pour paired with gale-force winds? Now your pre­cious three-day cache is soaked, use­less, or strewn across the muddy for­est floor.

With spring show­ers ap­proach­ing, we’re tak­ing a closer look at durable bags avail­able to­day that will both in­crease your daily carry ca­pac­ity and en­dure pun­ish­ing weather.

For the sake of ar­gu­ment, we’re call­ing them “stormproof” backpacks. Note: This is not a buyer’s guide ex­clu­sively on wa­ter­proof bags, also known as dry bags. Be­cause they tend to have just one large com­part­ment and look like sacks made out of in­flat­able swim­ming pools, dry bags aren’t as ver­sa­tile for prep­pers and may stick out in ur­ban set­tings. Though there are two dry bags among the six mod­els we’ve tested here, we also got hands on with a duf­fel, a lum­bar pack, a cam­pus-style knap­sack, and a true trail pack.

Each one fits a par­tic­u­lar niche, but are adapt­able enough for use in other sit­u­a­tions — all with an eye to­ward keep­ing your vi­tal sup­plies safe and dry. But how do you go about choos­ing?

What to Look For

For rec­om­men­da­tions that hold wa­ter, we went to two sub­ject-mat­ter ex­perts (SMEs) with al­most a half cen­tury of com­bined ex­pe­ri­ence mak­ing gear for out­door ad­ven­tur­ers: Pa­trick York Ma, the CEO and chief de­signer of Prometheus De­sign Werx and Mel Terkla, an in­de­pen­dent de­signer who’s worked for a va­ri­ety of com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Ki­faru. Here are some things they sug­gest you watch out for in a weath­er­proof pack.

Rain Cover: This is es­sen­tially a bag for your bag, and can turn any backpack (even your fa­vorite Jans­port) into a stormproof sack. “Rain cov­ers are ‘seam­less’ cov­ers with am­ple in­te­rior coat­ings — typ­i­cally polyurethane (P.U.) — that are sized to wrap and cover your en­tire pack, ex­cept for the sus­pen­sion,” Ma says.

Durable Fabric: “If I were look­ing for a stormproof pack, my first pri­or­ity would be dura­bil­ity,” Terkla says. Af­ter all, what good is a stormproof pack if it’s just gonna rip and let mois­ture in?

In­te­rior Coat­ing: “Cor­dura can be had with a wa­ter­proof coat­ing on the in­side layer of the fabric,” Terkla says. “Even with­out sealed seams or wa­ter­proof zip­pers, this makes the pack ex­tremely wa­ter re­sis­tant.”

Ex­te­rior Coat­ing: Ma rec­om­mends get­ting a pack with a good durable wa­ter re­pel­lent (DWR) coat­ing on the out­side, too. DWR causes H2O to pool into beads on the fabric’s sur­face, mak­ing it eas­ier to shed the droplets.

Seams: Try to look for bags with welded or taped seams. “This type of pack con­struc­tion will be the best at block­ing wa­ter pen­e­tra­tion,” Ma says, ad­ding that packs with th­ese types of seams usu­ally come with coated in­te­ri­ors.

Zip­pers: Both SMEs rec­om­mend look­ing for zip­pers cov­ered with an ex­ter­nal flap.

Top-Load De­sign: Top-load backpacks fea­ture a main com­part­ment that opens at, well, the top — think Santa’s toy sack, but with an large flap that cov­ers the open­ing. Mean­while, front-load backpacks fea­ture a main com­part­ment that un­zips in the shape of an “n” and un­folds like a brief­case. While the lat­ter de­sign is eas­ier to pack and com­part­men­tal­izes your gear, the for­mer is the way to go if you want to keep your sur­vival sup­plies dry, Ma says: “Top load­ers with sin­gle or dou­ble quick-re­lease buck­les gen­er­ally block rain bet­ter than full-zip front-panel load­ers.”

What to Avoid

On the flip­side, our SMEs warned us to steer clear of th­ese at­tributes when shop­ping for a stormproof sack:

Light­weight Fab­rics: Terkla says the pri­or­ity of any stormproof pack should al­ways be durable ma­te­ri­als. Even with DWR, thin fab­rics can fray against rocks or snag on tree branches, al­low­ing mois­ture to seep in. Like­wise, Ma says to skip “any hip­ster cot­ton can­vas,” waxed or not.

P.U.-Coated Re­verse-Coil Zip­pers: Not all zip­pers are created equal. Both SMEs agree that the re­cent trend of “wa­ter­proof” P.U.-coated re­verse-coil zip­pers should be avoided, iron­i­cally enough. A reg­u­lar zip­per has its teeth, slider, and puller vis­i­ble on the ex­te­rior. Th­ese new re­verse-coil zip­pers have its teeth on the in­te­rior (hence the name) so that the back­side of the teeth (on the ex­te­rior) can be lam­i­nated with wa­ter-re­sis­tant P.U. The prob­lem is that P.U. grad­u­ally wears out, and even more so with hard use. “Th­ese just be­come more points of en­try for rain as they wear out over time,” Ma says. “A DWR-treated re­verse-coil zip­per is ac­tu­ally bet­ter at re­pelling rain … but it’s not com­mon, though.”

PALS Web­bing: A MOLLE-style pack with PALS web­bing stitched on it is full of nee­dle holes, Ma says, all of which are tiny door­ways for mois­ture to get in.

Also, sur­vival ex­pert and long­time RECOIL OFFGRID con­trib­u­tor Tim MacWelch ad­vo­cates avoid­ing go-bags cov­ered with PALS web­bing in gen­eral, as they will at­tract a lot more un­wanted at­ten­tion from the des­per­ate and the un­pre­pared once SHTF.

Holes: It’s com­mon sense not to se­lect any stormproof bags with drain holes or un­pro­tected open­ings for wired ear­phones or hy­dra­tion blad­ders. “Any drain holes on the bot­tom of a pack will let wa­ter in if you set it down on sat­u­rated ground or a pud­dle,” Ma says.

Weather­ing the Test

With th­ese tips in mind, we put the backpacks in this buyer’s guide to the test. But since we’re not Halle Berry in an X-Men movie, we couldn’t con­jure up a storm with our mu­tant pow­ers.

To sim­u­late a down­pour and as­sess each bag’s abil­ity to shut out H2O, we stuffed each pack full of newsprint pa­per as a sub­sti­tute for our sur­vival gear. Why? Newsprint turns to mush when wet, so we’d know right away if wa­ter got in­side a pack. Next, we stuck each bag un­der a run­ning show­er­head for 10 min­utes. Then we wiped down the ex­te­ri­ors be­fore un­zip­ping each model, not­ing whether (and where) any of the pa­per got soaked.

How­ever, re­pelling wa­ter isn’t the only mea­sure of a great bug-out bag (BOB). We also looked at each pack’s cargo ca­pac­ity, in­ter­nal stor­age or­ga­ni­za­tion, and com­fort level dur­ing use.

Whether you ex­pect hail and show­ers in the com­ing weeks, you live in a re­gion prone to tor­na­does in the spring sea­son, or you’re gonna hit the lake or river once the snow melts, there’s no doubt a backpack op­tion that can help you weather the storm. Read on to see if one of the fol­low­ing six bags is right for you.

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