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