How We Tested Waterproof Hiking Backpacks

Where We Test

As with all our reviews, we test the products we recommend to you in the mountains! Whilst lab tests are great (and we love them) they don’t give you an exhaustive look at the differing conditions you can expect in the outdoors – be that extreme conditions or a whole range of things happening at once. We want you to feel confident when you purchase a product through our recommendations, and we believe this is the only way to get that level of assurance. We live and breathe the outdoors at This Expansive Adventure and our recommendations come based on our passion for everything adventure and making it easier to get out there.

Testing Metrics

When it comes to backpacks, and especially backpacks that are intended for backpacking there is so much that needs to be taken into consideration. So, when we tested, we were paying particular attention to the backpack’s durability (if you’re going on a big trip, you need to know it’s going to be up for the job of carrying heavier loads). We also paid strong attention to the comfort levels, cushioning and placement of hip pockets etc. Water resistance was a big part of our tests too, with our main metric being waterproof backpacks! Read on to get a more exhaustive look at the kind of areas we focused on.

Materials

When you’re looking at the manufacturers listings for fabrics and materials used on a waterproof backpack, it can be hard to know what some of the terms actually mean and what that gives you in terms of the product you’ll receive after ordering. We like to look at everything in terms of our tests as ‘real world metrics’ and feel. Does the pack stand up to the kind of conditions it is being tested in? Do the materials pose any potential waterproofing or durability concerns? How do the materials handle things like sweat, oil, grease etc.? When comparing products, we are always looking for what gives the best of both worlds, and if there are standouts within the range of products that fit more categories than others.

Osprey Hestrel 48 backpack materials

Breathability

Breathability is incredibly important on a waterproof backpack and especially when it comes to backpacking packs – you are likely to become sweatier when backpacking or wearing a bigger pack, and so the way the suspension system is created can make the difference between removing your pack to a back covered in sweat or not. We tested the breathability of the packs we have recommended in our round up in a range of locations and heat settings – from hotter temperatures through to full on rain storms to get a full sense of how each backpack handles breathability and in turn the comfort it offers the wearer.

Water Resistance

Depending on the manufacturer of the backpack, each backpack will have a different level of waterproofing, and a different technology. Some manufacturers make use of their own, in-house technologies, whereas others make use of standardized waterproofing technologies or partnered solutions specific to brand. What we test is how this translates in the real world and how things like the DWR perform in harsh conditions. One thing that is vitally important when it comes to backpacking is that if you experience heavy rain, your gear is going to stay dry in transit. For more information on waterproofing, read our full guide here.

Big Agnes Parkview 63 backpack

Dimensions

You might think that all backpacks of a certain size would hold the same level of gear – and whilst in theory they do, it can be a completely different story when it comes to actually testing the backpack’s capacity. Some packs come in narrower designs, which can make it harder to fit certain items in, whereas others can be shorter and make it harder to fit longer tents or sleeping bags in neatly. We tested a whole range of different kit samples to see how each pack filled up and how well distributed the weight was within it. We were also looking at how the different pack sizes felt on the back depending on the wearer’s height.

Fit

All manufacturers make a slightly different fit, and really, the fit you like from your backpack will be determined by personal preference. However, all of the packs we have tested make use of a suspension system, waist pockets and a variety of levels of cushioning in the strap areas and other contact points with the body. We tested all of these elements on a variety of length hikes to see how they felt comfort wise after long periods of time. We also tested on a number of wearers, to see if any packs were particularly suited to certain frames, which you’ll see recommended in our main and individual reviews.

Dueter Aircontact 60 backpack storage

Storage

As above with the dimensions of the pack, the amount of storage your waterproof backpack has is incredibly important and an area we paid particular importance to when testing, We weren’t just looking at the main space either, but paying close attention to pockets and their placement, which can make all the difference when it comes to ease of use when backpacking (always made so much easier when you don’t have to remove your pack to get to an item you need in a hurry). Generally, storage is a personal preference, but we’ve tested a range of gear and likely scenarios to make our recommendations.  

Comfort

Comfort will be a personal preference as a lot of comfort on a backpack comes from the size of a frame compared to the wearer, but we paid a lot of attention in our tests to how each pack felt when filled at different weights. You may think that a backpacking pack will be at its most uncomfortable when fully weighted out, however, this isn’t entirely the case and some packs can actually feel incredibly uncomfortable and drag or slouch when not at full capacity, as intended. We also tested the hip belt comfort of each pack, once fitted correctly, and how the cushioning felt after a long days hiking (and if there were any rub points) in the same way we tested shoulder straps and cushioning.

Gregory Paragon 58 backpack

Features

Each backpack has its own interesting parts and quirks, and what you go for will really depend on what you need, want and what you find of interest. However, we were always looking for great integrations in our tests – such as hydration systems, and how these sit apart from the main section of the bag (or how they don’t) and if this may cause any leakage problems. We were also looking at rain covers and how these allowed access to other areas of the pack, well cushioned and finished zips and any straps that helped keep everything in place.

Durability

There is no better place to test the durability of waterproof backpacks then outdoors – we tested the packs we’ve recommended in the mountains, in the harshest conditions we’ve had access to (a lot of rain, snow and heavy winds are very common). We’ve paid particular attention to how the packs handle being stuffed to the brim and how the fabric holds and stretches throughout this/if there are any pressure points. We’ve also looked at how the packs hold up against any knocks and scuffs and how this may impact the DWR and waterproofing properties of the packs.

Gregory Baltoro 65 backpack

Price

We hate the fact that there are so many barriers to the outdoors – and one of the biggest ones is the price of gear. We are actively trying to change this by recommending a range of products for a whole range of budgets, from more entry level products to higher end technical gear. Let’s be honest – outdoor gear can be pricey! If treated correctly, your outdoor gear can last you a long time, and there is no reason your waterproof backpack for backpacking can’t be with you for many adventures to come. When testing, we were looking at which packs give the best value for money, and all of our recommendations come off the back of this – we want your money to get you the best pack it can!

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