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What’s the difference between “waterproof” and “water-resistant” when it comes to bikepacking bags? The reality is some companies associate the term waterproof with products that aren’t, and it’s time to uncover the truth. In this guide, we look at the difference between water-resistant and waterproof bikepacking bags, provide some considerations for weighing out the options, and list our favorites in several categories…
Bikepacking is all about venturing into the unknown and learning to expect the unexpected. However, there’s one certainty that you can rely on during any extended trip: you’re going to get wet. Okay, maybe that’s not always the case, but unless you have great timing or you’re in the desert during the dry season, there’s a high probability that you’ll get rained at some point on during a multi-day outing. Often, that’s just a fleeting shower, but other times, persistent rain can soak you and your gear to its core. For many of us, having the occasional “yard sale” display of gear drying in the sun is part of the journey, but it’s essential that some gear stays dry, such as down jackets and sleeping bags, cameras and sensitive electronics, and clothes meant to keep you warm.
One issue we hear from many readers is that they expected their new bag to be waterproof but it wasn’t. This is where things get confusing. With many materials being touted as “waterproof” but using construction techniques that nullify that claim, there’s a lot to consider. Watch Neil’s video that digs into the topic below, then scroll down for a list of realizations and considerations from our last decade bikepacking through all sorts of tumultuous weather.
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If having highly water-resistant or waterproof bikepacking bags is important to you, there are a few factors to consider when perusing the myriad options on the market. As Neil mentioned in the video, most of us here at BIKEPACKING.com like having at least one waterproof bag in our system to store clothing, electronics, or other sensitive gear that shouldn’t get wet. Find some considerations below:
1. Bags that are stitched are not waterproof (most of the time).
If a bag is stitched and the terms “water-resistant” or “waterproof” are used to describe it, be wary. In order for a stitched bag to keep out the elements, the seams have to be sealed with a seam sealant compound or a seam tape. If a bag doesn’t have either, it’s likely that it will do a poor job of keeping out water during heavy rain.
2. Some materials lose their water resistance.
One problem we’ve experienced with X-Pac (the most popular material used in bikepacking bags) is that it seems to wear out and lose its water resistance. Despite X-Pac’s claim of being 100 percent waterproof, we have continually seen this fabric start to leach over time. This is likely due to sun exposure or wear and tear, but we’ve had that experience both the 3- and 4-ply X-Pac. On the contrary, TPU nylon (see below) seems to maintain its water resistance extremely well after a lot of use. Case in point is the TPU fabrics used in products like all Ortlieb bags, the Revelate Terrapin, and the Rockgeist Big Dumpling, which can stand up to heavy use and remain waterproof. That being said, there are fabrics used in stitched bags that are much more durable and waterproof, such as the engineered Stratex fabric used in the Revelate Pronghorn dry bag.
3. Some stitched two-ply bags are incredibly water resistant.
We’ve found some two-ply stitched (and non-seam-sealed) bags to be virtually waterproof. One example is the Bags By Bird Goldback (Cordura with a thinner liner layer); it can get extremely wet in a deluge and does pretty well at keeping out moisture. The same can be said for Mission Workshop/Acre Hauser backpack, which has an X-Pac outer and nylon interior liner.
4. Waxed canvas is an extremely water-resistant option.
This all-natural, old-school weatherproofing technique involves melting bees wax into cotton duck cloth. Of course, this results in a heavier material, but it’s extremely weather-resistant, even in heavy all-day downpours.
5. You don’t have to use waterproof bikepacking bags.
One benefit to using non-waterproof bags is the fact that they can breathe, allowing the bag and its contents to dry out with the wind and sun, thus preventing things from getting musty. I personally like having a breathable fabric frame pack and relying on other means for keeping stuff dry. One of my favorites is having a couple Sea to Summit Ultrasil dry bags at the ready. They’re lightweight and do a great job of keeping their contents dry, although be sure to keep them tightly packed, or they can rub other items and develop holes. Another option is just using plastic bags: bread bags, grocery sacks, and zip-lock bags come to mind.
6. When in doubt, go with a welded bag.
While there are many seam-taped stitched bags that are waterproof, welded bags are a sure bet. In summary, welded bags use radio frequency (RF) welding or heat to bond thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) fabrics to create a seamless join. TPU fabrics are tough and 100% waterproof.
7. Roll-tops and TIZIPS make it truly waterproof.
Even welded bags may not be fully waterproof. To be able to make that claim, bags should be able to be dunked in water. To accomplish this extreme rating, a roll-top closure that allows 4-5 rolls or a waterproof TIZIP zipper need to be used as the closure. The water-resistant zippers used in most bags—such as the Tailfin Aeropack, as Neil demonstrated, are simply water-resistant and can’t stand up to water pressure. That’s why many Ortlieb bags and the Revelate Terrapin use an air-bleed valve. Their air- and water-tight design requires the ability to let air our to compress and pack the bag. If you’re in doubt, fill the bag with air, then squeeze it to see if there are any leaks.
There are several brands that make 100% waterproof bikepacking bags. A few to note who use welded construction techniques include Ortlieb (their tagline depends on it), Revelate Designs, Blackburn, and Tailfin. Here are several of our favorite waterproof bikepacking bags we’ve tested over the years. If you have a waterproof or highly water-resistant bag you like, let us know in the conversation at the bottom of this post. Here are some favorites we’ve come to trust over the years:
Waterproof Handlebar Bags
Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack 15L
All of Ortlieb’s Germany-made bags are 100 percent waterproof, including the RF-welded TPU Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack 15L, a bag we’ve put thousands of miles on. The 15L model offers just the right mount of space, and Ortlieb did a great job at making a solid and usable bag. You can also get a welded roll-top accessory to go along with it.
Revelate Sweet Roll 11L
The Revelate Sweet Roll was one of the first handlebar bags of its kind, and it also features an RF-welded waterproof TPU construction. Like all of Revelate’s bags, the Sweet Roll has excellent attention to detail and is a durable option that we’ve put serious miles on over the years.
Made in China / 439g (15.5oz) / $115 at REI
While the Revelate Harness isn’t necessarily waterproof, the concept behind it was designed with waterproofing in mind. Essentially, the Harness was the first of its kind handlebar solution made to holster a third-party dry bag or Revelate’s own Salty Roll. There are plenty of other harnesses on the market, but this was the first and remains one of the best. Find our review here.
Made in USA / 425g (15oz) / $95 at REI
Waterproof Seat Bags
Ortlieb Seat-pack 11L
The Ortlieb Seat-pack 11L was unique in that it was the first welded seat pack to retain a simple saddle rail and seatpost connection and a lightweight form factor. We’ve racked up thousands of miles on this one, and it even works with a dropper post.
Revelate Terrapin 8L
The Revelate Terrapin differs from typical seat bag designs in the fact that it’s a holster system that secures a dry bag that can be quickly removed from the bike for “in the tent” packing or unpacking. It’s a brilliant solution and is 100 percent waterproof.
Made in USA/China / 369g (13oz) / $179 at REI
Tailfin 10L Panniers
There are plenty of waterproof panniers on the market, but we have a special fondness for Tailfin’s 10L Mini-Panniers. Not only are they the perfect size, they also have several brilliant details, including an excellent locking cam and a nice-roll-top with reverse clips. Find the full review here.
Made in China / 380g (13.4oz) each / $105 each at Tailfin
Rockgeist Mr. Fusion
The formerly Canadian-made Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion (now Rockgeist) has long been one of our favorite seat packs. Not only is it completely waterproof, but the mini-rack/holster system prevents sway and movement better than any other seat pack on the market. It’s also extremely durable (read my 5,000-mile review from 2016 here).
Made in USA / 560g (19.7oz) / $230 at Rockgeist
Waterproof Frame Packs
The 52Hz was the world’s first fully waterproof frame bag, based around the roll-top design found on Porcelain Rocket’s original Orbiter roll-top frame pack. Now made by Rockgeist in North Carolina, the 52Hz lives on as one of the few waterproof frame pack options.
Made in USA / 380g (13.4oz) in size large / $240 at Rockgeist
The Ortlieb Frame Packs are the only other waterproof frame bags that we know of. They come in two flavors: a roll-top design, which we’ve used and like, and a zipper design with a TIZIP zipper. Both are fully waterproof.
Made in Germany / 250g (8.8oz) in 6L / $140+ at Ortlieb
Waterproof Accessory Bags
Rockgeist Big Dumpling
Employing the same welded/waterproof techniques that are used on the 52Hz frame pack, the Rockgeist Big Dumpling is a one-of-a-kind hip pack. Several of us on the team use this bag daily for on-the-bike camera-carrying duties.
Made in USA / 377g (13.3oz) / $175 at Rockgeist
Revelate Egress Pocket
The Egress Pocket is a welded, waterproof accessory pouch that makes a great companion piece for the already popular, waterproof, seam-sealed Sweetroll handlebar roll or the Handlebar Harness. It can also stand alone, secured to the bars with included straps.
Made in China / 283g (10oz) / $75 at REI
Ortlieb Fork Pack
Ortlieb’s fully waterproof Fork-Pack is an interesting quick-release roll-top pack designed to add 4.1 or 5.8 liters of packing space to each fork leg (with or without eyelets). It makes a great solution to front-load packing or just adding extra volume to your setup. Find our review here.
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