Keep your stuff dry with rucksack liners and drybags

Published 3 February 2019

Woman standing in a field, wearing waterproofs, with a rucksack covered in an orange rucksack cover.
When the weather is bleak, make sure your belongings are dry.

The first time I went for a multi-day walk by myself, it rained. It was day one of the Cumbria Way and it rained. And rained. And rained.

It rained so much I didn’t dare get my map out of the map case lest it be turned into a soggy pulp of water.

It rained so much that I ended up huddling in a car park toilet block for ages as it was the only place I could find that was dry enough for me to eat my lunch.

It rained so much that the rain overwhelmed my cheap, crappy waterproofs, leaving me completely soaked both inside and out.  I ended up changing many of my clothes whilst stood in the afore-mentioned toilet block.

It rained so much that the water got into my rucksack, leaving most of the clothes inside damp and unwearable.

At this point, I had done just a couple of other multi-day walks and had been fortunate with the weather.  The worst I’d had to deal with was a few light showers.  On the Cumbria Way I discovered I was woefully unprepared for heavy rain.

Before setting off on my walk, I had been prepared.  The contents of my rucksack were, for example, wrapped in bags to help keep things dry. However I had – following the instructions of one guide book – used pedal bin bags to do this.

Let’s get this straight right now.  That person was an idiot.  Pedal bin bags are cheap, flimsy and useless for the job. They are so thin that water will permeate it with ease.  The bag won’t even put up a fight.  It will just stand there shouting “come on in!  Water, this way!”  And they tear when you try and get them out of your bag. Mine had torn several times and I’d only walked a few miles.

That night – after the rainfall of doom – I headed to a branch of Spar and bought some thick bin liners instead.  They did a lot better, although thankfully the amount of rain on the remaining four days of the Cumbria Way was a lot less.

Skip forward a year.  That year I walked the Coast to Coast. There was one day where it rained even more than it had on the Cumbria Way.  The heavens opened and it rained and it rained and it rained. Then it rained some more.  People got trapped due to rising flood waters and everything.  That was a serious amount of rain.

By this point I had made a substantial investment in some decent waterproof clothes.  But I was still using the bin liners for the inside of the rucksack.  Thick black ones.  Certainly not pedal bin liners.  But it still wasn’t enough.  At the end of the day, I arrived at my accommodation and found most of the dry clothes very wet indeed.  Thankfully I was staying in a youth hostel with an excellent drying room.  Almost all my belongings ended up in that drying room, whilst I mustered up just enough clothing to make me look decent enough to go to the pub.

After that I invested in a simple, but hugely affective piece of kit. A rucksack liner. Indeed, I now have three. And since buying them, my belongings have remained dry even in the worst weather.

Three drybags of varying sizes
Three rucksack liners (or drybags) of varying sizes

If you’ve never come across before, a liner – also known as a drybag – is pretty simple. It’s just a bag that, when sealed up, should be completely waterproof. And you can get them for about twenty quid. Believe me, it’s a worthwhile investment.

Generally they’re roll-top bags. Simply insert the liner inside your rucksack, fill it up with stuff and roll up the top a few times. At the top you’ll find a clip that, when fastened, will keep the rolled up top together, and keep the whole thing water-tight. It’s that easy.

They come in a variety of sizes, from 80 litre whoppers to tiny ones that will  fit an iPad and little else. 

One thing to note is that the sizes of the liner will rarely correspond neatly to the size of your rucksack, due to the differences in widths, depths and heights between the bags and rucksacks. My own 50 litre rucksack has lots of nooks and crannies in it that the drybag doesn’t easily fit into, and the result is that the drybag is not quite big enough.

One answer is to go big. Go as big as you can. Got a 30 litre rucksack? Go for a 50 litre liner. 50 litre pack? 80 litre liner. The difference in price is almost negligible so why skimp? When writing this, I found Mountain Warehouse’s website listing a 40 litre drybag for just £2 less than the 80 litre version. It’s just not worth saving the cash.

Another option – that I tend to go for – is to use multiple drybags. If you have a big rucksack (45 litre and above), this is well worth considering. You can split your belongings up, and if you need to get at something in the deepest, darkest corner of your pack, you can lift the top one out as a whole, and get to the stuff below much more easily.

The design of your rucksack may also influence what you buy. If you’ve got a top pocket, you may want a smaller bag to put in there. Generally I don’t bother, but it’s worth thinking about.

Whatever way you cut it, if you have a chance of going out walking in the rain, you’ll find a rucksack liner to be a sound investment, especially if – like me – you enjoy getting to the end of the day and having some dry clothes to change into.

For the sake of a few pounds, it’s a very wise investment indeed.


Philip Walters

28 October 2020 at 8:01 am

There’s nothing quite like learning something the hard way, thank you! What a brilliant article and, for us people who are always trying to save a few quid here and there, a reminder that some things are worth paying out for.


7 October 2021 at 11:49 pm

I have a 35L pack and use the really heavy duty shipping bags. They work a treat and have kept my stuff dry in downpours. Bin liners suck, like you say.

For light hikes I use a Gonex 20L, which is about 95% waterproof and a shipping bag inside, just in case.

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