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Determining the Best Waterproof Backpack, in Detail

When you’re hauling your gear with you, especially outside, there’s one major factor that determines how exactly you’re going to bring everything along: “What’s the weather?”

Most gear-hauling bags, slings, backpacks, luggage, and carry-cases can deal with 60 seconds of drizzle, but when that rain beats down for 5, 10, 30 minutes, all of your stuff ends up getting soaked.

In addition to weather, activity plays a big role in your bag of choice, too. Shuttling between airports? Need something secure and easy-access. Hiking? Lightweight, comfortable, and holds up to weather. Spending a weekend with friends? Roomy and store your electronics. Kayaking? Make sure it keeps that water out in case it falls in.

With these factors coming in to play, creating a waterproof backpack with the versatility to handle work, play, and travel takes some thought, but we see it as a worthwhile endeavor. We’re committed to creating highly-capable, adventure-ready gear that’s waterproof wherever possible.

We’ll Take Zippers Anyday

One of the biggest reasons we wanted to create a fully waterproof backpack is we see so many roll-top backpacks on the market. Maybe it’s a euro thing, but to us, a backpack needs to have a zipper. The roll-top design is great as a dry bag for water activity, but as everyday backpacks, they’re cumbersome for basic maneuvers like taking a laptop in/out, and they require setting them down completely to open, close, and buckle shut.

Well, there’s one major reason for all of the roll-top bags out there: price. Waterproof zippers are extremely expensive, and roll-top bags avoid this expense.

And when we say “waterproof zipper,” we’re really talking airtight zipper. Cheaper zippers that claim to be waterproof have a small overlap of welded material to keep out a few raindrops. It’s useless if it were to be subjected to a substantial stream of water, or dropped in a lake. But airtight zippers create such a tight seal that the bag will hold air inside it.

And if air can’t flow in and out, you can bet water can’t either.

In addition, there are different levels of airtight zipper. Some airtight zippers require “zipper grease,” and some don’t. The ones that include zipper grease have smaller teeth and extra friction, making them difficult to use. The ones that don’t have larger teeth, are very expensive, operate much smoother, and they’re the type of zipper found on fully waterproof drysuits.

Materials and Seams

In addition to zippers, the material has to be fully waterproof, and the seams where the panels meet have to be sonically welded to avoid the pinholes that form when stitching.

Combining all three of these requirements, creating a fully waterproof zippered backpack is an advanced process, and it generally leads to a very expensive product. There are only about a half-dozen fully waterproof zippered packs on the market, and most are in the $300+ range from big brands. There are also some less expensive ones using inexpensive materials and smaller-teeth zippers that require applying zipper grease, which can permanently stain the fabric of the bag.

As far as materials, TPU-coated fabric is what you want: it’s non-toxic, doesn’t break down, and is extremely durable. However, TPU is just the coating. The actual fabric that’s being coated can range from extremely thin to very thick, and this is usually reflected in the price. Thicker TPU-coated fabric will hold its shape and is effectively molded-in-place, leading to a very unique product.

Breakwater Supply Explorer Backpack Construction

That said, we created the Explorer Backpack using 600D Polyester that’s TPU-coated on both sides. The end result is a medium-weight fabric that keeps shape and is virtually indestructible. It’s difficult to rip, tear, and puncture.

We used a larger-tooth drysuit-grade airtight zipper as the main compartment zipper, and also a similar airtight zipper for the fully waterproof front pocket. This is a big deal because many waterproof backpacks, even those from Filson and Patagonia, do not feature fully waterproof front pockets. They use less-expensive “splash-proof” zippers for their smaller pockets, so if your bag were to fall overboard, anything in the small pocket would get soaked. Also of note, Yeti’s Panga doesn’t feature any additional exterior pockets, not even mesh ones for a water bottle.

We used neoprene padding for the shoulder straps, and molded EVA padding for the back panel. Both of these are fast-drying, non-abrasive, premium materials. Other bags often use abrasive open mesh that soaks up water and takes a long time to dry.

We added reflective features on the front and back, and multiple handles to grab the bag from different storage areas, or from, say, the back seats of your car. The size (20″ x 13″ x 7″) is ideal as a personal item on airplanes, with 25L of capacity, which is enough for a weekend trip.

Protection for Your Electronics

As far as your electronics, it fits a 16″ laptop, plus has a puncture-proof clear pocket on the side for storing a smartphone. What’s cool about the smartphone pocket is you can use this bag on the water and even interact with your phone’s touchscreen through the clear window.

Take a look at the comparison table below:

Material (Higher = Thicker)600D TPU~1200D TPU840D TPU900D TPU~210T TPU~210T TPU
Size25L28L28L28L20L25L
Weight1.9 lbs3.9 lbs3 lbs3.1 lbs1.7 lbs2.3 lbs
Airtight ZippersDrysuit-Grade (Large-Tooth)Drysuit-Grade (Large-Tooth)Drysuit-Grade (Large-Tooth)TRU-Zip Small-ToothSmall-Tooth (with Zipper Grease)Small-Tooth (with Zipper Grease)
Number of Waterproof Pockets2 (Main and Front)1 (Main Compartment Only)1 (Main Compartment Only)1 (Main Compartment Only)1 (Main Compartment Only)1 (Main Compartment Only)
PaddingFast-Drying, Non-Abrasive Neoprene and EVAFast-Drying, Non-Abrasive Neoprene and EVAFast-Drying, Non-Abrasive FoamFast-Drying, Non-Abrasive Neoprene and EVAAbrasive, Slow-Drying Open MeshAbrasive, Slow-Drying Open Mesh
Inflation ValveYesYes
Waist PocketsYesYes
Side Pockets2 (Mesh and Phone Pocket)2 (Mesh and Zip)1 (Mesh)2 (Both Mesh)
Comparison Table of Waterproof Backpacks. Note: “~” refers to an estimated fabric weight, since the exact weight is unpublished.

Weight and Round-Up

As far as weight, Yeti’s Panga comes in at 3.9 lbs, Filson’s Dry Backpack weighs 3 lbs, and Fishpond’s Thunderhead is 3.1 lbs. The Breakwater Supply Explorer Backpack weighs 1.9 lbs.

All told, we created an extremely lightweight, versatile bag that protects all your gear and electronics with fast-drying, non-abrasive padding, an extra smaller front pocket, and a buckle strap for bulky items. It’s got reflective features for safety and uses premium airtight zippers as well. Price-wise, the Explorer Backpack is almost 50% less than the Yeti Panga ($300) and Filson Dry Backpack ($325).

Given all of these factors, it’s why the Breakwater Supply Explorer Backpack is the best waterproof backpack out there, and offers an amazing value at its price.

You can find the Explorer Backpack on our website or click here to purchase from Amazon.