You may have noticed the small zip pocket at the bottom or side of your new backpack which contains a large, shaped tarpaulin, designed to strap around your bag. This ladies and gentleman is your raincover. It also serves a number of other purposes, such as making a fantastic ground mat when sitting on wet ground for lunch but for the purpose of this article, it’s your rain cover. I hope that if you are scratching your head as to whether it’s something you need you will in about 5 minutes have a better understanding of whether to use it.
Is it a nice accessory, and do you actually need a raincover for your backpack?
Using a raincover is honestly down to personal choice, and experience will determine whether you end up using one of not. I personally prefer not to use one. I’ll get to that in a bit, but here are reasons why you may want to use a raincover:
Its raining hard, and you have items attached to the outside of your bag
Yes, for longer backpacking trips there is a good chance that you may have a tent and roll matt attached to the outside of your bag. Any good bag manufacturer will have made you a raincover with extra room to compensate for these extras and you will be glad that you had a raincover handy. Also, if you decide to stop, and want to put your heavy pack down, without the bottom getting wet, the raincover makes a fantastic waterproof ground cover to stop your straps from getting wet.
Prolonging the life if your expensive bag
You may also decide to use a raincover if you want to prolong the life of your pack. Your rucksack is exposed to a lot of rubbish when hiking, and honestly, after some time exposed to these conditions, it will start to wear down the fabric, and look dirty. Now this isn’t a bad thing if you don’t mind the dirtbag backpacker look, but some of us like to keep our kit clean and new for as long as possible. A raincover will really help to protect the bag. Moreover, it will offer an additional layer of protection from sharp brambles, and barbed wire fences, which have a particular knack for ripping holes in bags.
If you are fortunate, or unfortunate perhaps to have to cross a river, a raincover will help to keep your pack dry, especially if you really keep the harness above water. This is a pretty niche example of this type of accessory being helpful but in shallower water, it can be done.
Not being shot
A bright raincover is very helpful when walking through areas during the shooting season. Sure it may make you a target for an over-zealous hunter who wants your head as a trophy on his mantle, but it will make you instantly recognizable to other hunters who may otherwise have not seen you. It’s an unlikely benefit, but worth the inclusion.
Those reasons aside, there are plenty of hikers who opt to not use raincovers. Here is why.
They are additional weight and faff
A raincover, in a situation where every gram counts are just extra weight. For this reason, alone many hikers, especially long distance ultralight hikers opt not to use them.
They don’t always keep the rain out
Honestly, rain covers are better at keeping the kit on the outside of your bag dry than the kit inside. You will find that after long term prolonged use, a raincover will not stop water entering your bag from the back straps, hydration hole etc. After all, it will always leave some exposed gaps. And when it works its way into the bag you will get wet kit, despite your efforts.
They make great parachutes
Some bag manufacturers like to make awful raincovers which don’t fit well with the bag and act like parachutes in high winds. High winds and big bags are always hard work to walk through but when you have a big puffed up, air-filled raincover behind you walking just got so much harder. And when it’s raining hard, and blowing harder, your raincover is doing more harm than good.
They make quick access to kit hard
I like to access my kit quickly and keep moving. A raincover limits my ability to do that, for that reason alone I don’t like them. Removing the raincover, then accessing my kit, only to have to re-attach it is an annoyance. This is made worse with high winds.
Whats the answer then?
Well, in my opinion, I think you will decide for yourself whether you need one or not. Make use of it, carry it with you, and eventually, you will make up your mind. However, what I suggest is using either a large waterproof rucksack liner, which guarantees dry kit, or a few smaller drybags which can be labeled so you know exactly what’s in each. That way, you can get easy access to your kit, while it remains dry.
I hope you have found this article helpful. Feel free to ask any questions or offer your opinion in the comments