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Comparison of Five Ultralight Backpack Liners

Comparison of five ul backpack liners

Backpackers are split about 50/50 when it comes to using a backpack rain cover or lining the inside of their backpacks with a plastic bag or backpack liner designed for that purpose. When I started backpacking, I used a backpack rain cover but found it awkward so I switched to a backpack liner. Since then I’ve used five different backpack liners (in the past 10 years) and thought it would be useful to compare their strengths and weaknesses. While all of them work, they have some pros and cons that are worth considering about if you’re thinking about using one.

But first, consider what attributes are important for waterproof backpack liners:

  • Volume: So you can fit all your stuff inside.
  • Durability: Important if you backpack a lot.
  • Weight: Definitely a factor if you’re counting your ounces.
  • Price: Always a factor.
  • Closure: A roll top can be important for very wet trips.
  • Ease of Repair: Liners take abuse and it helps if you can repair them easily.
  • Multi-Purpose: Can it serve multiple functions to help reduce your gear weight?
  • Interior Visibility: Does the liner make it easier to find your gear in a backpack?

Let’s apply these criteria to the following backpack liners.

1. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pack Liner (44L)

 (recently renamed) is a 44L (XL size) roll top stuff sack made with Dyneema Composite Fabrics (formerly cuben fiber). The roll top portion is sewn, but the rest of the liner is taped. It weighs 2.1 ounces, but the $75 price is very high considering the cost of the other pack liners below. I started using this liner for packrafting trips, but it quickly developed numerous pin holes. While DCF can be repaired with tape, I’d lost faith in the longer term viability of the liner. It also proved too low volume for my needs and made it harder to find gear in my backpack because it’s darkly colored.

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2. Exped Schnozzel Pumpbag (45L)

is a 45L pack liner and pump bag that can be used to inflate Exped sleeping pads with flat stemless valves (also compatible with  Sea-to-Summit and REI pads.) It’s a durable silnylon sack with a drybag closure that weighs 2.3 oz. The bright color makes it easy to find gear inside darkly colored backpacks. I’m not sure I’d trust if for a trip where I could experience full immersion (like packrafting), but it’s more than sufficient for keeping gear in your pack dry in rain. The price is not bad ($39) and it’s a good adjunct if you have a compatible sleeping pad. I used it mainly for cold weather camping to inflate sleeping pads, but it wasn’t high volume enough for my needs.

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3. Gossamer Gear Clear Pack Liners (48.5L)

Gossamer Gear sells that are surprisingly durable, and I used them for many years, going through a pair of bags per year. Weighing 1.2 oz, they’re lighter weight than trash compactor bags and easy to patch with clear tape if you poke a hole in one. They’re open at the top so you have to fold them over or twist tie them to hold them closed, but they good a good job of keeping your gear dry. Priced at $5/pair, they’re also quite affordable. Clear as they are, they inherit the color of your pack’s interior and have a neutral impact on making your gear easier to locate. I stopped using these pack liners when I stopped sending my retirement savings to Gossamer Gear and started using backpacks from another company, but I think they’re still a good option.

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4. Nylofume Pack Liner Bags (51.9L)

Weighing just 0.91 oz each, are thin plastic bags that are surprisingly tough. At 51.9L, they have enough volume for most of the packs I use regularly, plus some extra so I can fold over the top to seal out moisture from above. You can patch them easily with packing tape and they’re purportedly odor proof, which might make them useful for food bag liners. Priced at $2.50 each, they have one fatal flaw in my book. These bags make a crinkly potato chip sound that I find unbearable. But for that, these pack liners would a slam dunk.

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5. Hefty White Trash Compactor Bags (68L)

My current pack liner is a . Weighing 2.2 oz, these are thick plastic bags that are thicker than regular trash bags and harder to tear. They’re easy to patch with tape, lightweight, and inexpensive, costing about $1.25 per bag. Durability is excellent and I typically only use one or two per year. While they are high volume, they have multiple uses. For example, I’ve used a trash compactor bag as a makeshift bivy bag more than once to stay warm on a freezing night, which is only possible because they’re large enough to pull over my legs and quilt. Being white, they also make it easier to find gear in a dark backpack. When you buy them it’s important to get “unscented bags” if you’re hiking in bear country and not to confuse “compactor bags” with “contractor bags.”

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Written 2018.

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35 comments

  1. Perfect timing! I just ordered a new pack that doesn’t include a raincover, and I was looking into liner options. Thanks for this, and for all the work you put into your excellent site…

  2. After many years of using the compactor bags, I switched over to a Mountain Laurel Designs cuben pack liner (L). It was an investment for sure, but after a good solid year of use (backpacking, canoe camping), it seems to be in good shape. I am expecting with normal use, for this to last many years. IMHO one of the primary functions of purchasing something like a cuben liner should be longevity of service. Based on your experience with the Hyperlite liner, it will be interesting if anyone else has had problems with any cuben liners.

  3. Great article, however, you left out an excellent choice in the Zpacks cuben fiber pack liner. It’s a little bit large for narrower packs, like a Gossamer Gear Gorilla, but works great on a ULA Circuit and, of course, a Zpacks Arc Blast or Arc Haul.

    • It was left out because I haven’t used it. But I have destroyed my fair share of Zpacks and MLD cuben fiber stuff sacks, which is why I prefer the thicker heavier weight stuff sacks made by HMG. Their pack liner is made out of the same material, but I guess the wear and tear of a pack liner is far greater than a low volume stuff sack.

    • BTW, thanks for pointing out Litesmith, never heard of them before. Just dropped $40 on their site!

      • Same! All sorts of useful minutia there. Things like dropper bottles where you typically have 2 choices: extremely overpriced from the likes of MLD, or entirely too many bottles from Amazon. So Litesmith is a great alternative.

      • +1 for Litesmith, good prices and speedy delivery. I don’t mind the crinkly bag noise as I try to only access the liner each morning and end of day.

      • Agree – I have not seen this site before. Lots of lightweight and inexpensive odds and ends there I could possibly use.

  4. Seems to me that Cuben for a pack liner is a bit spendy and lacks durability. Given all the packing and un-packing that will happen, durability is for me a key metric for a pack liner. I happen to use the Schnozzel and love it…it fits my Arc Haul nicely, I like the color and I particularly appreciate not blowing hot breath into my xLite pad.

    HYOH, but the Schnozzel is it for me,

    • It’s a great option if you sleep on the right sleeping pad!
      How do you get it to work with an Xlite stick valve?

      • I use a small piece of gardening hose that fits right into the schnozzel valve. At the other end I’ve heated the hose a bit in order to make it fit over the X-Lite valve. Works like a charm and weighs next to nothing.

  5. zpacks advertises theirs as suitable for checking a bag in the airport, as well. have you (or any other commenters?) tried this with zpacks or similar cuben liner? I often fly and sometimes unfortunately need to pack my bag due to liquid or trekking poles (which are not allowed on European carry-on) and would love to have something that doubles as an ultralight liner AND doubles externally in a pinch.

  6. Beginners question, I’m going to be using a ace hardware 18 Gallon compactor bag, and not using my pack cover, is just rolling it down in my pack usually sufficient enough to keep rain out or should it be twist tied or clamped with some type of clip

  7. Any info about on using the waterproof spray-on technologies for a backpacks?

    Buzz

    • Used one on my motorcycle jacket seeking to just have some protection against the light shower.

      Didn’t work at all. About a month after I’d treated it, I got my shower. Lasted all of about 10 minutes – just enough to soak the road, but not enough to cause cars to send up a spray. Shoulders, arms and chest all had wet spots where the rain came through to my base layer. If it had rained hard, I would have been drenched.

      I suspect by the time you will be hiking in the rain, you’ve worn off whatever protection you might have had. Much easier to just swap a $2 compacter bag. And, you can still use the bag at home for trash, so it’s not something you waste.

      I use a HMG pack and still use a compactor bag insert to seal in my sleep gear and any clothes. Just not worth a cold night to risk getting things wet.

  8. Off the subject but you mentioned not giving your retirement to GG and using a different pack now, I’m looking at the Mariposa to go lighter, is there any reason not to get this pack? If you don’t mind me asking, what is your go-to pack now?

    • Hyperlite Mountain Gear SW 2400 or SW 3400. The Mariposa is a perfectly good pack for use on well groomed hiking trails but it’s very easy to rip up when you step off them (which I do quite a lot). It also has an long side pocket, which is good if you carry a tent, but downright annoying if you don’t. I used that pack for years, but I like a more durable roll-top better these days.

  9. I hike in the Sierra’s now and stay on trails. My only concern is the sweat factor with the foam pad on my back. I will look at the two packs you mentioned as well, thanks!

  10. I tried a Nylofume bag and it promptly blew out at the bottom seam while compressing my stuff down in it.
    Went straight back to the white trash compactor bag.

  11. Contractors’ heavy duty trash bags are heavier (3 to 4 mil) and rather large (42 gallon is a common size, 33 gallon is the small size, can be found in 55 gallon size). Too big for small packs.

    I’d bet that one of these, folded and taped shut over your checked-in pack, would survive airport baggage handling, if the excess material was fully taped down (so as not to catch in conveyor belt).

  12. There was a comment on BPL (membership required) concerning the weight gained by various tent fabrics after several hours of rain (not sure about permissions needed for quoting a publication). Needless to say, comparable findings would apply to pack fabrics. In common would be the weight gain of soaked fabric while hiking in prolonged rain events.

    I’m in Phillip’s camp concerning durable pack fabric for off-trial in the southeast and the thick forest of New England and points north. Thus, a durable fabric that absorbs minimal water weight is prime.

    UL users such as AT thru-hikers, which this year have been in rain the majority of the time, should seriously look at soaked-fabric-water weight being carried, regardless of pack rain cover and/or pack liner combination.

    It’s the combined weight when soaked that matters to those that hike regularly in rainy regions. When I read that info, I was thunderstruck. I had never considered unwanted water weight via soaked fabric, despite most of my backpacking in the southeast and New England. In other words, fabric matters and soaked water weight should be a consideration when deciding on your choice of rain cover and/or pack liner.

    Cheers,
    Bill in Roswell, GA

  13. +1 to compactor bags, esp. ” When you buy them it’s important to get “unscented bags” if you’re hiking in bear country…”

  14. One more to add: XXL Ziplock bags. They hold 20 gallons, are pretty sturdy, fairly clear and have a zip top closure.

  15. I got some Nylobarrier bags several years ago from a company that is now out of business, but they seem to be the same as the Nylofume bags from Litesmith. I love these bags. I am still using the first one and it is still air/water tight. My experience leads me to believe that the odor barrier feature is real and significant. By the end of my first multi-day hike (before getting these), my whole pack (and its contents) smelled noticeably like my food and garbage bag, which was concerning. I then go an assortment of Nylobarrier bags. I use the large as a pack liner (holds my sleeping bag and clothes). The smaller one is the prefect size to use a liner for my Z-Packs Blast Food Bag which holds food and garbage. I now have two odor barriers between my food and my clothes and sleeping bag. Ever since going to this system, I notice no food smells at all when I open my pack, even after several days of summer hiking with odoriferous foods.

  16. Mary Bowman-DeMent

    Great minds think alike! I’ve been using contractors bags for years now, though may consider the white compactor bag! Saved my gear last year on our annual Haleakala crater trip which was three days of hiking in heavy rain and strong wind! My gear in the pack was dry, had major rain gear failure which was horrible. Treated everything with Nixwax!

  17. I always use a compactor bag liner and a pack cover, seems every time I go out I get hit with at least one(or more) 24hr deluge. And the water retention weight of silnylon and various other fabrics mentioned in an above comment is truly staggering. As a hammock camper I switched from a large silnylon tarp, to a minimal silpoly tarp to save some weight and virtually eliminate the silnylon “wetting out”. But with the smaller tarp weight savings, also comes less coverage. So, on nights I’m expecting less than perfect conditions, I remove the compactor bag liner from my pack and place my pack and all other gear I’m not sleeping in inside the liner to keep dry.

  18. I’m curious as to the advantage of single bag vs using a waterproof bag for every item in the pack; bag, pad, clothes.

  19. I’m likely going to get an REI FLASH insulated mummy shaped mattress which will work with the EXPED Schnozzle for inflation duty.

    My pack is an Osprey EXOS 58 so I’d use the Schnozzle ABOVE my dry-sacked WM down bag and REI mattress to contain the rest of my gear. That would give me enough capacity to make the Schnozzle work.

    And I’d do the same for winter camping B/C my LL Bean -20 down bag is twice the size of my WM Megalite bag, as is my Thermarest Trail Pro winter pad.

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