The Best Waterproof Travel Gear

Shawn Forno

Waterproof gear is the holy grail of travel, right? The ability to take your precious camera, backpack, shoes, or phone into a howling monsoon or a peaceful canoe trip without a hint of anxiety is practically a superpower. However, there’s a big difference between waterproof and water-resistant gear, it’s important to know the difference, and quality matters.

If you’ve ever stuffed your phone into a bag of Rice-a-Roni and held an all-night silent vigil for those #lit beach pictures you didn’t get a chance to post to Instagram you know the importance of quality waterproof gear. This list takes a look at some of the best waterproof backpacks, dry bags, speakers, cameras and more to keep your fragile tech safe and dry under practically any conditions.

 

Best Water Resistant Backpack

In addition to being the best backpack for urban travel, thanks to elegant design, top notch organization and ergonomically designed weight distribution, the Outbreaker collection of backpacks and accessories is water resistant. Made from high end, waterproof sailcloth, these bags provide the very best first defense against the elements while you are traveling. The Outbreaker travel backpack comes in two sizes, and the daypack is perfect for out and about adventures, rain or shine.

Throw in the packable duffle and even those overflow items you bought at the last minute in Bangkok will be protected as you run for the plane.

Best Waterproof Travel Gear

When you’re shopping for waterproof gear there’s only one metric to look for—IPX Rating. This rating tells you exactly how waterproof and/or dust proof gear is, and it’s actually one of the easier to understand consumer product ratings.

How to Read IPX Waterproof Gear Ratings

There are two types of IP ratings—one for water resistance (waterproof) and one for particle resistance (dust proof). IPX labels are always written in one of three ways, and each rating means something different:

  • Waterproof Rating: IPX5 — The “X” is a placeholder for the dust rating (aka “none”)
  • Water & Dust Rating: IP56 — The particle protection is rated “5”, and the water protection is rated “6”

Rarely, you’ll see a single number IP6 rating. This just means that both the dust and water resistance is the same, but it’s not that common, especially since dust and water have different IP max ratings (8 is the max waterproof rating, 6 is the max dust-proof rating).

“IP” stands for “Ingress Protection.” The Water Resistance IP goes from 0-8, and dust goes from 0-6. Essentially:

  • IPX0-IPX2 is zero to minimal water protection
  • IPX3 provides some protection at certain angles (weird)
  • IPX4 protects from “splashes, IPX5 from strong splashes, and IPX 6 from “powerful jets”
  • IPX7 is the only true “waterproof” IPX rating, aka “submersible up to 1 meter

IPX8 is an additional product manufacturer rating that basically says, “This gear is better than IPX7 for this reason.” That reason can be, increased depth protection (common with cameras and watches), more powerful jets of water, etc.

Now you’re ready to shop for waterproof gear. The more you know, right?

Best Waterproof Gear: Dry Bags

I carry a lot of video and camera gear when I travel (it’s kind of my job), so I always pack a dry bag. If you only take one piece of advice or gear recommendation away from this article, please let it be this: Always pack a dry bag.

A well-made dry bag is insanely useful, cheap, and easy to pack—they’re designed to roll down for cryin’ out loud. When buying a dry bag look for ones made out of nylon (nylon is more durable than vinyl). Also, my personal preference is for Hypalon Roll Top closures vs. zipper seals, even if they’re treated. The roll top closure is just a great physical barrier to water that doesn’t rely on so many moving parts and chemical treatment.

REI 2L Sea to Summit Dry Bag ($13)

Personally, I think any dry bag smaller than 10L is a waste of time. However, if you want a single-use teeny tiny bag for just one piece of gear, a camera for instance, the REI 2L dry bag is perfect.

REI 13L Sea to Summit Dry Bag ($32)

A little on the pricey side for a minimal dry bag, REI is worth the cash. Weighing in at 4.2 ounces, this completely waterproof dry bag is all you need for your next river trip.

Pro tip: A dry bag makes a great travel pillow. Just “inflate” it by rolling it shut with air inside, clip it closed, and count some sheep.

Ocean Lion 20L Dry Bag ($23)

Adventure Lion makes a solid dry bag that simply does what it promises—keeps your stuff dry. The adjustable shoulder strap is a must-have for me, because I like turning my dry bag into a proxy day bag, especially for trips to the beach or even just a jaunt down to the hotel pool.

Each bag comes with a lifetime guarantee and hundreds of 5-star ratings from customers. Rest assured, this bag will keep your stuff dry.

One-Gallon Ziploc Freezer Bag ($5 – 28 count bag)

When in doubt, the best budget option is still a gallon-size Ziploc freezer bag. These babies are even double sealed. Would I trust a Ziploc bag on white water rapids? Of course not. Is it a great way to moisture proof memory cards and camera gear? Absolutely.

Ziploc bags don’t take up any space, ad any theft value or any extra weight. For $5 you can get some peace of mind on a hike or if your shampoo bottle bursts. Worth it.

Pro tip 2.0: Waterproof dry bags make great travel laundry bags in a pinch. Plus, you can store your smelly laundry in the closed bag until you have time to wash it without stinking up the rest of your A-game travel style.

Waterproof Phone Cases

Waterproof phone cases have come a long way since those crappy sandwich bag pouch looking things your uncle used to wear around his neck at Raging Waters (“Where the 10, 210, and 57 meet in San Dimas,” shoutout to all my SoCal peeps). Today, everyone has a smartphone, and everyone wants to take their phone everywhere. Waterproof phone cases have adapted in this competitive market.

Nearly every waterproof phone case is rated at least IPX68 (that’s the max dust proof, and “beyond” the max waterproof), which means it really just comes down to price, availability (not every case will fit your brand phone), and style.

Catalyst Waterproof Phone Case ($79)

Like every other phone case, Catalyst is rated IPX68, but unlike most of the rest, this case can go up to 5 meters deep. That’s impressive. It also passes military grade shock tests, and the touch screen and thumb ID still work with the case on, meaning you won’t ever have to take it on and off to use.

Lifeproof FRE Waterproof iPhone Case ($45)

Lifeproof cases are the leader in waterproof phone cases, and it’s easy to see why. These cases are slim, sturdy, cheap, and effective. IPX68 rated for up to 2m (1 hour submersion), you can get selfies at the lake anxiety free. Perfect for any adventure traveler who wants to get those hard to get action shots and wants to travel light (aka don’t bring a DSLR).

No case is foolproof (my friend Liz had hers fail after a few months of hard use), but this case is way better than nothing, and won’t break the bank.

Waterproof Phone Case 101: If you’re shooting video on your phone while it’s in a waterproof case, be aware that the audio will suck. While not a major deal breaker, this is definitely worth factoring in.

Waterproof Bluetooth Speakers

Polk Audio BOOM Swimmer Speaker ($29)

IPX7 and rated for 30 mins of full submersibility at 3 feet, the Polk Audio “Swimmer” is a great budget pool speaker. It can take a licking and keep the party kicking. Yes, the weird tail design looks like a tadpole (or something else), but it’s designed to wrap around objects so you can attach your speaker just about anywhere—including your bike handles.

The sound isn’t amazing, and won’t fill a room, but it’s a heck of a lot better than putting your phone in a metal bowl.

JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker ($120)

With over 20 hours of battery life, quality JBL sound design, and an IPX rating of 7 (actually waterproof!), this bluetooth speaker is the best option for pool parties, beach excursions, and singing “Arms Wide Open” in the shower.

This is one of the pricier waterproof speakers out there, but you get what you pay for. It’s truly submersible—not just “splashproof”—and JBL makes a great product. If you want to save a few bucks, check out the JPL Flip 3 Splashproof Speaker $77. It has half the battery life (10 hours), half the IPX rating (4), but it’s half the price. Just don’t drop it in the pool.

JBL Clip 2 ($59)

I’m not a JBL fanboy, and I’m not being paid by JBL—they just make some great travel speaker options that happen to be legit waterproof. This little monster has an IPX7 rating, 8 hours of battery life, and it’s light. Plus, there’s that convenient carabiner clip. I’m a suck for a clip.

Attach this waterproof speaker to your backpack, fanny pack, or just the waistband of your swim trunks and start your own Full Moon Party.

Waterproof Headphones

Yes, waterproof headphones are a thing, and yes they’re expensive and niche. However, if you’re a swimmer, a runner, or a rainforest researcher, the freedom to wear these water (and sweat) proof headphones anywhere—including the pool—is worth the extra cash.

X-1 H2O Audio Waterproof Headphones ($29)

I never realized that sweat was an issue for runners who wear headphones. Running is super hard, so I avoid it. These headphones, designed for swimmers, provide more than enough sweat protection for your next run.

Rated fully waterproof up to 12 feet (that’s insane), these adjustable ear buds are great for running miles or swimming laps…or you know…sitting on a plane. Other waterproof headphones have tinny sound quality, but the amplified bass makes sure they don’t sound like you’re… underwater. Nailed it.

Swimbuds Waterproof Headphone System ($70)

If you want to go full blown Swim Fan, this completely customizable waterproof headphone system is for you. Choose from four different earbud styles and variable length cords. I still honestly don’t know why you need music to swim, but with these headphones you can flip turn like 17-year old me at a ska show.

Best Waterproof Gear: Cameras

GoPro Hero 5 Waterproof Camera ($399)

I mean, are you surprised? Really? GoPro is the granddaddy of waterproof action cameras. Ever since they ditched the waterproof case and integrated IPX8 waterproof ratings into the bodies of their cameras, GoPro has been the go-to maker of cameras that can take a soaking and a beating.

The GoPro Hero 5 features:

  • Voice command
  • 2” inch LCD display
  • 1-button easy controls
  • Advanced video stabilization
  • Wi-fi and Bluetooth for sharing
  • 4K video
  • And oh yeah… IPX8 waterproof rated up to 10 meters!

If $399 is out of your price range, you can get the even more travel-friendly GoPro Hero Session ($149)—that’s the one I have—or the GoPro Hero5 Session ($249) for an amazing waterproof action camera that fits in your pocket. You should get one of these cameras.

Honestly, I looked at a lot of other cameras to include in this list—action cameras, mirrorless cameras with housings, and rugged point and shoots—but I can’t recommend any of them. The high-end DSLR cameras with housings cost thousands of dollars, not to mention being bulky as hell. Other budget options, including rugged waterproof cameras like the Panasonic DMC-TS30A LUMIX ($138) have terrible specs, bulky builds, and just aren’t worth buying for such a narrow purpose when you have an incredible option already in the GoPro.

Waterproof Flashlights

In my opinion, you should just put a great waterproof case on your phone and skip packing any extra gear, but for those looking to explore the great outdoors, or maybe just put together an emergency kit, here are two great waterproof flashlights.

Zebralight Waterproof Flashlight ($85)

This tiny little flashlight is perfect for your bug out bag or your carry on backpack. IPX7 rated for full submersion up to 1m and packing a wallop with 1300 lumens (that’s bright), this 1.3 oz. flashlight is perfect for when things go wrong and you need a flashlight you can count on.

OxyWild LEF 50 Water-Resistant Flashlight ($15)

This pocket-sized badass flashlight features five light modes (including SOS), rechargeable batteries, and an IPX6 rating (almost fully waterproof) in compact package. Sure, it’s not completely waterproof, so don’t take it swimming, but the IPX6 rating will stand up to heavy rain and most adverse conditions. You can’t do much better than that for $15.

Best Waterproof Gear: Clothing

Even the most hi-tech fabric is still a weave of fibers, meaning that inherently clothing isn’t waterproof. There are exceptions, like sailcloth and seam-sealed clothing, but by and large most clothing is merely water-resistant or hydrophobic thanks to special treatment and new materials. But treatments wear off, and some of these space age non-permeable materials aren’t built for everyday wear and tear. Just remember the best you can get with fabric is extremely high water resistance.

As such, the waterproof ratings for clothing are a little different than the IPX rating for tech and gear. Evo put together a great chart showing the two rating factors for clothing—water-resistance and breathability. If you want to get into the nitty gritty of waterproof fabrics, look for clothing rated about 16,000mm.

Crosspoint Waterproof Socks ($35)

Nothing sucks more than soaking wet feet. The cool thing about waterproof socks is that they’re always working for you—you don’t have to “gear up” when you see a storm coming. Pop these on in the morning and you’re protected from sudden showers, spilled coffee, and even puddles.

And don’t worry about these socks locking in your crazy smelly foot sweat. They’re layered for extreme breathability and moisture wicking, so they’ll even keep your feet dry on that next big hike or bike ride.

Best Waterproof Jackets

Columbia Outdry Extreme Gold Waterproof Jacket ($130)

According to Columbia, “OutDry Extreme is the first ever water and breathable fabric technology constructed with a waterproof layer on the outside and soft, wicking fabric inside.” Basically, they’ve combined a rugged waterproof external layer with millions of microscopic gaps that let water vapor (your sweat) out, but keep rain out.

Mammut Runbold Light IS Waterproof Jacket (250 Euros)

Mammut is definitely on the high end of the price scale, but this jacket is just so dang cool. Stylish as all hell, waterproof, and full of features like a collar, elastic wrist guards, and it folds down into a tiny pouch. It’s also lined with a bright contrasting color and is fully reversible so you can be flashy or classy depending on your mood.

The North Face Men’s Fuseform Eragon Wind Jacket ($59)

If ultralight carry on packing is your goal, look no further than the North Face Eragon Wind Jacket. Great at keeping out that pesky wind, this windshell is rated 20 CFM (that’s good), and is also waterproof. The best part is that it weighs in at just 4.5 oz. You won’t even know you’re wearing it, let alone feel it in your carry on backpack.

Best Waterproof Travel Pants

Outlier OG Climbers Water-resistant Pants ($198)

If you’re traveling in a carry on, the last thing you need is a pair of bulky, heavy shell pants. I always try to pack a stylish pair of water-resistant pants that can take a downpour and bounce back. The Outlier OG Climbers aren’t waterproof, but they’re treated with a “Schoeller’s ‘self-cleaning’ NanoSphere finish that makes water, dirt, and even beer, bead and roll off.

A great pair of travel pants can usually take a pretty good downpour and dry off within a few hours. For more info on water-resistant travel pants, check out the full rundown of the best travel pants here.

TL;DR

Great waterproof gear is all about one simple thing—dependability. You’re trusting this gear to protect some of your most valuable and fragile stuff, including irreplaceable things like photos, documents, and your passport. Make sure you know what conditions your waterproof gear is rated for, and remember, you get what you pay for.

  • IPX7 is the only real waterproof gear
  • IPX4 is where gear starts becoming actually water-resistant
  • Always pack a dry bag. Always
  • Ziploc bags are the ultimate budget dry bag
  • No clothing is completely waterproof, at least not for long