Having a place for all your stuff both on and off the waves makes surfing so much easier, but which backpack should you choose?
There are so many options, and long gone are the days of the $15 Kmart blue light special backpack with three colors and a leather bottom.
With easily at least a hundred bucks on the line which one should you choose?
What do you need in a bag to make sure you get the most for your investment?
Fortunately, we are here to help!
We’ll call out some key areas to consider, and answer a few of your most pressing questions.
Then, we’ve researched and reviewed the best surf backpacks and recommend our favorites, so you don’t have to worry about missing out on the right backpack for you!
Our Favorite Picks
#1 Dakine Cyclone II Dry Pack 36L
#2 Rip Curl Men's F-Light Surf Molded Backpack
#3 Dakine Cyclone Roll Top 32L
The Top 7
#1 Best Overall: Dakine Cyclone II Dry Pack 36L
The Dakine Cyclone II is our top pick thanks to its superior waterproofing, rugged materials, large size, and thoughtful design extras made just for surfers.
The outside pockets are a good size for storing keys, snacks, sunscreen and other quick grab items. The one feature that sets this backpack apart is the integrated board carry system, which is a heavy-duty hooking system on the side of the bag that can attach to a carry handle on any surf bag.
The two-way purge valve is also extremely useful when compacting the bag down or clearing out dampness after the bag has been packed.
The coated zippers are also easy to close and meant to last through the saltiest conditions and keep on zipping. Overall, this rough, rugged, fully waterproof bag will protect your stuff in any condition, and that is why it is our top pick!
#2 Rip Curl Men's F-Light Surf Molded Backpack
The Rip Curl F-Light Surf Molded Backpack is a great pick for a wet/dry bag, combining all of the perks you want in an outdoor backpack with the ability to separate your wet gear from your dry stuff and the best organizational pockets of our top picks.
It has external wax and sunscreen pocket, an insulated cooler pocket, and a dedicated pocket for your fins. The fleece lined tech and sunglasses pocket helps keep your expensive electronics and glasses scratch free.
The large main compartment also has a laptop sleeve while and is big enough for a full change of clothes and then some. The eva molded front panel is a great protective choice that provides some impact cushioning.
The durable polyester materials should also provide years of quality use. The Rip Curl is our top pick for a wet dry bag and we think you can’t go wrong if you choose it!
#3 DAKINE Cyclone Roll Top 32L
The Dakine Cyclone Roll Top 32L surf backpack is the little brother of our top pick.
It is built of the same materials and boasts the same waterproof welded construction.
However, it comes in at a little more than half the cost because it removes the two outside pockets, the carry hook, and the purge valve.
It is also smaller, so easier to fit if you are a bit smaller person.
If you don’t want to go all in on the 36L Cyclone II, this is a great option that will give you great bang for your buck!
#4 YETI Panga
The Yeti Pango isn’t a true surf backpack, but we include it because it is the cadillac of waterproof duffel bags.
The unique hydrolok zippering system makes it airtight when the zipper is in the u-dock at the end of the bag.
The thick nylon is laminated with TPU to create a super tough construction that is so waterproof you can dunk the bag while the insides remain dry and so durable it just might outlive all of us.
The straps and other metal pieces are designed and built to last just as long.
We like that the straps can be used for either a side carry or a backpack carry.
This bag is more than twice as expensive as any other bag on our list, and it doesn’t have many pockets for organization, but it is big, and it will keep everything dry no matter where you take it.
The BackSak is the most economical truly waterproof bag in our top picks.
It has the same roll top construction as our other waterproof models and boasts the same waterproof ratings at a lower price point, and we like that it comes in so many colors.
We like the feel of the molded foam but be careful because foam can absorb water. In a downpour or if immersed, the back panel can become squishy!
It won’t affect your stuff inside the bag that will stay nice and dry, but your back might get a little moist!
Although the BackSak is a pretty simple with only one true compartment, but it is still a very utilitarian backpack because its internal organizing pockets are helpful, and the quick grab front pocket gives easy access when you need it.
If you are on a tighter budget, the BackSak is a great option.
#6 Dakine Patrol Backpack 32L
The Dakin Patrol Backpack is more of an everyday backpack than a true surf backpack because it lacks any waterproofing or wet/dry capabilities.
However, it has more of the organizational perks you would expect from an everyday backpack like fleece lined sunglasses case, and a padded laptop sleeve.
The interior power cord storage loops are especially clever.
We also like the mesh pockets on each side so you can have a water bottle on one side and still drop your keys on the other quickly.
At 32 liters, this is also a fairly large bag, so can still fit all your surf stuff in it easily.
If you are looking for a bag that is durable and rugged, but don’t necessarily feel like you need a dedicated/waterproof surf bag this is another great pick.
#7 The North Face Borealis
The North Face Borealis is a classic everyday backpack that has been around for years in one version or another.
It is versatile and durable; made of top of the line Cordura ripstop material makes it extremely rugged. Although it isn’t waterproof, it does provide some water resistance.
Coming in at 29 liters, it is also slightly smaller if you don’t want a bigger bag.
We also like that it has both a laptop and a tablet sleeve, though in different compartments.
Although you can get less expensive outdoor leaning type backpacks, we really like the Borealis because of the well-shaped and constructed shoulder straps, which provide plenty of comfort no matter how full the bag.
We also like the lumbar cushioning/support, which will help you carry this bag all day long!
Criteria to Consider When Buying
Surf Trip vs. Day Trip
Surf Trip vs. Day Trip is a good problem to have! If you are just going for a day trip, then a smaller bag should get you what you need easily. The longer your trip it would make sense that the more space you will need for multiples of things like rash guards, wetsuits, or after surf changes of clothes. A little more on the waterproof side is also desirable for a long trip as you will be storing things like fins and leashes for longer time periods before you can clean them off and let them air out.
How Waterproof You Need Your Backpack to Be (or not to be?)
Surfers can argue until they are blue in the face on whether or not a backpack needs to be truly waterproof, but it ultimately comes down to personal preference and the weather at the spot where you surf most. Paddling out in the Pacific Northwest or maybe off the coast of Scotland? You’ll probably see some rain or at least some cold morning dew, so a truly waterproof bag could be for you. Stopping off at a beach in SoCal on your way to work? You probably only need a wet/dry bag so your wetsuit doesn’t get your backseat all wet for the rest of the day. Walking four blocks from your house somewhere in Hawaii to the break? You probably only need the most basic water resistance if any at all. Thinking of your terrain and your preference for how you want to use your bag should give a good idea of whether or not you need a true waterproof bag. If you are still stuck, we recommend erring on the side of more waterproof because you can’t go wrong with a little more protection.
We’ve given this advice and we’ll give it again, only buy something within your means. Stick to a budget! All but one of the bags we recommend can be had for a hundred bucks plus or minus $50. There are plenty of options in this range that will work for almost everyone. You can definitely get more expensive bags, and the closer you get to a true travel bag the more you will spend. Keep in mind that truly waterproof bags will tend to be a little more expensive to pay for all the seam welds/tape and waterproof materials, but not outrageously more expensive. You’ll need to balance size, waterproofing, and brand names to find a comfortable price point for you.
Because there is the possibility that you will load up all you can into these backpacks, it is important to look at the shoulder straps. A heavy load digging in to your scapula is no fun. Molded and formed shoulder straps are best, and we tend to like some venting as well to either cool us down, or to let the rain dry out after we’ve been soaked.
Size matters, but what matters most for the fit of backpack is the size of your trunk or torso. A good fit on your back will make all the difference. Here is a good look on what to measure. The next thing to consider is how much you want to carry. Here is a good explanation of what can fit in each size backpack, and although it is for hiking it is illustrative of what you can fit in a certain size bag. So, look at what you would typically want to keep in your surf backpack and decide what you think you need. We generally recommend 25-30ish liters as big enough to fit a wetsuit and booties with some space to spare for extra clothes as well as your wax/leash/accessories.
Surfing still usually requires an ocean (though not always!) so there is an element of saltwater inherent in the sport most of the time. Saltwater can wreak havoc on metal zippers, and we have seen a ton of zippers rusted together ruining an otherwise perfectly good backpack. Leaving a zipper close and wet for long periods is a recipe for disaster! Water resistant or stainless-steel zippers can help mitigate this problem. You can also lightly oil the zippers with WD40 every so often to keep them working well for a very long time.
Here is a fantastic guide to all the different types of backpack materials. More durable and higher denier fabrics are better for surf backpacks so they can stand up to fins, sand, parking lots and all the beatings a surf backpack will take over its lifetime. Polyester and Nylon combinations dominate the materials used in our top picks, and both work great and can be used in different weights and waterproof characteristics by the designers to give you a ton of options.
“Mens” vs. “Womens” Backpacks: Does It Matter?
For some backpacks, the men’s vs. women’s difference simply comes down to color, so pic whichever color floats your board. Some of the more technical bag companies have made some tweaks to the design of the bag, like slimmer or tapered shoulder straps, less width at the top of the bag, adjustment of the placement of the cross chest strap, or different padding in places to better fit the female form. These tweaks are great and help but are definitely subtle in most cases. More importantly than men’s vs. women’s is the actual size of the bag. You’ll definitely want to balance the size of bag based on the stuff you want to carry vs. size of your body so you don’t get thrown off balance trekking to the waves!
Surf Industry Brand vs. General Outdoor Brand: Does It Matter?
A good backpack is a good backpack, no matter who makes it, so we’ve recommended both types in our top 7. Surf industry backpacks will usually have thoughtful details for the surfer, like a dedicated wax pocket or a dedicated fin pocket to help keep you organized and your stuff safe from harm. However, you don’t have to have those things. General outdoor backpacks may have other things you’d want if you aren’t going to use your backpack just for surfing, like laptop sleeves or cord management channels. If you are able to have a bag dedicated solely to surfing, we’d recommend a surf company, but with so many great options in our top picks you really can’t go wrong.
Waterproof vs Dry Backpacks
A truly waterproof backpack generally means the whole backpack is waterproof. Nothing gets in and nothing gets out starting at the outer shell of the backpack. Rain, ocean spray, your shower, nothing gets through, so it is good in all weather. Wet/Dry packs generally have one section that is for wetsuits/swim trunks, anything that is obviously wet. The rest of the bag is just like a regular backpack with other organizational pockets for the rest of your gear. Wet bags generally keep the dampness in, while the rest of the backpack may be water resistant but isn’t truly designed to keep the elements out. We like the versatility of wet/dry backpacks, but certainly see the need for true waterproof in gnarly situations.
Do I Really Need A Surf Backpack to Surf?
No, you don’t really need a surf backpack to surf. The only things you really need to surf are a board and some waves (although we recommend some swim trunks because of chafing…) That being said, a surf backpack is very helpful for a couple of reasons. The first is sand. Most surfing requires crossing at least some sand to get to the waves, and that stuff gets everywhere. A good surf backpack will help you minimize the sand issue on everything from your phone to your wetsuit (which are two things that really don’t like sand. Surf backpacks are also super helpful in keeping your stuff organized and stored well both while you are surfing and between sessions. You’ll always know where your wax can be found, and even have a handy place to store your leash. You’ll be able to dash to the beach the moment you hear the surf report if your gear is already packed and ready to go instead of searching around the house for your stuff, or worse yet showing up leashless at the beach and having to drive home instead of paddling out.
Why a roll top?
A roll top is not a required feature for a surf backpack, but it certainly is a handy one. The roll top helps eliminate the strain on a zipper seam as well as making it impossible for a bag to leak from the zippered top. A roll top uses the natural folds or rolls to keep whatever is in the bag in and whatever is outside the bag out without having to rely on flaps, tape, or seams around a zipper. It’s the oldest and easiest solution holes around seams from sewing them into place, and most bag provide two ways to close the bag so you can create an extra handle by clipping across the top. Your choice ultimately comes down to preference, but we really like roll top bags.
What is splash proof?
Many of our top picks have a single outer pocket for quick access to keys/wallets etc. Most of these are rated as “splash proof”. This just means that the pocket doesn’t have a fully welded or sealed seam around the zipper, and that the zipper isn’t designed as waterproof. It should keep keys and wallets dry in a light rain or splatterings from a wet board or wetsuit, but we don’t recommend fully immersing the bag with anything in these pockets, especially electronics.
What about Hydration?
Great question! Always stay hydrated (and wear sunscreen!). None of our truly waterproof bags have an opening for a hydration sleeve with straw tube because that would be a prime place for water to sneak in. We prefer the simple mesh side pocket where we can stick any kind of a metal water bottle to make sure we keep plastics out of our oceans!
Final Verdict - Which Should I Buy?
With so many choices available in backpacks it is hard to narrow it down. Our top picks tend towards waterproof, durable, and big enough to carry whatever you need.
We chose the Dakine Cyclone II Drypack as our top pick because it offers the best combination of waterproofing, durable materials, and clever extras like the board carrier and purge valve.
We figure you can use a waterproof bag as a regular bag, but it is really hard to use a non-waterproof bag when you need to keep things dry!
The outside pockets also offer the best organization of any of our truly waterproof bags. For our money, the Dakine Cyclone II Drypack is the best pick of the bunch!
OUR #1 PICK - Dakine Cyclone II Dry Pack 36L