I used to work in an outdoor gear store and the number of times I was asked about waterproof backpacks was crazy, second only to ‘Help, what hiking boots should I get?’. Packs aren’t normally waterproof, even those with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating aren’t waterproof. Like it says on the tin, they have some water repellency, but aren’t waterproof.
If you want to waterproof a pack, the usual thing to do is get a raincover for it. These elasticated covers simply fit over the pack and are often included with it, being housed in a small pocket at the base of the pack. It’s a simple and cost-effective option, but ORTLIEB is determined that ready-waterproofed bags are the way to go.
German brand ORTLIEB is a reasonably well-known name for waterproof bike panniers, but produces and awful lot more besides, including models such as the Atrack waterproof backpack. The Atrack is intended as a multi-purpose pack for day trips and travel, which is a great combination for many people. We’ve been testing it in order to find out if the Atrack is great out in the field, and not just in concept.
Features and design
In addressing the multi-purpose nature of this pack, the Atrack comes in three volumes: 25, 35, and 45 litres. The model we were testing was the 35 litre, but irrespective of volume, the Atrack carries the same features. Let’s start with how the Atrack is made.
ORTLIEB uses a tough, PU-coated nylon fabric to make the Atrack, which is PVC, PFC, and BPA-free, and carries an IP67 rating. The six means the Atrack is completely dust tight, and the seven means the fabric can withstand water ingress when fully submerged down to one metre depth for up to 30 minutes. We found the Atrack certainly lives up to these claims, so that’s the big waterproof claim question answered.
Unlike many packs, the Atrack doesn’t open from the top. Instead, it features a full-length zip down the back, which allows it to open fully like a travel bag. The zip is chunky and reasonably stiff so you can’t be scared to give it a firm yank. Inside the Atrack, we found the four zipped pockets to be very useful for items that are good at getting lost in a pack, such as keys.
Outside, there are a lot of straps but the Atrack is quite minimalist. It has two drink bottle holders, which are excellent and secure, plus four daisy chains. Stretchy mesh zip pockets also reside on the hip belt. Behind the right shoulder strap there is even a waterproof seal for drinking tubes, although there isn’t a pouch inside the Atrack to hold a hydration bladder. The remedy for this is ORTLIEB’s own hydration pack attachment, which comes with a toggle to hold the bladder in place.
In use and comfort
The Atrack’s hip belt, shoulder straps, and back panel are all adjustable, so it’s easy to find the correct fit for you. However, while the harness has enough padding for day walks, the edges of the shoulder straps are quite firm, and we did find they could dig in a little bit, particularly when carrying a heavier load.
Another interesting result we encountered was regarding the zip design. As intended, the full-length zip does make it easier to access the contents, but curiously, a top lid design is easier to pack. With the Atrack, you need to hold it open while loading in your gear, and zip it up as you go to stop everything falling out. Whereas with a top lid, you pull it open and drop in the contents.
It’s worth mentioning that having the zip by your back does have advantages in terms of security. The total absence of pockets on the front of the Atrack gives you total piece of mind, and you know that if you do use the Atrack for travelling, you’re not going to have nimble, thieving fingers infiltrate your pack.
On the move, the Atrack sits quite nicely. You don’t need to worry about the zip sticking into your back because it doesn’t, and at 1470g the 35 litre Atrack (1410g and 1560g for the 25 and 45 litre versions) doesn’t feel like a burden. Though, an almost inevitable result of a tough waterproof fabric combined a padded harness, the Atrack isn’t as breathable as a lighter pack that uses a suspension back panel, so on a hot or humid day, it can get a bit clammy.
Price and competition
There is no ignoring that fact that the Atrack is quite an expensive pack, even compared to pricey brands such as Osprey. Though, like Osprey, there’s no mocking the Atrack’s quality.
ORTLIEB still makes its gear in Germany and it shows. Properly cared for, the Atrack will last a very long time, with the only weak points probably being the plastic buckles. Even those should prove very durable unless you persistently strain them. ORTLIEB is clearly confident in its construction quality and provides five-year warranties with its gear.
Competing with ORTLIEB in the waterproof pack arena are brands such as Exped with its Black Ice 30 and 45 litre packs. These models are much lighter than the ORTLIEB Atrack, yet maintain the same maximum load limit of 13-15kg (30 and 45 litres respectively). However, the ORTLIEB’s waterproofing is certainly superior and its material a bit tougher.
Yes, the Atrack does work in the real world beyond the design studio. It’s a neat piece of kit albeit with a couple of niggles.
Its niggles concern expense and comfort. At around £200 the Atrack is very likely to cost more than any other pack you’ll be considering, and if you want the gear attachment kits or hydration system, that’ll drive the cost up by a considerable amount. It is something to think about when raincovers are available for a fraction of the price, even if the Atrack has much better waterproofing.
Regarding comfort, the Atrack’s harness is very adjustable but isn’t as breathable or comfortable as many other daypacks.
Finishing on the positives, the Atrack is very robust, secure, and its waterproof credentials are exceptional. In terms of size and weight, the Atrack also hits the sweet spot for day treks and short trips.
Features 4/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 3/5 | In use 4/5 | Value 3/5
Overall score: 72%
Pros: Superb waterproofing, tough construction, PFC and PVC-free, versatile for short treks and travel
Cons: Harness not overly breathable, shoulder straps have firm edges, top lids easier to pack, expensive
Specs and versions
Weight 1430g | Volume 25 litres | Sizes One size | Main fabric PU-coated IP67
Weight 1470g | Volume 35 litres | Sizes One size | Main fabric PU-coated IP67
Weight 1560g | Volume 45 litres | Sizes One size | Main fabric PU-coated IP67