Front-Roller Pannier
Front-Roller Pannier (courtesy, Ortlieb)
Gear Guy

What bag will handle torrential Japanese downpours?

I'm a teacher looking for a 100-percent waterproof backpack to use while ferrying from lesson to lesson in Japan. It needs to have a capacity of up to 30 liters, be strong, and be completely waterproof to survive the downpours we get out here. I'm thinking about an Ortlieb Messenger-style bag, but do you have any other possible alternatives? Daniel Hiroshima, Japan

Front-Roller Pannier

Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

Waterproof packs are exceedingly rare. Vaude made some for a while but gave up, probably because waterproof pack covers are so light and cheap. You might find one of their Black Canyon packs somewhere—they originally sold for $270, but I suspect will be too big for your intended use.

Front-Roller Pannier Front-Roller Pannier

So, what to do? If, as you say, you’re on a bicycle, why not just get a set of waterproof panniers? Ortlieb makes several: the Front-Roller panniers are only $120 (U.S.) for a pair, and they’re totally waterproof ( Carrying capacity per pair is around 25 liters, which sounds like it could fit your needs. They also clip right off a luggage rack, while a handy shoulder strap makes it easy to haul them around. Ortlieb even makes a clip-on strap system that converts any pannier to a backpack (the straps are about $40). A Nagoya-based company called PR International distributes Ortlieb gear in Japan, so you might want to drop them an e-mail or give them a call (

Alternatively, wear a regular pack and waterproof the contents. Several companies make waterproof inserts that simply go inside the pack—even if the pack is soaked, the stuff inside the insert stays dry. Exped makes one called the Waterproof Pack Liner ( The small model, with a capacity of 40 liters, is only $20, which I imagine would work just fine for your books, various teaching tools, and bento box!

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021 Lead Photo: courtesy, Ortlieb