Update: October 25, 2020
I have used the Watershed Animas 40L on 2 overnights and I carried it on a few day hikes. I didn’t really need it for the day hikes but wanted to get a few more miles in using the backpack. I will add, it was very hot for most of the time I had the pack but it has recently cooled down enough for more backpacking. Unfortunately, I reinjured my right knee about a month and a half ago and haven’t been backpacking or bike riding since. I’ll be having a partial knee replacement done soon.
The first thing I notice when using the Animas 40L was that it is actually pretty comfortable to carry with around 25 lbs of gear. I never went any heavier, not only because of my knees but also because I was doing short overnighters. The reason I was surprise is because the pack has no frame, the hipbelt is not padded at all and the shoulder straps only very minimalisticly. Now I’m not saying the pack carries as nicely as some of my high end backpacks designed to carry heavy loads but still, I had no problem carrying it for 6 miles (my longest dayhike) in which I went up and down the side of the holler twice carrying 25 lbs of gear (including the pack). I weighed it and kept adding gear until I got up to 25 lbs.
The second thing I noticed was that there isn’t really any good ways to carry my water, phone, toilet paper and other small items I normally keep in a hipbelt pocket, side pockets, or even the lid on most backpacks. In other words a place to carry stuff without having to open the main pack compartment. I solved this by wearing a really light weight runners vest under the pack and utilizing the front pockets on it for my water bottle and phone. Fortunately, the front part of the shoulder straps on the running vest were not covered by the straps on the Animas. I also used a small holster designed to clip on a belt for my small 380 pistol. I could have added a small pocket that fits over a belt but haven’t felt the need strong enough to purchase one. In my opinion the pack could really use a modular external storage system similar to molle. With such an arrangement, I could choose pouches to match my needs based on a particular trip. However, I’ll nearly always need the basics such as my phone, water bottles and toilet paper. Additionally it would be nice to have a place for a rain jacket, small multi-tool, gun holster, first aid kit and anything else I may need to access quickly on the trail. While speaking of gear, I should note that the 40L was plenty big for my needs on overnight trips. I could have easily added more food which is basically what I add when my trips include more nights.
The last think I’ll discuss is the fact that the Animas is truly waterproof. I didn’t hike in rain but I did throw it in the swimming hole down at the creek where I hike frequently. I followed it to retrieve it but while it was in the water I tried to sink it. I was able to push it underwater but it wasn’t easy. Which leads me to believe that it would be a great item to have on a canoe or kayak. Not as a replacement of a life jacket but it would certainly be a good float in an emergency and as a bonus it would keep all gear inside completely dry.
It may be awhile before I can add my final update. I’m hoping for another short overnight trip before knee surgery so I can see how some of my new hammock gear handles colder weather. In the meantime, I am really pleased with the Animas so far. My thanks to Watershed and 4Alloutdoors for this testing opportunity.
Watershed Animas 40L drypack initial review: June 7, 2020
The Watershed Animas is a 40 L backpack designed to keep anything packed inside completely dry. I find the concept of making a dry bag into a backpack an interesting proposition that has several benefits and a few drawbacks. I am familiar with using waterproof stuffsacks for things like my down top and under-quilts but never really liked compressing my down gear. It can also make hard lumps in my pack, that while not uncomfortable against my body, make it more difficult to fit other gear around them. I much prefer to just cram my quilts and other insulation layers into the bottom of my pack and then putting my hammock, food etc in on top and letting the weight of these press the down gear only as much as needed. Another option is to use a pack liner but going that route means the liner bag needs to closely match the dimensions of the pack it will go in or it is just an oversized stuffsack. By making the pack itself basically a waterproof stuffsack all these concerns are eliminated. The biggest downside I see is these type packs is that they usually do not have many options for quickly accessible storage areas for things like water bottles, TP, and a poncho or rain jacket. Another possible downside is that these type packs usually have very limited structure as far as a pack frame so may not be as comfortable on long hikes with heavy loads. And a last drawback would be the waterproof material resting directly against the back can be a quiet a bit warmer than a framed and or none-waterproof material pack would be. Here is a photo of the Animas from the manufacturer.
Watershed makes several types of dry bags and waterproof backpacks but in this particular style there are 3 offerings. The smallest called the Big Creek is 21 L is more of a dayhike sized pack. The largest is called the Westwater and is 65 L. At 40 L, the Animas is pretty much smack dab in the middle of these. All 3 packs feature the same basic configuration of a removable pack suspension attached to a main bag sealed on top with what they call ZipDry. It’s hard to describe the closure but think of a huge freezer bag and put it on sterioids… The Animas pack weighs in it 2 lb 8 oz according to my home scales. This is lighter then a lot of similar sized framed backpacks but quite a bit heavier than most similar sized frameless packs.
The pack body is made of a polyurethane coated 420 denier Cordura ripstop nylon and is stitch free, relying on RF welding. Apparently it is pretty strong as they show a grown man standing on a pack. It is said to be waterproof to 300 ft. and will never crack, fade or loose its flexibility. However, there are some stitching points on the pack. Mostly at the removable shoulder straps and waist belt attachment points and a few other “patch’ points. The padded part of the shoulder straps are about 17 inches long and approximately 3 inches wide, a little wider at the very top and tapering down to approximately 2 inches wide at the very bottom. There are 3 built in daisy chain like places near the top made from how the 1.5 inches wide webbing is sewn to the padded part. Speaking of which, the padding is what I would consider a little on the thin side. But they are wide enough that I don’t foresee them being painful. The bottom webbing below each shoulder strap is 1 inch wide. Both the top and bottom webbing passes through sliders so the pack fit can be dialed in the the users preference. The straps would be removed by unthreading the webbing from these 4 attachment points. There is a sternum strap that is adjustable in length and can be slid approximately 6 inches up or down along the lower part of the padded section. The waist belt is made of 2 inch webbing and has a fairly substantial plastic snap buckle. It is attached to the pack by threading it between 2 strips of webbing sewn onto the lower outside corners of the pack, basically like oversized belt loops on pants. There is also a 21 inch long 1.5 inch webbing strap that goes across the top of the pack once it is zipped closed. When cinched down tight it could hold a variety of items on the outside of the pack This is where I plan to carry my rain jacket, and by using the pockets for storing my TP and a few other small items I will solve one of the shortcomings I mentioned previously. There are two 1 inch webbing straps on either side of the pack that hold the top part of the pack down once zipped closed. It is similar to how roll-top packs work but this pack really doesn’t roll down. And lastly there is a 1 inch webbing strap near the top of the pack to serve as a carry or hanging strap. The opening is approximately 5 inches, plenty big for my hand to fit but not excessively big.
Closing (sealing) the Animas is pretty straightforward. Just line up both sides of the ZipDry seal and press/pinch while sliding my fingers across it. Test the seal by pulling on the tabs located here. If not sealed properly it will easily open back up. Once sealed properly you can’t pull it apart but it is easy once you know the secret. You basically need to make the top edge form an S shape and then pull on the 2 tabs. After a few minutes of playing with it I could open it almost instantly by grabbing the bag as shown in this photo.
The Animas comes in several colors but I chose the brightest one (orange) in case I use the pack while riding my bike. Multicam is also an option for an up charge of 25%. The pack can also be ordered with an inflation/purge valve for an extra 26 bucks.
Fitting the pack
I’ve already put a light load in the pack to see how it looks when full of gear. I just grabbed a bunch of clothes and started stuffing them inside. I pretty much emptied a large laundry basket that had jeans, towels, sweat pants etc in it. The pack weighed 14 lbs so I had about 11.5 lbs of “gear” inside it. I adjusted the shoulder straps to my liking and wore it outside to got a few photos. It felt fine just walking around in the yard but I’ll test it on a few short overnight hikes with more weight and for longer distances. Here are a few more photos of the pack from various angles.
That’s all for now, stay tuned for my next update to see how the Animas performs. My thanks to Watershed and 4alloutdoors for this testing opportunity!