I, too, have unfortunately been a disciple of the ‘Trash Bag Pack Liner,’ ever since my 2019 PCT hike. Once my pack cover broke, it was just the easiest option, for better or for worse. I even remember a friend telling me, two years later on my second thru-hike, that I might as well just buy a pack liner at this point. They were right, but it took me a while to get around to it.
I’ve been using the Alpine Gremlins Dyneema Pack Liner for a few months now, and it’s permanently filled that role in my gear setup. It’s a relief, not having to worry nearly as much about puncturing this layer that’s designed to keep my gear, and therefore me, warm. It feels good, as always, to remove single-use plastic in my outdoor gear, too. I could have saved several garbage bags from landfills if I had made this switch earlier. I’ll take you through my experience so far.
Ultralight Material — Dyneema!
There’s a reason Dyneema has been such a revelation for the ultralight backpacking community. It’s hard to argue with results, and such a lightweight, durable material works perfectly as a pack liner. Holding the liner, I get the feeling I could puncture it if I tried hard enough. Then I think about the fact that it’s 15 times stronger than steel at the same weight, and I’m actually not sure. Still, I decided not to test this too aggressively. That said, as I push my bag of tent poles and stakes into the liner, which in the past has had enough concentrated force to rip garbage bags, the Dyneema holds up exquisitely. I’ll be keeping an eye on the stitching, though, knowing that’s where Dyneema is likely to fray first.
Because the Alpine Gremlins Pack Liner is made from Dyneema it’s ultralight. Size small, with a volume of 25-50L, weighs 0.67oz (19g), while the medium, with a volume of 50-75L, weighs 0.8oz (23g). I tested the size small, but would recommend medium for most hikers. More on that below!
The Testing Grounds — Fiordland, New Zealand!
I found myself living in what may be the perfect place to test a pack liner — Fiordland, in the south of New Zealand. Fiordland has about 200 rain days a year on average, and annually, 7 meters or around 23 feet of rain. It’s the same rule for any plants, animals, or people that are going to live here — you’ve got to be able to handle the wet. On one hiking trip, I ran into the president of the Christchurch Tramping Club. He professed that most members of his club were “candy floss trampers,” the kind that fall apart as soon as it rains. He felt we ought to be a little more hardy, and that applies to gear as well, I suppose. The Alpine Gremlins pack liner has been holding up well.
Testing the Alpine Gremlins Dyneema Pack Liner
Ironically, the first hike I took my new liner on was a clear day. The only testing that happened then was when I put my pack down in a snowdrift. I picked it up later to find the bottom soaked, but everything inside was still dry.
The first real test that I put the Alpine Gremlins liner through was a hike on the Hollyford Track to Hidden Falls Hut. It was forecast to rain all day. We started out fully suited up, and a moderate rain fell on us as we went. It seemed to lighten up, though, so I got cocky and delayered. Of course, after a couple minutes enjoying nothing but a little drizzle with my rain jacket strapped to the top of my pack, it began to really rain again. At that point, I didn’t feel like stopping, and since I knew we’d reach a backcountry hut in the next hour or so, I let my body and the outside of my pack get wet … while the gear inside my pack, tucked in the Alpine Gremlins liner, stayed nice and dry.
Perhaps the biggest test on this hike was not the rain but Hidden Falls itself. They really were hidden away, and as we followed a side trail to get a closer look, the mist from the falls became a cloud that we had to walk through. Standing to watch the falls, I was quickly soaked, and could only keep my phone out for a quick, mediocre picture:
When we made it to the hut not long after, the results were fairly clear. The Alpine Gremlins liner passed with flying colors. My gear, my food, and my ludicrous amount of luxury items for a single night trip were all dry.
Some weeks later, as spring was supposedly coming to New Zealand, I went for another hike on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a beautiful yet exposed hike through relatively fresh volcanic terrain. One of the main attractors for this hike is Mt. Ngauruhoe, a volcanic cone sacred to Māori. You may recognize the peak from the Lord of the Rings movie, in which it’s depicted as Mt. Doom. While I had hoped to catch a glimpse of it, it wasn’t meant to be, as the weather was fairly unfriendly.
This at least taught me that the liner holds up well against snow, too. As I made my way up, rain fell until it eventually turned into snow blowing around me. It was beautiful in the end, if unpleasant. Later, after I got near the high point and turned back for fear of the weather worsening, I was pelted in the face with sleet, as I crossed a plateau at high elevation. My rain jacket and my liner both did their jobs perfectly, though. I found myself back at my car with a dry torso, and the contents of my pack much the same.
What Size Pack Liner To Buy?
Years ago, when I purchased my pack, I made the mistake (in my opinion) of getting a cinch-top instead of a roll-top. It doesn’t affect the function of my pack much, since I’ve always just strapped my foam pad on top or had my rain jacket or my rain pants covering the hole where moisture could potentially seep in.
I had hoped, with the Alpine Gremlins pack liner, to be able to twist and tuck away excess Dyneema, eliminating the possibility of moisture making it in through the top. I’ve found that when I’m fully loaded up, since my liner is approximately the same size as my pack, there’s not quite enough excess material for that. Of course, this isn’t a design flaw, just a consideration when purchasing. If you’re debating the size you want to pick up — the Alpine Gremlins liner is available in both small and medium — I would say opt up for the larger option. That said, it still functions like a dream for me, and after a day or two of eating my food, I am able to twist and tuck the top of the Dyneema liner to perfection.
The Alpine Gremlins Dyneema Pack Liner has become a mainstay of my setup, and the thing I’m most grateful for is the peace of mind. There was always a part of me that felt my makeshift trash bag liners weren’t completely secure; and with the amount of holes they developed especially along the sides, I was right. I would always wait too long to replace them, and would have to either choose between using more plastic or having imperfect waterproofing. The extra durability of the Dyneema removes that anxiety. I’m now able to relax a little more in the rain.
Matthew Kok is an essayist, a poet, a traveler, and absolutely in love with the world outside. They are currently operating out of Manapouri, a little town in Aotearoa–South Island, New Zealand. You can find them curled up with Stormy the housecat or cooking up big, elaborate breakfasts late in the morning. You can also find them on Instagram at @matt.kok