Seam Sealing

Seam sealing is the process of applying a sealant to the seams of gear to make them waterproof. Although the fabrics might be waterproof, water can enter through the needle holes and between the fabric layers.

There are two main types of seam sealing methods: seam tapes and liquid sealants.

Seam tapes are pre-made strips of adhesive-backed tape that are applied to the seams of outdoor gear made from waterproof fabrics. They are a quick and easy way to seal seams, but they can be difficult to apply in hard-to-reach areas, or on items that have complicated seams and shapes. Seam tapes are commonly used with fabrics that have a waterproof coating, such as polyurethane (PU), or a waterproof film and no backing fabric, such as XPAC X21 and DCF. They are especially effective at sealing flat seams that are not subject to a lot of movement or stress. PU tapes are typically iron on tapes, and tapes for film backed fabrics are pressure sensitive tapes.

Seam tapes need to completely cover both the stitching and the seam allowance. I find overlapping seam tape and sticking it to itself can help seal seam allowances that can’t be stuck down flat.

Liquid sealants are applied directly to the seams of outdoor gear using a brush or roller. They create a flexible and durable seal that is able to move with the fabric, making them a good choice for gear that will be subjected to a lot of stress and movement. Liquid sealants can be used with a variety of fabrics, and can seal areas that are very difficult with seam tapes. However, they can be more time-consuming to apply than seam tapes, and sometimes have strong fumes. Liquid sealants can benefit from being thinned by a manufacturer recommended thinner. If you are using a silicone coated fabric, you need a silicone sealant, otherwise a PU sealant (e.g. McNett Seam Grip) will bond to most fabrics.

When sealing you need to cover all the needle holes and the entire seam allowance. A flat-felled seam is narrower, lies flat, and easier is to seal than a simple seam. Seam sealing is very difficult to achieve fully at home, especially on more complicated designs., It might take many back and forth attempts to seal unnoticed gaps. Instead, it can be easier to consider other ways to waterproof your bags, such as sewn in floating liners (see this sewing guide for an example), dry bags, and pack liners.

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