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NRS Ether HydroLock Review

A seriously waterproof bag we trust with our most sensitive items at a very nice price
NRS Ether HydroLock
Photo: NRS
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $35 List | Check Price at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Very waterproof, clear window, easy to locate things, sturdy build
Cons:  Flat shape is odd, extra access step
Manufacturer:   NRS
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Aug 2, 2021
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86
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 14
  • Waterproofness - 50% 10
  • Ease of Use - 30% 7
  • Features - 10% 8
  • Durability - 10% 7

Our Verdict

The NRS Ether Hydrolock is the perfect combination of intensive protection you've been looking for at a reasonable price. It closes twice — first with a zip-top like a beefy sandwich baggy, then with a roll-top like a traditional dry bag, to back it up. Rather than sewn and taped seams, the Ether has fully welded edges sealing ripstop fabric together, and a well-attached clear window lets you easily see what you're grabbing. The flattened, non-cylindrical shape of this bag is different but makes it even easier to locate items. When we want serious protection from a smaller dry bag, we reach for the Ether.

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NRS Ether HydroLock
Awards Best Buy Award  Best Buy Award  Top Pick Award 
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$21.95 at REI
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$12.95 at Backcountry
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Pros Very waterproof, clear window, easy to locate things, sturdy buildGood water protection, easy to use, replaceable clipLightweight, rectangular shape, simplicity is a featureLightweight, good protection, simple to useVery water resistant, useful shape, simple to use
Cons Flat shape is odd, extra access stepSingle stitching, not tall enough to roll properlyNot abrasion resistant, must be part of a systemLimited size options, less impressive constructionNo submersions, must pack full, weird clips
Bottom Line A seriously waterproof bag we trust with our most sensitive items at a very nice priceAn inexpensive windowed dry bag with solid water resistance and some easy to use featuresFor backpackers and day hikers, this model is a packing cube dry bag hybridA simple, lightweight dry bag that lets light in and is easy to useAn easy to use compression dry sack with solid protection and a capacity larger than it seems
Rating Categories NRS Ether HydroLock Sea to Summit View... Osprey Ultralight D... Outdoor Research Be... Carryout Airpurge
Waterproofness (50%)
10.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
Ease Of Use (30%)
7.0
6.0
8.0
6.0
7.0
Features (10%)
8.0
7.0
6.0
5.0
6.0
Durability (10%)
7.0
6.0
5.0
6.0
6.0
Specs NRS Ether HydroLock Sea to Summit View... Osprey Ultralight D... Outdoor Research Be... Carryout Airpurge
Weight 2.3 oz 1.7 oz 1.6 oz 1.0 oz 4.4 oz
Tested Size (liters) 5 L 4 L 20 L 3 L 15 L
Closure Type HydroLock and roll-top Roll-top Roll-top Roll-top Roll-top
Included D-Rings? Yes Yes No No No
Style Roll-top Roll-top Roll-top Roll-top Roll-top w/ compression straps
Material 30D silicone-impregnated ripstop nylon, urethane window 70D nylon, TPU window 40D ripstop nylon 40D siliconized ripstop nylon, PU coating 70D ripstop nylon, TPU laminate

Our Analysis and Test Results

We tested the NRS Ether HydroLock as a 5-liter bag, but it's available in many sizes ranging the spectrum from small to medium. It has a two-step closing system with a zip-top and a roll-top secured with a plastic clip. It's made of 30D silicone-impregnated ripstop nylon with welded seams and features a clear urethane window welded into place and a flattened construction, rather than cylindrical.

Performance Comparison


Even without air inside, the NRS Ether HydroLock is completely...
Even without air inside, the NRS Ether HydroLock is completely waterproof, easily surviving this kayak rolling on a particularly windy day.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Waterproofness


The Ether HydroLock is one of the only dry bags we tested that's rated submersible, and you better believe we put this to the test. Impressively, no matter how long we held this sack underwater, it never leaked a single bubble of air or let in even one drop of water. Even with just a phone inside and no pocket of air around it, the Ether HydroLock stayed completely waterproof as one of our testers capsized his kayak in heavy waves and arduously dragged it to shore. Versus a high-pressure garden hose spray, the silicone-saturated material still gave nothing up, consistently repelling every drop. The urethane window also proved to be a strong point, holding fast no matter what we did to this bag.


Several features contribute to the extremely high waterproofness of the Ether HydroLock. The first is its double closure system. The inner mechanism is a tightly fitted zip-top, tried and tested on those little plastic baggies living in a drawer in your kitchen. This is the main water blocker. To prevent the zip-top from opening, the Ether HydroLock then has a standard roll-top design, providing protection for the seal doing all the real work. In practice, this roll-top doesn't protect much from water because the zip-top is so thick — so don't rely on just the roll-top to keep your things safe! The Ether Hydrolock is also joined with welded seams that are much stronger and less likely to fail than the sewn and taped seams of most other models. In a category meant for water protection, this bag earned top scores in our testing for doing exactly that.

Even without the roll-top secured, the zip-top portion of this dry...
Even without the roll-top secured, the zip-top portion of this dry bag is completely waterproof.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Ease of Use


That zip-top closure system we love so much has the obvious downside of being an extra step between you and whatever is inside your bag. We think it's worth it, but if you're constantly getting into your dry sack, making sure this "zipper" is completely sealed every time you're done takes more time. Because the waterproofness of this sack depends entirely on this zip-top, you must keep it free of sand and make sure it fully seals every time. With that zip-top located right underneath the roll-top, the rolling and clipping stage of closing this dry bag is also a bit stiffer than most other models we tested. It has a much wider opening than many others, as the top actually flares outward, creating an opening larger than the bag itself.


Unlike some dry bags, the Ether Hydrolock has no extra handles or carry straps for longer transport. We tested the 5-liter version, so this wasn't a big deal, but if we'd nabbed the 35-liter size and needed to carry it up a steep embankment to our campsite, we'd probably wish it had something. For modest needs and simple security of attachment, the Ether Hydrolock does have a single plastic D-ring.

The clear urethane window makes it easier to see what's inside the bag and more quickly locate the precise item you need. The sides are also permeable to light, adding another layer of assistance. What we hadn't considered before testing this model is how the flat shape would come into play. At first, it seemed weird and slightly offputting, but we quickly learned how this shape eliminates corners for objects to hide in — no more searching for your lip balm for a full five minutes with this cleverly constructed shape.

The zip-top is just like a plastic baggie, but thicker and totally...
The zip-top is just like a plastic baggie, but thicker and totally waterproof.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Features


Though it seems simple, the Ether HydroLock is filled with thoughtful but subtle features that make it easier to use. It's not the only dry bag with a clear window we tested, but its flattened shape, wider mouth, and light-permeable fabric make it easier to fish around inside of than other windowed models. The location of the zipper inside the mouth of the bag, matte-finish fabric that's easy to slide wet hands over, and simple roll-top backup system make this bag a cinch to secure and forget about.


It lacks some of the other handy features we see in many other models, though. It has no straps or lash points for carrying or attaching to your watercraft. The single D-ring is a bit narrow, making it more difficult to fit thicker carabiners through it if you do want that extra security. Instead, this bag has attributes that make it one of the most waterproof and durable bags we tested. It has little details that make a big difference, including a sturdy clip that grips better than most, stopping it from being pulled open under duress. NRS also made sure there's enough space to get three rolls in the roll-top without impeding the top of the view window — something we can't say about every windowed dry bag we tested.

The Ether HydroLock has a single D-ring on the top.
The Ether HydroLock has a single D-ring on the top.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Durability


Dry bags come in a range of thicknesses that roughly correspond to their durability. The Ether Hydrolock bucks the trend slightly, with just 30D nylon comprising the body of the bag. However, it manages to be far more durable than one might expect by embuing this fabric with extra protections, like ripstop cross stitches. Its most impressive quality, though, is that it's impregnated with silicone. The welded seams are wide — both around the edges of the bag and at the urethane window — adding extra credibility to their likelihood of withstanding the test of time.


The zip-top is also wide, with double ridges on both sides, made of flexible yet sturdy material that stood up extremely well during our several months of extensive testing. One side of the roll-top is reinforced with a more rigid interior, helping you get that perfect backup of three rolls every time. The clip is thick, sturdy, and takes the perfect amount of pressure to operate — enough that we aren't worried it will pop open when yanked but not so much we can't make it work with cold, rapids-chilled fingers. Barring being horribly mistreated (like being sprayed with bug spray containing chemicals like DEET), the NRS Ether HydroLock is well built to withstand serious use while still being relatively lightweight.

The silicone-embedded fabric is shiny, sturdy, and very waterproof.
The silicone-embedded fabric is shiny, sturdy, and very waterproof.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Value


Are there cheaper dry bags for sale that will get you through a backpacking trip or a casual afternoon paddle? Of course. Are there other dry bags that offer this level of waterproofness for this rather reasonable cost? Not that we've seen. If you don't need this level of water protection, you can get away with saving a few bucks on a cheaper bag. But when it comes to safety for your belongings, the Ether HydroLock offers unbeatable value for its protection and usability.

Conclusion


The NRS Ether HydroLock is a seriously protective dry bag that's quite affordable for the intense performance it provides. It's one of the most waterproof models we tested, very easy to use, and impressively durable to boot. When we need to know our things are protected in the event of a total boat turtling, there's no small to medium-sized dry bag we trust more than this one.

This is one of the very few dry bags we tested that can reliably...
This is one of the very few dry bags we tested that can reliably protect your electronics even when fully submerged.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Maggie Brandenburg