The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How to Choose a Dry Bag

From packing snacks on the front of your board to carrying the next month's rations  your chosen activity will help define the ideal model for you.
By Leslie Yedor ⋅ Review Editor
Monday January 14, 2019

Keeping crucial hydrophobic gear, like layers, snacks, and car keys, away from water and securely stowed, is an essential part of every successful waterborne adventure. Little can crush your psych like crawling into a wet sleeping bag after a freezing day on the water during a winter rafting trip down the Grand Canyon or returning to your car from a day on the lake only to find your key fob has been drowned. The dry bag may not be the focal point of the mission, but it can certainly save the day. These products offer protection from the elements, so your gear stays dry when conditions get wet. They come in plenty of shapes and sizes, and many of the models sport features that are convenient for different applications. First, consider the specifics of the activity you intend to use it for. Will you play in, on, or near the water?

Next, you will need to consider the level of waterproofness you desire, what type of gear you plan to carry in it, and the utility of any special features. In this buying advice article, we focus on the many factors to consider when buying a dry bag. Take yourself through our detailed algorithm below, and you'll be ready to purchase the perfect model for your unique needs.

Activity


First thing's first, you must identify the activity or activities, you plan to use your product for. This piece of information is critical to determine the type of dry bag that will best suit your needs. Contemplate where you plan to play, the type of adventure, and the length of your trip.

Location


Whether you are in, on, or near the water, some added protection for your water sensitive gear is always helpful. Establishing your planned proximity to water will help you assess how likely it is your bag will end up in the water and the level of security the appropriate model needs to provide to prevent unwanted waterlogging.

River Trips

When a river trip is full of whitewater and rapids you can expect to onboard a sizable amount of water. Whether you plan to shred on an oar frame, kayak, or paddle board, with this kind of adventure you can expect everything in/on your craft to get subjected to a deluge. Logs and rocks can also pose a serious threat to your gear if you get flipped and your pack goes racing downstream. For these kinds of adventures, you will want a model that boasts some serious water protection and durability. Our Editors' Choice, the Watershed Colorado Duffel is the perfect example of a river bag.

Casual Days on the Lake

If canoeing or paddling on placid waters is more your style, a recreational style waterproof bag provides just the right insurance policy for your change of clothes and snacks. In this case, your focus should be on price and usability. Models that provide modest protection from water rather than absolute waterproofness will still protect your gear from aberrant splashes and often come with a significant price break. The Sea to Summit Big River is the perfect middle ground for casual use that might accidentally get a little wild. If you plan to paddle with expensive camera equipment and can easily envision your otherly enthusiastic kids accidentally flipping the canoe, then a more robust model might be a better fit.

Planning to carry your stuff on deck? Pick a model with flexible fabric and just the right size.
Planning to carry your stuff on deck? Pick a model with flexible fabric and just the right size.

At the Beach or Poolside

Dry bags are not only good at keeping water out, but they can also trap moisture inside. This is ideal for getting wet towels and bathing suits home from the pool or the beach. Inexpensive options, like the MARCHWAY Floating 20L, offer features like cross body straps, that make it easy to carry. If it's durable enough to handle little Timmy dragging it across the pool deck you can also probably assume it will readily contain a wet bathing suit for the drive home.

Canyoneering

Slot canyons in the desert may sound dry, but one of the perks of canyoneering in America's southwest is discovering crazy remote swimming holes sandwiched between the giant walls of red rock. This might be a great way to wash up and cool off, but if its completely blocking your way you better be incredible at treading water or you'll need a bag can handle the swim across. Since you'll want to carry your gear on your back for the rest of the journey, a dry bag backpack hybrid is a great choice. The SealLine Black Canyon Boundary Pack offers a comfortable backpack frame with serious protection from water.

Dry Ground, Wet Weather

Before you get caught up by the idea of switching your backpacking pack to a fully waterproof pack like what we discussed for Canyoneering, you definitely need to consider the likelihood of actually submerging your backpack. If you will be walking on dry ground and anticipate some rain, it is better to stick to the ergonomic design of a classic backpackers pack and protect your sensitive gear with lightweight waterproof stuff sacks inside the main compartment.

Sport Specific


The location of the adventure is definitely something important to consider, but factoring in the type of sport, or sports, you plan to use your product for helps narrow in on shape, size, and specific features.

Whitewater Rafting & Kayaking

If you plan to take your bag for a ride down the river, it is critical to have an easy way to secure your bag to your boat. Lash points in the shape of D-rings, and sewn webbing loops offer dedicated attachment points. Some models have few, small, and/or thin plastic D-rings which offer little guarantee that your bag will stay put. Check out models that offer multiple, reinforced metal, plastic, or welded D-rings and/or loops. The YETI Panga is a great example of a model with heavy duty loops of webbing that resemble the material and stitching technology of a climbing harness. The Watershed Colorado Duffel has six large, reinforced plastic D-rings that offer multiple robust lashing points.

Paddleboarding

The big question to ask when planning to bring your gear out on a paddleboard is how am I going to store it? Often boards come with a fixed bungee system on the nose or tail that is perfect for securing your bag…if it fits. In this case, you want to opt for a bag with a flexible material that allows you to stuff it under the cords. The Sea to Summit Big River is made of a thin but water repelling nylon that provides it just the right amount of malleability.

Backpacking

Excess weight can certainly take the fun out of a backpacking trip, but added protection against the elements doesn't have to come at a backbreaking weight. Ultralight dry bags offer just enough protection to keep your gear dry when stowed inside your primary pack. Their thin material helps shaves ounces but leaves them vulnerable to wear and tear if used on their own. The Sea to Summit eVent Compression has the same design and is just as light as your old sleeping bag stuff sack but offers serious waterproof protection, so your bag stays dry no matter how stormy the weather gets.

This model offers a compression system that makes it ideal for sleeping bags and down jackets.
This model offers a compression system that makes it ideal for sleeping bags and down jackets.

Traveling

The key to a travel-friendly model is durability. Shlepping your gear through airports, on trains, and even on the back of a donkey is a great way to put some serious wear and tear on your product. Look for a model made of hefty material that provides un-yielding defense against potential punctures and tears.

Beefy material  backpack straps  and an ultra watertight design make this model a great traveler's companion.
Beefy material, backpack straps, and an ultra watertight design make this model a great traveler's companion.

Trip Length


Once you have established the location and type of trip you intend to use your product for, it may be helpful to ask yourself how long of a trip you plan to take. A model that serves well for an afternoon may be too small, too heavy, or not durable enough to live out of for multiple nights, weeks or months.

Waterproofness


The name given to these products can be very misleading. Even though it includes the word "dry", this doesn't guarantee that every product is going to lead to 100% dry contents, 100% of the time. Below we break down waterproofness into three levels; submergible, water resistant, and splashproof. While you might assume that absolute waterproofness is the best option no matter what, we invite you to hold your judgment. Absolute waterproofness is almost always associated with a heavier weight and a heftier price tag. For activities where you need to guarantee dry gear, it may be worth it, but for a casual day on the lake where you don't plan to get in but want to keep your towel dry just in case, it might be a safe bet to opt for a cheaper, thinner, water-resistant model.

Watch Your Language
Companies use a variety of descriptors to label the level of waterproofness of their product(s). It's smart to be skeptical here because there is no standard definition and no regulation on the wording. We found a fairly wide range of discrepancies in our testing. Check out our main review article and the individual product reviews to get an in-depth sense of just out waterproof each model really is.

Submergible


This is the upper echelon of waterproofness. If a product is submergible, you can bet on dry gear in most, if not all, conditions. This is going to pay off if you flip your raft, need to swim with your bag, or are carrying gear easily damaged by moisture.

A truly submergible model means it can handle prolonged dunking without on-boarding the smallest droplet of water.
A truly submergible model means it can handle prolonged dunking without on-boarding the smallest droplet of water.

Water Resistant


Models that are water resistant offer intermediate protection from water. Many can handle getting dropped into the lake and even a quick dunk. These products often offer a happy medium between protection and price.

Water resistant is the intermediate level of waterproof. Prolonged submersion leads to some seepage  but overall the contents stay dry.
Water resistant is the intermediate level of waterproof. Prolonged submersion leads to some seepage, but overall the contents stay dry.

Splashproof


Splashproof models help keep your gear mostly dry when kept above the water. These products tend to have two distinct styles. Stuff sack type bags have a thin material that makes them lightweight. The material itself soaks up water with prolonged exposure, but offer a second level of protection when used inside a backpacking pack. The other type is more classic in design but provides an incomplete seal at the mouth. These products are typically less expensive and are made of a more robust material that makes them durable and resistant to soaking up water, but the incomplete seal allows significant water to seep in when exposed to more than splashes.

A splash-proof model has one of two weaknesses; an incomplete seal or thin material that soaks up water.
A splash-proof model has one of two weaknesses; an incomplete seal or thin material that soaks up water.

Packing Your Gear


We're finally getting into the nitty-gritty details where its time to match your desires with the product specifics. The type of items do you plan to carry around may help you decide on the style, features, and level of waterproofness you require.

Clothes & Towels

Linens are the most versatile items to pack as they are unbreakable and easily stuff into different shapes and sizes. Almost any model will do here with a few exceptions. If you are packing extra down layers, like a puffy jacket, or even more importantly a synthetic puffy jacket the Sea to Summit eVent Compression allows you to actually stuff it nice and small and will keep it dry. If you're on a multi-day mission and having dry socks at the end of the day is crucial, opt for a bag with high waterproof ratings. Otherwise, for the casual day mission, almost any model will do.

Equipment

Gear typically means awkward shapes and rough or sharp edges. Pick a model that offers more serious durability to keep your tent poles from poking a hole in the fabric.

Electronics

Camera gear, computers, and other electronics are likely the most sensitive gear you'll bring along. Consider a bag that offers absolute waterproofness and provides some protection for your stuff in case it gets a bit rough and tumbled.

Add-On Liners
If you plan to carry fragile equipment, certain models have custom padded liners that can be purchased separately. This aftermarket add-on fits snugly inside your bag and provides added protection for your most fragile equipment.

Features


Certain bags are meant for truly specific purposes and have unique features that make them good at just one thing. Ask yourself if you are okay sacrificing versatility for performance. You should also consider your budget. If you can afford multiple specialty products that bet is probably worth it. If not, opt for an all-around model that will serve you for whatever adventure happens to come your way.

Features like a removable backpack frame  extra reinforced D-rings  or super lightweight material make certain models excel in unique situations.
Features like a removable backpack frame, extra reinforced D-rings, or super lightweight material make certain models excel in unique situations.

Conclusion


Before you jump the gun and buy our Editors' Choice because it's obviously the best, put some thought into where, for what, and how you plan to use your product. Ask yourself where you plan to adventure, what your exposure to water looks like, and what you plan to carry. Define your budget and outline your desired features. Once you work out all of these details, return to our individual reviews to find out the best product for you.


  • Share this article: