Dry bags are getting quite popular these days but not that long ago they were almost unknown. Not many people outside the circles where dry bags are unavoidable knew about them. Kayakers, sailors, cave explorers etc… they were using them for a some time now. But for the rest, dry bags were pretty much a mystery. The name itself implies that a dry bag is something that stays dry inside, so it must be waterproof. Unfortunately the term waterproof can today mean so many different things. Usually things labeled waterproof are not really waterproof. If you are not familiar with dry bags it is hard to imagine that a dry bag really is waterproof in the true sense of the word. You can drop it into the sea and things inside stay dry. Even though dry bags are getting more and more popular there are still some misconceptions what dry bags really are and what they can do. This is why we made this ultimate guide to dry bags.
In this guide you will learn:
- what are dry bags and why are they waterproof,
- 32 different uses for a dry bag (so far),
- how to properly close the dry bag,
- how to buy the perfect dry bag for your need:
- what is your intended use,
- which materials are best,
- how to pick the right size,
- what extra features are there,
- why are most dry bags ugly,
- dry bags care and maintenance.
What is a Dry Bag?
Dry bag is a name for differently sized bags that are constructed in such a way that absolutely no water can get inside. How is this achieved? There are two main factors that make a dry bag completely waterproof.
First, dry bags are made out of 100% waterproof material. A material that can be left lying in the water for a month and not a single drop will get through. These are not “waterproof” materials that breathe (GoreTex etc..) because even the best breathable waterproof material can only stop water for a while and under certain conditions. A real waterproof material has absolutely no holes and it does not breathe. Completely closing all the holes in the fabric is usually achieved by laminating it with pvc. Premium dry bags usually use heavy duty, robust and easy to maintain 500D Lined PVC Tarpaulin. Thin lightweight dry bags usually use Nylon fabric. Nylon dry bags will only stop water for a while as this material soaks up water. These thin bags are mostly used for added protection inside your backpacks, duffel bags etc… and not for stand alone use.
And second, dry bag construction. Dry bags must be “sewn” together without making holes into the material. This is achieved either by:
- sewing the bags together and then taping the seams or covering the whole inside of the bag with a waterproof coating (usually used with thinner bags, this method is not very durable nor reliable).
- gluing the bag together (more reliable method).
- welding the materials together and creating a completely waterproof bond. This is the most reliable and durable method.
Making waterproof bags, backpacks, duffel bags etc… using waterproof materials and welding is not easy. Material and construction method put all sorts of limitations on how the bags can be produced. Limitations that don’t exist in regular bags that are simply sewn together.
Why and Where Are Dry Bags Used?
It is no wonder dry bags are becoming more common. There are just so many different situations where a dry bag can save your things from getting wet. Generally speaking there are two basic reasons for using dry bags:
- to keep your things dry inside the dry bag when things get wet or
- to put your wet things inside a dry bag so they don’t drip all over your other dry things.
Here is a huge list of all the sports and situations where you can use a dry bag:
- kayaking (inside of the kayak can get wet, you can also put dry bags on top of the kayak),
- stand up paddling,
- boat rides,
- skiing and snowboarding,
- cave exploration,
- diving (storing wet gear),
- snorkeling (storing wet gear),
- traveling (especially to rainy and wet corners of the Earth),
- going to the beach (dry bags also protect from sand),
- motor bike travel,
- going outdoors (walking up rivers, under waterfalls…),
- fishing (keep your gear dry),
- hunting (keep your gear dry),
- hunting and fishing (store your catch in a dry bag so blood and guts don’t go all over your other things),
- surfing (for keeping things dry when on the beach, boat trips, tropical island travels…),
- storing wet wetsuits so they don’t drip all over your car (surfing, diving, rafting, swimming-triathlon…),
- storing wet smelly clothes after working out,
- laundry bag (same reason),
- kite surfing,
- protecting your gear in dry, dust, deserts…miles away from the sea (dust and sand can be even more harmful to electronics than water!),
- camping (things in tents tend to get humid, store your clean clothes and your sleeping bag in a dry bag when you don’t need them),
- emergency pillow (the dry bags with air and put it under your head),
- working out (fill it with water),
- washing clothes (you can use a dry bag as a simple bucket),
- protecting your phone, camera, drone and other electronics from humidity and dust,
Can you think of any other uses? Let us know! The most original use might get a reward :)!
Closing a Dry Bag
When a dry bag is properly constructed it will only have one hole – the top opening that you use to put your things inside the bag. Everything else is sealed and waterproof. This leaves us with the big question – how to close a dry bag so it does not leak?
There are three options that are used these days:
- Roll down top
- Ziplock seal (similar to ziplock freezer bags for your food etc)
- Waterproof zipper
All three have their pros and cons, lets take a look.
Roll Down Top
Roll down top it the most popular way to close a dry bag. If we only count dry bags (without other types of waterproof packs and luggage) I would say 99% of the dry bags use this closing system. Why?
Roll down top PROs:
- It is easy to use and it works.
- It can not break down.
- Needs no maintenance.
- It’s cheap.
- It creates a handle that can be used to carry a dry bag or tie it to other bags etc…
Roll down top CONs:
- Not suitable for submersion. No matter what some brands, shops etc… claim, a roll down top will slowly leak if the bag is pushed underwater.
How To Properly Close a Dry Bag?
Although leaking in case of submerging a dry bag is unavoidable, the amount of leaking depends on how carefully you close the bag. This is how you properly close a dry bag:
Dry Bags Closing Instructions
- Align the top edges of the bag and squeeze them together.
- Tightly roll down the top of the bag at least 3 times (it is better to roll it down all the way until you reach the content of your bag, this puts more tension on the closure and makes the seal better).
- Bend the ends in the opposite direction towards the back, away from the side where you rolled the top down (again this puts more tension on the fold and makes a better seal).
- Buckle the ends together and you are done.
When you close a dry bag there will be air trapped inside. This makes all dry bags float on the surface of the water which is very useful. If for some reason you want to make the dry bag smaller, like when you are packing, then squeeze the air out before closing the bag.
Another way for closing dry bags is ziplock seal. You know, the kind of zip seal you find in plastic bags that you use for putting your food into the freezer etc. This type of seal is very popular with really small bags, “bags” that are only meant to protect your phone etc… Here is why.
Zip seal PROs:
- Simple to use
- It’s cheap.
- 100% waterproof.
Zip seal CONs:
- Works for extra small bags. With bigger bags the zip seal would have to be so strong it would be really hard to close and open or it would open by itself. To solve this some bag use ziplock type seal together with roll down top. This way the ziplock stays closed even if you pull on the bag.
- Sand and dirt can break the seal.
- Usually needs some maintenance (lubrication).
Recently special waterproof zippers also became available. Here are their pros and cons.
Waterproof zipper PROs:
- Simple to use
- Can be 100% waterproof, but be careful, real waterproof zippers that can also survive submersion are very expensive and not very common. There are however lots of different cheaper types of zippers that are many times also called “waterproof”. Some are really bad and will leak right away, some are very good and will withstand everything but submersion.
Waterproof zipper CONs:
- Can break down.
How To Choose and Buy a Dry Bag?
There are a couple of things that influence what kind of bag do you want and need.
How Much Gear Do I Have and What Dry Bag Size Do I Need?
Obviously, longer trips and more gear require more space in your dry bags. But bigger dry bags are not always better. Ideally you want just the right sized dry bag, so that it is almost full. This way the roll down works better. But that is not the only reason…
Most Useful Dry Bag Sizes
Dry bags come in different sizes usually ranging from small 2 liter bags to huge 50, 60 or even 90 liter bags. In my experience the most useful bag sizes are between 5 and 50 liters. Bigger bags are very useful when you need to haul huge amounts of gear, but bags this big will be heavy and clumsy when they are full. Use these bags for transport etc… when the gear just sits inside a huge dry bag on the back of the pickup truck or similar. Not for carrying around. It is also easier to handle and pack two 30L bags than one 60L.
Another downside of huge bags is that things get lost inside them. Use huge bags for big gear. Like, if you need to throw 4 wet wetsuits inside your car, you can put them inside one huge 90L bag. But when packing clothes, towels, snacks… smaller bags work better. With a huge bag you will be constantly fishing inside the bag for some small item that always miraculously ends up somewhere at the bottom of the bag. So think about how many things you need to store inside your bag and consider using more differently sized bags instead of one huge bag. Finding things will be much easier.
How Much Room Is There For Dry Bags?
Smaller bags will fit into tighter spaces. In some cases this is a big issue. For instance if you will be using your dry bags for kayaking, you will want smaller and also a bit narrower bags. They will easily fit inside kayaks narrow hull. Also, with multiple smaller bags you can weight your boat more evenly.
Examples: What Different Sized Dry Bags Can Fit?
Here is what some of the popular dry bag sizes will fit (take this with a grain of salt off course, one persons clothes for a week could be another persons clothes for a day :), then it’s the season and temperatures etc..):
- 5 liter dry bag will fit all your smaller personal items (phone, wallet, keys, snacks, first aid…) or also a DSLR camera with two lenses or a Mavic Pro sized drone. 5 liter bag can be pushed under the bungee cords on your kayak. It is also perfect to use with bigger bags for organization.
- 15 liter dry bag will fit for instance one thick winter wetsuit, gloves and booties. It will fit a small sleeping bag and some clothes. Or food for the weekend.
- 30 liter dry bag will fit two thick wetsuits or a wetsuit and a poncho/towel and some clothes. This would be IMHO the perfect size for day trips on and around the water. If you just pack it with clothes it fits enough clothes for a week long trip for one person or for a weekend trip for two people.
- 50 liter dry bag will fit three wet wetsuits, or all your food for a few day kayak trip together with a small camping gas stove and some dishes.
Materials and production process are standard these days. This means that an average dry bag that you buy will work alright. A couple of things to keep in mind:
- If you want a durable dry bag get one made out of heavy duty materials and put together using welded seams.
- Thin Nylon dry bag are meant to be used inside other bags/backpacks for added protection and not as a stand alone bags.
Dry Bags Extra Features
Internal and external pockets. Internal pocket lets you organize things inside the bag which is great. If you want to have some things close and ready then look for external pocket. There are two types of external pockets. Usually dry bags don’t have waterproof external pockets since they are more expensive and you can always just store the things that can not get wet inside your dry bag.
On the other hand, things that you usually want to keep close and ready are your phone, wallet, maybe your car keys. Things that can not get wet. So a waterproof external pocket can be a big plus. Not many bags have them though (check the 30L Whale dry bag from DryTide).
Some dry bags also have external mesh pockets for holding water bottles.
If you think there is a chance you will carry your dry bags around more than just from your car to your boat, then get bags with shoulder straps. Get straps that you can remove when you don’t need them. If you will carry a heavier dry bag around a lot (dry bags 30L and more) get one with double shoulder straps, so it can be carried as a backpack. For smaller bags one strap is plenty. More on carrying a bit further down.
EXTERNAL LOOPS, D RINGS, HANDLES ETC…
Most dry bags will have one or more D rings on them. Look for solid D rings, preferably plastic ones so salt water doesn’t harm them. You can use them to attach the bag to boats, kayaks, stand up paddle boards, motorbikes etc…
External loop allow you to tie things to the bag or clip things on with carabiners.
Additional external handles are useful with bigger bags. A full 90 liter bag can be a heavy beast, so just the roll down top handle might not be enough.
EXTERNAL NET OR BUNGEE CORD
External net or bungee cord can be used to secure your wet gear on the outside of the dry bag while your dry things are safe inside the bag. Usually people just use two separate dry bags. This way the wet gear doesn’t drip all over the place.
In some cases you will also want your bag to be visible at night or to help you be more visible. In this case look for dry bags with reflective print on the outside.
I don’t know why, but most of the dry bags don’t put much effort into looking good. One of the reasons is that you want the bags to be visible if you drop them into the sea. This is why ugly bright neon colors are often used. We decided to go another way and tried to take the design a step further with our Seagull, Bear and Whale bags.
You also need to ask your self where and why will you use the bag the most? I will assume that for a start, you want to protect your things from getting wet. But apart from that, ask yourself a couple of questions:
How Much Carrying of Dry Bags Will I Be Doing?
- No carrying. A regular style dry bag without shoulder straps will do fine.
- A little carrying and/or smaller sized bag. Make sure the bag has at least one shoulder strap, this way you can carry it around and keep your hands free.
- Some carrying and mid sized bags. Dry bag should have two simple shoulder straps.
- Lots of carrying. Using dry bag for longer hiking trips and travelling. Medium amount of gear. In this case get either a bag with two shoulder straps (padded shoulder straps if possible) or even better, get a small waterproof backpack. It is much more comfortable to carry than a dry bag.
- Lots of carrying. Using dry bag for longer hiking trips and travelling. Big amount of gear. – In this case get a big waterproof backpack. It is much more comfortable to carry than a dry bag. Get one that has padded shoulder straps, padded back, hip belt and a sternum strap.
Are There Any Sport/Type of Use Specific Requirements?
I have already listed most of the dry bag features. Now lets look when they are necessary.
Kayaking and Similar
Go for smaller sized bags, I would say up to 30 liters and don’t get ones that are really wide. Smaller and narrower bags will fit better inside the kayak. Big dry bags can be only attached to the top of your kayak (which is sometimes also useful).
Attaching Dry Bags To Kayaks, Canoes, Rafts, Motorbikes, Car Rooftops, Boats etc…
If there is a need to attach the dry bag so it does not fall off, then you will need a dry bag that has multiple D rings. D rings that are there for attaching shoulder straps work great to. In any case, you will want to secure them with a bungee cords so they stay put.
Motorbikes and Bike Travel
You will want dry bags that have some reflective surfaces on them. This way you are better visible at night.
Extreme Use With High Chance of Submersion (Wild Rivers…)
If you will use the bags on wild rivers, as a flotation device when swimming or if there is a chance that the dry bag will be pushed underwater during use, then get a dry bag that uses either expensive waterproof zipper or ziplock + roll down top closing system. A cheaper alternative is also using a smaller dry bag inside a bigger dry bag. Put your DSLR in 5 liter bag and put your 5 liter bag inside a 30 liter bag and your are good.
What Kind of Gear Are You Packing?
This also influences what kind of bag should you get.
Clothes, Sleeping Bags, Jackets, Towels
These things can not break down and they can not damage the bag. So pretty much any bag will do. I like to store a sleeping bag in a separate dry bag that holds only the sleeping bag so I only open it when I go to sleep. What size dry bag for sleeping bag should you get? Most of the regular sleeping bags will fit comfortably inside a 15L dry bag.
Food and Cooking Gear
Food, gas stoves, pans, plates, knifes and other cooking gear is harder and pointier. Do not use thin nylon bags, use regular, thicker and more durable bags. No matter the bag, wrap really sharp and pointy things like knifes into a kitchen towel or put them in an extra box. You don’t want holes in your bag.
Various Other Equipment
Again, if your gear is not soft and round get a durable dry bag and again, if something is really sharp and pointy, wrap it.
Electronics and Highly Sensitive Gear
Cameras, laptops, and other electronics are likely the most sensitive gear you’ll bring along. So make sure you get a durable dry bag, use things as camera cubes (or combine with towels) to protect your electronics when things get rough and if your finances allow it, get a bag that uses either expensive waterproof zipper or ziplock + roll down top closing system. A cheaper alternative is also using a smaller dry bag inside a bigger dry bag. Put your DSLR in 5 liter bag and put your 5 liter bag inside a 30 liter bag and your are good.
Dry Bag Care and Maintenance
Dry bags are pretty low maintenance items. They can not break down, especially if they use the fold down closure. But there are a few things that you can do to make them last longer:
- Don’t drag them over sharp objects, don’t put them on thorns etc… Even the most durable and tear proof materials can be punctured and then it is bye bye water protection. Check the dry bag before use.
- Rinse them with fresh water and hang them to dry if they were used in sea and/or are wet. If you need to wash them you can use soap. Don’t put them into a washing machine.
- Keep them away from extreme heat like fire etc…
- Keep them away from solvents and insect repellents. If you spill them over the bag rinse the bag as soon as possible.