The virtue of the best dry bags is their simplicity; they’re bags, you put stuff inside them, the stuff stays dry. Well-chosen, fully waterproof dry bags can make the difference between a comfortable adventure and a sodden disaster, while in extreme situations they might be a life-saver.
For a minimal weight penalty they can keep sleeping kit from getting damp on multiday hikes and backpacking adventures, protect valuable electrics from a soaking during water activities or keep wet gear separate from spare clothes during a day’s canyoning.
A super-lightweight bag like Sea to Summit’s 35ltr Ultimate-Sil liner can weatherproof an entire hiking backpack, while inside a handful of smaller dry bags – Osprey Ultralights for example – can keep smaller items together and offer double protection against water.
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A heavier bag with shoulder straps, the Lomo 20ltr for instance, can be used as a daypack that will shrug off a day’s cascading rain, while for canoeing, sailing or SUPing, where getting wet is inevitable, burly waterproof storage sacks, like Guy Cotten’s retro-tough kit bag, can be flung into the wettest of conditions and keep their contents dry.
More focused designs come into their own for specific activities, whether it’s an OverBoard map case or a Swim Secure combination dry bag and swimming float. And as a bonus, the best dry bags are not only good for keeping water out – they also keep dirt and sand at bay, making the brands below just as useful in a desert as on a wet mountainside or in a river.
The best dry bags you can buy
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Bag 35L
A lightweight dry bag that can weatherproof your favourite backpack
RRP: $34 (US) £23 (UK) | Weight: 65g/2.2oz | Size/Volume: 35L | Other available sizes: 20L ($29/£16), 13L ($25/£14), 8L ($23/£13), 4L ($20/£11), 2L ($17/£10), 1L (£9) Material:** Siliconised Cordura nylon | Colours: Orange/Charcoal/Blue/Green | Closure method: Roll-top and clip
At only 65g/2.2oz, this fully waterproof 35L dry bag can swallow up most of the gear you’d want to keep dry even on a multi-day trip for almost no weight penalty, and there’s a lot to be said for using this dry bag as a liner in those packs you already own, rather than buying a heavier, less versatile waterproof backpack. The wide mouth and super-slippery fabric makes it simple to fill, even with bulky clothing, and easy to slide in and out of a backpack, and if you’re a lightweight bivvy or hammock camper the Ultra-Sil bag can take day clothing and other items to double your weatherproof storage at night. The light fabric is almost translucent, allowing you to see the rough outlines and basic colours of the contents, which is often enough to locate gear inside. Sea to Summit also offer this bag in multiple other sizes, including 20L, 13L, 8L, 4L and 2L, all of which come in very handy for separating the overall contents of your backpack (which you can colour code if you’re so minded, so you can quickly and easily locate items).
Decathlon Forclaz Travel 100 Compact Waterproof 20L Backpack
Pocket-sized compact waterproof mini-pack
RRP: $15 (US) / £10 (UK) | Weight: 145g/5oz | Size/Volume: 20L | Material: Polyester | Colours: Black-black/Purple-black | Closure method: Roll-over and clip; shoulder straps and chest strap
Carrying a fold-up pack-away daypack makes sense, whether as a handy back-up when out and about or as spare carry option when hiking. It makes even more sense if that bag is not only lightweight but also waterproof. The Forclaz has a generous 20L volume – enough for a day’s needs if using it as a day-pack on a longer trip – and it can be folded down to fit easily into a cargo pocket ‘just in case’. In use the carry pouch forms a zipped pocket inside the bag, and there are two stretch bottle pockets on the backpack’s sides. A thin chest strap usefully stabilises the adjustable pull-tight shoulder straps, and if you keep the contents light, you could feasibly run in the Forclaz. Being waterproof, don’t forget the option of putting wet gear inside the bag to isolate it from dry clothing if carrying it as an auxiliary bag on a multi-day hike.
Aquapac Trailproof Waterproof Waist Pack
A two-compartment waistpack that keeps items dry and to hand
RRP: $40 (US) / £35 (UK) | Weight: 370g/ 13oz | Size/Volume: 3L | Material: Heavy vinyl | Colours: Acid green/cool blue/matt black | Closure method: Roll-over and clip, plus Velcro, splashproof zip pocket, padded waistbelt
A generous 3L pack on a comfortable padded waistbelt keeps essentials to hand when on the water, making this good for SUPers, sailors, kayakers and canoeists. On land, it’s ideal for day walks and wet-weather cycling – where I found it really useful. The belt clip is easy to slacken off, even with gloved or cold fingers, allowing the Aquapac Trailproof to be worn at the back and swivelled round to the front when its contents are needed. Kayakers might find it awkward worn as a waistpack in a tight cockpit, but the snap-buckle belt can be used to fasten the Aquapac Trailproof to tie-ons. The colours are bright but make it hard to lose or forget the waistpack if you’ve taken it off at a beach or trailside stop. As always if full immersion seems likely double-bagging any vulnerable items is still advised – especially as the zip is not rated for underwater/submersible use, but rather for spray, splashing and water jets (official rating IPX6), so it could fail if you took a heavy tumble from a SUP board, or went for a dramatic swim while kayaking or canoeing. Aquapac’s long manufacturing experience shows in small details – a key clip, inner zipped pouch and the heft of the fabric and fittings.
Osprey Ultralight Dry Sack 6L
Feather light dry sacks in a range of colours and sizes
RRP: $16 (US) / £12 | Weight: 30gm/1.1oz | Size/Volume: 6L | Other available sizes: 1.5L ($9.50/£8), 3L ($13/£10), 12L ($20/£14), 20L ($22.50/£16), 30L ($25/£18) | Material: 40D Nylon Ripstop | Colours: Poppy orange/electric lime/tropic teal | Closure method: Roll-over and clip
A system of light dry bags in a variety of sizes and colours are key to protecting and organising kit inside larger bags. Osprey’s Ultralights range from 1.5L through 3L, 6L, 12L, 20L and 30L sizes, and come in three different – and bright – colours. This makes it easy to select a handful of different sizes for varied storage needs and colour code them for easy identification of their contents. The 6L, which we have been testing, is an optimum-sized general-purpose bag, small enough to keep in a pocket but big enough to take several small items at one time. A D-ring at the mouth and a tab at the base are useful design features, the fabric is thin enough to make out the bag’s contents without opening or emptying it, and the rectangular block shape makes for efficient packing.
Lomo 20L Dry Bag Rucksack
A rugged bag with simple shoulder straps that’s a good pick as a bombproof daypack
RRP: £14.50 (UK) | Weight: 650g/23oz | Size/Volume: 25 x 50cm/10 x 20ins; 20L | Material: PVC tarpaulin | Colours: Blue/White | Closure/straps/tie-downs: Roll-top and clip, shoulder straps, D-rings
This tough waterproof bag keeps things commendably simple with its basic cylindrical shape, roll-over closure and easily adjustable, padded shoulder straps. It’s the kind of sling-on day sack that comes into its own for a multi-activity thrown-together day, that might see you cycling a few miles, hiking and scrambling a stretch of coastline, sea swimming and – invariably – getting rained on. Twenty litres is a useful volume for keeping a day’s needs protected, and it’s a pretty handy size for filling with week’s worth of vegetables from a street market. Though not a replacement backpack it’s still comfortable enough for long carries (especially if you slip an oblong of old sleeping mat in as padding against the spine). The Lomo’s shape, D-rings for tie-downs and tough construction makes it ideal for on-water activities like sailing, kayaking or canoeing, as long as enough room is left when packing to roll the closure over the necessary three times to keep water out (and, obviously, don’t wear it like a backpack while you’re on the water – either over or under a PFD – just treat it as a standard dry bag).
Overboard Large Map Case
Weatherproofing for paper maps when orienteering, on-water navigating or compass wayfinding
RRP: £16 (UK only) | Weight: 240g/8oz | Size/Volume: 43.2 x 29.7cm/17 x 11.7in ** Also available:** medium map case (UK only £12), small tablet case (US$46/£27) and large tablet case (US$55/£32) | Material: TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) | Colours: Transparent, black binding and straps | Closure method: Roll-top and clip, adjustable shoulder-strap and 4 D-rings
Designed for easy map and chart reading in the outdoors in all weathers, this transparent, flat waterproof case is made from flexible TPU but still has weight and enough stiffness to ease map handling when out in the highest winds. Whether orienteering, routefinding, navigating on water or backing up a GPS unit, the map case’s A3 size means that a 1:25 000 map can be folded to show an area some 4km by 6km on each side, giving a lot of walking, sailing or paddling representation before having to refold the map or chart. Chinagraph pencils (grease pens) can be used to write route notes directly onto the plastic and wiped off later. It’s critical to fully close the ziplock for full weatherproofing, though I used a map case tied across the front deck of a seakayak for many weeks in big seas without any leaks. I kept biscuits in it, too, as paddle snacks. For those who no longer use paper maps, also available from Overboard are tablet cases, in small and large sizes, which are protected by a ‘100% Waterproof Slide Seal System’ rated at IP68, which means they can be submerged to depths of 6 metres (19ft) for an hour without water coming in.
Mountain Warehouse PVC Dry Bag 10L
Medium weight dry bag in a useful size for carrying essentials
RRP: £16 | Weight: 250g/9oz | Size/Volume: 10L | Other available sizes: 5L (£14) | Material: PVC | Colours: Blue | Closure method: Roll-over and clip
A tough, practical bag ideally sized for carrying essential kit when on the move in wet conditions. Used in the cockpit of a kayak or as a waterproof ‘extras’ bag tucked under the straps of a backpack this dry bag’s volume can swallow up warm layers, snacks and other sundries. Fold a map right and hold it against the clear window with a fleece or something bulky and you’ve waterproofed your OS Explorer. That full length transparent panel and the generous width of the bag’s cylinder shape make it easy to locate a pair of gloves, say, and extract them without having to empty out all the bag’s contents – a real plus out on the water or while scrambling around in the rain or snow. The lack of a tie-down D-ring or two is a disadvantage in water sports but there’s a slot in the roll-over buckle fastening which is just wide enough to take a lanyard. A smaller 5-litre bag, also with a window, is available too.
Swim Secure Window Dry Bag 28L
A wild-swimming tow float with usefully sized dry bag capacity
RRP: £30 (UK) / with see-through window £32 (UK) | Weight: 500g / 17.6oz | Size/Volume: 28L | Other available sizes: 20L (£28), 35L (£33), 50L (£37) | Material: PVC | Colours: Orange / Pink with black straps | Closure method: Roll-over and clip
A multi-function swimming tow float that gives high visibility when in the water, the Swim Secure provides 18kg of positive buoyancy for ‘hugging’n’resting’ and is a 28-litre dry bag to boot. That’s big enough to take a micro-fleece towel, warm layers, light shoes and any other kit that might be needed when swimming and walking down and up a river or heading point to point on a coastal dip. A pocket with a touchscreen-usable transparent window in the bag’s outer skin can take a large phone or GPS unit, though I’d double-bag anything precious or hydrophobic stored here. Avoiding user error when closing any dry bag is key, and you need to pay extra attention with a swim bag; don’t overfill the bag, roll the mouth down to the marked area before clipping it closed and, finally, inflate the front and back air chambers. The short leash attached to a clip-on waistband positions the bag where it doesn’t interfere with freestyle or breaststroke leg action while swimming, and even when filled, there’s negligible drag.
Guy Cotten Waterproof Bag No 1
A rugged waterproof kitbag for on-water adventuring
RRP: £25 | Weight: 450g/16oz | Size/Volume: 15L | Material: Ferrasac polyester and PVC coating | Colours: Black/yellow/orange/anis | Closure method: Roll-top and clip, kit-bag strap/handle
French company Guy Cotten make heavyduty wet-weather gear used by trawlermen, forestry workers and other outdoor professionals who appreciate simplicity and dependability. The No 1 bag, second smallest in a range of six kit bag sizes, is practical as a tough grab-bag that can be filled quickly, slung over a shoulder and taken into the wettest conditions. Though, like all manufacturers, the company counsels against full immersion of their dry bags, I used a larger sized Guy Cotten bag exposed on the rear deck of a sea kayak for three months without leaks. The adjustable strap can be shortened into a carry handle, used to hang the bag clear of the ground or deck, or for the stylish, lengthened for the on-the-shoulder look of a clipper sailor heading for shore leave.
Snugpak 40L Dri-Sak with valve
A voluminous lightweight bag perfect for protecting and compacting bulky sleeping gear
RRP: £22 | Weight: 130g/5oz | Size/Volume: 40L | Material: Lightweight nylon | Colours: Olive | Closure method: Roll-over and clip, D-rings
When it comes to keeping kit dry on multiday trips, the most critical to protect from water is always sleeping bags and spare base layers; a wet down bag is next to useless and even modern insulations become far less effective and far, far more uncomfortable when damp. The Snugpak Dri-Sak with valve is ideal when used as an inner bag within a backpack to carry compressed sleeping kit until it’s needed at the end of the day. Although with a bit of effort one can expel the air from any roll-top dry bag, the Dri-Sak’s valve makes the job easier and more complete. At night the bag can be used as an extra storage option to keep day clothes or other equipment dry, whilst bushcrafters and bivvycampers will appreciate the muted ‘landscape’ colours if keeping a low profile.
What to look for when buying the best dry bags
The bigger the better holds true for choosing the best dry bags as performance can be compromised and waterproof closures rendered useless if bags are overfilled. Remember, too, that a proportion of a bag’s length is taken up by the minimum of three folds needed for roll-over and clip systems. Overfilled bags, especially if they hold hard items, can abrade and hole just with the movement and rubbing of a day’s walking. Ideally carry a range of sizes in lightweight bags, as this also helps with sorting and ordering contents whether in a backpack, cycle panniers or a kayak’s compartments.
As always there’s a trade off between lightweight and heavy-tough. Sea to Summit’s Ultra-Sil and Ospreys Ultralight bags are almost weightless but need to be protected inside other bags, whilst heavier materials like the PVC/PES in Guy Cotton’s kit bag, and Aquapac’s heavy vinyl are stand-alone rugged – though they still need to be kept from the kind of concentrated abrasive rubbing in one spot (bike racks, kayak tie-down points and even backpack straps can all do the damage) that can erode a hole through the toughest fabrics in a very short time. I used a range of dry bags over a thousand miles of seakayaking on a circumnavigation of Ireland; waterproofing failures were few but where they occurred were either holes worn between bags and hard surfaces, or – too often – user error. Coated fabrics will ultimately delaminate (although it usually it takes years if bags are looked after properly), which will compromise their waterproofing; those bags can be down-cycled into less critical but still useful roles like carrying sooty cooking pots or as rubbish carry-out bags.
Simplicity is key to functionality in dry bags. The simpler a bag is the more reliable it will prove in the field. Nonetheless, well thought out design features meeting real needs can be welcome. The shape or proportions of a bag can make it easier to pack, more efficient to fit in with other storage items or useful for holding particular items. Any dry bag that might be stored loose will benefit from D-rings to tie it on with, especially if you’re on water, (in an allied point; if you’re putting heavy items – phones, GPSs and other electrics, particularly – in dry bags for canoeing or other water activities, add something light and bulky to give positive buoyancy; your smartphone waterproofed but at the bottom of a river is always a ‘D'oh!’ moment). Handles and shoulder harnesses for dry bags should be basic; if you need more carry comfort for longer hikes then you’re really in the market for a fully purposed waterproof backpack.
Somewhat counter intuitively, the more basic a dry bag’s design the greater its versatility. The main function of keeping out water can be re-imagined to meet numerous other situations. So, waterproof also means snow-proof and protection from sand and dirt. Keeping water out also means keeping water in; sometimes its easier to put your wet gear – rather than your dry gear – into a dry bag to separate the two, and many a backpacker has used a medium sized dry bag as a bucket to collect water – it works fine but doesn’t do the seams much good on lightweight bags. In extremis adventurers have used air-filled dry bags to get themselves and kit across rivers – though the Swim Secure bag is so much the safer and better option – and the largest bags can be sacrificed and turned into a basic waterproof jacket with a neck and two arm holes if that’s your only option in a survival scenario. A 10L bag filled with soft clothing makes a good pillow. Chose a rucksack liner in bright orange and you’ve got a large inflatable signal which stands out against snow, vegetation, sand and water. A dry bag with some cushioning inside can become an insulated sit-mat, though you’ll wear them out quickly if you make a habit of it. Thinking up uses for dry bags is one of those games that can keep you occupied around a campfire at night, and so is a use for dry bags in itself.
If a dry bag ensures you have a cosy sleeping bag at the end of a day’s hiking in cascading rain or saves your phone from an end-of-life dunking, then it would be cheap at nearly any price, right? But the best dry bags are some of the best value kit when it comes to results for costs. Such good value that most experienced adventurers collect tens of them in all sizes and take their benefits for granted. With a background in seakayaking, sailing, long bike rides and multiday hikes in wet and winter weather, I’ve just counted up 23 different sizes, brands and designs of dry bag scattered and stored around my small live-aboard sailing boat, and I’m sure I could do with a few more. When it comes down to essential kit, dry bags aren’t sexy or full of technical wizardry. Instead they’re just good at protecting the more expensive, fragile and technical stuff that gets taken into the outdoors, and that’s enough to make them close to indispensible.
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