Which dry bag for hiking?

A wide variety of choices

A dry bag, by definition, should be waterproof, which seems a fair assumption, however there are brands that somehow don’t get it right. Yes, there are dry bags leaky be design. We will talk about it later.

Obviously, there is a limit to what a good dry bag can handle, too. If a roll-top bag is pushed too deeply under water for a longer period, don’t expect your fragile electronics to survive the test. Unless it’s a heavy duty sack designed for marine use, which is a different story. And if you think this may happen, you should be using two bags anyway.

Speaking of differences between bags. First, there are various sizes, ranging from 1L to even 120L. Then there are different fabrics: vinyl, nylon, laminated, siliconised (or not), with or without inner coating. Some of them may have extras, like compression straps, loops or attachment points for removable harness.

Weight matters

If you are an average hiker like me and you don’t plan any extreme canoeing, what you would be looking at is, first of all, weight. You don’t need your bag to be exceptionally tough, nor to be perfectly water resistant. You are going to keep it in your backpack anyway, and that gives additional protection. Also, you probably have a rain cover (if you don’t, get one, seriously). It is the moisture that you want to stop from getting in and having some water resistance in case your backpack accidentally ends up in a stream is a good idea in general.

What size?

Again, dry bags are going to end up in your backpack. Wait, plural? Yes, because it is also a great way of organising your things. Furthermore, if one bag lets water inside, the other ones might be more lucky… Finally, it is easier to get a single bag out rather than dig in a big one. By the way, try getting bags in different colors, helps finding the right one. For example, I have always two for medkit (pills and tubes kept separately from an injury set), the other one for electronics and a few for food and clothes (keep in mind that some of your clothes might be still wet when packed). Thus, you want dry bags which are rather small: 4-13L at most. I haven’t had a need for bigger ones so far.

Quality

Fabric is not that important, but occasionally you may want to put your bags on the ground. From my experience, Cordura 30 Denier is perfect: it’s very light, flexible and typical outdoor usage for the last two years, putting on sharp rocks included, didn’t do any harm to it.

Another thing you should pay attention to is the top of the bag, the strap you roll. This is what I had in mind before, saying that some designers just don’t get it right. In order to be really functional, it should be quite stiff, what makes rolling fast and precise, must be made of porous, rubber-like material, so it adheres better, and the stiff part should be on the full width of the bag, otherwise it will keep moving to the sides when rolled.

strap-material-yellowstone strap-material-seatosummit
Strap material. The one from Yellowstone is too slippery. And what about the stitches? Someone was drunk? Sea to Summit gets it right. Also, look at the regularity of stitches.
strap-length-yellowstone
Yellowstone. The distance between the stiff strap and the clip is too big.

Finally, have a look at the seams – they should be properly sealed from inside. Some producers don’t pay much attention to details, as shown below:

Seams - Yellowstone Seams - Sea to Summit
Yellowstone. Rarely used. Sea to Summit. Two years old, still in perfect condition.

Conclusion

What would I recommend? Go for a set of dry bags from Sea to Summit (Ultra-Sil). At least that’s something I can recommend from my own experience. Avoid Yellowstone products, it’s a complete waste of money.