Canoe Packs: Drypack vs. Pack with Liner

Which do you prefer for a canoe pack and why: a dry pack like a sealine or the Granite Gear Immersion Pack or a more “traditional” pack with a pack linter (like the Granite Gear Quetico)?

I have been using drypacks but could see where a more traditional pack with a liner may be advantageous. Ease of packing and loading are important to me. For whatever reason it seems to me that a more tranditional pack may load more easily into a canoe rather than a drypack which doesn’t exactly slide into a canoe with the greatest of ease (especially the vinyl sealine packs which just seem to stick to the sides of the canoe rather than sliding neatly inside).

But I may be wrong. Curious to hear your thoughts.



Its been awhile since I have had a
Boundary 115 pack but the issue was that when it was full it wasn’t the most comfy to carry. I remember not too fondly a three mile portage with it. Yeh it had a waist belt but not much support internally.

It got a hole or six and got pretty abraded…and became an excuse to get an Ostrom Wabakimi pack. This one is an investment (more than some folks weekly pay) but should last me as long as I need it. Its got an internal stay system of aluminum and several ways adjustable straps. Very comfortable pack and it naturally takes a roll down Ostrom dry liner. In that liner go a host of individually dry bagged items. ( I dont use the vinyl drybags but rather a whole slew of nylon coated ones. They slide well in the liner). The end result is a double dry bag system with the pack over all. The vinyl ones are too stiff to pack efficiently.

So for me its the comfort of the pack suspension system not the stickiness and stiffness of the vinyl drybags.

We have a host of those too but reserve them for when we are jamming them through rough kayak hatches. Then we need their sturdiness and carrying them is not the issue.

I sometimes take a 70 l drybag for food and stuff that is already vacuum bagged. Its a little more comfy to portage than a barrel ( the barrel annoyingly hits the seat unless I make the shoulder straps on the harness quite long…then I am sometimes off balance)

So I am not sure its an either or situation. Both have their place.

I’m for the drybags
Couple of qualifiers. First, we are talking about canoes. Packing a sea kayak is a different matter.

Second, what kind of carries are on the trip? My longest portage has been a quarter mile.

Third, me experience is limited: drybags are what I took on my first river trip in 2000, and I’ve had good results using them on scores of trips since. I have no experience using a quality pack with some sort of watertight system in it, so I shouldn’t even be posting.

That said, drybags do the job for me. Agree, it can take an effort to get them where you want them in the boat. I think they are fairly malleable and can be force-fit into places moreso than my backpack. And it isn’t that hard to load them (you wimp!).

I only used barrels once, when an outfitter provided them. Strong and dry, but not an efficient shape for packing and no flexibility–fill it half way, it’s the same size as fully stuffed. I would not like to portage a barrel.

The advantage of a pack, it seems to me, is on the carry. If I was facing much of a portage, I’d reduce my gear and I’d want a pack.

I have used a pack basket with a coated neoprene liner. I still have it and don’t use it for canoe campers–don’t like the rigid shape.

I’ve read about Duluth packs and I don’t get the attraction. But there must be something to it because they are popular with some experienced paddler/campers.

I will be interested to read what others who have used both drybags and packs have to say.


Kondos Outdoors canoe pack
with a liner is what we used for our ten day Boundary Waters trip last October with lots of portages and wet weather. I’m not an expert here but for as many times as I hoisted, strapped on and packed that heavy canoe pack over some pretty rough terrain I’d say that hoisting, wearing and carrying should weigh heavy (pun) in your choice.

Duluth pack

– Last Updated: Apr-27-11 1:13 AM EST –

I suppose there are three issues aside from cost. How well does it survive immersion? How well does it fit in the canoe? How comfortable is it to carry?

I had a NRS Bill's Bag 25 years ago that was poor in all three respects. It wasn't really waterproof to begin with even though the top rolled. I suppose a truly watertight dry bag would solve that problem but be expensive.

So I got a #3 Duluth Original Pack and a #3 Cruiser Combo Pack. They've served me well. I originally used Duluth's inexpensive plastic liner bags. Now I have a Granite Gear Air Vent pack liner.

As to the three issues:

This system keeps the contents absolutely dry. The outside pack will get soaked if immersed, but the canvas dries fairly quickly in summer.

Duluth packs mold very well into the hull and are easy to pick up by the "ears". Well, at least no harder than a modern pack.

I guess carrying comfort would be the biggest issue. Duluths ride low and are really meant to be used with a tump strap assist. Lots of people think they are less comfortable than modern packs. I wouldn't argue that, but the difference to me isn't significant enough for me to change.

Finally, there are aesthetics. I love wood, canvas and leather. I tolerate petroleum product in hulls because I want light boats. But the Duluth pack just gives me an 1890 look and feel that pleasantly endorphins my brain.

Granit gear
I have a Granit Gear Imersion pack. I love it, The pack is very confy to carry. My stuff stays dry. I also own Barrels and lots of dry bags. They all have there pro’s and con’s. I use them all depending on the trip and what boat I am using.

My only proglem with the Granit Gear pack was the Price.

Packs these days
I used to use a Bill’s bag and an even larger Dry Bag (A Seal line with straps - forget the model name)but now have come to prefer Duluth packs with splash bags inside to separate sleeping bag, clothes cooking gear, etc. I think the canvas withstands abrasion better, though that isn’t much of an issue for me because I camp on sand most of the time. Mostly I like being able to carry basically my whole camp in one trip while still being able to pick individual (dry) items out of the pack without having to dig as much as I used to when I had everything in one big dry bag. I never had leakage problems with the dry bags, but if they did get water in them somehow everything got wet - with the Duluth rig that’s not the case. I got mine used. The seller was switching to Granite Gear, and I’ve no doubt they’re an excellent choice - Frost River also. Like has been mentioned, they just plain feel good. Like comfortable old boots and red wool shirts on a frosty morning.

Though I haven’t gotten involved in it yet, I might stick with the dry bags for situations like whitewater rafting though. The folks who do that a lot don’t seem to use Duluth or other packs as much, and there’s probably a good reason. Maybe little carrying and lots of splash? Bright colors easier to find after an upset?

I Don’t worry about splash
I worry about my pack sitting in bilge water and when my gear goes for a swim. So far I’ve been using a 90 liter Sea Line roll top pack with dry bags inside for tent, clothes and stuff that must stay dry, a wallyworld roll top for food/kitchen that is waterproof already and a 5 gallon bucket with Gamma Seal lid for my daygear.

I’m still looking for a good way to portage the bucket and I bought a 70 liter roll to pack to replace the wallyworld pack.

So far so good but I do worry about punctures with the dry packs.

I use
a military surplus large alice pack with the frame and use dry bags on the inside of the pack. I also use a #4 Duluth pack the same way.

I use an internal frame hiking pack with 2 trashbags inside for liners. I have not had any issues with this setup, but I have never had them go for a swim either.

Kayakmedic saved me some typing. This is exactly what I do, only I made my own liner, and I do use a barrel as it seems to keep food fresher (perhaps that’s just in my mind). I like that the pack will last a long time, and the drybags are easily replaceable.

Tutor Needed
Interesting thread Bowler got going here. I have been looking up some of the packs mentioned. I hope the one that costs as much as some of my boats portages itself! Anyway, I was hoping somebody would explain why canoe backs are a special breed.

I have an internal frame, backpacking pack. I’ve never taken it boating because it is not going to be very waterproof very long, and because it would not fit well in the boat. The strap and frame system make it ungainly to store. If I was leaving today for a trip with more than trivial portages, I’d pack like backpacking and I’d take the backpack. Zip locks and other bags would find their way in. My sleeping bag is already in a waterproof compression sack.

Some of the packs discussed are approaching my backpack. They need liners to stay dry inside. They have backpackish features such as frames and hip straps. What is special about these packs that makes them canoe packs? On a packbacking trip, would you take these packs?

Tutelage appreciated.


Different shape
They are generally quite wide.

No I would not take one climbing…I have a Lowe Contour IV that I used for some time canoeing, but its narrow profile was meant for backpacking.

A narrow high profile sometimes interferes with portaging the boat. Some people carry boat and pack at the same time. You really don’t want the pack hitting the bottom of the boat and throwing you off balance.

If you can make the shape work for you there is no reason not to use a backpack. I cant in my solo boat because I have to deal with the pack hitting the seat.

Some trips are tandem trips and one person can carry the pack of any shape and another the canoe.

Also note that canoe packs come in some huge sizes… There is a difference between hiking 15 miles a day and doing a couple of miles of portages.

One cool option for traditional packs
I’ve mentioned this before, but here’s a neat potential advantage of any pack having the dimensions of a #3 canoe pack. I discovered quite by accident that the large size zippered stuff sacks from Cooke’s Custom Sewing stack horizontally inside a #3 canoe pack and leave no space wasted in the process. I have never seen a gear-organizing method as slick as stacking these special stuff sacks in a #3 pack. I use a different sack for every “category” of gear that I bring (typical categories for me might include cold-weather clothes, sunny-weather clothes, cooking gear, food, on-the-river gear, in-the-tent gear, and of course, at the very top of the stack (and outside of the water-poof liner for even quicker access), rain gear. By the way, I usually pack my tent, sleeping bag, and other items which need not be well organized or easily accessible separately in a size #2 canoe pack. Each stuff sack is big enough to carry as much of any particular “category” of camping gear as I am ever likely to bring so I never need more than one sack per category, and for those categories that leave the stuff sack a lot closer to being empty than full, that just means that the sack forms a thinner layer within the stack so organization isn’t hampered in any way. With this system, even if the #3 pack is crammed full, I can retrieve ANY item of gear from ANYWHERE within the pack and have everything re-packed and sealed in about one minute. It’s awfully quick and easy to pack or unpack when the gear load consists of half-a-dozen stacked-up “slabs” of gear, each shaped to fit the pack perfectly, especially since each individual sack opens up in a way that lets you see everything inside at a glance. Obviously that’s easier than trying to root around among loose items in a pack, but it’s also a whole lot easier than messing around with traditional stuff sacks that don’t fit inside the big pack in any particular fashion and thus must be jig-saw-puzzled into place to make them fit, not to mention the fact that traditional stuff sacks with a circular opening on one end make it nearly impossible to find a particular item without dumping out most of what’s inside.

I asked someone at Cooke’s Custom Sewing if the fact that these stuff sacks are shaped to fit so nicely when stacked in a #3 pack might be a coincidence, and the person said that Dan Cooke thinks things out pretty carefully, so “it could hardly be an accident.”

I think that the thing that generalizes canoe packs is their shape, or at least in my opinion. They seem to be generally box shaped so that they fit into a canoe easily and sit flat and neat. That is one of the reasons I am considering a pack with liner instead of a dry pack like my sealine.

I just seems that it will fit easier and flatter in my canoe.

Another thing I am thinking is that the canoe pack will slide in and out easier than the vinyl dry pack.

Lastly, it seems that the canoe pack will dry in the sun pretty quickly after unloading and the liner can easily be shaken dry if it gets wet inside from throwing in a wet tent fly or somethign, etc. But a dry pack stays wet inside if you get any water in there, which invariably you do on a rainy day etc.

Plus the canoe pack and liner is lighter in weight. While this seems minor it is a factor. A big canoe pack can be up to 2 pounds lighter than a big seal line pack.

Last, the softer canoe pack and liner may potentially be less lumpy. Seems that those dry packs are always all lumpy and distorted which ultimately is not making efficient use of the pack’s volume. I believe this is becuase of their stiffness and inability to conform well to the load placed in them.

These are just my thoughts. I would have to test them side by side to see if my thoughts hold true.

Being kind of a perfectionist and neat/organization freak I get frustrated by the sloppy and cumbersome nature of my drypacks. I am looking for a neater fit.


Traditional Packs
Pat sums up how I feel about traditional packs. For my type of use, I don’t need anything high-tech to carry my gear, so without that restriction, a pack that conjurs up images of the time period described in the books that sparked my interest in the outdoors (books which were already old when I read them as a kid) is just plain “comfortable”.

Hey “Mr. Neat Freak”:

– Last Updated: Apr-30-11 2:22 PM EST –

Based on what you said about efficient use of space within the pack, I'd guess that you are one person here who might agree with what I wrote below. Though I don't go to much of an extreme to make things "perfect" in a lot of situations, I really do appreciate simple things one can do to make camping life easier.

Mine doesn’t sit flat and neat

– Last Updated: Apr-30-11 4:36 PM EST –

My boat is too narrow for the Ostrom Wabakimi to do that. But I have no problem storing it on edge and having a few inches above the gunwale. I like that I can have some items outside of the dry bag.

I mostly worry about sharp thingies inside of a Seal Line bag poking holes from the inside out. And I have had tent poles do that as I had no place to store them outside (lacking compression straps). And yes there is that wedge factor. I have picked up an entire boat getting the pack out!

I have holed Boundary Bags with roll top closures. Duct tape usually gets me by ok.

GBG who beside Dan or his wife did you talk to? I wasn't aware Dan had any employees.. Good for him if business is that brisk..he has good gear.

Most of the roll top bags..well you have to be careful not to overstuff. MFRs recommend four rolls, and I have found that may not be enough. It wasn't when our Seal Line went into Lake Superior and it took some time to get us back in the boat before we could retrieve gear.

The "Staff"
CCS has a booth at Canoecopia every year, and the booth is staffed by three or four people besides Dan. There is one young woman who staffs the booth every year, and I think there’s one other guy who’s there every year as well. I’ve never had the chance to talk to Dan.

How to pack a Duluth Pack video
The Original Duluth pack is just a rectangular envelope. There are no waist straps, sternum straps, or outside pockets, loops or attachment points of any kind. Later Duluth models, and models from newer companies, have some of these things.

Here is Molly from Duluth showing one way to pack a Duluth. The pack she is using is not the Original because it does have outside pockets. Another common way to pack the tent in a Duluth is to pack it outside but on top of the waterproof liner, in its own waterproof bag, underneath the big closure flap.