Dry bags for kayakcamping advice

Hey all!

I’m getting into kayak camping and need advice for dry bags. I’ll be using them for sea, lake, maybe CL2 rivers with possibly a quick cl3 section at most. Mostly weekends but some longer trips.

Should i use submersible drybags? It seems hard to find them.
Any dry bag recommendations?


I have different types of dry bags for different things. Most of them are Sea to Summit but as far as I’m concerned the type is more important. Like I have a few “Event” compression bags for quits and clothes. They are great allowing air out when stuffing things like sleeping bags/quilts which a famous for holding air pockets.
I also have some of their “Big River” bags, which are pretty tough, for gear that needs a tougher bag which may end up on the ground a lot. Things like my camera gear and even my hammock & tarp both of which live outside of my hatches are in that type. The rest are just basic dry bags.

You may wan to read an article on Dry Storage from a magazine that is no longer in publication., but still available online. California Kayaker Magazine, issue #4. http://calkayakermag.com/CaliforniaKayakerMag-Winter2010.pdf

To pack in kayaks, many smaller bags is easier to handle than few larger bags.


So dry bags vary a lot- there are some heavy duty dry bags with heavy duty seals but also they tend to have heavy duty prices. That’s the kind that river guides use. I don’t, I’m just too cheap.
Nobody is tippin’ me money for carrying readily accessible warm clothing in the middle of a rafting trip.

I tend to use cheap roll top bags. Mine are plastic/pvc with a fastex buckle. It’s real important to leave plenty of room to roll the bag- don’t overfill. To make these bags completely waterproof I insert a trash compactor bag or construction/yard waste bag into the dry bag. Still open, I shove it in the hatch. Once in the hatch, I squeeze the air out, gooseneck the heavy duty trash bag and twist on heavy duty rubber band over the gooseneck. Then I roll the outer dry bag and fasten. I do this with just my sleeping bag, dry clothes, and dry camp shoes. Valuables (electronic car keys, phone), medicine, camera, lighter, some tp can go into a pelican box. The pelican box is more reliable and offers more protection than a dry bag. Just make sure it will fit in your boat. The Tent, fly, dishware, utensils the majority of food, and stove gets split up into smaller nylon dry bags. The nylon dry bags offer a very low level protection, splash protection. The small bags fit better in hatches and fill nooks and crannies. They also allow you to balance out the load better since you can fill the ends of the boat. Spare paddle, tent poles, stakes, trekking poles, fuel canisters, a ground cloth and some other random stuff gets put straight into the boat and shoved where ever it will fit.

Remember to carry extra rubber bands. If you’re recycling rubber-bands off of your produce make sure they’re in good shape.

Other people probably do it better. I’m just cheap as all heck. A mesh bag with shoulder straps can be handy for carrying small dry bags to and from the boat to the campsite and can also act as a cooler if you want put anything into the lake or river. In short you don’t need to waterproof most of your gear. Things that truly need to stay dry- electronics go in a pelican box.


ahh man, I should of just read Peter’s article. That makes a whole bunch of sense. ( I started typing my essay before he posted).

I didn’t see it taking about submersible vs non-submersible drybags though

so you can make the roll type bags more submersible by lining and goose-necking them.

Maybe you need dry bags that are pointed at the end? To fit more tightly. There also ised to be bags that were part floatation and part storage.

I am confused about submersible. If the bag gets wet and lets water thru to what is inside, it is not a dry bag.

Maybe you need to look at zippered dry bag (back packs). Then weigh the cost of the bag against the value and importance of the items inside. There are plenty of those on the market. The roll down dry bag with a plastic bag liner is definitely a more affordable option to protect most camping gear.

So I have a set of those but rarely use them. If you are hauling your camping gear in the boat you simply don’t have room for the added flotation and they aren’t big enough to hold all your clothes and a sleeping bag and valuables. The set I have is well constructed though. Might work if you are a hardcore minimalist or have a really big boat and can wedge other stuff in. Your gear in drybags is the flotation (water displacement).

So my Missouri and Arkansas trip taught me a few lessons this Spring. Everything I had got damp and most of it got soaked. If you get caught in the middle of the night in flood conditions it can really suck. I would have come through it a whole lot better if I hadn’t scattered stuff in the tent and it’s adjoining vestibules and refastened dry bags before going to bed. I literally had stuff floating in the tent. I lost all the gear in the front vestibule, swept away by the river. I really missed having dry clothing- though it dried out as I wore it, but never did have dry shoes or socks, no coffee to drink. The sleeping bag dried pretty quick while waiting for the water to drop. My biggest loss was my water bottles. I simply went to a public access and asked people. A nice couple gave me a 1/2 gallon jug from their cooler. They had used it for ice. I also got someone to give me a plastic beverage bottle that they were finished with. I boiled river water to refill the bottles.

I was very thankful to be in a ww boat even though I was on a recreational river (Buffalo). High water changed the nature of the river and even though I waited for the water to crest, a swim would have been ugly. I had the ww boat because I also had paddled the Mulberry and wanted to bring just one boat on the trip.

In general running class III whitewater with gear is done by many but isn’t a beginner skill. Moving the front bulkhead everyday (no hatches on my 12r) was a pain in the a@@. I needed that space and needed to put some heavy stuff up front to balance the load. Loading stuff in the boat took over 1/2 an hour. Unloading the boat was a bit faster. There are advantages to canoes, hatched kayaks, and having raft support when it comes to hauling camping gear down the river.

I think my next plan of attack is to get a long tandem sit on top. Some are set up to use as a long solo which is what I would do. Then bungy several dry bags in the boat. I could probably even rig something up to run through the scupper holes to help secure gear. No hatches or bulkheads to deal with. Self rescue would still be difficult if the boat capsized and something that should be practiced. I won’t know how easy it is to flip the boat loaded until I try it. I also will need to see if reentry is possible with a beer belly and a loaded boat.

This brings another thought to mind- we once did a whole thread on whether or not gear should be lashed in tightly or loosely in a canoe. My thinking on that changed over a period of years. While it is easier to bail or empty a boat when the packs are free to float on a painter (Bill Mason) I didn’t like the snagging hazard. If the boat flipped it rode lower in the water because the packs didn’t enhance the flotation in the boat. Thus the boat was more likely to incur damage and get pinned. On days when I really thought there was a good possibility of swimming, I started lashing in gear as tightly as I could but it was time consuming and the canoes I paddled weren’t set up for it but I learned to improvise. I always carry a blade on my person when paddling a loaded canoe. Ropes can quickly become a hazard. In canoes we didn’t use dry bags but rather packs with heavy duty pack liners. Now I would use dry bags with shoulder straps with a pack liner.

What type of dry storage is best for you will depend on what type of kayak you have and what type of water you paddle.

Most sit in whitewater kayaks do not have bulkheads and hatches. In those if you take a swim, always a possibility on Class II and III water, the entire boat is likely to flood. If the boat hangs up in current, your storage is likely not only to be submerged, but also subjected to the pressure of the current.

A touring or crossover type kayak is probably going to have at least a stern hatch and bulkhead. Gear in that compartment will have some degree of protection although some water commonly leaks through hatches and hatches can always get blown off. Still, storage bags and boxes in a compartment sealed with a hatch and bulkhead are less likely to be submerged and will be protected from abrasion. But the size and shape of the compartment are going to limit the dry storage you can fit in it.

A sit on top kayak will offer no protection to your dry storage but often offers more latitude in choosing boxes, barrels, and bags of different sizes and shapes. Any bags secured on top of a SOT kayak need to be rugged enough to withstand abrasion.

With regard to the article cited by Peter-CA I agree that roll top dry bags cannot be considered completely waterproof if submerged and especially if submerged in current. I have owned and used a variety of roll top dry bags of various sizes and types and no matter how carefully they are closed under those conditions a roll top bag can be expected to take on at least some water, if not flood completely. If you must use roll top bags, one strategy is to use a lightweight roll top dry bag inside of a slightly larger and tougher roll top bag.

I also agree that dry boxes like those made by Pelican are best for stuff you absolutely want to keep dry, like electronics, non-waterproof cameras, your wallet, etc. I would consider at least taking a small one to protect critical items.

I have used roll top PVC dry bags like the NRS Bill’s Bag and I have a couple made by Jacks Plastic Welding. Properly sealed, they work pretty well, but again I would not consider them to be absolutely waterproof. Despite the fact that they are quite tough, they can develop pinhole leaks. But if you have room for such a bag, you could sort other items into lightweight roll top bags and put those inside the big bag.

As for stow floats, they used to be more common than they are now. I have a couple of old ones made by Voyageur, a company now long gone. Some allowed you to place items in the full length of the bag. Others just had a compartment at the thick end of the tapered bag and the rest was only flotation.

Watershed makes the most reliable waterproof dry bags, packs, and duffels that I have ever used and their Futa bag is the modern equivalent of the stowfloat. Watershed bags are not cheap but they are tough and reliable for the stuff you really want to keep dry like spare clothes, down sleeping bags, etc. If you must have a tapered bag to fit in the compartment of a SINK you might consider the Futa.

1 Like

Bill Mason later changed his opinion regarding attaching packs to a canoe with a tether. On page 126 of “Song of the Paddle” he says why.

The great majority of packs and dry boxes, barrels are going to be lighter than water no matter what is inside because of the trapped air. They won’t provide as much flotation when lashed in a canoe as a float bag filled with air, obviously, but they will be lighter than the water which otherwise would occupy a flooded canoe.

As for gear rather loosely tethered in canoes or to kayaks, I have chased down a lot of canoes and kayaks over the years in whitewater of moving water after their owner(s) had made an unintended exit. It is quite common for individuals who do not want to take the time or expense to install anchor points within the hull of their canoes to just tie stuff to the thwarts because they are there and handy. When capsized that crap trails outside the hull and makes the boat much more likely to hang up, and I have seen this first hand multiple times. What is more, because that stuff dangles outside of the hull when it is inverted, it makes a boat over boat rescue much more difficult. Often times the gear needs to be detached before the boat can be emptied.

You are right, of course, that gear lashed within the canoe will make it more difficult to empty when full of water. But it can often still be done without removing the gear. If the boat can be gotten to a shallow spot where two individuals can stand the boat can be slowly lifted out of the water in an inverted position, wiggling it a bit to break the suction. The water will slowly exit as this is done so that only the weight of the boat and the gear need be briefly lifted clear of the water before it is flipped upright. If two individuals are each able to dead lift 100 lbs even a boat and contained gear weighing a total of 200 lbs can be emptied without too much trouble this way.

The issue of whether or not to lash gear in the boat is a matter for perennial debate. People have advanced reasons for either approach. I’ll just say that it has been my practice to always secure all gear within the confines of the hull so that nothing sticks up more than an inch, or two at the most, above the gunwales. It is really quite easy to arrange a system of anchor points, cordage, and straps to allow gear to be easily removed and secured within a minute or so.

Can you provide links to the submersible vs non-submersible reference? Unless I see more, my guess is that it is just marketing people making statements they really shouldn’t (because roll top dry bags are not fully waterproof - submerge them long enough and water gets in).

Most manufacturers say not submersible.

My question is, what do people do for items they really want to stay dry like clothes, sleeping bag, tent, etc for storage? Do most people just use roll-tops and hope they don’t flip and swim? It sounds like some use a drybag inside another one.

I just felt like it’d be a good idea to have a submersible for those essentials and everything else can go in a lightweight rolltop. But i can hardly even find submersible rated dry bags.

Bags inside of bags.


5 gallon polyethylene pails with screw top Gamma Seal tops.

Watershed dry bags and duffels.

Pelican boxes.

OK, that’s weird. The article says “The roll top is supposed to be rolled down at least three times before being closed. Excess air should be purged from the bag so that the roll is not pressured from within
the bag. ”
I’ve always rolled them to the point where they puff up and then latch. They are still puffed when I unload them from the boat - air tight, right? The air pressure inside the bag should hold the folds nice and tight. Seems like if you latch them deflated, that’s just loosening the roll and inviting the water in.

Yes, I have done much the same. I will often purge some air from the bag to reduce bulk, but they I will fold the top as many times as necessary so that the remaining air inside puts some pressure on the closure.

I have found that limp roll top bags are much more likely to take on water.

Roll top bag dryness… l have had a roll top bag let water in if it was sitting in a bit of water that got into thr bulkhead due to sloppy conditions and an imperfect seal on a hatch cover. Like the round one in the Vela or the day hatch in the Romany until l caulked around the hatch rum.

But l have never had one leak where the problem was the roll top. It has always been a small rip l had m8ssed in the dry bag, or a dry bag that needed to be replaced because the waterproof layer had degraded.

Note l am talking about fabric bags. I eventually tossed the plastic ones because they were so stiff they were a pita to load and the toll top always fought back. Esowcially since l prefer 4 folds.

1 Like

I agree that leaving just a little bit of air pressure in a roll top bag isn’t a bad thing. So on my recent green river trip I got to one of the campsites and noticed a couple of folks drying out their sleeping bags and clothes (which happens quite quickly in the desert). They had gone with the single roll top dry bag with no liner. I’ve also seen someone lose their 35mm Nikon camera after I told them their specialty zip lock seal dry bag wasn’t up to par. It wasn’t one of the good rubber ones but cheaper vinyl. They simply didn’t believe me. That camera is lying somewhere on the bottom of the Aroostook River near devils backbone.

People are free to do what they want. I’ve done my own share of stupid stuff and there are multiple ways to do things. So how confident am I in the roll top dry bag and liner method? Pretty confident, the pvc dry bag provides abrasion and puncture resistance and a heavy gauge pack liner that is properly goosenecked is water tight. For six summers I used a down sleeping bag and didn’t even use a roll top dry bag. I just goosenecked the liner in a guide pack (rucksack- no frame). As long as have a strong outer layer of abrasion resistance and add goosenecking with some heavy duty plastic you are likely to have success.

I’ve tried a variety of things- for a variety of craft- canoes, rafts, c1s, duckies, kayaks. Pickle buckets- hard to get lids off and on and I still lined them , barrels with clamps- can be hard to get lids off and on, ammo boxes- too many sharp edges and heavy. Pelican boxes- reliable but can be bulky as well and seals must be maintained (store with lids not latched). I’ve even tried storing valuables in a nalgene wide mouth water bottles and plastic peanut butter jars. Works better if you insert a layer of plastic under the lid to create a gasket to make the seal more watertight. The nalgene bottles and peanut butter jars and their lids are prone to cracking. A Pelican box is a lot stronger. Zip locks and freezer bags- worthless for waterproofing but are clear and can help organize small items . Thin nylon sealed dry bags- leak as well but are handy for organizing and are reusable. You can use a cheap plastic cooler like a dry box. Seal around it completely with duct tape and cut the tape to remove the lid. It can get a little messy if the tape heats up. Bring a roll of duct tape to reseal.

For kayaking, especially in an unhatched boat- packing and space becomes the issue. Bulky items become more problematic. If you are going in a group and or you have the same style of bags- label with your name, or write contents on outside of them (day 1 food). Otherwise you end up opening a lot of dry bags you don’t need to.

I am a weekend warrior when it comes to paddling but I have loved these bags. I thought the window would be a bit of a gimmick but it is actually pretty handy.