What is the best type of dry packs to get for a canoe camping trip for the sleeping bag, etc? And should we put our tents in a dry pack?
You will get various answers.
A lot depends on whether you need to portage, or perhaps if you want the convenience of putting all your gear in one or two packs. It will also depend on the kind of water you are on. It can even depend on whether you want to buy all your pack gear in one shot or start cheap and improve what you have over time. For me, old-fashioned canvas packs with heavy-duty plastic liners work fine. The plastic liners are prone to punctures if you aren't careful, and will develop tiny leaks over time even if you are careful. However, you can keep up with the leaks, patching them with duct tape, and eventually replace the bags. Also, using two layers for the liner helps too. The fact that these bags are prone to tiny leaks sounds like a bad thing, but remember that roll-top dry bags are never completely waterproof since the seal is never perfect. One nice thing with the heavy-duty plastic liners is that you CAN make a completely waterproof seal (twist them tightly and tie a string around the neck, or fold the twisted portion back on itself and then tie the string around it).
Heavy-duty plastic bags for traditional packs run about three dollars each when purchased from a canoe-pack company or paddling shop. They CAN be gotten for a tiny fraction of that cost if you go directly to the source, but so far I haven't because I haven't worn out the bags I already have. In my line of work, we buy such bags by the hundreds, but unfortunately, in a much smaller size, so I can't resort to petty white-collar crime for pack liners. However, the same supplier can provide them in pack-liner sizes. Regarding the smaller sizes of these plastic bags, I have at times robbed my employer of a few pennies to use these smaller heavy-duty bags for separately sealing my sleeping bag (but still placing it inside the dry storage of a larger pack). So far, that extra layer of protection hasn't been needed, but depending where you paddle, it might be a good idea. Keep in mind that a sealed pack full of gear floats quite high in the water, so in quiet water, even if the opening is not perfectly sealed, you usually won't get more than a few drops inside, and often none at all.
Yes, your tent should be in dry storage too. If your tent gets soaked, you won't be happy setting it up, or sleeping in it. If it's in the same pack as other gear, provide a liner of some kind (at the very least, a trash bag) so you can put it away after a rainy or dewy night and not get your other stuff wet.
dry storage article
Issue #4 Winter 2010 of California Kaysker had an article reviewing the different types of dry storage out there, and how effective they are. It was aimed at kayakers, so won’t have details on Canoe Barrels and the like. But it does have some interesting thoughts related to what works (for example,roll top dry bags aren’t actually fully waterproof).
What sort of trip?
I do a LOT of canoe trips and my system of packing in dry bags revolves around where I am paddling and when.
However I have found that packing sleeping bags in a compression dry bag like the Sea to Summit e Vent or the Outdoor Research Air Purge Compression Sacks really saves space.
I tend to package every “must stay dry” item in its own dry sack. The sole exception is clothing which I pack in a nylon with a coated interior dry bag or two…depends on how much clothing you have to take. For canoeing I dont use the PVC dry bags as they are stiffer . They are of course my choice for kayking as they resist scuffing while stuffing through small hatches.
Now that you have your “must stay dry” items in their dry bags, you can "double dry bag"by using a pack liner or a contractors trash bag.This is the huge bag that Guideboatguy allude to.
I treat my sleeping pad as a “must stay dry” item. The tent usually. The fly usually not though. Its always wet in the AM. Since I have a collection of dry bags I do bag the fly to not allow it to spread wetness. Apart from the tent of course.
Double bag them
My wife and I use down bags so we really need to protect them from water. So we put them in their normal stuff sack and then in a plastic garabage bag and tie that shut and then it goes into a sea to summit dry sack and then in a large dry pack. I may be overkill but I’ve never had a wet bag.
“For me, old-fashioned canvas packs with heavy-duty plastic liners work fine.”
I do the same. I have tried pretty much everything else out there and settled on Duluth Packs with heavy plastic liners that I change out every few trips. I find this system works very well. Others not so well for various reasons. The shape duluth packs is easier to pack and unpack compared to river bags in my opinion. River bags do develop leaks with use. It is cheap and easy to replace the plastic liners when you use canvas, not so with river bags. I do use a small dry sack for my sleeping bag just to be 100% sure. It goes in the canvas bag as well. I don’t like having lots of loose things in the boat so I try to bring only the items that I can fit in one large bag. If I’m thinking about it I may pack my tent fly in a separate sack to keep it away from the tent body.