Saving money on dry bags?

Hey all-

I am taking a group of 30 boy scouts on a week-long canoe trip this summer. I’m trying to make this as cheap as possible for the boys and their families and one expense which seems substantial is dry bags. These boys are unlikely to re-use them frequently so everyone buying bags will be a large expense. Are there DIY alternatives? Ways to get by with cheaper alternatives? Places that rent them? Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated! The place where we are renting canoes does not rent or include them FYI.

If they already have stuff sacks, you could have them but trash bags and line the stuff sacks with the trash bags.

Also, be strategic about what needs to be dry. Spare clothes and sleeping bags are likely important to keep dry, tents not so critical. Food, may depend upon how it is packaged. Zip lock bags can be helpful and cheap for small things.

First, separate out what needs to be in dry bags and what doesn’t. I’ve seen people putting bottles of water, cans of food, etc. into a dry bag.

A common trick for items that come in stuff sacks (like sleeping bags, tents, etc.) is to line the stuff sack with track compacter bags (basically, thick trash bags) and then stuff. You can tie off the top. The bag makes it waterproof, where the stuff sack provides mechanical protection. Take tent poles out before doing his for tents.
(though she says regular garbage bag, where trash compactor bags are better)

Stuff that absolutely needs to be dry, spend the money for dry bags. Check around with outdoor programs at schools, other scout troops, tour companies, etc. to see if you can borrow/rent what you need. If you are renting the canoes, that outfitter likely has dry bags already.

Since these are scouts, perhaps you may want to combine a project (merit badge?) with the trip preparation. Making roll-top dry bags is really easy using self-sealing Nylon material, webbing and Fastex buckles. The basic design is just a simple pouch with a strap across the top that becomes the rolling closure. I made a few several years ago and they’re still going strong. The self-sealing Nylon bonds to itself using a clothing iron, creating water-tight seams. A small amount of sewing is necessary to attach the strap at the top with the mating halves of a Fastex buckle at each end. Once you have the dimensions nailed down, you can literally make them in a few minutes each.

I like the idea of making the dry bags as a troop project. Though the heat sealable nylon can be costly and usually has to be ordered ( is where I get mine but Seattle Fabrics also stocks it), you can also make dry bags with the clear or frosted vinyl that you can buy by the yard at fabric stores or even many Walmarts that have a sewing department. H-66 vinyl glue can be used to bond the seams and also to attach Velcro for the top fastener. Sewing doesn’t work all that well with vinyl. You can do it but it requires a special needle and a long enough stitch that it won’t just cause a perforated line of weakness in the material.

I also endorse the use of trash compactor bags – you can usually get them at the large home builder store departments where they have trash bags (Or Sam’s Club/Costco). The bags are about $10 for 50 of them and they are very durable, also useful later on for hauling out trash. The bags won’t keep things dry in a capsize though because they can’t be sealed tightly enough.

Another option is the large heavy duty double zip-lock compression bags that are made for clothing storage. They are only about $1 each when bought in bulk. I use them for packing for airline travel and for protecting wool clothes from moths during seasonal storage. I’ve also used them for gear and food while kayaking and never had a leakage problem even when submerged. Here’s an example (12 of them for under $15):

I use lockable airtight container for phone and camera. Large container can float too, even with a camera in it (but test it to be sure). You can drill a small hole on locking lips of a container to zip tie / leash it to canoe/kayak.

The article on making dry bags is great, but it gets a bit more elaborate than necessary. If you want to keep it simple, all you really need to do is:

  1. Cut a strip of self-sealing Nylon. For a small dry bag, try 8" x 24".
  2. Fold the strip with the coated sides facing each other, leaving a 1" flap at the top, where you’ll sew the webbing.
  3. Iron 1/2" - 3/4" on both sides to form a pouch.
  4. Sew the buckle halves to a piece of solid (not tubular) Polyester or Nylon webbing that’s long enough to extend past the edges of the pouch (~11" in this case).
  5. Sew the webbing to the flap on the pouch. That’s it!

To use the bag, insert the contents, roll the webbing down 3-4 turns, then clip the ends of the buckle together. Adjust the measurements to suit whatever you need to carry. For larger bags and heavy or stuffed items. Increase the width of the ironed area on the sides for extra bond strength.

Vinyl dry bags like Willowleaf suggested are nice because you can see what’s in them. If you decide to go that route, make sure that you have a well-ventilated area to work in, preferably outside, as the adhesive is pretty noxious. Ideally, you should wear respirator with organic vapor cartridges when working with it.

Back in my BS days we just used double trash bags. Most times we didn’t need them. When we camped our of canoes we we’re more careful.

pretty much what others said, the scouts can use their own packs with trash compactor bags as liners, They are much tougher than regular trash bags. If those aren’t available consider contractor trash bags. Leave ample room to gooseneck the top of the trash compactor bags (after squeezing out all air). Then use large heavy duty rubber bands to seal the gooseneck by wrapping it around a few times. If you do this then you’ll get a better seal than many commercially made roll up dry bags.
As previously noted sleeping bags should have a liner (trash compactor bag) inside the stuff sack. and should be goosenecked as well. You may wanty to designate “food packs” if you are doing group cooking and gooseneck all of that . If you develop a thin spot or leak in a bag, patch it with duct tape. I never bothered with trying to keep dry tarps, tents, cooking pots, or even stoves. Much of your personal toiletries can also get wet as well. What you do want dry is your food, sleeping bag, change of clothes, dry shoes,. Camera’s are best kept and protected in pelican cases. In the real old days we used ammo cans and wrapped the camera in towels. We also used pickle buckets for food, not good for portaging though. Had to take a mallet or hammer and screw driver to get the lids off. Just say no to the pickle buckets.

To secure packs: Tie a clove hitch to a center thwart. Let both ends trail. Tie trailing ends, with bowline to a pack frame or through secured straps (internal framed packs). One clove hitch is all you need to secure two packs…Packs rest frame side down in the canoe. one on each side of the mid thwart. Hope this helps.

You can get along with DIY dry bags. Good craftmanship will result in a good dry bag. But I will tell you, dry bags are going to be pretty important. I line stuff bags with contractor bags and it generally works well. I even line dry bags with contractor bags if I think a little insurance is called for. I line my day pack with a trash or contractor bag and it has stood me well even through the Grand Canyon. But early on I tried to do a trip down the Wild and Scenic on the Missouri in Montana with contractor bags and cardboard boxes. I now own a lot of dry bags… By the way, they work wonders camping in general, protecting your gear in the back of the pickup and whatnot. A dry bag is useful for other than a canoe trip. That Grand Canyon trip? I got 2 weeks gear in a 55 liter bag an a lined day pack with room to spare. Gather your kit in a pile, throw out 1/2 of the stuff you thought you needed, then eliminate half of the stuff you thought you had to have. You will still have unused kit at the finish of the trip.

Have you looked into military wet weather bags? You can usually find them online if you aren’t near a base.
They don’t have buckles or anything fancy. It uses a string tie, so you nee to make a gooseneck, but it’s a step up from trash bags and not as expensive as the commercial waterproof bags.

Have everyone chip in and by some 8 mil poly bags from U-line. 100 very heavy bags in a case.

Don’t tip, and stay out of the rain.

Ya, good luck with that. :wink:

@Sparky961 said:
Don’t tip, and stay out of the rain.

Ya, good luck with that. :wink:

willow leaf commented “I also endorse the use of trash compactor bags – you can usually get them at the large home builder store departments where they have trash bags (Or Sam’s Club/Costco). The bags are about $10 for 50 of them and they are very durable, also useful later on for hauling out trash. The bags won’t keep things dry in a capsize though because they can’t be sealed tightly enough.”

I think the trick with any “dry bag” system (roll top, zip, or gooseneck) is not to overfill the bag. Leave plenty of room for a secure closure. As long as you’ve got plenty of room to gooseneck, trash compactor bags can be completely waterproof when secured with heavy duty rubber bands. In fact, I consider them more reliable than my commercially made dry bags when I put the compactor bags in a pack and protect from punctures. I could reuse the same bag on several trips, putting duct tape on the “thin” spots and over pin holes.

I did a lot of cheap stuff, I also paddle in playtex gloves in the winter to keep hands warm and sandwich wool sweaters between multiple windbeakers to keep warm because I didn’t own a decent paddling jacket…fleece wasn’t available. It really made me appreciate farmer john wetsuits and then later drysuits when they became widely available.

Backpacking, I would build a fire and cook out of a coffee can, and put bleach in my drinking water because it was cheaper than halzone tablets and wear Sears workboots for hiking. Vibram soles were a nice upgrade when they came out.

Old habits die hard, I still think the packliners and coffee can are a good idea and of course I’m partial to ol’ woodsmen fly dope. Now sierra cups, they should have been labeled “spill always” cups. Totally worthless creations. Add to the list of “totally worthless” the squeeze tubes to put peanut butter or jelly in. The sealing clips would break and you’d have peanut butter everywhere. Another reason for a pack liner, be it backpackin’ or paddlin’. Just be glad it’s peanut butter and not limburger cheese- ahh but that’s a tale for another time. Lots of fun adventures with the boy scouts.

Those were the days. Before we got old and spoiled.

Check out this article in The Mountain Paddler, published by the Rocky Mountain Sea Kayak Club, Fall 2010 issue, pages 25-30. ( ) Several club members have these bags in a variety of sizes. They are very durable; the only maintenance is an occasional “touch-up” by re-ironing the edge seams. It is possible to make these bags without the pleated bottom, but the capacity of the bag is diminished a little.

A cheap alternative to dry bags. Why not use plastic 5 gallon pails with a lid the seals? Each person in the canoe can taake four pails. I have been doing this for more than 20 years with kid groups. And if you are actually in the wilderness they have a seat too.

If you are a scout leader, register for ALPS Mountaineering has a good program to save money on gear purchases, including dry bags.