How To Choose a Deck Bag for Paddling

Launch your next paddling trip assured with your comfort and safety essentials stored, protected and easily accessible when needed.

Whether it’s a sit-on-top or sit-inside, one of the kayak’s best qualities is its ability to carry a lot of gear—be it a simple outing or multi-day foray into the wilderness. But while extra food, clothes, and overnight camping equipment can be stowed in hatches or lashed down in storage wells (often within larger dry bags), you’ll still need key items organized and close at hand. Whether it’s water, sunscreen, snacks, binoculars, first-aid kits or any key electronics (phone, GPS, camera, etc.), the right deck bag will deliver: holding goods quickly accessible from your main paddling position.

Most deck bags are designed with that reachability in mind. They’re built to fasten to the top of the hull (or to the nose of the standup paddleboard, in the case of touring-style SUPs), by fitting under and clipping into deck bungees. However, some come equipped with special straps and other attachment points to fasten to the top of your hull (or board nose) without bungees. The bottom line is the same: keeping necessities close while you’re paddling, increasing your craft’s storage space, and bolstering your comfort and safety on the water. Consider the following factors and pick the best option to gather gear and go.   

Waterproof vs. Non-waterproof

This is the most important design feature to consider. Some deck bags are waterproof, creating a perfect place to keep layers, phones, food and other gear that needs to stay dry; others are not, and are used primarily for stashing day-paddling essentials like water bottles, sunscreen and other gear that can get wet. Determine if dry gear is a must, or if lower cost and basic utility of a non-waterproof bag will get the job done.

Waterproof bags are made from such materials as Hypalon rubber, PVC and vinyl-coated nylon, while non-waterproof deck bags are often made from nylon mesh. Pay attention to whether or not the deck bag is billed as “waterproof” or “water-resistant.” While water-resistant bags, usually made of thinner-weave nylon, can keep errant splashes at bay, don’t trust them for items like phones that must stay dry. 


Envision how your deck bag will fit on top of your boat. Is there hull space in front of your cockpit to accommodate it? Or, as is often the case on sit-on-tops (and even canoes), might your deck bag fit better behind your seat or even between your legs? Take note of this so you can ensure your bag’s zippers and pockets are in the right places to access. Also, notice if your kayak has deck rigging, often in the form of elastic bungee-type cords, to slide the deck bag under; if not, it will need additional strapping to connect to the boat. Word to the wise: Practice attaching it before your maiden voyage.  

Closure Systems 

Though there are a few different types, all closure systems are designed to provide easy access while keeping water out (for waterproof deck bags). If you’re going with waterproof protection, your main options include zippers (waterproof and non), zip-locking seal and roll-top closures.


Whether metal or plastic, zippers make it easier to access items quickly, but they can leak and break, especially if they get sandy. Saltwater can also corrode zippers left or stored uncleaned. Look for rugged tabs that make the bag easy to open and manipulate one-handed.

Zip-locking seals

Some deck bags employ press-and-seal zip-locking closures, which work much like a freezer bag (make sure the seal is tight). Others utilize waterproof, plastic zippers to create the seal, though they tend to cost more and require periodic lubrication.

Roll-down tops

Popular with regular dry bags, this simple closure requires you to squeeze out the air, roll down the fold (at least three times), and snap the buckle to keep it in place. (Hint: Fasten the ends the opposite direction from how you rolled to create a better seal.) While they offer great waterproofness, access is not as easy as a zippered closure.  

Who should use

It’s a matter of preference. Sea kayakers braving the elements and constant splashes might want the bombproof characteristics of a deck bag with a roll-down closure, sacrificing some accessibility for waterproofness. More recreation-oriented paddlers might find the accessibility of a zipper or zip-locking system more practical. 

Attachment Points

Consider how your deck bag will attach to your kayak; you’ll want it secure when confronted with waves, wind and even the errant capsize. Some kayaks (and SUPs) have deck bungees that can hold down deck bags, while others offer attachment points that deck bags can clip to. Most deck bags also come with an integrated plastic D-ring for attaching onto your boat via straps, carabiners, parachute cord or other fastening systems for additional security. Know your craft before making your purchase. Hint: If your kayak doesn’t have any attachment point system, you can fasten two cam straps tightly around the hull to create one.


Deck bags come in all shapes and sizes. Some—like the flat and clear deck bags designed to hold maps and nautical charts—are streamlined to carry a single accessory. Measure your boat’s surface area where it will fit and decide how much gear you want to carry on the top side. A good size to cover you on day-long tours is about 4 to 5 liters, which should fit most personal items, including a small rain jacket. For longer trips where you’ll be carrying more gear, like maps, navigation equipment, and lunch, you’ll need a bigger bag sized up to 15 liters. Just make sure your hull has enough space to accommodate. And don’t overstuff your bag with so much gear that it compromises the closure system, or adds too much top-heavy weight.  


Waterproof deck bags are made out of 100% waterproof material (not breathable fabric such as Gore-Tex), usually coated vinyl, nylon or even PVC. Vinyl is often used for smaller dry bags, with coated nylon used for larger dry bags for its durability and abrasion resistance. (Note: With nylon bags, consider the material’s denier, or its density of fibers; the higher the number the tougher). PVC is a waterproof, synthetic plastic polymer, which also works well but is not as supple. The seams of all deck bags are: either sewn together and taped for waterproofness; glued and taped; or heat-welded, the most waterproof system but also the most expensive.  


Look for added extras that cater to specific paddling needs: see-through plastic windows to better identify internal items, or to use such accessories like GPS systems; additional exterior pockets for items like water bottles, smaller accessories that don’t need to stay dry, as well as other paddling safety equipment typically stored on deck (such as a spare paddle or bilge pump); additional rigging points and straps; reflective striping for enhanced visibility; and if you’re in a warm environment, even some included insulation for keeping handy beverages cool. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.