A man loads up his kayas to head out into the fog on Strawberry Island, San Juan Islands, Washington.

How to Choose the Best Dry Bag

Photo: Stephen Matera/Tandemstock

Keep your gear dry on paddling trips with the right bag.

Whatever you’re bringing on the water—whether extra clothes for a day trip or camping gear for an overnighter—dry bags are a must. They do exactly what the name implies, sealing your stuff in a waterproof bag that can withstand full submersion. There are several different types on the market, so select one suitable for both your craft and the type of paddling and packing you’ll be doing. Here’s how to get started.  

Dry Sacks vs. Dry Bags

A dry sack is an ultralight type of dry bag that’s waterproof, but designed to go inside another pack or bag, with the outer bag providing abrasion resistance. A dry bag is designed to be waterproof on its own, as well as heavy-duty enough to withstand abrasion—like from the floor of a boat—without the need for an additional bag. Choose dry sacks, which are less expensive and lighter, if you have an outer bag they’re going in, such as a backpack or duffel; choose dry bags for stand-alone water protection. 

Consider Your Craft

Get a dry bag that’s appropriate for the type of craft you’re in. Sea kayak dry bags are smaller and often tapered to fit inside small storage hatches, while dry bags for rafts and canoes can be larger. For kayak hatches, check fit with a loaded dry bag. Tip: No matter your craft, get bags of several different sizes to fit different items—especially those that need to be kept accessible.  

Materials and Construction

Dry bags are almost always made with coated vinyl, nylon, or PVC. Vinyl is often used for smaller dry bags. Nylon is often used for larger dry bags for its durability, and it’s coated for waterproofness and abrasion resistance. PVC is a waterproof, plastic polymer, which also works well but is not as supple. All dry bags have seams. They’re either stitched and taped or seam-sealed, glued, or welded. Welded seams (sealed with pressure and heat) work best as there are no stitch holes and the bond is more durable than glue or tape.

A Corgi dog in canoe sits next to dry bags Photo: MarekPhotoDesign.com

Closure Systems

All dry bags are sealable to keep water out, either via a roll-down top, ziplock seal, or waterproof zipper. Roll-tops are perhaps the most popular because they work well and are easy to use—the simple design keeps cost down and increases reliability/durability. Simply squeeze out the air, roll down the fold at least three times, and fasten the buckles; this design also creates a handle to carry the bag and tie it in. (Tip: Fasten the ends the opposite direction from how you rolled to create a better seal.) Often used on smaller bags (like those for your phone), ziplock zipper-type bags employ a press-and-seal-type zipper, much like a freezer bag; they work well also, but require periodic lubrication. Some bags utilize waterproof zippers, which offer easier access but cost more, and require periodic lubrication. 


Dry bags come in all sizes, from 1-liter for small, personal items to 60-liter bags that can hold a week’s worth of gear. Smaller dry bags—great for electronics, first-aid kits, even lunch—are good for storing under the deck bungees on a kayak. Note: Bags that are 50-liters and bigger are often heavy and awkward when full; it’s often easier to pack and access two smaller bags than one big one.   

Carrying straps/D-rings

Many dry bags feature attachable carrying straps. The styles range from duffel-style straps, letting you throw them over your shoulder, to backpack straps and even small waist belts, which are great for portaging. They also make great attachment points for tying down your bag in your boat. If you’ll be carrying your dry bag very far, prioritize comfortable carrying straps. Most dry bags also come with an attached, plastic D-ring for tying them into your boat without stressing the bag’s buckle. 


One nice feature on certain small- to medium-sized dry bags is a plastic window that lets you see what items are inside and where they are. If you’ve ever spent time rooting around for socks that disappeared into an opaque bag, you’ll love this feature.

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.