A drybag is a piece of gear used to keep things dry when submerged in water. It is essentially a sack made of waterproof material with a water-tight seal at the top. Some drybags come equipped with a waterproof zipper, and some use the roll-down-and-buckle-up method.
Drybags are extremely useful on kayaking and paddling trips. When used properly, food, clothes, safety gear and even iPhones can be kept dry—even when completely submerged in water.
If you find yourself asking questions such as “What is a drybag?”, “What is a drybag used for?”, “How does a drybag work?” and “What type of drybag should I purchase?”—keep reading! Below we’ll provide some of our top picks, as well as the advice you need to decide between them.
Best drybags for paddlers
Whether you’re a canoeist, kayaker or paddleboarder, headed out for a multi-day trip or an afternoon jaunt, keeping your belongings dry is of the utmost importance. It’s not just a matter of not having dry socks to change into, or having to buy a new phone after it takes a dunk, either. Keeping your gear dry is also a matter of safety.
Conditions can change fast out there and anything can happen. Having a dry change of clothes, sleeping bag or even just a sweater in a multitude of situations can make all the difference.
Knowing our readers get up to a variety of adventures, we tested drybags in a variety of sizes and styles, at a range of price points, to find the top 10 products on the market. See our picks for the best drybags of the year below.
1MEC Slogg 115L
$164.95 CAD | mec.ca
A perennial favorite of canoe trippers, the one-bag-to-carry-it-all Slogg 115L transfers weight efficiently to your hips, saving your back for paddling. MEC claims the more you portage the Slogg, the more you’ll love it, and they’re right—eight years later and we’re still going strong. Since the frame is welded rather than sewn, the pack delivers excellent dunk protection. When ready to seal, lay on top of your upright Slogg to remove excess air. We call this burping the walrus. You’ll know why. Then roll its stiff lip three times and cinch the compression straps for watertight protection. This 115-liter cavern has more than ample room for gear, sleep systems and even a tent too.
Read Paddling Magazine‘s full review of the MEC Slogg 115L.
2 Skog Å Kust Drysåk 10L
$28.95 CAD | skogakust.ca
This budget-friendly 10-liter drybag from Skog Å Kust is fashionable and functional. Made of a thick PVC with a classic rolltop design, it protects gear against splashes and brief dunkings. Most suited to carrying snacks and small essentials during relaxed outings, and comfortably carried via the trendy crossbody strap. Available in 13 eye-catching colors and prints, it’s no surprise this Drysåk got oodles of compliments from passing paddlers.
View all Skog Å Kus drybags.
3 Yeti Panga 28L
$299 USD | yeti.com
Bombproof durability meets designer backpack. The submersible Panga 28 from Yeti is an airtight fortress, as suited for wet and rough adventures as it is for a travel carry-on. We’d feel comfortable putting camera equipment or a laptop in the Panga and setting off in a monsoon. Interior storage pockets help keep small items organized. The removable waist belt and chest straps are a nice touch. The Panga is not a cooler, but for the price it would be cooler if it was.
4 NRS Expedition DriDuffel 35L
$179.95 USD | nrs.com
The Expedition is a 12- by 20-inch waterproof duffel-style drybag from NRS built for multiday river trips. We love this burly bag’s easy-access wide mouth, and its waterproof TiZip zipper and heavy-duty PVC construction keep gear bone dry. Integrated webbing chains offer multiple attachment points, and the shoulder strap and dual haul handles offer easy-carry options. Also available in 70- and 105-liter options.
View all NRS drybags.
5 Mustang Survival 22L Highwater
$109.99 USD | mustangsurvival.com
This lightweight waterproof backpack from Mustang Survival features rolltop closure, PVC-free ripstop nylon shell and three quick-access exterior drop-in mesh pockets with key clip. Daytrippers will appreciate the foam padded shoulder straps with adjustable sternum closure. The Highwater is the perfect size bag for a change of clothes, lunch and small essentials, and when not in use it packs almost flat.
View all Mustang Survival drybags.
6 Watershed Ocoee
$118 USD | drybags.com
The stout 10.5-liter Ocoee is the soft-sided drybag of choice for camera gear on Paddling Magazine editorial trips and fits tidily under a bench seat. This impenetrable design lives up to its claim of being 100-percent waterproof and submersible thanks to its ZipDry seal, which looks like a giant Ziploc seam running across its top. The big mouth on this bag makes accessing contents easy, plus it’s easy to open and close—once you know the secret. This bomber construction is surprisingly lightweight at just over a pound. It also features burly lash-down points and a comfortable handle for toting around. Worth the investment for avid paddlers. And so, say our in-house photographers, is the optional padded insert.
7 SealLine Discovery View Dry Bag 10L
$34.95 USD | seallinegear.com
You know the feeling of peeking into every drybag before finally finding the item you’re looking for? Stop that with easy identification thanks to Discovery View’s transparent polyurethane body. An innovative purge valve vents trapped air, allowing this drybag to compress further after being sealed—perfect for tight packing jobs and bulky items like sleeping bags or clothes. The urethane is more reliably waterproof than waterproof-breathable fabrics and, at 9.7 ounces, it weighs a bit more too. Colored bottoms help distinguish between bags. Also available in five-, 20- and 30-liter sizes.
8 Osprey Ultralight Dry Sack 20L
$30 USD | osprey.com
This stuff sack lives up to its name and weighs an impressively airy 1.6 ounces. The thin material of the Osprey Ultralight requires the protection of an outer pack, but don’t make the mistake of assuming it’s delicate—it’s been my go-to for tripping clothes for more than five years. Short of submersion, its water-repelling fabric and rolltop design offer the protection dry stuff needs. A flat-bottomed rectangular design makes packing it within a larger waterproof backpack easy.
9 Sea To Summit Hydraulic Dry Bag 65L
$99.95 USD | seatosummitusa.com
Made of heavy-duty, super abrasion-resistant material, Sea To Summit’s sturdy Hydraulic drybag is engineered for harsh conditions. A removable harness (sold separately) attaches via a series of low-profile anchor points to turn this into a portage pack, or use solo on splashy adventures. Also available in 20- and 35-liter sizes.
View all Sea to Summit drybags.
10 Advanced Elements Blast 22
$107.99 USD | advancedelements.com
With waterproof welded seam construction, a large top opening and an ultra-cushy ventilated back panel, the Blast 22 from Advanced Elements is a rugged, no-frills choice for anywhere-anytime day trips. We’d use this as a versatile day bag, side hike companion and for commuting across town. A water-resistant front zip pocket offers easy access to essentials.
View all Advanced Elements drybags.
How to use a drybag
Depending on which type of drybag you choose, you will need to learn how to properly close it to ensure a water-tight seal. With drybags that use the roll-down-and-buckle-up method, you need to make sure you roll the top at least three times over itself, then buckle it up securely. If you have space to roll the top four times—do it! More rolls = better chance of keeping your stuff dry.
If you have a drybag with a water-tight zipper, just make sure you have zipped it all the way across and have zero space for water to seep in. A good way to check is to leave a little bit of air in the drybag, zip it up, and try to squeeze the air out. If you can’t squeeze any air out, it is a water-tight seal.
If you are on a multi-day kayaking trip, requiring multiple drybags filled with food and camping gear, you will want to keep two drybags in the stern of your kayak, just behind your seat. You will also want one drybag in your lap containing food for the day, extra layers, maps, and other necessary items.
If you are in an open kayak, canoe, raft or paddleboard, you will want to clip your drybag to the craft with a carabiner. You never know what is going to happen when paddling, so you want to be prepared and not lose your gear! Clip your drybag to a cam strap around a raft thwart, a flip line or any rope attached to your boat to ensure your gear stays secure.
Types of drybags
Some drybags are built like backpacks—with a roll-top closure system and shoulder straps to carry the bag. These are useful when packing lots of gear that will need to be portaged around rapids or from one lake to another. Instead of lugging around a heavy duffel, you can simply load the drybag on your back with ease.
Duffel drybags are useful for longer multi-day trips where you will be living out of the drybag. When spending two or more weeks on a river, lake or ocean, it is nice to be able to open your drybag and have everything clearly laid out in front of you. With a duffel closure system, it is easy to organize and find things in your drybag.
Roll-top drybags are the most common closure system for drybags. They ensure a water-tight seal by rolling the top of the drybag over itself several times, then buckling either end together. Simple, effective, and often the cheapest drybag option.
While all drybags are technically “dry,” I highly recommend using a zip-top drybag for your phone or camera. Zipper closures leave a smaller chance of error when closing the drybag, thus ensuring a better chance of keeping everything completely dry. Smaller zipper drybags are nice to use as kayak drybags. They fit on your lap and provide easy access to anything you need to keep handy while paddling.
Kayak stern-shaped drybag
These are shape-specific drybags built for storage in the stern of a kayak. You can fit two in the stern of a whitewater kayak—one on each side of the rear bulkhead. For easiest packing, fit the empty drybag in the stern of the kayak, then pack it full of gear. This is easier and more efficient than trying to stuff a full drybag into a small space.
Drybags come in all sorts of shapes, but the one thing they have in common is the volume. Drybags are sized in liters, making it easy to tell how much stuff you will be able to fit inside.
5L to 15L
These smaller sizes are commonly used for day trips to carry snacks, phones, cameras and layers. They are also often carried in a kayaker’s lap on a multi-day trip to hold things that will be needed throughout the day.
16L to 30L
Drybags in this size range are commonly stowed in the stern of a kayak, or used as a smaller gear bag attached to a SUP or raft. This is a good size for storing a sleeping bag and sleeping pad.
30L to 50L
The mid-range sizes of drybags are good for single-night trips, or for various gear needs on a raft or SUP. These sizes won’t fit in a kayak, but are perfect for other open-topped crafts. Often coming with backpack straps, they are easy to portage and move around.
50L to 110L
Best for multi-day rafting trips, as they will not fit on a SUP or in a kayak. These drybag sizes are perfect for carrying each crew member’s personal gear for a multi-day expedition.
How to clean a drybag
The best way to clean a drybag is to empty all the contents, fill it with soap and water, seal the drybag, and shake it up! Simple and effective. Dish soap or a biodegradable soap like Dr. Bronners are good options for cleaning out grease and dirt. If extra scrubbing is needed inside the bag, it’s easy to turn the drybag inside-out to reach every corner. Scrub with a sponge or wet rag to get every last bit of dirt out.
If you are using a zipper drybag, you will need to take good care of the zipper so it doesn’t get caked with sand, thus causing leaks in the seal. It is best to purchase some 303 Rubber Seal Protectant, and apply it to the zipper periodically to keep the zipper feeling fresh.
How long do drybags last?
Depending on the brand of drybag you purchase, and how well you care for it, you should be able to get at least three seasons of use out of it. With higher quality drybags, you can get upwards of 10 seasons of use. However, wear and tear on your gear is normal, so don’t get discouraged if you need to replace your drybag more often than this.
Drybags can also be repaired with PVC patches, drybag-specific repair kits, and/or Aquaseal. These can be ordered as accessories from drybag manufacturers. Additionally, some drybag manufacturers provide warranties and repairs on their products. Most of them will charge a fee for repairs, but it will be cheaper than purchasing a new drybag. Contact the manufacturer’s warranty and repairs department if you have questions.
Can you use a drybag as a bear bag?
If you are asking the question, “Are drybags smell proof?” you may be disappointed with the answer. Drybags are not smell proof, especially not to bears. They are, however, both lightweight and waterproof, which is why backpackers often use drybags as bear bags rather than non-waterproof food bags. In case of a rainstorm, your food will be protected. Additionally, other small creatures such as mice and rats will have a harder time penetrating the outer layer of a drybag than they will a mesh or cloth bag. For these reasons, a drybag is a good choice for a bear bag.
As with any bear bag, you still need to hang the drybag at least 15 feet off the ground and six feet from the trunk of the tree if you want it to be protected from bears.
Where to buy a drybag
Drybags can be purchased at any outdoor gear store. Your local paddling shop is the best bet, as the employees will be knowledgeable about any paddling gear you wish to purchase.
If you want to shop online, check out our Paddling Buyer’s Guide. You’ll be able to filter for what you’re looking for, compare products and buy directly from top-quality brands.
A portion of this article was first published in Paddling Magazine Issue 64. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.
Total combined volume of the drybags featured here is 337.5 liters. Have they been filled with A) the entire contents of the editor’s linen closet, plus the pillows off her bed? Or B) four winter parkas, 11 sweaters, three sleeping bags and a small dog bed? The answer is C) All of the above. | Feature image: Kaydi Pyette