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!
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.