Rafting dry bags

Rafting dry bags

Best For Multi-Sport Adventure

Sea to Summit Hydraulic

Material: 600D TPU laminated nylon | Closure Type: Interlocking roll-top

The Sea to Summit Hydraulic is a heavy-duty, almost watertight bag that can be carried long distances thanks to the comfortable backpack carrying straps and hip belt. All these attachments can be removed quickly, delivering a streamlined, robust water bag that can be easily secured to any craft using the reinforced attachment loops. This bag can be dipped, thrown, dragged, rolled, carried, or lashed, making it an easy choice for a variety of different adventure activities. If you foresee using your dry bag in different adventurous environments, this may be the bag for you.

The roll-top design the Hydraulic uses is penetrable by water when the bag is put under pressure (i.e., dragged behind our kayak). We would use a two-bag system for things like electronics and sleeping bags if we were using this in scenarios where the bag is likely to be submerged for more than a flash. With a detachable backpack system, you can adapt this bag to your needs, be that hiking gear in wet environments, or lashing to your kayak or raft.

Read review: Sea to Summit Hydraulic

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Why You Should Trust Us

This review is led by lifelong water sports enthusiasts Maggie Nichols and Sara James. Maggie has spent her summers and free time on and in the water since she was a small child. From canoeing across choppy Midwestern lakes to raging down Western whitewater, exploring quiet swamps, and journeying between islands, she is critical of the gear she brings with her and the need to keep it protected. Sara has also grown up in the water, from rafting on the big water rapids of the Nile and Zambezi to whitewater kayaking trips around Europe, the Himalayas, New Zealand, and the Western States. Sara has spent a decade of summers working on the rivers in California, coaching, photo kayaking, and testing gear. In her free time, she likes to stand up paddle board on Class 3-4 rivers.

We spend hours scouring the market for new and updated products every season to find the best and most promising dry bags to test. After selecting the best and most interesting options available, we spend months putting each one to the test in our side-by-side comparisons. We examine every detail of their waterproofness by spraying them with a hose, submerging them in bodies of water, and dragging them behind boats. We pack them full and rummage around for specific items. We take them for afternoon outings, long-distance travels, and extended trips. We check the usability of their features and use them extensively to see how well they hold up. From backpacking to paddling to traveling, we put these bags through their paces to see which ones are right for what job.

Analysis and Test Results

There’s so much more to the performance of a dry bag than just how dry it keeps your things. We identified four metrics designed to push each contender to the breaking point. All metrics are weighted according to their importance to the performance of a dry sack. By combining these weighted scores, each model ends up with a single comparable number indicating its overall performance. In what follows, we break down every metric and discuss which bags do best in specific areas and situations.

Value

As with any piece of gear, the cost will influence your willingness to buy it. Everyone needs something a little bit different to best suit their needs, and some products offer better performances for lower prices, making them high-value items.

The SealLine Discovery View is a seriously high-value item. It performs well across the board and costs a lot less than similarly high-performing models. The Sea to Summit Big River is another high-value dry bag. Its slightly more generic design is quite versatile, with non-submersible but high-quality protection and easy-to-use features. If you’re searching for affordable organization and internal protection, the Osprey Ultralight Drysack offers quality water resistance and impressive packability inside your travel kit for a comparatively low price. The Outdoor Products 3-Pack is a very low-cost set of sacks with decent protection, great for many casual, non-technical uses.

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On the flip side, sometimes you need the best of the best and want to know if it’s worth the investment. If you’re trying to protect large, expensive electronics — like a laptop or a DSLR camera — the large capacity Yeti Panga offers some of the best water protection around, with the Watershed Colorado running a close second. When it comes to protecting thousands of dollars of sensitive equipment through trying, wet conditions, the investment in these dry bags pays for itself.

Waterproofness

The primary purpose of all of these products is right in their name — to keep your stuff dry. Therefore, waterproofness is by far the most heavily weighted metric in this review, and the winners in this category took home the greater share of our awards. You might assume anything carrying the name “dry bag” is intended to keep your stuff 100% dry 100% of the time, but performance in this category varies widely. While some products are designed to keep water completely out, others are meant to be splashproof and aren’t rated for prolonged submersion. All the contenders we tested protect contents against the mild splashes experienced riding in small watercraft, but to really dive deep into each model’s waterproofness, we pushed them farther than most are meant to go. We used them for our favorite water sports and subjected them to specific tests designed to push their limits. Some products lived up to their name, while others didn’t fare quite as well.

The Yeti Panga, Watershed Colorado, Watershed Aleutian, NRS Expedition DriDuffeland NRS Ether HydroLock all kept our stuff bone dry throughout all testing. The Panga seals with a HydroLok zipper that, even after years of use, is still as waterproof as the day we first bought it. The NRS DriDuffel uses a similar zipper system with years of well-established use in drysuits. The Watershed Colorado Duffel and Aleutian Deck Bag feature a zip-top style closure (similar to the plastic baggies in your kitchen drawer). The Colorado Duffel has an extra bit of security as you can fold down the top and clip down the sides to prevent the bag from being pulled open in extreme situations. The NRS Ether HydroLock has a zip seal backed up with a basic roll-down top. If asked which dry sacks we’d be comfortable entrusting thousands of dollars of electronics to float down a river in, these are the five we’d recommend.

The SealLine Boundary is also worth mentioning in this category. Made of super-thick, 1000D vinyl-coated polyester with welded seams, it’s well-built and keeps moisture out via a double-banded fold-down closure system. It was able to withstand a brief submersion with no leakage — only when dragged behind our kayak did a few droplets of water get in from the sides, wetting a corner of a towel the size of a credit card.

The SealLine Discovery View also utilizes a double-banded closure system that was seen to perform significantly better than similar single-banded roll-down designs on many other bags. The purge valve did let in some moisture when put under direct high pressure (i.e., sprayed with a hose), and our towels showed a damp ring just larger than a quarter.

Ultralight bags are generally not designed to be completely waterproof, but the Osprey Ultralight does a remarkable job of keeping stuff dry. While our contents got a bit moist after submerging and dragging this bag around a lake, that’s not what ultralight bags like this one are made for. Instead, this bag provides a great added layer of protection if used inside a backpack in inclement weather. It is one of our favorites for keeping necessary backpacking items dry — like down jackets and first aid kits.

Although the Outdoor Products 3-Pack did not fare that well in this metric when the bags were tested individually, the opportunity to double (or even triple!) them up with water-sensitive items boosted this product into the top-performing tier. Having a backup system for any dry bag is a great idea, particularly when using less durable bags and when carrying important items like electronics or sleeping gear.

Ease of Use

Whether you’re in the middle of the river or bustling about camp packing and unpacking your gear, accessing your stuff should be facilitated, not hindered, by your carrying vessel. We set out to evaluate how easy it is to pack each dry bag, how quickly the stuff inside can be found while the product is in use, how each model carries from one location to another, and how it can be secured to different water crafts.

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The Yeti Panga 50 and the NRS Expedition DriDuffel took top points in this metric. Both bags have a plethora of attachment points to secure the bag to your craft or to secure additional items to your bag. Both were easy to open and quick to seal when needed. Due to the wide mouth opening, the Expedition DriDuffel is easier to pack, but the small mesh stash pockets in the Panga make it easier to locate important items like keys.

The Watershed Colorado and Watershed Aleutian excelled in this category, with well-placed attachment D rings and handles. When you lash these bags down, you can be confident that they will not burst open if dragged through some waves. In addition, the ZipDry system is simple to open and close. The large mouth opening of the Colorado makes it easier to pack and to find what you’re looking for without having to rip everything out. On the other hand, the feature-rich design of the Aleutian enables you to have a specific spot for all your equipment needs.

The Sea to Summit Big River and Osprey Ultralight do very well in this category as well, with simple, straightforward designs. Neither has any additional straps for carrying, but both have a good shape and are easy to pack and close. The Big River has multiple attachment points making it easy to secure. Additionally, the Big River features a white interior lining that helps brighten the inside of the bag so you can more easily see the contents and quickly locate the item you need. That being said, any bag that’s taller than it is wide is a bit more challenging to root around in and pull out something hiding in the bottom, so organization is key.

The Yeti Panga, Sea to Summit Hydraulic, SealLine Boundary, and NRS Bill’s Bag all boast convenient backpack straps. When heavily loaded, the Hydraulic and Boundary packs are more comfortable to carry as they have a load-bearing waist belt (albeit a very basic non-padded one). The Bill’s Bag and Hydraulic backpack systems are fully removable, enabling you to streamline the bags if you want to lash them to a watercraft. The Bill’s Bag has a removable shoulder system, but extra loose straps are fully woven in, leaving trailing straps, something you don’t want in moving water. That said, the Bill’s backpack system was the quickest to remove, with the Hydraulic system following close behind.

Quality of Construction

You can’t expect your stuff to stay dry if rips and tears provide unwanted water channels. To excel at their job, these products need to be tough enough to hold up to the thrashings of your chosen adventure. We evaluated the (in)destructibility of the main compartment’s material and the components of each model, such as clips and straps.

The Yeti Panga is made out of super thick laminated high-density nylon. The body of this model is built to handle rocks, tree branches, and river debris and can even stand up to the rough handling of airline baggage claims. The backpack straps are fixed with metal carabiner-type fasteners that are secured to 2-ply webbing, providing confidence that the whole package will stay in one piece no matter what conditions your journey throws at you. We’ve been using it for years now, with not a single issue or complaint about its durability.

The Colorado Duffel and Aleutian Deck Bag also offer outstanding durability. Their polyurethane-coated nylon is resistant to tears and scratches and has the advantage of a flexible and lightweight profile. The webbing is thick single-ply nylon, and the D-rings are made out of a beefy Duraflex polymer that puts other plastic rings to shame. Watershed has a well-established reputation for well-wearing bags; our testers have owned Watershed bags that are watertight after eight years of frequent use. Treatment with the provided 303 Rubber Seal Protectant will help to keep the seal easy to open and close and will help reduce UV damage to the exterior of these bags.

The Expedition DriDuffel is made out of intensely thick TobaTex, with beefy straps and aluminum clips designed to see you through the worst of whatever is ahead. Both the SealLine Boundary and the Sea to Summit Hydraulic are similarly built, with impressive, durable fabric and reinforced seams, while the Hydraulic also boasts aluminum buckles.

Features

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Specific features are what make each model unique, and the manufacturers of these products have adorned them with various creative and sometimes subtle additions. We evaluated the functionality of each bag’s features and kept track of the included lash points, straps, closure systems, and any other unique additions and attributes like see-through windows or purge valves. This metric is important to consider when trying to determine the perfect model for your specific needs.

The Watershed Aleutian has the most impressive bells and whistles in this category. Sporting a reliable and submersible ZipDry closure, this bag has five attachment points to secure it down and additional attachment points for your bilge pump or spare paddle. On the outside, there is a mesh bag that can be adjusted to secure a water bottle. The see-through window is designed to carry a map or other documents like permits that you may want readily accessible and watertight. Our other Watershed bag, the Colorado Duffel, also features the ZipDry closure, the best watertight closure we’ve seen. Either of these bags can also be easily attached to a craft using one of the 4+ D-rings securely fastened to the exterior.

The Yeti Panga also shines in this category. It’s built like a duffel bag but has removable backpack straps for comfortable hands-free carrying. Most dry bags tend to be just one giant bag, but the Panga features two internal zippered mesh pockets that help make it easier to store and find small items. The closure system is also the most unique of any of the products we tested. A large HydroLok zipper runs down the midline of the top of the bag — this zipper is heavy-duty, easy to close, and is simple to confirm that it has been completely sealed. Last but not least, the Panga boasts six lash points made of double-stitched webbing for easy, secure attachment to any craft.

The Ether HydroLock is another very impressive bag. Though it appears simple, it has numerous subtle features that make it exceptionally functional. Like the Colorado Duffel, it closes with a zip-top system before rolling down and clipping like most dry bags. It has a large window on the front to easily see what you’re grabbing, and the flattened shape (rather than cylindrical) further aids in locating small items quickly. The entire top is extra wide — wider than the bag itself — once again helping you more easily find what you’re looking for, and a single D-ring allows it to be clipped to your boat or bag.

The Sea to Summit Big River has a more common design but features four welded TPU lash patches and two plastic D-rings at the top. With such beefy lash points, you can be confident the Big River will stay attached to wherever you fasten it, as long as your rigging skills are equally matched. The bag’s lip is also reinforced, which helps make a more complete seal when rolled and secured. And one of our favorite features of this bag is the white interior, a detail that makes it much easier to see what you’re looking for.

The Bill’s Bag, Sea to Summit Hydraulic, and SealLine Boundary all have comfortable backpack straps that can be removed when you don’t need them. Both the Boundary and the Hydraulic have useful additional straps like a sternum strap and webbing waist belt to help you cart your gear easily from place to place. The Bill’s Bag also has these features, but the sternum strap is so low as to be basically useless for anyone shorter than 6 feet. The Boundary’s backpack harness is very involved to remove and reattach, with straps that have to be unthreaded and several straps and buckles that are left behind on the bag after the harness is off. In contrast, the Bill’s Bag and Hydraulic harnesses are easily removed by aluminum buckles, making it a matter of seconds to turn your dry bag into a backpack when needed.

The SealLine Discovery View is noteworthy for its compression abilities, using a one-way valve to allow the user to force air out of the bag. When you are tight on space and want to keep your gear dry, this is a handy bag to have on hand. When packing gear into the back of a whitewater kayak, or the hatch of a touring kayak, we were grateful to have this feature on hand. This bag also boasts translucent material, enabling the quick location of items.

The Sea to Summit View Dry Sack also has a convenient window. Additionally, it further helps you locate that rogue tube of Chapstick by contrasting the exterior with a white background. The Aleutian Deck Bag offers a clear window with a plastic backing on the bag’s front so you can slot your map or permits in an easily viewable window.

Finally, the Earth Pak Original has a single adjustable (unpadded) strap that makes it easy to carry to and from the beach, hands-free. It also comes with a clear cell phone case, though it’s too short for most of today’s oversized smartphones. We tried both with the very tall LG V60 ThinQ and the bulky iPhone 12 Pro Max, and both were too tall to seal this little bag shut. The Outdoor Products 3-Pack is also neat because, for one of the lowest prices of any model we tested, you get not one but three dry bags. They’re a little lacking in some other departments but are convenient for keeping small items contained within larger bags. The 2, 4, and 10-liter pouches allow you to choose what size you need that day, all for one minimal price.

Conclusion

From paddleboarding to whitewater expeditions, dry bags are essential to any water person’s gear arsenal. Whether you are trying to protect expensive electronic equipment, need backpacking specific gear, or just want to avoid waterlogged clothes for the drive home from the lake, this review covers the in’s and out’s of the best models on the market. We spent months learning everything there is to know about these products so you don’t have to, and when it’s time to pull the trigger and buy your own, you’ll know exactly what to get so you can leave the water in the lake.

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