What is a Dry Bag? Why Every Outdoor Lover Should Have One

Do you enjoy outdoor water activities like kayaking and boating? Well, chances are you already know what a dry bag is. However, if you’re new to outdoor water sports and activities such as paddling, rafting, snorkeling or other exciting water adventures, then you surely will want to know how valuable a dry bag is! But, they’re not just for using on the water and here’s why!

What is a Dry Bag - Kayak Bag - Always On Liberty

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What is a Dry Bag 

“Why Every Outdoor Lover Should Have One!”

What is a Dry Bag - Always On Liberty

What is a dry bag?

A dry bag is a reusable, waterproof, duffle bag that keeps your gear dry as a bone even if the it falls overboard or get’s submersed.

Dry bags, also known as kayak bags, are most notably used during outdoor activities such as kayaking, paddle boarding, canoeing, rafting, and snorkeling.

These cool waterproof sacks are an essential piece of gear to use in extreme sports such as snowboarding and skiing as well as dry land activities such as hiking, backpacking and biking.

A dry bag is a necessary essential to keep contents from getting wet by sealing in an airtight manner.

But, here’s an interesting note. But, these dry bags aren’t just for using during water activities! They can be used outdoors in any weather, any season and for any adventure in the water, on the beach or even in the woods!

✰ READ MORE ✰   Beach Camping in the U.S. – How to Find Places to Camp on the Water!

What makes a dry bag different from other outdoor gear bags?

Dry Bag Secured to Kayak Bag - Always On Liberty

Dry bags are super tough to survive the rigorous abuse on the water, under the water, on land, in the rain or even in the snow. They are meant to handle the stress users put them through.

The soft and versatile, outdoorsy luggage is made of a TPU-laminated fabric, PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) tarpaulin or PU coated taffeta nylon. This material is, in part, what makes dry bags waterproof and ideal for outdoors.

And, instead of regular seam stitching, they are seam-sealed to prevent water infiltration.

Most dry bags come equipped with a detachable cross body strap that clips onto to both ends; enabling the user to wear it in the water or on the trail. There are others that may even have wearable configurations to that of a backpack.

Both styles are integral for carrying your gear on your body while leaving your hands free to carry your paddle or other gear and drag your kayak or canoe.

Do dry bags come in different sizes?

Sea to Summit Dry Bags - Camping Gear
Photo source: Sea to Summit

Roll-top dry bags also come in many different sizes to fit any outdoor adventure. Most dry bag measures each capacity in liters.

Most often, you’ll find them in 5 liter (5L) or 10 liter (10L) increments.

However, some companies like our favorite, Sea to Summit, come in all different capacities; even odd sizes. They have a great 50L or 75L Dry Backpack. Both of which you can wear on your back.

There are also small dry bags which are about 2 liters (2L) or 3 liters (3L) that can protect your bare essentials. They also come in much larger capacities all the way up to 100L huge waterproof duffles to carry a multitude of supplies from wet suits, dry stores and other gear you want to keep dry.

A good rule of thumb is 1 liter (1L) holds approximately 1 quart. So, picture the contents of a quart mayonnaise jar fitting inside a 1L dry bag.

The size of your dry bag duffle will depend on the water activity your partaking in and duration of your adventure.

From a capacity perspective, there are typical basic sizes of dry compression sacks to hold specified amount of gear or belongings. 

If you’re only needing to pack a small amount of items such as your phone, car keys, a small point and shoot camera and a couple snack bars, a small dry bag is perfect for those instances.

For longer periods of time or your packing more belongings, for example your DSLR camera, GoPro, tripod and other gear, a medium size dry bag will suffice.

If you want to add a sweatshirt or dry change of clothes, you’ll want to bump it up to using a large dry bag.

And, if you’re going for an overnight boat camping adventure, you’re going to need not one, but a few extra large dry bags.

One is to protect your bedding while another for your clothes and personal gear. You may also need an additional one to carry your necessary camping gear and essentials.

Our experiences of a few hour kayak really only requires perhaps a 10L kayak bag to carry our pocket belongings, cellphone and solar power battery power bank and charging cable, satellite communicator, and of course, our vittles.

On a longer or cold day of paddling, we’ll each use a 20L dry bag to carry extra snacks, water bottles, a warm sweatshirt and/or rain jacket.

Now, if we’re going on a half day whale watch cruise or whole day sail, we both will share our 35L dry bag to carry and protect our gear from getting wet.

Not that we’ve done it, but if you’re going on a weekend kayak adventure, you may be inclined to use even upwards to a 65L dry bag to allow yourself more room for necessary essentials.

However, I highly recommend breaking your gear down to fit inside two 35L dry bags or a few 20L dry bags. The reason is two-fold.

One, if you pack everything in one single large bag and it acquires a hole or leak, that one bag that holds all of your gear is likely to get wet inside.

Should one of your dry bags fail, you still have the other ones to rely on as a backup. Packing your gear in separate smaller dry bags keeps your gear more organized and more manageable.

And two, it’s way easier to pack, carry and stuff smaller dry bags into your vessel than a single, elephant size dry bag (BTDT!). 

While larger kayak dry bags may be great for carrying lots of gear, do realize they may become to heavy to carry. They also may be cumbersome for stowing.

Smaller waterproof sacks allow you to negotiate fitting each into small compartments and awkwardly-shaped voids in your boat or kayak hold.

One important tip, always consider your weight for the watercraft you’re using your dry bag in. You certainly don’t want to overload your boat.

As well, you’ll need to evenly distribute the weight evenly throughout your vessel to help prevent listing or capsizing.

(“Listing” is a nautical term to describe when a vessel takes on water and/or tilts to one side.)

A extra large capacity dry bag is beneficial for stowing all of your separately-packed dry bags in your pickup truck bed. This ensures your gear is kept all together and kept twice as dry.

✰ READ MORE    Truck Bed Tent Camping – How to Camp in the Bed of Your Truck!

Do dry bags come in different colors?

Girl Sitting on Paddle Board with Dry Bag - Always On Liberty

Dry bags do come in all different colors.

However, if you’re going to be using a dry bag on the water, I urge you to choose your color wisely.

As an experienced kayaker and former Search and Rescue first responder, I highly recommend buying a dry bag in a bright color other than blue, green or black.

It’s because blue, green and black cannot be seen as easily in the water should your boat capsize with your dry bag.

Should you become incapacitated or not have ability to rewrite your kayak or get back into the boat, your brightly colored dry bag may be your only visual reference for aerial rescuers or rescue boats to find you.

So, my best advice is to use a dry bag on the water, stick to bright colors such as bright yellow, orange or hot pink.

If you will be using your dry bag while camping, hiking, or fishing alone, opt for bright colors for the same reason.

Should you get disoriented or lost, a bright color duffle can be seen better.

For those who want to keep your gear high and dry while hunting, orange is the best color to have on the hunting range. It is highly visible for other hunters see you and not mistaken you for game animals. And since wild game are colorblind anyways, they won’t see it.

Also, whether using your dry bag on the water or on land, I highly recommend making certain it has reflective tape for use at night. If a light source spots your dry bag, it will reflect making you more visible.

Another thing to think about is if you will use your dry bag in the hot summer.

Black and dark color dry bags absorb the sun’s heat. Thus, baking everything inside your dry bag.

You certainly don’t want that if you’re packing your camera equipment, electronic gear or your lunch! Take it from me, that chocolate bar will be a melted hunk of gooey mess.

So, as recommended earlier, stick with lighter and brighter colors that are more visible and reflect the sun.

Also, I highly recommend getting a dry bag with a clear viewing window so you can see the contents inside without having to open or rifle through your bag unnecessarily. Thus, leaving unprotected gear vulnerable to water damage.

✰ PRO TIP Using a carabiner, attach a whistle to the outside of your gear bag. Should you and your dry bag fall out of the boat, you can use the whistle to alert others of your presence in the water.

What can you put inside a dry bag

Kayak Bag - Dry Bags on Kayaks - Always On Liberty

Dry bags have many different uses to hold contents while keeping them dry.

Now, while dry bag manufacturers claim their totes are completely submersible and waterproof, I would err on the side of caution.

Again, don’t cheap out on your dry bag! Especially if you’re going to be toting your expensive camera gear, cellphone, and vehicle key fob.

That said, a dry bag is essential for transporting most anything you can carry and store on your watercraft with few exceptions.

Never store sharp objects or open blades in your dry bag as they can compromise the waterproof integrity of the bag. Dry bags aren’t intended for storing your hatchet, tent stakes, or anything else sharp and pointy.

If you are packing such items in your dry bag, wrap the object or protect sharp edges and points to prevent penetration or rubbing inside your storage sack.

How do you seal a dry bag?

Some dry bags come with hook and loop Velcro seals while others may not. But the roll-top design is the same.

Simply insert your dry contents into your waterproof duffle. Then, force just a little air (not all) to allow you to seal your sack. By leaving a little bit of air in your bag will allow it to float.

Seal the top of the bag using the velcro closure if your particular sack has one. Make certain every millimeter of hook and loop velcro adheres tightly to both sides. I will rub my fingers back and forth across the velcro closure a few times to ensure a good seal.

If it does not have a velcro closure, then put both top ends together and roll. Again, try to leave a little air in the bag if you’re taking it on a water adventure.

Then, tightly roll the top of the dry bag from the velcro closure down at least 3 times.

After, secure your bag using the male to female buckle clasp to hold the roll in place.

Should you leave air in your dry bag?

As mentioned above, there’s plenty of good reasons why you should leave a bit of air in your dry bag.

If you are taking a leisurely swim with it or snorkeling, you’re going to want to wear it on you. It’s the reason dry bags have a detachable cross-body strap.

But also, that little bit of air is beneficial if let your dry bag to float should you capsize on that white water rafting trip.

So, after packing your belongings inside your dry bag, squeeze out just a little air allowing it to seal, roll and clasp properly.

✰ READ MORE ✰ Best Day Cruise Experiences in the U.S. – Sun, Sea & Smiles!

Are dry bags totally waterproof?

White Water Rafting Dry Bags - Always On Liberty

Dry bags are supposed to be totally waterproof and fully submersible. Emphasizing the words ‘supposed to’, we’ve tried some off-brand dry bags that did not live up to their claims. 

Stick with dry bags manufactured and/or sold by reputable outdoor specialists. It’s also a good idea to read the reviews of each dry bag before purchasing.

✰ READ MORE ✰  Blue Spaces Linked to Boosting Mental Health & Well Being

✰ READ MORE Things to Do at Crystal River Florida – Complete Outdoor Guide

Can you use a dry bag as a life preserver or personal floatation device?

Girl Floating on a Dry Bag - Always On Liberty

If you’re headed out on the water in your kayak, canoe, paddle board or even wet bike, there’s some risk of capsizing or falling overboard.

You may be inclined to depend on your dry bag as a personal floatation device because it’s buoyant and floats. Don’t do that!


Dry Bags will not keep you from drowning!

Air can escape from the bag due to force of your body weight as you try to stay afloat on it. The materials used and manufacturing are not the same as a PFD or life jacket.

This is precisely the reason why we always recommend wearing a properly-fitted, serviceable, Coast Guard approved PFD (personal floatation device).

Always test your dry bag before taking it on the water

Before taking your roll-top bag on your water adventure, test it home first. Put a few items you don’t care about inside your duffle. Follow the manufacturer instructions on how to seal the top, roll and secure.

Submerge it in the bath tub several times. Give it a good hearty steady blast of water with your shower or garden hose if outside. Flip it upside down. Hold it underwater for several seconds or even minutes. Push it around.

After a few minutes of hardcore water integrity testing, dry the bag off, open it and empty the contents.

Are they dry? Your answer will dictate if you keep the bag or return it to the store or online vendor.

Even if your contents are totally dry, you may be inclined to protect your sensitive items such as camera, smartphone and key fob in a ziplock bag first. And then, pack the smaller dry bag into a larger dry bag with your other essentials.

How to care for your dry bag

Dry bags are pretty low maintenance. That said, if you don’t care for them properly, your dry bag material will break down.

Don’t abuse your water gear bag. Don’t drag it on the ground, kick or throw it. Even a simple splinter from an aging dock or stick on the ground could penetrate the bag construction. Then, it’s no longer warranted as waterproof.

But, there are other ways to keep your dry bag in prime condition.

Dry Bag Care and Maintenance 

      1. Never drag your dry bag over rough surfaces, thorns, cactus, etc.
      2. Keep sharp objects out of and away from your dry bag.
      3. Inspect before any use. Look for piercings, wear holes, rubs, tears and splitting seams.
      4. Always rinse off your stuff sack after every use. If it gets soiled (mud, grease, etc.), wash it with a mild soap and rinse thoroughly. Then, hang to dry thoroughly before storing.
      5. Never wash your dry bag in the washing machine or dry in the clothes dryer. Hang dry only!
      6. Always seal the velcro closure and buckle before storing. This helps keep spiders, bugs and vermin from taking naps, nesting or munching in your dry bag.
      7. Keep your dry bag away from fire. This includes campfires. Burning embers could land on and burn a hole in your bag.
      8. Keep your dry bag way from insect repellents, sunscreens, cleaners and other chemical solvents. Should you accidentally get any solvents on your dry bag, rinse immediately to prevent melting or deteriorating the material.

Do dry bags have an expiration date?

Dry bags don’t have an expiration date like your box of cereal. However, if you don’t take care of your dry bags properly, they won’t last as long as if you did.

So, to keep your waterproof duffle in tip top shape, you should closely monitor them.

Just like your Coast Guard approved life jacket or personal floatation device, you should always look for wear spots, holes, tears and splitting seams.

A good, durable dry bag can last upwards to even 10+ years if you take care of it properly.

What are ways to use a dry bag other than for kayaking?

Dry Bags with Kayaks and Tents - Always On Liberty

There are several reasons to use a dry bag. From using them on your paddle adventures to camping on land, they are an important essential that will keep you gear snug as a bug and bone dry.

      • Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddle Boarding
      • Snorkeling
      • Offshore Fishing
      • Inland Fishing
      • Hunting
      • Day Cruise Bag
      • Sightseeing
      • Boat or Jet Ski Adventures
      • White Water Rafting & Canyoning
      • Skiing and Snowboarding
      • Overlanding
      • Camping
      • Backpacking and Hiking
      • Motorcycling
      • Bicycling
      • RVing
      • Vehicle Rooftop Storage
      • Emergency Go Bag

 PRO TIP  Going on a charter fishing trip or sightseeing day cruise?  You’ll need to take important essentials to get you through your water adventure. A dry bag is an excellent choice to use as a boat tote! Check out our What to Pack in Your Day Cruise Boat Tote?

Where can you buy a dry bag?

You can find dry bags in camping stores and those specializing in water activities. They can be found in scuba or snorkeling shops as well as most kayak and paddle board rental companies. You may even see them in yacht clubs and camp stores.

You can also buy dry bags on Amazon or online camping or outdoor stores. 

One important note though, don’t be enamored by souvenir shops selling knock-offs. Trust me, THEY WILL LEAK!

Again, don’t cheap out on a dry bag. Research manufacturers that specialize in dry bags of stellar quality.

Wrapping up

Lisa with Kayak Dry Bag Dragging Kayak with Paddle on Grass - Always On Liberty

As you see, a dry bag isn’t just for kayaking or boating! These waterproof bags can also be used for motorcycling, overlanding, camping, hunting, fishing, and more!

They are great for keeping your gear and belongings dry wherever you paddle, ride or camp. But they’re also great visuals to help keep you safe on the water or on land!

Other great reads

Lifesaving Kayak Safety Tips for Beginners: Boating Safety

Blue Spaces Linked to Boosting Mental Health & Well Being

7 Leave No Trace Principles – Outdoor Ethics & Etiquette

Top Things to Do in MOAB Utah – Moab Visitors Guide


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