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Dry Bags are designed to keep whatever is inside dry from the elements outside. Occasionally, people also use dry bags to keep something wet inside and keep whatever is outside, dry. A wetsuit is a good example of keeping something wet inside so your car stays dry on the way home. Their use is becoming more common as we venture more outdoors than ever before.
Simple right? So then why are there so many different types? Because each has a primary use depending upon what you are going to use it for. Some of the top uses for a are kayaking, paddle-boarding, boating, sailing, canoeing, rafting, skiing and snowboarding, diving, snorkeling, hiking, beach-going, fishing, hunting, surfing, windsurfing, kite surfing, camping almost any activity where you need to keep your gear dry.
How to Choose the Right Dry Bag
Start with these three basic questions to determine which is best for you:
How much gear do you need to take with you?
Are you going to have to carry the dry bag a long-distance?
Do you need ready access to items?
How Much Gear to Take: This is going to decide the size of the dry bag you are going to need. If it is a day trip and you're mostly taking personal items, then a 20-40L dry bag with probably do the trick. If you are going for several days and need to pack shoes, jackets, pants, and larger gear then you are probably best to look at a 60-80L dry bag. A week-long trip with lots of gear, a 100L is about the biggest you'll want to look at. Any bigger than 100L, they get really difficult to carry and will be very heavy. As a rule, take what is needed, and don't overpack.
If you are a frequent outdoor adventurer, you'll find that you have several different dry bags in your gear locker. Besides the color preferences, you'll end up finding what works right for each adventure.
How Far Are You Carrying It: This will dictate what type of carrying option you'll need. If you are going to hike a far distance, then a Backpack Dry Bag will be best. They tend to be in the 30-60L range, as anything bigger is too difficult to carry. If you need a larger bag, you're probably going to use a handle or shoulder strap and not carry it very far.
Ready Access to Items: If you are going to need ready access to cell phones, flashlight, or water bottles, then make sure you get a dry bag with outside zipper pocket and mesh pockets. Some bags also have MOLLE or accessory straps that allow for fishing poles, bedrolls, and other items to be attached. If you want your valuables kept really safe, then look for bags with interior pockets.
Most dry bags are made from PVC material with high-frequency welded seams so they will be watertight. Good dry bags are made from .5mm 500D PVC Tarpaulin material and tougher bags are made from .52mm 500D PVC Tarpaulin. The higher the number the thicker the material. Remember, you still want the dry bag to float in case it goes overboard and easy form to the contents, so this range of material thickness is ideal.
The major differences between dry bags are the design, size, number, and location of pockets, carrying straps, external loops or attachment places, and closing.
Dry Bag Closing: There are two primary ways of closing a dry bag: Roll-Top and Zipper methods.
Roll-Top duffle bags typically have a very large opening, usually as wide as the bag itself. The dry bag material is waterproof inside and outside and is closed by pinching the top of the bag together and rolling the top into itself, three times. This rolling will prevent the water from entering through the top. After rolling the ends of the rolled top are clipped together forming a top bag loop or attached to the sides. Whichever method is used, you want to make sure the closure is tight to the bag to prevent water entry. Side clip bags usually also have a top-over strap for additional securing.
Larger Roll-Top Duffle bag has you close it the same way by rolling the top into itself at least three times, but then usually have side and top cinch clips. You want the bag as tight as possible to the content to prevent water entry.
The second closure method is by zipper. The zipper should be waterproof, water-tight, or air-tight to work. The splash-proof or water-resistant zipper will leak and your gear will get wet. Good duffle dry bags with air-tight zippers usually have air-release valves. Once you fill the duffle and zip the air-tight zipper, you have trapped air inside along with your gear. If you're worried about it being washed overboard, then leave it as it will be more buoyant with the air inside. If you're carrying it, then push the air out of it with the air-release value, and your bag will reduce in size to what is being carried and will be easier to manage.
There are various other dry bags, such as cell phone bags, camera bags, document bags to name a few but have limited utility. The majority of dry bags in the market are 20-80L in size with multiple pockets, straps, and attachment options. Looking at reviews is a good idea to understand how people are using them and their opinions on the bag.
Stay Dry and Go Outdoors!