Using a waterproof bag is the ideal way to protect essentials afloat. Toby Hodges tested a range of current backpacks and cylinder drybags to identify which is best for purpose
Once a novelty, then a go-to item for dinghy sailors, a drybag is now a must have for all sailors and watersports enthusiasts. After all, why would you not keep your kit and valuables waterproof when afloat? But with so many options on the market it can be difficult to choose the best waterproof bag for your needs.
We chose a range of bags from 25lt to 50lt as typical options for taking for a day ashore and soon found that these are largely ‘get what you pay for’ items.
If just taking layers ashore/to the beach, a cheap dry tube style bag will be fine, albeit not overly durable or practical in use. Also the typical single shoulder strap these have is not comfortable when the bag is laden.
It is arguably a better investment to choose a more robust backpack or duffel style bag with external pockets, more comfort features and better waterproofing. It should last longer, better protect your kit and be more comfortable to carry.
Overboard and Aquapac are two specialist companies in this market, so we included one of each style bag from both companies.
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The bags are not designed to be fully submerged, however with different companies listing different waterproofing claims, we felt a submersion test was the best way to compare waterproofing – a simulation perhaps of falling overboard with a bag on your back.
Actually, they are so buoyant when properly sealed that they would make a useful aid to hold on to if you did fall in.
The results were quite surprising, particularly if you were thinking a cylinder roll top would keep the water out the best. We have also been using the bags regularly over a couple of months to evaluate their comfort and ergonomics.
Each bag was lashed underwater for 10 minutes before seeing if it had leaked and measuring any water ingress.
Bear in mind that it is very hard to actually pull a bag with air in it underwater, so they were kept only at or just below surface level, which is still more than is ever likely or that they are designed to protect against – waterproof bags are typically rated to IP66, which certifies they can handle powerful water jets from any angle.
Best waterproof bag: Backpacks and duffels
Overboard 30lt Pro Sports Backpack
British brand Overboard specialises in waterproof bags and cases with an impressively extensive range and a clear, intuitive website to help you make a suitable choice.
This backpack is a well considered design for dinghy trips ashore and was thus a go-to choice for a week’s vacation, where we used it everyday.
Features I particularly grew to like are the adjustable chest straps and sternum straps which help make it feel like a comfortable hiking backpack, the front mesh for stashing a layer and the side pocket for keeping a water bottle to hand. There is also a small internal pocket for an iPad.
Empty weight: 1.21kg
Waterproofing: [300ml ingress] 6/10
Verdict: Well designed, practical and feels durable. A great all-rounder.
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Red 40lt Kit Bag
We selected this bag as our joint winner of our test. There’s a lot to like about this bag and it’s easy to understand why Red’s founder tells me they have become extremely popular.
It’s stylish and light weight, with smooth zips designed not to snag, and the best part is that it’s made out of recycled plastic bottles (TPU). And the zips and seals really work too – this was one of only two bags not to let a drop of water in during our submersion test.
The duffel style design can be carried conventionally over the shoulder or has detachable shoulder straps for use as a backpack. There is one large padded pocket inside which is separate to the interior – ideal for keeping either valuables or wet items separate – plus two more external pockets, so you are spoilt for choice of where to keep essentials.
Clips at each make it easy to attach to the boat to prevent it falling overboard and there’s a sturdy handle too. I scratched my head over the removable inner liner for a while until realising its a changing mat – nice!
Empty weight: 1.4kg
Waterproofing: Dry. 10/10
Verdict: Stylish design is backed up by quality construction and waterproofing.
Zhik 30lt Drybag
An aesthetically and ergonomically pleasing backpack, this is arguably the most stylish of those tested, which encourages use as an everyday bag without you feeling like a marine or camping nerd. The smooth outer nylon material is particularly tactile.
A top feature is the carrying comfort thanks to 3D mesh lining back supports, thick and wide padded shoulder straps and compression straps to reduce bulk. That said, there are no chest straps for heavier loads and an external zipped pocket could be handy to supplement the water bottle pouch. Inside there’s a double pocket, one of which is zipped.
Empty weight: 860g
Waterproofing: [300ml ingress] 6/10
Verdict: Most comfortable to carry for its size and looks great, albeit minimal on features.
Aquapac 25lt Waterproof Backpack
A very light and handy rucksack, with useful external pockets, including large water bottle holders and a removable back support. The shoulder straps are breathable and there are waist and chest straps for hiking comfort. Reflective material is used and the seams are taped.
Inside is a fluorescent yellow pocket which makes it easy to separate, find and retrieve specific contents without needing to pull out everything from the main chamber. There’s also a dedicated key pocket and reflective material is incorporated.
Empty weight: 740g
Waterproofing: [750ml ingress] 2/10
Verdict: Light, compact and inexpensive, good for the commute or a run/cycle ashore, but not the most durable or protective bag.
Yeti Panga 50lt
We voted this Yeti Panga as out pick of the litter in terms of robustness. This is the veritable Hummer of durable kit bags.
The Panga is among a range of Yeti kit we’ve used and abused regularly this season, all of which has come out favourably and as ‘get what you pay for’ items. Your eyes may water when you see the price, but you can be assured not a drop will find its way into this bag.
The robustness and quality of construction shines through. A laminated high density nylon is used for the bag’s construction, which is really hard wearing, but it is the near bullet-proof moulded EVA padded bottom and the size of the patented teeth on the zip which make you instantly realise this is a no-nonsense product.
There are six lashing points, and the handles at each end and buckles feel sturdy enough to haul a boat out with.
When you pull the zip fully closed it’s easy to tell the bag is hermetically sealed, as it becomes a giant cushion – and indeed can make a useful seat, even with just air inside. There are two zipped mesh pockets within.
If there are any negatives it’s that it is heavier and harder to stow flat than others (arguably the seat element offsets that though), and that you can snag your fingers on the zip’s enormous teeth.
Empty weight: 2.4kg
Waterproofing: Dry. 10/10
Verdict: Reassuringly robust, a bag which should last a lifetime.
Best waterproof bag: Cylinder drybags
Gill Cylinder 50lt
A useful feature which divides this Gill model from most other or smaller rolltop cylinder bags are the removable shoulder straps, which allow you to carry it like a backpack.
This is the largest volume bag on test, capable of swallowing a stack of provisions, or wet weather gear or wetsuits for a family, so being able to spread the load equally over both shoulders has proven beneficial.
Made from puncture-resistant PVC tarpaulin, it has welded seams and a flat base. A useful feature is the semi transparent strip which allows you to see some of the contents, and a flat base for standing upright.
This fared the best of the rolltop bags in the submersion test.
Empty weight: 800g
Waterproofing: [100ml ingress] 8/10
Although a classic rolltop-style bag, this has a couple of useful extra features in the removable shoulder strap and a robust grab handle.
Again, it’s PVC tarpaulin material with welded seams and uses three or four rolls to seal the top, which has a hard flap to promote a better seal. However, this didn’t prevent water from penetrating on submersion.
Overboard do a 60lt version with padded shoulder straps, plus waist and chest straps, which is an alternative to the Gill bag and would suit those who want to carry larger/heavier loads.
Empty weight: 730g
Waterproofing: [500ml ingress] 5/10
Aquapac 25lt drybag
The smallest and cheapest on test, this is a no-frills simple and affordable rolltop bag for taking on a dinghy run or paddleboarding. It is made from vinyl and has a removable shoulder strap.
It had the same amount of saturation as the Overboard rolltop during the submersion test.
Best feature? The high visibility colour.
Empty weight: 499g
Waterproof rating: 5/10
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