The Ultimate Guide to Waterproof Dry Bags And Cases

Dry bag

Our mission is to get people outdoors, not sell gear. That's why our guide starts with the core function that needs to be addressed, then helps you evaluate your options holistically, since sometimes you may not need any gear & can use what you have at home. We want you to think critically about what you need, which is personal to you with no right answer (some people go venture outside naked without any gear, survive & have a great time).

Core function: If you're on a water-based trip (e.g., kayaking or canoeing or hiking with numerous river crossings), you must keep your gear & clothes dry (imagine changing into wet clothes or getting into a wet sleeping bag). Even sometimes on land-based trips where you expect inclement weather, you want a place to keep your valuables (phone, wallet, keys, etc.) dry.

Is either the core function or the outdoor-specific gear made for it an essential?

Essential for certain trips that are water-based .

For rationale, read our 'what you really need' protip

What to use & how to choose

Key factors

Cool zippers, new waterproofing, etc... sometimes it's easy to get lost in all the hype (over-spending happens on features). Our guide focuses on the fundamental factors you should always keep in mind (thus, this short list is similar across all items). Then only at the end do we have some questions to get you thinking about other minor features.

We highly recommend reviewing Type or Style first, where we review what you can use to address the Core function--a regular item you have at home may work! The other factors are secondary & depend strongly on the Type or Style you've picked.

While we encourage you to use regular items wherever possible, as an outdoor gear shop, we only carry outdoor-specific products

Type or Style

We've organized the most commonly used items people use to address the Core function below, with example images, characteristics, features, etc.

Some people use just a regular plastic bag, but given how easy they tear, we really don't recommend them & don't include them as a "valid" item below for addressing this Core function. Soft waterproof cases & dry bags often don't have an IP rating, which is reserved more for electronic devices. Besides, these soft bags aren't usually submersible (yielding interesting uses), so it's hard to evaluate an IP rating.

Our category name Waterproof case (soft*) Dry bag
Example qualities & features Example images Waterproof case Dry bag
How to use & effectiveness Zipper seal (like a Ziplock bag). This can open under certain conditions, but it's not very likely Roll-top method (see Usage section), this is basically foolproof

Is it transparent?

Can you easily see where things are inside?

Generally (some may even allow you to still use a touchscreen!) Sometimes
Effect on secondary factors Price $10-$40 $20-200
Capacity

Like a toiletries bag

These cases are typically more flat & less voluminous than an actual toiletries bag, they're more designed for electronics

5 to 150 liters (wide range as the largest are basically frameless backpacks)
Weight

Up to 5oz

(142g)

Up to 30oz

(850g)

Rationale Less technical, thinner material More technical, thicker material

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

These are used differently, but both can be important depending on your trip

*We don't discuss hard cases here (which unlike soft cases, may have an IP rating, particularly if they're designed as underwater housing for electronic devices). There are different types of hard cases. For example:

  • Protective cases: Can be padded on the inside, and being waterproof is just one feature in addition to being crush proof & fire proof
  • Functional cases: A good example is underwater camera housing, a case that fits around specific cameras to allow you to operate it underwater

While these factors affect any type or style, we've only gathered specific data for dry bags. Waterproof cases have a limited range of capacities & aren't technical enough to be optimized for weight & size.

Price

One of life's certainties is the trade-off between price & quality. This creates an inherently unfair situation. If you save money today by buying something lower end, you'll end up replacing it more frequently, spending money & time each instance so that at the end, you probably haven't actually saved anything. On the other hand, if you decide to invest in something higher end, you'll need a lot more upfront money, and you need to be able to use the item frequently enough to make it worthwhile.

We developed our rental program to address this unfairness. We don't sell lower end items. But for our higher end items, we offer them for rent at up to 90% off retail price, generally well below the cost of buying even the cheaper option. That's a win-win!

It may seem like the price & quality trade-off is disappearing, because you can find a cheap version of almost anything for tens of dollars that still has good reviews (assuming the reviews are real). Remember 2 things:

  • Many reviews are written after only a trial use, first use, or infrequent use: We've seen entire review videos of gear done at home, which is very different than actually being outdoors!
  • The point of gear is to give you a good experience because you've already spent money to be on vacation from work! Don't let quality issues affect your relaxation

For gear specifically, the quality issues center around performance & durability.

For dry bags, performance & durability are linked (ripped fabric lets in water!). Therefore with lower end products, be especially concerned (e.g., maybe use it for non-electronics).

Methodology notes on prices shown on this page

Capacity (size)

This section just talks about dry bags. While waterproof cases differ in capacity as well, there's much less variation: at their smallest they will just hold a smartphone; at their largest, they will just hold a tablet computer. As you can imagine, price, weight, & size all increase with capacity. The size of waterproof case we carry is approved by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for carry-on luggage as a toiletries bag, and measures 6x9in (15x22 cm)

Dry bag (Liters)

5L

& below

10L 20L 40L 60L

80L

& above

. . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Examples For small personal effects (e.g., toiletries, electronics--some are sized just for a phone) For a change of clothes Standard for weekend trips, fits some gear, straps nicely to a kayak or even on the back of a bike Longer or group trips (similar to backpacks, referred to as dry packs)
Effect on other factors Price Less expensive More expensive
Weight & Size Lighter Heavier
Rationale While effect on other factors follows above trends (larger capacity = more material = greater price & weight), there is significant product variation across brands, we have not teased out "breakpoints"

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Not as versatile for multiple use cases

20L are versatile for most outdoor uses, therefore more worth the money; it's a great size to strap to a kayak, bicycle, or fit into a hiking backpack

Not as versatile for multiple use cases; these may not strap or fit well to kayaks Most people would not need something this technical

Weight & Size (Compactness) for Backpacking

If you're thru-hiking 20+ miles (32+km) per day, every advantage counts! In this case, size refers to compactness. You can carry more gear in the same size backpack if all of it is very compact, or for more weight savings, you can get a smaller size pack.

Dry bags provide a level of water protection that most backpackers won't need. Those that do may be better served with a dry pack (which, per the Capacity table above, is just a large dry bag with the same shoulder & waist straps as a backpack, albeit without a frame), thereby combining the weights & functions of both dry bag & hiking backpack.

Lightweight dry bags are often differentiated and called dry sacks. They can be substantially less durable, so we'd caution re-using one for an actual water-based trip (e.g., kayaking)

Dry bag

20 Liter Capacity

Regular Light Ultralight
Weight

6.5oz

(184g)

4.7oz

(133g)

1.8oz

(50g)

Effect on other factors Price $45 $25 $27
Rationale Less technical material More technical material

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Versatile for most outdoor uses, therefore more worth the money

Not necessarily that much lighter (this is already a fairly lightweight object) but could be much less durable
Methodology notes

Minor features that may be important

Here, we give you a list of questions to start thinking about minor features. We hope our approach of savings these features for last gets you to more critically think about what you need & not get caught up in the hype of what's cool and over-spend your budget.

  • Does it have straps or is it easy to strap down (e.g., to a kayak)?

What we carry

General Notes

  • We choose what we carry based on extensive research on what's the best value to our customers (e.g., price given performance & durability features) across all the top brands. We specifically do not carry every brand & model; for details on why we do/don't carry certain items in the How To Choose section
  • Buy prices are MSRP with tax, i.e., what you see is what you pay. Prices may differ in-store due to change in models or discounts, but this is rare. If we don't sell what we rent, we list MSRP value with tax
  • Rent prices are the starting prices; enter trip dates on our Catalog to get exact prices (based on total trip length, not per day!). We also don't charge sales tax, an automatic savings of almost 10%!
Type or style Waterproof case Dry bag
Model Seal Line E-Case Discovery Deck Dry Bag
SealLine E-Case SealLine Discovery Deck Dry Bag

Buy

MSRP with tax

$30 $65
Rent $5+ $6+
Capacity

7X10in

18X24cm

Approved by Transportation Safety Agency (TSA) as a carry-on toiletries container

20L
Weight

2oz

60g

17oz

500g

When you rent online, we will pick a model for you. You can change the model if you pick-up in-store, subject to availability. On the Options page of our online order process, you can also select options or write-in any preferences. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others. We will only pick something else if it doesn't conflict with your choices indicated on the Options page; moreover, if there's a major functional difference (e.g., capacity), we will attempt to contact you first

Usage tips

Dry bag

Click to see full size

How to use a dry bag

Source: https://strikesurvival.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Waterproof_Dry_Bag_Instructions.jpg

To seal a dry bag, follow the diagram. Going clockwise from the top left image:

  1. Line up the ends of the bag
  2. Roll over the top at least 3 times
  3. Fold the top
  4. Clip together

Dry bags keep water out, so therefore they can keep water in! That makes them pretty versatile, some other uses below:

  • Transport water
  • Fill with water to use as a portable kettle-bell for exercise
  • Separate damp clothes
  • Fill with air or clothes to use as a pillow
  • In a pinch, fill with air to use as a floatation device

Maintenance tips

Repairing

Rips, tears, holes: Given the nature of this item, it can be difficult to repair it in a way that it is still usable. Our best recommendation is to use a Tenacious Tape patch with liquid seam sealant over the patch (to help bind it to the original material and seal off any loose ends)

Storing

Don't put it away or close any lid(s) until it's fully dry

We have a general protip on how to store & maintain gear that we highly recommend reviewing as well. If you send us video or a good photo series, we may be able to help you evaluate your repair needs.

The exact numbers (e.g., weights, dimensions, prices, etc.) used were updated as of September 2019 . That said, there usually isn't dramatic change; we update & review the market roughly biennially.


Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, the only outdoor gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow gear!