Are Dry Bags Really Waterproof?

Keeping your equipment dry while in your kayak is one of your top priorities. However, this can be difficult to achieve given the amount of space available in your kayak, and how readily these vessels can roll over in the water. This is why a lot of kayakers tend to use dry bags. These bags are designed to keep everything dry, even if you should end up in the water. But are they really waterproof?

Dry bags are typically waterproof, however, the quality of the dry bag and the materials it’s made from determine its effectiveness. As too does the environment and circumstances you’re using it in.

Defining Waterproofness

We all believe we understand what waterproof means, in that something will remain safe even in water, but that is an oversimplification of the definition. Even more so when you take into account “waterproof” gear.

There are several tests that determine how effective an item is against water, with the main one being the Ingress Protection Rating, aka IP. However, while this scale is the most universally used, it isn’t how the effectiveness of dry bags are measured.

waterproof bags for kayaking

Dry bags and their waterproofness are measured using the Hydrostatic Pressure Test. Instead of determining how deep the item can be submerged before taking on damage (like the IP scale), this test looks at how readily the material of an object resists water penetration.

The issue here is while the HPT informs us of how effective dry bags are against certain downpours of rain, e.g. light drizzle to torrent rain, it doesn’t say anything about submersion. Consequently, kayakers are left without a solid means of measuring how effective their chosen dry bag is.

Types and Differences

To better understand why the question of being waterproof isn’t as simple as a yes or no answer, we need to look at the way dry bags are marketed.

As a general rule, dry bags are advertised as being able to keep your equipment dry and safe no matter the conditions it’s subjected to. What is more, a lot of brands use wording that implies that all dry bags are made equal, e.g. they all do the same job. This is far from true.

In fact, there are two main types of dry bags: dry sacks and (authentic) dry bags. The reason we mention authenticity here is because dry bags are the original design, while dry sacks are a lighter adapted version.

Dry Bags

The archetypal dry bag is the more effective at water protection out of the two options. This is because it’s made from heavier fabrics, designed to withstand greater depths of submersion (should that happen).

Due to the fabric being used, these bags are heavier to carry than their lighter counterparts, which is often why people can overlook them in favour of dry sacks. What is more, they’re not designed to be carried like a rucksack and/or bag, so can be more taxing to move from your kayak to your car and vice versa.

Dry Sacks

Unlike dry bags, dry sacks are lighter in weight and thus more easy to carry around. Nonetheless, don’t let the name fool you, as these items aren’t meant to be used alone. In fact, dry sacks should be used inside a dry bag.

This is because dry sacks are water resistant, much like a light “waterproof” jacket designed for light showers — it can withstand some water, but not all water. Consequently, if your dry sack becomes submerged, your equipment will get water and possibly even damaged, especially electronics like your smartphone.

If the differences are made clear, why is there confusion between the two? The most common reason is because brands refer to dry sacks as dry bags, which gives a sense of better durability. Therefore, research into individual brands, materials used, etc becomes key to finding the right bag for the job.

Dry Bag Seals

Regardless which option you go for, another factor which determines the waterproofness of your bag is how it’s sealed.

The closure method of your bag might seem like a minute detail at first, but because various dry bags have different means of closing, this small detail plays a huge role. For example, some bags use a folding method, in which you roll the top of the bag down several times before fastening it closed. Whereas some bags merely have a zip.

best dry bags

Out of the two above examples, the fold down bag would prove more effective against water, due to how tightly sealed the opening is. But, in terms of accessibility, this type of bag will be the most tedious to open and grab your equipment from, especially if you’re in a hurry.

Therefore, while closure is important to take into account, it needs to be done alongside determining the accessibility of your items — do you want total waterproofness at the cost of accessibility, or would you rather have easier access to your equipment at the cost of water protection?

Splashproof, Water Resistant, and Submersible?

We’ve discussed types of bags, but what about their capabilities? These are often less talked about, simply because few people outside of kayaking are aware that there’s differences in water protection when it comes to dry bags.

Splashproof

The least protective of all the bags are splashproof ones, for as the name suggests, these can only handle minimal water damage. They’re not meant to go into the water at all, and are only useful when used as a secondary layer of protection, such as inside a dry sack.

Nevertheless, while the least effective for waterproofness, they are highly useful and valuable for those who want lightweight, additional protection when out on the water.

Water Resistant

When it comes to water resistant bags, these are heavier made bags and thus able to take more abuse. However, they’re only designed for a short dip in the water, for as short a period of time as possible.

This is why most kayakers use them inside of a dry sack and/or their backpack, to give extra protection when you need it. It could be argued that confident kayakers, who hardly ever roll their vessels, may find these safe to use. However, generally speaking, they won’t offer much protection if submerged for prolonged periods of time.

Submersible

If you want a bag that can handle a lot of water abuse, and keep everything inside dry, these are the only dry bags for you.

Not only are they made of sturdier material, they have special seam seals to ensure that water can’t get in. Nonetheless, while this type of option is by far the wisest choice for kayakers, submersible bags still can’t guarantee 100% protection from water. Therefore, it would be wise to double up and use a dry sack still, simply to give better peace of mind.

That being said, provided you don’t end up in the water more than you stay in your kayak, only using a submersible dry bag on its own should prove effective enough.

Other Considerations

Alongside choosing the right dry bag (or sack, as might be the case), you also need to be aware of extras and adaptations of the design, such as kayak dry bags, and mobile phone dry bags.

These separate options have been specifically designed with certain water based activities in mind, thus making them better suited to individual needs.

For example, the kayak dry bag normally has a tapered shape, so it can fit in the end of your kayak. However, while these bags have been specially designed, brands still suggest you place them in hatches and/or utilise dry sacks for optimum protection.

In regards to mobile phone dry bags, as the name suggests, these are specifically for your mobile devices. The reason being is because most dry bags and dry sacks aren’t designed with phone protection in mind. As a result, brands started to make smaller dry sacks for electronic devices, designed out of material able to better withstand wet conditions.

That being said, very few mobile phone dry bags are able to be submerged for long periods of time, therefore meaning that 100% protection still isn’t guaranteed. If you want protection for deeper depths, you need to look at professional bags/storage intended for activities such as snorkeling.

Conclusion

Dry bags can be waterproof, but it depends on the type you use and how you use them. This is because they come in a range of different waterproofness, which mean some bags fare better in harsh conditions than others.

If you want the best possible protection, multiple layers are the way to go, e.g. a dry sack within a dry bag; this is even true of the submersible dry bags we mentioned earlier. What is more, for protection of your electronic devices, you need to invest in dry bags specifically made for them.