I tested eight options to find out which will actually keep your stuff dry
I’ve been Outside’s Gear Guy for four years now, but for a decade before that, I was a river guide in California and Oregon. Living on the water meant I had an obsessive relationship with all kinds of bags and boxes and contraptions designed to keep my gear and food from getting soaked. Nowadays, even though I spend less time on the water, I still use many of these devices for extra insurance when I’m kayaking, camping, or hiking. If you have gear you want to protect, here are eight solid options.
Pelican 1450 Medium Case ($90)
Best For: Camera equipment
Most of the professional photographers I know store their gear in one of these during adventures, not only because they’re fully waterproof, but also because the plastic exterior is so tough you could run it over with your Tacoma. A friend of a friend once told me he saw a roadside bomb in Iraq go off and destroy a Humvee. The Humvee had a Pelican case like this in it that came through unscathed. Inside, there's a customizable foam lining that keeps your electronics safe even if they get jostled around. as well as a purge valve that keeps your precious gear cozy in the unpressurized bowels of an airplane. You can also padlock the whole thing shut.
Ammo Can (Around $10)
Best For: Weed paraphernalia
Like the pop of a champagne cork or the crack of a beer, there is something really special about the sound of an aluminum ammo can when it opens. As long as they’re in good shape, these cans are watertight, damn near indestructible, and modular, so you can easily stack them in the back of your truck or on a raft. Heads up: ammo cans do not float, so avoid using them for your most precious gear.
NRS 110L Bill’s Bag ($140)
Best For: Extended river trips
This bag, or one like it, is overkill if you’re car camping or traveling internationally. But it’s absolutely necessary for a trip through the Grand Canyon, where everything you own is in danger of being soaked. I like this size in particular because it can swallow a tent, sleeping bag, and enough clothes for a week. The shoulder straps also make it easy to schlep on and off the boat. Pro tip: stuff your gear in a duffel and throw that inside the bag. That way you don’t have to dig through the top of the drybag to find gear buried at the bottom.
Watershed Ocoee ($112)
Best For: Electronics, maps, and first-aid kits
If you don’t want to rummage through a big drybag to find your band-aids, store them here. I’ve also seen people toss in a mirrorless camera and shove it in the front of a kayak. The reason it’s so expensive: the top has a locking zipper and roll-top closure, so you can know it will never leak, even if it’s fully submerged.
Fishpond Thunderhead Large Submersible ($400)
Best For: International travel
If I’m going to strap a bag to the top of a Land Rover in Africa or a yak in Nepal, I want it to be this one. Unlike some of the other durable duffels out there, the Thunderhead is 100 percent waterproof. (Many others leak eventually.) To test that claim, I sprayed it down with a power washer and dunked it in my hot tub, without a drop getting through. (Another editor put it through a car wash, with similar results.) Oh, and it’s just as tough or tougher than the duffels you usually see strapped yaks. I dragged it behind my car and it barely saw a scratch.
LifeProof FRE iPhone 7 Case ($90)
Best For: Protecting your phone at all times
I have beat the living shit out of this case, even dunked it in the ocean and in several rivers, and it has always managed to keep my screen safe and my phone dry. Like any rugged case, it can make interacting with your screen a little harder, and connecting headphones is a pain in the ass. But those are inconveniences I’m willing to put up with for peace of mind.
Ziplock bags ($4.50 for 28)
Best For: Backup
I’m sure many of you reading this have a story about how, on its own, a ziplock baggie failed to keep something dry. But using them as a second line of defense within a drybag can be effective. I make sure I have at least a dozen when I’m in the field, and I use them to wrap food, electronics, and anything else I want to keep extra dry. I also use them to store maps while rafting or backpacking, because they’re easy to access, unlike a drybag.
Trash-compactor bags ($19 for 12)
Best For: Organization
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve suggested trash-compactor bags in this column. But here I go again. When I’m living out of a drybag on a river trip, or a backpack in the woods, they allow me to segregate wet or sandy gear so it doesn’t contaminate everything else. I prefer compactor bags over standard trash bags because they’re considerably more puncture-resistant.