Packing for Sea Kayak Expeditions and How to Choose Dry Bags and Dry Boxes
The following lists all the dry bags, dry boxes, and mesh sacks that I use for sea kayak camping trips along with the gear I typically store in each and where I typically put them in a sea kayak. Having the right dry bags and dry boxes makes loading your kayak faster and less frustrating. It will also help you fit more gear into less space, so you can go on longer trips or use a lower volume, more efficient, higher performance kayak that may fit you better than the size kayak you thought you needed in order to go on camping trips. Kayak Academy has all our dry bags custom made in the USA. Our dry bags are heavy duty compared to most because ours are intended for kayaking whereas most drybags on the market are designed for backpacking with watersports as a secondary market. Similarly, none of the K.A. drybags have circular end pieces, our dry bags are simply made of two flat pieces of fabric welded together at the edges. When stuffed full, the bottom of our bags assume a slightly pointed shape whereas bags with circular end pieces create a flat circular bottom. Flat bottom bags save space in backpacks because backpacks have flat bottoms. However, in kayaks we slide one bag in after another and flat bottomed bags jam sooner reducing the number of bags you can shove into the end compartments.
With the exception of some very small bags for electronics etc., all of the dry bags I use are the fold-down coated nylon type with the waterproof coating on the inside. Zippered dry bags can't be compressed as well as fold-down sealing bags, and with fold-down bags you never have to worry about a catastrophic failure like breaking a zipper. In general, fold-down bags are not 100% dry which is why I don't use them for my cell phone etc., but they are good enough for clothes, food, sleeping bags, etc. Just be sure to fold them down at least three times and four times is usually better. These coated nylon dry bags have the waterproof coating on the inside and slippery nylon on the outside so they slip in and out of kayaks faster and more easily than clear plastic dry bags or bags with the rubber coating on the outside. Sticky bags waste space because they jam before they are stuffed as far into the kayak's end compartments as a slippery bag will go. Slippery drybags also last longer because they are less prone to catching on sharp edges of hatches, deck fittings screws, fiberglass seams, etc. To make up for the fact that coated nylon bags are opaque, I use a felt tip pen to write the contents ("VHF radio", "kitchen", "food", etc.) of each bag on the outside of the bag. With each bags' contents marked on the outside I don't miss having my clothes etc. in clear (sticky) bags. However, I sometimes take one small clear fold down dry bag which I store between my legs; I use this bag for some of the last minute odds and ends which change from trip to trip so it is nice to be able to look through the bag to remember what I put in it this time.
Except for the XS size bags, all my fold-down dry bags have a vent valve. This is the kayaker's equivalent of a backpacker's compression sack - it allows you to get more gear in your kayak. BTW, compression bags are miserable for kayaking, first of all most compression bags compress the wrong way (lengthwise); unlike a backpack, kayaks are long and narrow so we need bags that get thinner not shorter when compressed. Secondly, compression bags are a pain to use when kayaking because the straps on the outside of a compression sack will catch on hatch rims and the open lip of your dry bags. Further, the buckles on the outside of compression sacks can wear holes through a drybag. In contrast, vented dry bags get thinner, and letting the excess air out of them allows the bag to flex so you can bend it while loading through a hatch. Non-vented dry bags waste space due to air getting trapped at the end. With a vent valve, air escapes from the bottom while I shove more clothes into it. However, when you get down to the XS size it is easy enough to burp the excess air out before sealing the bag so a vent valve isn't necessary on that size.
Note, coated nylon dry bags can be machine washed with mild detergent, but don't put them in a dryer - hang to dry.
I use a total of four dry bags for all my clothes. Clothes I won't need until camp (wind pants, pile pants, heavy socks, down vest, etc.), I store in a tapered coated nylon dry bag with a vent valve. A tapered bag full of clothes makes good use of the space in the kayak's bow and keeps the bow light which is good for handling. This tapered bag is the first bag I load into the bow which makes it hard to get to, and that's why I only fill it with clothes I won't need it until I'm unpacking the whole kayak at camp. Using this tapered bow bag system instead of a rectangular bag will save enough room in your kayak to carry and another day or two's worth of food so you can go on longer trips.
Clothes I may want in an emergency or while on shore for lunch I put in a small size coated nylon dry bag with a one-way air vent valve. I keep this bag either in a day hatch or behind my seat. This bag is where I keep a warm ski hat, non-paddling gloves, and a thin fleece vest (50 to 100 weight pile) or thin Primaloft filled jacket, and nothing else. By keeping these few items in their own small bag, I know I can get them quickly and easily if I start to get chilled while eating lunch, or if someone starts getting cold. I do the same with a CAG in it's own small size coated nylon dry bag with a one-way air vent valve. All the rest of my clothes go into an Extra-Long Small Diameter nylon dry bag with a one-way air vent valve. A third small, vented, fold-down, coated nylon dry bag gets used for my camp stove which is in the liner sack that the stove came with to protect the dry bag from the stove's sharp edges.
All the rest of my clothes go into an X-Long Small Diameter coated nylon dry bag with a one-way air vent valve. Two of these X-Long Small Diameter dry bags side-by-side fit perfectly under the rear hatch of "Greenland/British" style kayaks with low flat rear decks. I put clothes in one of these bags and food in the other. As the food gets eaten, you can fold the top down extra times to make the food bag shorter and easier to pack. Packing this long thin food bag in reverse order (first in - last out) makes it easy to find each days' food stuff. The clothes in this X-Long Small Diameter day bag typically include a second set of tops and bottoms in a different thickness than the ones I am wearing, i.e. if it is a warm day I will be wearing a lightweight top and bottom so I'll have mid-weight top and bottom in the dry bag. I may also pack some shorts, a fleece jacket, and whatever else I want to have quicker access to than the clothes in my bow.
Behind the tapered bow bag I usually pack my sleeping bag which I put in a Medium size coated nylon dry bag with a vent valve. Then I slide the bear resistant food container in and if the kayak is big enough I tip it on its side and slide it aft until its bottom is against the front bulkhead. Any space left over gets filled with small bags and lunch stuff. If I can't get the bear container on its side, I'll pack the space around it first and then drop the bear container in vertical and close the bow hatch over it. I use another Medium size coated nylon dry bag with a vent valve for a tarp and put this bag in sideways between the foot braces and the front bulkhead (note never order a kayak with custom located front bulkhead to use as your foot support or you will loose this versatile storage space). A third Medium size coated nylon dry bag with a vent valve is used for my tent minus the poles and stakes. Note, tent poles and stakes will make holes in dry bags and they make it hard to fit a medium size bag through a hatch so just put the poles in the stern without a dry bag. The tent body and rainfly can fit in the bow or stern hatch.
Besides tent poles, I put a couple of XS dry bags in the stern (behind the skeg box if the kayak has a retractable skeg). One of these bags is used for a roll of toilet paper which I flatten to fit. Another has my toiletries (toothbrush, skin care, etc.). On the side of the skeg box I slide a small mesh sack with cooking utensils (they don't need to be in a dry bag and would put holes in one if you did) and another small mesh sack with pot scrubbers and cleaning supplies. I put a partially used roll of TP in a third XS dry bag along with a 9"x6" Aloksak bag for storing used TP. This bag is kept in a day hatch for convenience.
For electronic devices (VHF radios, cell phones, GPS, etc.) I use either the AquaPac brand bags which have a unique clamping system to seal the bags (always test them for airtight waterproofness before using) or an Aloksak brand bag (which has a unique ziploc seal that is actually air tight, unlike sandwich bags). These bags are designed to be completely waterproof (at least to a few meters). The small 6"x6" Aloksak bags are perfect for GPS units, wallets, car keys and for protecting a pack of three Skyblazer brand aerial flares, and small air horn with canister.
Tools, Swiss army knife, spare batteries, small parts etc. get divided between the small and medium size dry boxes.
1 Tapered, vented, fold-down, coated nylon dry bag
3 Medium, vented, fold-down, coated nylon dry bags
2 Extra Long Small Diameter, vented, fold-down, coated nylon dry bags
3 Small, vented, fold-down, coated nylon dry bags
3 XS, fold-down, coated nylon dry bags
4 6"x6" Aloksak bags
2 9"x6" Aloksak bags
1 Aquapac cell phone bag
1 Small clear fold-down dry bag - optional
3 Small mesh sacks
1 Mesh rucksack
1 Small dry box
1 Medium dry box
1 Small Size Bear Resistant Food Container (not waterproof, but you can line it with a trash bag)
You are welcome to use this just for your own information, but if you care to help support the Kayak Academy please purchase your dry boxes, dry bags, and mesh sacks from us. Thanks, George Gronseth
Posted 21 April 2017 at 13:33 by Ed Sejud
George, I have four or five different brands of drybags and I’ve used them all very hard for about five years, comparing them all the while. I originally thought the KA bags were overbuilt, but now I think they’re the best drybags by any standard. The difference (for me) is that KA bags instill confidence; you know they’re indestructible and they’re not going to leak, no matter what. Everything about them is heavy duty and they hold up under heavy use. When I came back to Colorado in 2013 after a three-month kayaking trip, I put all my gear in the basement, still in drybags. A few days later a natural disaster struck (a 1,000 year flood) and my house was flooded. All my gear was underwater for one day and floating around on muddy floodwater for another three days. When I eventually recovered the it and opened the drybags, your KA bags were the only brand that didn’t leak. All the others leaked heavily in degrees, except the KA bags. I use two of your tapered bags, one each in the bow and stern, and I love them. When you compress them, they stay compressed, and I agree that they slide better than any others and don’t snag on things like bolts and other protrusions through the hull. They’re the only ones I feel confident throwing up the beach when the tide comes in too fast, and the only ones I feel confident leaving out in the rain. The advantage of the flat design is that the filled bags end-up oval shaped, so they fit into the compartments and take up less space than round bags, and they don’t roll around. I use cheapo IKEA bags to carry stuff up fhe beach from the boat to the campsite, and your flat bags nest nicely in the flimsy carry bags while round drybags tend to roll out. Anyway, applauds to your design, I’m convinced.