In search of the perfect drybag...


Drybags... Love 'em?  Hate 'em?  Certainly an essential piece of gear, and certainly one that people have a lot of problems with.

More canyoneers floating around in a cesspool

More canyoneers floating around in a cesspool

A friend hooked me up with a factory where I could get some made, so I did, design based on what I had sold and used before, slightly heavier fabric...

I got the first ones off the production line, THEN had to really think about drybags.  How do I test these?  How do people use them? What are realistic expectations? What should they be able to survive?

Yes. This type of thinking shoulda taken place BEFORE my run was in production, but...

The perfect drybag would be lightweight and low bulk (so you will carry it in your pack all the time); heavy enough to be durable (perhaps a year's worth of canyons, say 60 canyon trips); easy to use (easy to seal); and have a valve on it so that air can be purged (to minimize volume and minimize blowout) and so air can be added (for just the right amount of flotation). Perhaps most important, you should put your stuff in your drybag, go canyoneering, and your stuff should still be dry.

With a few canyon days under my belt, I have become an expert on how to get drybags to fail. Do some or all of the following:

  1. Set your drybag down on a cactus, or on little bits of cactus you didn't notice on the rock you put your drybag down on. This usually makes small holes in your drybag that you don't notice with a quick examination.

  2. Use the drybag when you do not need to. (Save your drybag for when you are going into water. Anytime you USE the drybag it is vulnerable to being scraped or punctured.)

  3. Close the top of your drybag in a way other than carefully. (To keep the drybag dry, closing the top very carefully is essential.)

  4. Put so much stuff in the drybag that you cannot really get it closed well.

  5. Leave plenty of air in the drybag. Air in the drybag tends to cause the drybag to fail under stress.

  6. Put the drybag in your pack, and drop it into the pool from a significant height.

  7. Put the drybag in your pack and jump into the pool, wearing the pack.

  8. Clip the drybag to the outside of the pack or to your harness, and do something. Anything.

jump in Mexico

jump in Mexico

The question becomes, with my new drybags, which of these things could you do without your stuff getting wet.

Before we get to the testing, let me point out that I have no commitment to negating ALL these ways to make drybags fail. Specifically #s 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8 are things people do, that you should not do if you want to keep your stuff dry. Period.  Using design, I want to see how much of 5, 6 and 7 can be covered.

As such, I have made the following SCALE of Drybag DRYNESS - how they can be used without leaking.

Drybag Level 0 - lightweight "drybags" that protect from rain, but leak if submerged in water. There are quite a few of these floating around the retailosphere, and I find it a bit fraudulent to call them "drybags", or even "waterproof".

Drybag Level 1 - properly purged of air, can be submerged a few feet underwater. Equivalent to being tossed from 15 feet into a pool, when inside a pack.

Drybag Level 2 - not purged of air, can be submerged a few feet underwater. Equivalent to being tossed from 15 feet into a pool, when inside a pack, without the air purged.

Drybag Level 3 - can be forcefully submerged with air in them. Equivalent to jumping into a pool with the pack on. Perhaps equivalent to being lashed into a raft when the raft flips in a big rapid.

Imlay Canyon Gear Drybags Testing

I received 2 samples of each size from the production run, and took them to the swimming hole in Zion's Pine Creek for testing.  I stood atop the jumping rock and threw the pack into the pool, about a 15 foot drop. In order to get the pack to penetrate the surface, I put a rock in the bottom of the pack, then the drybag, then a rope atop the drybag, and closed the top tightly. I used a rope to haul the pack back to the top.  I filled the drybag with cotton fabric, and closed them carefully.

Test ONE - (level one)

For this test, I carefully closed the drybag and purged most of the air. Threw the pack into the pool 5 times.

Result:  no leakage. (drybags good for Level 1)

Throw That Pack

Throw That Pack

Test TWO - (level two)

For this test, I closed the drybag and did not purge the air, so it was puffy, then threw the pack into the pool 3 more times.

Result: no leakage. (drybags good for Level 2)

Test THREE - (level three)

For this test, I resealed the drybag, did not purge the air, took the rock out of the pack and put the rope in the bottom, then the drybag, tightened the top of the pack, wore the pack and jumped from 15 feet. Twice!  I did not check the bag after the first jump.

Result:  side seam blow out.  The inside was not very wet, so I guess that it blew out on the second jump. The weld blew out across 3" on one side.  NOT good for level 3!


The drybags have now made their way across the ocean and are available on the CanyoneeringUSA store.

Keeping Stuff Dry, Teststjones