Gear Review: Expedition/Touring Dry Backpacks

Dry bags

If you’ve never gone camping via your paddleboard, you’re missing a real treat. If you like camping, that is. And maybe even if you don’t. But touring and camping a la sup requires a little bit of a twist in thinking when it comes to gear storage and packing. In a way, it is a lot like backpacking and kayak camping in that you have a limited or defined amount of space in which to store and carry your gear. But it is unlike kayak camping, where in most cases, covered and hopefully waterproof hatches provide a safe place to store your gear. SUP camping requires dry bags. And good ones. That are special.

To me, a good SUP camping or touring bag needs volume – or size – but not too big. It needs to fit nicely on the deck of your board vis a vis its dimensions.  It needs to be durable. It needs lashing points or bungees. It needs a way to attach it to the board, and, depending where I am going, it needs to have backpack straps that are comfortable and actually functional.

And…it needs to be dry.

A note on dry bags in general

Like phone cases, they will eventually fail.  Dry bags, even the best of them, will eventually wear out and spring a leak.  How long one will last depends on several factors – how well you take care of it, how often you use it, how old it is, and of course overall workmanship.  I always check my dry bags before and after each paddling season. You should too.

COR Waterproof Dry Bag Backpack 40l with Laptop Sleeve 

Dry bags

Dimensions: 18″x9″x20″

Weight: 3 pounds

Price:  $59.99

I was attracted to this bag when I happened to see it on Amazon because of its very square shape.   Most dry and portage bags are really not squarish.  They are oblong and roundish.  Which is fine if you are stuffing them into the hatch of a boat but not if they are to sit quietly on the deck of your board and or be the base for the rest of your gear.

The price was extremely reasonable, but that had me wondering about the quality.  A scan of the reviews on Amazon looked good, so I pulled the trigger.

When the bag arrived, there was something about its look that just made me wonder.  The seams, perhaps, or possibly the way I couldn’t quite get an airtight seal when I rolled down the top three times and closed it.  So, up to my master bathroom and the garden tub for a water test.

I filled up the tube and tossed the bag in, and it floated.  I did my best imitation of a Maytag agitator and I am sure my neighbors were wondering what the heck was going on in my bathroom.  Much to my surprise and delight the bag was indeed watertight.

But then I noticed it

Droplets on the INSIDE of the zippered see-through external pouch.  While that zipper seems waterproofed, it clearly was not. Now, it wasn’t a lot, but it was definitely enough to send up caution flags about putting anything important in that pocket, unless it is in a smaller dry pouch or bag.  Given the Maytag test in the tube, it wasn’t enough to warrant sending the bag back.

Closer inspection of the seam sealing job leads me to wonder about the long-term durability of the bag. It just doesn’t look well-enough made to go through the rigors of a sup camping trip.  I might go over the seams myself with some sealer, just to be safe.

Given all of this,there is just enough shadowing doubt in my mind about the bag that I probably won’t use it without putting my belongings in smaller dry bags or plastic bags when I pack it. Not a bad practice anyway.  Just in cases. (Just in CASES, see what I did there?)

Dry bags

The backpack harness seems solid, the padding is comfy.  There is more that adequate compression straps to manage the packed load of the bag.  The mesh water bottle pocket is way too small to be used with a large Nalgene or Hydroflask, however. With some effort, when the bag is empty, you can manage to get small Hydroflask bottle in the pocket, but it’s tight.

The bag would fit nicely under deck bungees and the backpack harness could be used for additional attachment points.

Inside, the bag has a nice, tough-looking liner, and even a sleeve for a small laptop.  Other than that, there is no real organization.

Again, the most attractive thing about this bag is its shape, and given the afore mentioned workmanship issues, I might relegate it to non-paddling use when assurance of complete dryness is not necessary. If I do use it around the water, I’ll make sure everything inside is protected in another dry bag.

DryCASE Waterproof Backpack Masonboro 35L

Dry bags

Dimensions: 28″ x 15″ x 9″

Weight: 3 pounds

Price: $73.27-$99.99

Gotta love a piece of gear that’s made right in your own backyard! DryCASE is a Mullet local, based in Wilmington, NC. If you go the the About page on their web site, you get the real deal picture about how the company got started – and street cred it’s got.  I went to Cor’s site to compare and I got mostly product information, no real story on the company’s background. (I was reminded that this is the company that makes my favorite surf/sup specific multi-tool, though. And that’s cool.)

It’s also pretty dang cool that this bag is named after THE island where I sup camped for the first time ever.

Dry bags
My first sup board, loaded up for it’s first camping trip to Masonboro Island

Right out of the bag, the Masonboro is clearly well-built.  I had no overwhelming need to go water test it, even though I did anyway.

It passed the Maytag tub test with flying colors.

This bag might be a little more oblong than the Cor, but it still will sit well on a deck.

There is no zippered pocket on the front.  There is a mesh pocket instead.  While the Cor bag might be attractive for its simple, minimal design, the Masonboro has lots of functional bells and whistles, like:

  • 2 Way Purge Valve (inflation/compression)
  • Integrated bottle opener
  • Drink Holder
  • Bungee straps
  • Padded lower back support
  • Padded waist & hip support
  • Waterproof padded shoulder straps
  • Tie downs / Front straps
  • Chest straps
  • Internal zippered pocket
  • Removable internal Velcro wallet compartment
  • Durable rubber top hold handle
  • Webbing to secure carabiners to the side of the bag

Those carabiner contact points can help you secure the bag to the deck. And it will fit under bungees just fine. The rubber top hold handle is a really nice feature, as is the 2-way purge valve, which is a big aid in compression and surface reduction when you have loaded the bag and are ready to install it on your board.

The water bottle pocket is also a bit on the small side, but it is deeper than the Cor’s and it has a drawstring closure, which makes it a bit more useful. And I appreciate the internal organization. The one area where the Cor bag might have a slight edge over the Masonboro is the backpack harness.  The DryCASE harness is not as padded or beefy.

Dry bags

Another minor point – the main opening closure clasp is metal, not plastic, so I would want to wrap that in something before I let it come in contact with my deck. That is however, where the integrated bottle opener is, so keep that in mind.

In short, this is a very, very well-thought out expedition dry bag, and worth the few extra clams you would shell out for it.