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Geckobrands Dry Bag Review

Until recently, my basic needs for a dry bag for paddling were pretty simple: just a small, 5-liter bag to hold my phone, keys, and wallet that could be attached to and shoved under the bungee cords on my canoe, surf ski, or sup board.  But as I started paddling more in the OC-6, those requirements changed. In addition to carrying The Three Essentials, I needed room for swim goggles, snacks, a glasses case, and sunscreen. More importantly, the bag needs to be able to be secured to the OC-6 seat., not bungees. For distance voyaging, I also needed a larger bag, which would stay on the support boat, to hold extra water, dry clothes, a jacket, a towel, and snacks for a day-long paddle. The bag needed to be as low volume as possible so as not to take up too much space on the support boat.

For the last three months or so, I’ve relied on three products from GeckoBrands: the Waterproof Tarpaulin Dry Bag Waist Pouch, the Lightweight 30L Waterproof Backpack, and the Waterproof Phone Tote. I use one of these three products almost daily, and I have deployed the backpack as my support boat bag on at least four voyages. 

What is Geckobrands?

Geckobrands has been around since 2012. I remember purchasing my first bag from them when they exhibited at the Carolina Cup years ago. In addition to making a wide array of dry bags, the company also offers a line of coolers, utility totes, and travel gear at reasonable prices.

Dry Bag Waist Pouch

Let’s take a closer look at my daily workhorse, the Tarpaulin Dry Bag Waist Pouch. I am not a huge fan of fanny packs, even though I realize they have recently resurged in popularity. This waist pack, with its wide adjustable hip belt and large buckle, is perfect for snapping in place around the canoe seat.  While it has a waterproof rating of IPX4, I can tell you that as long as rolled up properly and secured with the side buckles, it will be watertight.  The heavy-duty, rubberized tarpaulin material allows it to take a beating during those times when it ends up on the floor of the canoe. 

The waist pack has some internal organization, including pockets for keys or a wallet and a zippered pocket on the outside. Zippers on a dry bag are always a bit suspect, so anything I might stow away in that pocket can either get wet or be in its own protective covering (for instance, I always keep my car key fob in its own dry bag for extra security).

The side buckles and compression straps help guard against leaks from the main opening and allow the user to purge out excess air and compress the bag down tight.  This reduction in volume is super helpful when space is at a premium. 

I use this bag so much that I find it does double duty as my “everyday carry bag” or “purse” for those post-paddle breakfast or lunch outings. That’s when the external zipper pocket comes in very handy. My phone or wallet fits into that pocket, making it easily accessible when it comes time to check out at the cash register.  I prefer to carry the bag over my shoulder or cross-body style, and that’s the one area where this bag isn’t perfect. But then again, it’s not meant to be a shoulder bag - it is a waist pack, after all.  It would be easy enough to MacGyver a carry strap but then the waist belt would get in the way, so I just make do.  That’s really a minor point. And if I am being totally honest, sometimes it is very convenient to quickly throw that bag around my waist when I need to have my hands free.

Phone Tote

If I want something that can more easily function as an EDC bag, then there is the Phone Tote. When I realized I was using the fanny pack as my off-the-water carry-all, I decided to look for something more ergonomically suited for that. This 2-liter bag accommodates almost all phone sizes, a slim wallet, and keys. It has a separate compartment for the phone, which includes a clear plastic panel so the phone can be used while it is protected in the bag.  

The phone tote includes three carry options: an adjustable shoulder strap, a handle, and a belt loop. When carried by the shoulder strap, the bag doesn’t hang exactly right, but it is good enough, and the balance issue is mostly mitigated when the bag is more or less full and has some weight in it.

My main complaint about the phone tote is the functionality of the plastic clips on the ends of the strap, which attach to two D-loops on the sides of the bag. In theory, I should be able to unclip one side, wrap the strap around the canoe seat, and re-clip so I can have the bag secured inside the OC-6 with me, as I do when I use the waist pack.  The plastic clips, however, are very difficult to open, which overall is a good thing, but it makes this pack not great for my uses in the canoe.  I have solved that problem by replacing the strap that came with the tote with another that is easier to attach and detach. 

The tote is made with durable 250D PVC tarpaulin material - similar to the waist pack.

 Lightweight 30L Waterproof Backpack

When I started doing long-distance OC-6 canoe voyages with water changes, I needed a lightweight, small water-resistant bag that could hold dry clothes, a jacket, a towel, and provisions.  It had to be as water resistant as possible because, on a support boat, you have to assume everything is going to get soaked.

The lightweight Waterproof Backpack’s IPX rating is only a four, but as long as I take care rolling down the top, it seems to work fine on the support boat.  Recently, we got into some pretty epic weather off Maui’s South Shore, and everything in the support boat was drenched.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when we got to the boat ramp, and I fished out my spare change of clothes.  Everything in the bag was bone dry.  The lightweight, treated poly material makes it great for space-saving and other applications, like day hiking when pack weight is a concern or even as a spare travel backpack.  Gecko makes this same piece with tarpaulin material used in the waist pack, which has an IPX6 rating. I might consider switching to that if I find I need more durability and water protection.  

One thing to note about the roll-top opening of a pack like this one is that if you squeeze out the excess air and roll the pack down as tight as you can to reduce volume, the backpack straps will be out of place, which might make wearing the pack difficult.  

A General Word about Waterproofing

One thing that is important to note about drybags, phone cases and any other product that uses taped and sealed seams, silicon gaskets, or protective coatings to ensure dryness: they have a shelf life. They will eventually fail and possibly damage the items you are looking to protect. Drybags, boxes and phone cases are not meant to last forever. Taped and glued seams eventually come undone. Gaskets wear out. Coated fabric will delaminate. Taking good care of your gear will prolong their lifespan. Here are some tips for making sure you get the most out of your purchase:

  • Minimize exposure to UV light and heat—don't leave it in the car, a hot garage, or an attic.
  • Rinse your gear after each use, especially when it's been in saltwater.
  • Check your drybags often for watertightness. Simply roll down the open top and close it, leaving enough air inside so that it resembles a balloon. Leave it alone for a few minutes or longer. If the bag becomes flat, you know air is leaking out, and the bag is no longer watertight.
  • Routinely check for signs of wear and tear or damage.
  • Understand that you are NOT making a lifetime investment. Eventually, the drybag will no longer be dry.

Geckobrands offers a 30 day return policy and here's what they say about replacements for bags that fail beyond that:

There are many ways for items to get wet and there is no way of knowing how anyone’s gear might have been damaged. We cannot assume responsibility for wet devices or other items since people could request a replacement for all their old items to us. The success of our products depend on proper closure and protection from sharp objects. Be sure to inspect the dry bags before each use for punctures or tears. When used as intended and closed properly, the products will provide the appropriate protection.

Having worked in the outdoor products/retail space, I can tell you that this policy is more than reasonable.

All three of these Geckbrands products are definitely worth the price and are holding up to all the rigors I put them through when outrigger canoeing, standup paddling and as a daily carrier. With their durable construction, reliable waterproofing, and thoughtful design features, Geckobrands products have become my essential companions on the water.

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