It rains in Scotland, so unless you fancy lugging around soggy sandwiches – and perhaps more worryingly insulating clothing – it’s necessary to take precautions against moisture ingress. Most rucksacks are made from water-resistant materials, but they don’t have sealed seams and have zips and other openings that can allow water in. Short of carrying one of the drysacks-with-straps designs like the Alpkit Gourdon, you’ll need to consider some kind of supplementary protection. Pack liners are basically big waterproof bags that are placed inside an empty rucksack before filling as normal. They can be as simple as a binbag with enough excess to twist the top closed, or a commercial drybag design with a secure top fastening. These tend to last significantly longer than a binbag, but are obviously a bit more expensive. Pack covers are often included with rucksacks and are a pretty common sight on the hill. I find them an unsatisfactory design, catching the wind and making access into the pack difficult as well as exposing the entire contents to the elements when rummaging through it, and in real foul weather sometimes holding a pool of water in the base. They also offer little protection from a complete submersion – not a common occurrence but it does happen when fording rivers. My preferred solution is a few small rolltop drybags – perhaps even combined with a pack liner. As well as protecting the contents they aid pack organisation – by using a selection of colours (and even labelling) your first aid kit can be immediately distinguished from your lunch bag. Down sleeping bags and jackets are particularly susceptible to moisture ingress, so it’s a good idea to replace the supplied stuffsack with a waterproof version. Most manufacturers will offer a multipack of sizes and colours to allow you to develop your own system. Be careful not to go over the top though – a pile of tight, firm drybags can be a pain to efficiently pack and the weight can quickly add up.
Exped Fold Dry BagsRRP £6.50 – £13
The Exped Fold range offers a good choice of colours – the four pictured are from the ‘Drab’ range but most sizes are also available in ‘Bright’ or plain ol’ black. Made from PU-coated nylon these are reasonably heavy drybags, with a chunky buckle and a general feeling of ruggedness. The PU coating should last longer than the silicon-impregnated nylon used in other lightweight models, and the stitching – with generous interior seam-taping – shows no sign of weakness when forcibly stuffed or filled with water. A fabric loop at the base allows them to be lashed to things as well as forming a good handle to help when emptying and hanging up to dry. The stiffened rolltop webbing permits the expulsion of a air from items such as sleeping bags before rolling and securing and also makes another good handle thanks to the positive buckle. The range of sizes available in the four-pack (3l, 5l, 8l and 13l) at £31 is perfect for most backpackers, with the blue 13l model ideal for that precious down sleeping bag. A great combination of weight, price and longevity.
Volume/Weight: XXS (1l) – 26g to XXL (40l) – 117g
Lifeventure Dri-Store BagsRRP £9 – £27
Another PU-coated nylon drybag, but these are substantially thinner and lighter than the Exped model above. Translucent with a ripstop grid pattern they rely on hardwearing Cordura nylon fabric for their durability, though I suspect the seams would fail long before fabric unless subjected to abrasion or stored wet, when the PU-coated fabric can de-laminate. When the 10l bag was filled with water and roughly chucked around there was no hint of the taped seams seeping, though I’d recommend using more than three turns of the roll top if submersion and rough-handling is anticipated. Incidentally – the plastic buckle coped with the weight of around 10l of water admirably. With a good selection of colours and sizes – including several larger sizes ideal for use as rucksack liners – the range should have something for everyone, and the multipack consisting of 10l, 25l & 40l sizes is a good buy at £30.
Volume/Weight: 5l – 39g to 100l – 150g
Ortlieb Dry Bag PS10RRP £10 – £30
Ortlieb are renowned for their bomb-proof water-sports drybags and bike panniers, but they are generally a bit on the heavy side for backpacking use. The various PS10 models are from their “Ultra Lightweight” range – designed as internal organisers within panniers, and unusually feature welded – rather than sewn and taped – seams. This removes the need for needle holes in the fabric and has resulted in a very confidence-inspiring drybag that totally resisted my attempts to burst it. Again a PU-coated nylon fabric – with a reinforced bottom panel with lashing loop – it’s a bit heavier and more expensive than others, but it feels like it’ll last a lifetime (or at least a very long cycle tour). There are seven sizes and three colour available to help with organisation, but I was only supplied with the pictured 12l model (in green apparently) so can’t comment on the rest of the range.
Volume/Weight: XXXS (1.5l) – 30g to XL (75l) – 190g
Outdoor Research Graphic Dry SacksRRP £7 – £9.50
Outdoor Research have decided that plain colours are boring and have created a range of brightly-patterned drybags in a choice of around seven designs and three sizes – 5l, 10l and 15l. The designs aid rucksack organisation, but come into their own when operating as part of a group – particularly when using the dry bag outwith a rucksack during activities such as rafting. The construction and materials are very similar to the Exped Fold models, with a grey PU coating inside the tough nylon outer. The OR dry bag has a small fabric extension above the roll top, giving an addition level of security with little effect on weight. The inner surface has a tendency to grip other fabrics when filling, and removing tightly stuffed items such as sleeping bags can be a bit of a fight, particularly as there is no bottom loop to grip. The plastic D-ring integrated into the buckle and webbing roll-top points to use in watersports, but those that may need to suspend the bag – perhaps to avoid mice in a bothy – may find this a useful feature.
Volume/Weight: 5l – 52g to 15l – 75g
Podsacs Airstream Lite DrysacsRRP £12 – £17
Podsacs produce a variety of drybags, from the standard lightweight roll-top bags to tough dedicated waste-management and first aid bags. The Airstream and Airstream Lite models combine a PU-coated ripstop Cordura body with a clever eVENT base. As a waterproof breathable fabric this allows the top to be rolled down and the air expelled through the membrane, effectively working as a non-return valve. It does work – but as repeated compression of modern down is damaging there is a limit to how tight I would be willing to compress insulation within a drybag anyway, and all of the ‘conventional’ dry bags featured here managed satisfactorily. As is to be expected from a bag expert such as Podsacs the construction is immaculate, with good stitched and taped seams – including the difficult joint between nylon body and eVENT base. As the eVENT membrane effectively consists of a plastic film with microscopic holes I was confident in my ability to force water through it from the inside (well outwith the design specification). In reality I only managed to force a bead of water to the surface of the largest bag after filling it with water and standing on it.
Volume/Weight: S (7l) – 40g to XL (20l) – 62g
SealLine Cirrus SackRRP £12 – £25
A standard PU-coated Cordura design from SealLine – part of the MSR stable – at a middle-of-the-road price and middle-of-the-road weight. They are an unpretentious performer that just works – the inner coating is actually silicon and polyurethane mix, which seems to offer a bit of glide and assist with the insertion and removal of puffy garments and sleeping bags – it’s a simple thing but much appreciated with frozen fingers or when the rain is lashing down. The usual roll top with buckle design also includes a plastic D-ring for lashing the bags, as well as a bottom loop which makes it easy to hang them up to dry as well as forming a simple handle. And that’s it – five sensible sizes and four colours enable you to identify the contents easily (or show your political allegiance) and they passed the fill-with-water-and-sit-on-it test. What more do you need?
Volume/Weight: 2.5l – 29g to 30l – 80g
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Dry SackRRP £10 – £23
Those looking to save every gram or who absolutely insist that every item in their rucksack is individually protected could do worse than these extremely lightweight drybags from Sea to Summit. Despite using translucent 15 denier siliconised nylon – effectively half the density of that used in the SealLine Cirrus above – the Ultra-Sil fabric still manages to offer a hydrostatic head of 1200mm. The seams are stitched and taped, and stiff roll top fastening has a small – but strong- buckle. There is no bottom loop to help break the suction formed by a well-stuffed sleeping bag, but as this is a stripped-down minimalist design it’s hardly surprising. I was confident in my ability to force water through the fabric or seams, but was again foiled by the reinforced stitching (though I did manage to warp the roll top stiffener a bit). The smaller sizes (1l, 2l, 4l) are oval in profile rather than cylindrical, which makes sense really, though the larger sizes are a standard design. There are a standard seven sizes and three colours in the range. A gram-counter’s dream.
Volume/Weight: 1l – 13g to 35l – 46g