How to Keep Your Outdoor Gear Dry

Learn how to keep your gear dry while camping or hiking with advice from our outdoor expert.


Nothing inspires the love/hate dynamic in hikers, campers and overnight paddlers quite like water. You see, there’s good water and bad water. On the one hand, it is nature’s nectar, the elixir of life; absolutely essential to ongoing human health and functionality. On the other hand, nothing throws a wet blanket over a trip quite so fast as waterlogged clothes, a sleeping bag or mobile phone. Sure, the physical (and potentially financial) discomfort is one thing, but the potential dangers of hypothermia are quite another.

“When it comes to staying warm in the outdoors,” said DICK’S Sporting Goods resident outdoor enthusiast Steven Miller, who eats, sleeps and breathes the outdoor life, “staying dry is the key.”

Enter the dry bag: strong, abrasion-resistant, watertight bags designed to keep your precious items moisture free. They come in a range of styles and sizes for the express purpose of ending your worries about bad water, whether it’s for packing days’ worth of clothes out on the trail or for protecting your mobile phone during a day on the water.

This guide will help you choose the best dry bag for your needs.


Dry bags are typically made of one of two materials: vinyl or nylon.

Think super-heavy-duty freezer bags and you get a sense of the vinyl dry bag. However, for the purposes of outdoor adventure, these bags boast much heavier construction, durability and abrasion resistance. They are the ideal choice for storage of less bulky personal items like toiletries, maps and permits, or even some electronics.

“The one knock against vinyl, though, is it’s only convenient up to a certain size before it makes more sense to move on to a more effective material,” Miller said. “And that material is nylon.”

Some larger dry bags are made with vinyl but most are nylon because of its wear-to-weight ratio. Manufacturers use nylon specially treated with a waterproofing material that also adds abrasion resistance. Nylon dry bags come in all shapes and sizes and what they lack in see-through convenience they make up for in durability, particularly at the larger sizes.

“Regardless of the material,” Miller said, “when selecting a dry bag, look for styles that have clear or translucent panels so you can see the contents of the bag without exposing them to the elements unless you absolutely have to.”


So now that we know that the materials are waterproof, let’s move on to how an item with a giant hole in one end can be relied upon to keep survival gear dry. It all has to do with closure. There are two basic types that bag manufacturers prefer.

Let’s break it down. “Roll” is so named because users roll the material a minimum of three times to form a watertight seal; and “top” because, well, as you’ve likely figured out, these bags are usually top-loading. Clever, right?

In use, special rubber materials form a seal when rolled and, once buckled closed, keep the bag watertight and airtight.

There is also another benefit for this type of closure: “Once closed, the seal-site often creates a makeshift handle that can be used for carrying, lashing bags together or securing bags to a pack or boat with a carabiner,” Miller said. ”This adds convenience in camp, volume on the trail and security on the water if your boat gets swamped.”

Ever use a zipper top bag to put something in the freezer? Ever own a piece of apparel with Velcro on it? Good, you’re qualified to use dry bags with this type of sealing mechanism. To use, simply close the press and seal closure and, if available, close the roll top Velcro closure. And just like those freezer bags, the seal on these bags is effective at keeping things dry.

One of the great challenges of a waterproof bag is getting excess air out so you aren’t left with a puffy, hard-to-pack balloon. “Look for dry bag stuff sacks made with eVent technology or purge valves,” Miller said ” which will allow you to force air out during the packing process.”


You may still be asking yourself the question: What exactly do I put in a dry bag? It wouldn’t exactly be flippant to say everything. However, the answer is anything that could be damaged by water. Are you carrying a personal mess kit? That doesn’t need to go in a dry bag. Neither does your knife or multi-tool. They’re commonly made of stainless metal. They’ll be fine with brief exposure to moisture. But anything that should stay dry should have a place in a dry bag.

To that end, manufacturers make a host of sizes available in a number of configurations. Measured in liters, dry bags come in 5-, 10-, 20-, even 30-liter sizes. You’ll likely have to fine-tune the exact mix of bags that works for you. Five-liter bags are great for small personal items like electronics, medicines and first aid kits, toiletries, even a small snack or lunch. Ten-liter bags will hold a change of clothes and 20-liter bags will hold a small sleeping bag. If you pack right, a 30-liter bag will hold everything you need to keep dry for a week long trip.

“Since weight is a factor, you don’t want to take more dry bags or stuff sacks than you need,” Miller added. “A pound saved at home will save you pain on the trail.”


There are as many types of dry bags as there are types of equipment. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Here are a few of the styles you may want to consider.

Got a mobile phone? Or a camera? Then this is a no-brainer. These things are just too expensive to leave to chance. First and foremost, the dry bag that you choose will need to be able to handle a serious dunking and lots of opening and closing. For your phone, look to see if there are any “lifeproof” cases made for your brad and model of mobile device. These usually provide ample protection from water as well as drops. For boaters, special dry bags designed to float are also available so in the event of capsizing, you’ll be able to quickly find your phone. Depending on the size of your camera, there may be bags specially designed for just a camera or a camera and a collection of lenses.

Features you want to look for include watertight closures (we recommend splash-proof Velcro that narrows at the top to securely close the bag), capacity enough to carry all you need, protective padding and some sort of an attachment so that you can securely hook the bag to your belt or pack.

Essentially a fanny pack, the beauty of the roll-top lumbar bag is that it can be used either in addition to, or instead of, other bags. That means it’s equally useful by itself if you need a convenient way to carry a few essentials on a day hike, fishing trip or excursion; or in conjunction with your backpack on an overnight hike. Lumbar dry bags offer plenty of storage room with padding to protect cameras, extra fishing reels and anything else you wish to protect.

As the name suggests, this is a backpack designed to be waterproof, making it especially valuable to those who fish, paddle or hike in poor weather conditions. Given their size limitations, this style of dry bag is great for carrying small- to medium-sized items.

These dry bags can be used to store individual large items such as sleeping bags or as a pack liner that will keep the elements out of your gear during bad weather or water crossings.