Bag it Up: Part One – Best Kayak Gear Bags for Expeditions and Day Runs
Bag it Up: Part One
Table of Contents:
- Introduction to kayaking gear bags and storage systems and what we’ll be reviewing in this post
- Travel Bags (for expeditions & local runs):
- NRS Expedition DriDuffle
- Watershed Colorado Duffle & Mississippi
- YETI Panga Airtight Bag
- SealLine Black Canyon Boundary Pack
- Advanced Elements Funk Bag
- NRS Purest Mesh Duffel Bag
- Conclusions and Further Reading
Before you board a plane, press the pedal to the floor, dip a toe in the ocean, or peel out of the safety of the put-in eddy and point it downstream, all travellers find themselves in their garage, basement, one-room-apartment tackling the first order of business and maybe most daunting challenge of the trip: packing. Kayaking and water-travel in general requires some specific considerations, so we’ve reviewed a few of our favorite gear-hauling machines.
We focus here on a group of versatile, mid-large capacity travel bags. These bags are great for getting to and from the put-in, hopping a plane, as well as storing or airing out your gear in the garage….because inevitably when you get back from whatever paddling paradise you whisked off to, you’ll return to reality with a bag full of wet, miserable gear. We’ve got you covered there, too.
Whether you’re heading for a weekend jaunt or heading off on a multi-day expedition, all paddling adventures start with the same existential question: How am I going to carry all this crap to the put-in? We’ve broken down a few options, from rugged, waterproof downriver worthy dry-duffels to glorified gym bags that keep your paddle gear contained during travel without becoming putrid. So, happy traveling…and eventually paddling.
A classic big-volume waterproof expedition and travel duffle bag from a classic company: Northwest River Supplies (NRS). The beauty of this beast is in its simplicity. Everything you need and nothing you don’t, well almost. There’s only one qualm with the whole bag, which we’ll get out of the way: the zipper-only closure system. While NRS’ quality is very trustworthy, and their TIZIP zipper is in all likelihood bombproof, if the zipper blows while you’re in a wilderness canyon or traveling to some far flung corner of the globe, well, in that case you’ll be left holding the bag, a very wet bag.
However, NRS has thought of that scenario, and though the bag may cease to be river-worthy, the cross straps with their rugged aluminum hook closures, so you can still keep your stuff contained. Another redeeming, smart part about this zipper design, is that it extends well-past the seam of the cylindrical bag’s end pieces, which allows it to open wider like a traditional duffle.
Additionally, you could check out NRS’ High Roll Duffel, which is a nearly identical bag featuring a roll top closure instead of a zipper. The ends of the bag have super-duty grab handles make this easy to pull out of a raft or a truck and the removable shoulder strap makes for a nice option while traveling. Lastly, this bag is adorned with many, many lashpoints, both webbing chains and hardpoints.
- Single opening and longitudinal zipper extending past the cylinder’s end pieces make it easy to pack & easy to access
- Shoulder strap and briefcase handles give options and make it easy to carry
- Multiple volume sizes (35L, 70L, 105L) which makes them more easily stackable if you bring multiple sizes, whether tied down to the raft or the bed of your truck
- Lots of both hard and soft lashpoints for tying down the bag securely
- While zipper allows easy-access, if the zipper pull gets off-track or stuck or broken you are up S*#% Creek without a drybag
- Zipper required regular cleaning and maintenance for normal functioning
A Mississippi sized duffle bag worthy of a riverboat-load of gear, this no-nonsense duffle bag can hold all your gear, plus a few aces up it’s sleeve. It has a large, easy access full-zipper opening. The rugged watertight zipper, combines with a roll-top closure style to provide redundant waterproof security.
Watershed states that their “singular” mission is to, “build waterproof bags in the USA that we, as adventurers, could trust to keep our most cherished possessions dry under any conditions.” This is Watershed seem to be walking that talk: The addition of four (4) straps allow you to secure the folds of the rolled top, to withstand jostling, water, tossing around of rugged travel and use. At least six hard points for lashing this thing down. And all of these bags can be made with MULTICAM, a military grade fabric.
The fact that the US Navy uses Watershed products, should say something about durability, quality, and function. Watershed makes a similar versions of the Mississippi duffle in three other sizes Colorado (75.5), Yukon (54.5L), Chatooga (22L), Ocoee (10.5L)
- Similar opening style to the DriDuffle, lengthwise closure seal allows for
- If zipper seam is not perfectly sealed or malfunctions, the roll-top closure adds a layer of waterproof redundancy, plus
- Multiple capacity volume sizes in related family of duffle models (10.5L, 22L, 54.5L, 75.5L, 111L)
- Extra features like multiple hard lash points on all sides and ends
- Like any wider-than-it-is-tall closure style, it is more challenging to create a tight waterproof seal, but they seem to have addressed this with redundant closure styles and added cross straps
- With a bag this large and long, would be nice to have grab straps on each end
Just like it’s manufacturer’s name suggests, this expedition bag is a beast. With YETI’s over-engineered reputation in coolers being applied to many paddle and outdoor products, this bag does not disappoint in style, ruggedness, and function.
Featuring a simple shape with sturdy, waterproof zipper opening, it differentiates itself from the, ahem, rest of the pack, with metal (not plastic) buckles and clips – a welcome innovation for remote field situations where they hold up better to wear and could theoretically be field repaired.
Backpack straps are a welcome addition in this large, expedition-bag category, which make the inevitable endless airport security line, short portage, or riverbank campsite carry a little easier on the body. For all of the awesome and unique feature of this bag, there are a few “interestingly” designed features, so the pro/con list below is a little more detailed than usual to…um, unpack it all.
- YETI’s over-engineered, legendary, bombproof construction
- Metal buckles and strap clips much more durable and less likely to breakage in the field
- Multiple capacity volume options (50L, 75L, 100L)
- Cylinder shape holds up better and combine with the overengineered, thick, PU coated fabric, this bag is more apt to protect your more fragile gear while being thrown around and strapped down
- Removable backpack straps make short hauls a bit easier Con: while there are some obviously good reasons for having the zipper run down the strap-side of this pack (i.e. zipper protection, making sure the contents down spill into the river/trail because your friend forgot to zip it before handing it to you) but it is definitely uncomfortable to feel that zipper texture along your spine during longer wears (i.e. airport ticket line). Makes us wonder if a removable shoulder strap would have been a better investment.
- One of the heaviest un-loaded bags in this review
- Opening/zipper, because of its true-cylindrical design (as opposed to oval/torpedo/rectangular shape) and the stiffness/sturdiness of the fabric, the opening is disappointingly small and surprisingly difficult to pack (considering the bags capacity)
- Zipper placement, depending on usage (see above)
- While there is an inner buckle closure (which relieves tension on the zipper), outer straps are much easier for day to day use
- Most expensive bag in this review
This is a classic bag. The Boundary Pack is at home in the cockpit of a canoe, comfortably humping over long portages, galavanting off in the underbelly of a plane, or strapped to the deck of raft headed down big water. Portage straps make this the most comfortable bag in this category when it comes to wearing as a backpack. They are also easily removable making this pack shift effortlessly between travel, portage, and tie-down haul drybag. While designed with canoe expeditioning and portaging in mind, this is a truly versatile jack of trades and master of most of your paddle needs.
- Simple design makes packing and carrying an easy affair
- Multiple capacity volumes 35L, 65L, 115L
- Portage straps/pads make this the most comfortable and realistic bag in this category when it comes to wearing like a backpack. In addition, straps are also easily removable making this pack shift effortlessly between travel, portage, and tie-down haul drybag.
- Top roll makes getting a tight seal easy
- Most affordable large capacity expedition bag in this category
- Vertical packing orientation makes locating your gear and staying organized harder than with horizontally-oriented duffles
- Lacks harness points and tie-down loops, making it a bit harder to secure to an open roof rack or raft deck
A great bag to segue this section’s travel & expedition emphasis into the air-it-out and storage bag emphasis. Advanced Elements Funk Bag is exactly what it sounds like. This is a bag in which even the funkiest of gear can find a home (at least temporarily, let’s hope).
- Great breathability for storage or transport of funky gear and clothing
- Small water-resistant side zipper pocket holds small items like keys/wallet/phone
- Multiple carry options
- Bottom fabric panels keep dirt, grime, and more moisture from getting at contents inside
- No option for organizing clean/dry gear separately from the main mesh compartment
- Only one size (45L) limits the amount of gear. May not be practical for storing all of your paddle gear or accomodate your expedition packing list
A simple gym-bag style duffel, with a large main compartment. Wear resistant nylon fabric construction and large mesh vent along top of bag. Very similar to the Advanced Elements Funk Bag, however there is an extra cool story here. Each NRS Purest Remix Duffel is constructed from leftover scraps of nylon from the NRS factory floor. Reduce your environmental footprint and your “funkprint” at the same time!
- Environmentally friendlier: main bag body made from recycled nylon fabric, leftover from the other softgood products at the NRS factories
- Small water-resistant side zipper pocket holds small items like keys/wallet/phone
- Multiple carry options
- Bottom and side fabric panels keep dirt, grime from getting inside
- Only one size (44L) limits your carry/storage options to just the essentials
- Not a ton of ventilation with one mesh strip along top of bag
- Because it’s made from leftover nylon fabric, the material varies with each bag. If you need a specific material or color, you may be pleasantly surprised or downright disappointed.
With so many great options, choosing one may be difficult. We first recommend thinking about both what type of kayaking you most often find yourself doing. After that, consider what mode of transportation you’ll be using: air, road, hiking, horsepacking, etc. Start more versatile and then start adding more specific packs as needed.
For instance, the Purest Mesh Duffel is a versatile bag around town for those short trips and even doubles as a gym bag. However, the SealLine Boundary Pack is takes versatility to the extreme. It’s at home transporting expedition gear via airplane, strapped to raft, portgaging in the wilderness, or simply holding your gear in the garage.
As your kayaking ambitions and disciplines increase, then it’s time to expand your quiver of quivers. Until then, happy paddling and packing!
Needing a more storage-focused option? Check out our review of storage-focused bags coming soon…