How do I keep my stuff dry on a camping trip?

Keeping your personal things dry on a camping trip is something that people have struggled with... well, forever. The nature of a trip like this means your items are frequently exposed to rain (or a tipped canoe), but the need to have certain items organized and readily accessible makes it impossible to simply pack everything away in a waterproof bag.

So how can we keep everything dry, while still being able to use all of our gear? There are hundreds of different ways to do this, but here is the one that has served us best:

For this system, you’ll need a large backpack (60+ litre capacity), a couple of 8 to 10 litre dry-sacs, and a 30-litre dry sac. If you do not have dry-sacs, you can use zip-locks and garbage bags instead.

Clothing: Put all of the clothing in the large dry-sac, being sure to place items that may not get used at the bottom. Seal the dry-sac (or tie the garbage bag loosely). Upgrade: If you really want to class it up, bring an extra bag for dirty laundry that can be used to separate it from the clean clothing.

Tent, Sleeping Bag, Mattress: These items come in a variety of shapes and sizes, which makes it hard to come up with a standardized system to pack them. If they can fit in your backpack, put them in a garbage bag first.

Shoes: Oftentimes people bring a couple pairs of shoes on a camping trip. If you’re going to have to store a second set of shoes, use one of the 8-10 litre dry-sacs. This way, if they’re dirty they won’t mix with the clothing.

Water Bottle: This is supposed to be wet. 

Everything else! The last dry-sac contains what we call the “easy access” items. These are things that you may need at any time, but that really shouldn’t get wet. Included in the easy access bag are items like:

  • Duct Tape
  • Rope (cheap stuff you can cut)
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug Spray/net
  • Pills or medical items
  • Knife (with cover on!)
  • Camera
  • Phone
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Now that you have everything packed, it’s time to assemble it. The clothing goes into the main compartment of the bag, along with the shoes, and the “easy access” bag goes in the top of the backpack.  This gives you quick access to those items, but keeps everything waterproof in case of rain.

If you use a day-pack for short hikes, I recommend putting the “easy access” dry-sac in the day-pack, and keeping it separate from the large pack. The bag-in-a-bag system not only keeps items dry, but if you use dry-sacs also ensures that they will float if your boat tips.

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