Dry Bags For Bike Touring: Do You Need One?

Dry BagsDry Bags are waterproof bags (often used by kayakers) with a roll-top closure at one end, which folds over itself a few times to form a totally waterproof seal.

We’ve always used a dry bag for bike touring. It’s a large Ortlieb bag that holds much of our camping gear: our tent (a Hilleberg Nallo 3GT), the poles, groundsheet and tarp.

The dry bag is big enough that sometimes we also stuff other things inside, such as extra food or our rain gear (if the rain gear is at the top, it’s really easy to reach when the sky goes grey). All of this goes in one big bundle on the back of the bike, between the panniers.

Dry Bag Between Our Panniers

See the red bag? It’s made by Ortlieb – a 22 liter dry bag (we bought it (from Wiggle). Ours is currently 6 years old and still going strong.

We thought the benefits of a dry bag were obvious but recently a reader wrote to ask for more information:

Why would you need a dry bag for your tent which is designed to keep rain off you? If you arrive at a camp site and it looks like rain, you take your tent out of your expensive ‘dry bag’. It will remain lovely and dry… until it rains. When you put the wet tent into your ‘dry bag’ in the morning, after it has kept the rain off you all night, it will remain nicely wet in the ‘dry bag’ because ‘dry bags’ presumably do not let water in nor out. Please explain??!! -Bob.

That’s a fair question. Now that you mention it, maybe it is a bit confusing. Here’s why we use a dry bag:
Ortlieb Dry Bag

  • Versatility. A dry bag can be used for many things, not just the tent. For example, ours usually held our tent + groundsheet + rain gear and other assorted bits and bobs.
  • Protects from rain during the day. One of Bob’s points was that a tent is “designed to keep rain off you” but that’s only true when it’s properly set up. If the tent is simply folded up on the back of your bike and it’s a rainy day on the road, a tent can be quite wet by the time you get to your campsite. A dry bag keeps a tent dry until you get into camp, where you can hopefully set it up quickly before it gets too wet.
  • Protects from the elements. Tent fabrics can be delicate (especially on ultralight tents) so a dry bag is an extra layer of protection from dust, debris, rough surfaces and UV rays.
  • Keeps the wet tent away from our other stuff. We don’t want our wet tent rubbing up against any of our gear, or making our panniers dirty. The dry bag keeps it contained, away from all our other equipment.
  • Durablity. Our dry bag is 6 years old. It’s been on a 3-year world tour plus numerous shorter trips. We expect it to last several more years, and would have no hesitation taking it on another world tour.

As for the question about putting a wet tent in a dry bag, we try to avoid this situation. If there is any dew on the tent, we pack everything else up first and do the tent last. Hopefully by that time the morning sun has dried away most of the moisture. We deal with any lingering wetness around mid-morning or at lunchtime, when we stop for a break and spread the tent out to dry.

On truly rainy days, and a few other odd occasions, the tent will have to be packed away wet but that will be a problem no matter how you’re storing your tent. Bike tour long enough and the time will come when you have to deal with several days of rain in a row, with no chance to dry out. That’s just life.

The good news is that in the short term, it’s no problem to carry a wet tent. The only thing that will suffer is your comfort (and that’s best solved by getting a hotel room, turning up the heat and hanging everything up to dry overnight). Problems with mold and mildew normally only start after a wet tent is stored in a relatively warm place for at least a couple of days.

What About You? 

That’s what we do. What about other bike tourists?

We asked our Facebook and Twitter followers to comment and we had over 50 replies! Of those, the vast majority (about 75%) also used a dry bag. If you’re looking for alternatives, however, there are many to choose from.

Perhaps the most popular reader tip came from Wade, who puts his tent in the rear pannier and then uses Gear Ties to secure the poles and stakes to his bike’s top tube.

Gear Ties!

Richard Welch also puts his tent in a pannier:

In A Pannier

Other options suggested by readers include:

1. In A Rucksack

Tent in a rucksack

2. In A Garbage Bag

In A Garbage Bag

3. Strapped On The Rear Rack

Strapped On The Rear Rack

Twitter - Dry Bag

4. Wrapped In Its Own Rain Fly

Twitter - Dry Bag

Do you use a dry bag? Leave a comment to share your experience.

Comments

  1. Mark Creighton
    15th January 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    I wrap my tent in an army basha tarpaulin. It keeps the tent dry, or stops it leaking if it’s wet, and you have the advantage of a tarp to sit on or cover things if wet or really sunny.

    There was a post here somewhere about carrying a tarp while touring. We took one across Europe and wouldn’t be without one now.

  2. Shane
    15th January 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    I have loads of these things with me in all sizes for, tent,sleepingbag, maps+paperwork, rugsack version for my cloths, all the lightweight exped ones and for food bags too:)

  3. Graeme
    16th January 2012 at 3:31 am #

    Good timing. I am looking for a dry bag for an upcoming tour. Rather than place it on the rear rack platform, I plan to use a Revelate Sling to hang one off the handlebars.

    Does anyone know of any long, narrow drybag designs that would work best in this setup? All the ones I have seen tend have similar dimensions and the handelbar width size is quite wide.

    Also, I assume that you place the tent directly inside the dry bag. Not tent into tent bag then dry bag. Is that correct?

    Thanks Graeme

    • jat
      27th February 2012 at 6:49 pm #

      i have this system set up…
      if you need info e mail..
      then i can send you some pictures to give you ideas…

  4. sz
    17th January 2012 at 1:11 am #

    I use an Ortlieb dry bag for my tent, mat and whatnot, and for wet weather I also carry a small lightweight dry bag just large enough to hold the outer tent. When the rain doesn’t want to stop in the morning, I pack up everything, then detach the inner tent from the outer and put it into the big dry sack, and finally take down the outer tent and put it into the lightweight dry bag. which I then put into the big dry bag, too. This way I only have one bag to fiddle with on top of the rear rack, but nothing in there will get wet from the wet outer tent.

  5. Eric & Elaine Hendrickson
    17th January 2012 at 3:14 am #

    We general use one to carry our rain gear, hats and mittens on the back with a couple of straps. That way it is always handy. On the other bike we have our two sleeping pads in the same size bag. We use Seal Line 10 liter Black Canyon bag which is a nice color.

  6. billy
    19th January 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    I use Exped dry bags to keep things separated even inside Ortlieb panniers and I would never leave a tent worth stealing in its own bag on top of the rack. Much better to hide what it is, imo.

  7. Pete
    4th February 2012 at 2:36 am #

    I use a dry-bag in the same way that you do, carrying tent, poles, groundsheet, sleeping mat and a three-legged stool; plus accasionally empty water bags and extra clothing/rain-gear when I have to pull the bags off for plane/ferry/train journeys. I do this for exactly the same reasons you mention and have been doing this for over 10 years, and 4-5 years before this using a 30L backpack.

  8. Robin
    9th March 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    I use a Ocean Pack Dry Bag, the come in sizes & colors from 5L to 40L all are very durable and will last for years.

  9. Karl
    16th May 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    I’ve been hunting around for a dry bag for my tent, it’s a pity that Wiggle no longer sell Ortlieb gear.. thankfully Evans cycles have some in stock at reasonable prices. I have been looking at something like the Alpkit Gourdon which is essentially a multi-use drybag with rucksack straps. However these are quite a bit more expensive than your standard purpose drybag. http://www.alpkit.com/gourdon

  10. Jim Wilcox
    17th September 2013 at 6:08 am #

    My entire system is based on using dry bags instead of standard panniers. After a three day and two day trial trips, so far so good.

  11. Aaron Bailey
    22nd July 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    Check out the LOMO brand on http://www.ewetsuits.com. You can get various designs of high quality dry-bags for very reasonable prices. I’ve spotted Alastair Humphreys using the 60l dry-bag backpack – for example – which you can pick up for around £25

  12. Simon Ruff
    12th November 2016 at 12:25 pm #

    To solve the problem of wet outer soaking other items, I have two of the lightweight dry bags. One “wet”, one “dry”. The outer is always separate from the inner when travelling and when pitched soon dries off. Keep both in an larger and tougher Ortlieb dry bag strapped to the top of the bike.

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