Dry 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.
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.
- 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.
Richard Welch also puts his tent in a pannier:
Other options suggested by readers include:
1. In A Rucksack
2. In A Garbage Bag
3. Strapped On The Rear Rack
4. Wrapped In Its Own Rain Fly
Do you use a dry bag? Leave a comment to share your experience.