Two of our earliest waterproof dry bags.
When it comes down to it, a dry bag is deceptively simple. It’s just a bag, right? Sure, it uses waterproof materials, and the closure definitely matters—but, really, how complicated can a dry bag be?
How about fire-coming-out-of-machines complicated?
In 1986, opportunity presented itself and a passionate group of paddlers wound up with some radio frequency (RF) welding tools. RF welding uses concentrated radio frequencies to join separate pieces of coated materials at a molecular level, creating a highly durable and impermeable bond between them. While these tools were originally used to make gear for the maritime industry, our originators had the notion to use them to make waterproof bags for kayaking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, and other paddling activities—the vision was simple: surely, paddlers would also enjoy industrial-strength waterproof protection while out on the water. Thus, our brand was born.
Our early square-bottom and fold-over flap designs.
Our early dry bag designs looked more like paper grocery bags—they had a squared-off bottom and sealed with a fold-over flap with a hook-and-loop closure. Arguably, a dry bag’s closure is the most-used (and most important) part of a dry bag. It’s part of what makes the bag “dry”, after all. We wanted to improve the user experience of this critical aspect, and after two years of the fold-over flaps, we came up with our Dry Seal™ dual-strip roll-top closure, which made it easier to properly seal our dry bags. Two years later, recognizing that the “points” of the squared-off bottoms were high-wear areas, we introduced rounded bottoms. Ever evolving, our passion as paddlers informed the improvements we made to our dry bags.
Materials were our next area of focus. As an alternative to our solid-colored bags, we introduced transparent dry bag options, which used clear films to allow paddlers quickly identify and access the bag’s contents. We then expanded our materials options to include polyurethane-coated (aka, PVC-free) options. The benefits of PVC-free materials were significant—they’re eco-friendlier, lighter, and more durable than polyvinyl chloride-coated (aka, “vinyl”) materials. However, it wasn’t an easy transition.
RF welding is a tricky process. Materials can catch fire if the welding settings aren’t just right, or if some dust is in the wrong place.
“Expanding into PVC-free coatings was a huge technical challenge—the materials are trickier to weld, and it stretched our knowledge of RF welding at the time,” says Stacie Langtry, SealLine Category Manager, 20-year shepherd of the brand, Canadian expat, and lifelong canoeist. “We had fire blankets next to the welders because, as we tried new materials, stuff would catch fire in the machines. For years, my whole job was materials research as we figured out how to make PVC-free dry bags to our standards.”
While sorting out and optimizing materials, we also started making protective dry gear for more specific uses—dry bags that fit better inside kayak hatches, waterproof packs for canoe portages, and gear-hauling duffles—tailoring shapes and adding features that better served the more specific needs of the people using our gear. Our products, and brand, continued to evolve as paddling, and paddlers, continued to find new and different ways to adventure on water and over land.
Two years ago, we felt there was an opportunity to rock our proverbial boat, so we set out to overhaul our entire dry bag line. Because coming up with all-new dry bag designs, updating our Dry Seal closure to make it easier, revamping our air-purging valve to make it faster, and revisiting shapes wasn’t enough, we wanted to bring some life to the look of dry bags.
Microscopic cross-section of polyurethane-coated materials.
A little-known thing about dry bag materials is that they typically use a base of a woven thread (often polyester) that’s then heavily coated on both sides with a polyvinyl chloride (“vinyl”) or polyurethane (“PVC-free”) coating. Since these base threads are typically an undeyed white (natural greige is the technical term), the coatings are dyed to achieve the desired color of the dry bag—thus, a green dry bag is green because the coating is dyed green.
In designing our top-of-the line Discovery™ dry bags, we knew we wanted a fresh look to go along with the new designs, so we looked into printed patterns. We soon rejected the idea of prints since they would eventually rub or scrape off with repeated use. We wanted something more durable, so we looked to one of the oldest ways to distinguish fabrics: woven patterns.
Individually colored threads are behind the look of our new plaid bags. Photo: Ben Sandall
Plaid was one of our earliest ideas, and it proved the most viable. By using dyed threads woven into a plaid pattern, then coating the woven materials with a clear PVC-free coating, we were able to achieve a distinct and, more importantly, durable look for a dry bag. A fun fact about our two plaid options—though the orange plaid and blue plaid may look distinctly different, they both use the same threads, just in different proportions. We loved the pattern so much, we decided to offer it as an option for two of our new dry bag designs… which brings us to the bags themselves!
Discovery Dry Bag. Photo: N. Coltrane
Sometimes, all one needs is a straightforward dry bag. In designing the new Discovery Dry Bag, we looked to our heritage as a starting point. Going back to the notion that the bag closure is the most-used (and most important) part of a dry bag, we wanted to one-up our original Dry Seal dual-strip roll-top closure. In making a few tweaks to the two strips and their spacing, we were able to make the closure easier to use, helping ensure a proper seal for maximum waterproof protection.
Continuing to work backwards from the needs of end-users (that’s you!), we tested and optimized the PVC-free materials to ensure they’re ultra-durable and able to withstand exposed conditions year after year. We also used different coatings to provide a light-colored interior (for the solid colors), which fixes the “black hole” effect often found with large, solid-colored dry bags. We then moved away from the classic round bottom shape, opting for an oval-esque bottom which helps prevent the bags from rolling around; we also found that this shape makes it easier to pack and stack the dry bags. And, finally, we ensured it’s available in a bunch of fresh colors, including our new plaids.
Discovery View Dry Bag. Photo: We Are Unicorns
For our Discovery View Dry Bag, we found a simple change solved a few challenges.
“The biggest evolution of our View bags was the addition of texture,” says Langtry. “Before, we had either a heavy, sticky vinyl film that had challenges with flexibility, or we had an amazing, lighter and more flexible PVC-free clear film, but it was stickier than the clear vinyl film, which made it harder to pack. So we evolved the PVC-free film by adding texture to it, which gave it a frosted look. You can still see inside to find gear quickly, but the frosting also made it less sticky and easier to pack.”
Beyond the materials update, we also tweaked our welded, waterproof air-purging valve to vent trapped air faster for easier sealing (and less ballooning of bags). The View waterproof bags also got the updated Dry Seal closure for better, easier sealing. We then color-coded the oval-esque bottoms by size to make them easier to identify and organize.
Discovery Deck Dry Bag. Photo: Jordan Siemens
As a capstone to our efforts, we went all out and created the Discovery Deck Dry Bag.
We wanted our pinnacle product to be the most versatile, so we loaded it up with features. First, welded lash points and a carry strap were added to make it easy to carry the bag to/from a launch spot, strap it to a standup paddleboard, or lash it to a deck. We then added our other features, including our updated air-purging valve, the more stable, better packing and stacking oval-esque bottoms, and of course the ultra-durable PVC-free materials. And, because this is our top bag, we definitely made sure it’s available in our awesome new plaids (along with five other color choices).
And there you have it! It’s been a fun two-year journey, and we’re proud to launch the culmination of those efforts. From the rad plaids to a bunch of new features, we think the Discovery bags are pretty awesome and we’re excited for you, our beloved customers, to get your hands on these new bags and use them on your own upcoming journeys.