This Packing System Could Save Your Life…And It’s Guaranteed to Keep Your Stuff Dry
The rain fell steadily, in that dense, soaking, constant way of socked-in storms. The woman to my left in the middle seat was from Germany. We were in Moscow. It was July. We’d just boarded yet another flight, one of many redirections after Lufthansa had cancelled a flight out of Denver.
The connection had been very close. Masses of people had been jammed up in security. As the clocked clicked closer to takeoff, finally an attendant called out to those of us on the flight about to leave. We barely got on board on time. However, now we were watching the men outside load our luggage.
My seat mate was discussing her master’s thesis. I wasn’t listening. I was watching my backpack, which had been set aside for some reason next to the onboarding ramp. Someone with a clipboard kept checking it. I felt like banging on the window and gesturing to the guy. That’s MINE. LOAD it already!
Meanwhile the rain poured on. Soaking my backpack. Inside were down jackets, a down sleeping bag, clothing and gear for three weeks in Kazakhstan on a remote horseback ride.
My bag didn’t make it to Ust for another five days. Just in time for the trip to start. By then I was pretty grateful for a change of clothing.
It’s all Dry and Here’s Why
When the bag finally arrived in Ust, it was still wet.
Not a problem. I unlocked it and pulled out all my gear.
Everything was perfectly dry. Not a single drop of water ever touched the critically important down.
Each bag I pulled out of my backpack was a Sea-to-Summit dry bag, suitable for kayaking. Inside was a packing cube- my favorites are Eagle Creek, full of neatly packed and arranged clothing, gear and supplies. Call me anal- and I admit that I am- or call it my military background. The point is that this system — or something like it — could save your life.
Unpredictability is Predictable
Near the top of the world, at a hotel not far from Everest Base Camp, I was with a small group of hikers which had been laboring for the previous week. We’d been hit by unseasonably heavy snow for the previous three days. Late May, the trees are in full bloom, but this year the weather had shifted. Our sherpas had sat down on our last attempt to reach Gorakshep — just below Base Camp — when the conditions had gotten too dangerous. Most of us had returned to the hotel where rooms were scarce and conditions were brutal.
When we woke up the next morning, those who hadn’t been able to secure a room had been sleeping outside in flimsy tents not designed for the conditions. The snow was so heavy and so deep that their tents had collapsed, and their gear, left outside the tent flaps, was soaked. Those travelers were huddled miserably in the common room of the hotel which was the only source of heat: a pot bellied stove. Their bags and jackets were soaked through. It would be a long time before their gear dried. Had they not been close to a hotel they likely would have died.
A Guarantee of Dry Gear When You Need It
The same thing had happened to others in my group. The sherpas had hoisted our gear bags, which weren’t waterproof, onto their backs and had hiked to the hotel through the heavy snow. The hotels aren’t heated. At eighteen thousand feet, and in the middle of a heavy snowstorm, it gets very cold. Your butt freezes to the toilet. There is no “better time of day.” Your sleeping bag, jackets and clothing are what keep you warm and dry. To say the least, it’s comforting to open up your dry bags and find out that your gear is, in fact, ready to use.
Sea-to-Summit makes storage bags in sizes ranging from tiny ditty bags to 35L. They come in a selection of bright colors, which allows you to color-code. Eagle Creek has a wide variety of packing cubes which allow you to separate snacks from batteries, dirty boots from clean gear, and keep everything tidy. You’ll be very grateful for that boot bag if you’ve been hiking long distances; foul shoes can make the inside of your backpack pretty ripe. Most of us are ripe enough after a week or more of hiking and no showers. The last thing you need is put on clothing that smells like your rotten Odor Eaters.
Once you get your gear packed into the cubes, slip them into the dry bags, press out the extra air. Then label each bag with the contents and secure the label. This way, all you need is a flashlight in your tent or in a dark hotel room to find what you need.
The other advantage is that if you need to store some gear in a tent vestibule, the bags keep your stuff clean and dry no matter the weather, dew point or how many times you kick them over heading outside for a potty break.
The Cost is Worth It
A friend of mine prefers to use a garbage bag to line her backpack. Sure, it’s cheaper. The problem with cheap, in a case like this, is that it doesn’t last. I can’t speak for anyone else but I’m not willing to trust my life to a plastic garbage bag which can’t protect my gear individually, and eventually ends up in a land fill. I have found that this system has served well in surprising ways.
On a trip to Africa my safari planner had taken some of my gear ahead while I was in the south of Tanzania. Some of the packets had drink mixes, white powder that gave the attending agent concern. He then wanted to check every single bag, which would have taken a long time. After checking three dry bags and finding the contents matched precisely what was listed outside, he cleared my guide. My safari leader told me that the detailed descriptions on the labels as well as the way things had been organized made his life far easier.
Of course this takes some extra time. The bags themselves aren’t cheap. A 20litre bag can put you back about $38.00. However they are hardy, long- lasting and stand up to considerable abuse. They come in different strengths, with ultra-sil being the lightest. I use the dry bags, which are the toughest, and can be submerged. This way when I go kayaking I have bags that I can employ on the paddling expedition.
Many different manufacturers create packing cubes, but my favorites are from Eagle Creek. They hold up to a lot of abuse and I’ve had mine for decades. I’ve seen a few manufacturers make waterproof cubes but the cost is so prohibitive that it’s not competitive. For my purposes, the variety and size provide convenient ways to organize even my smallest stuff, such as small batteries.
A Matter of Habit
Even if you’re carrying luggage rather than a backpack, organizing your gear this way provides ideal protection. Luggage is often left outside the airplane in Third World countries, to say nothing of the way our luggage is treated in the first place-like a badminton shuttlecock. The extra care you take can guarantee that your gear has the best chance of arriving in perfect shape, dry and organized.
Depending on what kind of adventure you’re on, it’s more than a convenience. It might just save your life.