Protecting your stuff on paddle trips takes some specialized packs. This article will help you match the right containers with the right cargo, and give you some pointers on loading your boat for better safety and performance.
Dry bags are made with waterproof fabrics of various weights. Lighter fabrics are more flexible and less expensive, but not as durable as heavier, stiffer, more expensive materials.
Most dry bags seal with one of two types of closures: rolltop or zip lip.
Rolltops seal by folding the top down several times, then clipping it into place. They're jam-proof and easy to close. It's important not to overfill these bags - if you can't fold the top enough times, they don't seal, and then they're not really dry bags.
Rolltop dry bags are dunkproof. But even when properly sealed they aren't guaranteed to keep out water indefinitely, so they should only be used for clothing or other items that wouldn't be permanently damaged by water.
Zip lip-style dry bags are more expensive than rolltops and a bit fussier to close. However, provided the "lips" are properly sealed, they remain watertight even through extended submersion. So they can be used for electronics. (Padded liners offer a bit of cushioning and are available for some zip lip dry bags.)
As a bonus, as long as the combined weight of the bag and contents is less than water, zip lip dry bags add some back-up buoyancy to your boat. But make sure they're secured in place so they don't float out of the boat in a capsize.
MEC carries a couple of styles of hard cases: resin and Lexan®.
Resin cases provide maximum protection for expensive and/or fragile items. They're waterproof and crush-resistant, and many come with foam liners that can be custom-fit to your particular cargo.
Though not as crush-resistant or as watertight as resin boxes, Lexan cases make excellent containers for field repair kits. It's easy to locate the item you need through the see-through sides, and the hard plastic prevents tools and metal replacement parts from poking through adjacent drybags or boat walls.
With their open boats, and the possibility of portages, canoeists generally prefer to have a couple of larger pieces of luggage for faster loading and unloading. (In contrast, kayakers prefer several smaller dry bags for ease of fitting below decks.)
Plastic barrels with waterproof lids are usually used to carry food, stoves and kitchenware. Optional harnesses let you portage them fairly easily.
Barrels protect against crushing and soaking. Although they are critter-resistant, and their watertight lids reduce food odours, barrels are not "certified" bear-proof canisters.
Portage packs are essentially oversized dry bags, designed to consolidate cargo and minimize the number of carries needed to complete a portage. Carrying systems range from basic shoulder straps to full-on backpack-style harnesses which are sometimes removable, so they won't get hung up when back in the boat.
Soft, transparent plastic cases provide less protection than hard cases. However, they do let you use electronics such as GPSs, radios, and point-and-shoot cameras while on the water. A bit of care is needed to get the most from them.
These cases are subject to the "greenhouse effect" - sunlight passes through the transparent panel, hits the dark object inside, and heats up the interior. That heat may be unhealthy for the electronic toy inside, and can also puff up the case, possibly rupturing a seam, so keep these cases in the shade wherever possible. When loading the case, squeeze out as much air as possible. If you notice the case inflating as the day heats up, crack open the clip, bleed off the excess air, and reseal it.
Moisture from damp air can get trapped inside electronic cases. The resulting condensation is bad for electronics and for your view through the window. The cure is to drop in a silica gel desiccant pack which will absorb moisture from the air. Sometimes they are supplied with the soft case, but if not, you may be able to score one from MEC's friendly neighbourhood footwear department. Don't forget to dry out your desiccant packs every now and then. A warm place in the sun is the most eco-friendly option; a blast from a hair dryer will do in a pinch.
For maximum stability, place heavier items, such as axes, tent poles, canned goods, and water containers, as low in the boat as possible. Avoid having heavy items too far toward the bow or stern, as this can make it difficult to keep the boat on course.
For the confined areas of a kayak, use smaller dry bags, including tiny ones that tuck into cockpit corners to hold day-use items. Using tapered dry bags for the bow and stern areas of a touring kayak allows efficient packing in these oddly shaped spaces. Having light items, such as clothing, sleeping bags and tent bodies, at the far ends of your boat should improve its handling while underway.
A quick way to check a boat's trim is to scoop a handful of water into the bottom centre of the craft. The direction and speed of the water flowing away will indicate which way and how much the boat is off level. Do this test with paddlers and passengers on board - they'll affect the trim too.