Ortlieb Rack Pack
Photo courtesy of Ortlieb
Funny how we get attached to our equipment. Dry
bags seem to be my thing. I’ve got a couple of old olive
barrels full of them. Empty and flattened with scuff marks and
faded lettering scrawled on their sides, they are the tangible
icons of expeditions past and the germ of expeditions yet
I loaned a bag to a buddy the other day and noticed the writing
in white Mean Streak marker across the side: Resupply Bag #2
and beneath that: Haida Gwaii Expedition ‘99. I can
still remember rendezvousing with the helicopter deep in Princess
Maria Inlet as I left the ledgey coast of Graham Island behind and
started down the deep water coast of Moresby. Although the living
was good aboard the SS Salmon Seeker with prime rib and excellent
merlots while dining with the captain, not to mention sleeping in a
real bed, I was happy to see the bags. Stuffed with Clif Bars, fuel
canisters, film, the next library installment, a board game
covering the Russian Revolution of 1918, fresh batteries, a supply
of MRS organic freeze dried meals to augment a diet of fish, crab
and barnacle and, not in the least, a two week supply of good
Canadian beer, I was good to go for the next leg.
Strewn around your kayak like a pack of small dogs, your bags
begin to take on personality. Some are supple and slightly faded,
others stiff and shiny, one has a hole with a patch, another is
missing a buckle. Some are fat and heavy, others light and trim.
Some you invite into your tent for the night while others are
relegated to the vestibule or the clammy hold of the boat. Along
with the scavenge driftwood/carry water themes of kayak
trekking, are the litany of baggage you catalog and haul around the
Leave a couple of supply bags in the boat, then pull half a
dozen others out and toss them on the pea gravel. With your tent
bag slung over your shoulder, you prowl around hunting for just the
right site. When it’s pitched you stash the empty bag in the
rear vestibule and bring over the bags with sleeping gear, clothes,
library, your breakfast stuff and your toiletries. You arrange them
in the front vestibule or the sanctum sanctorum according to
Over the course of an expedition it seems as if we are always
stuffing, digging through, hauling to and from the boat, loading or
unloading from the always too small hatches or rummaging through
our baggage train. Bags are the currency of our material and can
represent a pleasant experience in order and material transport, or
the bane of our time afield.
In my book the two most important features of a good sea
kayaking bag are the integrity of the bag and the ease of use.
I’ve become ambivalent about a bag’s ability to seal up
completely water tight. The most common threat, far and away, of
moisture to gear stored in dry bags in a sea kayak is from the inch
or two of water in the hold. That said, I still make sure half of
my bags are Zip-Lock type and completely water tight if
submerged, as a back-up safety precaution in case of a punctured
hull or faulty hatch cover. The problem with the Zip-lock bags
though is they can be a pain in the ass to keep clean and to use.
Instead, I prefer a bag that is more ergonomic and user friendly
and waterproof to 500 ft be damned.
My favorite bag is an Ortlieb Rack Pack and I’ll tell you
why. They are the easiest to use, both mechanically and in
terms of design, and viscerally I like the feel of the tough,
heavy-weight (PVC PD620) fabric. They have a tougher model in a
hybrid material but I don’t like the hand nearly as well. The
PD620 is tough enough for years of use and in the event of a hole,
I can patch it (or send it in and they’ll do a seamless job).
The buckles are soft to the touch and easy to open, no small
advantage when your fingers are nicked and numb, and the closure is
quick and reliable and even self cleaning to help flush out sand
The design upside with Rack Packs is they load horizontally, so
you can get at your stuff without having to dump it all out. This
may not seem a big deal at first, but after a while it will
be. You can keep a bag full of stuff and leave it open in your
tent like a drawer...library bag, clothing bag, electronic bag, all
ready at hand.
The down side of the Rack Pack (other than price) is largely
theoretical. They are not as thoroughly water tight as some styles
of dry bags. They have a roll down opening; with buckles at either
end of the bag and two crossing over the top, they seal effectively
and easily. They will not serve as flotation (should you fill the
boat with water) as well or as long as other bags.
Made in Germany, Ortlieb is a company big into waterproof
panniers, messenger and motorcycle bags, backpacks, travel and city
bags, camera bags and, of course, dry bags. Dry bags are their
thing. Not to be confused with cheaper bags with inferior materials
and hardware, Ortlieb is comfortable in the top shelf niche. You
will pay a little more for a bag with the Ortlieb logo on it but it
will pay dividends in the long run in the field.
I spoke today with Jeff Scully, Ortlieb’s main man in the
states. I was looking for some new scuttlebutt for 2005. Jeff gave
me the same spiel as the year before. I pointed that out to him and
we laughed. They had some new accessories for some of the bags but
no new changes to the core line or newer, better bags to replace
the tried and true. Frankly, that was refreshing to hear. One of my
pet peeves as a gear guy is that some companies don’t know
when to leave well enough alone. Leave fashion for the runway I
The low-price drybag for use in camping and easy trekking tours;
provides a balance between acceptable weight and good durability.
The base is made of the tough material PD620. All drybags are
supplied with D-rings and a base loop.
New sturdy drybag made out of the extremely strong PD620 fabric
with a section of transparent folding resistant foil material. This
way you will know always where your gear is stored. No more
searching and looking for a special item that could be in
High-quality drybag made of an extremely lightweight and compact
high-tech material. Despite its low weight you will be amazed how
abrasion resistant and durable the PS17 fabric is. The roll closure
ensures waterproof closure of the drybag.
Bags designed for heavy duty use; where toughness is more important
than considerations of weight. All drybags are supplied with
D-rings and a base loop for additional fastening. The base is made
of even tougher fabric PD620.
For more information on Ortlieb bags, go to www.ortliebusa.com.