Canoeing the Rio Grande: And keeping dry with NRS

| April 2, 2013 | 0 Comments

We met Shane Townsend, outdoor blogger for Bat City Outdoors and avid paddler, halfway through his mission to write about fifty paddles in Texas that anyone can do. We decided it was the perfect opportunity to do some product testing and got him outfitted with some NRS dry bags. Here’s what he had to say.

Back-country paddlers have a long-standing challenge: Keep the water out of the gear.

People have addressed the problem using animal skins, waxed canvas, rubber, dry boxes, temperature-sensitive coated fabrics and PVC. New technology is on the way.

As kids, we fashioned our own sort-of-dry bags by using garbage bags to line Army-Navy surplus duffels. The trick worked; but, duffels got wet; garbage bags tore; and on every trip, at least one piece of gear got just wet enough to notice at 3 a.m.

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Last week, my race to 50 Texas Floats put me on a four-day float through the Rio Grande’s Boquillas Canyon in Big Bend National Park. The 33 trips before this one were day trips or involved only car camping. So, if I made a small misstep and got wet, there was always an escape hatch so to speak. I could get in the car and turn on the heater or just drive home.

On a multi-day, back-country canyon trip there are no exit options; so that same misstep has a different set of consequences. On this trip the weather forecast was perfect: High temperatures in the 70’s and lows in the 40’s. The spring fed river was meant to be in the 60’s. Even in these mild conditions, hypothermia was a risk to consider.

Our team decided to trust NRS dry bags to keep our gear organized and dry. Austin Canoe & Kayak (www.ACK.com) provided the complimentary gear and we headed to the river.

Our NRS Dry System

Name Size Dimensions Volume Material Price
Bill’s Bag Dry Bag

-

33″ x 16″ 109 L 34 & 21-oz PVC/Polyester $80
Tuff Sack Dry Bag Large 11.5″ x 23″ 38 L 18-oz PVC body & 30-oz bottom $30
Tuff Sack Dry Bag Medium 9.5″ x 20″ 22 L 18-oz PVC body & 30-oz bottom $27
Dri-Stow Transparent Dry Bag Medium 9.5″ x 20″ 22 L 17-oz vinyl $23
Dri-Stow Transparent Dry Bag Small 7.5″ x 13″ 10 L 17-oz vinyl $20
Cylinder Case

-

7 7/8″ T x 5 3/8″ at top & 3 5/8″ at bottom < 1 L Plastic $10


NRS 3.8 Bills Bag Dry Bag Highlights:

The NRS Heavy-Duty Bill’s Bag proved to be a really solid piece of gear. It carried the bulk of the gear for two people: tent, clothes, and assorted other small bits.

  • • The StormStrip closure at the mouth of the bag helps the bag seal quickly and tightly; so even with just a couple folds the bag is watertight. For me, this is the standout feature
  • • Padded shoulder straps and comfortable grab handle come in handy when moving the gear
  • •  Fits and fastens well in the bottom of a canoe and between cargo racks
  • •  Sturdy and durable and the reinforced bottom provides some peace of mind when setting it down on concrete driveways and cobble riverbanks
  • •  At 6,500 cubic inches, the bag can carry a lot of gear, and four compression straps help cinch the bag and the gear down to fit the gear inside
  • •  I really like this bag, it’ll be my go to on future solo outings when one bag will do

NRS Tuff Sack Dry Bag Highlights:

Two Tuff Sacks (large and medium) carried sleeping bags, clothes, and other items.

  • • As with the Bills Bag, the StormStrip closure is the standout feature
  • • Bags are sturdy and durable and the reinforced bottom provides some peace of mind when setting it down on concrete driveways and cobble riverbanks
  • • Sturdy buckles create a handle and can clip bags together or to the boat
  • • 1-inch D-ring adds another option for securing the bags
  • • A handle on the bottom of the bag would help remove tightly packed gear
  • • Packed well in the boat and tied in easily

NRS Dri-Stow Transparent Bag Highlights:

The two NRS Dri-Stow Bags (medium and small) carried different things at different times. But, they really stood out when packed with small things.  We used the smaller bag for electronics, headlamps, etc. The other we used for a SAS Survival Manualriver guidebooks, notebooks, pens, field guides, and so on.

  • • See-through feature is great advantage
  • • Sturdy buckles create a handle and can clip bags together or to the boat
  • • 1-inch D-ring adds another option for securing the bags
  • • Bag is particularly sticky when stuffed with a sleeping bag or the like, a handle on the bottom of the bag would help remove tightly packed gear but, if you’re using it to hold smaller items, there’s no need for that bottom handle
  • • Smaller bags packed well around other larger gear and helped make the most of every inch of the canoe’s cargo space
  • • Bags aren’t as sturdy as the Tuff Sack; but the see-through feature is great so I’ll put a Dri-Stow Transparent bag in my favorite backpack and make it my day bag

NRS Cylinder Drycase Highlights:

The Cylinder Drycase carried wallets, river permits, and a few other small things. It’s a good option for small things you want to keep dry, easily accessible, and in their original, unaltered form (e.g. first-aid kits, fishing tackle, an apple). Note: NRS discourages using it for electronics.

  • • Orange color makes the case easy to keep track of
  • • Lid’s lanyard makes it easy to secure the case to other gear, ideally a second lanyard would connect the lid and the case
  • • O-ring helps keep water out, but it’s prone to falling out; so be mindful of that
  • • Simple little case is helpful, versatile; and I’ll continue to use it

Splash Down Performance

About half an hour into day two, a river devil – we’ll call him Sneaky Pete El Duende del Rio – jumped up from a strainer in a swift, tight turn and rolled the canoe.  While I chased my paddle downstream, the rest of the team sorted the flooded boat.

The  results:

  • • All the bags were tied in and remained with the boat
  • • The extra river clothes we kept in the small bag were dry
  • • When we set our tent, rolled out our sleeping bags, and pulled out clothes for the cool night, we found everything was bone dry.
The Verdict

Across the board, I was pleased with the NRS dry bags and case. The gear did what it was meant to do. After the trip, it cleaned up and stored well.
  • • Each piece of NRS dry gear was a little different and offered it’s own particular strength. This allowed us to build a dry system that met our particular needs.
  • • About $190 will buy all the NRS gear in our dry system. Is it worth it? Compare it to the cost of a ruined smart phone, a cold wet night, or a dose of hypothermia.

I can’t yet speak to the lifespan of the gear, but, for now, I’m comfortable and confident in the dry system I’ve put together for the rest of my 50 Texas floats.

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If you’re a paddler or would like to be, please be a steward to our natural resources and an ambassador for our sport. If you’re preparing for a paddling trip, have a look at Essential packing list for a paddling trip and Essential packing list for a fishing trip.

In the meantime, follow the water.

Thanks for reading,

Shane Townsend

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Category: Camping/Hiking, Canoeing, Kayaking

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