Thursday, November 8, 2007

Waterproof Bags for Outdoor & Kayaking Photography

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts Location Laptop Case, I travel a lot with my photography, and being primarily an outdoor photographer, much of my time is spent outside (really?!). Additionally, living on the west coast of Canada I am predisposed to being out in some of the worst possible weather, year round.

As some of you are aware, and much to my wife's dismay, I am a gear nerd connoisseur. Few things get me more excited than checking out the latest offerings from Apple or Nikon, and even things as seemingly boring as camera bags get me all fired up. I am always on the hunt for an easier, lighter, better, faster, smarter, more protective way to carry my gear. Generally speaking, camera bags fall into one of two categories. Convenient or Protective. I have yet to find a bag from a photographic company that covers both categories, which seems baffling to me. Not that I have the answer, but if they can put a man on the moon...

One company, totally unrelated to the photographic industry, seems to be bridging that gap for me.

Last year my friend Alex Matthews (who writes articles for many fine kayaking publications, and I shoot with on assignments from time to time), told me about waterproof bags from a company called Watershed. Watershed makes a wide range of bags, from duffles bags to backpacks, and even gun cases (yee-haw!). Their smaller duffles and backpacks have become my go-to solution whenever I am heading out into wet weather, or onto the water to shoot watersports.

Firstly, let me say that these bags are absolutely waterproof (not just dunk-proof). Last year I was out shooting kayaking on the Cowichan River in November for a local tour tour company Kindred Spirit Kayaking. I was paddling in an open top inflatable kayak with my gear in a small Watershed duffle strapped between my knees. Though I didn't flip, I was regularly swamped as I paddled through rough water, and this bag was submerged numerous times that day. This past summer I was shooting sea kayaking out in Clayoquot Sound near Tofino, BC for another client and local tour company Blue Planet Kayaking. I had some of my gear in a small Watershed duffle in the cockpit with me, and the rest in a slightly larger Watershed duffle strapped to the deck in front of me, completely exposed to the elements. The result both times? Dry gear. Here is one of their bags in action on Vargas Island this summer:

Watershed Drybags
(Full Disclosure: I recently licensed 2 images to Watershed, including this one shown here. However, I was a user and a big fan long before they became a client!)

The Watershed bags waterproofing comes from the use of an advanced Ziploc-like closure system. There are 5 interlocking rubber ribs that seal the bag completely, keeping out sand, dust, water and more. As long as you make sure to go over the seal twice with your fingers, you should be good to go. Unlike roll-top drybags (very common in the kayaking world) they are not restricted to having the bag filled completely to keep the closure working properly and water out. A few other nice features are the multiple reinforced lash points for strapping down your bag, solid webbing carry handles, and fabric coated with polyurethane instead of enivironmentally unfriendly & toxic PVC like most other bags. Here is a detail of the opening with instructions:

Watershed Drybags

Watershed makes 4 bags that I think will be of particular appeal to photographers. First are their small backpacks, specifically the Big Creek, and the Animas. They are 20 and 54 liters in volume respectively, and have removeable shoulder straps and waistbelts if you need to stow them. Second are their small duffle bags, specifically the Ocoee and Chattooga which are 15 and 30 liters respectively. These two duffles work well separately for small jobs, or together for larger shoots or longer trips. They also have longer opening than the backpacks, and as such I use them whenever I don't have to carry my gear a long way. I have also started using my Chattooga around town to carry my portable lighting kit. I can fit 2 compact light stands, umbrella swivels, 3 SB-24 flashes, Pocket Wizards, clamps, various snoots, grids, gobos and gels inside this bag with room to spare. I plan to use this setup for most of my shooting this winter, especially out in the snow shooting skiing and lifestyle, so I can drop my bag in the snow and not need to worry about it getting damp.

Another nice feature is the optional liner that is available for all sizes of their duffle bags. I have liners for both my Ocoee and Chattooga. The liners are nylon shelled, foam padded, and soft fleece lined. They also have their own carry handles so you can remove them with your gear still inside for easy transport. When shooting paddling and other watersports, I will take my bags with the padded liners, and leave all other camera bags/protectors at home, with the exception of cases for individual lenses, and RoadWired R.A.P.S. wraps for my flashes and other small fragile items. While you certainly can't be tossing your gear around, it will absorb most impacts, and for me the flexibility of an easy to access, supple, waterproof bag outweigh the lack of high-impact protection. Here are a couple of the bags, with the padded liners:

Watershed Drybags

If you spend much time shooting in wet weather, give these bags a hard look, I think you'll be as pleased with them as I am.

Cheers, Josh


Blogger Scott Kennedy said...

great tips there Josh!

one thing that i do when i'm on the road with my laptop (for those that don't know, i work as a travel writer for Lonely Planet) to keep it safe and still portable - i have a neoprene cover for it that protects it from bumps and bruises and then i have a ultralight drybag that slides over the computer and sleeve. this keeps water from a spilled beer right through to an unexpected downpour at bay. it also keeps sand out - which is a biggie, when i'm tromping around the dessert or the beach....
Scott Kennedy

November 8, 2007 at 6:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting that you chose that piece to write about -I'm interested in trying to find a digital camera -for myself -and hadn't noticed this as a place to get information, etc. Thanks for a nice timely post!
That looks great!

November 29, 2007 at 12:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your recommendation. I was vainly trying to get a regular dry bag (roll down) to work for my camera gear (30D + 100-400L) which I intend to take out on the water at Hornby Island in a week. Now I know to go back and check out these ones.
-- Keith Loh

August 10, 2008 at 1:19 AM  

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