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summer worsley

PADI Scuba Instructor
Hunter Bierce is a PADI Scuba Instructor and multidisciplinary outdoor professional.

PRODUCT REVIEW

Sea to Summit Big River Dry Bag

In my mind, the diamond-shaped coastal logo of Sea to Summit is still synonymous with roll-top nylon dry bags. If Sea to Summit is the quintessential manufacturer, the Big River is the classical embodiment of everything a dry bag should be.

Reasonably water-resistant, sturdily built, and affordable, this is a dry bag well-suited for any river adventure as well as the inside of your backpack.

It’s worth taking a look at this, to see if it’s the right option for your kit. Read our review to see how it worked in the field.

Some brands have developed a reputation within a niche. Sea to Summit is one such player. My first dry bag was a Sea to Summit model that I snagged for 10 dollars at an REI garage sale, and for years I assumed that dry bags were the only thing they made.

Our Overall Review

We have thoroughly tested - and read reviews from other experts and users. In summary, this is what we think:

4.8

Reasons to buy

  • Practical and affordable high-quality bag
  • Versatile uses across different sports
  • More water-resistant than many comparable models
  • Very lightweight for the durability and water resistance
  • Buckles can be changed
  • Additional daisy chains for clip-ons
  • No PVC

Reasons NOT to buy

  • There are more durable bags out there
  • Taped seams are more prone to failure than fully welded ones

Waterproofing

Some brands have developed a reputation within a niche. Sea to Summit is one such player. My first dry bag was a Sea to Summit model that I snagged for 10 dollars at an REI garage sale, and for years I assumed that dry bags were the only thing they made.

Given the low price and weight of the Big River Bag, it holds up surprisingly well in extremely wet conditions. I’d go so far as to say the bag is completely waterproof so long as it isn’t submerged too deep. We will test this and update the review.

Provided you keep the top clear of water, the bag does very well in the bottom of your raft, regardless of how low you’re riding. Even if you dump it in the water for a stretch, the hydrostatic head of the fabric is slow to let any moisture soak through.

If you’re worried about splash and rain resistance, the Big River Bag is more than adequate for your needs. So long as the bag is closed correctly and free of punctures, there should be no issues. Fastened to your paddle board, thrown in a pannier, or stuffed in the bottom of your backpack, it’s a versatile solution to your multisport moisture problems.

Sea to summit Big River Orange front View

Sea to Summit Big River Dry Bag: Key Specifications

  • 420D nylon build
  • Field repair buckle with stainless steel pins
  • Taped and reinforced seams
  • Hypalon lash loops and plastic tie-down rings
  • Non-wicking Hypalon roll-top closure
  • Roll-resistant oval base
  • Available in sizes ranging from 3L to 65L

Where to Buy:

Transport and Usability

A consistent issue of mine with dry bags is finding a good solution to porting them around. There’s no great solution to the “bag within a bag” dilemma unless they have some external harness or carrying strap situation (see the Sea to Summit Hydraulic Dry Pack). In my experience, the most common point of failure for my Sea to Summit roll-tops, and any dry bag with a similar closure, for that matter, is the buckle.

I’ve snapped, shattered, and managed an embarrassing number of these plastic closures using the top loop of the bag as a handle. To my credit, I don’t know how else you’re supposed to carry them anywhere.

All new S2S dry bags have proprietary buckles (patent pending). This addresses the problem of buckle-snappage, and they have made the buckle much easier to replace than comparable models.

While this is a bit of a “cart before the horse” solution, it’s better than nothing. But we’ll dig into the details of that a bit later.

There aren’t any surprises regarding the act of storing things itself. Different sizes will be appropriate for different activities, and the most important thing to keep in mind is not to fill your bag past the point of getting a solid roll seal.

One minor detail that offers a slight advantage over other dry bags is the Big River has a high-contrast white interior that can help you spot things a little faster, provided they’re not buried under strata of gear near the bottom of your pack.

Sea to summit Big River Handle

Durability

At 420D, Big River Bags are on the upper end of the lightweight thickness spectrum. True waterproof duffels and adventure packs are a little more robust but are also totally waterproof and can withstand prolonged submersion. Still, these bags are more than enough for river and general outdoor wear and tear at their current grade.

Their life will be much prolonged if they’re primarily riding in the bottom of a boat, in your backpack, or a bike pannier. Scrapes and scuffs are manageable but getting grated over sharp rocks or dragged through a cactus patch is a bad call. I usually think about what my skin could handle and go from there.

As a final note on the Big River’s durability and overall quality, I want to point out that the seams are taped rather than welded. I’ve rarely had a drybag long enough that the seams split before I accidentally broke a buckle or poked a hole in it, but it has happened. The highest quality, most waterproof, and longest-lasting bags are usually welded. The fact that Sea to Summit has chosen to forego this process with the Big River is more indicative of the price and intended purpose than anything else.

But the DIVEIN team is currently testing just how much punishment the Big River can take before giving way.

Sea to summit Big River 35L Orange

Features

Given the nature of the Big River Bag, it doesn’t have much beyond the standard array of functionality-minded features that you’d see from more niche bags. But those that it does employ are well-executed and dependable. For example, the fabric’s hydrostatic head (or waterproofing) is built to specifications that theoretically prevent water from seeping in at up to 30 feet in depth. Coupled with the anti-wicking roll-top closure, the bag is more than enough for any activity with low likelihood of submersion.

The one thing that we see from the Big River that we don’t get from many other bags is the aforementioned replaceable buckle. I’ve suffered a few shattered closures in my day, and while duct tape can get the job done for a quick field fix, in no way is it a long-term solution to what is now a broken bag. You can completely replace the Big River’s closure system with a single Phillips-head screwdriver you’ll find on any multitool.

High-volume models of the Big River Bag have four tie-down points; anything less than 13L has only two. Lash points are heat and UV-resistant to keep them from breaking down after prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. Their width and reinforced stitching inspire more confidence than I feel when using ultralight alternatives like the Osprey UL 12. As a last note, the Big River Bag is available in a grand total of seven sizes and five colors. The variety makes organizing your gear for extended trips much more manageable. With a bit of color-coding, you can know exactly what’s in every bag without too much searching.

Sea To Summit Big River On Water Orange

Value

The Big River Bag falls right in the sweet spot of function and frugality. Their 65L version is priced at around $65. At a dollar per liter, it’s less than what you’d pay for a soda. Smaller sizes are less economical but suffer no loss of toughness or water resistance and are still a considerable deal based on metrics of practicality over volume. There are more affordable dry bags out there, but not many of these are appropriate for the kinds of high-intensity sports the Big River Bag thrives on.

If you’re a more casual sporter or want something that works better for a day at the beach instead of a week on the river, I’d recommend turning your attention to cheaper bags with more of a focus on portability. By that same merit, if you’re looking for anything entirely waterproof for your cameras or other irreplaceable gear, it’s worth investing a little more money. Our best of page offers side-by-side comparisons of different dry bags across the industry; take a look for our top picks from every category.

Sea To Summit Big River Orange and Blue

Summary

Ultimately the Big River Bag is a middle-of-the-road option particularly useful for people who want to develop a color-based organization system. It’s waterproof, durable, and affordable enough to justify investing in multiple if you’re planning a big river trip or have specific multisport needs.

The universal buckle replacement is worth weighing pretty heavily, as is the general affordability of higher-volume units. I’ve owned several Big River Bags and have gotten at least a couple of years of use out of each without trying to be particularly gentle with them, and chances are I’ll own a few more in the future.

What We Like

  • Practical and affordable high-quality bag
  • Versatile uses across different sports
  • More water-resistant than many comparable models
  • Very lightweight for the durability and water resistance
  • Buckles can be changed
  • Additional daisy chains for clip-ons
  • No PVC

What We Don’t Like

  • There are more durable bags out there
  • Taped seams are more prone to failure than fully welded ones

Where to Buy:

Where to Buy:

FAQ – Frequently asked questions about Sea to Summit Big River Dry Bag

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    How to close a dry bag?

    The vast majority of dry bags will be the roll-top variety, and once you get the hang of using them, the process is relatively consistent regardless of the brand of bag you use. Here’s a quick and easy overview of the process.

    How to close a dry bag:

    • Draw the mouth of the bag straight up, and hold by either edge of the opening
    • Push all of the air out of the remaining space in the bag, and draw the excess material straight up
    • Roll the mouth of the pack at least three times to create a waterproof seal, and buckle at the top

    Most dry bags only need to be rolled three times to create a waterproof seal, but make sure to check the specifications of your specific model to make sure you have a dependable way of keeping your most essential items dry.

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    What are the best dry bags?

    The best dry bag is the one that fits your needs and intentions the most closely. Not all dry bags are built the same, and the best one for the bottom of your kayak on your upcoming whitewater trip isn’t going to look much like the overbuilt expedition bag you’ll want for extended travel. That being said, here are a few of our favorites from different styles across the industry.

    Best Dry Bags:

    For more dry bags across different sports, sizes, and styles- take a look at our best of page for side-by-side comparisons of our favorites across the industry.

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    Are Sea to Summit dry bags good?

    Sea to Summit has a reputation for their wide range of adventure-oriented dry bags. From small sacks that add an extra degree of protection to your electronics to burly adventure duffles, they have you covered. To see our favorites from Sea to Summit and how they stack up against other big names in the industry, head over to our best dry bags page.

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    Are Sea to Summit dry bags waterproof?

    Sea to Summit bags are waterproof, but the degree of resistance depends on the style and make of the specific bag you’re interested in. Some bags, such as their Big River Bag are built only to resist splashes and brief submersion, while others are bomb-proof shelters for your phones, keys, and other essentials.

    For more on our favorite Sea to Summit dry bags, and to see how they stack up against the competition at large, head over to our best of page for an in-depth look at our favorites across the industry.

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    What are dry bags made of?

    You’ll see some variation between make and model of dry bag, but higher-end models tend to be made of heavy nylon with a hydrostatic finish to prevent seeping. Smaller, more affordable dry bags usually have a silnylon construction for increased flexibility and to save on weight.

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