Whether you are deep wading a river in the Pacific Northwest, or wading the flats on the west side of Andros, if you're game for all-day or all-week adventures, you need a waterproof pack. This isn't a luxury just for photographers. We've all got stuff we need to keep dry, whether it's a passport, money, jacket, or a sandwich. None of those things are pleasant when they are soggy. In the past two years we've tried a dozen waterproof bags from many different manufacturers. These are three of our favorites.
Simms Dry Creek Z Backpack
I'm an organization freak, and by that I mean I'm not naturally good at it. I want to be organized, but I need some help to get there.
Most waterproof bags have a single spacious main compartment. You throw all your stuff in there, and when you need something, you have to sort through the debris to find what you're looking for. Simms solved this organizational crisis with the Dry Creek Z Backpack ($320, simmsfishing.com)—a perfect carryall for precious cargo in the outdoors.
I've used this bag on fishing trips to the Bahamas, Florida, Guyana, and Brazil. Whoever designed it seems to be from a parallel universe, because all my stuff fits in there as though the bag was designed specifically for me. I always have a camera, and the Simms Padded Organizer ($60) is shaped to nest neatly and comfortably inside the bag. The Padded Organizer has moveable Velcro dividers you can shape however you want. I use four compartments for compact binoculars, a mirrorless 4:3 DSLR camera, and two extra lenses. My laptop slides in flat against the padded back panel and there's still room in the main compartment for a compressible puffy jacket, neck pillow, water bottle, and whatever else I need to travel. When I get to where I'm going, the laptop comes out, and all my fly boxes and reels go in there. Outside, there is a fly patch, rod tube straps, and an outside pocket with a water-resistant zipper. The outside pocket is exactly the right size to hold airplane boarding passes. Coincidence? I don't think so. Inside, there is a zippered security pocket designed for cash and a passport; and a stretch mesh pocket for headphones, and other small items that could be lost in the main compartment.
Patagonia 30L Stormfront Pack
There's a reason life jackets are orange, and why the old storm suits worn by commercial fishermen were historically either orange or yellow. It's so you can easily spot a man overboard. For the same reasons, the orange 30L Stormfront ($300, patagonia.com) pack is easy to pick out on a luggage carousel, overhead bin, or anywhere else look-alike bags are stolen or mistakenly swapped. Sneaky thieves won't likely try to make off with this bag—it draws too much attention. (The 30L Stormfront also comes in black and gray.)
The TPU-coated 800-denier nylon bag has a waterproof TiZip zipper for access to the main compartment, and a zippered nonwaterproof stretch outside pocket for easier access to things like tippet material, leaders, or a fly box. Two outside loops securely hold a fly rod tube. The main compartment has ample space for a DSLR camera, jacket, lunch, tools, and all your extra fly boxes. There's also a small zippered mesh pocket inside the main compartment for your wallet or a passport.
Need to carry more stuff? The Stormfront is compatible with Patagonia's Convertible Vest, so you can have access to all your split-shot, floatant, flies, and everything else, right there in the front where you need it.
Yeti Hopper Backflip 24
To be fair, this isn't technically a waterproof bag. It's an insulated cooler that is engineered to be nearly indestructible, and to keep ice water contained inside. But with all that soft insulation and a cavernous top-loading lid, I instantly thought the Hopper Backflip 24 ($300, yeti.com) would be a perfect camera bag. The same insulation that keeps beer cold also protects your camera from the thumps and bumps of rigorous travel—and no water is getting inside this bag unless you add it in the form of ice.
I believe Yeti always intended for this pack to go fishing, as the optional waterproof SideKick Dry ($50) is designed to be affixed to the outside of the Backflip, and it's the perfect size for fly boxes, leaders, tippet spools, and anything else you might need quick access to. The TPU-coated nylon SideKick Dry has a foldover magnetic HydroShield Closure that is quick and easy and 100% waterproof. It also works pretty well for your cell phone and car keys when the main compartment is filled with beer.
I used the Backflip while wading The Marls on Great Abaco, and found it comfortable for long hauls. Not surprisingly, of all the waterproof bags we tested, this one had the most comfortable harness for heavy loads, and with all those handles and attachment points, it was pretty slick loading in/out of boats.
It should be noted that Yeti makes three sizes of waterproof duffel bags called Pangas ($300-$400) that I've used in rafts, pontoons, skiffs, and drift boats around the world. They are perfect for hauling luggage but the 50L, 75L, and 100L volumes make them impractical to carry while you are actually fishing. The Backflip does that job perfectly well.