First, Some Advice on Drybags
Before I get to the combined review of the Watershed Futa and NRS Hydrolock stowfloats, I’d like to make a few points about drybags in general.
Most kayakers realize quickly in their paddling career that they need a drybag to carry essential gear. There are a wide variety of drybag styles and price points, and they accomplish different tasks depending on their shape, size, and level of waterproofness. The term “drybag” gets thrown around like crazy—I have seen it used to describe everything from a cheap zip-up fanny-pack to very expensive submersible duffel bags. The moral here? You get what you pay for when it comes to drybags.
While this doesn’t mean every drybag you own has to be submersible to 300 feet, it does mean that you need to buy and pack your drybags according to how dry you need your gear to be. Don’t pack your down sleeping bag in a $15 “drybag” and don’t use a $100 bag to pack your dehydrated, vacuum-sealed food. Buy enough high quality bags to keep the essential gear dry, and use cheaper bags to carry things that won’t get damaged if they get damp.
Okay, now let’s get to the details of two kayak-specific dry bags, the Watershed Futa Stowfloat and the NRS Hydrolock Stowfloat.
Both of these bags are designed to do dual duty.
They perform the all-important task of a float bag, which is to displace water with air (or with packed things that aren’t as dense as water), so that in the event of a swim, your boat will be easier to rescue. This means the bags have a tapered shape to fit into the stern of your kayak, as well as inflation tubes to blow them up once they’re in.
These bags go beyond the traditional float bag, however, since they also allow you to store your gear. The idea here is that you can make efficient use of the stern space in your boat for storage and keep it dry at the same time. Great. But how well do these bags accomplish this goal?
Watershed Futa Stowfloat
Dimensions: 36″H x 18.5″L (tapers to 6.5″)
Opening Size: 16″
Days Tested: ~6 days
Locations Tested: Northeastern Quebec
The Futa is made from 840-denier nylon with multiple polyurethane coats on both sides. Denier is a term used to describe fabric weight, and weave density—840-denier means 9000 meters of one strand of fabric weighs 840 grams. That’s actually pretty damn heavy. The seams are all welded.
The Futa has Watershed’s standard closure, ZipDry, which is essentially an oversized freezer bag seal. The Futa also has a carrying handle on the side, a well-built inflation tube with a quality valve, and several compression straps that allow for easier packing.
According to Watershed, the Futa has a 21-liter capacity. I found that I could fit a 20-degree synthetic sleeping bag (in a compression sack), several base layers, an air-core sleeping pad, and a few other small odds and ends into one Futa. This more or less maxed out the bag, but still allowed me to roll the top of the bag down and hide the seal, which is crucial to keeping the bag dry. The bag has a fairly dramatic taper, so I found I needed to pack carefully to take up all the space.
With two Futa dry bags, I could pack all of my layers, including a down jacket and a shell, my sleeping bag and pad, a 2-person tent with fly and body, a camp stove, and some repair equipment on a six day self-support trip in northeastern Quebec. This meant that I only needed a couple of less expensive dry bags for my food and a day bag for emergency gear, camera, and day snacks.
Once I had all of my gear packed, it was a matter of stuffing the bag into the back of my boat—easier said than done. I packed the bags into a Dagger Mamba 8.6, which thankfully has easy access behind the seat. Other boats, like older Liquid Logic Jefes and Remixes, may be even more difficult to pack. To be fair, this isn’t the Futa’s fault. Modern creek boats and river runners have very high volume sterns, but the opening from the cockpit to the stern is usually small.
Overall, getting the drybag into the stern is mostly a matter of how well you pack it. A few people I was with tried to pack their bags in the boat, but this proved to be much more difficult. Don’t plan on packing items in the Futa that you need to access during the day.
While the Futa doesn’t take up all the space in my Mamba 8.6 or Stomper 90, I think it would completely fill the stern of smaller creek boats. For a single-size bag, I think Watershed has found a good medium with the Futa. As I mentioned above, I can fit everything except food in two Futas for a weeklong trip or more, so I don’t see the need for anything bigger than the Futa. With both bags in the stern of my Mamba, I still had space to fit a breakdown paddle along the center pillar of my boat.
Dryness and Durability
The Futa is not the first Watershed dry bag I have owned, nor will it be the last. Since I haven’t taken any really bad swims with the Futa in my boat, I will instead provide an anecdote from an experience I had with the Watershed Ocoee.
I’ve owned a Watershed Ocoee, which has the same material, seam construction, and seal as the Futa, for more than three years. I use the Ocoee as my “everyday” drybag to carry my camera, lenses, pin kit, food, and other odds and ends. It usually sits between my legs, and I go back and forth about clipping it in depending on the difficulty of the whitewater and how pissed I would be if I lost the bag that day…
While paddling on the Rio Fuy in Chile, I had my camera and pin kit in the Ocoee between my legs and not clipped in. I took a swim in a river-wide ledge hole, and after significant downtime, I managed to recover my paddle, boat, one shoe, and myself.
The bag was nowhere to be found. We continued to move down the river, and after several miles of high-volume IV-V whitewater, I found my dry bag sitting in an eddy. Everything was dry, and a towel I had wrapped my camera in kept it from getting damaged.
Three years later, I still have the same Ocoee bag, and it is still just as waterproof. Of the dozens of dry bags I have owned, none of them have been as reliable as my Watershed bags, and the Futa is no exception. For things like sleeping bags, cameras, and dry camp layers that absolutely need to stay dry, I always use a Watershed bag. The company uses the toughest fabric, their seals are the driest, and their warranty is the best.
So, Why Aren’t All of My Bags Watershed Bags?
Price and Weight. The Futa costs ~$100, and weighs 701 grams (BLISTER measured weight). That’s a lot of money, and the burly fabric they use is heavy.
Enter the NRS Hydrolock Stowfloat.
NEXT PAGE: NRS Hydrolock Stowfloat