If you’re looking for a small to medium-sized duffel that will really stand up to the outside elements, you might want to consider the Watershed Chattooga Duffel Dry Bag. I recently picked one up from the team at Expedition Ops. Founded by a couple of river guides in the late 1980s, Watershed has set out to make a superior dry bag. Tired of having their gear ruined when the “dry” bags they were using failed, Watershed focused their attention on the bag’s closure. Traditionally the fail point of most dry bags, the company knew there had to be a better way then simply folding something on its self over and over again to keep out water.
Taking a page from the food storage industry, the team decided to create a seal that worked just like a kitchen freezer bag – only on a much larger scale. This idea led to creating their patented ZipDry Closure. Watertight to below a 300′ submersion, the ZipDry closure locks tight and ensures an airtight, watertight seal even when submerged and under pressure. The closure can be a little tricky to operate the first couple of times you use the bag. There is a little bit of that an internal battle between questioning yourself about pulling too hard versus applying just the right amount of pressure to break the seal and “unzip” the bag. After some practice, opening and closuring the quickly becomes second nature. Just remember the letter “S” when going through the motions.
I have to admit that initially I was skeptical about the size of the Chattooga and it’s usefulness as an overnight or weekender bag. Measuring 12″ x 20″ x 10″, it seemed too small to pack for a full weekend and the ZipDry closure creates a smaller opening for packing than some of the other traditional duffel bags I own. However, that being said, the best way to test it was to put it into service and use it on a couple of trips.
The first trip I took it on was a two-night stay in San Diego. As I laid out everything I needed for the weekend, I thought there was no way that it would all fit inside the bag. To give you a visual reference, I had: (2) pairs of jeans, (3) t-shirts, (2) pairs of shorts, (1) long sleeve shirt, (3) sets of boxers, (4) pairs of socks, pair of flip-flops, sweatshirt, and my toiletry case. I stacked up everything in a pile and started putting them into the Watershed one by one. As I got towards the bottom of the pile, I was pleasantly surprised that everything was going to fit and that I still had room for a book I was reading. While the rest of the family had multiple bulky bags, I was ready to go with my Watershed and Litespeed backpack.
Since that initial trip I have used the Chattooga on multiple weekenders and overnights and have grown to really enjoy it. Given it’s size and visual appearance when compared to other duffels, it’s surprising how efficiently it uses its internal space and how much it can actually hold. Every time I pack it I find myself pleasantly surprised at how much fits inside. I am also impressed with the materials and build quality. While most dry bags are made from PVC-coated materials, Watershed uses chemically stable polyurethane coated fabrics. Unlike PVC that can off-gas when exposed to heat and become stiff when exposed to cold temperatures, the fabric used by Watershed is 5 times more abrasion resistant and keeps its flexibility at all temperatures.
Another nice feature is that all the seams on the Watershed are fused using radio frequency welding. Radio frequency welding excites the molecules of the material and bonds them together using a combination of applied heat and pressure. This achieves a seal that could never been replicated by stitching. I also noticed that all of the seams overlap substantially as well. This provides an additional layer of protection in case the bag were ever to catch on anything while in transport.
The Chattooga comes with rugged nylon handles that are easy to grab and comfortable when carrying the bag under full load. I thought the hard lash points are a great touch for securing the bag down with a bungee cord or tie-down strap. This comes in handy when transporting the bag because you can secure it to your roof rack, motorcycle, or kayak depending upon where your adventures take you. Larger lash points are supplied on each side of the bag as well as additional smilers ones at each end. Multiple compression straps, running both across and lengthwise on the bag, help you shrink the bag down to a minimal size as well as secure the contents in place from moving about while traveling.
The Chattooga retails for $99 and is available in your choice of Red, Yellow, Blue, Coyote, Black, Clear, and Multicam. You should expect to pay 30% more for the Multicam version. If you can’t find one in stock at your local dealer, Watershed’s website says it’s a 3 to 6 week lead time if they have to build you one from scratch. I appreciate the fact that Watershed is very similar to Red Oxx Manufacturing in the respect that all the bags are US made and have a lifetime warranty. Should anything ever happen to your bag, simply send it back to them and they will repair or replace it at their discretion. For the value and build quality, I’d definitely recommend taking a look at the Watershed line when shopping for your next travel bag.