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Product Knowledge
October/November 2011

Dry bags and cases:

Waterproof, not fool proof

Ask a manufacturer and customer what the term waterproof means and you’d probably get completely different opinions on what to expect from a product labelled ‘waterproof’. How does a retailer match the expectations of the customer with what can realistically expected of dry bags and waterproof cases? NELLE DU TOIT found that extensive product knowledge and warnings about realistic expectations are often the key

Any item a customer wishes to waterproof will have a valuable role to play in his or her outdoor adventures. Why else would they take the time to find a waterproof solution for carrying the item?

Not all valuables will, however, need the same degree of protection against getting wet. Take a down-filled sleeping bag, for example: a nightmare to dry if it gets wet, but it can still be used after it gets wet. A customer who is taking a GPS on a white water rafting trip, however, would only be comfortable with a completely different waterproof solution.

It is important to point out to your customer that not all waterproof dry bags and cases function in the same way — and to ask questions about the intended use.

Waterproof has come to mean many different things to different people — from protection against the elements; to water immersion at different levels; and water protection for certain durations.

It is therefore very important to understand each product’s waterproof capabilities and what is reasonable to expect from it before you recommend anything to a customer.

Dry under water?

Waterproof is defined as “something that is impervious to or unaffected by water and prevents penetration by water” in

When a bag or case is labelled waterproof, it usually means that the material will prevent water molecules from penetrating the bag or case — this does not necessarily mean that it can withstand the amount of pressure that will be applied to the material when submerged under water in real-world scenarios.

“The problem is that if you have air in a waterproof dry bag and you submerge it, there will be a large amount of water and air pressure on the material. The air gets pushed in all directions, whilst water creates pressure on the outside of the material. For this reason Sea to Summit label their dry bags with the caution do not submerge,” explains Leo Rust of local distributor Adventure Inc.

“This means the dry bags are absolutely fine for water sports (such as kayaking, paddling, etc.) where the bag is either floated on top of the water or the contents need protection from splashes or rain — but we advise customers not to force the bags under water.”

Simon Larsen, of Ram Mountaineering — distributors of Pneumo, F-PS and other dry bags, agrees, “Dry bags are simply not built for submergence. If a customer intends to use a waterproof bag in submerging activities (like swimming or snorkelling) it is best to advise them to rather opt for a case than a dry bag.”

But waterproof cases come with their own set of pros and cons.

Pros and cons

Waterproof cases are more durable in construction and therefor more water resistant than dry bags, but they are inflexible and a hassle to carry for an adventurer aiming to strip down the weight of their equipment.

Because of its rigid nature a case can, however, offer more shock absorption and crush protection than a bag. That is why experts advise to rather keep the expensive and water sensitive electronic equipment in a case if it will be submerged.

“A case protects against more than just water or dust, it also protects against impacts and drops,” says Frank Barbato of G&L Agencies. “If the customer intends on partaking in a trip where they will most likely be submerged I would suggest using a dry bag for soft luggage such as clothing and a case for cameras, laptops, iPads, etc.”

Because the waterproof capabilities of a dry bag depends on how the user closes the bag, a manufacturer cannot guarantee its capabilities once it is submerged.

“Dry bags can waterproof electronics when not submerged,” remarks Rust. “You can still operate the touch screen and even make a phone call while your phone is protected.”

Dry bags also have the benefit of being lightweight, but they are less durable than cases, adds Jacques Botes of Eiger Equipment.

It is for this reason that experts recommend using dry bags for adventure racing, trail running and kayaking, where not too bulky, lightweight and flexible bags are required. Dry bags with purge valves can be inflated to float on top of the water, preventing equipment from falling in the water and getting lost in the deep.

Heavy cases might not provide the buoyancy needed to keep equipment afloat. Barbato advises that you recommend that your customers tie a case to the boat or canoe for extra protection.

Different dry bags

“Dry bags with valves gives the customer an added benefit of allowing the bags to be used as sleeping bag holders that can be compressed to a much smaller size,” says Larsen. “For a customer looking to protect their down-feathered sleeping bag, a purge-valve dry bag could be a great option. It will not only keep the sleeping bag dry, but also compress it to a very small size.”

“It is important to remember that there are two types of dry bags,” adds Botes. “There are thin, lightweight dry bags, which work great as liners and above water protection, as well as thicker, more durable, rubber duck type of material dry bags that can be used on river rafting and canoeing adventures.”

Both thin liner dry bags and thicker dry bags come in a roll-top format, some even have zip-locks or seals for added protection.

“The problem with roll-top dry bags are that the waterproof capabilities are entirely dependent on the attention applied by the user in terms of sealing the bag,” says Larsen. “Traditional roll-top and clip bags can sometimes have a crinkle or ripple that allows water in — a retailer should therefore warn his customer to be extra attentive when closing the bag, allowing each fold to fit snugly to withstand any pressure.”

Manufacturers advise that the top should be rolled 3-4 times, but the main importance is to ensure a snug and even fold with no ripples in-between each fold before the ends are clipped together.

An angry customer who has had a bad experience with a product is a customer that might never buy from you again. It would therefore benefit you as a retailer to show the customer in-store how to correctly fold a roll-top dry bag.

“As a dry bag leaves a lot of its waterproof capabilities in the hands of the end user, there is no risk-free option, especially if the bag will be submerged,” says Larsen.

Cases not fool proof

The not hundred percent risk-free waterproof scenario does not only apply to dry bags — even the more durable waterproof cases are not 100% fool-proof.

User error aside, case manufacturers can only guarantee a 100% fool-proof waterproof solution in extremely rare cases. For example, it will be rare for a heavy case to remain waterproof after it had been dropped in a deep body of water where it remains submerged for an extended period before it, and the equipment, can be retrieved.

A retailer should therefore be very confident about the manufacturer’s claims before advising a customer that even a hardy case is waterproof.

“Pelican cases have an IP67 waterproof rating — this means that the cases provide complete protection against dust contact and harmful water at an immersion depth of 1m for a duration of 30minutes,” says Barbato.

The majority cases and dry bags, in other words — though cases are more durable and can withstand more water pressure for longer than bags — should only ever be submerged temporarily.

Maintenance of bags and cases

How the user treats a case can also affect its performance.

“A grain of sand in the O ring rubber seal of a waterproof case can cause a water leak. It is important to warn customers to wipe the O ring clean every time they use a case. Cleaning a case and adding silicone to it once a year will also help with maintaining a case’s waterproof capabilities,” says Barbato.

“As there is no hard and fast rule on a risk-free option for waterproofing, retailers should warn the end user that they must take responsibility for looking after their waterproofing equipment,” says Larsen. “Dry bags can get holes if not looked after, after which they will no longer protect equipment.”

Manufacturers fault

What happens when a customer returns a bag or case that they claim had a manufacturers fault?

The Consumer Protection Act says that a customer can return a defective product within six months of purchase, provided that it had not been altered.

Knowing how manufacturers determine if there was a fault in the product can help you as retailer advise the customer on what steps can, or cannot, be taken.

“There are a few things with dry bags that can indicate a manufacturer’s fault,” says Botes. “If the glue that holds the seams together has come loose (it will look like cello taped plastic next to each seam), we will be able to tell immediately if it has come loose from normal use, or if it has been due to misuse of the product.”

“Then, secondly, the waterproof lamination on the material can have a defect. To test if the water lamination is defective, it can be held under running water to see if it leaks.”

“Seams that come undone and buckles that break are also possible indications that a dry bag has a manufacturer’s fault,” adds Rust.

Who’s responsible?

What if a customer had expensive equipment that was damaged in a defective dry bag or case? Would the customer have any right to claim for damages to their valuables from the retailer that sold the dry bag or case, or the manufacturer?

Members of the insurance industry we approached, said that it was an unknown scenario and it would depend on each individual circumstance.

“Pelican’s liability is limited to the case, and not its contents or foam,” says Barbato. “All warranty claims of any nature are barred if the container has been altered, damaged, in any way physically changed, or subjected to abuse, misuse or negligence.”

The Consumer Protection Act, however, stipulates that goods should be fit for their intended purpose, which means that the goods should be able to function according to the customer’s expectation and as explained to the consumer by the salesperson, at the time of purchase.

It is therefore of the utmost importance that salespeople are warned not to make false claims about the performance of a product. Assuring a customer that he can safely scuba dive with his iPad in a waterproof bag, is just inviting a civil lawsuit along the line.

If the customer has, however, been warned that a product is not guaranteed to keep valuable equipment dry when submerged, he will be liable for damages should he ignore this warning.

The end-user is ultimately responsible for the act of waterproofing his own equipment, unless a retailer misled him to have false expectations.

There is no hard and fast rule on how to waterproof equipment for every scenario, but a retailer could help determine the best possible solution for a customer based on his intended activity. He/she could help the customer weigh up the pros and cons of each waterproof option, before offering a solution.

Tips to advise customers

“A retailer should have a discussion with the customer and explain what is realistic to expect from a product and what is unrealistic. Always advise them to purchase dry bags and cases from reputable brands,” says Rust.

Also advise your customer to test a dry bag or cases before placing valuable equipment in it, or embarking on a trip. Should there be a fault, it will prevent the equipment from getting damaged.

“Just as a customer should be advised to pitch a tent in their backyard before going on their camping trip, a customer should be advised to test the dry bag at home before using it in their water activity,” says Larsen.

“I would suggest a customer does a waterproof test at home with a rolled-up piece of newspaper inside a sealed dry bag and subject it to the conditions they intend to use it in (e.g. let it float in water). Should the newspaper get wet when the user has closed the dry bag 100% correctly, then there is a problem with the dry bag and the product should be returned to the retailer before it is used in the field.”

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