Waterproof Cases for Paddling with Electronics

On a floating photographic safari you need a variety of electronic do-dads.
Digital cameras, external storage for backup, chargers, cords, I-pods and even the occasional laptop accompany us on paddling trips these days. So how do we keep the moisture out of our hydrophobic electronics while on a paddling trip? Luckily there are several companies making great products to keep your digital marvels working while you capture once-in-a-lifetime imagery to support your paddling habits.



Waterproof storage for your electronics gear:


The best thing is to get a waterproof or weatherproof camera with an underwater housing for the really wet rapids and kayak surfing. That way you can have your watery fun and take photos without worry. Read our review on the best waterproof cameras for paddling which ran in the December Issue of Canoe & Kayak magazine. We also reviewed waterproof binoculars - another handy piece of gear immune to the hazards of water – just don’t drop them over the side..they sink…at least mine did. It hurt to see them floating down into the deep deep cold water.


The next best is to get something that is waterproof and accesible in your boat so you can easily retrieve your gear as the action occurs. Canoes and sit-on-tops are easy..there is usually enough space for the largest of waterproof boxes full of camera gear. It’s a bit tougher in a sea kayak and tougher still in a river kayak due to space limitations – the cockpit can get crowded and threatening conditions (waves, rain and rapids) are constantly trying to douse your gear and impale your bank account.


You could always resort to the time honored cheapskate method of zip lock bags and roll top dry bags. I made do for many years with just these low cost methods. That is I did until I literally bent a large expensive lens almost in half. I had stuffed it in my kayak and the rock that I bounced off hammered the lens useless. The dry bags kept the water out but It did not protect the gear from impact… Since then I have only trusted hard cases for the cameras…at least while on the river where the likliehood of large powerful waves or rocks smacking your boat is always a hazard to fragile electronics.


Several companies now make hard and soft cases in many sizes for all your gear. You have many options for accescible storage while traveling in a canoe, kayak or an open sit-on-top that you fish from. The choices come down to whether you want an indestructible bulky hard case or an easy to travel with soft case. Here are some options.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A CASE

• Pressure release valves – pressure can build up when you fly (or when the heat builds up inside)and when you get to your destination sometimes the case is really hard to open.

• Locking latches – keeps sticky fingers from making off with your expensive gear.

• Comfortable straps and pads if you are going to be carrying your gear very far.

• Lockable with padlocks…TSA approved locks are now made from several companies. The TSA agents can get into them and most importantly can relock them … very important when traveling with expensive gear- although it is always better if you can carry-on all your camera gear when flying. This minimizes the theft potential.


Hard Cases



These days Ipods and portable electronics like GPS’s are indispensable. I use my Ipod to store images on while paddling…and occasionally listen to some music while paddle training. The Otter Box for Ipod let’s you operate it while fully protected from water when you use waterproof earphones. Otter box make a series of waterproof cases that are unit specific. They make them for all the Apple portable music players. They also make a series for PDA’s and cell phones, even boxes for Blackberries and Palm Treos. They are one of the few companies to make a waterproof laptop case so you can take your computer with you everywhere – great for satelite hookups while blogging the world during that epic paddle adventure. It’s advertised to be so strong that you can even stand on it.



Pelican cases are probably the best known of the hard waterproof photo cases for your cameras. Their grey hard plastic boxes have been gracing the boats of professional photographers and paddlers for many years. They make a variety of sizes and the micro case series is perfect for smaller do-dads like spare batteries and storage cards. I put my digtal storage unit…my Epson P3000 in a pelican 1040 micro case. It fits perfectly and is foam lined so it is very protected from shocks and water. I usually take a large pelican while on the river for the bulk of my gear. I like a larger case with a variety of lenses that I keep near me in a raft or canoe. A couple of cameras..large lenses and accesories all fit in a 1500 series box. I have one pelican case that is over 15 years old and after replacing the gaskets a few years back is still protecting delicate electronics.



Storm Cases by Hardigg also makes a large selection of hard shell containers of varying sizes. I take a medium sized iM2100 when I have to save room, like flying on smaller airplanes with weight restrictions. It packs a couple of cameras plus lenses and fits handily in cramped airplane seats. They have automatic pressure purge valves when for when you’re flying (without it the pressure differentials while flying can make it very hard to open the box once you’ve landed) and unique ‘Press and Pull’ latches.



Patagonia got in on the action a few years ago with an award winning photo case called the Great Divider. It is a large semi-rigid case with easily moved dividers, hence its name. It is great for watery adventures in a variety of boats. It is too large to fit in between your legs while paddling in a sea kayak but it fits fine in sit-on-tops, canoes and rafts. Perfect for keeping your cameras, binocs etc. handy while paddling in circumstances when you think it unlikely to overturn. I have used it many times while kayak fishing and appreciate it’s huge interior, handy see-through pockets and divided interior – I can put several lenses and cameras in it and they don’t get damaged banging together . It is waterproof from the zipper down (there are no seams on the lower portion) so it can set in water without leaking…there is a chance of water leaking in around the zippers though…but the placement of the zipper (on the upper part of the box) makes it water proof when splashed on from above. It will leak when dunked in the drink though…It has great removeable side pockets and a see through top pocket for accesories like filters or manuals.
Strap attachments and handles are welded rather than stitched to keep them waterproof and bomb-proof.
It is tall enough for a dig SLR camera and large lens to sit in while connected – my 70-200 f 2.8 and Canon C5D camera fits perfectly…ready for use at any time.



Soft Cases


Aquapac makes waterproof bags for camera, camcorders and MP3′s as well as 100% waterproof headphones. They also have an extensive line of cases for phones, GPS and two-way radios. The great thing about the Aqupac line is you can keep your cameras dry and you leave them in the bag to get the photos. I have used their waterproof cases while paddling in Baja during stormy weather. This is the ultimate waterproof case to keep your camera handy for that once in a lifetime photo op – like when that orca breaches just a few yards off port side.



Sealine by Cascade Designs has several models of waterproof cases for electronics and even a soft sided waterproof computer sleeve for laptop toting paddlers. The laptop sleeve features a rolltop design like a traditional drybag but has a built-in handle and shoulder strap to carry your computer. Perfect for the paddling commuter. The bag is PVC free and eco-friendly so you can feel good while protecting your digital files. They also make a series of heavy duty water-proof zipered cases in varying sizes to protect things like marine/CB radios or cell phones. They have foam inserts so they float just in case you do dump and your gear all goes floating away. I wish I had one when I lost my gorgeous 600 dollar binoculars. Rule #1 – never put your binocs on top of your spray skirt and most definitely do not forget they are there when you release the skirt.



Watershed makes a line of Made in the USA waterproof bags. These are the bags that you will see most pro river kayak photographers use. They feature a tough exterior fabric and waterproof zippers. They don’t protect your gear like a hard shell box but they are totally waterproof and easy to get into for a quick shot. Their Zipdry Utility Bags like the Ocoee(small if you don’t carry too much gear) and the Chatooga medium bags are perfect to carry in front of you in your sea kayak, or even your river kayak, and it makes your camera very accessible.



TrueNorth’s Serac Pack has been my favorite waterproof camera bag for paddling and travel for a dozen years. It is a fanny pack design and waterproof but it is not necessarily designed for camera gear. It features a roll top enclosure like a dry bag so you don’t want to submerge this bag completely (it will leak eventually if held under water and it does not float), and has very comfy shoulder straps that make carrying 30 pounds of camera gear all day almost fun. The key is the patented should pad system that connects to the front of the pack and keeps the load closer in to your body in combinatin with a padded hip belt. The pack is not made for camera use but I modified a liner from an old camera bag so there is some separation and protection for cameras and lense bouncing around inside the bag. It also has plenty of room for and expeditions worth of gear. I can carry 2 cameras, 3- 5 lenses and several accessories. It also has outer pockets for water bottles or camera accesories and a pouch for carring your jacket. The only thing missing is straps for carrying tripods but I usually can manage to attach one on the many clips on the bag. I can put this bag in my sea kayak right in front of me to keep my cameras super handy…and I can even keep my trusty long lens (a 70200 zoom – the perfect paddling lens) attached. Very handy. The only drawback to this bag is it is hard to find..you will probably have to order it on-line from the manufacturer.



LowePro makes a Dry Zone Series of waterproof camera backpacks as well as an extensive line of all weather lens(highly water resistant)and camera cases. They make 3 waterproof packs for camera gear depending on the amount of gear you carry. This series features totally waterproof zippered, soft-sided packs that float. Perfect for paddling. The zippers aren’t quite as handy as the roll-top feature of the TrueNorths but they keep your gear dry. They also feature ergonomically designed backpack features so they really make it nice to carry a ton of gear all day. Unless you like to travel in hot climates – they get a bit clammy on your back since they rest on your back – this is where I prefer a fanny pack option to keep the pack contact with my back to a minimum. The Dry Zone series also include straps for carrying tripods.


On-line Resources

www.waterproofcases.net This site has a variety of products…even waterproof headphones.

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