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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My food bag problem.

I have a food bag problem, that I am struggling to solve, and I want your help with it. But first some background. I learned how to pack a kayak as a NOLS student in 2000. If you have ever done a NOLS course - and if you haven't I highly recommend it - you know that there is a lot of gear involved. Because of the volume of students NOLS puts into the field, the expense of high end gear, and the relatively low budget of a not for profit school, they have made some decisions on gear.

The first big decision they made was that paddling students don't dress for submersion. Which means no drysuits - actually a couple of drysuits and a couple of wetsuits go on most kayaking courses, at least the ones I worked, for days when you are teaching students wet exits and self  rescues - so students work to stay dry and if a student ends up in the water the group works together to assist the rescue of a student and then getting the student dry. This teaches the valuable lesson of, you don't need to spend a lot of money on paddle gear, but you do have to be prepared for eventualities. I like this lesson because it means that you aren't limiting what you can do in the outdoors by the gear you can afford. Currently my favorite paddling jacket is a piece of non-paddling REI outerwear. When I finally decided to buy a drysuit it was more to keep my feet dry, but having a drysuit did change the way I viewed paddling in cold/bad weather.

The second decision they made was, as a student, unless you brought dry bags with you, you weren't going to use them. This sounds crazy right? It's not. Dry bags are expensive, and if you think you are hard on gear, try putting a piece of gear through one season at NOLS Alaska. (The summer of 2006 I did right around 70 days in the field with NOLS and I destroyed a pristine TNF sleeping bag.) So think about how much the school would spend on dry bags for students that would need to be thrown away at the end of the year. So what do they do? They do this, they take a normal nylon stuff sack, and line it with two contractor grade garbage bags. White ones work really well. You squeeze the air out of the inner bag, and then just twist the top closed - you don't knot it - stuffing the twisted top down the side of the bag - the pressure of the outer bag holds it in place - then twist the outer bag and stuff it down into the stuff sack. Seal the stuff sack with the draw cord and you are ready to go. It works amazingly well. At the end of the trip you toss the liner bags.

Which brings us to my food bag problem. NOLS taught me to package food in small plastic bags with all packaging removed with the top of the bag gently knotted. Here is what my rations for the inside passage looked like. These would go into a small non-waterproof duffel bag with two liners keeping your food dry. This is what I have done for over a decade on my own trips. (NOLS would have four of these duffels for a cook group of 3 or 4 people. One would have the stove and all the pots and pans and fuel and bear spray. the other three would have your rations for the first 7 to 10 days. Then you would have "bullet bags" (called so because they are shaped like bullets) packed with your next set of rations. Okay, so here is the problem. See that bag on the left. That is my primary ration bag. It is just a regular gym duffel bag lined with hefty big bag XXL ziplock bags. A duffel bag is nice because it opens big and you can find the food you are looking for easily, as opposed to working through the opening at the top of a narrow dry bag. The problem is, it has gotten really hard to find the really big hefty bags that I use as liners.


The other problem is that the bag itself is the kind of nylon that absorbs a little water each day, so by the end of a trip it is pretty wet and gross. It has also been chewed on by a number of animals, and I really feel that it is time to move onto something waterproof. (I have already moved away from the bullet bags and - as you can see in the picture use sea to summit dry bags for my rations) So how hard could it be to find a waterproof duffel that fits in my kayak? Well, in fact, its really hard. I can't find one small enough. There are plenty of dry bags on the market, there are even a  handful of waterproof duffels, but they are all huge gear duffels. The bag in the picture is maybe 12 by 16.

I have been looking for a long time, I finally found this which looked like it would work perfectly. It seemed a little big measurement wise, but I thought it would still fit. It doesn't. So I am putting it out to the power of internet. It needs to be 20 to 25 liters. In the past a reader solved my deck bag problem, so I am hoping to have good luck this time. Let me know what you think?