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Food Bag and Clothes Bag for 10-day to two week backpacking trip

Hi.  I an gearing up for many section hikes of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the coming 5-7 years.  These hikes will be from 10 - 20 days in length (estimate) with mail drops every 5 days or so for food.  Initially, these section hikes will occur in May and September in these states: Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.  I will probably hike Vermont and New Hampshire in August, Maine in late-August and early September (based on current plans).  I am more traditional in thought regarding equipment and weight (i.e. not a ultra light hiker).

I have a new pack (yeah) which is to arrive soon (REI Traverse 70, green, from the Used store)!  Now, I need to purchase some dry bags to keep my clothes and food.  I'm planning to purchase the Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sacks from REI (they are on sale now).  I was thinking of a 13 L bag for clothes and 20 L bag for food.  If these are too big, at least I can compress them when rolling up and "locking" the bag.

Any thoughts on the size of the Dry Sack for the clothes and food, based on the 10-20 days of hiking mentioned in my plan statement above?

Much thanks!!!

21 Replies

@Former community member Thank you for your reply.

Follow-up question: How big is the bag you put your food in?  As mentioned in my initial post, I will probably carry 5 days of food, using mailed re-supply pickups at a nearby post office.


@KenBrenner my food bag is 20L dry sack.  I usually can manage up to 6 days with that size, but it depends on the time of year and the food I choose.  In winter months, I bring a few more calories to keep my engine running, but they are usually calorie dense foods and can fit it all.  Warmer weather, I may want to bring more fresh food for the start of the trip and that can take up more space...I may take an auxilliary 4L bag.

Thank you so much!


Thanks for the tips, Ellen! Will take note of this.


I normally go for up to 3 weeks at a time on wilderness hikes (not distance hikes), although this next hike will be for a month, and I agree with most of the above.

I wear one set of clothes and keep a second set in my pack, HOWEVER, the importance of a good set of "layers" cannot be overstated! I've advised every beginner I've known to start shopping NOT for hiking/camping gear, but for the absolute best clothing layers you can afford!! The reason is simple, not only is it your first AND last - best protection against the elements, in a survival situation, your clothes ARE your shelter and sleep system.

Besides, if you're smart, your clothes can also be "multi-purpose". From boosting the R-rating of your sleep system, to signaling for help, clothing does not get the importance or attention it deserves. So don't be cheap on this!!!

The next most important thing is your sleep system (your pad and bag). Sleep is more important than food any day of the week and twice on Sunday. But your sleeping pad is more important, so again, don't be cheap! Get the highest R-rated pad you can afford!!

Your sleeping bag is where things actually start becoming dependent on preferences, weather, etc. That goes double for your shelter system (be it tent, hammock, etc.)

For waterproofing, organizing, etc., I use plastic zip-lock freezer bags exclusively. Yeah, I have a full set of dry bags, and when I'm on rivers, lakes or ocean, they're great, but if you're on land, unless they are heavy duty (and heavy) I think you'll find replacing them due to wear and tear is expensive.

I use 1-quart bags for organizing the little stuff and rations (and for "freezer bag cooking") then I put several rations in a larger 2-gallon bag, then I put those bags in my Ur-Sack and hang it ALL the time! The only time I Iower it is to put something in or take something out.

I also use the 2-gallon bags to keep my clothes dry and neat (I even use them to do laundry). But heck, use dry bags, I'm sure REI will be happy to take your money

Thanks for the information and advice.


Many people just use a trash compactor bag as a pack liner for things they want to keep dry..mostly sleeping bag and clothing.  You just twist it closed and tuck it in.  So long as you are careful not to puncture the bag this is generally enough bar full submersion for an extended period.  There are fancier versions of this but trash compactor bags are cheap an easily available.  I would recommend using one over a pack cover although a pack cover will slow a nylon backpack from wetting through so is of some use as an additional protection.

Food is usually packed in zip locks inside an hanging bag or bear canister.   Some people use a LocSack or similar odor proof bag...basically a fancy zip lock.

You will want to protect electronics particularly anything that is not intrinsically waterproof.  Zip Loc bags can work but they tend to fail at the joints and need frequent replacement so I would suggest looking for more dedicated solutions for this depending what you carry.


That's why I specified "plastic zip lock FREEZER bags." I rarely have a bag get punctured, but I've NEVER had one "fail", much less ona "seam." I'm guessing @OldGuyot is guessing, I speak from experience.

I used to use LocSac, but since I ALWAYS hang my food, and all those rations are essentially double-bagged, I've never had a problem with rodents. Rodents, can get into an UR-Sack easier than a bear (small, sharp teeth), but I hang my mess kit on my food so it acts like a bear bell (I have a bear bell, but I put that on my pack so the TWO-FOOTED animals can't easily steal my gear!!)

I find a trash compactor bag as a pack liner unnecessary and redundant since everything (especially electronics) is already in a plastic bag. However, it weighs nothing. On the other hand, since everything inside would already be waterproof (presuming that's the purpose for river crossings, etc., I would support putting the entire pack in that bag.

Why? Because even if the gear is waterproof, a wet pack can still be heavy (the clothes you're wearing could be wet, too). But if you put your entire pack in the bag (except the boots and underwear you're wearing), then everything will be dry when you get to the other side.

My sleeping bag? I wrap that up in my camping hammock (which not only doubles as a tarp, it's also a poncho. So yeah, waterproof!) but that's just my experience talking.


@SurvivalGal   Freezer bags or not,  ziplocs tend to split at the joint at the opening after a few uses.  ymmv.  If you have never had one split like that then I would suggest your experience is somewhat lacking.  It is not even necessary to go backpacking!  We only use ziploc freezer bags in the house and they often split that way. 

Pretty much no one is going to bag up their whole backpack on a typical water crossing.   For a typical river crossing the more usual scenario is that you slip over while crossing and your backpack goes in the water.   The pack liner will keep your sleeping bag and camp clothes dry even if your backpack is not intrinsically waterproof and most are not.  A pack cover will not because is open down the back and can fill with water. 

If the crossing is so deep that you need to take off your pack and float it then bagging your pack might be a good idea and if that is a possible scenario on the trip a spare compactor bag might be a good idea to take.  Not really what we are talking about though.

If you want to trust a poncho tarp that had four corners and a hole in the middle to keep you sleeping bag dry in your pack that's fine but I for one will not be following your example and not just because I don't own a poncho tarp.   The purpose of the poncho tarp is to keep the rain off so if you use it as a shelter it is likely wet when packing up camp on a rainy day.   Really not a thing I would want to wrap around my sleeping bag.  Further if it is raining you will likely want to wear the poncho tarp so either you didn't wrap your sleeping bag in it on that rainy morning and your sleeping bag is not protected when it is raining or you will now have to get your sleeping bag out in the rain to get your poncho...I fail to see any advantage to this approach.


@OldGuyot Yeah, I thought you/someone might say that....

You and I have posted here long enough that you already know I've been a wilderness enthusiast, land AND sea, nearly 35 years, AND a wilderness SURVIVALIST for almost as long. Not an occasional "weekend warrior" or a "day hiker" or "distance hiker", I go into the backcountry wilderness for WEEKS at a time (but again, you already know this).

As to my convertible hammock/tarp/poncho waterproofing my sleeping bag, I've been paddling on the ocean (doing a 'land and sea' outing) when my gear was dunked TWICE in the water, and when I landed, my sleeping bag was perfectly dry! I've also done more waist-high river crossings than I can count, and each time, DRY.

As to the "hole" in the poncho (for your head), imagine if you will, wrapping your bag in a poncho, the hole would be WRAPPED OVER by the other half of the poncho. But I know all this because I've done it BEFORE (just wrap it tightly).

As to stuffing everything into a plastic compactor bag (except the boots and underwear you're wearing), I've only done that once, just to see how practical it is. It works, but unless the river is reasonably slow-moving or the lake is reasonably small, I prefer planning ahead! I would NEVER do that in very fast/cold water!

Still, to reiterate, it weighs nothing so why not use it as a liner. I simply find it unnecessarily redundant if all your food and gear are already in plastic zip lock FREEZER bags.

And on that point, I've done the whole nylon stuff sacks to waterproof drybags to Lock-Sack "odorproof" bag thing, and in MY experience, while each has it's use (and everyone has their preference, including you, if even for a while), if you eventually log enough miles and/or years, you will eventually come over to the dark side and realize the wisdom of the lowly plastic Zip-Lock freezer bag.

And finally, and to your stated experience of plastic bags "failing", on the seams no less, I don't know what to tell you. Maybe that was a long time ago and plastic bag technology has improved since, or maybe I just use a better brand, who knows. All I can tell you is what I know from experience;

I've used plastic Zip-Lock freezer bags for all manner of use including as an improvised washing machine (you drop a few items into a 2-gallon bag with two liters of water, some soap, seal it and start shaking, kneeding, agitating, if I have a flat rock or table handy, I even roll it around with some force!) and I have NEVER had a bag fail in the way YOU described!!

... come over to the dark side, Luke....