Seems like every time I go boating, I need to carry a lot of stuff. Whether it is an afternoon on the river in a dory, a weekend in a kayak, or perhaps several days on a camp-cruise, the boat needs to get loaded, and I usually need to carry it all on foot and by hand.

For a day trip in the dory or my sailing skiff the gear can include the radio, GPS, chart, compass, flares, foulweather gear, sunblock, lunch, water, first-aid kit, some tools, binoculars, and perhaps an extra sweater, a seat cushion, or oar-leather tallow. For a kayak or multiday camp-cruise, there will be dry bags with food, cooking gear, extra clothing, and shelter.

Marti Wolfe

The sling bag by Anchorpak carries all the small items needed for an afternoon row and leaves the hands free for carrying oars and a PFD.

For years, I used plastic shopping bags and fancier totes made of canvas or old sailcloth, but they take hands to carry, often forcing more trips to pick up oars, paddles, buckets, or PFDs. Then I discovered messenger or newspaper bags, high-volume sling bags that go over one shoulder. The one I use is a special simplified promotional version of the Aero Sport made by Anchorpak. It can hold everything I need for a day trip and, with one hand, I can sling it over my shoulder and then have both hands free. It isn’t waterproof (the fabric is, but the seams aren’t sealed), but it shields the contents from spray. I use dry bags for items that I don’t need ready access to or if it is a nasty day out. With a carabiner or a bit of line, I can tie the sling bag into the boat so that the contents are readily to hand.

For carrying dry bags with overnight gear, I like scuba divers’ net bags. Scuba gear is big, bulky, and heavy, and the net bags are designed to get it quickly and easily on and off the dive boat. I use Stahlsack’s Panama Mesh Backpack and Aqualung’s Traveler 250 Mesh Backpack. Both have twin, padded shoulder straps—which help with heavy loads—and drawstring top openings. The Traveler also has a full-length zipper to provide access from the side, which works well when the bag is lashed horizontally in an open boat.

Ben Fuller

Stahlsack’s Panama Mesh Backpack has polyester mesh with a reinforced PVC bottom. Two side handles and padded backpack straps offer options for carrying. Small dry bags carried in the Panama protect those items that need to stay dry.


Ben Fuller

Aqualung’s Traveler 250 Mesh Backpack has both a drawstring top opening and a side zipper, which provide convenient access to the contents.

For kayaking, I carry the kayak to water’s edge, then haul all the gear that I need in a mesh bag in one load. I set the bag in the cockpit to keep it out of sand or mud and stow the dry bags it carried in the watertight compartments in the kayak’s bow and stern. Once unloaded, I fold the mesh bag and tuck it into one of the end compartments.

Over the years, my sling-style tote bag and scuba bags have saved me many steps on shore and freed my hands for carrying an anchor, oars, or bucket and for pulling a boat ashore on an outhaul. When I’m going kayaking, I can carry a bag full of gear as well as my paddles, sprayskirt, and PFD. And for camp-cruising, when I usually have many items that I want to have handy, the bags reduce the clutter by keeping everything together instead of left loose to drift around in the boat.

Ben Fuller, curator of the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Maine, has been messing about in small boats for a very long time. He is owned by a dozen or more boats ranging from an International Canoe to a faering.

The full-featured version of the Aero Sport, made by Anchorpak, sells for $92. The Panama Mesh Backpack from Stahlsak costs $79.95 and the Traveler 250 Mesh Backpack made by Aqualung costs $74.

Is there a product that might be useful for boatbuilding, cruising, or shore-side camping that you’d like us to review? Please email your suggestions.