By John Brumm
| | The right bag is rugged, roomy and just the right size for hauling gear to the dive boat.|
All your nooks and most of your crannies were thoroughly searched at airport security, you know way too much about the medical history of the talkative sumo wrestler sitting next to you, and you haven't dived since your last vacation one long year ago. By the time you get to the resort, the last thing you want to do is schlep your huge wheeled gear bag to the boat. It's time to simplify your life and your load with a smaller hotel-to-dive-boat gear bag.
You want a bag that's large enough to haul all the gear you need for a day's worth of diving, but small enough to fit inside your larger travel bag. The bags we tested come in two styles: vertical backpacks and horizontal duffels. For the tests, we stuffed bags with a soft backpack BC, 3mm wetsuit, regulator, octopus and console, a pair of fins, mask, a pair of 2mm gloves, soft pouch weight belt, snorkel, a "save-a-dive" kit, sunglasses, hat, medium-size towel, spare T-shirt, sunscreen, wallet and hotel keys.
Of the 20 we tested, we found eight Testers' Choice models--the bags that will work hardest while you're on vacation.
1) Akona AKB512 Mesh Boat Duffel
This cavernous bag, which has a three-sided zipper making it easy to load, could swallow two sets of gear. Use the compression straps to cinch down partial loads to make the bag more manageable.
2) DeepOutdoors Cabo Ultra
This backpack effortlessly handles a full gear load and has the roomiest dry pouches of all bags tested. The zippered inside pouch is wide and deep, perfect for stashing extra clothes and more. You can stow smaller items in two inside compartments and in the large outside pouch.
3) Akona AKB232 Deluxe Mesh Backpack
A well-appointed bag with a wide mouth for easy loading, this backpack fits all your gear with room to spare. A T-shirt and towel fit inside the zippered dry pouch, and a wallet, sunscreen and hat fits in the expandable outside dry pouch. A side zipper lets you get to stuff at the bottom without dumping everything. The sternum strap increases comfort and efficiency in hauling mode. Has a padded backpack strap.
4) Stahlsac WD16 Bonaire Mesh Backpack
The Bonaire's main compartment easily handles an entire gear load. It's also the only bag with a specially welded waterproof inside pouch that's roomy and accessible even when the bag is full. The expandable outside pouch is spacious too, but whatever you put in it will get wet. The bag cinches up with a nifty levered keeper, and can be used either as a backpack or as a carrying bag when using the side handle.
5) Stahlsac WD66 Cortez Convertible Mesh Duffel
This big boy will accommodate your gear and more. Two zippered end pouches--one mesh, one fabric--handles all the little stuff. A pair of backpack straps can be stowed in a zippered panel on the bottom of the bag. It also has double duffel handles and tri-rings for attaching a shoulder strap (not included).
6) XS Scuba BG320 Deluxe Mesh Backpack
The unique large zippered dry pouch is located on the outside of the bag, beneath the backpack straps, and makes towels and T-shirts easier to grab. On the front of the bag is an expandable dry pouch. The side zipper improves access to the main compartment, which easily carries a full gear load. When using the bag as a backpack, put a slip knot in the cinch cord to help maintain a comfortable load.
7) Tilos Deluxe Mesh Backpack
This compact bag has roomy dry pouches, versatile carry straps and cargo space to spare. The side zipper makes it easier for you to reach the bottom of the bag when full. The main compartment handles a full load of gear. The zippered inside dry pouch is narrow, but fits a T-shirt and a towel. The outside pocket holds sunscreen, sunglasses and more. The sternum strap makes this bag one of the most comfortable backpacks tested.
8) DUI Duffel/Backpack Combo
This bag employs a two-compartment design--one for dry gear, one for wet. The wet compartment easily handles the gear inventory; all other gear fits in the dry area. Both compartments use three-sided zippers that simplify loading. Use the dual straps to sling it on your shoulder or wear it like a backpack. No matter how you carry it, the wet stuff always sits lower than the dry.