The left side is the right side, the right side is suicide: Keeping dry in a Jamaican deluge with Lowepro's DryZone 40

  • Oct 07, 2013
  • 855 words
  • 4 minutes
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This story begins when I was cycling across Switzerland, some time in July 2008.

I watched helplessly as my camera sailed out of my backpack. By the time I saw it flying, my Nikon was already out of reach and on a collision course with Lake Geneva. When it hit the water, it made more of a plop than a splash. That’s when the fizzling started. Fizzling circuits make a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sound.
Instantly, I leapt into the lake in hot pursuit, hopeful that I might be able to salvage the gear, but my efforts were in vain. My DSLR and lens were both destroyed by the time I scooped them up, only a moment later. I have zero photographs from the second half of that bike trip across Switzerland. That fateful Tuesday in July of 2008 was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
I learned to take photographs on film cameras, and because of their higher tolerance for moisture, I got used to the idea that cameras could handle a little water. In the digital era, most DSLRs really can’t. Even a little bit of water can damage their delicate circuitry, and submersion in a lake is a definite no-no.

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In the arid high country of southwest Colorado, I was lucky enough to experience some rare heavy rains, and to have the DryZone on hand to help me actually enjoy them.

So as I watched the storm clouds building on a recent cycling trip in the rainforest of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains with trepidation. The scene was stunning, but I felt my stomach knot up anyway. I needed to get photos for my Canadian Geographic assignment, and for that to happen, I needed my camera to stay pristinely dry. It did, and it wasn’t by luck.
Concerned that my September trip to the Caribbean would yield a pile of damaged goods — and fewer photographs than my work demands – I picked up Lowepro’s DryZone 40 Litre backpack. Its bright yellow design makes it look like it was lifted straight out of a Curious George cartoon, but it kept my gear safe and sound as I rode downhill through the torrential rainfall.

I’d already taken the DryZone 40 horseback riding in the Caribbean, thrown it into an Eastern Ontario Lake, and kept my camera safe and sound in a Colorado downpour that caused extensive flooding, so by the time I was gliding downhill through the shifting mists of a rainforest in the wet season, I was able to let any concerns about my gear’s well-being go, and focus on the warm rain falling from the sky and spraying off of my beach cruiser’s wheels.
Every chance they get, Blue Mountain locals will tell you that in Jamaica the left side is the right side, and the right side is suicide. Without the Blue Mountain Tours team of bike guides working their radios to warn cyclists of oncoming traffic, that just might turn out to be the case. The road is barely one lane wide, but the line-up of downhill cyclists that Blue Mountain tours has bussed high into the mountains is forced to share it with two directions of traffic and the occasional temporary torrent of down-draining run-off.
With safety more or less assured, I focus on the feel of water on my bare legs, the smell of coffee roasting beneath a makeshift tin roof unseen beyond a bend in the road, and the sound of raindrops bouncing off my dry bag and onto the road, gravity pulling them inexorably back to the sea far below.


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Damon Duncan from Blue Mountain Tours takes the DryZone out for a spin.

When I first got my hands on this bag, the rubber seemed to me a bit thin, and I wondered if the bag would be durable. After several months of testing, the DryZone isn’t showing any damage from wear and tear. The yellow rubber does mark up fairly easily, but this is definitely not a bag you’ll be using for aesthetic purposes anyway. Personally, I see each mark more as a badge of honour than as a blemish.
Like every other dry bag out there, the DryZone 40 comes with a warning not to submerge it, but when I test a dry bag out, I always submerge it pretty much right away. Pushing this bag under water yields a relatively predictable result: water slowly leaks in. My recommendation is that you try to avoid submersion altogether, but the bag makes it pretty easy to do that. Even when filled with considerable weight, the DryZone 40 floats.
Note that the DryZone 40’s claim of a 40-litre capacity is a little bit deceiving. About 10 of those litres disappear when the top of the bag is properly rolled over. It is a sizable bag though, and it can hold 40 litres in a pinch, there’s just no guarantee things will stay dry when that full.

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Blue Mountain serenity. Enough said.

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