Gear & Gadgets : Keeping a Camera Dry on the Wettest Trip

Summer trips invariably entail some contact with water. Whether swimming, boating, hiking on a drizzly day or just lounging at the beach, you'll probably face the challenge of keeping what's wet away from what's meant to stay dry. I've found the following items to be invaluable on land and water. Prices do not include shipping or handling.

As a professional photographer, I don't go anywhere without big self-sealing plastic bags to protect my camera, lenses and film in potentially wet conditions. But on outdoor adventure trips, the plastic bags can tear easily and they do nothing to cushion my equipment against hard knocks. Happily, Tenba, a manufacturer of high-quality camera bags, recently developed the Voyageur's Aqua System 1, which consists of a large (about 18 inches square) inflatable waterproof nylon flotation outer bag and a removable padded and zippered inner "shore" bag. The shore bag, which measures 12 inches by 15 inches by 4 inches and has adjustable dividers, is large enough to hold a standard-size SLR camera, a flash, two or three extra lenses, a few rolls of film and spare batteries.

The outer bag inflates via a nozzle inside the bag and has a watertight sealing rod for quick opening and closing--a boon during boating excursions. The nylon material is lighter and more durable than the rubber used for most other waterproof inflatable bags on the market. A wide adjustable shoulder strap attaches with strap hooks to either the flotation bag or the shore bag.

I tried out the Aqua System during two rainy weeks of hiking in Malaysia, and everything came through high and dry.

Tenba also makes a small (7 inches by 6 inches by 8 inches) inflatable waterproof bag, the Aqua Pal, which is good for carrying around a small point-and-shoot camera, a portable cassette player or personal items.

Tenba Aqua System 1, with canary yellow waterproof outer bag and gray shore bag lists for $100; the Aqua Pal lists for $40. Both are available for substantially lower prices at discount camera stores. For a store near you, contact the manufacturer at (212) 966-1013.

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Sometimes a bag has to do double duty carrying both wet and dry items, which is often the case when swimming is on the agenda. That's where the Wet 'n' Dry sports bag from Sport Suits of Australia (SSA), an Australian manufacturer of water sportswear, comes in handy. The bag has a large mesh pocket on one side to stash wet beach gear and a large plastic-coated water-resistant nylon pocket on the other to protect dry stuff. Inside there are plastic pockets for organizing smaller items, such as tubes of suntan lotion, sunglasses or keys. The bag comes in two sizes: medium (12 inches by 24 inches by 8 inches) and large (14 inches by 26 inches by 10 inches). The larger bag has extra plastic pockets for organizing small items.

SSA Wet 'n' Dry sports bags in red or blue are $30 (medium size), $40 (large). For a store near you, write SSA at 7625 Havenhurst Ave., Unit 35, Van Nuys, Calif. 91406; or call (818) 376-0402.

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When Cleveland's new baseball stadium opened in April, I headed to the Indians' opening day exhibition game armed with two precautionary staples: my trusty umbrella and my self-inflating Insul-a-Seat. The former is essential for dealing with fickle spring weather; the latter is the best defense I know against a sore back and derriere from sitting against hard--and sometimes wet--surfaces for long periods of time.

Made of the same open-cell foam material used in self-inflating camping mattresses, the Insul-a-Seat's backrest and seat cushion have adjustable straps at top and bottom that clip together to create a chair effect, with good back support thanks to internal stays. The twist of a nozzle starts the inflating process, and the chair can be deflated easily by tightly rolling up the material with the nozzle open, then closing the nozzle to keep air from coming back in. The outer material is water-repellent, so it makes a great shield against wet and/or dirty surfaces--a blessing when canoeing or picnicking on the grass.

The Insul-a-Seat comes in four lengths; the two largest sizes can be used as camping mattresses when the straps are released. The seat comes with a stuff sack, and is available in five colors: royal blue, ice blue, turquoise and olive green.

Insul-a-Seat comes in four sizes: 33 inches by 15 1/2 inches ($36), 36 inches by 18 inches ($40), 48 inches by 18 inches ($50), and 72 inches by 20 inches ($80). For a store near you contact the distributor, Slumberjack, at (800) 233-6283.

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I've devised all sorts of ways to keep matches dry when camping or boating--plastic bags, plastic film canisters--but they somehow get damp anyway, often leaving me without a flame when I need one. As for lighters, they don't stand up well to wind, and I worry about the fluid leaking. Who better to come up with a solution than Orvis, the fly-fishing-rod manufacturers?

The company's waterproof lighter is housed in an aluminum case with an O-ring seal around the flip-back lid, which locks snugly into place. A small raised section shields the flame against wind. The lighter, which measures just 3 inches by 1 1/2 inches by 1/2 inch, is refillable and has a metal ring for attaching to a key chain or belt hook. I've dropped this lighter into a river, left it out in the rain, and tested it on a sailboat in full wind conditions; it lit every time. And it never leaked.

Waterproof Lighter (J1237-09) is $45 from Orvis; tel. (800) 548-9548.

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Extra soap often comes in handy when traveling, but when I'm moving around a lot, the soap bar never seems to dry in time for packing up, which means I end up leaving it behind or risking a gooey mess in the toilet bag. These individual soap wafers are an innovative solution. The thin "sheets" of soap come 100 per 3-inch by 4-inch zip-lock plastic pouch. Just remove one of the wafers, put it in the palm of your hand, add water and rub your hands together for one lather. The rest of the soap wafers stay dry until you need them.

Soap Wafers (item KR502) are $3.95 per 100-count package from Magellan's; tel. (800) 962-4943. Gear & Gadgets appears the first week of every month.

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