We scuba divers make a significant investment in our dive gear and so it makes sense that we want a decent boat bag to protect that investment. But what's best? A backpack? Duffel? With wheels or without? You'll 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, and one that's rugged enough to withstand the "abuse" it will take — both from holding the gear and also from getting knocked around on the boat. And you'll want it to be able to hold all the extras, too — sunglasses, hat, towel, spare T-shirt, sunscreen, wallet and hotel keys. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of the various kinds of boat bag on the market today.
Backpack Boat Bags
Backpack styles are popular because they free up your hands for other things, such as carrying your underwater camera. The weight of the gear is distributed fairly evenly over both your shoulders, plus the usually soft-sided design makes it nice and compact when you put it in your luggage or tuck it under your station on the dive boat. Look for one that has external pockets where you can stow things you'd like to access easily, such as mask defog and sunscreen. Avoid ones that are a simple bag. Without pockets, it's hard to keep all your stuff organized. Also look for mesh designs or ones with drainage holes on the bottom so wet gear has a chance to dry. This way, you can dunk the whole thing in the rinse tank once the day's diving is done.
Advantages: Easy to carry; can stow away easily
Disadvantages: May have limited storage options; depending on size, may not fit all items, such as extra-long freediving fins.
When you've got a lot of large items, such as long fins, a heavy wetsuit and a bulky BC, this is the style boat bag that will serve your needs best. These are generally a simple, one compartment construction, but the cavernous size of that compartment is what makes them desirable for divers who carry a lot of gear.
Their soft-sided design allows them to fold compactly for easy packing and stowing. Look for one with external pockets to hold essentials you want to be able to locate quickly and easily, and made with a mesh material that makes it easy for one-dunk rinsing when you're pressed for time or want to wait for a better freshwater rinse opportunity.
Advantages: Roomy, large compartment, so it can fit lots of stuff, even some of your dive buddy's; soft-sided for easy packing
Disadvantages: If it doesn't have external pockets, things will get lost in that single open compartment
These types of boat bags can come in both backpack style bags or duffel bags; the wheels make it easy to transport the bag and your gear.
Advantages: Really just a nice feature to have on your preferred style of bag — backpack or duffel
Disadvantages: When your bag has wheels, it won't pack as compactly; when the wheels break or get jammed, they're useless