When it comes to outdoor gear, there are certain labels that convey confidence, comfort, or quality. We often take those labels at face value and just assume they will work as advertised. Most do. What many consumers don’t think about is the insane amount of testing, research & development, and straight up science that underwrites the performance we get from products with such labels. Admittedly, we are nostalgic for bulky down sleeping bags and heavy metal coolers packed in the back of a wood paneled Jeep Grand Wagoneer. However, and it is a big however, we are thankful for the innovations in outdoor gear that make life in the wild even more enjoyable.
With good quality products come good quality descriptions and listings. Sometimes, the technical jargon associated with a certain product can impart confidence and be overwhelming at the same time. When it comes to determining the waterproof rating of dry bags, dry sacks, and waterproof cases, that is often the case. Waterproof ratings, the IP Code, are not impossible to interpret, but a search for a simple explanation can quickly turn up some in-depth analytical thought on particle ingress testing and a bunch of other industrial gibberish.
Instead of going over-technical, we will distill the IP, or Ingress Protection Code system down to what is relatable to mainly dry bags and other waterproof gear used in the outdoors.
The IP Code
The Ingress Protection Marking, IP Code, is an industry standard that better defines the degree of protection against solids and liquids that a product has. Perhaps the best benefit of the IP Code is that it explicitly describes what a product can protect against rather than just label it water resistant or waterproof.
Breaking down the IP Code can be relatively simple. Each rating begins with “IP” followed by two or sometimes three numerals and letters. The first letter following IP represents protection from solids. The second represents liquid ingress protection. If a third numeral is used, it represents resistance to mechanical impact (not typically used in outdoor gear, more relevant to electronics). The last indicator is a single letter that represents specific characteristics or testing conditions if used; not so much the case when it comes to dry bags or waterproof gear. And finally, zero represents no protection from either solids or liquids.
The chart below breaks down what you need to know when comparing IP ratings.
Remember, a zero following IP (IP06 or IP30 for example) indicates no protection and an X indicates that there is a lack of testing data available to assign a value.
Full disclosure, the chart above is intended for the user to gain a quick understanding of the IP Code and ratings. There is a significant amount of detailed testing that figures into each category.
Ratings do not necessarily flow sequentially. They mean different things and a product can have two ratings due to the testing procedures applied. For example, tests that apply liquid directly to a product from a pressurized device provide a rating against that test whereas a test involving full immersion results in an immersion rating respective to that test.
There is a liquid ingress rating of 6K that involves testing which involves different test parameters but is similar to a liquid ingress rating of 5.
Additional letters sometimes used in the IP Code are not depicted in the chart because they don’t really relate to dry bags or waterproof gear. They are:
- M: Product was moving during a water test
- S: Product was static during a water test
- W: Can denote specific weather conditions
- F: Oil Resistant
- H: High Voltage
What does the IP Code mean for dry bags?
The best dry bags will offer absolute protection against both solids and liquids. Dry bags made from PVC material will likely hold a rating that demonstrates it’s ability to keep water out when submerged. Often, an IP Code associated with a dry bag will represent solid ingress protection with the letter X. That’s not to say that bags with a rating of IPX7 won’t keep out dust, it will if constructed well and has an effective roll-top closure, however the testing applied is focused on liquids given the typical use of the product.
Many of the best dry bags on the market are bundled with waterproof smart phone cases as well. Bags such as the Earth Pak Waterproof Dry Bag includes a waterproof smartphone case measuring up to 6.5 inches diagonally with a rating of IPX8. Others such as Accent on Adventure’s Premium Waterproof Dry Bag Compression Sack provide the same.
What does it mean for everything else?
Whether you are looking for the best dry bag to protect your goods on a kayak adventure or epic hike, or you are looking for waterproof luggage for motorcycles, understanding what is waterproof vs water resistant is critical to ensuring you make the best purchase. The IP Code will help steer you away from cheap dry bags and guide you towards a solid dry bag, waterproof cell phone pouch, waterproof hard case, or gear bag. After all, you spend good money on good equipment, why not insure it with the right waterproof protection?