Helly Hansen Helvetica
Purchased in a reputable outdoor adventure store in the heart of Shinjuku Japan, Helly Hansen's Map Bag is something that has had me scratching my head for the last few months. This is the item that pushed me to start writing my own gear reviews. With a roll down closure and construction details that looked like that of a dry bag, for some reason, I still had my doubts as to whether or not this was actually a dry bag. With no information on the accompanying tags other than the words "Map Bag" and a price, I immediately had my suspicions about this hipster-centric designed dry bag.
The bag's name comes from the fact that the front pocket has a PVC sleeve allowing you to slip a map in and keep it dry from rain, but not submersion. I chose to scour the internet for any information, as well as it's availability online as my check-in luggage was already over the weight limit from carrying Snow Peak's Fireplace as well as their Cast Iron Duo Cooker. The only information I could find on this bag were listings on Rakuten (Japan's 'eBay'). No Helly Hansen links popped up, no flash images of models in boats, and no shots of the bag among various HH bags all perfectly stuffed and well lit with manicured raindrops. Nothing but Rakuten listings and the same text translated by Google.
My curiosity, shopping addiction, and fondness for straight lines and a clean design on a bag got the better of me; I purchased the Map Bag in black. I have since taken it out on many days kayaking along Port Hacking bouncing from bay to beach, and to basin. I regularly carry it on foot through some of Sydney's heavy rainfall periods to protect my laptop and camera gear between jobs in town. The bag stood up to the horizontal rain and beach hopping splash-back. I did notice that when the bag is exposed to continuous amounts of sun, like on the back of a kayak in Bundeena, the tarpaulin and 420D nylon would retain so much heat that even sliding your hand inside would cause you to pull it out medium-well. The colour only amplifying this issue.
There is a chest strap that is not detachable which I tend to stick into the plastic D rings so that they don't bounce when I walk. The bag also has a mesh pocket on one side and a very useful side entry zipper. However, this is where one weakness lies. On the top end of the zip is the zipper head's housing, stitched in with the same fabric the bag is made of. The zipper head when closing needs to get pushed up high into this housing in order to prevent any water from entering. This is a common feature on many water resistant gear. The issue was either the amount of seam allowance given to the cover or whether or not the tarpaulin could take repetitive tension at its stress points along a stitch. Well, it couldn't and this eventually started to separate at the stitch line which with age and further use will only get worse.
My latest date with this bag saw it on the back of my kayak on a three day paddle south of Sydney. The second day of kayaking was in moderate rain that had begun to fill the back storage well with roughly 2cm of rainwater. The bag was sitting upright and had been tightly rolled down with the zipper head up all the way. When we reached our second campsite, I found the bottom half of my bag soaked on the inside. Lucky I keep clothes in two separate dry bags in case one does fail. So now my dry clothes were no longer dry and my Samsung Galaxy Note had become a paperweight. Serves me right for bringing tech out to the wilderness!
This bag will no longer be on my gear list when kayaking. It will remain as my bag to carry around my laptop in a city setting and protect it from the rain that manages to slip passed my umbrella. It's a shame however, the map sleeve will never be used for it's intended purpose, considering I can pull out Google Maps on my smartphone in the city. Regardless of the brand, I wouldn't consider this a waterproof bag. I guess I shouldn't have assumed it was one to begin with. However, the lack of any available information leaves room for trial and error.
I have no association with Helly Hansen other than being a paying customer using their products. This bag was purchased at full retail price by myself. All photos are my own.