Last Updated on January 20, 2023

Flax desert water bags are an important memorabilia of old American life. Back in the ’50s, while travelling across the US deserts, you would hang one of these vintage bags filled with water, slightly soaked on the outside, and let the wind blow on it so that it keeps the water cool enough for drinking or preventing your car from overheating.

Even though they are not common anymore, these desert water bags are still a popular vintage item loved by collectionists.

How do desert water bags work?

The water cooling mechanism of desert travel bags is actually rather simple: the bags are made of flax, linen or a similar fiber which both traps the water inside while letting very small amounts leak through.

As the water droplets leak out of the bag, they are immediately exposed to the hot desert sun which makes them evaporate, this process combined with the motion of the car and/or wind would cause the water still trapped inside to stay cool.

History of desert water bags

Desert water bags were already used in the 1920s and 30s in the southwest and amongst Route 66 travelers.

Initially intended as a cooling mechanism for water human consumption by desert dwellers, farmers, miners and construction workers, eventually these bags became a popular way for drivers to cool down their vehicle’s radiator as back in the day they were prone to problems while driving under the hot desert sun.

Today, there are better options for desert water coolers, but the traditional desert water bag has become an antique collectible and still produced in small scale.

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Desert Water Bag Canvas
Desert Water Bag Canvas Specialty

New Desert Water Bags for Sale

American Glory Unisex Vintage look Canvas Desert Crossbody Handbag

From the 1920s to the 1960s water-filled Desert Water Bags hung on the outside of cars, ready to douse the radiator if it overheated, or quench the thirst of the driver.

Their classic design inspired this unisex, crossbody satchel, which is sturdy enough for road trips, and chic enough to satisfy your thirst for fashion. Canvas Crossbody has a washed worn look which uses copper shot gun labeled snaps for flap closer. Internal pockets on either side of bag along with a large center divider pocket, bag is light weight but durable.

Eagle Brand Automotive Water Bag

Here is a vintage water bag made by the Wenzel company of St. Louis. Does not appear to have been used as the original tags are still attached.

It measures about 17″ x 11″ and looks to be in near perfect condition. In those days, it was common to bring with you everything you might need on a cross-country trip. There weren’t rest stops every few miles like today.

Antique Desert Water Bags for Sale

Vintage Desert Water Bag Canvas Specialty

Vintage Desert Brand Camping Water Bag Los Angeles, Canvas Specialty Survival – the original, most iconic water desert bag. It is not in production anymore, so all items for sale are second hand.

Desert Water Bag Canvas Specialty

Desert Water Bag FAQs

What were water bags made of?

Water bags were traditionally made of materials such as flax, linen, or a similar fiber that trap water inside while allowing small amounts to leak out.

These natural fibers are known for their breathable and absorbent properties, making them ideal for desert water bags as they allow the water to evaporate and cool down while also trapping the water inside to prevent it from spilling out.

Canvas is also a popular material that is used for water bags as it is durable and can withstand harsh desert conditions.

Are desert water bags still used today?

Desert water bags are not as commonly used today as there are more advanced and efficient options for keeping water cool in the desert such as refrigerated water coolers or specialized water bottles.

However, these traditional water bags still have a nostalgic appeal and are considered a collectible item by many. They are still produced on a small scale and can be found for purchase online or at vintage markets.

How were desert water bags hung on cars?

Desert water bags were hung on the outside of cars using ropes or straps. They were typically placed near the radiator to cool it down, but they could also be hung on the side of the car or the back of the vehicle.

This placement allowed the wind to blow over the water bag and cool the water as the car was moving.

How were desert water bags filled?

Desert water bags were filled by pouring water into the top opening, and then sealing it with a stopper or tie. Some designs came with a spout or a faucet to make it easier to pour the water into the bag.

The bags were then hung on the car or carried by the person. It was important to monitor the water level and refill the bag as needed to ensure that the water remained cool.

Desert Camping Essentials Checklist

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