Just when you think you’ve got carry-on packing down, you book a two week long rafting and camping adventure, and it’s back to square one. We are traveling with a rafting company which saves us having to pack food and equipment, but we’re still challenged with what to bring. We’ll be on the river in the morning, with white water conditions, and hiking in the afternoon. The temperature will range from 40s at night to near 100 midday. And we need to fit everything in a duffel with maximum weight 20 lbs. So what’s on our packing list for river rafting?
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We chose Western River Expeditions for the river rafting section of our trip – a 7 day Grand Canyon adventure. In addition to some truly amazing guides, this company supplies tents, sleeping bags, and dry bags for our gear. If you are rafting on your own, you’ll want to ensure you have a way of keeping your supplies dry and stable on the raft. Check out these dry bags.
[Post trip updated info in rust.]
Read about an average day on this anything-but-average trip – Rafting the Grand Canyon
What are we packing for a river rafting trip?
1. Duffel Bag – we chose the Eagle Creek Load Hauler as we owned it already and it converts to a backpack for easier carry.
The bag performed well, but a less expensive, tough bag would have been better for the gritty conditions on the river. Recommendations: Eagle Creek No Matter What duffel, or Patagonia black hole duffel,
2. Personal Item – day pack/tote – we are bringing one lightweight packable daypack for the two of us. Recommendation: Osprey Daylite daypack
You will be making and breaking camp everyday. Having your gear organized will make life infinitely easier. Pack your clothes and gear in colorful, lightweight packing cubes.
- 3. Paddle gear or rain suit: Get both tops and bottoms. You will put these on when you expect white water and will be glad to stay relatively dry. This is especially important in the early morning when you’re cold and the 50 degree Colorado River water will chill you!
- Amazon carries inexpensive water pants (Helly Hansen Voss – Men – Women), but you might want to upgrade to a version that includes zips on the sides for ventilation. (Women – Outdoor Research)
- REI carries an assortment of paddle gear in stores (added benefit of being able to try it on!)
- 4. Gloves: choose neoprene full fingered gloves for holding onto the raft lines. We recommend NRS hydroskin, but size up.
- 4. Neoprene Water Socks: wear these under your shoes to keep your feet warm and (relatively) dry. (not needed in late spring/summer)
- 5. Small dry bag: fill with anything you might need during the day – medicine, sunscreen, camera, etc.)
- 12. Hat with retainer
- Sunglasses with retainer
- Buff – keep the sun off your lower face. wet it to cool you during the heat of the day.
- 6. Bathing suits (2): bring older suits as they may tear or discolor depending on your water quality and activity.
- Swim top or rash-guard: Highly recommend having something to cover your arms and shoulders.
- 7. Tee: Choose lightweight layers and quick dry fabrics if possible. Invest in merino wool tees for a lightweight, odor resistant option. Avoid cotton as it’ll take forever to dry. You will not need more than 1-2 tees for camp. While on the river wear…
- 7. Long Sleeve Tops: quick dry shirts with roll-up sleeves will serve you well all week.
- 8. Pants: 1 pair quick dry, convertible pants for camp and 2 pairs of long shorts. The long shorts are recommended for protecting your legs from sunburn.
- Socks: Again merino wool socks will feel great on your feet after a day on the water.
- Nightwear: t-shirt and long johns or whatever works for you.
- 9. Outerwear: bring a lightweight fleece and/or a packable down jacket – time of year dependent.
- [optional] Lightweight photo/safari vest for hiking, etc.
Women: include a long skirt or sarong to give some quick privacy. Once camp is set up, you’ll have tents and a private area for a bathroom, but mid-day its good to have another option.* I am bringing a carry-on cozy from Diane Kroe which converts from skirt to top, scarf, and picnic spread!
16. Our favorites – Chaco Outcross is an athletic shoe with vents for water runoff.
Sandals for camp. We regretted bringing flip flops as they gave no purchase on sandy shores and would recommend a more secure sandals.
Our favorites – Merrell Moab for men or women is a good solid shoe.
Camping and Hiking Gear:
- Water bottle
- Carabiners – you can clip your water bottle onto the raft or on your pack
- Hiking poles [optional] we chose collapsible ones which will go in our checked in luggage. (Didn’t need these while on the river.)
- Small day pack for hikes. Recommendation: Osprey Daylite daypack
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Biodegradable soap/shampoo
- 13. Wash cloth and camp towel
- Pillow case or travel pillow
- Sleeping bag liner [optional]
- Toiletries and medications (I’m using a Tom Bihn spiff kit for all this. 14)
- Sunscreen and chapstick with sunscreen
- Lotion for hands and feet. A necessity after a day on the water! We used Honey House bars, but Lush makes a nice soothing bar as well.
- Gatorade or Propel powder for electrolyte replacement
- Insect repellent (not needed on the Colorado)
- *Women: highly recommend bringing a pee device. All liquids must go into the river – easy for men, but tougher for women who have to find a spot downstream or squat in the cold river. Much easier with a urination device!
- Optional: some campers brought along solar shower bags. They’d fill them midday and they’d be treated to heavenly warm water in the afternoon. Worth the extra 9 ounces if you have room!
A week on a river is a perfect time to unplug. No wi-fi, no charging stations. Just the river, the stars, and friends.
But if you might want to include in your packing…
- Camera – a compact waterproof camera – our Nikon Coolpix camera worked great!
- or your Smartphone (on airplane mode) in a waterproof case
- Binoculars [optional – not used on the raft, but occasionally on hikes]
- Powerbank or solar charger
- Kindle waterproof ereader – for the insomniac
Women – 15. A extra-small crossbody bag as a purse on travel days and evenings at a lodge. I use a Tom Bihn travel cubelet which is super lightweight and convenient.
Read before you go on a National Park adventure
If you’re traveling to one of the U.S. National Parks, we highly recommend reading this book by Mark Woods. It’ll put you in the right frame of mind for your adventure!
|TRAVELOGUE||Lassoing the Sun by Mark Woods||“In this remarkable journey, Mark Woods captures the essence of our National Parks: their serenity and majesty, complexity and vitality–and their power to heal.” –Ken Burns|
We WISH we’d brought these books for our trip!
|Nature Guide||Field Guide to the Southwestern States by National Audubon Society||The most comprehensive field guide available to the flora and fauna of the American Southwest–a portable, essential companion for visitors and residents alike–from the go-to reference source for over 18 million nature lovers.|
|Guidebook||Belknap’s Waterproof Grand Canyon River Guide by Buzz Belknap||This mile-by-mile color Waterproof Guide to the Colorado River through Grand Canyon features shaded relief/topographic maps, and special sections on history, archaeology, geology, natural history and photography.|
Have you taken a river rafting trip? Were there things you brought that we’ve left out? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!