My family loves to go on the river but you won’t find us out there every weekend. We tend to do a bigger, multi-day trip every 2-3 years instead. It helps build the anticipation and is always the best trip of the summer. We start packing and putting together a list several days in advance because forgetting something important when you’re miles out from civilization on the river is never fun.
First things first, some of what you pack will be weather dependent. For instance, is it May with a high of 65 degrees or is it August with a high of 95 degrees? If it’s cold you may not even put on your swimsuit and you’ll want to be in warm but weather durable clothing. If it’s warm you’ll probably never take off your swimsuit but will want some coverage from the hot sun.
Let’s start off with the essentials, these are the items you do not want to forget:
- Dry bags - I recommend you bring a variety of sizes. Smaller dry bags should be easily accessible and contain items you may need throughout the day (think sunscreen, hats, water). Larger dry bags should contain items you will only need at camp.
- Packing cubes - these will keep your dry bags so much more organized and will make it easier to quickly access what you need in the moment. I recommend Pika's Rugged Traveler Kit.
- Insulated water bottle - if possible, attach a carabiner on the lid to clip it to the raft
- Bug spray
- Shoes - You’ll want something that will stay on your feet pretty securely - I recommend Chacos or you can get away with Crocs.
- Hats - I recommend bringing two hats:
- Baseball cap - my personal favorites are the Take it Easy Pika hat or this Lululemon hat
- Wide brimmed hat to block more of the sun - check out Pika’s straw hat.
- Clothing - don’t overpack on clothing because it can take up a lot of space. But make sure you have the essentials.
- Lightweight long sleeve - Something that you can swim in, is quick dry and contains SPF. You’ll want this on hot or cold days!
- Tank tops/t-shirts
- Warm layers - these will vary depending on the weather but always have warm layers
- Raincoat - as long as you have it it won’t rain!
- Coozie or drink holder - Plan on having a few beers or seltzers on the water? You’ll definitely want to bring a coozie. You can go for a coozie that will stick to the side of the raft or something that will guarantee you a cold drink for longer with the insulated Yeti coozie.
Next let's dive into some essentials for the group. If you’re going with a guiding company that will provide meals and other group essentials, you can ignore this next session. If you’re heading onto the river unguided then keep reading.
- Life jackets - most rivers have sections where life jackets are required and you can be fined a hefty amount for not wearing them
- Snacks - make sure you have plenty of snacks. My personal favorite are white cheddar Cheeto puffs. Need I say more?
- Food for meals - some easy ideas include:
- Tacos in a bag - toss whatever taco meat & toppings you like into personal sized a bag of chips (my go to is Doritos but Fritos are another popular choice) and eat straight out of the bag with a fork
- Brats or chicken and veggies on the camp grill
- Drinks - definitely recommend cans for all beverages on the water - whether that's soft drinks, beer or canned cocktails. My mom loves a good canned wine!
- Camping utensils & plates
- Buckets for cleaning dishes
- Soap - make sure to pick up something that’s friendly for the river
- Cooler - You will definitely want a heavy duty insulated cooler (think Yeti, Rtic, Pelican or Bison coolers). The trick to keeping your insulated cooler COLD is to make sure it’s cold before you pack it and leave for your trip. I recommend putting ice in your cooler and cooling it down for 24 hours before you leave. When you’re ready to stock it full of food and drinks replace the old ice with fresh ice.
- Camping grill and cast iron skillets
- Ice packs and ice blocks - ice blocks are great for coolers but we swear by Cooler Shock ice packs. They keep a cold cooler super cold and you don’t end up with a bunch of water from melted ice. We then always bring one bag of crushed ice for drinks and the ice packs help slow the melting. Another tip is to buy a thing of dry ice - this will keep everything in your cooler frozen for days. Just be sure you don't touch it and be sure your cooler is ventilated somewhere.
- Water jugs - make sure you have plenty of water for everyone on the trip
Now let’s go through some items that aren’t really essential but can be really nice to have
- Cup or mug - you'll use this for cocktails, water, coffee or tea
- Flip flops or sneakers - it’s nice to have a spare pair of slip on, comfortable shoes for camp. Flip flops often work great but sometimes there can be bushes that you want closed toed shoes to walk around.
- Camping chairs - not an essential but nice to be able to sit somewhere comfortable for meals and hanging at camp
Multi-day raft trips are some of my favorite memories. I’ve never seen someone not have a blast when on the river. Now you can ensure you have everything you need when heading out for a few days on the river away from civilization.