On any rafting trip, it's inevitable not to get wet. However, dry bags are your saving grace and will preserve that change of dry clothes for when you set up camp. Anything you don't want getting wet should go in a dry bag. Trash bags do not count as dry bags and are generally not durable enough. I like to get different sizes of dry bags to organize my things a little better. For clothes, sleeping bags, and other small compactable items, I like the Sea to Summit e-vent compression dry bags. To organize smaller items I use NRS Bill's Bag. These have backpack straps for easy carrying up shores to camp or to strap down on the boat.
How would you like to spend four nights in the backcountry without any gear? That could happen if you don't strap your gear down to the raft and you happen to dump your boat in that fun, yet terrifying, class four rapid. If you're not the main person bringing the raft, it still can be a good idea to bring extras to strap your things down. NRS cam straps are my favorite; they are durable and a lovely shade of blue. They range in sizes from 1 ft. to 20 ft.
Depending on where you are going rafting, your clothing choices will change. I go rafting all through the year, but the only time you won't catch me in a dry suit is in the summer months. I will list my generic clothing packing list for a five-day four-night trip. As a rule of thumb, I do not bring cotton or cotton blend clothing; this is because if cotton gets wet, it will start to take away heat from the body.
Depending on what rafter you ask, you might get a different answer on what to wear to protect your feet on the river. I will give you my opinion on what is proper rafting footwear and the pros and cons of them.
Rivers are exciting but also dangerous, and there is some risk associated with the invigorating sport of rafting. Wear a life jacket or PFD on the river, and it might save your life. Find one that is comfortable to you and fits your skillset and make sure everyone has one in your boat. Some things to consider are:
Waterborne illnesses can ruin a multi-day rafting trip. Just because the river water is continuously moving, doesn't mean it's clean. Make sure you have clean drinking and cooking water. You can either bring giant water jugs full of water from home or bring water filtration systems. I generally like to bring both just in case.
For water filtration or purification systems, you have many options.
If you're planning on bringing food that needs to be kept cold or you don't want warm beverages on and off the river; bringing a cooler is essential! Now, this may seem like a no brainer, but to keep things fresh for multiple days without restocking your ice can be difficult. The amount of ice you buy will depend on the size and type of cooler you have. I do suggest making one of those bags of ice dried ice, dried ice lasts a lot longer and keeps things much colder.
As for the type of cooler, make sure you look at where you're rafting. If you are rafting in bear country, it might be a good idea to invest in a bear-resistant cooler. These are generally a little more expensive but tend to be better at keeping the cold in and bears out.
Multi-day rafting trips are a lot like multi-day backpacking trips, but you have the opportunity to bring more gear. Bringing more equipment can be a positive or negative and you can either luxury camp as much as you want to or backcountry rough-it as much as you want. You choose your own experience. However, I do suggest bringing at least a camp kitchen kit so you can make your trip as sustainable as possible and leave no trace for future campers or wildlife. Below I will list out what I bring in my kitchen kit.
However, if you're heating water, bring a backpacking stove; it's a lot lighter and will help save space.
If you can't figure out what to eat, check out some of my recipes. Follow the link to some of my other articles here.
I like to bring two or three smaller plastic tubs that fit nicely inside the giant kitchen tub. Along with these, I will bring a small bottle of Camp Suds (aka biodegradable soap), a small bottle of bleach, and a sponge.
In the first tub, I will put warm/hot water and a few drops of camp suds, but be wary, you only need a few drops because it's very concentrated. To keep this first tub as clean as possible scrape off any food scraps into the garbage before washing.
In the second tub put some more clean, warm/hot water to rinse the dishes of any soap. In the third tub, and this can be optional, pour in cold water and about a tablespoon of bleach. The third tub is a sanitizing station, so you're less likely to get sick from dirty pates. Leave these dishes out to air dry or wipe them down with a towel.
When you go to dispose of your wastewater, do not dump it in the river. Spread it evenly on the ground around 200 ft. from the river and 100-200 ft. from your campsite (to avoid visitation from small and large critters).
You won't regularly be camping at a campground with the standard amenities. That means you will have no campground table to use for cooking and eating. To make your life easier bring a portable fold up table. Try and find one specifically for camping that fits in a bag, so it doesn't take up too much space on the boat.
As far as sleeping goes, it's all based on the weather. If your forecast calls for sunny skies, and little to no wind, I suggest laying down a tarp and sleeping pad and sleeping out under the stars. Bringing a tent may be a good idea if it will rain or if there's lots of wind, or maybe you don't want to risk it.
Sleeping pads are all about comfort. If you can endure the hard ground and want to save space and weight bring a Thermarest Z-Lite foam pad, these don't have a ton of padding but will keep you warm against the cold ground. If you're like me and want supreme comfort, to top the Thermarest bring a Fox Outfitters Airlite sleeping pad. This sleeping pad is super comfortable and compactable - it even has a built-in hand pump!
Sleeping bags will depend on how warm you sleep and what you find comfortable. If you're in the market for a sleeping bag, make sure you try some out to make sure they fit and find one that suits your camping style and sleeping temperature. However, if you're going rafting consider putting the sleeping bag in a smaller dry bag to ensure you will have a dry place to sleep.
On a lot of rivers, the land management organization requires you to bring a way to pack out your human waste. There's a lot of ways to do this, and some are more expensive than others. However, it's essential to do so, especially during seasons of high use. It depends on the land management organization, so check before you go, so you're adequately prepared!
A few ways to go on the river are with wag bags, commonly used in Mountaineering. You can easily find these at REI. Bring along a bucket with a lid to store the bags.
A more expensive, but the more natural route is to get a groover. These are portable toilets and work great for the river because they store easily. Generally, common multi-day rafting rivers have cleaning machines at popular take-outs.
You may get lucky and find a campsite with an outhouse on the land, but it's always better to come prepared.
Having a detailed map of the river is essential for multi-day trips. Knowing where the rapids and campsites are comes in hand when you're breaking up the days accordingly. Have a waterproof copy in your boat that is easily accessible.
Sometimes you will have a lot of downtime on the river. Find ways to entertain yourself and relax in nature. Some ways I have enjoyed my time off the rapids are going on day hikes, or hanging around camp.
For myself, I will bring a camp chair to sit comfortably and enjoy my surroundings. I will also bring a book or some painting supplies.
For groups, bringing a deck of cards, a Frisbee or other small packable games can always be fun to play off the river.
Hi Bob! Thank you for your extra advice on water purification! I look forward to trying out the alum method the next time I’m rafting on a sediment heavy river.
Hi Hailey, two comments about water purification. Clorox is only active for about 6 months, so if you have a three year old bottle in your kitchen box, it may not do any good. Also, a tablespoon of alum in a 5 gal. bucket of silty water causes a process called flocculation which clumps the sediment together and makes it sink to the bottom of the bucket. You can then decant off the clear water to run through a filter, avoids the clogging you mentioned.
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Hailey Light is an experienced outdoor guide and aspiring steward of the natural world. When she's not skiing, climbing, backpacking, canyoneering, or white water rafting you will find her trying out new recipes to share in her articles.