Whether you are joining an organized whitewater rafting trip or setting out with a group of friends, having the right gear for a multi-day wilderness river trip is imperative for comfort and safety. Besides the obvious items to get down a river like a raft, inflatable ducky, or whitewater SUP boards, there is a lot more that you need to pack into your dry bags.
Note, if you are going with a professional river outfitter like OARS some of these items (tent, camp chair, water purifying device, and cooler) will be provided to you. But if you are planning your own DIY adventure, you’ll need to chat with your group about who is bringing what. Regardless, this what-to-pack gear guide will help get you started.
Check out the Kelty Night Owl 2 Person Tent. Designed for backcountry trips, it is lightweight and also super easy to set up — thanks to the company’s Quick-Corner Technology. The tent has an oversized tour-door design, with lots of space inside as well as built-in storage. The best part about bringing this tent on a river trip, however, is its stargazing fly that can be open and closed from the inside. Roll it open if you want to check out the night sky, but easily roll it down when the rain starts or a sandstorm moves through.
Dry bags, which are durable waterproof bags to keep gear dry, are absolutely essential for a river trip. If you go on a guided trip with an outfitter, these will be provided to you — but if you’re heading out on your own, you’ll definitely want to make sure you pack enough of these to store all your gear in. The size and number of dry bags you will need for your trip of course depends on how much gear you are packing.
Sea to Summit is a reputable company that makes traditional roll-top dry bags in a number of sizes. Most are very lightweight. You’ll want a small bag to clip near you that carries your day gear, as well as one or two larger bags for storing tents, sleeping bags, clothes and other gear. The Sea to Summit Big River Dry bag is a good choice for the latter. It can store up to 65 liters of gear. It pairs well with the company’s three-pack of lightweight dry bags in smaller sizes.
price: $16.95 to $64.95
Camping for five nights can be uncomfortable without the right gear. We love Big Agnes for sleeping bags, as well as for easy-to-inflate air mattresses that fold up to be about the size of a water bottle. Try the Big Agnes System, which is designed so that the sleeping bag attaches to the sleeping pad so you don’t roll off in the middle of the night.
Big Agnes System Bags come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and weights. You’ll want to choose a bag that fits the temperature rating for the destination you are going — since there’s nothing worse than being cold at night. The company has also created bags specifically for sleep positions. For instance, if you’re a side sleeper and don’t mind a snug fit, the Sidewinder Mummy was created specifically for this sleep style.
price: $159.95 to $349.95
Sleeping Pad and Pillow
Like their bags, the Air Chamber Sleeping Pads are also created for different seasons and are very economical, with their lightest weight pad, the Air Core Ultra, costing just $59.95. Air chamber bags use a second bag as a hand pump, take less than 5 minutes to fully inflate and always place at least 3.25 inches of air cushioned padding between you and the ground. For colder weather trips, purchase one of their insulated sleeping pads to add more warmth.
All Big Agnes bags and pads are highly compressible and great for fitting in dry bags due to their small size. With gear this small, you might have space to bring your favorite bedroom pillow as well — since having the proper pillow makes a big difference when it comes to sleep quality.
price: $59.95 to $249.95
Sun shirt and sarong
It gets really hot on flat-water days, and by day three the sun can feel relentless. A sunburn and a sandy beach campsite don’t mix well either, so you’ll definitely want to pack sun shirts. The long-sleeved and hooded NRS H2Core Silkweight Hoodie is what most of the river guides chose to wear and will keep you comfy on even the hottest days. Drench the shirt in water and it will keep you cool for around 30 minutes; that works well for hikes as well. The shirts also have friction-free underarm zones to keep you from chafing while oaring or paddling. Plus, they wick excess moisture from your body.
REI Co-op also makes an assortment of reliable UPF 50+ sun shirts for various body types. A sarong is also highly recommended. It can be soaked in water and draped across your body to provide more cool-down methods.
Running rapids in flip flops is not the smartest idea, and many commercial outfitters will outright forbid it. It is much smarter to bring a proper pair of river sandals that stay attached to your feet and protect your toes in some manner. Chacos is one of the top brands, with sandals designed by river guides. The Classic Z is their most popular river sandal model, offering adjustable straps for personalized fits and made in a rainbow of color choices for men and women.
Satellite texting device
If your rafting trip is going to take you out of cell phone range, then bringing a satellite texting device (especially if you are not traveling with a commercial outfitter) is important for emergency situations. Somewear Labs makes a lightweight satellite hotspot that pairs with your smartphone via a slick app. The device allows you to send and receive SMS messages and also has an emergency SOS button that, when pressed, will send a SOS signal to the closest local emergency services. The company offers plans as low as $9 per month. These can be paused when you aren’t using them. The device itself costs $250.
price: $250, then plans from $9/month
Portable power bank
If you want to charge your electronic devices on the river, you’ll need some kind of battery charger. If you care less about weight and just want a charger that will keep your smartphone and cameras charged for multiple days at a time then check out the Omni Ultimate by Omnicharge. The portable power bank is boxy and weighs around 3 pounds, but you can charge devices multiple times before the bank runs out of power.
Solar chargers are another option. The Solar 7 by Box Synergy is a lightweight and affordable option, but note that solar takes a much longer time to charge a device. Also when temperatures are extremely high, your device may overheat attempting to charge. Still if space is tight and you want a featherlight device, then it’s a viable choice.
price: $90 to $399
You’ll be rafting through a desert and it is hot, dry, and dusty. High quality sunglasses will save your eyes. You’ll find a range of pieces and styles, but the Cheeca Polarized sunglasses with green lenses by Costa del Mar look great and are super comfy. They even stay on in whitewater.
Headlamp and lantern
Headlamps make after-dark river life a lot easier and keep your hands free. The BioLite Headlamp 2000 is full USB rechargeable, so you don’t need extra batteries. Aslo small and USB rechargeable is the AlpenGlow 250 by BioLite lantern. It’s also practical for inside your tent as well as fun for riverside dance parties. It has a full range of color modes from candle flicker to a multicolor party mode that can be activated by shaking. The lantern also doubles as a power bank that can charge your phone if necessary — although this will quickly drain the lantern’s battery.
price: $49.99 to $59.99
If you are going with a commercial outfitter, then you won’t need to worry about purifying your water on your trip as your guides will have purification systems. But for DIY trips, the Katadyn Steripen Ultra UV Water Purifier is a great choice that’s also very easy to use. Simply click a button and gently agitate the water in a 16-ounce, wide-neck water bottle. It takes less than a minute using UV-C light rays to purify clear water by destroying 99.99 percent of protozoa (including Giardia and Cryptosporidium), bacteria, and even some viruses.
Bringing the wrong cooler on a river trip can ruin your entire adventure. If you plan to bring perishable food on your river trip, this is not something you want to skimp on price- or brand-wise. Yeti coolers are what river outfitters like OARS use. When packed correctly and not opened too many times, they have the capacity to keep ice from melting and food and drinks icy cold for days on end.
Check out the Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler. They come with three inches of insulation in the form of a pressure-injected commercial grade polyurethane foam that keeps your ice in its frozen form for days. Pre-chilling the cooler with a bag of ice a few hours before packing it will keep it even colder longer. The cooler also has rubber pull tab latches that create a tight seal when closed. While the Tundra 45 has 32.9 liters of storage, the larger Tundra 65 Cooler has a 57.6-liter capacity.
The Eureka Ignite Plus 2-Burner Camp Stove is a great stove choice for group river trips. The two-burner stove runs off propane and has auto ignition. The two-turn simmer control helps with adjusting temperature for optimal cooking performance. The stove is rugged enough to stand up to bumps on the river and has adjustable non-slip rubber feet that keep it level when cooking. The stainless steel drip tray makes cleanup fast and easy, and the stove has sturdy latches that keep it closed even when getting thrown around on the boat on whitewater days.
If you are traveling as a twosome or just want more space to stretch out after a long day on the river then check out the Low Loveseat by Kelty. The company dubs it a “camping-friendly cuddle couch” and it is definitely comfier than many camp chairs. It also has a slightly reclined design that makes it even more chill. There are insulated beverage holders on either side and the durable steel frame is rugged yet easy to fold up and down into its roll-tote carry bag.