When I signed up to take a seven-day, 187-mile motorized rafting trip with Arizona River Runners in May, I was both excited and apprehensive. What in the world do you pack for a seven-day rafting trip that can fit into a single 24″ x 12″ x 12″ duffel bag? And, perhaps more importantly, what don’t you pack?
The 16 commercial companies that offer Grand Canyon rafting trips on the Colorado River. They are all seasoned at working in this environment, and they provide detailed packing lists of what to bring on such a trip. When I started packing, I followed the list sent to me by ARR almost to a tee, and I’m glad I did so. There were people on my trip who did not, many of whom thought they knew better than one of these companies about what would keep them dry, warm and comfortable.
Keep in mind that once you’re on the river, there’s no going back. Rafting the Grand Canyon is a multi-day affair, and you’re stuck with what you’ve brought and got once your boat pushes off from shore. The importance of packing correctly can not be understated.
Now that I’ve been there and back, here are five items I believe you absolutely must pack for rafting the Colorado River and five things you can leave at home.
5 THINGS TO PACK FOR A GRAND CANYON RAFTING TRIP
1. Neoprene socks. They are bulky and I’m not sure when I’ll ever use them again, but my neoprene socks kept my feet impressively dry and definitely warmer than they would have been without them. The Colorado River is cold—only 50F degrees—and you will be drenched by the rapids for hours upon hours every day. Neoprene socks did wonders for me, and those people who didn’t have them on my trip said they wish they had invested in a pair.
I had two different pairs with me: The HydroSkin G3 socks by NRS and the Serius Innovation Neosock. The Hydroskin socks were a bit bulkier than the Serius brand, but both did an outstanding job in keeping me dry and warm.
2. Gloves. I had three pairs of gloves with me, and I wore them all. One was a pair of SilverTip merino wool gloves that served in a similar manner as the neoprene socks on our coldest and wettest days. Though I didn’t wear them every day, I was glad I packed them.
The second pair was a fingerless pair of cycling gloves with padded palms that I wore the vast majority of time. They did wonders for keeping my hands from being cut up from boat ropes and helping unload the raft, and they also kept my hands from being sunburned. I threw them in at the last minute, and I’m really glad I did so.
Finally, I had a pair of those cheap stretchy gloves, which I wore during cool evenings and at night. Hands take a beating from the weather on the river, so every night before going to bed I put a healthy layer of hand cream on, then put the gloves on, which helped keep my hands from becoming too dry and cracked.
3. Brimmed hat. I’m not normally a fan of the wide-brimmed hat, but there is minimal protection from the sun in the canyon and I was all for avoiding sunburn. I kept my hat on all day, every day for sun protection. It also did double duty by hiding a head of hair that wasn’t washed for a week.
The Columbia hat I wore was very similar to this one, though this isn’t the exact hat. I imagine that any brimmed hat with a retention strap would work well.
And, a quick note on that unwashed hair: For the ladies, a French braid goes a long way in keeping greasy hair at bay. I’m also a big fan of a high-quality, UV-reinforced buff to hide nasty hair. I brought one buff and wore it as a headband, hat and/or scarf on almost a daily basis.
4. Rain gear. One of the pieces of gear that rafting companies say is required is a full rain suit and for good reason. Do not skimp on rain gear, and don’t be shy about putting it on. It’s toasty out in the direct sunlight, but covering up with a rain suit before the bigger rapids can make a big difference in prolonged comfort for the rest of the day. It’s also worth mentioning here that layers in general are a good idea. I often wore a compression shirt followed by a long-sleeved wool shirt with a fleece on top of that, all finished off with a rain jacket. I felt bulky, but I was warm and dry.
I was so glad that I bought the Marmot Precip jacket for the top half of my rain gear. I often wore this over a fleece jacket, which helped me stay extra warm. For my rain pants, I used the Marmot Precip pants, which were a great choice as well.
5. Baby wipes. Some folks on my trip were brave enough to dive into the river a few times during the week to bathe. Not me. Instead, I took a thorough baby wipe bath when the blowing sand wasn’t too brutal. I wiped down my face every morning, afternoon and night and just felt better about staying clean. Though rafting companies have a sophisticated hand washing system, fresh water should be used conservatively, so this was a good way to wash without the water waste.
5 THINGS TO AVOID PACKING FOR A GRAND CANYON RAFTING TRIP
In addition to these five items that I absolutely believe should be packed for a Colorado rafting trip, there are five things people may tempted to bring that might as well stay home.
1. Sarong. I know, I know… It goes against my list of must-pack items, but on this trip, it really wasn’t worth taking. On the first day, I tried to use a sarong to cover up while I was changing clothes. Within a couple days, however, I was over it, changing when I needed to however and whenever necessary. Everyone on the trip is literally in the same boat as you, and vanity really does lose it’s appeal. I didn’t get cold at night, so I didn’t need it as an extra blanket, and I never had another good use for the one I packed.
2. Hiking shoes. I had already packed a pair of Keens sandals to wear on the river and Teva sandals to wear with socks at camp at night, so I debated long and hard about whether to throw in a pair of Merrell hiker shoes for excursions up side canyons. At the last minute, I decided to take them, and they were the biggest waste of space and weight I packed. I wore them into the canyon and then back out, but I didn’t put them on a single time during the entire week of the trip. I found that any opportunity that would have been appropriate for hiking shoes could easily be done in hiking socks and Keens.
3. Sunglasses retention strap. The packing list provided by Arizona River Runners included a retention strap for sunglasses. I packed one then promptly lost it before ever getting on the river, but it turned out I never needed it in the first place. I suppose if you’re wearing prescription sunglasses or your boat flips in a rapid, this might come in handy, but with my brimmed hat and rain jacket hood covering my ears, I felt like my sunglasses were secure. Also, though we bounced up and down riding through the rapids, I always felt safely intact with our motorized raft.
4. Smartphone. I left my smartphone at home, and I’m glad I did. Some people packed them for the camera feature, but I was more than happy packing a camera instead. Sand and water pose a definite threat to smartphones and batteries won’t last too long. Most importantly, though, is the fact that the smartphone is more than just a camera. It is a digital connection to the outside world, and while no services are available in the canyon, having that kind of access in hand makes it very hard to truly disconnect while rafting the Colorado River.
5. Solar charger. A few folks on my trip packed solar chargers for charging camera batteries and cell phones. I used my camera extensively on the river but never had a problem with the battery. I had two fully charged batteries with me, and Arizona River Rafters has a system that allows each guest to recharge a battery once, which I never used. With those two options available to me, there would have been no reason to have a solar charger. Instead of something bulky like a charger, I’d recommend people simply pack a few fully charged, reliable batteries because they’re much smaller.
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