Packing Personal Gear for Multi-Day River Trips
I’m not a salty veteran of multi-day river trips. My roots are in the mountains, with lots of experience carrying a backpack on extended expeditions. But for a variety or reasons, river trips have become our favorite way to recreate as a family. In the process we have been honing our skills as we learn from other savy river goers, while incorporating our own strategies learned on terra firma.
Rafters tend to bring a ton or gear. A bunch of it is great to have, but at some point the benefits of the creature comforts become outweighed by the burden of packing them, schlepping them, and setting them up. There is still something to be said for simplicity. When it comes to packing personal gear (clothes, sleeping system, tent) in particular, we have developed a system for our family that is simple and efficient.
Each adult gets one large dry bag to hold all their gear. If you have children each adult can share their dry bag with one kid. Clothing is put into a small zip duffel (one per person). Keep it to a minimum by avoiding duplicates of items you really only need one of. Other items such as sleeping bag, pad, tent, camp shoes can all be packed loose or in their own stuff sack first before going into the dry bags. The key here is to have items that are not overly bulky. For example, many boaters prefer Paco Pads pads, which are extremely comfy to sleep on, but they are huge. We go with Therm-a-Rest’s designed for backpacking and light compressible sleeping bags. There is plenty to debate here, but reducing the size of your gear adds up. The result is a more svelte boat which is easier to pack and fish from.
When packing the dry bag put sleeping bags on the bottom. Wedge sleeping pads around them. Then stuff your tent body or fly (not in a stuff sack) in between the sleeping bag and pads, filling all the small voids in the bottom of your bag. Then add zip duffels, shoes and any other extra items. In the end you have one dry bag that holds all of you personal camping gear that is easy to carry between the boat and your camp. For a family of four we end up with two dry bags, containing all our family’s personal gear.
This by no means encompasses everything brought on a multi day river trip. Kitchen gear, food, boats, and a variety of other items each warrant their own discussion. But personal gear is a constantly a piece of the puzzle for any river trip The principal of bringing only what you need, and keeping size to a minimum, will pay dividends. Part of being comfortable and having a ton of fun on your trip is about managing your workload and time. Less gear, that is compact, and well organized will lead to less time packing and hauling loads all over tarnation, and more time fishing or hanging out in a camp chair drinking a cold beverage.