I’ve guided about 150 rafting trips in Grand Canyon and I’ve seen a lot of packing faux pas that cause my guests more hassle (and some times embarrassment) than necessary. Below are the five most common mistakes rafters make when they pack and how to avoid them.
People have a tendency to over pack as they have concerns of not having enough stuff for all the elements they will face. Spending a number of days deep in Grand Canyon is your chance to let go and simplify. When we pack our fears, we end up dragging a bunch of stuff with us on our adventure and eventually we will feel the weight! Keep in mind that you’ll be schlepping your bags to and from the raft every single day of your trip – do yourself a favor and pack light!
With all that said, there are a few items that you will want to double upon. Make sure to have 2 pairs of shoes – one for camp and one for on the boat – as blowouts do happen. Bring two pairs of sunglasses and two hats, which tend to get lost easily.
If you are on prescription medication you will want to make sure you have double your supply and distribute it into 2 bags to be stored in 2 different locations just in case your bag happens to get lost or something happens to your boat.
You should definitely pack the items you need and use every day but don’t try to pack for every unforeseen need. For example, if you take aspirin every day, pack your supply but it is not necessary to pack every medication and loads of bandages “just in case”. Your guides will have a first aid kit and are happy to provide you with those unforeseen items you may need.
The other biggest fear pack I see is snacks. At the last stop before arriving to the boats, people tend to want to load up on snack mixes and the like. These usually get off-loaded on the guides by the first evening as they are getting trashed in the dry bags and people realize that food the outfitters provide – meals and snacks – is plentiful and delicious. The caveat here is that if you have to have a certain type of protein bar or you love sunflower seeds, bring them along but leave the bananas and chocolate at home – they do not travel well in Grand Canyon!
For being as remote as the river is, it sure is easy to acquire needed items. Once on a trip we started running out of toilet paper and managed to barter with other trips for soda, chips, beer and ibuprofen to beef up our supply. We even managed to come off the trip with 2 extra rolls! So rest assured – your basic needs will be covered.
The fashion rules of the ‘above the rim world’ do not apply when we’re whitewater rafting in Grand Canyon. You may want your personal flair and personality to shine through your clothing, but it is not necessary to don a new ensemble each evening.
I once had a guest who brought such an overstuffed bag that she had to request an extra dry bag to accommodate all her clothing. After the first day of loading and unloading her bags from the boat, hiking the extra bag to her campsite through sand and over boulders, rummaging through her bags for that one essential item, she made the wise decision to condense her belongings. We did not unload her 2nd bag again for the remainder of the trip and she didn’t miss a single item in that bag.
It is important to understand the reason behind what you’re bringing. “Two pairs of long pants” leaves a lot of questions. If you are rafting in the shoulder seasons (spring/fall) one pair of those long pants should be for warmth while the other should be a quick dry material for sun protection while rafting during the day. Having materials that do well in the elements – items that will dry quickly if they get wet – is key.
We all love our jeans, but if they happen to get wet in camp in the evening they will take a long time to dry. Think wool, not cotton to reduce odors and know that you will need to get multiple uses out a single clothing item. Ladies, if you want to bring a sun dress for camp, one is all you’ll need. Test out your clothing in advance. Know how to zip and unzip the detachable legs, find out if a tag is scratchy, and be sure the shoes you bring do not give you blisters. This will simplify and improve your days on the water.
Some things only have one use, like a toothbrush. However, did you know you can bring an empty pillowcase and stuff it with your clothing at night to have a fluffy pillow versus bringing a travel pillow that will take up valuable space in your bag?
Gloves are another multi-use item. There is no way around it – your hands and feet will get beat up on your trip. Every extra effort you can make to protect these valuable body parts will serve you well! A pair of simple cheap garden gloves will protect your hands from the sun while you’re on the boat, in the duffle line as you’re loading and unloading boats, and on hikes against the hot, rough rocks.
Sarongs are a must have for both women and men. During the day this will offer great sun protection for legs and feet. It can double as a skirt or dress in the evening or offer some privacy while you are changing. In the mid-summer evening temperatures can be HOT! Getting your sarong wet and draping it over you will help to bring down your body temperature so you can fall asleep. Getting this wet and draping it over your hat and shoulders can cool you off as you hike up into the hot rocks. Still not convinced? They come in fun colors and can be a fashionable addition to your minimalist wardrobe!
A handkerchief or Buff is a serious multi-tool. Use it to prevent chafing on your chin from your life jacket. Tuck it under your hat for neck protection. Get it wet and tie around your neck to cool the body during hikes or on the boat. Clean your glasses. Blow your nose. Use it as a re-usable napkin. Wipe sunscreen out of your eyes. It can be mouth and nose protection during dust storm.
The list goes on!
Camp is a wonderful time to relax in a camp chair with a cold beverage and great company or to get extra steps in by exploring beyond the camp. I’ve seen a lot of people waste this valuable time sifting through their belongings trying to find things.
We highly recommend organizing your bags contents in large safe saving bags or packing cubes . This will help keep your items protected from sand and water. It also allows you to stash away your used items without contaminating everything else in your bag. We recommend keeping your toiletries and sunscreen isolated in their own bags as explosions are not uncommon.
How you organize your day pack will also make your journey more pleasant. Your outfitter will provide you with an ammo can or waterproof day bag for items that you will need during the day. Often this bag is tucked away under other bags and can be a hassle to access often. I have seen many guests find success with a small fanny pack. It is large enough for your lip balm, sunscreen, camera and other small items you need frequently. Because it is worn around your waist, it will not interfere with your life jacket like a backpack would.
You have made a significant investment to raft Grand Canyon. Don’t ruin your trip with a cheap item that will let you down. Grand Canyon is a harsh environment. Some items I buy from Goodwill for my trip, knowing the item will be trashed. But there are items worth a higher investment to ensure success. Here are the areas where it is worth spending the extra bucks:
Sandals or an amphibious shoe that has support and can go wet and dry is invaluable. It is worth it to splurge on a higher quality brand such as Keen or Chaco as they will hold up better in the heat. Many shoes cannot withstand the heat and the glue will delaminate, separating the sole from the shoe. Trust me when I say it is difficult hiking around with layers of duct tape keeping your shoes together. I have had many guests that brought $3 pool shoes from Wal-Mart and none have ever lasted more than 24 hours. Rain GearYou will appreciate a higher quality set of rain gear. Most guests will typically start every morning in rain gear regardless of the time of year. This is a whitewater trip and you will get wet. The river water is chilly (50°F – 55°F all year round) and with shade in the morning you will appreciate this added layer of insulation. Make sure your rain gear is waterproof (water resistant will not keep you dry). UPF Shirts/PantsI typically only wear sunscreen on my face and feet. I choose to cover up with UPF clothing instead. Not all clothing is created equal. A wet white t-shirt is only an SPF 3. Don’t rely on standard clothing to provide you with all your SPF needs! UnderwearYup! You heard us right, investing in a few nice pairs of underwear that are NOT cotton are key. We recommend wool, lycra or nylon for their quick drying properties, which will increase your level of comfort.
The most important take away in all of this is “know thyself” and ask questions. Read over your outfitter’s packing list and ask why you need to bring a certain item if you don’t understand. Begin this process early (2-3 months in advance). This is a great time to be empowered to ensure that you bring only what you truly need to thrive on your Grand Canyon rafting trip. If there is anything we can do to help you get ready to raft, please give us a call or shoot us an email! If you want to know our favorite adventure essentials, check out our recommended gear page!