It can be hard to get invited on trips sometimes if you don’t personally own an overnight rig, and it’s a significant investment that you might not be ready for yet. Yet, the canyons are calling and you must go!
Private river trips are, by design, a bit exclusive. TL’s (Trip Leaders) are limited to a certain number of people. When planning, TL's usually fill spots with people who own gear to make the trip come together.
It’s rare that one person or family owns every last thing you need to make a 25 person trip come together. In fact, many who own boats don’t own a lot of the other things to make a trip come together.
While you should never assume that everyone else is going to have room for all your stuff – it’s usually the case on larger trips. If you have a lot of "group gear" to contribute, they are more likely to happily carry that down the river for you.
What exactly is this "group gear?" Assuming you already have a group-oriented mindset and a glowing personality, what can you own that will contribute to a river trip that will potentially land you a spot on the permit?
The first one isn’t the most pleasant, but owning your own Portable Toilet (called a “Groover”) and some spare waste tanks will for sure get you a leg up on other folks that don’t have much to offer. If a TL doesn’t have this already, s/he needs a couple by regulation, and will be asking around to see who owns a groover.
A groover is not a fun thing to own, though it’s less unpleasant to clean out one like the Eco-Safe Toilet than you might think. You’ll need a 20mm “Rocket Box” ammo can for each of your tanks, and it’s a good idea to have a spare for your toilet seat as well.
Owning a 20mm ammo can that can be used for multiple purposes for group needs is a good idea. They are excellent for sealing away trash bags and crushed aluminum cans in a crushproof and watertight box.
All trips, regardless of the number of people, need a kitchen. Kitchen gear that is intended for river trips can be exceptionally specialized, and it can take people who own their own rig typically take a couple of years to acquire all of it.
A lot of folks have some of the elements of a kitchen box, but not the whole thing. This can be a bit of a logistical nightmare when planning a trip, because everyone brings what they have and way more cooking gear ends up on the trip than there needs to be.
Building a kitchen box with everything that could possibly be needed for up to 25 people and having it ready for any trip will definitely make things easier for the TL when they are trying to pull a trip together, and may secure your spot on a trip without a rig.
Most trips require a specialized leave-no-trace fire pit, known as a “Firepan”. There are a couple of versions, but the Fireside Pop-Up Pit is sensibly-priced and holds up to many of the same abuses than more expensive pans do. The whole thing breaks down to about the size of a folding chair, and the fire is built on a screen that promotes airflow and eliminates large coals smoldering in the morning.
One strange side-note: there are certain trips that require you to have a firepan with you, even if the local fire regulations prevent open fires... I think the intention is for emergency situations like severe hypothermia. So, an even better reason to own one.
Another thing that is a valuable piece of gear to own is a CGear Sand Free Multimat. A sand mat is a regulation requirement to keep food crumbs and microtrash from ending up on the beach and inviting rodents to your food stores at night. I recommend the 10x10 size as it fits most kitchen setups nicely.
There is also a smaller mat - the CGear Sandlite Mat - which is awesome for outside your tent or under your sleeping pad if you are sleeping without a tent. Whether you are a “sand-hater” or a “sand-embracer," it’s sometimes nice to have a break from sand getting in and on everything you own when you need to dump out a drybag of clothes (or costumes!).
In reviewing the regulations for any permit, most river sections require a pin kit. While this is something that can be assembled from your retired climbing equipment in some cases, you can purchase the NRS Pin Kit that is the real-deal for extracting pinned overnight rigs. It comes with everything you’ll need for the worst of pins and a reference card to help you remember how to set up mechanical advantage systems.
Having one pin kit is typically required, but having multiple ones spread out on a couple different boats ensures that one is close by when needed.
Owning a bunch of beach games is another thing that sparks a TL’s interest. Boaters love:
- Bocce (especially light up)
- Corn Hole
- Spike Ball
- Can Jam
- Polish Horseshoes
The key to all of these is that they need to break down reasonably small. If they have carry bags, even better. Ideally you have a “big drybag of fun” that comes out on the beach and is full of all sorts of activities.
You should never assume that tall trees will be growing at the bottom of a deep, rocky canyon. We are sometimes pleasantly surprised by tall cottonwoods at certain camps, but it’s never a given. A river wing, or other sun shelter, is super important on mid-summer trips where hiding from the sun becomes a daily struggle. These usually don’t take up much space but provide much-needed shade at camps that otherwise do not have any.
Another thing that is always a bonus on a trip is having really good camp lighting. There are a lot of choices out there. I have found that the Luci Solar String Lights are taking the boating world by storm. They are bright enough to light a kitchen where sharp knives are being used, or for adding some light over near the groover set-up.
The Luci Inflatable Solar Lanterns are another favorite for adding a bit of light here or there; be that to mark where your tent is in the darkness, light up the cocktail table, or to throw a couple in the middle of a circle of chairs if you are under fire ban and can’t have a fire (way better than staring at headlamps).
Lastly, knowledge and experience is generally something you can’t buy. But, you can buy River Map Guides and other important literature about popular sections of river.
Every boat captain is going to want to have a river guide that explains the rapids coming up, as well as important landmarks, camps, side hikes, or private property to avoid. Having a good library that is ready for any trip you could be invited on will be something that the boat captain you end up being a passenger for will appreciate.
Now, let’s look back at our list of the 10 Things to Buy to Get Invited on a River Trip. Seems like all you are missing is… a Boat! If you procure your boating gear the way we’ve laid it out here, then by the time you have your own boat, you’ll have everything else you’ll need for it with the exception of rigging gear.