You never expected to be a river person, the river life chose you. Your introduction to the wild world of river trips started when that smelly (but friendly) acquaintance of yours lets you in on the fact that they have a ‘spot open’ like you just won the lottery or something. River trips are like Fight Club: the first two rules are that you can’t talk about them with people who aren’t invited, because, well, they are fun and you can’t bring everyone.
Multi-day river trip rafting is like backpacking, if your backpack is being carried by a Brontosaurus. You learn really quickly the basics of what you will need to buy to be ready for this experience at a moment’s notice. At the very least, you need a paco pad and a few big drybags. But, you’ll quickly find out that more river trips happen for you when you have stuff beyond the basics, stuff that permit holders remember you for. Things that, well, make the whole experience at camp and on the river that much better.
First and foremost, you’ll need a onesie. Your onesie says a lot about you, it’s your animal side. It’s also a great ice breaker to show people who you don’t know on the trip that while you’re a bit crazy, you’re not lame. I have two onesies. One is an Anime Kangaroo I bought from a street vendor in Kutchan, Hokkaido, Japan. The pouch is a great place for anything you might need to carry around, or if you need to go hands free at a moments notice. The second is a Baboon that I got at Wal-Mart in Page, Arizona before my first Grand Canyon trip. Yes, it has a big pink butt, I’m sure that’s the first thing you were wondering…
These two onesies make it on every multi-day trip I go on, and live in the Watershed Colorado Bag that my sleeping bag, pillow, and tent are packed in. The onesie is especially awesome for shoulder season trips. You hardly have to layer underneath them on 40 degree nights. They work awesome as a sleeping bag liner that you can take with you when you go to the bathroom at night. Some require modification for that maneuver… time to hit up that friend who is handy with the needle and thread!
The next most important thing I never go on a river trip without is a musical instrument… or like seven, because why would you bring just one? I have a small ¼ size guitar that fits in my Eddy Out Drybox, and an amp that fits in my captain’s box. I’ve seen carbon fiber fiddles, ukuleles, harmonicas, tambourines, and egg shakers make their way onto trips as well. There’s nothing that brings a group together more than everyone, regardless of musical talent, jammin out around the fire together.
When you get to the beach after a long day, it’s time to set up the same amount of stuff that you would find in an 800 square foot apartment, from the kitchen to chairs, and even the fireplace. When that’s done, though, you are still left with a dark beach that needs some life. I have several sets of the Goal Zero Light-A-Life Quad lights with the multicolor shades. Hang from trees or oars and you’ve got better kitchen lighting than any headlamp or lantern will provide. Each light is as bright as the average headlamp, there are four per strand, and you can chain them together to all run off of one battery bank, like the Goal Zero Venture 70. Don’t forget to pick up some solar panels to keep battery banks charged on longer trips! The Luci LED Solar Inflatable Lanterns are awesome too. They provide a lot of light for the fact they are inflatable lanterns that you never have to replace batteries on. They are great for lighting the way down the groover path, and usually last all night if you remembered to leave them out on the boat during the day.
Beach games are critical for an awesome river trip. There are several manufacturers that make light up bocce sets that are really cool. Glowing Poi sets, or LED batons are pretty cool to have too, in case it turns out that the quiet girl on your trip went to college on a marching band scholarship for baton twirling (seriously, this happened once and it was awesome). An item like the NRS Pro Compact Rescue Bag is awesome for safety during the day, but features a glowing rope that is perfect for the game “Hunker Down” at night (waivers required…). LED frisbees are always a fun, easy thing to pack if space is an issue as well. Playing beach games doesn’t have to end when the sun goes down!
Lastly, the most critical thing to bring on a river trip isn’t something you can buy. You need to bring a helpful & respectful attitude. River trips are a group effort and everyone needs to pitch in. When you hit the beach, the place you are camping should be your last concern. There are boats to unload, a kitchen to set up, a bathroom to set up, and chairs to set up - there is no shortage of work to be done before the fun can begin. This tip extends beyond being helpful, though. NRS had a good duct tape diary earlier this year about “Miltons”, which are the Jerry’s of river trips. I’ll borrow that term as well. For a quick summary - Milton doesn’t help out, Milton complains a lot, Milton overindulges on adult beverages and canyon enhancers, Milton hits on your girlfriend in front of you, and Milton’s debauchery gets him injured (frequently). Don’t be Milton. Milton doesn’t get invited on the next trip, and everyone who does talks about how glad they are that Milton isn’t there this time. You can’t buy your way out of being Milton.
Bring things like these and you are bound to have a blast on the trip and leave a lasting impression on those you are floating with. River folk are a family, and having a few extra things that make the trip that much better for your new family will help solidify your place in it.
See you on the River!