Before you start packing for your first multiday raft trip, remember this old adage: A raft is never full.
That essentially means you can bring everything—plus the kitchen sink. After all, you don’t have to worry about weight when you have a raft to store your gear and a river to do the heavy lifting. So go ahead and enjoy some luxuries while out on the water.
I tested these 11 products during an 18-day trip down the Grand Canyon's Colorado River. Neither I nor my raft guide buddies were left wanting in any way.
Klean Kanteen Wide-Mouth Water Bottle ($33)
Unrigging five-gallon jugs to refill a bottle is enough of a hassle to dissuade some people from drinking enough water. This is a bad idea that can lead to dehydration and possibly a ruined trip.
I drank about 128 ounces of water per day in the Grand Canyon, most of it from this 64-ounce Klean Kanteen Wide-Mouth water bottle. This model is relatively lightweight, sturdy, and easy to clean. Pro tip: Use a few feet of duct tape to make a handle around the top of the bottle. This makes the bottle easier to rig to the raft, and you’ll never regret having the extra tape.
Avex Highland Stainless Matte Travel Mug ($25)
I used an Avex Highland Stainless Matte travel mug for coffee in the morning and a cocktail in the evening. My coffee tasted like gin and my gin tasted like coffee, but that felt like a fair trade-off since the mug kept the drinks either icy cold or piping hot.
The tech behind the mug’s thermal success? Its stainless-steel vacuum insulation and auto-seal lid, which you have to press down to drink from. The matte finish also proved study and unscratchable when rolling around the bottom of our raft.
Paco Pad Grande ($275)
Paco Pads are expensive, but they’re game changers when it comes to a comfortable night’s sleep. I used a Paco Pad Grande from Jack’s Plastic Welding and slept better on the three-inch-thick pad than I do on my TempurPedic mattress at home. The Hypalon exterior (the same material many rafts are made from) is a waterproof and nearly indestructible layer that houses the soft foam. Shell out the extra dough for the Grande. You’ll appreciate the extra space when you settle down for the night.
WaterShed Ocoee and Chattooga Drybags ($93 and $105)
Every professional raft guide on our trip brought a WaterShed Drybag to stow their personal gear. The Ocoee and Chattooga were the two most popular models. Why? The ZipDry closure is the best in the business. Watershed’s drybags feature a rigid ziplock-style closure on top that snaps shut to be 100 percent watertight. This feature also makes accessing the bag’s contents easier than with a traditional roll-down pack. The four-layer PVC material used in the bags is absolutely bombproof—I’ve never had any durability issues.
Chaco Flip EcoTread ($65)
Almost everyone on this trip packed a pair of Chaco Flip EcoTreads. I wore them during most of our side hikes, where they performed admirably. The outsole was sticky enough to make me feel confident while scrambling or climbing on rock, but I was most impressed with the footbed, which cradled my sole and felt sturdy while hiking or hopping from raft to raft.
Astral Brewer ($100)
Six members of our trip brought Astral Brewers (or the women's Brewess). The shoes have a quick-drying lightweight upper and such an effective drain design that they never bogged us down. That same drainage system filtered out silt from the shoes, a necessity in the Grand Canyon.
The sole stuck like climbing-shoe rubber to rock. One wearer even lamented that it made him feel too confident on technical sections.
San Francisco Hat Company Riverz Scout Hat ($89)
People on our trip used sun hats ranging from the $89 San Francisco Hat Company’s Riverz Scout hat to my used trucker hat. The Riverz Scout is amazing because it’s built from polypropylene, which, unlike its straw competitors, doesn’t fall apart when it gets wet. If you choose to go low-tech like me, wear a bandana under a trucker hat for full coverage.
Wet Dreams River Supply Mesh Rig Bag ($53)
Wet Dreams Sewing and River Supply, based in Flagstaff, Arizona, makes the coolest mesh rig bags I’ve ever seen. The mesh is strong enough to handle rough daily rigging, and the bags are hand-built specifically for rafters’ every need. We used rig bags designed to attach water bottles to the raft’s frame. We even had a special bag for our Wiffle ball set.
Ammo Can (From $10)
A 7.62-millimeter ammo can is waterproof and will usually cost you about $10. Plus, you can plaster it with cool stickers. Rig the ammo can near you with the items you want to access during the day (think: sunscreen). Then you won’t have dig through a pile of drybags every time you want to access those essentials.
Patagonia Sun Stretch Shirt ($99)
While any polyester thrift-store shirt will protect you from the sun, I wore the Patagonia Sun Stretch shirt for a full week and cannot convey how impressed I am with it. Its polyester-nylon fabric stretched well enough that I nearly forgot I was wearing it while kayaking, and the shirt dried so fast that it didn’t smell bad (okay, it didn’t smell that bad) after days of sweating in it.
NRS Czar 6 Stand-Up Paddleboard ($1,195)
We brought four NRS inflatable SUPs on this trip (I’m serious about the whole not-packing-light mentality), and we were thankful for every one. An SUP transforms flat stretches of water from boring into a joy, while glassy surf waves can be a dream—if you have the patience and skill set to catch one.
I brought the six-inch-thick NRS Czar 6 and found it to be incredibly stable yet still snappy thanks to its rockered profile and relatively short length. It easily caught eddies and was playful in mellow rapids.