There are many reasons a trip down the Grand Canyon tops the adventure list: The rapids are oceanic, the canyon views from the quiet pools are awe inspiring, and the side-canyon hikes are astonishing. The 14-plus nights of sleeping under the stars are a world away from your life back home. (Thankfully, there’s no cell reception at all.) But you have to pack right, because once you launch, there’s no turning back to resupply. Fortunately, rafts can carry an awful lot, so you can ride, eat, drink, and sleep in high style.
How to properly pack a cooler.
Jack’s Plastic Welding Paco Pad
This 1.5-inch-thick pad ($191) is durable enough to bed down on a cactus and so waterproof that it doubles as padded seating in the raft. It’s considerably heavier and tougher than other luxury pads, will last for decades, is easy to clean, and works really well as an inflatable water toy.
Yeti Rambler 20 Tumbler
It’s safe to say that ultra-insulated tumblers like the Rambler ($30), which allow you to savor hot beverages longer and keep cold drinks cool twice as long as a standard plastic cup, are among the most beloved pieces of gear on any car camping or rafting trip. Stainless steel makes for easy cleaning and no lingering flavors, so you can start with hot coffee, head right into water, and enjoy icy margaritas that evening at camp.
Beyond Coastal’s Active Sunscreen SPF 34 and Badger Balm
Slathering on sunscreen before the sun crests the canyon walls is absolutely mandatory. Beyond Coastal Active ($30) is some of the best we’ve tested: It’s waterproof but not greasy and blocks both UVA and UVB rays without toxic chemicals. The combination of water, hot sun, and dry air can cause your hands to crack and chap. The best way to soothe and soften hands is to rub on a bit of Badger Balm ($8) every night.
Howler Pescador Shirt
It’s counterintuitive, but raft guides know that keeping your skin out of the direct sun will leave you feeling more energized at night in camp. The Pescador ($85) has airy long sleeves, quick-drying poly-nylon SPF 15 fabric, and vented mesh-lined front yokes that help keep you cool and dry and protected from the sun all day long.
Revo Guide 2 Sunglasses
Wraparound polarized sunglasses like the Guide 2 ($189) cut the river’s glare to better spot the way through. You’d be bumming if you lost them midway, so get a pair of old-school Croakies and bring a spare pair while you’re at it.
.50-Millimeter Ammunition Box
These WWII-era waterproof, recycled-steel cases have long been rafters’ go-to dry storage—and a nod to the time when trips were primarily outfitted with what you could find at the local army surplus store. Pick one up at any hunting shop for $15 and load it with anything you don’t want soaked or crushed: sunglasses, sunscreen, journal, and, for lounging at camp, a deck of cards (even better, Cards Against Humanity). The ammo can is also the main prop for the traditional ammo can tug-of-war beach game.
Chaco Z/1 Pro Sandals
Broad straps, a shaped footbed, and sticky rubber soles make the Z/1s ($110) snug enough to stay on your feet whether you’re scrambling up a slickrock side canyon or sloshing to shore over slippery rocks after that poorly executed run lands you in the drink.
NRS Adventurer Inflatable Stand-Up Paddleboard
There are long sections on the river without major rapids—spots where it’s fun to hop onto a stand-up paddleboard and splash around. An inflatable board like the Adventurer ($1,295) can roll up quickly and be stowed on the raft when the big rapids rise on the horizon.
Yeti Tundra 160 Cooler
The beauty of a raft trip? Grilled steaks and corn on the cob on Day 14. Keep your provisions cold—or frozen—for weeks with an ultra-insulated cooler like the Tundra 160, which, if packed properly (see below) and kept out of the sun as much as possible, can keep things ice-cold for the duration of the trip. ($680; yeticoolers.com)
REI Camp Chair
It’s a raft, not a backpack. Might as well bring some furniture. REI’s Camp Compact Chair ($28) is one of the comfiest around and even has a cup holder.
Cooler 101: Pack it Smarter
If you do it right, you'll still have cocktail ice on day 15.