Last summer, when I told friends and family that I’d be rafting 225 miles from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek, Arizona, on the Colorado River, I received all kinds of remarks. Some said, “That’ll be the trip of your life,” while others noted, “That place will change you.” While both proved true, most folks were surprised to hear I’d be going in the heat of July, and there was justified concern for heat exhaustion. With the chilly, 50-degree water discharging from Glen Canyon Dam and temperatures soaring over 100 degrees most days, it took considerable tact to regulate between such extremes. As often as our crew would joke about joining the “Grand Canyon Swim Team,” being in the water the entire trip just wasn’t feasible or safe. At high noon on day six, the reading at Phantom Ranch was 114 degrees. No number of dips in the river could turn that heat down. Luckily, I had gear along that kept me cool, protected, and comfortable for the duration of the adventure. Here are some of the essentials.
Patagonia Tropic Comfort II Hoodie ($59 and Up)
The heat of the Southwest’s sun can beat through cheap polyester T-shirts, so I opted to pack something that was light but also provided long-sleeved protection—the Tropic Comfort II hoodie. Rather than lather up my skin with SPF 50 every two hours, this was a great way to both stay cool and avoid exposure to harsh rays. It dried off quickly but retained a nice level of moisture between my skin and PFD.
NRS Drag Bag ($35)
On a rafting trip like this, hydration is a no-brainer. All of us on the river accepted that our water would likely be boiling in our bottles and our beers would be sandy and warm—until someone showed up with this hauler, that is. It easily held a 30-pack of Montuckys and chilled our half dozen water bottles throughout the day. Though we tried to remember to take it out of the water and secure it to the top of the boat during the big rapids, it may or may not have taken a ride down the infamous Crystal while clipped to the outside of the rig. This bag is durable and affordable, and bringing it with you will put you in the running for trip MVP.
Yeti Panga 100 Duffel ($400)
I was skeptical that this zippered duffel could really be submersible, but after a test run in the Atlantic Ocean, I decided to bring it along. Over the course of 16 days, it’s what kept my key items—a sleeping bag, pillow, tent, cell phone, and journal—dry. The Panga is truly watertight, and you don’t have to dump all your stuff out to access things like you do with traditional roll-top bags. Thanks to its ample exterior webbing, it’s easy to lash a water bottle or second set of shoes to the bag for easy access.
Adidas Terrex CC Voyager Parley Water Shoe ($90)
I’m a tried-and-true Chaco advocate, but on this trip I liked the Parley, because it added a layer of protection from the sun for my feet. I was also glad to have a closed-toe option for side hikes and better traction when cacti and snakes lurked with one misstep. The soles of this shoe are designed to be self-bailing and breathable, so they’re best worn without socks.
Jack’s Plastic Paco Pad ($215)
For this adventure, a small camping air mattress suited my needs. However, the smart folks brought along these river-specific sleeping pads. Based on their shape and waterproofing, they allowed my companions to sleep on the boats, which proved to be the coolest place at night. These pads can also serve as a fun floating mechanism, turning a meager rapid into something much more exhilarating.
StreamMachine Water Cannon ($22)
Even though it’s a kid’s toy from Walmart, the Water Cannon played three crucial functions: spraying the scalding rubber rafts so they were cooler to touch, rinsing ourselves down, and cleaning the sand from our boat. It proved its worth within the first few days, and everyone wanted to borrow it to douse their boats. Be mindful: it’s still cheap plastic, so it bent from the heat under direct sunlight. (StreamMachine also makes a more durable one of these, the Original.)
Hala Atcha SUP ($1,300)
While we all anticipated the burly whitewater, it was easy to forget just how many flat sections we had to row. This whitewater stand-up paddleboard provided our group with a new way to play around in the river when things were more mellow. It performed best in the crashing waves but could also be surfed in some of the small holes off the current. At nine feet six inches, it was a great board for everyone to jump on. But it did pose two drawbacks: it took up a large amount of raft storage space when inflated and required its own pump. Depending on your skill level, riding a SUP in the whitewater may turn out to be half paddling and half swimming, so in terms of keeping cool, it was worth bringing along.