All Hands on Deck
A guide to overnight river trips.
“He who is best prepared can best serve his moment of inspiration.” —Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The river trip is a unique type of excursion. Not quite backpacking, not quite car camping, and definitely no walk in the park, a well-executed multiday float will always be a highlight of your summer. Solid planning will have you dialed and ready to live lavishly on the water, but going off half-cocked can lead to stress, discomfort, and even danger. So do your homework and reap the rewards of preparation.
Rope & cord
Rod & reel
Extracurricular activities (Frisbee, football, bocce ball, book)
Budget your river miles wisely—more miles means more time on the water. Keep in mind that it’s nice to have some spare hours for setting up camp, cooking, and exploring on shore.
Consider whether you need to bring drinking water, or whether you can treat and drink water from the river.
Test out your drybags before the trip. Even if you’ve trusted them for years, better to find a leak and patch it before you embark.
Rig to flip. Not just for rapids—you could get broadsided by a rock or caught up in a strainer, and it usually happens when you least expect it. Put everything in dry bags and lash everything to the boat.
When beaching your boat for the night, consider whether the river will rise or fall overnight to avoid having your vessel swept away, or having to drag it a long way back to the water.
Make sure you have plenty of firestarting materials. Backup lighters and matches, along with kindling (newspaper, dryer lint, sawdust, etc.) Also consider whether you need to bring your own firewood or if you’ll be able to gather it.
Plan to burn or pack out your toilet paper. Even if you manage to dig a cathole in the firm river sediment, you shouldn’t deposit that trash within the high-water mark.
Dos and Don’ts
DO: Make sure to secure your boat for the night. Tie it to a stake or tree, or drag it well away from the river.
DON’T: Leave your gear strewn about, whether in the boat or on shore. Make sure everything is put away or fastened down.
DO: Bring a waterproof map of the river you’re setting out on.
DON’T: Rely on electronic devices for navigation. You’re on the water; this should be a no-brainer.
DO: Pick out campsites before you set off. Whether designated or dispersed, have a backup plan. Camp on durable surfaces such as sand or gravel, and avoid sensitive areas such as vegetated banks.
DON’T: Crash another group’s campsite, even if it’s your favorite one. Finders, keepers.
DO: Bring plenty of your favorite beverages. Whether it’s a cold beer in the hot sun or a nip of whiskey by the fire, you’ll be happy to have it.
DON’T: Bring glass containers. If something breaks, you’ll risk getting cut—or perhaps worse, puncturing a raft. Put liquor in plastic containers and bring wine in boxes—bagged wine stows nicely.
DO: Make sure everyone on the trip is well-versed with the plans for each day. With bigger groups, assigning roles can help with logistics. Get everyone involved but make sure no one is overworked—this should be relaxing, after all.
DON’T: Be an overbearing trip leader. You should aim to have stronger friendships with everyone on board at the end of the trip, not wanting to strangle your best friend for forgetting to clean the coffee press. Be kind, be forgiving, and have fun.