Upgrading and supplementing your gear can make your upcoming river trip the absolute best yet.
I am a minimalist in the backcountry. And I have to admit, it took a few river trips for me to adjust to the idea that I could bring more than what I absolutely needed.
“It would be nice to have had that,” I’d say to myself. So, on my most recent trip, I said no more to wishing! And then, I brought a lot more. It is what it is.
The following gear made my recent trip on the Green River’s Gates of Lodore with the Freeflow Institute and Dinosaur River Expeditions the most comfortable and cush trip I’ve taken. My dry bags worked wonders. My personal camp setup remained minimal but in the right ways. And still, I had a few things I’d upgrade to on my next trip, noted below.
All in all, this trip was a good reminder that suffering due to not bringing the right gear is pretty unacceptable, especially on the river, where the rafts carry the weight of your gear for you.
I’ll add that a lot of this gear is great crossover gear, whether you’re heading out to fish for a long rafting trip on the river, truck camping for hunting season, or just car camping in an area that gets a ton of rain.
Read on for my faves.
Badass Gear to Level Up Your River Kit
My favorite piece of equipment on the trip was my SealLine Pro Dry Pack ($250-280). Why? It offers a much handier solution to simply dragging a big ass dry bag around; it doubles as both a dry bag and a backpack.
When we’d get to camp and bags were unloaded, it was so simple to just throw this pack on and hike to camp spots. And since I packed more gear than usual, it was ample enough to fit it all while still offering room enough to fold down for waterproof protection. It’s comfortable, durable, and really makes hauling all that gear around so much easier.
Plus, if you’re going to have to portage at any point, this bag makes it simple. Honestly, I don’t know why any river rat wouldn’t have a dry bag that doubles as a pack. So. Worth. It.
SealLine offers a few options in these, and it can be hard to get your hands on the Pro Dry Pack. But, if it’s either too expensive or simply not available, their Black Canyon Dry Pack ($200-220) and Boundary Dry Pack ($120-160) offer the same working style in multiple sizes.
Appropriate luggage is important on the river, so this is why we’re starting out here. I loved having the Thunderhead Submersible Backpack as my boat bag for the trip. It held everything I needed, from my camera to my beloved Kindle to my sunscreen.
I did use large ziplocks to keep certain stuff organized, but I wouldn’t need them for waterproofing. The bag is a beast, and between the burly zippers and durable 1680D TPU-coated recycled nylon, I need not worry. So I didn’t.
The one drawback of this backpack for me is that it doesn’t have a typical laptop pocket, and I tend to use those interior pockets for more than just laptop organization. But, it does have a hip belt and chest strap that made our daily hikes a lot easier to manage.
It’s nice to have a full pack on the river. This one is extremely capable of doing that job, and doing it well.
I am an on-the-go kind of human. Also, I’m the kind that spills constantly. It’s a problem. Enter the YETI Rambler with HotShot Cap ($30).
The HotShot Cap is the real level-up in this outfit. Fill it with anything you want, screw it down, and shove it in a pack with no worries. For river life, this is prime time. You can actually trust this cup to stay “dry” if you shove it in a bag for upcoming rapids.
When you unscrew the cap, you don’t need to consider where you can drink from. It’s a 360-degree drinkable surface. For dummies like me who can’t wear white, it’s a literal godsend.
It also fits on a slew of larger YETI bottles in case 12 ounces just isn’t enough. Plus, with YETI’s reliable temperature control, you can sip all day and your drink will stay hot or cold.
And I might recommend throwing this top on a larger bottle for river time. Insulated water bottles are key on the river. And having a quick-access top means more hydration, which can get lost in the shuffle of so much time on the water under the sun. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
This is one of those pieces that I figured I’d never take in the backcountry, but then a river trip emerged. And it was the most necessary piece of equipment. I just freakin’ love this beefy power bank.
It is small enough to go into your daypack, though it is heavier than your average power bank. However, it can be trusted to maintain a charge for a very, very long time.
I used it to charge my camera batteries, my Kindle, my headlamp, and my iPhone. I also used it as a flashlight when, at one point, my headlamp died right when I was setting up my bed for the evening.
The three-prong charge cord that comes with it is seriously awesome, and it has a mini USB/USB-C/iPhone charger all in one.
How have I not had that before in my life? Why do I have so many charge cords? Beyond the river, I use the Zeus all the time in my daily life. It can jumpstart my truck. It can power my phone 10 times over on a single charge.
There is a smaller version of the Zeus that does all of this and can jumpstart a smaller vehicle. It’s called the Athena. But why not go whole hog for $20 more?
Everyone should have a Zeus in their vehicle. And then, on their boat. And then, everywhere a charge is needed. What a badass piece of equipment.
If you saw my ol’ BioLite 330 Headlamp, you’d probably wonder why it’s so dirty. It used to be orange, and these days it clocks in at more of a clay color. And yet, she’s my standby, my friend, my constant outdoors companion. I can’t update her because I don’t need to.
Do you feel the same way about your headlamp? If you don’t, this is the one to turn to. It’s super bright, easy to figure out, and way more comfortable than 99% of these things.
The weight is carried on the back of your head rather than the front. The headband-like material is a major level-up. And it’s functional without being overfunctional.
If you’re used to depending on batteries, you’ll have to make a switch to a battery pack like the aforementioned Zeus. And you do have to take the time to charge it, which has left me high and dry a few times. But, my bad.
Between the high loft and silky feel, it’s just comfortable. The zipper is solid and difficult to catch. It has no wild bells and whistles beyond the loft and the fill that you need to stay warm year-round. As someone who sleeps cold and is often sleeping out in wildly cold weather, this is a big deal.
Plus, these bags are light. Like, really light. At just 2 pounds 10 ounces, the zero-degree option is still packable on your back. You don’t need to sacrifice weight for warmth, I promise. The 15-degree maxes out at a minuscule 2 pounds 3 ounces if you don’t need the extra down.
I slept out every night in my Chilkoot 15, tentless, and was so damn cozy. If you’re looking for a bag upgrade for cool and dry climates, this is it.
River Dress/Slowtide Changing Poncho
I’ll admit that I didn’t have this particular changing poncho on the river with me. But I did buy a cheap dress just for fun. And when I got on the river, I realized (doh) that a longer dress is the ultimate changing room when you’re sharing camp with 13 strangers.
I knew something like this already existed after having the thought, as I’d seen surfers changing roadside in their ponchos in my travels. But it didn’t cross my mind as something with greater utility until this particular river trip, where I didn’t sleep in a tent for the entire time we spent on the water. My changing room was gone.
So, the dress I picked up ended being my save-all. And thinking on it, I realized that a changing poncho could have saved me in so many situations. Whether changing at a horse show, in hunting camp where I’m often the only woman, in a hostel when traveling internationally, roadside when I’m traveling out of my truck for a while, or like here, on the river, a changing poncho seems to be a godsend.
You could, of course, buy a cheap river dress as I did. But I’m definitely adding a Slowtide changing poncho ($80) to my lineup. They offer a wide array, from warm ponchos to waterproof to quick-dry to Turkish towel ponchos.
This surfer accessory seems like an outdoorsperson’s necessity. Adding one ASAP. The cheap dress stands in for now.
I got the BiComp sun shirt earlier this summer and I sort of avoided it, thinking the buttons might be annoying. Boy. Was I wrong.
Having the option of a literally featherlight sun shirt that can be thrown on at any moment as a cover-up was a delight on the river. I brought another sun shirt that I love, but I found myself coming back to this one.
The hand coverage is ideal for long hours under the sun, the hood is barely there in the best way, and I actually loved being able to snap the buttons on and off with ease through the day. Whether I was going to swim or simply changing into warmer clothes, it was a nice option.
I have a new favorite sun shirt. It’s the BiComp. Sorry, boys. This is a shirt that has no male counterpart.
O. M. G. I added the Chaco Ramble Puffs to my river trip essentials, wondering whether I’d be ruining my new slippers. I should have fretted not. These are next level, and my tripmates were seriously jelly.
Most camp slippers don’t really hold up to camp life. They’re warm, but they seem to be made for your sleeping bag. I don’t need slippers in my sleeping bag; that’s what the bag is for. What I need are slippers that I can actually wear around camp.
I found them! The Ramble Puffs are these slippers. My feet stayed super toasty once my sandals were no longer adequate protection. And even in dirt and sand, the fleece didn’t get gross or weird.
The footbed is comfortable enough to walk some distance in, though hopefully, you don’t have to. And an actual outsole means you can wear these outside without worrying.
Love, love, love my Ramble Puffs! If I could have one upgrade, I’d wish they’d make a taller version that went up over your ankles to keep stuff out. But, they’re great as they are.
Here’s another one I wish I’d brought on my trip. I was on the trip as part of a writing class through the Freeflow Institute. So, writing was certainly top of mind. And we wrote a lot.
Though my notepad was brought out of the day bag when we weren’t on the water, I forgot that my clothes were wet a few times and accidentally drenched a page or two. It’s not a big deal but had something gone wrong, I’d have lost pages of writing exercises, journals, and notes from the trip.
And as a professional writer and editor, these are things I carry with me in the field anyway. From here on out, I’m switching to Rite in the Rain. There are some things you can’t get back with a pad and paper, and I intend to do what I can to keep those sacred in-the-field moments intact.
I took my tent on this trip, but the weather was so damn nice, I didn’t need it. Instead, I used the Eddie Bauer Water-Resistant Outdoor Blanket ($45) as a footprint for my little camp.
I kept what I needed for the night organized on the blanket, and it served as another layer of protection between my sleeping pad and the ground. Had there been a bit of rain, it could also have served as a quick cover and a throw for colder nights by the fire.
It rolls up and Velcros itself into a nice little package. And it comes everywhere with me in my truck. It’s great for when the dogs are dirty and I need a protective layer, or I want to sit out with a bit of ground protection, or an extra layer when I’m truck camping.
It’s nice to have a water-resistant blanket in the mix on the river. I really, really like this one.