To paraphrase the old joke that asks, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall” (the answer: “Practice, practice, practice”), the key to a successful multi-day trip is “Planning, Planning, Planning”. If you’re going to be exploring a new and unfamiliar stretch of water, talk to others who’ve boated it, and shop for up-to-date guidebooks and maps. Break the trip into distances that can easily be achieved in a normal day’s paddle, and allow for unexpected weather. Also leave plenty of time to scout rapids, as well as playtime for kayakers and some special side hikes. On rivers where you can’t reserve campsites ahead of time, have a second campsite choice ready in case the one you want most is taken.
Get organized early.
Convene your group well before the trip to discuss arrangements for meals, transportation and shuttles, costs, and group equipment and responsibilities. You may want to appoint a treasurer to collect non-refundable deposits to minimize the “I haven’t seen Aunt Myrtle for two weeks and she’s going to be in town, so I can’t go” excuses. It’s a good idea to ask if anyone has any allergies or other medical conditions that may have an impact on trip logistics or the safety of the group. For example, anyone with a severe bee-sting allergy should have a sting kit available and show others how to use it in case of an emergency.
Bad weather happens.
Keep your foul-weather gear handy at all times in a small dry bag that can be clipped or strapped securely in an accessible place. Even during the warm summer months, a steady rain can make a trip miserably cold. You may want to pack neoprene wetsuits or pile insulating layers just in case, and remember that passengers will be the first to get chilled. It’s good to carry a space blanket or Bivvy sack in case someone gets dangerously cold and needs an emergency warm-up.
Distribute cargo evenly.
Even out the weight you carry on your boat from front to back, as well as from side to side. If your boat is too light in the front, you’re more likely to flip in whitewater. Uneven cargo distribution from side to side can make maneuvering in rapids difficult. Keep in mind that your heaviest cargo often consists of passengers, and distribute your load accordingly. Less experienced rafters should travel lighter; distribute group equipment fairly among experienced boaters in your group so that no one carries too much or too little for his or her skill level.
Food, glorious food!
Organizing, packing and preparing food for a multi-day trip is a big challenge. Plan to share the responsibility fairly: for example, you can have each group member provide the food and prepare one or two of the meals for the entire group. To share costs, you may want to have everyone save grocery receipts and settle up with a group treasurer at the end of the trip. Find out if anyone has any adverse reactions to or wants to avoid a particular food, and be sure to have the group communicate ahead of time about who’s bringing what for dinner. One boater we know still shudders at the memory of the six-night trip that featured five meals of chicken!
You can save valuable cooler space by freezing drinks and prepared foods ahead of time, then using them in place of ice. When boating in hot weather, you may want to limit access to larger coolers to once a day in the morning or evening when it’s coolest.
One good way to get early morning starts is to bring a folding camp oven, like the one Coleman makes. Breakfast burritos and egg-and-muffin sandwiches can be wrapped in aluminum foil and heated with little mess, and toaster pastries warm up quickly in the oven. Other groups we talked to prefer a simpler breakfast strategy, in which hot water for tea, coffee and instant oatmeal are available in the mornings, but group members each make their own cold breakfasts.
Having children on a river trip calls for some special planning. Make sure each has a properly fitting PFD, and bring extras. Be sure kids wear life jackets whenever they’re on or around the water, even in camp - you can’t possibly watch them every second. Bring books, games and plan other simple activities to keep them occupied in camp, and don’t expect the other adults in your group to baby-sit. And remember that kids need lots of high-energy snacks and are particularly susceptible to hypothermia if the weather turns sour.
Save your skin.
Here’s a tip one of our associates picked up from a veteran guide on a Grand Canyon trip this spring: a fabulous remedy for dry feet, cuts and blisters, sunburn, etc. is an over-the-counter salve called Bag Balm. Originally formulated for sore cows’ udders, it’s mildly medicated to keep you in the moo-oo-d for fun on the water. You can find it at your local farm and ranch store, as well as many drugstores. It’s great for cracked heels: spread it on at night, cover with cotton socks, and soon your feet will be good as new.
Click on NRS Gear Checklists to find checklists for Raft/Cataraft, Kayak, and Sea/Recreation-Kayak trips. You can also refer to past Newsletter Boating Tips (see the Boating Tips Archive at nrsweb.com) for other tips on camping, safety products, the NRS Repair and Safety Box, and sun protection. For information on river flows, you can check our River Links page. We welcome any suggestions you have for checklists.