A Grand Canyon rafting trip requires that you bring all the gear, food, and poop containers you’re going to need for the entirety of your time on the river from the start; there are no gear shops or resupply points along the way.
After scoring my permit, I learned a lot on my trip through the Big Ditch – about rowing and about the gear required to have a successful trip down the Colorado River.
Here were my favorite and least favorite pieces of gear from my (winter) month spent rafting Grand Canyon.
Favorite Grand Canyon Rafting Gear
Drybags are a must on a rafting trip and they’re not something you want to skimp on (unless you’re not concerned with your gear getting wet). Invest in good drybags that will keep your gear dry in the event of a flip. I carried all my personal gear in three Watershed bags – two 75-liter Colorado bags and one 22-liter Chattooga bag as my day bag. These bags are incredibly durable and, most importantly, waterproof. Would 100% buy and use again. Everyone on our trip who went with less expensive options (because these bags aren’t cheap), wished they had spent a little more for Watershed bags. Just remember to keep the zippers closed when they’re not in use to prevent sand from getting in the zippers.
I did a lot of searching for a speaker to bring with me on the trip and landed on the Tribit XSound Go Speaker – it’s Bluetooth, has fantastic battery life, is USB-C, has an IPX7 waterproof rating (i.e. can be fully submerged into 1-meter deep water for up to 30 minutes), and is plenty loud. It can also control your phone’s media with the speaker’s buttons. I beat the crap out of this speaker and filled it with sand and water on multiple occasions; it’s still going strong – highly recommended.
Quite possibly my favorite piece of gear on the trip, my Bogs Classic High Boots were a must-have. I wore them nearly the entire time we were at camp and they kept my feet both dry and warm. If you’re wondering why you need a pair of waterproof boots, it’s because you’ll not want to get your feet wet going in/out of boats to get things (e.g. food and drink) or when you’re going pee (you pee in the river). Love these things.
I brought two different pairs of gloves on the trip thinking that I would row with each of them. Neither worked out. Fortunately, another member of the trip had an extra pair of Glacier Gloves they let me use. The Glacier Gloves were the only gloves I rowed in (and I rowed with gloves on for probably 90% of the trip). Fingerless gloves were a terrible mistake. Would 100% use glacier gloves again.
Despite the naming conventions of Paco Pads being incredibly annoying, confusing, and not at all intuitive, they are great products. I had a Full Paco, which is 1.5 in / 3.8 cm thick and my partner had an El Grande Paco Pad, which is 3 in / 7.6 cm thick. I was incredibly jealous of the El Grande Paco and felt like my Full Paco was nothing next to it. I would get myself an El Grande if I were to do it all over again.
You spend a lot of time at camp on a Grand Canyon rafting trip and while at camp you’ll spend a lot of time in your chair (yes, bring a chair). I had a NEMO Stargaze and it was awesome. Did the rest of the group make fun of me at first? Yes. Were they all jealous of my chair by the end of the trip? Yes. It’s surprisingly easy to set up and break down. My only complaint is that it just barely fits back into its bag (i.e. I wish the bag was a little bigger).
One thing that I was incredibly grateful to have brought with me was plenty of locking carabiners. I used these to attach my gear to the boat – my day bag, cell phone case, water bottle, and map. I would have at least six with me (and would be sure to have an extra). One thing I would recommend is to not use the auto-lock or twist-lock carabiners as the sand (which gets everywhere) really gunks them up. My screwgate carabiners worked far better (despite also getting incredibly sandy).
I used a Pelican R40 Waterproof Case to hold my phone while on the boat. I attached it to the boat with a cam strap and with a locking carabiner that I attached to a thick piece of cord threaded through the wider handle. I kept my phone in here because 1) it is waterproof (the case) and 2) I didn’t trust my phone elsewhere. We had one member of our group who lost a phone to the river and I had no plans of doing the same. In addition to my phone, the case also held a few other smaller pieces of gear as well.
This may be more of a winter necessity, but I can’t imagine it would be any less great to have along during months with more daylight – light-up bocce ball was a huge hit on the river. We had a number of games with us (including Spikeball, Kuub, and a light-up Frisbee), but bocce was by far the most popular. Maybe it depends on the group or maybe bocce is objectively the best of the beach games. Regardless, I suggest bringing something in this vein for the group to play.
Yes, the Watershed Drybags are awesome, but that doesn’t mean you should have some extra protection for your gear. I used (thick) contractor bags inside of my drybags, dry boxes, and ammo cans as a second layer of protection against water. Are these absolutely necessary? No, but I found them useful (and durable). They also help to keep dirty gear separate from clean gear (e.g. your boots).
If you’ve never had split tips before, consider yourself lucky. I was of the mind that “I would be fine” as far as my hands went, but I was proven very wrong very quickly. You’ll want (and need) some hand cream, lotion, or moisturizer with you in Grand Canyon and you’ll want a lot of it. If you have something that you already know works for you, bring it. If not, I used O’Keeffe’s Working Hands Hand Cream and was happy with it. Lastly, I suggest keeping it handy at all times.
If you want to be everyone’s friend on your Grand Canyon rafting trip, bring a Thera Cane Massager. If you’ve never seen one of these before and the sight of it scares you, fear not. It will quickly become your new best friend – especially if you’re rowing. It’s a simple but effective device (i.e. curved piece of plastic with some nubs) that can do wonders massaging your shoulders and back. Honestly, you should probably bring two because once you let the group borrow yours, it’ll be tough to get it back.
I had three cameras on my Grand trip – my phone, my expensive camera, and my GoPro. The GoPro was awesome for keeping out all day, taking videos of the rapids, and playing with on the boat. This is literally one of the use cases it’s designed for – an extreme, wet, and hostile environment. If you want to capture content without having to worry about your phone or camera being destroyed, I would recommend adding a GoPro (and some sort of stick/pole/mount) to your packing list.
I spoke to a lot of rafters before starting my trip and one thing nobody ever mentioned was walkie-talkies. Yes, you can use hand signals to communicate on the river, but wouldn’t walkie-talkies be better? I thought so, and I brought a set of DEWALT DXFRS800 Heavy Duty Walkie-Talkies. They worked out great. We had one on each boat and one for our kayaker. They have an IP67 rating which means they’re dust/sand proof and waterproof when submerged at 3 ft / 1 m for up to 30 minutes. We charged them with our Jackery power bank (they’re not USB rechargeable) and we were glad to have had them along.
Every boat should have at least one guidebook and it’s not a bad idea for passengers to have their own either. If you’re a fan of thru-hiking then you already know about FarOut Guides – and now they have a guide for the Colorado River through Grand Canyon as well! This came out shortly after I finished my trip, but I wish I had had it along with me to supplement the RiverMaps Guide (which I also recommend – check that you’re getting the most current edition). Just make sure you’ve got somewhere to stash your phone for the rapids (like the above Pelican case).
Yes, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pods are an ultralight piece of gear, but they’re also incredibly useful for organizing gear inside of a 75-liter drybag. You don’t have to get something this light/expensive for your clothing (that’s what I used the pods for), but I would suggest having something to separate your clean/dirty clothing and/or your river/camp/costume clothing. Or you can just be a savage and throw everything unfolded into your bag – whatever makes you happy.
I would never do another Grand trip without a Tupperware. Leftover dinner? Want to pack breakfast for lunch? Lunch for lunch? Snacks? Get a Tupperware. Just make sure to get a plastic one (glass on the river is not a good idea). I also suggest getting one with a latch/locking lid. Sand can gunk up the screw-on or press-on lids.
Least Favorite Grand Canyon Rafting Gear
Unfortunately, not all the gear I brought with me rafting Grand Canyon served me as well as the above items.
Here is a list of the pieces of gear that I either never used, that broke, or that I should have left at home. Remember, I was on a winter trip.
- Crocs: Basically useless since I just wore my Bogs Classic High Boots at camp and the Crocs are not good/acceptable water shoes.
- Fingerless Rowing Gloves/Mountain Biking Gloves: I thought I would be rowing in these gloves, but it turns out the Glacier Gloves are all I needed to have a pleasant time rowing the Grand.
- NOCS Binoculars: I thought I would use these a lot more for checking out wildlife and features along the river. They broke (filled with water) shortly after starting the trip. This, despite them being advertised as waterproof.
- Gaiters: I thought this would be a trip filled with days of hiking but it turns out that we were lucky to get a half-day of hiking in. Never found a convincing reason to be needing or using my hiking gaiters.
- Climbing/Rappelling Gear: Like hiking, I thought we would have tons of time and opportunities to do some rappelling in the canyon. This did not work out. If you’re going specifically to rappel, then sure, bring your gear. However, if it’s an afterthought, you probably won’t end up needing any climbing/rappelling gear.
- RTIC Waterproof Hard Case: This case is waterproof so long as it stays out of the water and you ensure it closes properly. It’s not completely rigid so getting it to close properly isn’t as easy as it may seem. I would recommend a Pelican case for your camera and/or electronics if you want/need a hard case.
- CGear Multimats Sandlite Sand-Free Mat: This one is a bit different from the rest listed here because I did actually use it every day at camp as my tent’s doormat. It worked well so long as it didn’t get wet (and it got wet a lot). As soon as it gets wet, it traps sand instead of shedding it. I don’t know if I would bring one again, but if I didn’t, I would definitely want to find something to replace it since it was nice to have a clean(ish) place to change out of my drysuit each day and a place to keep gear (a little more) sand-free.
Anything I missed? Anything you would add? Anything I should stay the hell away from and avoid having to discover firsthand? Leave a comment below and let me know!