Here are some things that I learned, by either word of mouth, first-hand experience, or both, that proved to be invaluable to me on a Grand Canyon River trip of a lifetime. These are the important pieces of rafting gear you won’t want to leave home without.
What to Bring on A River Float Trip
Water Shoes / Sandals
This was the single best piece of advice I received before going on the Grand. The Grand Canyon has an endless number of hikes to offer to a variety of places including slot canyons, waterfalls, ruins of indigenous tribes, and chasms, that require hours of hiking. Our group was intentionally going to be on foot as much as on oars, so I brought four pairs of shoes: Chaco sandals, Keen Newport H2O water shoes, flip-flops, and running shoes.
I was so glad I brought two types of water shoes where the toe and heel were strapped down since many of the hikes required fording a stream and walking across watering holes, and sand would inevitably find its way into my shoes and create blisters against the straps. Being able to alternate between shoes for each hike while wearing flip-flops at camp allowed the blisters time to heal between rotations.
Also, don’t let the soft sand of the Grand Canyon beaches fool you. It is easy to stub your toe on a piece of driftwood, cut your foot on a rock, or step on a cactus, and it is difficult to heal an open wound on your feet when you are on the water all day. I recommend wearing shoes at all times unless you’re positive there are no obstacles that are out to get your feet.
Everyone remembers to bring sunscreen and chapstick on river trips, but one thing that is often neglected is after sun lotion. The Arizona climate is so arid that your sweat dries before it even becomes liquid on your skin. On the Grand, you are constantly washing your hands and using hand sanitizer which is brutal on your skin. Bring a bottle of lotion and apply it daily to prevent cracking.
Sunglasses and a sun hat are another must-have thing. Ideally, your sunglasses will have a lens that is designed for being on the water. Be sure to grab a set of Croakies to keep your sunglasses securely in place, also it’s smart to bring a second pair of sunglasses along, or even contacts if you need em. For hats, we have always found Tiley Hats to be great on and off the river. One last pro tip: bring along a warm hat or beanie for when the sun is no longer hitting the canyons.
Another thing to keep protected is your hands, from the sun and cold. Neoprene gloves can work wonders.
PFD and Helmet
A PFD otherwise known as Personal Flotation Devices should always be worn on the river. For a basic PFD, you can look into the Astral YTV series, and for more of a professional rescue vest check out their Green Jacket PFD that has more bells and whistles. A PFD is your most important piece of rafting gear.
For rafting helmets, there are tons of options on the market. You can go with something new like the NRS helmets from WRSI. (We actually used to go skiing in these)
I had two large dry bags: one for my clothes and one for my toiletries and other personal items. I also had three or four small dry-bags to organize things I didn’t want to dig for at camp such as my toothbrush, headlamp, IB Profen, cell phone, books, and journal. Our outfitter supplied each of us a large NRS drybag for the majority of our things to be stowed away during the day while on the river and a small personal dry-bag accessible to us on the boat. Invest in a good dry bag to keep your river gear, dry.
Another great brand that makes Dry Bags for trips is Sea to Summit.
A Paco Pad is a large self-inflating pad about 75 x 25 inches. I rented a Paco Pad from Moenkopi for $2 a day, and it ended up being the best $32 I spent on the trip. It fit perfectly in a one-man tent or on the boat and was much more comfortable than camping sleeping pad. It was nice not having to blow up an air mattress every night and having to deflate roll it up the following morning. During the day, the Paco pads were placed over the metal hatch to create seating toward the front of the boat which was another added bonus.
Disposable Waterproof Camera
One regret I have about my trip was not bringing a disposable waterproof camera. I have zero action shots of rapids. A couple people on the trip, including a kayaker, had a waterproof GoPro. The kayaker, who had his GoPro mounted to his helmet, flipped a few times in huge washing machine rapids without losing his GoPro. If you don’t have a GoPro or don’t want to risk losing one to the river, a cheap disposable camera works fine. Or you can always upgrade to a waterproof camera with high megapixels.
For those of you wanting to bring your smartphones along, it’s not recommended. If you do, be sure to bring along a waterproof case for your smartphone, and keep the darn thing closed.
Keep a Journal
There were so many intangibles on this trip that cannot be captured in a photo or described by words. Every day was jammed packed with adventure, conversation, and experience. We saw a helicopter operation, experienced a flip, witnessed four boat captains with very little prior rowing experience transform from novice to skilled oarsman, threw midnight dance parties on the boats, jumped off cliffs, saw wildlife, told stories, hiked every day, cooked, cleaned and laughed. So even though words will not always quite capture the moment accurately, writing in a journal every day will ensure that you hold onto these memories.
The Grand Canyon is a beautiful, wild, and mysterious place, and I feel fortunate to have been able to experience it the way I did. Currently, a Scottsdale-based developer, Confluence Partners, is proposing a bill to build a tram from the rim of the Grand Canyon down to the confluence where the Little Colorado River meets the Colorado River. The development would consist of hotels at the rim and a restaurant, museum, and walkway at the bottom. The tram will have the capacity to bring 10,000 tourists a day to the bottom. It is a controversial transaction given the land on which the proposed project would exist belongs to the Navajo Nation. The bill is currently being voted on by the Navajo Nation Council members.
The most important thing you can do to make your Grand Canyon river trip grand is to keep the Grand Canyon grand. Stay privy as to what is going on with the bill and speak out against the development of the tram. Save the Confluence is a non-profit organization devoted to fighting the development of the tram.