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Equipment List for River Trips-
Floating the Rivers of the Southwest

I created my river equipment list for an 8 day float trip down the San Juan River. I have refined it over the last couple of years to its present form. For those of you who have looked at our Desert Gear pages, this list will seem familiar. If you haven't looked at those pages yet, be sure to do so if you want further explanation about the gear I use. The list might seem heavy to someone using a hardshell kayak, and very lacking to someone used to floating in a big raft. I float in an Aire Tomcat 2 inflatable kayak. The equipment packs up to fit in the boat nicely. This list was created for warm and hot weather floats. If you plan to float the San Juan in January, your list will be different. Remember that many of the items on the list are options. I change the list according to trip length and specific conditions that I expect to encounter.

Some of the items are also specific to the float based on what I plan to do while on the river. I always pack at least a small daypack and hiking shoes for dayhikes away from the river. You may want to add other gear to your list. You might plan an overnight backpack up a side canyon, or you might bring along climbing gear to get to a face only accesible by river for example.

loaded aire kayak ready for ten day float on the green river, utah. Gerald Trainor photo.The photo to the left shows my boat in the foreground, loaded down and ready to go before putting in for ten days on the Green River. Much of the common gear was in my boat- the first aid kit, the extra paddle, pump, fire pan, along with an abundance of food and cooking gear. I also started out with 10 gallons of water in the boat.

The following list is what I would carry, or at least choose from, if I were going on a solo float. If a second person comes along, most of the common gear can be shared, for example most of the cooking gear, some of the boat gear- the extra paddle, pump, patch kit, pressure gauge, and the obvious things like guide books, GPS, binoculars, fire ring, and water pruification equipment. I list every last thing that I might want to take with me on my equipment lists, this way when I am 5 days downriver I am sure that nothing will come up missing. Items that you are required to have to get on the river are noted.

Boat, Safety and River Gear

  • boat
  • seats
  • paddles (2- 1 extra paddle per 2 kayaks is required)
  • air pump (required)
  • air pressure gauge
  • patch kit (glue,brushes,duct tape,seamseal,scissors- required)
  • PFD (type 3) (required) w/survival kit (see Survival Kit Pages for specifics)
  • helmet- not required, but there are some stretches that you may feel better wearing one
  • carabiners (I carry 8 or 10- I use them to clip in nearly everything for extra insurance)
  • river straps, slings, webbing (you will figure out how much you need- throw in a couple of extra river straps just in case)
  • rope- throw bag (for tying off your boat)
  • drybags (small, medium, large- experiment to find the best packing configuration for your boat and gear)
  • Omniseal bags (these are heavy duty ziplock-type bags)
  • Pelican case (for GPS, cameras, binos)
  • 3 gal. bucket with Gammaseal lid- a watertight, screw top lid (for storage and quick access to essential items- I use a 3 gallon bucket because it fits well into the Aire kayak. On our cataraft I also carry a 5 gallon bucket with Gammaseal lid as a food drybox. See the Gamma Seal Lid at
  • GSI storage boxes (these are plastic, watertight storage boxes of various sizes)
  • waterproof map case

Camp Items

  • fire ring w/ storage bag (required)
  • toilet-toilet sytsem image- one gallon containers and wag bag. Gerald Trainor photo.  Some type of sealable toilet system is required on all western rivers. I carry 1 gallon mayonnaise jugs with screw lids which I get for free from the deli of the local grocery store. I wrap the containers with duct tape for added safety, probably not really necessary but considering the contents I take the extra time to do it.They have very secure lids and handles which I run a piece of webbing through to tie them into my boat. I use disposable, single use toilet liner bags which are designed to be used without a toilet system as well. They can be placed directly on the ground for use. Wag Bags can be purchased in packs of 12.

    The Restop 2 Wilderness Containment Pouch is another option which is available in packs of 5. Both are acceptable for use on rivers, but require a sealable container in which to store the used bags. I bring along an extra container to carry out my trash. When the trip is over the containers can be disposed of with regular trash.

    Check local regulations regarding toilet requirements before you head out. As of the summer of 2008 this system is no longer allowed on the San Juan River- a hard-sided, sealable container such as a 50 CAL Ammo can is required for storage of used Wag Bags.
  • camp stool and/or Thermarest chair
  • first aid kit- (the choice for its contents are up to you. Be sure to include any medications or special items such as an Epi-pen that may be needed by someone on the trip. This is a required item.)
  • snake bite kit (I carry the Sawyer Extractor- see Wildlife pages for more details.)


Your kitchen will be tailored to the length of your trip, the number of people it serves and the type of food you plan to cook.

  • MSR stove, simmer plate, and accessories
  • fuel (2-3 bottles)
  • water containters- I usually carry a couple of Nalgene bottles, MSR Dromedary bags- I carry 2- 4 liter and 1- 6 liter bags- they are easy to pack around other items in the boat, 2- 2 liter Platypus bags fit into the seat pocket, one 5 gallon water can.
  • drinking tube for dromedary
  • water purifiers (I carry the MSR Miox Water Purifier and a Katadyn filter also)
  • 3 gallon collapsible bucket (for settling water overnight before pumping)
  • pots with lids- medium and large
  • collander
  • frying pan with a folding handle in stuff bag
  • plate, bowl, cup
  • knife, fork, spoon
  • insulated travel cup (to take a cup of tea on the river)
  • spatula, serving spoon
  • storage containers (I use widemouth Nalgene bottles with screw top lids)
  • other miscellaneous kitchen items- pot lifter, can opener,dish soap, scrub pad, cutting board, measuring cup, paring knife, paper towels, etc.
  • a few extra ziplock bags, small plastic bags for trash (I usually reserve one of the one gallon screw top containers that wags bags are stored in for trash.)
  • food
  • spices
  • cooler (if you must have cold food for a day or two- I have a soft cooler that folds up or works as a semi-dry bag after the food is gone from it.)
  • extra bags- ziplocks, trash bags


This category will be totally up to you. The clothes I take on the river are not much different from what I carry while backpacking, aside form a few additions for comfort. I do add a change of clothes or two, depending on how long the trip is. Remember, lightweight, quick drying, light colored fabrics are best for the desert- as well as floating desert rivers. I wear Ex Officio clothes on the river- they fit all the above criteria.

  • shorts, shorts with zip off legs
  • long pants
  • long sleeve desert shirts
  • light polypro shirt and pants
  • polypro gloves, cap
  • pile shirt and vest
  • wind shirt
  • rain jacket, pants
  • socks
  • boonie hat
  • bandanas
  • hiking shoes/boots
  • river sandals
  • extra hat

Sleeping Gear

  • sleeping bag or liner
  • poncho liner (this is a piece of military equipment that is basically a warm blanket with synthetic fill weighing about a pound. On many summer river trips I have used only this and a sleeping pad. See the US Military Poncho Liner at
  • bivy sack
  • sleeping pad
  • tent and accessories (I use the Golite Nest 2 with rain fly)
  • sand stakes
  • ground sheet
  • poncho (I carry and ultralight poncho- mostly for stringing up shade if necessary)
  • extra 550 cord and a couple of small bungee cords


  • bug juice (deet, citronella, tea tree oil- you can never be certain what will work on any given day)
  • sting kill
  • sunglasses and cord
  • sunscreen (spf 30, 45)
  • matches in waterproof case
  • headlamp, extra batteries
  • flashlight, extra bulb and batteries
  • compass, wrist compass
  • watch
  • maps
  • lighter
  • lip balm
  • fixed blade knife, flint
  • daypack or fannypack

Survival kit

The survival kit is covered indepth on our Survival Kit pages. There is a page devoted to creating a specialised survival kit to carry in your PFD. Be sure to take a look at them. I carry basic survival items with me in the boat- knife and flint, compass, maps, matches, lighter, and so on. I also carry a separate, complete survival kit in the pockets of my PFD in case I am separated from my boat.

Misc. Gear

You may want to add to this list. If you plan an overnight away from your boat, you will add a backpack, maybe gaitors or even trekking poles.

  • notebook, pens and pencils, sketch pad, etc.
  • river guidebook, book, fieldguides (I carry the folding, waterproof charts instead of full size guidebooks- usually one on animal tracks and stars.)
  • permit and river information (required)
  • cameras, video camera, cases and accessories
  • binoculars
  • GPS, extra batteries
  • electrolytes
  • towel
  • toothbrush, powder, floss
  • soap, shampoo, etc.
  • T.P.
  • handiwipes
  • leatherman or other multi-tool
  • misc stuff bags (6-8)

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