After three years of annual float trips, I think I have a good understanding of what it takes to make this kind of adventure comfortable and pleasant. What is a float trip, you ask? Well, it is not a whitewater trip, that is a totally different beast. These are lazy floats that even novices can do. Luckily enough for us in Denver, we have access to many, many float options. We pack up literally everything we can possibly fit on a big raft and spend two to three days in glorious, off-the-grid bliss. It’s like glamping, but on a boat.
While there’s a lot that can go wrong (and believe me, I’ve experienced some of those bad moments), if you are prepared and open-minded, floating with 10 of your friends down a beautiful river will be the highlight of your year.
To get started, you’ll need to do some research about the best rivers and outfitters in your area. Google will be your best friend to get started. Generally, an outfitter will provide the raft (we always choose 4-5 person rafts), an air pump, life jackets + paddles for each person on the trip, a toilet (yup), a fire ring, and the shuttle to and pick up from the launch and takeout sites.
Once you have the trip booked, it’s time to dig into the details!
Here are my tried and true tips & tricks to ensure that you have everything you could possibly need while out on the river.
Clothing and Personal Dry Goods
UPF shirt (a long sleeve shirt with SPF, like this)
Bandana (for neck/head protection, also doubles as a wipe for things)
Hat/visor (very important)
Sunglasses (polarized to avoid glare off the water)
Sunglasses strap (to keep your sunglasses afloat should they fall off, like these)
Warm long sleeved layer (for the night time)
Long pants (for night time)
Several bathing suits (to wear a clean suit each day)
Tech shorts (something that will dry quickly in case you pull over to hike or whatever)
Tech tops (again, something fast drying)
Daypack (something to keep things accessible outside of the big dry bags – layers, phone, sunscreen, SPF chapstick, etc. I’ve had success using a casual bag with a laptop sleeve so I have space to put my hydration pack bladder.)
Water bottle (gotta stay hydrated!)
Raincoat (just in case)
Water shoes (something that will stay on your feet while swimming)
Flip flops (for camp)
Beanie/gloves/socks/hiking boots (if it will get cold at night)
Sunscreen (bring more than you think you’ll need)
Lotion (because when you’re finally out of the water you’ll realize how dry you feel)
Baby wipes (for a quick wipe off if you’re dirty or stinky)
External charger (for phones, speakers, etc)
Portable speaker (for tunes on each raft)
Comfortable outfit for the drive there and back (this can be left in the car so you have something clean and dry for travel)
Dry bag (it makes sense to purchase something inexpensive so you can keep your clothes and things dry, even if you’ll be renting a huge dry bag from the outfitter. I have this one and consider it my float trip suitcase.)
First aid kit
Fun accessories, like big hats, flash tats, other river flare
Your own coozie
Personal mess kit (this one seems to be popular with my crew)
Sturdy tent that will survive a windstorm (just trust me on this one)
***Do not bring valuables, like irreplaceable jewelry!
Food and How to Keep Things Cold
Once you have your packing completed, the next biggest thing will be organizing food and booze. This is no small feat, especially for a group of 10-12. Here’s my best advice based on what’s worked for our groups.
- Meal plan and shop for the whole group. We have found it easier to plan major meals for everyone in advance, for various reasons. It’s cheaper if everyone pitches in on the same food supply, and this keeps the number of coolers to a minimum. It also ensures that everyone has all the food they need for the whole weekend, and there’s no need for multiple grills or cook stoves.
- Plan ahead. Since you know you’re not having eggs until the morning of Day 3, freeze cartons of egg whites in advance so they are finally defrosted in time for your burrito breakfast. Other meals we’ve eaten with success: burgers on the grill, pancakes, and my favorite, beer can chicken wrapped in foil and cooked in the campfire.
- Set up your coolers for success. To keep the number of coolers to a minimum, structure your food and booze in different coolers organized by day. This means that the food you’re eating on Day 3 goes into a cooler labeled “Day 3” and taped shut so you know not to open it until then. This keeps the ice in that cooler frozen longer, and thus keeps your food at a safe temperature longer. Also, when a cooler empties out, you can fill it up with the bags of trash you’ll be packing out so they don’t take up too much space.
- Dry ice is key. We dedicate one large cooler as the “ice chest,” where we place several unopened bags of ice over a single bag of dry ice. By keeping the bags unopened, the ice stays frozen longer and ultimately turns into an ice block that melts more slowly. Dry ice can be purchased at a gas station shortly before you launch your boats. The dry ice keeps the regular ice frozen longer so you can redistribute fresh ice each morning into any cooler that needs it.
- Distribute booze equally. Let’s be real, a lot of our trip is oriented around drinking. For drinks, ensure that each raft has their own cooler so if your group gets separated, everyone still has access to cold beverages. Also, we like coolers that have cupholders built in to the lids so if the water gets choppy, you don’t lose your beer in the waves.
- Bring snacks. We like to bring along snacks for the group, but just to be safe, bring along your own things. Bags of nuts, fruit, fresh veggies and various bars are good bets for the river.
- Bring water. We bought several 5 gallon water jugs to bring along. We figure one gallon per person per day, and just make everyone fill their hydration bladders all the way up before launch. That water planning has worked out pretty well for us so far.
- Don’t forget necessities. We like to bring along a big plastic tub with a locking lid for dry goods for camp. Inside we keep our camp pots, pans, cooking utensils, olive oil, s+p, other seasonings, dish soap, paper towels, toilet paper, roll of heavy duty trashbags, bug spray, machete + lighter for the campfire, propane grill, small plastic baggies to serve as dry bags for electronics, etc. We typically bring a second bin for non-perishable foods like cans of beans, bread for sandwiches, chips, etc.
Exploring the River
Don’t forget to pull over and explore when you’re rafting.
While on the Colorado floating through the Ruby-Horsethief canyons, we pulled over to do some cliff jumping and mud sliding. When we floated through the Flaming Gorge on the Green River, we found some excellent quicksand to play in that made the afternoon a blast. Other rivers offer extensive hiking and sightseeing opportunities. If you have a selfie stick or GoPro, this is a great trip to bring something like that along.
And that’s it, I think! Every year we learn something new, like the dry ice trick, because no matter what, you can always learn something from the river.
If you have any specific questions, let me know! Happy floating!