Stuff to bring on your Grand Canyon river trip



This is your life for the duration of the trip!

This information is typical of our trip in dories (with a large motorized support rig) during late May, 2010.  We went with Grand Canyon Explorations.  Air temperatures ranged from 55 degrees in the early morning to 85 in the middle of the day to about 65-70 in the evenings.

Everything you own (except your alcoholic beverages) will be found somewhere in the containers above.  From the left is your personal day hike pack, the big gray bag is a waterproof bag containing your sleeping bag and ground pad (but it is capable of holding much more - see below).  The brown bag is also waterproof and contains all of your clothes and personal items.  The metal can is an ammo can and you take it with you on the boat / raft each day (along with your day pack) and the most important item of the trip, your life jacket.  Not shown is a tent which is optional but available to all customers.

Let's start with the life jacket.  It will have a number on it.  Write that number on your ammo can along with your sleeping bag number and personal (brown) bag number.  The life jacket must be worn and secured at all times when you are on the water.  Water temp is 47 degrees at the start and if you fell in, your survival time might be only 10 minutes without a life jacket but more like 30 with one!  When you leave the boat / raft, secure it to the boat so it does not blow away.  Your life jacket can also work as a pretty nice pillow at night.  Note numbers are written with a felt pen on the handle of the ammo can - company wants you to do this.  They paint over them at the end of the trip.

The day hike bag is something you bring.  It contains your wet weather gear, maybe socks and shoes, and water bottles.  It will be very useful when going on day hikes and also to transfer extra gear around.

The ammo can is waterproof and measures 51/2 by 7 by 11 inches.  In the ammo can, you carry your camera, guide book, sunglasses, bandanna, sunscreen etc.  On our dory trip, the ammo can and day pack were readily available in either the front or back storage compartments.  These storage compartments are quite water resistant however we had no boats flip - likely stuff would get wet if they did.  Your day pack and ammo can are stored in a compartment whenever negotiating rapids.

So, what stuff to bring?  I used about 60% of the clothes I brought but some things were indispensable.  Let's cover the clothes first


Most of your clothes will be stored in your waterproof brown bag - it measures roughly 12 by 18 by 10 inches and with the right packing, you should be able to get everything you need and some things you don't need in it.  The brown and gray bags are carried on the support boat each day and you can only get into them in the afternoon when you stop to camp.

You will need a rain jacket - goretex is good.  Depending on the time of year, a jacket with hood and sleeves that cinch tight will be helpful.  Light weight waterproof rain pants will also be useful in cooler weather.  Now, if it is July and 100+ degrees out each day, you likely will welcome a cold wave over your head and never wear these.  These are carried on your boat / raft in your day pack.

Bring at least one swim suit, one that is comfortable as you may discover that will be your main garb for most of the trip.  Bring a couple of T shirts, short sleeve and definitely bring two long sleeve shirts, light weight for sun protection.  I brought a light weight button down long shirt and a single long sleeve T shirt (polypro for quick drying).

One or two pair of shorts - yep, they will get pretty dirty in two weeks!

Two hats, in case you lose one.  Get a hat leash so if your hat blows off, it will still be connected.  The boatmen say "We will only go back for your hat if you are still in it!"

Three or four pair of underwear.  You can always wash stuff in the river.

At least two pair of socks and some comfortable lightweight hiking shoes (I used tennis (running) shoes).  While on the boat, I wore a pair of Tevas (rubber soles with straps).  Your boat shoes should be designed for water and dry out quickly.  Also, you do not want to have wet feet all day, for this reason I do not recommend neoprene booties (unless you are on a winter trip).

In spring or fall, bring a pair of long pants.  I wore a pair of fleece workout pants in the evenings when it was cool.  If you don't want to sunburn your legs, bring a pair of lightweight pants to wear in the boat.  But you can cover your legs with a sarong, large bandanna or towel (that's what I did).  Also in cooler weather, bring one warm top layer like a fleece jacket.  Remember, you can wear your rain jacket over any of your clothes.

Two bandannas.  Moistened with river water they work great to cool you down.

Other items

Sunscreen and moisturizing lotion.  Very important.  Plan to go through at least an 8 oz bottle of sunscreen per person (for two weeks).  Put moisturizing lotion on in the evenings before bed.  It should help to keep the skin from cracking (especially your hands!)

Sunglasses, bring two pair and a leash for both pair.  Stow hats and sunglasses in your ammo can when going through the gnarly rapids.

Camera, spare flash cards and batteries, small tripod (optional).   Camera and accessories go in your ammo can.  See the photographic section for more on this.

Small notebook and pens (if you want to jot down notes).  A felt tip pen to write things on things.

Small solar shower (optional).  The support rig will carry it for you and you will have hot water at each camp - note all soapy water must go into the river, not on the beach.  Bring some type of clip strap to secure it down to the rig and connect it to an overhanging rock.

Water bottles - two 20-24 oz bottles should be enough.  A third to use as a pee bottle (optional)

A bed sheet (for two people).  Works great on top of a sleeping bag when it is hot.  This sheet can be stuffed in your gray bag.

Money - we carried a credit card, drivers license, a few bucks and two checks to cover any issues (like if someone needed an air flight out).  Put all in a zip lock plastic bag and store it in the bottom of your ammo can.  Use a check for gratuities on the last day (if you are so inclined).

A towel - we brought real towels, not big bath towels but not hand towels either.  Used them almost every day too.

A headlamp - very important.  Get one of the newer LED lamps that use AAA cells.  Bring a spare set of batteries too.

Medications if you need them - storing most of them in your brown bag should be safest - keep some in your ammo can as well.  Cool storage can be provided if needed.

Contact lenses and glasses if you need them.  I wore contacts the whole trip and had only one problem with sand in an eye (and it was very windy for a number of days).

Pillow - you'll be stylin' if you are like my wife with a real pillow.  She was able to stuff it into her gray bag along with the sleeping gear.  I just brought an empty stuff sack and filled it with clothes each evening.

Get this book!  Belknap's Waterproof Grand Canyon River Guide (2010).  Keep it in your ammo can for reference during the day

Small binoculars (optional) - some people had them, we didn't.  They should also fit in your ammo can.

Small bottle of alcohol hand cleaner (keep it in your ammo can).

Soap, shaving cream, razor, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant and anything else you may need.  Find the miniatures to keep the bulk down.

I brought a small thermometer as I am curious about air and water temps.

Reading material - a book if you are inclined.  I brought one but could never find the time to read much of it.

See the section on first aid for more stuff.


You will be issued your brown bag and ammo can the night before departure.  Anything you can't fit into these you should put into your day pack and / or a large plastic bag (like the dry cleaning bag in your hotel room).  When the boats stop for camping the first night you will be issued a gray sleeping sack.  You should now be able to stuff in the extra stuff from the plastic bag into this gray bag.  See this page for more information.

If you need to bring something that won't fit, check with the company prior to leaving.  It is likely they will accommodate you and store your large object (like a special sleeping pad) on the support boat.

Our company gave us each a metal coffee cup to use on the trip and keep following the trip.  Write your name on the bottom and store it in your ammo can.

Bring some extra zip lock plastic bags, quart and gallon size.  We put some of our clothes items in them as well.


You can bring beer, wine or hard liquor but it must not be in glass containers.  One couple brought a six pack of beer (for two people) for each night they were out.  That was 13 six packs or about 3 cases.   Three beers a day (per person) is not a lot and seemed to be a reasonable amount.  Near the end of the trip, they had a few extras and shared them with us.  Beer or wine should only be in cans, plastic containers or boxes (boxed wine).  We brought tequila and stored it in (2)-750ml metal (water) bottles.  We brought about 11/2 liters or about 50 fluid oz- (we shared it as well and should have brought more!).  The company representative will take your alcohol on the morning of your departure and transport it for you on the support boat or below decks on the dories.  The boats usually have a drag bag where you can put a beer or two for the lunch stop.  Nothing like a 47 degree beer on a hot day!

What not to bring

cell phones, ipods, radios, boom boxes and all that


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