11 Products River Guides Love
A river guide shares the products and gear that she relies on to make life more comfortable and enjoyable on multi-day rafting trips.
River guides are thrifty and clever people who rarely care about having the snazziest gear. Still, we spend a lot of time out in the elements, so many of us have a few favorite products and pieces of gear that we rely on to make life more comfortable or enjoyable when we’re on the river. And we love to support sustainable and guide-owned businesses when we can. Here are a few of my must-have items…
The number-one tip to a successful river trip is hydration. I frequently spill all over myself when I try to sip and row at the same time, so I use a large Klean Kanteen with a sport cap. Snag some locking carabiners to clip it to the boat without fear of entrapment and you are good to go!
The very best sunscreen is one you don’t have to goop on awkwardly. By covering your skin with fabric, you are protecting yourself from both short-term and long-term damage and avoiding chemicals. Many technical fabrics now come with UPF protection, but any covering is better than no covering.
Of course, you will still have some skin exposed to soak up glorious vitamin D. Look for keywords on sunscreen such as reef-safe, organic, and biodegradable. I use Sierra Madre Sun Cream on my face, and try my best to cover up with lightweight, breathable layers for summer boating. I appreciate leggings from Prana, a company with numerous sustainable practices. NRS makes my favorite sun hoodie and gloves. Though most guides are throwbacks and like to give their hands the opportunity to callous naturally, my anatomy necessitates hand protection.
As a whole, the river community tends to have a soap ethic different than that of the front country. Most of us find it is not necessary to bathe daily, and that we usually don’t overwhelm others with our body odor after just one day. Of course, if it’s been three days of sweaty paddling and sun-scorched hikes, it might be time for a rinse. I use Dr. Bronner’s lavender pure-castile liquid soap. These concentrated and biodegradable soaps are organic, Fair Trade, and lack synthetic preservatives and other chemicals detrimental to the environment.
Depending on where your river trip is, the soap protocol will vary. In regulated desert rivers with a high sediment transport capacity, washing is typically done in the river. Though the water is dammed, it is considered more resilient than arid riparian zones. In free-flowing northern streams, washing is typically done upland of the high-water mark, so as not to introduce particulates (even biodegradable ones!) into the stream.
Guides have strong opinions about what works best on skin: from corn huskers lotion to coconut oil, everyone has a personal favorite. I’m partial to Super Salve for both body creams and lip balms.
If you’re on a trip in the shoulder season, nights and mornings along river corridors can be chilly. My personal favorite layering strategy is to rock a whimsy fleece skirt over leggings. That way, once the sun comes up you can quickly stuff the skirt in your bag and be good to go. FunLuvin’ Fleecewear is owned and operated by a river guide, and they make useful, fun, and warm fleece skirts, shorts, and even tutus!
River trips are chock-full of delicious food, but if you want some extra travel snacks, Huppybar makes delicious, nutrient-dense bars. The company is owned and operated by a Grand Canyon river guide, so they understand how to best make healthy vittles for river rats!
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