When camping in most wilderness scenarios, half of the battle is figuring out what to take and what to leave behind: Will Comfort Items X and Y fit in my backpack? Is Comfort Item Z too heavy? Is it worth carrying the extra weight just to have a couple nips off a whiskey flask? How about an extra pair of comfortable shoes to put on once I get to my campsite?
When car camping, you don’t have to say “no” to many of these questions. You can bring whatever you want: bulky grills, coolers full of non-freeze-dried food, fresh fruit, as much beer as you can imagine you can drink in a weekend. You get all the fun of sleeping under the stars without the sacrifice of all the “too heavy” or “too bulky” stuff. The only bad news is that if you can drive to a certain campsite, everyone else can too—so you usually have to share it with lots of other folks (unless it’s a particularly clandestine National Forest or BLM site).
This is why rafting trips are by far the best camping experience in the outdoors: you rarely have to share a river campsite with another group, but get all the comforts of car camping. Or more. You can literally bring whatever the heck you want. When you ask the trip leader or guide, “Can I bring my ______,” the answer is almost always yes, as long as the item can be carried to and from a boat, reasonably strapped down or stowed, and is in a waterproof carrier or is unaffected by moisture. Wanna bring your full-size guitar? Just put it in a big dry bag. Bottle of good scotch to share? Pour it into a plastic bottle and you’re all set.
Anyone who’s slept on an inflatable sleeping pad at a riverside campsite will tell you nothing can beat it when it comes to sleeping outdoors—three inches of lush foam padding between you and the ground, 24 inches wide (compared to 20-inch-wide backpacking pads), and nearly un-puncturable.
Meals are a far cry from dehydrated backpacking food—with the space to carry coolers, six-burner stoves, and Dutch ovens, raft trips often include steaks, pineapple upside-down cake, bacon, eggs, cold beer, and plenty of coffee.
While guides cook dinner, you can relax and play horseshoes or glow-in-the-dark bocce, or read one of more than a dozen books from the “library box,” because yes, there is room for all of those things, no problem at all.
It’s just like car camping, but better. All the comforts, none of the crowded campgrounds—and the soothing sounds of a nearby river to lull you to sleep under the stars every night.