Packing for Family Rafting Trips Made Easy

After only one day of hauling gear from rafts to camp via ‘fire lines’ on any group rafting trip, it becomes painfully obvious who packed well, and who didn’t. No one wants to be the guy or gal with the 50-pound bag, but it’s no fun to be without the essentials, either. As a veteran of packing outdoor gear for a family of five, I have a few tips to ensure parents hit that sweet spot for your next family rafting trip:

Packing for Family Rafting Trips Made Easy

Start with everything listed on the suggested packing list. Yes, everything. Packing lists vary by region, but generally, even warm-weather destinations will require knit hats and gloves in case of chilly nights, and everyone needs a rain jacket. The good news: families will only need one first aid kit for the group, and one kit with generalized toiletries, such as lotion, sunscreen, and bug repellent.

Identify items that can perform double-duty. We’re huge fans of wool base layers (yes, even in summer). Wool shirts and pants keep us warm at night as pajamas, then perform as an under-layer for mornings on the water. They wick sweat and dry fast, and have become our go-to long-sleeve shirt option. Later in the day, stash your wool in your day bag, swapping it for a UV shirt to block summer rays. Another item that does double duty: amphibious sandals are ideal for water play, but also perform well on light day hikes and around camp. Pair them with wool socks at night. Lastly, quick-dry hiking pants that zip off to convert to shorts are worth the investment. Our favorite for kids: Columbia Sportswear’s Silver Ridge line.

Packing for Family Rafting Trips Made Easy

Make items easy to find. Families will be digging in and out of their dry sacks multiple times per day. We love packing cubes for organization. Everyone in our family gets a cube for shirts and a cube for shorts and pants, plus a small cube for underwear, socks, and base layers. Pack ‘just in case’ items such as lightweight rain jackets and gloves in one large compression packing cube. If and when needed, you’ll be glad to have everyone’s outerwear at the ready.

Keep your day bag selection short and sweet. Here’s all you need in your day bag: your sunhat, sunglasses (and both of these will probably be on your head already), one lightweight layer, sunscreen, and your waterproof camera.

Packing for Family Rafting Trips Made Easy

Make a water bottle plan. Not to sound dramatic, but your water bottle selection matters…a lot. You’ll be carrying your water everywhere you go, on and off the rafts. Definitely select a water bottle that can clip onto the rafts and duckies, and buy high quality carabiners, not ‘decorative’ ones. If you prefer a hydration pack, select a pack size that will fit into your day bag. Then, simply pack your day items into your hydration pack, and place the pack into your dry bag. You’ll want a water bottle in addition, however, for those many times on the river when you don’t want to unpack to get at your water supply.

Image credit: Amy Whitley

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