Five things you don’t need on your Main Salmon trip

Whitewater Rafting in Idaho

By Derek Farr

The real world exists. It always does. But when we reach the ramp at the put-in of the Main Salmon River, the real world might as well be one million miles away. Accordingly, the things that serve a purpose in the real world don’t always have a place on a river trip. Here are five examples.

1. A cell phone/smartphone:

Last year a curious group of men brought along a smartphone to verify that there is still somewhere remote and wonderful enough not to get a cell signal. Their verdict? Bliss. No reception for the entire six-day trip. “Can you hear me now?” Nope. Just a side note: We always bring a satellite phone in case of emergency. But nobody’s allowed to forward their office phone to it. When you’re on the river, the real world fades away. No glorified hunk of plastic and metal is going to change that.

2. A watch:

Here’s something you’ll never hear on a Main Salmon trip, “Dinner will be at six o’clock.” On the river, time is fungible. We get up when the sun rises and we eat dinner as the sun sets. There’s usually lunch and happy hour somewhere in between. Yet none of those events take place according to a specific time. Now, just to be clear, wearing a watch isn’t prohibited on our trips; you’ll just have to forego breakfast if you do.

3. Many, many changes of clothes:

I read somewhere that Prince William changes clothes before every meal. That may be true, but one thing’s for sure: he wouldn’t be doing that on our river trips. Even though we have plenty of space on our boats for everybody’s gear, packing an entire wardrobe is frowned upon. And the truth is most people don’t go through a lot of clothes anyway. It’s nice to have a few extra outfits to change into, but usually, your morning ensemble is going to look a lot like your afternoon attire. The one exception is evening wear, which makes an appearance from time to time. I’ve seen a tuxedo, a ballet dress, and a banana – yes a banana. And I must point out, just in case Prince William is reading this: please, leave your chainmail at home.

4. Your best, newest clothes:

I like fashion. And except for the fact that I don’t pay any attention to fashion whatsoever, I’d say I’m a fashionista. That aside, I don’t bring my nicest threads on the river. On many of our trips, we spend a third of our time on rafts, a third on sand, and a third in the water. It’s like clothing’s version of the Ironman triathlon. I’m not saying you’re going to look like Bruce Willis at the end of Die Hard, but your clothes are definitely going to be tested. My rule is: if I’m worried about getting something stained, I leave it at home. Sorry Jerry Seinfeld pirate shirt, no rafting for you.

5. Your best behavior:

You don’t have to worry about seeing a salad fork on our trips. We pull out all the stops for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but we leave the formalities at home. Let’s face it; it’s a raft trip on the Salmon River, not a commencement brunch at Buckingham Palace. Everyone knows the Idaho backcountry isn’t the proper venue for stuffy affectations. Our red carpet is a sandy beach. Our dress code is, “No shirt, no shoes, no problem.” And our after-dinner merriment is Big Booty. Sometimes we sing and dance. We always laugh. But we never hear anybody ask, “Where are my cuff links?” It’s just how we roll.


Derek started guiding rivers in 1996. He lives in Idaho where he and his wife use every opportunity to experience the natural wonders of that great state.