By: Sawyer Smith

Packing for a river trip is not rocket science, but it helps to have tips from pros who have been doing it for years. When you sign up for a trip through Holiday River Expeditions, you’re given a detailed packing list to help you figure out what to bring and what to leave at home. We want you to have the right gear, but not overpack and weigh yourself down for the whole week. 

That said, there are some things that aren’t necessarily on the list that the experts—aka, the guides who have been on countless river trips—think you might want to consider tossing into your bag. 

And by bag, I mean pillow-case… but we’ll get to that in a minute. 

Items You Might Not Think Of

There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting down in a raft, your first day on the river, and realizing you forgot to bring something crucial. Now, if it’s really crucial—like you forgot sunscreen or a water bottle, chances are someone else on the trip will be able to help you out. But what about the convenience items? The stuff you don’t necessarily need in order to have a successful trip, but which would make life on the river a little nicer.

Items such as… 

A carabiner

  • Carabiners are great, multipurpose tools. They can be used as a handle for your water bottle, to clip muddy shoes onto your pack so you don’t have to toss them in with your clean clothes, or even to secure something to the boat. Plus, they’re so small and light, there’s really no reason not to throw one or two of them into your luggage.

    guest sleeping with sarong on flatwater boat

    Guest using their sarong as a cover for their legs

A sarong 

  • A sarong is also a multifunctional item. It can be used as a towel or blanket, for when you might want to take a little snooze on the beach. But the real reason our guides think you should bring one is that they can be used as your own personal changing room! You just wrap the fabric around your neck, and it not only covers you up, but it frees your hands to make it easier to change out of your clothes.

A separate bag for Dirty Clothes

  • Look, sweat happens. Especially on a river trip. You’re out in the sun, you’re perspiring, you’re getting splashed by the water, maybe a little caked in mud, all that fun camping stuff. Your clothes are going to get really dirty after a couple of days on the water, and when it comes time to change into a fresh new t-shirt, the last thing you want to do is throw the dirty one in with your other clean clothes. Bring an extra tote or plastic bag where you can isolate all that dirt and grime until you’re back home and have access to a washing machine. 

A resealable bag for your toiletries/snacks 

  • Some campers might not know this, but the guides actually ask that you bring all your ‘smelly stuff’ — i.e. anything that critters might possibly think is food, like toothpaste or scented lotion — down to the main camp each night so they can pack it away safely. You’ll want to have a resealable bag that you can write your name on so you don’t end up accidentally walking away with someone else’s stuff and using their toothbrush! People definitely grow close while on a river trip together, but maybe not that close. 

Red Balloon

  • This one might sound like it’s out of left field, maybe it’s bringing up memories of a 1980s German pop hit or Stephen King’s It, but we promise, we include it for a reason. Some people don’t have headlights that have a red-light feature, but they still want to be able to move around camp without disrupting the dark, peaceful night or blinding their friends. So—bring a red balloon! Cut the mouth of the balloon off and then stretch the plastic over your headlight and bam! You’ve got a DIY red-light feature!

Guests and Guides in Their River Prom Attire

Dressy/Fun outfit

  • This one is a little less practical than the ones we’ve outlined above, but we still think it’s something to consider. After days of wearing your ‘camp wardrobe’ which for a lot of people consists of more industrial fabrics and muted colors, it can be nice to have something a little more stylish to throw on. Something that expresses your personal style and makes you feel good. But… maybe don’t bring your nicest shirt or a cocktail dress, because there’s still a very good chance, no matter how careful you are, that the clothes will get wet or muddy. Or both. 

Car bag with Clean Clothes

  • This one is a must, if only because it’s so easy and it won’t weigh your pack down at all because, well, it won’t be in your pack. There is no better feeling than getting back to the HRE headquarters, showering in one of our outdoor showers, and then having clean, sand-free clothes to change into. 

Packing and Camping Hacks! 

Now that you’ve got your items all gathered and you’re ready to start actually packing, here are some tips on what to pack in and what to do once you start building camp! 

Put all your stuff into a pillow case or a loose bag of some sort 

  • Instead of neatly packing all your items into luggage, only to take them all out at headquarters and repack them into our waterproof bags, we suggest just throwing all your stuff into a loose sack (pillowcases work great). This way, you only have to organize your things once. And if you’re having trouble envisioning these waterproof bags and how your items will fit into them, check out our video here on how to correctly pack your stuff in the bags we provide! 


Put your ground pad under your tent instead of inside it

  • Whether you rented a paco pad from us or brought your own sleeping pad, some of our guides recommend that you actually put it underneath your tent instead of directly under your sleeping bag. You’ll get the same cushioning benefits, but without running the risk of bringing more sand into your tent, and it won’t move around as much during the night. 

Use your tent footprint as a ‘welcome mat’ 

  • For most of the trips offered through Holiday River Expeditions, we camp on sandy beaches that don’t really require any footprints or tarps to be put underneath your tent. Instead, consider putting the footprint outside your tent door, where you can kick sand off your feet before going inside. 

Affordability and Tips for Finding Used Gear 

The last thing we wanted to touch on in regard to helping you plan and pack for your trip, is affordability. We know, probably more than most people, just how expensive camping and hiking gear can be. And those expenses can add up very quickly. 

But we’re dedicated to making our trips as accessible as possible, so here are some tips to find gear/clothing at a lower price point:

Shop the Sales

  • There are some things that are really difficult to find used — like properly fitting footwear or unbroken tent stakes — so there will be times that you have to buy things new. But don’t pay full price if you can avoid it. REI has an outlet store, and if you’re a member, there are pretty much always sales going on. Otherwise, look for coupons and promo codes online to help bring down the price, especially for something like a new pair of shoes, which can be ridiculously expensive. 

(Can you tell this writer recently had to invest in new hiking boots?)  

Shop Second-Hand 

  • If you’re going through your closet and realizing that you need new camping clothes, please consider buying these items second-hand. Stores like Goodwill and Savers (and DI for our Utah friends) are often flooded with clothes, a lot of which consist of old t-shirts and athleisure wear. This is the perfect place to shop for clothing items you know are going to get very dirty and might get damaged or ripped. You’ll be cutting down on clothing consumption and also saving money. It’s a win-win!

Try Online Thrifting 

  • Online thrift stores like Poshmark and Thread-Up have thousands of sellers and millions of clothing items, and with all the available search filters, you can often find the exact item you’re looking for. If you need to replace a piece of clothing you already love, try checking to see if it’s on Poshmark first. They even have a search filter that allows you to sift through clothing items that still have the tags on them! 

You’d be amazed at how many people have your favorite Patagonia Better Sweater, in your favorite color, and your size, just sitting in their closet having never been worn. 


Sawyer Smith WriterSawyer Smith is a Utah native currently residing in St. Louis, Missouri. When she isn’t working as a freelance writer or hiking through sections of the Mark Twain National Forest, she is planning trips in her head back to her beloved state to once again climb on the red rocks and ski down the snowy mountains.