Every day in our quaint office in Salt Lake City our intrepid reservation agents Karen, Natalie, and Lauren field questions about how and what to pack. We figured what better time than the busy river season to talk about the zen of a good river pack. Please enjoy!
– The office staff 


By: Easton Smith, Joe Ballent

                                                                                                           Finding the golden middle ground

Camping Gear for Utah Rafting Trips

With all of the awesome gear on the market today, and an endless list of possible scenarios in which you could use that spiffy new solar coffee maker, it can be hard to decide what you actually need to pack for your next river and/or bike trip.

You definitely don’t want to wait until you’re caught in a rainstorm to remember that rain jackets exist. But you also don’t want to spend so much time thinking about your gear that you lose sight of why you’re taking the trip in the first place, which is to relax, recharge, and remember what it feels like to disconnect from some of your technology and possessions.

After dozens of backpacking trips, I’ve come to realize that there’s a golden middle ground between overpacking and underpacking. Ideally, you spend just enough time thinking about your gear before the trip that you don’t end up thinking about your gear on the trip.

Thankfully, Holiday has made packing for your river and/or biking trip pretty simple.


Start with the basics, and work your way out from there

Yampa River Rafting Trip in Colorado

First of all, Holiday’s got you covered when it comes to life jackets, cooking and eating implements, chairs, waterproof bags, basic beverages, and, of course, gourmet meals. Everything else is up to you. But don’t be intimidated, we’ve got a suggested packing list for you to use.

My recommendation is to begin packing with the basics and work out from there. Start by making sure you have these in your bag: a sturdy tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, insulated under layers, warm outer layers, socks, swimwear, rain gear, a mug, a large water bottle, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a headlamp, all of your essential toiletries and medications, a pair of solid hiking shoes, and a pair of comfortable, durable sandals.

Now, with all those basics covered, you can start in on the non-essential, but still pretty basic stuff like bug spray, Kleenex, extra snacks, sunglasses, a wide-brimmed sun-hat, sunglasses, an extra pair of shoes, chapstick, extra shirts, and a camera. When you’ve got all of that stuff double-checked and pack away, you might be surprised to see how little space you have left in your bags. Think of this as a blessing, rather than a curse. When you have to whittle down what you bring along with you, it can help you to figure out what you really need to have a good time.

Do you really need to have your Mp3 player as you float down one of the most scenic places on earth? Can you last five days without that awesome new denim jacket that you bought? Do you really need to bring every book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, or could you make do with just two of them?

One important thing to remember when you’re packing for your trip is that there are some items that are never allowed on a Holiday trip. The list includes glass bottles, radios, firearms, pets, your racist cousin, and your misogynistic uncle. Besides these prohibited items, you should think hard before bringing a wad of cash, a stash of diamonds, a laptop computer, or anything else that you would miss if happened to end up at the bottom of Lake Powell. We don’t ever expect to lose gear or to have thefts during our trips, but when you’re on an adventure, sometimes things get a bit… adventurous.


                                                                                                      Pro tips from a desert rat…

Yampa River Guests

Here’s an assortment of tips that I can give you for desert adventuring, in no particular order.

It’s important to remember that, even though you will be in the desert, long-sleeved shirts and pants will be your best friend in combatting sunburn and pesky bugs. It’s better to have a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt than a tank top.

Pack enough beer. Holiday provides juice, water, gourmet meals, and a ton of great times. But we don’t know what kind of beer you like, or how much beer you like. Go ahead and stock up, so that you don’t end up unwinding without your favorite beverage.

When in doubt, ask. We work hard to make sure we don’t embody the competitive, broey, more-expert-than-you culture that you can sometimes find among outdoor enthusiasts. We aren’t going to shame you for not knowing how many lumens your headlamp should have, or what a throw bag is.


On a related note: just get the gear that works for you. You don’t need to have the most expensive or ‘cool’ brands. I still rock a backpack that my uncle gave to me for my first backpacking trip, because it works! In fact, I think the real cool cats are the ones who can piece together a whole gear set from free boxes, garage sales, and a length of cordage.

Check your gear before you really need it to work. Does your headlamp need new batteries? Does your tent have a rainfly? Do your shoes need new soles?

And my final pro tip: don’t worry! As long as you have any life-saving meds you may need, everything else can be figured out on the fly with the creativity and generosity of Holiday guides and guests. If, after all of this, you do happen to forget your rain jacket, don’t worry. We won’t leave you high and dry.


How to pack your dry bag:

Whether you are a crafty veteran when it comes to all things whitewater or an eager newcomer to this amazing world of rapids, this post is for you. After all, it never hurts to focus your packing efforts and refresh on how to make sure all your gear makes it along for the journey.

There are generally three principles to adhere to in packing for a river (or any) trip.


Keep what you need most and soonest near the top of your pack.  Your sleeping bag, pillow, nighttime toiletries, teddy bear, etc. should live near the bottom of the pack. Whereas sunscreen and changes of clothes should be near the top where you won’t have to rummage for them when they’re needed.


This one applies much more to back-country backpacking when a bag will be loading your spine for miles and hours at a time. Depending on how much of a backpacking perfectionist you are, you’d want your pack to be able to stand alone on its base without additional support or balance.  However, since your river bag will be strapped onto a boat rather than on your back all day, this becomes much less crucial in a river trip context.


Space is definitely something that matters on a river trip; both from standpoints of packing efficiency as well as comfort.  Whether you’re extremely organized or prefer the smash-it-all-in method, do what you can to minimize your gear explosion factor.  A tightly packed river bag lends itself to easy transport and storage. When there’s gear for 25 people for five days on six boats, space management becomes increasingly crucial.

In keeping with a commitment to the highest quality overall experience, Holiday provides proven field gear to guests.  Our river bags are intuitively designed for easy use and maximum effectiveness. They’re meant for keeping water out and dryness in.  Once you’ve stuffed your bag to the gills (pardon the water pun), it’s time to close it up. Align the top sides of the bag with each other so that there is a loose initial seal, but not so much snugness that air is sealed into the bag.  Press down and out on the top of the bag, forcing air out to increase space efficiency and decrease the likelihood of puncture.  Once you’ve forced all the air out, roll the top of the bag out, down, and away from you. Finally, buckle the sides and cinch them down for a fully waterproof seal.  Your guide will be more than happy to help you with this process. The first time around can be a little tricky, particularly if you are unfamiliar with river bags.

For even more great tips on packing, check out our new “How To Pack” Video! 

Now that you are educated on what to bring and how to pack it efficiently, you’re one step closer to being on the boat and casting off for unknown shores. We wish you the best and hope to see you on the river soon!



Writer Easton SmithEaston Smith is a Local Wasatch Front resident and writer.   He spends his time community organizing, rock-climbing, and playin’ some mean banjo.  





Joe Ballent found the river- or it found him –when he was only 16.  He began guiding with Holiday in 2008 and has enjoyed the unique privilege of getting involved with Holiday’s youth trips, including the University of Utah Hospital Burn Camp program.  His writing has been featured on various outdoor online communities including mountaintechs.com and backcountrybeacon.com.  Joe works with troubled teens full-time but manages to find trouble around the country and world in his freetime.  He is an outdoorsman by trade, a romantic by choice, a guitarist in a band, and an outlaw in Europe.