Life on the river is great, as long as you’re prepared

The La Sal Mountains and the Fisher towers make for a stunning backdrop to the Colorado River outside Moab, Utah.Jake Garlick

As the weather warms and the snow starts to melt, rivers begin to rise and rafts come out for the season. One of the best ways to take advantage of the early season high water is to start planning a multi-day river trip. Unlike a day float, multi-day trips require a little more preparation. Here’s what you need to know before making your way to the put-in.

Do Your Research

Every river is vastly different and therefore requires a little research beforehand. Take into consideration when you want to plan your trip, what CFS (cubic feet per second) level the river will be running at and the intensity of the particular section of chosen river.

Many river sections require a permit, which will need to be obtained prior to the desired launch date. Most permitted rivers hold a lottery at the beginning of the year through the website, Each lottery application can cost between $10 and $25. Keep in mind that you are not guaranteed a permit, but don’t let this discourage you. There are plenty of river sections with permits that are awarded on a first come, first serve basis or don’t require a permit at all.

Trip Roles

Typically, most overnight raft trips consist of a group of roughly 10-25 people, and will require every person to contribute in one way or another.

One person will assume the role of Trip Leader, or TL. This person is in charge of organizing the entire raft trip.

If you are invited on a raft trip, be prepared to help out in any way possible. A TL might ask you to plan and prepare a meal, bring additional gear, set up camp or drive to and from the put-in or take-out.

“If you’re going on your first raft trip and you’ve been invited, it’s important to recognize whoever is planning that trip, how much effort they’ve actually put into that trip and how much effort actually goes into it,” said Nick Moses, an experienced rafter.

If everyone is willing to help out with the tasks that go into an overnight raft trip, then the overall experience is guaranteed to be top notch.

“Teamwork is the best thing going into an overnight,” said Taylor Criswell, or “Bama” as he is known by his Mountain Waters Rafting Company family.

Life on the water. The Colorado, Green, Salt, San Juan and other rivers offer plenty of opportunities for boaters of all levels to enjoy the stunning, remote landscape of the Southwest.Jake Garlick
Rounding Up Gear

Rule NO. 1: Do NOT forget your PFD, (personal floatation device.) Even for gentle river sections, you should always have a PFD handy. Many put-ins will have a River Ranger that will make sure that everyone in the group has a PFD.

Rule NO. 2: Get your groove on. Pack it in, pack it out. This also means fire ashes and human waste. Two other items that the River Ranger will look for are a fire pan and a portable toilet, also known as a groover.

These three things- PFD, fire pan and groover- are crucial for an overnight raft trip. The rest of the necessary gear consists of basic camping items: tent, sleeping bag, tables, chairs, EZ up, cookware, sunscreen, music speaker, instruments, etc. For any and all gear brought along, dry boxes and dry bags are necessary for keeping gear dry throughout the trip. And when it comes to keeping yourself dry, make sure to include extra layers and warm gear. Bama suggests bringing a pair of muck boots, “because it’s so vital to have something dry to put your feet in at the end of the day.”

Ready to Rig

The trip is planned and now it’s time to get on the river. Getting an early start will give you plenty of time to make it to your campsite without having to worry about losing daylight. Make sure to run shuttle right away, as this process can take a while depending on how far away the take-out is.

While shuttle is being run, start unloading the gear from the cars and begin rigging the boats. Rigging can take a couple of hours as well depending on the number of boats and the amount of gear.

Once the boats are rigged, shuttle is run and everyone is good to go, it’s time to push off and let the real fun begin. No one can be certain of what will unfold as the current pushes your group downstream, but it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience.

“There’s no social media, no cellphone reception, no Internet … It’s just you with the people that you’re with,” Moses said. “Be ready to have a rowdy time!”

Main photo courtesy of Jake Garlick