There’s no bet­ter way to kick off sum­mer than by tak­ing a riv­er trip—not just an inner tube float on a splen­did after­noon, but by tak­ing a bonafide jour­ney in a boat. You need to float for days, where each bend reveals new ter­rain, where your ears alert to white noise down­stream, and were you can lis­ten to the current’s mur­murs each night. Before you go, you need to know what things might be fun to bring. So here’s a list of the top ten most essen­tial. Don’t shove off the bank with­out them.ten-things-you-must-pack-for-a-river-trip2

1. Riv­er Map: Your smart phone won’t cut it. Not only will the sig­nal desert you in a canyon, but your phone will also run out of bat­ter­ies and you’ll acci­den­tal­ly drop it in the cur­rent. Bring a map. Rivers like the Salmon, Col­orado, or Rogue all have their own riv­er guides print­ed on water­proof paper. They give you a dash of local his­to­ry, nat­ur­al his­to­ry, and accu­rate riv­er mileage, along with notes on how to shoot the fiercest rapids. If your riv­er doesn’t have a good map, then you should cre­ate one. Scrib­ble notes in the mar­gins and it will become a cher­ished heir­loom of your riv­er adventures.

2. Amer­i­can Flag: Noth­ing sum­mons up the Amer­i­can mythos of a riv­er trip quite like the old Stars and Stripes. Buy a cheap hand­held parade-wavers’ flag, the kind that’s sta­pled onto a thin wood­en dow­el. Secure it into the stern of your boat and all way­far­ers you pass will know at a glance that you’re float­ing for ‘Mer­ic­ah.  

3. Fish­ing Rod: Bring one and the accou­ter­ments to cook fish, but for God’s sake bring your din­ner for each night as well. Noth­ing ruins fish­ing quick­er than rely­ing on a cast for nutri­ents. One rod per boat should suf­fice, and in the slack­wa­ter you can sneak off a few casts to the mon­sters lurk­ing beneath. If the riv­er deems fit, you may bestow upon your boat­mates the joy­ous feast of wild procurement.


4. Binoc­u­lars: Secure them to the top of the cooler—don’t pack them away—and soon you’ll start check­ing out every­thing. It’s all fair game: the mys­tery bird singing in the trees, the day-moon ris­ing over the canyon wall, that biki­ni, or the hori­zon line down­stream froth­ing a cloud of mist. Binoc­u­lars are a must.

 5. Book: The riv­er alone is a sto­ry fraught with sus­pense, char­ac­ter devel­op­ment, and, at times, sheer bore­dom. Do your­self and your crew a favor and bring a riv­et­ing book along not for the escape, but so in the dol­drums you can cap­ti­vate your cap­tive audi­ence with a good old fash­ioned, long-wind­ed sto­ry.  

 6. Climb­ing Shoes: Ok, you don’t real­ly need climb­ing shoes, but the point is you pass a lot of rock. Those grub­by cliffs stained with water­lines and bird splats have undis­cov­ered routes. Screw deep water solo­ing in Mal­lor­ca. The shal­low water solos of your local riv­er are up to snuff. Bring your shoes. Test the rock. You might just find the next new spot.

7. Backpacker’s Gui­tar: Few sounds evoke a home­spun adven­ture more than the twang of a steel gui­tar on the banks of a riv­er. Some­thing about the muf­fled gar­ble of the cur­rent, the enclo­sure of the canyon, and the pop and hiss of the burn­ing logs make camp­fire songs the sweet­est sound to frayed white­wa­ter nerves. If sci­en­tists stud­ied this sort of thing they would undoubt­ed­ly find that it releas­es the unspo­ken ten­sion of boat­mates who have spent the day at elbow’s length aboard the ves­sel. Just do every­one a favor and rehearse a few songs before you embark. 


8. Snorkel and Mask: You know what lurks at the bot­tom of a riv­er? Of course not! That’s why you should bring a snorkel and a mask. There may be beer cans, trout in their oth­er­world­ly habi­tat, or some oth­er sunken trea­sure. Go on and dis­cov­er for your­self the last fron­tier of Amer­i­can rivers. It’s wet. It’s wild. And you’re guar­an­teed a cer­tain kind of watery beau­ty that you won’t find in the magazines.

9. Beer: You knew this was going to be on the list, didn’t you? Refresh­ing. Intox­i­cat­ing. And tasty. Rivers and beer are a lot like love and mar­riage; one leads to the oth­er and each togeth­er can increase your odds of fun or drown­ing. The key here, as in life, is to main­tain the buzz. Don’t get drunk. Swim­ming wast­ed doesn’t work. Main­tain that quick-to-laugh, bub­bly-in-the-head enthu­si­asm, so when the wind kicks up and sends you upstream under your fiercest pad­dling, you’ll keep that ever-impor­tant pos­i­tive perspective.

10. First Aid Kit: When boats in motion try to nav­i­gate hard, sta­tion­ary objects, car­nage is bound to hap­pen. Peo­ple get whacked, hit in the head, or smacked by a branch. Bring your first aid kit. You’ll for­get about it the whole time noth­ing hap­pens, and then when some­thing does, you’ll be like David Has­sel­hoff doing a swan dive off the bow of the boat.

Fit for cap­tains or stow­aways alike, these time-test­ed sug­ges­tions shall serve you well on any overnighter. Bring­ing them all will result in the utmost plea­sure, but if you’re strapped for cash or time then, at a bare min­i­mum, bring num­bers 1, 9, and 10. Noth­ing can go wrong that’s beyond the scope of their influ­ence. So car­ry forth young Mer­ri­weath­er. Pad­dle on John Wes­ley. The rivers of Amer­i­ca are yours, explore.