Not many adventures compare to multi-day river trips. Even fewer compare when it comes to whitewater river-tripping in a wilderness area, completely off-grid and immersed in the wild. There’s a reason people plan out these often raft-based excursions for years: You’re with a community that works to move camp daily, making miles self-contained to sustain a comfortable and simple life. The rafts move over rapids, some riffles and others that make your heart race. The group stops along the river in between each new campsite to hike, explore, swim, eat and of course, pee.
The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is one of river-running’s most coveted sections for both private paddlers and commercial outfitters. The 100-mile wilderness stretch of river features hot springs, Native American artifacts of its original inhabitants (the Nez Perce and Shoshone), pristine alpine scenery, dramatic gorges, rolling hills, about 20 exciting rapids per day, and lots of fish. The Middle Fork is world-renowned for its fly-fishing.
The Middle Fork typically takes six days to complete the 100 miles at a comfortable pace. However, we flew in tiny bush planes from Stanley, Idaho to meet our guides at a halfway point on the Middle Fork. We completed the remaining journey over three days.
The benefits to a guided trip, of course, are two-fold. Not only are you not responsible for navigating or determining itineraries and nightly campsites, but participants don’t coordinate food or prepare meals either — less control, but an incredibly swanky and comfortable way to explore a wild river like the Middle Fork. We benefitted from the guide expertise of ARTA (American River Touring Association), a nonprofit river-rafting organization with over 50 years of experience. ARTA’s philosophy ensures that any surplus revenues generated by trips get reinvested in the company or donated to conservation organizations to protect rivers.
The Salmon is one of North America’s great free-flowing rivers. It experiences dramatic changes in runoff-fed flow between June and August. We took the trip mid-September at a lower flow. Apart from the one half-day of tricky fall weather of cold wind, rain, and overcast skies, we had crisp sunny days around 70 degrees and nights between 30-40 degrees. With the variable conditions, the following gear proved itself essential for a bucket-list paddling adventure through Idaho’s storied Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
SealLine Pro Zip Duffle (2020)
For any river trip, you must have a fully waterproof drybag. Your raft (and the things in it) will get wet, whether it’s splashing rapids, rainfall, or the most exciting scenario — a flipped boat. If this isn’t self-explanatory, it means that you need a bag to keep things that aren’t supposed to get wet, dry – no matter what.
SealLine releases its updated Pro Zip Duffle in Spring 2020 in 40-, 70- and larger 100-liter sizes ($199-$299). It’s a spacious, submersible and fully featured duffel made with heavy-duty, PVC-free waterproof materials, welded seams, corrosion-resistant hardware and a tough waterproof zipper. Rated to withstand full submersion in one meter of water for 30 minutes, it is a premium and comfortable, portable gear hauler.
I appreciate the removable and comfortable shoulder straps because you can wear the duffel as a backpack, freeing your hands for other tasks. The duffel’s multiple, durable contact points make it easy to latch to a boat or vehicle and its four handles allow for uncomplicated handoffs.Buy SealLine's (2019) Zip Dry Duffle
SealLine Packing Systems
For the overpacking and highly organized travelers, SealLine sees you! SealLine’s packing systems offer a variety of solutions. The splashproof and ultralight BlockerLite Compression Cinch Sack saves space. The sacks feature flat-sided, rectangular shapes that nestle closely together, packing 20 percent more efficiently than rounded sacks.
I organized my clothes into categories, stashed them between four of these semi-transparent sacks and compressed each into a small bundle. Bundling my clothes kept them cleaner and left room for my tent and sleeping system to fit inside the one duffel I allowed for the raft. I used them again to bring clothes for a week into only one carry-on. I get to keep my overpacking a secret now!Buy SealLine's BlockerLite Compression Sack
The Blocker Zip Sack offers a different organization solution, with similar construction. A wide-opening design grants easy access to its interior, making it the perfect part of a packing system to organize toiletries, camp kitchen essentials, extras for electronics, or a first-aid kit.Buy SealLine's Blocker Zip Sack
Favorite Earth & Body Friendly Toiletries
I use Dr. Bronner’s for all adventures and most days in general. It’s accepted by the outdoor community as one of the most Earth-friendly soaps to use while immersed in nature. Wash your hands, your body, do dishes, and lubricate a squeaky oar joint. Some claim to use Dr. Bronner’s soap as toothpaste and mouthwash, however I haven’t been eager enough to try. Plus, my mom washed my mouth out enough as a child that I think I’m set for a lifetime.Buy Dr. Bronner's
If you’re like me and prefer to use toothpaste, check out Desert Essence Activated Charcoal toothpaste. Yes, if anyone is around while you’re brushing your teeth you might look like a zombie foaming black from the mouth.
The upside, it’s Carrageenan-free, infused with an activated coconut-shell charcoal that uses sustainably sourced ultra-fine charcoal powder to beautifully polish and deeply clean your teeth. Other gentle and natural ingredients provide complete care for teeth and gums, and taking your breath from a zero to at least an eight-plus.Buy Desert Essence Charcoal Toothpaste
For a quick refresh Allez Outdoors‘ large biodegradable body wipes, are 100 percent plant-based, PH balanced, and help to cleanse while miles away from the nearest shower. They’re made in the USA with globally sourced components and ingredients. They’re free of synthetic fragrance, alcohol, parabens, sulfates, SLS, SLES, Formaldehyde donors, and phthalates.
The wipes come individually wrapped, ideal for those who travel with one or a few, for maximum packability while on a raft, plane, trail, or in a van. I love this company and these wipes, I only wish they would incorporate biodegradable or compostable packaging solutions in addition to their upcoming packs of multiple wipes.Buy Allez Biodegradable Cleansing Cloths
Mama P Bamboo Toothbrush
MamaP doesn’t play around when it comes to sustainability — removing almost all of the plastic from their supply chain except for the nylon bristles that are recyclable. The resulting lightweight, biodegradable toothbrush made from bamboo is a true testament to eco-friendliness.
Nat Geo published an informative article about plastic toothbrushes, with one statistic stating that every plastic toothbrush produced since the 1930s remains as a piece of trash somewhere on our planet. According to the article, if you laid out the toothbrushes thrown away in the U.S. in a year, they would wrap around the Earth four times.
Oh, and for every Mama P toothbrush you buy, you choose a colored brush that directly correlates to a nonprofit organization they donate a portion of the profit toward. That’s fresh and clean!Buy MamaP Bamboo Toothbrush
MSR Zoic 1 Backpacking Tent
Every night on the river you camp somewhere new. Some people sleep on the rafts, or on a pad in a sleeping bag on the ground under the stars. I like the idea of sleeping in a tent. It offers a space for quiet time, privacy to change clothes, and protects me from bugs and rain while I slumber.
I’ve never owned a one-person tent. The MSR Zoic 1 Backpacking Tent is light and spacious. It fit easily inside my duffel with my other belongings. The Zoic’s hubbed pole allows for a freestanding system equating a quick setup. The full micro-mesh canopy optimizes breathability, moisture control, and views. Inside the tent feels very roomy. The wide floor plan can accomodate a 25-inch mattress and additional gear. The Zoic includes stakes, guy-out cords and a compression stuff sack with carry handle. It’d also be great for a bike-packing, backpacking, motorcycle, or horseback trip.Buy MSR Zoic 1
Thermarest Sleep System
My favorite thing about wilderness river trips: waking up off-grid, feeling the cool morning breeze, hearing moving water and birds chattering, and inhaling large gulps of the fresh, untainted air. I am comforted by the fact I slept solidly. My energy levels are replenished for an action-packed day.
This adventure required that we carried our individual sleep system. This Thermarest sleep system (including a sleeping bag, inflatable pillow and sleeping pad) packs small and light (a little under four pounds total). All three pieces of gear, the MSR tent, and my personal items packed inside the duffel with room to spare.
Questar 32 Spring 2020
If you peek inside my tent while I’m sleeping (ummm… creepy), you’ll see only a face — my face that is. I tend to cocoon inside my Mummy bag. Because I am typically cold, it’s my go-to sleeping bag style due to its heat-trapping design.
Sometimes mummy-style bags can make sleepers feel confined. But the Questar line is designed with a roomier fit that allows campers to sleep comfortably in many positions without sacrificing thermal efficiency. Inside the bottom of the bag is a built-in pocket designed as a foot warmer for cold toes. The bag also has zoned insulation and oversized draft tubes for added warmth. The Questar 32F kept me warm during a cool fall night.
All bags feature 650-fill Nikwax Hydrophobic Down that absorbs 90 percent less water and dries three times faster. If you tend to roll off your sleeping pad, the SynergyLink Connectors help secure the sleeping bag to the pad. It weighs in at 2 pounds, 3 ounces.Buy Thermarest Questar HD (2019) On Sale
Air Head Pillow
A pillow is an integral part of sleep. When packing light, many pillows can take up an undignified amount of space. The Air Head pillow packs tiny and you can take it anywhere (planes, road trips, camping, etc). You open the valve and blow it up to the desired firmness. It was relatively comfortable. I liked the removable, washable brushed polyester cover.
Buy Thermarest Air Head Pillow On Sale
NeoAir Topo Spring 2020
If a sleeping pad packs small (approximately the size of a Nalgene) and weighs under two pounds, I’ll bring it on most travel where having a bed is not a guarantee. It will ensure I rest comfortably no matter where I am. I’ve never used a pad as thick (3 inches) and roomy as the NeoAir Topo that still qualifies as ultra-light (1 lb., 6 ozs).
The Topo features Thermarest‘s new TwinLock Valve to make inflation and deflation a breeze. After hundreds of prototypes, more than 500 nights in the field, and countless tests in the lab they engnineerd the TwinLock to utilize two one-way valves: a one-way inflation valve and a one-way deflation valve, which deflates five times faster than the classic valve.
The Topo is built using Thermarest’s Wavecore construction, a single layer of horizontal wave baffles that create a stable sleep surface while minimizing heat loss.Buy Thermarest (201) NeoAir Xlite
Patagonia Women’s R1 Fleece Full-Zip Hoody
When I realized we expected colder temperatures for the river trip the night before heading to Idaho, I panicked. I experienced summer time temperatures in my town and I (unwisely) didn’t anticipate it’d be cold anywhere else in the U.S.
On the ARTA packing list they recommended to bring a non-cotton (i.e. less absorbent and faster-drying) mid-layer for chilly mornings on the raft. Luckily a Patagonia R1 lives in my closet. I’ve historically worn it as an extremely versatile active-layer when the temperature drops on trail runs, climbing and camping trips. The R1 transitioned effortlessly to this rafting trip.
It’s made with light and breathable Polartec Power Grid (a recycled polyester/spandex blend fabric) that provides outstanding stretch, insulation, compressibility and durability. It even has a built-in odor control to keep you welcome among your buds.
I wore it under my life vest and as a mid-layer under my puffy when it got really cold. It’s snug-fitting hood helped me trap heat from my neck and noggin. There are two hand-warmer pockets and a zippered pocket to secure valuables. Even better, it’s Fair Trade Certified sewn.Buy Patagonia Women's R1 Fleece Full-Zip Hoody
Let My People Go Surfing
River life is a simple life. You’ll discover an ample amount of free time outside of navigating rapids, occasional hikes, working to set up camp and prepare meals. A good book, journal, and card games can help pass time.
The updated and revised version of Let My People Go Surfing, written by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, is the tale of a roaming climber and the education of a reluctant businessman. If you’ve got an affinity toward outdoor adventure, funny anecdotes, business, and eco-consciousness, then add this book to your must-read list. It’s essentially three books rolled into one: a touching autobiography, the story of a unique business, and a comprehensive plan for hope.Buy 'Let My People Go Surfing'
Sun Bum Original Sunscreen Lotion
River trips typically mean long days under the sun while making miles to your next camp. For skin not protected by SPF clothing (which is recommended), it’d be a good idea to lather the sunscreen.
I recommend SunBum because it’s water resistant up to 80 minutes and it’s a moisturizing sunscreen with Vitamin E that will protect your skin from harmful UVA/UVB rays while enriching your skin. This sunscreen is hypoallergenic, reef friendly because it’s Oxybenzone and Octinoxate free, Cruelty Free, Vegan, and free of oils, parabens, and gluten. And it smells like summer!Buy Sum Bum Original (3 oz)
For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!