Categorized | How-to

River Float Camping

Author: Craig Fields
Submitted By: HookUp

The Article:  Since some threads have popped up on camping, I was reminded of an article a great friend wrote on River Camping.  He went by the handle GrubThrower.

This is one of those articles you take cafeteria style.  I’ve used many of Grubbies tips and tricks from the articles and some I choose to leave behind.

I will let the reader choose what is important to them.

River Floatcamping (Guest Article)
Multi-day floatcamping and the gear that makes it work
by Craig Fields

As river smallie anglers, the day trip is certainly our bread and butter: if not home in time for dinner, at least home in time to sleep in our own beds.
But almost everyone who learns to read a current seam with no visual clue other than the water’s surface will eventually end up experiencing the wonders of camping along the river to fish for a minimum of two straight days.
Of course, one can arrange things so as to float or shuttle into a commercial riverside campground, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this “civilized” method of stringing fishing days together.
But as Dirty Ed once remarked to me, there is nothing quite like that third day of right-in-the-river island camping to truly put aside the trappings of jobs and responsibilities and completely immerse one’s self into the river environment.
Right photo: Day Four and all is well (Buffalo National River, AR)
I did my first unsupervised overnight river camping float at the tender age of twelve. In today’s world, my mother’s granting of permission for such a foolhardy stunt might well be considered a criminal offense. But along the smallie-laden creeks of the Missouri Ozarks at the time, it was simply a rite of passage, like hauling hay in summer or owning your first .22 squirrel rifle.
Over the years, my enthusiasm for multi-day river floating has never waned, but my gear has changed considerably. We didn’t even have a tent on that first float… just a tarp (and a pathetic canvas tarp, at that) we could rig dining fly-style to help keep rain off of our dirt-cheap sleeping bags if required. We built downed-wood fires and cooked out of Boy Scout mess kits. Our fishing gear was always the ubiquitous Zebco 33 spincast combo, filled with horrible factory 10-lb test mono. Our footwear was old tennis shoes, and we waded barefoot most of the time. Suntan lotion and bug repellent were for sissies who spent their Saturdays indoors, no doubt totally incapable of catching crawdads barehanded.
Well, I’m older now, with a lot more river miles under my belt, even though I still lack the common sense God gave a goose. But I’ve come to appreciate only those adversities I can’t control and which lend spice to the experience. I don’t truly mind waiting out gale-force winds and heavy rains which knock out local power for two days (an August 2000 trip) or going five days without ice in 97 degree heat (July 2001). I simply expect of myself that the days of wet sleeping bags, rocks digging into kidneys, and leaky tents are BEHIND me. If I ever again allow a sleeping bag to get wet within my lifetime, I fully expect my trip partner to whack me upside the head with a canoe paddle to punish such stupidity.
It all boils down to having the right gear, using it in the right way, and learning from past experience what methods work for YOU. There are many approaches to river camping and there is an actual glut of usable gear on the market. What works for one person might not work for another– no person is an “expert” at this little slice of outdoor life, except in how that expertise allows him or her to fully enjoy their own personal trip.
That said, there ARE a number of things that just about anyone with 40 or more river nights in their past will agree on. This article takes some of those “universals” and combines them with my specific approach developed the hard way– through patiently learning from others and personal (painful) experience on the water. From that, an attempt is made to demonstrate at least one “workable” way of doing things that others might pick and choose from. Certainly, veteran river runners will disagree with a lot of what is said; however, the point is to provide a skeleton that individuals can flesh out for themselves.
You can river camp out of anything you can fish from, even something as small as a one-person cataraft. Your choice in gear, however, is limited by the weight and volume (especially volume!) capacity of your boat. Since simple overnighters can be done even by a float tuber with a small backpack, all considerations herein are assumed to be for a trip lasting at least three consecutive days on the water for at least two people. In that instance, a canoe with a minimum of 16 feet in length and constructed of poly or royalex per two people is ideal. Kayakers do better with more anglers in the party; four boats can divide up the “community” gear into the limited storage space much more efficiently than can be done with only two boats.
Regardless of craft, all gear should be secured within the boat so that in the event of a capsize, the gear will STAY with the boat! There is a school of thought that it is better to waterproof everything and let the chips fall where they may when capsizing (don’t tie in). The reasons are because a person could be pinned under the boat and entangled in gear that doesn’t float away, plus the fact that a loaded boat is far, far more difficult to restore to upright status while in the water than an empty one. This tracks well with the standard whitewater rescue axiom of “people first, boats second, gear last.” In my opinion, this is outweighed on most river FISHING jaunts by the facts that loose gear can injure or even knock a person unconscious, (given that unlike whitewater yak freaks few smallie anglers ever wear helmets), that recovery of loose gear is iffy at best, and that tying in tends to lead to a more efficient and safe loading of the gear in the boat each morning. So
nowadays, I always tie in… the ONLY things not affixed to the boat are people, paddles, vests, and fishing rods.
Don’t forget cooler LIDS when deciding how to lash the cooler in the boat! A common mistake, especially among novice “canoe renters,” is to bungie the cooler to the thwarts using only the handles of the cooler as anchor points. When the canoe is dumped, the cooler dutifully stays with the boat but all of its contents immediately wash downstream. My solution is to also run a tight bungee lengthwise across the top of the cooler, so that with a small effort, the lid can be raised no more than halfway in order to grab a beverage… which allows access but keeps the whole thing from dumping if you flip the boat. Note: this approach to cooler tie-in is required by NPS regulation when floating the litter-free Buffalo National River, and it really helps keep the river free of aluminum cans.
Everybody tends to love their tent until the night it fails. Some even longer than that. Once I spent a night in a buddy’s tent, one we had river camped in plenty of times before. Only this night there came such a rain as would have alerted Noah to start herding animals. When water started dripping on my FACE, I said something like, “what, haven’t the seams of this tent been sealed?” Whereupon my buddy said, “Oh, this tent leaks some, but it’s a great tent.”
No it is not! If a tent leaks rainwater onto sleeping campers, it is BY DEFINITION unsuitable for river camping. Other than the psychological bonus of providing a temporary “home,” the sole purpose of a tent is to shelter you and your belongings from the elements, period. Any tent that can’t do this is better suited for the kids’ playroom downstairs– it has no business being on the river.
Left photo: An outside bend with an extensive gravel bar… perfect camping! (Buffalo National River, AR)
To that end, certain standards apply. First and foremost, any tent you buy should have the seams FACTORY TAPED. Sealing the seams yourself with various liquid applications is a joke. Just the time you spend doing it, plus the cost of acquiring the chemical, doesn’t really add up to any savings over factory taping. Moreover, no liquid application resists for very long contact with the enemy: the multiple stresses involved in compressing the tent fabric in order to set it up and store it after take-down. All aftermarket applications must be re-applied at intervals, usually every season at least. Also, be aware that production of a tent without factory taped seams is often an indicator of more subtle “shortcuts” in manufacture that might end up causing misery. If they did it cheaply where it is instantly visible, do you think they did it less than cheaply where you aren’t going to see it?
The best river camping tents are free-standing, because it is not always possible to stake them down completely on the island you might be forced to select. A dome or modified A-frame is perfect. I suggest using four-man tents for two people, six-man tents for three people, etc. This gives room for gear, game playing, clothes storage, and the all-important room to turn over in your sleep without elbowing another person. The tent fly should extend below the level of all windows, preferably all the way to a few inches above the ground on the sides not containing doors or windows. Fly seams that cross the top of the tent, if not all of them, need to be factory taped. The fly must not contact the tent material at all, and its design should provide for at least 3 inches of space between it and the tent fabric for ventilation.
Tent poles should be constructed of AIRCRAFT ALUMINUM. Trust me on this. So you haven’t broken a fiberglass pole yet? It’s just a matter of time, and while Out There you won’t find a handy Wal-Mart to buy a replacement. I’ve broken at least a half-dozen fiberglass poles over the years… I have never harmed an aluminum one, and I have a reputation for being VERY tough on gear.
Tarp for Tent
Here we get to a very controversial subject. The greatest controversy is, does the tarp go inside the tent or underneath it? Please keep in mind that over 90% of my tent-nights have been spent with the tarp underneath the tent, to protect the floor. That said, I’ll never do it that way again. The tarp goes INSIDE the tent. Why? If the tarp is under the tent, water will run off of the fly and/or tent, collect on top of the tarp, and eventually contact the floor seams– even if the tent has what is known as a “tub” floor. On the other hand, if you place a tarp larger than the available floor space inside the tent, any water at ground level will be safely underneath the waterproof tarp, and away from your gear, clothes, and sleeping bag. Although I have learned other lessons in this regard, none was so pointed as that same trip I mentioned above with the leaky tent. I had insisted on an inside tarp, bigger than the floor. Even after the overhead leaks had been stopped, the seams
at the bottom drew water like a sponge. In the morning, more than a GALLON of water was inside the tent… but underneath us and harmless, thanks to the inside tarp. If you insist on an outside tarp to protect your precious tent floor, a simple solution is to use TWO tarps instead of one…. with one of them inside the tent.
By the way, where are you going to pitch that tent and its tarp? Some of the best-looking tent sites are potential disasters. Sometimes you are forced to accept marginal spots anyway. Let’s start with the obvious.
Level is better than inclined, everyone knows that instinctively. However, if you MUST pitch on an incline, always, always position the tent and sleeping bags so that your head is at the highest point. You simply won’t sleep well unless you do.
Surprisingly, a beautiful sandy beach is often the LEAST desirable spot on your choice river island. First, a campsite on sand inevitably gets sand in your gear. Just a hassle at home after an overnighter, this can become a real pain after several nights while on the river– and is certain to shorten the life of all of your gear due to abrasion. And if it gets wet, sand does NOT drain well: until the sun dries it late the next day– if it does at all– sand can be the wettest ground on an island. Plus, those nice sandy beaches are usually very close to water… if you have ever had to break camp at four a.m. with the river lapping at your tent door after a fast nighttime rise, you know how nasty (and dangerous!) this can be.
The absolute best tent site on a river is as follows: a level, GRAVEL beach of consistently-sized gravel, no larger than golfballs at most, extending dozens of yards away from the river and several feet higher in elevation without requiring a climb, on a bend to provide both cross-ventilation and decent evening fishing, and with access to the river unencumbered by mud or vegetation. This may sound like a pipedream, but on the Buffalo National River in Arkansas, it can be found literally every HALF-MILE for over 60 miles.
Right photo: An excellent tent (Eureka Backcountry 4) pitched on the second-best substrate… grass. (Allegheny River, PA)
So the best tent substrate is gravel. Second place goes to GRASS, as long as it is not tall grass, or choked by noxious weeds, and doesn’t lie in the hollow of a bowl that will channel rainwater– hard to find, as this is most typically referred to as a “lawn,” which isn’t common on river islands. Third place goes to beneath an open evergreen copse with a pine needle bottom (almost unheard of on Mid-Atlantic rivers). Fourth to hardpacked earth (but it should be VERY hard-packed). Fifth place goes to solid flat bedrock, although you might have to use boulders in lieu of staking, and LAST place goes to sand. But quite often you gotta accept sand, given the scarcity of the more desirable substrates. Rule of thumb: look for “open” gravel and jump on it if you find it.
Sleeping Bags
Most people buy bags that are far too warm for seasonal river camping. If the bag is rated down to 15 degrees or lower, you are going to suffer in the truest sense of the word. A bag rated at +25 degrees should be considered the warmest for our purpose. Any bag rated at 0 degrees becomes an oven on a hot summer night.
Since most river floaters don’t have to worry about space as much as backpackers do, the selection of sleeping bag MATERIAL is of less importance. Bear in mind that a nylon lining can get quite sweaty, while a soft flannel lining is heavy and very bulky. If using nylon, consider bringing along a cotton sheet or sleeping bag liner to ward off the stickiness. I have found a very good compromise in Coleman’s Exponent line of bags, in that the lining has the light bulk and weight of nylon with almost as much softness and absorbency as cotton.
Regardless, all sleeping bags should be stuffed, NOT rolled, for transport. There is no sleeping bag on the market that will roll into a more compact size than it can be stuffed into. And while floaters can get away with quite a bit of bulk, a compact stuffed sleeping bag fits much nicer in the boat… and you never have UNLIMITED space for gear. Plus, disregard that cheap nylon stuff sack– or even that not-so-cheap compression sack– that came with your bag. If there is one rule that should be unalterable on any river camping trip, it is this:
Every sleeping bag in the party shall always be stuffed into its own bomb-proof DRY BAG while on the water! Mine is a Mad Dog brand that cost less than twenty bucks, and it holds a small pillow as well. I’ve spent many nights on the water with a wet sleeping bag, and I am confident it will NEVER happen again. Please, stuff your sleeping bag into a dry bag every morning and close it tightly!
Sleeping Pads
I used to consider them unnecessary bulk. Now, I don’t trip without a good one. Buying anything less than a good self-inflating pad is a waste of money… sorta like buying Zebco 202′s just because they are cheaper. One good self-inflating pad might well last a lifetime, and will certainly last for years. Therm-A-Rest is the brand of art; I get just as good service at a much better price using one built by Campmoor.
One thing I have noticed is improper storage of sleeping pads when breaking camp. With the valve OPEN, roll the pad as tightly as possible, even using your knees to squeeze out as much air as possible. Start your roll on the end of the pad that DOESN’T contain the valve. When you reach the valve and have thus rolled up the entire pad and squeezed out all of its air, CLOSE the valve. Only then should you attempt to secure the bundle with straps. If you don’t do it this way, you cannot prevent air from rushing back into the pad… thus creating far more bulk than you should.
Light is very important when you are on an island in the middle of a river on a moonless night. There are four types of light that need to be considered:
1. Personal “movement” light used to get back and forth to the latrine, tie on Jitterbugs for night fishing, etc. I used a Mini-Mag light for many years and loved it. When I switched to a hands-free, quality headlamp built expressly for this purpose, however, I was in heaven. Petzl, Browning, and many other companies make fine ones. Get one that you feel comfortable wearing. To me, that means a self-contained battery compartment rather than a wire down to my belt that I am sure to snag while casting. Note that some headlamps nowadays are super-tiny in weight and bulk, using LED technology rather than regular bulbs. In addition to their light weight, these benefit from astounding battery life… but compared to bulb headlamps, they put out a puny amount of light. Whatever you choose, headlamps are godsends for river campers. I would rather trip without a sleeping bag than leave my headlamp at home; in fact, I always carry two.

The bright lantern placed well beyond the campsite is used to draw bugs AWAY from the gravel bar people will use. (Allegheny River, PA)
2. Area light for the campsite. It’s not really all that necessary, but it is nice to have. After all, you don’t have to light your lantern if you don’t feel like it. Unless you are tripping for more than one week, a liquid fuel lantern should be avoided. It’s too much of a hassle, doesn’t save weight or bulk really, and is prone to three problems. First, generators can fail, in which case you had better have a spare and knowledge of how to install it, or you are out of luck. Pump rings degenerate over time, even if kept well-oiled. And the lantern must be pumped, meaning you can’t just light it and leave it alone all night. A better option is a propane lantern using cylinders. Quick and easy, if somewhat costly to operate. A cylinder per night is usually way more than enough. On a recent four-night trip, we went through three cylinders… but we also used the same cylinders for cooking on propane burners, so that can’t be considered unreasonable. A final option is the D-cell
battery lantern. Its drawbacks are slightly lower light output, higher running cost, and the weight of extra batteries. But here’s a little trick I have learned that works out great: Take a standard 2-mantle propane lantern and suspend it from a tree on the edge of your campsite. Put a fluorescent battery lantern near the center of your campsite. The very bright propane lantern will still cast a fair amount of light into your working area, and the battery lantern will illuminate things right where you are. The reason for doing this? All of the moths, mayflies, and other night insects will gravitate towards the BRIGHTER propane lantern, leaving you happily lit near your soft fluorescent and basically free of bug flutterings.
3. Tent lights. You may want to play cards or chess while waiting out a thunderstorm. More commonly, one person wants to read before retiring. Just bring the fluorescent inside for tent-wide activities requiring light. But, each person should have a very small personal light for reading or otherwise giving light while not disturbing the other person’s sleep. Mine is a “flip light” having two small fluorescent tubes; it runs on two AA’s and is available at Wal-Mart for five or six bucks. I suppose the clip lights sold for reading in bed would work as well.
4. Emergency and back-up light. Here is the only place where I put my faith in the good old flashlight. It can be waved or clicked on and off for signaling. You can get a rubber-armored one and just toss it in the bottom of the same dry bag that holds the first aid kit, bug dope, extra rope and cord, and all those other little incidentals. Simply check the batteries before each trip and carry spares. While quality of construction is important, a heavy 4-cell aluminum Mag Light is overkill here. Just carry a rubber flashlight.
The choice of food is largely a matter of agreed-upon party preference. I know guys who do overnighters on rivers and limit themselves to cold ravioli from the can as a camp meal… no cooking, no dishes, no down time, no fuss. I know others who pack in twenty pounds worth of cast iron Dutch oven destruction, and serve up all manner of things, including baked chocolate cake for desert. Suit yourself but consider your available gear load when planning.
For simple overnighters (and for first night’s meal on longer trips) I like to take along 7 pounds of Kingsford Matchlight charcoal, which I keep in a dedicated drybag. In camp, a shallow trench is dug– hopefully in sand or gravel– and the charcoal poured in. A cooking grate is placed over it, and a short time later folks dig into a grilled porterhouse and potato bombs (‘tates diced and placed in a double-wrap of foil with lots of butter, tossed right in the coals, dragged out, outer foil layer discarded, served in the “boat” of inner foil wrap). The next morning, sand is carefully replaced over the shallow pit. The clean white ashes quickly cycle through the island’s ecology, and the site can be left in fine shape, with no “fire ring” someone is sure to attempt to burn trash in next week.
Left photo: Porterhouse steaks on a GOOD grill, dining fly, and Crazy Creek chair… let’s eat before the evening bite starts! (Buffalo National River, AR)
After that one meal, it’s usually sandwiches (especially PB&J) on long trips, plus freeze-dried backpacking fare for dinner, with gorp and some keepable fruit for snacks. We won’t go too deeply into campsite cooking in this article, but here are some considerations on cooking GEAR:
Grills and Grates
Don’t skimp here unless you have lots of portages ahead of you, which you shouldn’t on a river trip. Buy something HEAVY and BIG. To transport it, you can place it in the bottom center of the boat and actually use it to slightly elevate other gear above the inevitable boat-bottom water. Or it can become the flat “backbone” of a very large drybag that also contains things such as tents and sleeping pads. Just don’t get steak drippings on your fancy camping gear. Regardless, you should stay away from cheap folding stainless steel “camp grills.” Sooner or later, one of those things is going to dump your beautiful food onto the ground or into the fire. Buy something with a diamond or punched-holes configuration to keep food from falling between the grill tines.
If people in your party want breakfast at all, you do NOT want to be messing around with a fire of any kind in the morning. The loss of fishing time alone is a crime. Get a danged propane stove. I say propane because if you are carrying propane lanterns, why carry two fuel types? Of course, kayakers might want to go completely with backpacking-style tiny stoves and lanterns using liquid fuel, but canoeists and johnboaters don’t have that concern. The big grill above makes a perfect cooking stand for morning coffee and oatmeal or whatever. I prefer two single-burners using the propane cylinders themselves as uprights rather than a suitcase-style double-burner model. You gotta have cylinders anyway, and the simple burners store lighter and easier than the suitcase of an actual “stove” which also has more parts to fail. Whichever way you go, though, it is advisable that your party have along at least two burners capable of simultaneous operation. In addition to allowing you to saute veggies while water is boiling for the freeze-dried entree on Night Three, two burners allow you to perk fresh coffee while cooking omelets.
Pots, Pans, and Mess Kits
If you are a fan of Dutch oven campfire cooking, you either know what you are doing or are going to get that information elsewhere. I’ve nothing against such cooking, other than weight, bulk, and time. Most folks won’t be doing that anyway, so these considerations are made with the knowledge that people are going to have a few simple meals. Which translates to: HIGH-QUALITY mess kits but no extra pots or pans! This is a tough one. Your typical “Boy Scout” mess kit couldn’t possibly suffice for a fresh walleye dinner for two. What is actually a plate is called a “frying pan” and might or might not have a handle. There are really only two options: each person having a GOOD mess kit, or one person having a PHENOMENAL one. The same rule about tents applies here: get a four-person kit for 2-3 people. You can discard the extra cups; what you are interested in is pot and pan capacities. And you definitely want copper bottoms. That alone takes you into “real” cooking gear and away fr  om the el cheapo ranks.
Think about your meals. Is what should have been my plate being used for hash browns as my scrambled eggs get cold? If we only have one high-walled pot, how are we going to have a soup course along with our Mandarin chicken? Basically, each person needs a pint pot, a quart pot, a fry pan, a cup, and a plate. Mess kit manufacturers aren’t known for providing this in proper packages… it’s sorta like the ten hot dogs vs. twelve buns dilemma.
A couple of things can be done. First, the plates. On an overnighter, consider bringing along Chinet platters: a gigantic porterhouse, a big pile of ‘tates, and a salad needs it anyway. It’s trash to pack out, but you’re off of the river long before it develops a garbage smell. On longer trips, take along a plastic plate and only use the mess kit pan/plate as a pan. Second, and especially on longer trips, compare the mess kits of the individuals… you can mix and match cooking vessels as eating vessels and also save on dirty dishes, as in the standard backpacking practice of dumping half the beef stew and half the green beans into a frying pan/plate, then having one person eat from the two pots that cooked the meal, thus having three total pans to wash.
If your party includes coffee freaks, the way to go is with the sturdy steel or aluminum percolator that’s been in use for many decades. If you don’t mind instant, or if you like hot chocolate (I love hot chocolate on the river and almost never drink it elsewhere) or tea or hot cider or such, consider buying and devoting a copper-bottom teakettle just for camping. Nothing boils water faster, and it lets you know when it’s ready. Heck, a meal for two of instant oatmeal and coffee and/or hot chocolate requires about three minutes on a single-burner propane stove and less than a quart of water.
Utensils and Such
If bringing a grate, tongs are the all-important gotta-have of utensils. From turning steaks to portioning veggies, they are the best. Always use GOOD, short-handled tongs. I’ve had cheap tongs totally disintegrate on me while Out There, and long-handled ones prove to be a total pain to pack and transport. But one good pair of short-handled metal (pliers style) has never failed me, and has been all I ever needed. Unless eggs or pancakes are on the menu, in which case a plastic spatula is also required. Everyone of course needs fork spoon and knife… I suggest standard tableware, or at the very least, super-dense plastic cutlery specifically designed for camping. Last thing you want is dimestore picnic plastic forks busting at the handle on a long trip… for multi-person simple overnighters, though, they can be fine… just bring extras.
Right photo: Breakfast on the Allegheny takes only a few minutes and uses less than a quart of water.
Other than that, you can get as fancy or as simple as you wish. Perhaps the best overall advice would be thus: bring everything you need for the meals you will prepare, and nothing else. If no one wants breakfast, preferring to hit the water for the morning bite, you can leave that tea kettle home and boil water at night in that 1-qt pot everyone has (remember?).
Absolutely no electronics whatsoever have any place at all on a typical river smallmouth camping run. A single exception can be made: a cell phone, turned off and stored at the very bottom of the dry bag holding emergency gear, to also be used only in case of emergency. Feel you need a boombox on the river? I would pray you would lose it overboard, except that I don’t want to see our rivers littered in such a disgusting manner. A GPS receiver? The river only flows ONE way, and if you can’t recognize last year’s hog hole by the habitat configuration, you ain’t gonna be able to find it via satellite. A Sidefinder? I need those three inches alongside the boat to get down that next chute buddy, and if you can’t figger out where to cast, might I suggest you trade that fancy thang in on a good book about reading water? Oh, if you are a total news junkie, I’ll not gripe about a Walkman in camp… just bring headphones, don’t tell me what the President did today, and above all… DO
NOT TELL ME IF “THEY” ARE FORECASTING RAIN TONIGHT! My sleeping bag ain’t gonna get wet regardless, I checked the forecast before leaving on the trip and smelled the air before setting up camp, and I don’t want to think about what 60% chance of showers means at the moment.
No male should EVER bring cotton underwear on a river floatcamping trip. There’s a reason why God made mesh-lined nylon “river shorts,” which are called that for the same reason: those shorts are meant to be worn in the river. They dry fast, and in so doing, actually protect you from fungus-monsters far better than zero-ventilation cotton Fruit of the Looms ever could. Did I mention nylon river shorts dry fast? Cotton underwear NEVER dries out on a river trip once it gets wet. Unless you raise a flag of surrender on the boat the next day, I suppose. Sandals, three pair of river shorts, three tank tops, two pair of hunting socks, two sets of heavy (warm) sweats or fleecewear, one pair of boots for island bushwhacking. Add raingear and you now have a wardrobe suitable for a week on the river at least, if not a year. Maybe one flannel or fleece long sleeve shirt, and maybe a windbreaker if your raingear is too warm. Keep it all in a drybag, of course. That’s IT. No underwear, no
cut-off jeans, no cotton six-pocket shorts that require underwear, and certainly no tube socks to be worn with sneakers while wading. That stuff ain’t gonna dry out till OCTOBER unless you get it to a washer/dryer. By the way, you are almost never able to effectively hang wet clothes on a line overnight in camp… dew and river condensation makes them wetter in the morning than they were before. The standard uniform during the day on a long river float in summer is: sandals, river shorts, tank top, cap. Rinse, dry, and repeat as necessary. (Got a pair of river shorts wet while wading last night? Lay ‘em over the cooler today… they’ll dry quick, and the evaporation actually will help the cooler keep ice as well.) Words to live by: A pair of shorts that doesn’t feature a mesh lining doesn’t go on multi-day river trips.
All the Little Stuff
Take a look at any camping or river running book and the “little stuff” list will vary considerably. Since it’s little stuff, take what makes you feel comfortable or what you think might become useful. Just this month, an impossible-to-complete shuttle became just another run, solely because I always carry 50 foot of line in my dry bag… which made up for the boo-boo of leaving the tie-down ropes in the put-in vehicle.
For what it’s worth, here is what is currently ALWAYS in my main dry bag, day trip or week-long adventure. Some things have been mentioned above, most have not. This is just the little stuff list.
Extensive first aid kit, extra batteries of all sizes carried, Ben’s 100 DEET in its own bag with applicator cloth, bailing sponge that is pulled out at trip start, extra bungies, good cord per above, extra pair of eyeglasses, backup flashlight, extra headlamp, toiletry kit to include bio-soap, safety pins, raingear, extra film, duct tape AND electrical tape, small “gas mask” dry bags, extra ziplocks and trash bags, ink pen, lantern hanging bracket, extra pair of bootlaces (even if I don’t bring boots), a small pulley (amazingly helpful in a number of instances), disposable hunting handwarmers even in the middle of summer because hypothermia kills, lockback knife, several Bic lighters, a few small strips of inner tube for emergency fire starting, toilet paper, plenty of dry tobacco, dry and warm clothes per above.
That might sound like a lot, but clothing is 50% of the bulk already. This one bag also goes with me on ALL day trips. Boat partners usually don’t even notice it until I pull out headlamps when it gets dark before we hit the ramp, or when someone says “wish I had some duct tape” and I reply “coming up.” Or maybe it sounds like too little — and of course, you’ll have a lot of little things that I won’t bother with. That’s what makes it personal, and maybe one day you’ll have that ONE little thing I need and don’t have, which will thereafter be added to my “always” bag.
Fishing Gear
No way am I going there; it’s too personal. You simply MUST bring what is required for you to fish with confidence and in comfort… that’s the whole point of the trip. For me, that means a huge tackle bag holding umpty-dozen Plano boxes, about a million bags of soft plastics (most of them very expensive), and FOUR spinning outfits rigged for different applications. It’s up to you, and what your boat partner will put up with.
Final Gear Thoughts
In no way is this at all comprehensive. For instance, no mention has been made of things like sunscreen (too oily for me), folding shovels (PLEASE bring one to bury solid human waste, do you want to see what the guy before you did?), and salt (anyone who would cook a meal without salt available should probably be reported to the authorities). No mention of licenses and PFD’s, since you won’t change your ways on such things no matter what I say. No discourse on the proper rigging of a dining fly (if you brought one and need it, you’ll get it rigged; if not, the point is moot). Didn’t even talk about camp chairs (I use a Crazy Creek frameless that doubles as a canoe seat pad).
So, to finish, just a reminder that there is NO KNOWN PERFECT METHOD for river floatcamping. Again, there are no experts. There are just people who do it, and who share what has worked for them and what has not. That’s all this missive purports to be.

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