For those of you embarking on a Grand Canyon rafting adventure I’ve compiled an Essential Packing List to assist you in preparing for this amazing experience. Note: I went on a 10-day motor trip in late August so conditions could differ if you are going in a different season or on a different type of vessel.


Sarong – a sarong is incredibly multifunctional and takes up very little room. It can serve as protection from the sun, a cooling blanket (especially when soaked in the frigid Colorado), a comfy spot on the sand, a modest way to change in/out of your bathing suit/underwear, a towel, a rucksack, and of course as a fashion accessory! (If you forget one the ones at the AZRA store are really nice.)

Base Layers –You’ll want quick dry everything here. For ladies: either a bikini swimsuit (or non-cotton undies/sports bras). One piece swimsuits are no good as they are too tricky to get out of to go pee. For men: swim trunks or non-cotton underwear.

Shirts – a mixture of cotton and quick-dry. You might think that on the river you will want to dry off quickly but having shirts that retain freezing river water in 100+ degree weather can be a really good thing. Just dunk and let the steam rise off you for the next hour.

Shorts – you’ll want quick-dry here. Don’t pick anything too tight or it will be uncomfortable and make your bum itch. Cotton is not a good idea.

Long stuff – There are lots of really nice long-sleeve lightweight SPF shirts available – check out Columbia’s PFG line. You might like long quick-dry pants as well but a sarong works nicely  to keep the sun off legs on the boat.

Set of Rain Gear (top and bottom) – you might not need this but if it rains this will become absolute essential really fast. It is COLD at night in the canyon and if you are soaking wet you will be really cold. Also you can wear the jacket for rapids as well – if the sun is not blasting being doused in the river can chill you down real quick.

Set of Thermals (top and bottom) – I love Icebreaker brand thermals from NZ. They are super warm and very comfortable. Again, night in the canyon is cold and if it is wet you will be freezing. Again, might not ever use them but they don’t take much room and you will be glad you have them just in case. You might also want a fleece or wool cap for your head and definitely a few pairs of wool socks.

Campwear – could be your multi-purpose sarong or just your PJs but you will want comfy clothes to put on after a day on the river. Something soft and cozy.


(2) Hats – Brimmed hats with some kind of security strap or clip. Ones that have a neck flap are great for protecting the back of your neck from the brutal sun. Bring two in case you lose one!

ShoesKeens or Chacos make great all around river shoes. You can use these for hikes as well but you might be more comfortable in a hiking sneaker. Big hiking boots are not necessary for most people.

(2) Bandanas – essential cool-down item. Keeps the sun off your head, can be soaked in frigid water for instant cooling and again, a great canyon fashion accessory.

(2) Sunglasses with glasses holder such as Chums. Bring two in case you lose the first.

(1) Headwrap – such as a Buff headwrap. This thing is awesome and can be worn a million ways to keep the sun off your face and head.

(1) Pair flip-flops – So good to put these guys on at camp after a day in your wet river shoes

(1) pair Climbing Gloves – the rocks in the canyon are HOT. Climbing gloves were awesome for improving grip and keeping hands free from rock scrapes.


The water, sun, extreme temperatures do a number on your body and your skin so you’ll want to be prepared. Here’s a list of some of the essentials

Sunscreen – for all over, all the time.

Moisturizer – face, hands, feet, body, everywhere. You will be DRIED out.

Leave-in Conditioner – You are only allowed biodegradable soaps and shampoos on the river and no conditioner can quickly do a number on your hair. Bring a leave-in conditioning spray and use it everyday. Worked wonders.

Biodegradable soap and shampoo – such as Dr. Bronners, Tom’s of Maine or Sea to Summit. I recently discovered the Soma brand of salon products which are also biodegradable and smell yummy!

Washcloth and small mesh bag – You can put your soap and stuff in this and attach it you while you are standing in the river. Otherwise it’s very easy to lose them down the river.

Footcare supplies – clippers, emery board, and some kind of strong foot salve. Cracked and dry feet are NO fun.


Waterproof case for DSLR – Pelican sells hardcore waterproof DSLR cases. And although it’s a bit of a pain to have to pack/unpack all the time, the quality of pics we were able to get with the DSLR vs a point/shoot waterproof was immeasurable.

Waterproof camera – for action rapids shots!!

Bag Organizers – your ‘suitcase’ on the river consists of two dry bags. One for camp stuff only (inaccessible on the river) and one for on the boat. Invest in some small bags to organize your stuff INSIDE your dry bag. This makes setting up/changing/finding stuff/keeping stuff clean WAY easier.

Stuffable Daypack – for hikes. There are some great ones from EMS or REI that collapse to practically nothing.

Water Bottles – several Nalgenes will do the trick. I wouldn’t bother with a Camelback, it will be boiling almost instantly. A waterbottle you can soak in the river for a while and cool it down easily.

Locking Carabiners – at least 4. This is how everything stays attached to the boat. You need one for your day bag, but it’s great to extras  for your camera case and water bottles to keep them safe and handy.

Pillowcase – there are no pillows available, but if you bring a pillowcase you can stuff it with clothes and have an instant comfy pillow. Otherwise you’ve got nothing but your lifejacket (which isn’t as bad as it sounds really).

(2) Headlamps – with extra batteries for night-time everything

Whisk Broom – for getting sand off of… everything. If you opt to sleep in a tent this becomes an essential creature comfort.

Laundry clips/ties – for hanging things up at camp

Notebook/pens – for jotting small memories and doodling

Guitar/Music – I regretted not having a ukulele or Travel Guitar for the eves at camp. Would have been great fun with our group. If you are musically inclined and considering this – do it. They will store the instrument in the large boat hold and try to keep it as safe as possible. I wouldn’t bring anything fancy though…

ENJOY your trip of a lifetime on the great Colorado river!

To read about my adventure through the Grand Canyon with Arizona Raft Adventures click here.

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