The packing list was created from decades of Grand Canyon rafting experience to cover varying weather conditions, please follow it (even a fleece in summer!). It is better to have and not need, than need and not have. For those of you flying to the area, we suggest carrying absolute river necessities in a carry-on bag. It is tough to get things together if your luggage is lost by the airline.
It is important to have a quality rain jacket with a hood and rain pants. Because the river is very cold year-round, you’ll use rain gear as a splash guard from the rapids. Even on the hottest days, guests often wear rain gear in the morning, while going through rapids, and in the shade of the canyon walls. Make sure your rain gear is waterproof, not just water-resistant. Rain gear with the ability to cinch at the neck and wrists works well. A poncho is not effective. Do NOT go on your river trip without rain gear!
Another equally important item is quality footwear. Investing in a good pair of river sandals/shoes is crucial to navigating the various slippery surfaces you’ll encounter. “Aqua socks” are not a good option. Getting on and off the rafts can be surprisingly challenging as the rafts are often moving and the side tubes can be extremely slippery. To help maneuver on these surfaces your river shoes should have grippy tread and attach securely to your foot with laces/straps. For optimal comfort make sure your shoes are broken in before the trip as you’ll be spending a majority of each day in these shoes. River sandals tend to be the most popular choice as they have all of these features and are great for the numerous side hikes on unmaintained backcountry trails which may be through water. Amphibious shoes are another good choice as they provide toe protection in addition to traction in both wet and dry conditions. We recommend Chaco, Keen, Bedrock, or Merrell for excellent river sandals/shoes.
Ideally, you should bring 1 pair of river sandals/shoes, 1 pair of hiking or tennis/athletic shoes, 1 pair of flip-flops to wear in camp, and several pairs of socks. Your hiking shoes don’t need to fit in your duffel, they can be stored in the community shoe bag that will be accessible during the day. These hiking shoes are handy to switch into for longer, dry hikes. Most guests find hiking boots are too excessive, even for longer hikes. Flip-flops or Crocs are nice to bring so you can give your feet a break and switch out of wet, sandy river shoes once you’re at camp for the evening.
Watch out for blisters and sore spots due to rubbing and abrasive sand under the river shoe straps. Socks are a great way to help combat these issues, protect your feet from the sun, and keep them happy. Look for socks that are synthetic or wool instead of cotton. If you tend to run cold, wool socks can also help as they maintain heat when wet, or consider bringing neoprene booties/socks. Having proper footwear goes a long way towards an enjoyable trip!
You will pack your duffel bag in our waterproof bags when you get to the river. Quick-drying clothing is highly recommended. Many of our guides wear long-sleeved shirts every day for sun protection. If it is overcast, it can turn chilly, so pack a fleece jacket to wear under your rain gear, no matter the time of year.
You do not need a change of clothes for every day; many people wear the same outfit for several days. Follow the packing list and remember “less is more!”
Early/Late Season Clothes
If your trip is in the early or late season (April/May or September/October), it is very important to bring additional warm clothing. These months tend to have cooler temperatures, cloudy skies, and the potential for storms. In addition to the items on the packing list, we recommend bringing layers including long underwear, fleece/warm pants, warm hat and gloves, warm socks, and neoprene socks/booties. Layering clothing under waterproof rain gear works well as being splashed by rapids on the river can make it feel much colder. We recommend having an additional set of warm, dry clothes, and maybe a puffy jacket for camp. We strongly suggest you bring these items and be happy if you don’t have to use them!
Pack your pared-down wallet and car keys with you on the raft trip. These items should be stored in a Ziploc bag at the bottom of your duffel. Do not bring expensive jewelry, watches, electronics, or other valuables with you on the river trip.
It is customary, upon receiving a satisfactory experience, to tip the river guides. It is an acknowledgement of a job well done and is greatly appreciated by the crew members. A common tip is 8-10% of the total river trip cost. You may leave cash or a check (bring a blank one to fill out on the river) with the trip leader, who will distribute it evenly among the crew. Please come prepared as you will not be able to tip with a credit/debit card nor apps like Venmo.
There is no WiFi or cell phone reception in the canyon. If you plan on using your phone as a camera, backup your data before you go and make sure you have lots of memory available. Put your phone in airplane/low power mode to save battery while on the trip. If you are using a camera and can bring additional memory and batteries, be sure to do so. ARR provides a community charger that has limited ports and is shared by all guests, so please use it sparingly. Bring your USB or wall plug-in cord to use this charger. You can also bring a portable charger for personal use, but we can’t recharge it with the community charger as it drains power too quickly. Securing a strap to your camera/phone is very helpful. A waterproof case doesn’t do any good if your camera or phone ends up at the bottom of the river. We recommend keeping your camera in a case even while in the provided dry bag (7” x 14” sealed). We have found that the fine Grand Canyon sand is as much of a danger to your camera as the water. Drones are prohibited per National Park Service rules.
Most personal homeowners’ insurance policies will not cover lost or damaged cameras on your river trip. If you bring items of value, it is your responsibility to provide your own insurance coverage. Arizona River Runners is not responsible for damage to or loss of personal items during river trips.
We provide coffee, tea, and hot chocolate at breakfast. Water, electrolyte mix, and a variety of diet and regular soda are always available. If you only drink a certain brand (preferred soda, fruit juices, mixers, tonic, etc.), you may want to bring an additional supply as some choices run out. Since drinking water is not chilled, we recommend that you bring a hard plastic Nalgene-style water bottle so you can chill the water in the river. Insulated water bottles do not allow you to do this. We do not supply alcoholic beverages. If you are starting your trip by flying in from Las Vegas, alcohol will count towards your 25-lb weight limit on the flight. Liquor needs to be purchased in Las Vegas and can be brought on the flight with you. You should wait to purchase beer and wine upon landing in Marble Canyon. For those starting in Marble Canyon, you can bring your alcohol or purchase beer and wine in Marble Canyon. All beer must be in cans, not glass. Wine should be in boxes. Liquor in a glass bottle is acceptable, but plastic is preferred. Wine and liquor will be stowed by guides during the day and available in the evenings. Beer will be kept cool by the river and available during the day. Ice may be available in the evenings for cocktails.
Many people enjoy learning about the canyon before their trip. The waterproof Belknap Grand Canyon River Guide comes highly recommended by past guests. The guidebook describes the history, geology, archaeology, and natural history of the canyon and has a detailed mile-by-mile map of the Colorado River. Our guests like to use the guidebook as a journal to record campsites, hikes, and unique events so they can remember details after the trip. For other book recommendations, check out our blog.
Lodging, Parking, Luggage Storage
Find this info and your hotel booking link on your trip’s lodging web page.
You may bring a small, collapsible fishing rod. You can fish from the shore but not while the raft is underway. You would be fishing mainly for trout. An Arizona fishing license must be purchased online prior to the trip.
An important aspect of staying healthy while on-river is hydration. The arid environment requires that you drink more water and eat more salty snacks to maintain proper electrolyte balance. Being a desert environment, mosquitoes and flying insects are not a big problem. Snakes and scorpions are rarely seen. If you do happen to spot any, give them space and notify a guide. You can reduce the possibility of an encounter with a critter even further by shaking out your shoes and PFD in the morning before putting them on and waiting until you are heading to bed to roll out your sleeping bag. Please be respectful of your fellow guests. Consider things like red lights on your headlamp, be thoughtful when using spray sunscreen, and know that marijuana is illegal as Grand Canyon National Park follows federal law.
Because we’re like a big, close family throughout the river trip, keeping clean is an important factor in staying healthy. Guides will show you the hand-wash system and remind everyone to use it frequently. Soap is allowed only in the main river channel. Bathing in the cold water isn’t always appealing, so baby wipes are an easy alternative. You can’t use soap in or near the side streams but getting in the warmer, clearer water is refreshing and can help to keep you clean. We do NOT recommend bringing solar showers because they are difficult to store and very difficult to use on the river.
During the day, all urine must go directly into the river – that means squatting/standing near the river’s edge, wading in, or using a female urination device. There will be pit stops during the day, but if you have to go between stops, tell the guide before it’s an emergency so they have time to find a good place to pull over. If you need to poop during the day, the guides have a portable toilet system. Don’t be shy to ask for it if you need it. In camp, the guides will set up a camp toilet for solid waste while urine continues to go into the river. At night, we provide handy pee buckets so you don’t have to find your way to the river in the dark. In the morning, dump your pee bucket directly into the river. The guides will explain sanitation and bathroom procedures in greater detail during on-river orientation. Ladies, if you might be on your period while on your river trip, it’s helpful to plan ahead and pack for the unexpected. If you will be using tampons, bring an outdoor menstrual kit or several Ziploc bags and plenty of baby wipes. Make sure you keep these supplies handy during the day, in your provided day dry bag. When you change during the day, you can wrap the trash in a baby wipe, put that in a Ziploc and dispose of it in the boat trash system or into the hygiene disposal at the camp toilet. Using pads is not the best option as you will get wet a lot on your river trip.
Medical and Dietary Considerations
Due to the remote nature of the trip, it is important to understand that access to professional medical care can take several hours or even overnight. If you or someone in your group has any physical, medical or mental conditions, dietary restrictions or allergies, please list this information on your registration form and notify our office as soon as possible. We strongly encourage you to talk to a doctor and take any necessary precautions. Although we can often make modifications for customers who have food allergies, we want you to understand that we cannot guarantee 100% safeguard from exposure to your allergen. Be sure to bring your required medications, including EpiPens, on the trip.
Multi-day river trips are active, outdoor adventures and can be challenging. Extreme weather, cold river water, and other factors add to the intensity. Please see your acknowledgement of risk form for additional potential risk factors. If you have essential prescription medication, it is advisable to split your medication into two waterproof containers ahead of time so you can keep half and give half to the trip leader for backup storage. Be sure to clearly label all containers. If you have any questions regarding your ability to participate in this trip, please consult your doctor and call our office so that we may help answer your questions.
Physical Preparation For Your River Trip
To get the most enjoyment out of your trip, you’ll want to be in good physical condition. Each day on the river includes several essential physical activities including simply living outside, being exposed to the elements, getting on/off the rafts (roughly a 2-foot step) from uneven, jostling, and/or slippery terrain, and navigating sandy/rocky beaches while carrying your personal bags and provided camping gear to a place where you can set up your own camp area. At camp, we ask everyone (with no medical restrictions) to assist with loading and unloading the boats via a duffel line. Gear bags, camping and cooking equipment, and buckets of water are passed up the line to make camp an enjoyable place to spend each evening. As this is a whitewater trip, you need to be able to be an active participant in your own rescue in case you end up in the river.
Your multi-day river trip also provides you with a unique opportunity to explore places deep within the Grand Canyon. These rugged side hikes are highlights for most guests. Secluded beaches, narrow slot canyons, ancient ruins/pictographs, and hidden waterfalls are just a few treasures that await you. Some of the hikes will require more effort than others, and it is critical for you to assess your own abilities. The guides will give you a brief overview of the hike, but ultimately, you need to determine the level of participation that’s right for you. It often surprises guests that most river trip injuries happen on land. Take your time, watch your step, ask for help if you need it, and don’t go beyond your limits. Most hikes are out and back, so you can tailor the hike to your ability by keeping up with the lead guide to see it all, going at a slower pace and doing only part of the hike, or choosing to remain at the rafts. Keep in mind that the guides will often be in the very front and very back of the group. It is not uncommon for guests to be somewhere in the middle without a guide in sight. If you need assistance or have a question about the trail, it’s often best to wait where you are until someone catches up to you. If you think you’ll opt out of several hikes, we recommend bringing a book, journal, or sketch pad as some hikes can take several hours.
Many people find this trip to be more physically demanding than they expected but also find it to be one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives. Get active – go for a hike, take the stairs, and get ready for a great trip!
One of the benefits of a river trip in Grand Canyon is the rare opportunity to be disconnected. There is no cell service or WiFi. We do carry satellite communication devices, but they are only used for outbound messages in the event of an emergency on the river. These devices remain turned off and are not used for incoming messages/calls. In the unlikely event that we could get a message to our guests, there are almost no options to leave the trip and exit the canyon, even if there is an emergency at home. We think it is important to discuss with your family ahead of time whether you would want to receive news of an emergency or death while on the river, as there will likely be nothing you can do until the end of your trip. Feel free to share our office number with your family so that they can reach us while you’re away.
Our experience through the years has shown that river rafting trips are fun vacations. You should recognize, however, that there is an element of risk in any adventure or activity associated with whitewater rafting and the outdoors. Check with your local agent concerning your insurance needs. The Visitor’s Acknowledgement of Risk form must be understood and signed by each passenger 18 years and older. Minors must have a parent/legal guardian sign for them. Each spouse must sign individually; one cannot sign for the other. It is important to understand our rafting trip policies, a few of which are highlighted in the following section.