Rig to Flip, Dress to Swim: Prepping for a multi-day backcountry rafting trip

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Adventure tales spun around the campfire always revolve around grit. These stories of adversity—like four days spent paddling in gale-force winds, getting to the first camp during a downpour, and then realizing the tent has been forgotten—are always the most vivid. Conditions can be tough on the river, but planning makes the experience easier.

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It’s worth spending hours researching locations, planning the route, and creating gear lists. Even after reaching a destination, any experienced boater knows that it’s not as simple as just throwing a couple of dry bags on the front of the boat and launching off into those yet-to-be experienced sections of river ahead. Proper planning and preparation are as important as paddling skills. Here are some safety and planning tips to keep in mind when planning that next 100-mile packraft traverse of the Brook’s Range.

Checklists aren’t just for the forgetful.

Rig to flip and dress to swim. While a splash top and wetsuit might be suitable for the commercial day trip, considering the water temp and the consequences of an unscheduled swim are essential. For instance, in Alaska, the water can be as cold 33° F, which many paddlers in the lower 48 aren’t accustomed to. A drysuit might be required even if it’s just flat water. When choosing clothing, think about what you would want to wear if you were going to be submerged in the water for 30 minutes to an hour. Think wicking base layers and no cotton—you’re not dressing to be comfortable while sitting on a raft; you’re dressing to survive if things don’t go as planned.

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Bad weather is not the same as a bad trip. Preparing for wet weather isn’t the only piece of the planning puzzle. It’s easy to pack a great tent that’ll keep you dry during a week of rain, but consider other factors, too—the mosquito and bug situation, for example. This will make those campfire stories easier to admit to and laugh about with your friends. For bugs, light-colored, woven-fabric clothing sprayed with repellent such as Permethrin works wonders.

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Checklists aren’t just for the forgetful. It is totally acceptable to forget a few of the small things like extra batteries or that spare pair of socks. But some things, like a drybag on a five-day whitewater river trip, are crucial. To avoid oversights, create personalized checklists of what you use and need. Making notes during a trip about what you wish you had brought or what you didn’t use make planning for the next trip easier and reinforces the learning process.

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Get creative with new resources. The internet is full of everything from trip reports to satellite imagery, and even GPS smartphone apps are becoming increasingly reliable. On a trip into a new area it could be necessary to look at satellite imagery to determine if there are any suitable camp spots. In the 21st century, it seems that everyone is blogging about their adventure, and someone else’s adventure may spark your own creativity when planning a trip. Just don’t forget the drybag if you’re bringing the phone along.

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