How To Pack for a 6 Day Wilderness Trip
First our apologies. Half the fun of an adventure is packing (and repacking) the gear. Reading this may deny you the full enjoyment of that exercise. In packing for a trip one’s imagination has a field day with the “what ifs”, the “just in case” and the “worst case” scenarios. It can be its own adventure. So stop reading if you’ve got plenty of time on your hands, a closet full of gear, and the space to lay it all out. Indulge yourself in that rhythm of pack, unpack, repack and pack again and please forgive our presumptuousness of this “how to” handout.
Then again, you may find this info useful as you compare your own “go to, don’t leave home without it, every trip carry, bomber gear kit”. The hope is to distill the gear list down to that essential, minimalist kit that can serve you in all those varied conditions that come to mind.
We selected a 6 day paddle trip on Utah’s Green River as an ideal trip for this exercise. Specifically, an 84-mile trip through Desolation and Gray Canyons which, in spite of the name, offers outstanding scenery, fabulous whitewater and a remote region that requires detailed scrutiny of preparedness.
Boaters on any multi-day trip should be prepared for a wide variety of weather conditions. This is especially true for a float such as the Green River where a single day, particularly in early June, can produce 60° temperature swings. High desert canyons like Desolation Canyon can take a night in the 40’s and bake it to 100° by late afternoon. So you will want to peel layers and adjust.
On a trip such as Utah’s Green you will quickly become accustomed to this roller coaster of climate. Having the proper gear kit makes the transitions smooth and allows you to focus on navigating the river which can be as varied as the weather. We’ve organized the pack contents for this 6 day trip into 2 essential kits: The River/Land Kit and The Camp Kit. You’ll find that some gear is used across both with a mix & match approach based upon conditions.
On a multi-day trip your time on the water will likely include side hike trips. A stop for lunch usually places you within range of terrific scenery that you can reach within a short hike. The items below on the dock are highly recommended for your River/Land Kit as they allow you to transition between River and Land with ease. These items will be worn while paddling or stored in your dry bag accessible to you once you pull off the river. Looking at the clothes on the dock below let’s go in a clockwise direction, starting with the hat at 1 o’clock. I chose the Seattle Sombrero from Outdoor Research. We stock a wide selection of sun hats from Outdoor Research and Tilley. The Seattle Sombrero provides terrific sun protection, sheds rain and still holds its shape after considerable abuse. Beneath the hat is my light weight Smartwool long-sleeve merino wool pullover. You’d be amazed at the comfort merino wool can provide in a range of temperatures – particularly in western/canyon climates.
There are two pair of shorts. I chose a lightweight polyester running short to wear on the river as a pair of boxers. These allow for an impromtu swim, dry out quickly and are worn comfortably beneath my Kuhl Renegade Shorts (also pictured) which have pockets. This combination was ideal for side hikes during lunch stops and within the desert environment they both dried with exceptional speed. The ExOfficio “Give-n-Go” Boxer is another great choice to wear under a pair of shorts. A single pair of “Give-n-Go” Boxers can last you the week as you wash at night and they will be dry in a few hours.
Moving around the assorment in clockwise fashion to the pants you’ll see the Kuhl Renegade pant. The sun can be rather intense during certain sections of a canyon trip. The last thing you want is to endure a painful sunburn so covering the legs for a few hours during the day is smart. The Kuhl Renegade provides UPF 50 sun protection and is constructed of 95% nylon to provide durability and quick dry performance. I liked the pockets in the pants also which allowed these to serve as an essential clothing item within my “Land” gear kit. The Kuhl Renegade also has belt loops so you can cinch pants tighter if needed. Rounding out the top layer is a combination of quick dry shirts. I wore a Smartwool 150 baselayer t-shirt beneath an Exofficio Air-Strip Long Sleeve shirt which is a nylon/polyester blend. Great sun protection and dries fast. Wear the long sleeve during extended sun exposure and the short sleeve Smartwool T when paddling. Access to a rain-shell is always helpdul when exploring in the canyonlands. Thunderstorms can develop without warning to deliver a drenching. The Patagonia TorrentShell provides water-proof/breathable protection and packs small so you can store within easy reach.
And of course footwear. If you could choose only 1 pair of shoes it would be the Astral TR1 Mesh which is ideal for both River & Land. The Astral has a super-sticky “G” outsole that provides great traction on wet rocks & trail. I also tossed in my Chaco Z1 sandals. The Z1 is super simple, sturdy and goes anywhere plus it makes a great camp shoe while the Astrals are drying out.
The “Camp Kit” is associated primarily with equipment needed to establish camp for the nights on the river. This kit includes items such as tent, sleeping bag, stove, lights, water filter system and of course coffee. We enjoyed the benefit of a support raft that carried our dunnage bags. Still, it is important to remember that “less is more” and to pack efficiently. Your sleeping system is key as you want good rest after miles on the water. The “Spoon” shaped Nemo Verve 30 is an excellent choice and pairs well with the Nemo Vector Pad which has an integrated foot pump making inflation of the pad a breeze. When it comes to wake-up I’m thinking coffee. And the go-to choice for camp cooking is the award winning MSR WindBoiler Stove system as provides an all-in-one cooking system. An optional coffee press is sold separately and totally worth the purchase.
Thirsty? Because of the importance for hydration I used a dual system. When on the water I wore a mirco-sized hydration pack from Osprey under my PFD. Filled only with water this allowed for easy accessibility, hands-free hydration. I also clipped a water bottle behind my seat to which I added Nuun tablets to maintain electrolyte balance. On a typical day I would drink about 1 liter per hour. Water always accompanied me on side hikes. You can’t carry enough potable water on a 6 day trip so you will need to filter. The Green River has a high level of silt let the water settle in 5 gallon buckets. Then use a Platypus GravityWorks Filter. Important to have a back up filter and make sure that the filter can be easily back-flushed. The GravityWorks Filter can be back-flushed in minutes.
We chose a variety of drybags and boxes to organize the above gear. After swimming a couple of rapids I can attest to the waterproof quality of the Sea To Summit bags as well as the utility of assorted carabiners and the “S-hooks” from Nite Ize – the later of which work particularly well because of their locking system which allows for easy access when transitioning from River to Land. Various lengths of perlon cord are useful for tying in these bags within reach on your kayak/canoe. I also used 2 small dry bags that I clipped in behind my seat when paddling. I used bags of two different colors which I associated with their contents. Color coding proved surprising helpful have hours of paddling when I made a choice between the red (emergency-aka Patagonia TorrentShell) and sun-yellow (warmth-aka Smartwool LongSleeve).
Having the right gear allows you to slip away on the river and leave your cares behind. The daily rhythm of sunrise breakfast, morning launch, lunch-time hikes, afternoon paddle and evening campfires are the only details that require your attention. Here’s a week-in-a-glance when it all comes together.