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How to plan a river trip

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Floating down the San Juan River, a remote desert gem in southeastern Utah, is about as serene as can be. But that tranquility comes only after hefty dose of planning. Whether you’re a sandal-tanned seasoned boater or packing for your fist trip, here’s what to do so you’re ready to hit the water.

Required gear

1) Get permission

For many river trips, permits are required, although it may vary by season and duration. In some cases, permit applications are chosen based on a lottery system, so get dialed then roll the dice. Often, cancellations will open up opportunity to parties that didn’t make the cut. And don’t overlook campsite availability, many trips require campsite reservations.

2) Shuttle system

Seems simple enough, but shuttling can get complicated. Rafting parties need one or more vehicles to drop off gear and participants at the put in. Then you need someone to pick you up at the take out and shuttle you back to your vehicle. This is a great job for significant others or parents. Or, near popular rivers it’s easy to find a shuttle service you can pay to haul you around.

3) Checklist

At popular launch sites, river rangers with federal land agencies will be checking for required equipment. Don’t be the one tearing apart your shuttle looking for stuff.

  • Here’s what’s required for a trip on the San Juan:

  • First aid kit

  • Repair kit

  • Air pump

  • A washable, leak-proof and reusable toilet system, aka, the groover

  • A fire pan

  • PFD, or personal flotation device, type I, III, or V

  • Extra paddle

  • A throw line or throwable rope for swift water

  • Horn or whistle capable of 4 to 6 second blast

  • Comfort and convenience

4) Clip it

Carabiners – these clip anything to anything: water bottles to flip flops, dry bags to tension straps and more. Hit up your climbing buddies for old ‘biners.

5) River slippers

Also known as water shoes, the main point here is footwear that drains easily, provides some traction and protection in and out of the boat. Flip flops are great, but are easily lost. Think hearty sandals from companies like Chaco or full on shoes with mesh or webbed uppers available from several manufacturers.

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