Wilderness river float trips come with luxury of packing more gear than you would on your back. Even trips packed in on horseback will have room for a few beers, camp chairs and comfort features. This doesn’t mean you should throw in the kitchen sink and overload. On a wilderness float trip, strategic packing, campsite selection and camp setup is important and will save you a few headaches on the river.
Here are a few quick tips...
Break out your gear into categories and pack each in a separate dry bag. One bag will carry your sleeping gear, tent, toiletries. Another will have the kitchen setup and dry food. Another for day items that sits on top for easy access throughout the day.
Fly fishing gear should also stay separate in its own category, as you’ll be using that throughout the day. Consider a waterproof backpack or sling pack to keep your extra fly boxes and other fly fishing tackle.
Separating everything makes it easy to create stations at camp. You will have a cook station which typically doubles as the social station, a sleeping area and bathroom zone that is private and well removed from camp.
Look for good, level sites as you float the last hour or two each day. Gravel bars work for kitchens but you will want something softer for sleeping. Sandy beaches with some trees and natural cover are ideal. If the nights are cold, recess your camp off the river and sleep in the trees. This will reduce condensation in tents and cold weather from any wind pushing downriver. Trees, boulders and logs all work as nice windbreaks. In the heat of summer, you can opt to throw a paco pad on the bank and simply sleep under the stars as well.
Trash, Refuse and Fires
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics and pack everything out. Having a dry bag just for trash prevents it from leaking and spilling into your boat.
Some rivers require fire pans for fires and other less used rivers do not regulate fire pits. On the South Fork of The Flathead, fire pans are recommended (please check updated regulations for specifics). If you make a fire pit at camp, douse it with water and fill it in before leaving. Having the fire on a gravel bar that will wash out with the next high water is a good practice.
On the South Fork of the Flathead, you may dig a pit for your bathroom and cover everything when finished (again, please refer to the latest regulations). More regulated rivers may require a toilet system to pack out all refuse. You can rent these if needed. Bathing is optional and often neglected but if you choose to clean up, use biodegradable soap. Summer means swimming and it’s easy to do a quick cleanup in the river. Wet wipes suffice during cold weather