Being self-sufficient on a river for several days at a time is possibly one of the most rewarding things our sport has to offer.
It's not just the whitewater that makes for an epic experience, but also the campfire, the food you cook, the laughs you share and the satisfaction of looking after yourself for several days with nothing more than what can be packed into your kayak!
Here are my suggestions on how to pack for a multi-day trip ...
It's easy to end up taking too much. That means you will have a heavier boat, which is harder to paddle (though sometimes you are left with no choice). There are of course essentials you should have which you hope to never need (eg first aid kit, sat phone), but as a general rule: If you won't use it then don't bring it!
I also like kit which has more than one use. For example, a frisbee makes a great dinner plate, and my foam footrest also works as a camp fire seat, then a pillow.
A wonky boat just feels all wrong, so try to balance your weight left to right, and nose to tail. I I also move my seat forward and pack my sleeping bag at the front of my boat. This helps even out the extra weight in the tail.
Keep as much heavy stuff near to you as possible. Weight at the very ends of your boat will make it feel much heavier to move. Those cans of tuna for example, should be close to your backrest.
When you realise that the tube of suncream is at the far end of your boat, you can expect to feel slightly irritated with yourself. Anything you're going to need in the daytime, pack on your person, or in an accessible place. Sleeping stuff on the other hand, belongs in those distant corners!
This is an obvious but sometimes overlooked point. You're here for the paddling, so try not to compromise on what's important. Make sure you've got a split paddle in your group, as well as a throwbag, pin kit, knife, and keep this gear accessible as you usually would. Remember that a heavy boat paddles differently. They are slower to turn and to accelerate, but carry speed very well. Don't go straight into hard rapids without getting used to this.
Spread group kit between the team to reduce the overall load heavy for each paddler. This said, avoid putting all your eggs/food/fuel/ in one basket/kayak - If this person loses their boat you're going hungry/cold/eggless.
What you bring with you will depend very much on the climate of the river. For warmer places, I often find that I can bring surprisingly little. But when it's cold out, you really, really want to be able to stay warm off the river.
A shelter or tarpaulin works incredibly well. You can set up with a paddle at each end, with a throw bag strung between them, and then secure the corners with lightweight cord and rocks.
This setup is really light, and you can often fit your whole team under one tarp. They are also great space to hang out if it decides to rain.
A good night's sleep is important, so I always bring a thermarest or similar lightweight inflatable sleeping mat. Not only are they very comfy, but crucially they insulate you from the ground, keeping you warm.
Sleeping bag. Pick your bag for the climate. Down sleeping bags offer the best weight to warmth ratio, but they don't like getting wet, so be sure to keep them dry. For peace of mind I use a lightweight compression dry bag to get it small, and then a thicker dry bag over the top.
I've sometimes just slept under a down jacket and saved on weight. But be sure as to the night time temperatures before committing to this (I have also shivered beside the fire all night).
No matter what kit you have on the river, you will probably be a bit damp when you come off the water, even if it's just some sweat. it's not that nice to sit around in slightly damp clothing, so I tend to bring a full change of lightweight clothes:
If it's a warm place, then you are probably just in some board shorts and a thin thermal. These will usually dry off the river and I wear them in the evening, but will also pack:
Rice is a great option. Pour it into disposable water bottles to keep it dry. I try to take food that can be cooked in just one or two pots.
Lentils are another great food, especially when mixed with spices. Store in the same way, pre mixed with spices, and cook them up before the rice. I also think tins of tuna are great. They won't spill and if you get them in oil they have plenty of calories. Even better, take a line and catch your own fish – though don't rely solely on this!
Instant noodles are available for very cheap all throughout Asia, the beauty of these is you can eat them cooked or not. This way you can still eat your meal, even if disaster strikes and you have a cooking malfunction (no wood, lost pot etc).
Porridge is the breakfast of champions. Again store in water bottles, pre-mixed with milk powder and dried fruit.
Take lighters for starting fire. At least one each, as well as spare lighters. Bicycle inner tube bits make great waterproof fire starters.
If possible, I cook on a fire, as stoves and fuel are relatively heavy. Many rivers in Asia after the monsoon are usually a pretty safe bet, as the wood gets pushed up onto the beaches and left to dry. Other places may not be quite so well serviced. If you do have to take a stove then petrol stoves such as Primus and MSR are great as you can get fuel anywhere. Don't store your fuel in the same bag as your food – it won't taste great.
One large pot for cooking can work well if you have a team member with enough space in their boat (think blow moulded style or large clearance in the stern).
Alternatively, if everyone takes a good size aluminium pot (a large Trangia pan works well), then these can share the load of cooking, and then also act as your eating bowl. One of the great things about cooking on a wood fire is you can have several pots going at once.
Don’t forget some kind of cup and your racing spoon! River knives work great for chopping, and sand works great to scrub those pans clean.
Unless you're kayaking in a country renowned for sparkling rivers like Norway, then some kind method for sterilising water is essential.
Chlorine tablets weigh very little and one tiny tablet will sterilise one litre of water (check the instructions!), with minimal taste change. I use this method more than any other now. The only downside is you need to wait for thirty minutes for it to do its stuff before drinking.
Water filters come in a variety of sizes, and many work by pushing water through a very fine ceramic filter. These are great, as the water is instantly sterile, and also free of silt. The down sides are that they are a little bulky, heavy, take time and effort to pump and also need some basic maintenance to keep them functioning. You can also get gravity fed filters which are less effort but take longer.
Boiling water. Yep easy as that. Boil it for 10 minutes and everything will be dead. You'll need a large pot and plenty of fuel.
Remember good training is better than a big kit. Here's what I carry:
Think about what each item can do for you, and how you can use it. Remember several small first aid kits within the team can add up to one large one.
Telecom signals are spreading through out the world. I was amazed at where I was able to get phone signal this year in Nepal. But if it all goes wrong when you're out in the wild, being able to call for help could make the difference between life and death. There are several great satellite devices available on the market for not too much money:
A Spot device lets you send out an emergency signal and get a rescue under way. It also has a few other features such as the ability to check in OK. This device however relies on pre-programmed messages and can only send.
A DeLorme is similar but has the ability to both write messages and receive them. Both DeLorme and Spot charge a subscription fee each year to a rescue organisation.
In my opinion, one of the above is an essential tool if you are heading to remote areas.
As you can see, there is not really that much to it. It’s really easy to go out and spend a small fortune on expensive, snazzy gear. But I actually find other than a Thermarest, down jacket and a couple of good quality dry bags, there is not really that much expensive extra kit that you need.
If it's your first multi-day trip I’d recommend stepping down a grade, and bear in mind you don't need to be an expert paddler. There are some amazing long grade 2/3 trips to just get out and enjoy the adventure!
There's a whole world of beautiful rivers to explore and with dams being built all over the world there's no time like the present.
See you on the river!