Camping, fly fishing, and rafting. On their own they can each be manageable, but combined together into a multi-day experience and you could either have an amazing adventure or end up way over your head. You should not shy away from going on one of these multi-day floats, but you and your group should be confident in your skills, experience, and outdoor knowledge in order to not only pull the trip off but to have the time of your life doing so. The gear and equipment tips below are meant to help you plan and prepare for a multi-day fly fishing float trip, it is a guide to provide information but also (hopefully) to get you thinking about your own trip and what you and your group can do ahead of time to ensure it will be a fun and safer experience.
Multi-day fly fishing float trips can take place in remote and isolated landscapes or they can be a thrilling adventure on your local river. This guide is general enough to cover that entire spectrum. I will discuss items and insights that you may want to include on your packing list or at least consider with your group. Beyond what is covered below, it is incumbent on you to dig deeper into researching the terrain and climate for where your trip will take place and any risks/concerns that are particular to that area.
Fly Fishing Equipment for a Multi-Day Float Trip
Let's get to the good stuff first (I mean you're going on a multi-day fly fishing float trip after all).
Compartment boxes makes organizing flies easy
Those foam fly boxes are ideal for small and delicate dry flies, but for most everything else the compartment-style boxes are a great way to store nymphs, streamers, large dries, egg patterns, terrestrials, and so on. During a multi-day trip, foam boxes can become a cluster f*%! and trying to maintain any organization is a pain. It is far simpler to clip a fly off, have it dry out on a foam patch, then throw it back into its compartment rather than trying to find its particular home in a slit-foam box.
For my more delicate dries, I do like to have a nice slit-foam box for them, and for my larger streamers I like to have a hard bodied streamer case. The rest of the flies can go in compartment boxes, and that helps to cut down on the number of fly boxes that need to be brought on the trip.
Small bins for fly fishing gear
Having a small waterproof bin with a latching lid is fantastic method for storing tippet, nippers, gink, desiccant, fly boxes, leaders, etc. These bins can keep your gear dry and relatively organized, and the whole thing can slide right under your seat to be out of the way. A bin about the size of a shoe box is enough to store your fishing tackle and will keep it in one centralized (and dry) location.
Tie your own leaders and carry a spools of monofilament
Rather than running out and buying a cache of leaders to have on-hand for any situation, learn to tie your own. Learning to do so will make you self-sufficient while on the river, you will learn to customize them to fit your requirements, and you can save a little bit of money. Check out the Leader Calculator on Global Fly Fisher for leader formulas, and review how to tie a blood knot. Then purchase some spools of monofilament (I prefer Maxima clear or Maxima chameleon) and get to tying.
It takes a little practice but it comes easy. Then you can bring those spools of monofilament with you on the trip and have the ability to tie up a leader at any time. I like to store my leaders in small baggies with the corresponding leader formula written down on a piece of paper included inside (that way I don't have to remember what the exact formula is).
Bring multiple rods, spools, fly lines, and have a rod holder
Be ready for whatever the fishing conditions are, and no matter what species you are going after you should be able to employ a broad range of fly fishing tactics. Having multiple fly rods and fly lines on-board will help you to do so. Have different weight rods and a variety of fly lines (sink tip, floating, intermediate, etc. all on their own spools). Also, some people scoff at rod holders or are too cheap to buy or make some...not having a rod holder is a good way to end up with a broken rod on a multi-day trip.
Things that break
If you have been fly fishing long enough then you have broken some gear (whether it was by human error or the product just wore out). Three common things that could happen on a multi-day trip are breaking a rod tip, a reel failing, and/or a fly line getting damaged.
Do you have an extra rod tip? Great, bring it (pack it in the rod tube). If your reel has failed in the past, then know which piece failed and bring an extra piece if possible. This also means you should know how to disassemble and re-assemble your reel. Lastly, having a nail knot tool and knowing how to attach a leader directly to the fly line can also save you if your fly line gets cut or nicked to the core (there are better methods to attach a leader directly to the line but using a nail knot tool is decent field-expedient method).
Really be mindful to pack and prepare for sunny conditions, you'll be on the water for hours. Consider bringing/wearing a sun hoody, sun gloves, and plenty of sunscreen, and have an extra pair of sunglasses with you.
Boat Equipment and Considerations
Overcoming boat issues
Before you launch your watercraft, you really want to ensure that it and the onboard gear/equipment are ready to avoid or overcome common mishaps. First, you'll want to include a rope that can be used to tie the boat off and secure to the shore at the end of the day...it would be a terrible thing waking up and discovering the river has risen and taken your boat downstream. Having an extra oar onboard could be necessary if you will be encountering consistent rapids with the potential to lose an oar. It doesn't need to be an expensive oar, just something to get you home. Also, a roll of duct tape and a multi tool should also be in included on your packing list.
If you are using a raft then definitely carry a repair/patch kit. Look inside the kit and make sure everything you need is in there. If you do not know how to repair a tear or puncture then familiarize yourself with it. You will also want to take a pump with you. Even if the raft doesn't get a puncture it could still lose air due to changes in air pressure, temperature, and/or elevation.
Storing and securing gear
To store most of the gear you have in the boat you will need an assortment of dry bags, splash-proof duffel bags, sturdy plastic bins, and/or aluminum boxes. Selecting which ones to use comes down to personal preference and what makes sense for packing and stacking it on the boat. To secure those storage options to the boat you will also need to have cam straps, ratchet straps, bungee cords, or a cargo net. I like to use long cam straps and bungee cords because they can also be used to set up tarps over the campsite or cooking area.
Dealing with cold weather conditions while on the boat
Here are a couple tips that can help you to stay warm while on the boat in colder conditions. The first is to bring along a small stove (something like a Jetboil) that can be readily accessible and used to warm up some water for tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. Bring a thermos so you can store those hot beverages and periodically sip from it to warm yourself up.
If you encounter cold and wet conditions, then wearing waders, wading boots, a rain jacket (or hard shell), and waterproof gloves are essential. Pack plenty of hand warmers and stuff them into gloves or down your waders. If you feet get cold, placing hand warmers right on your ankles (and keeping your wading boots loose) does wonders to keep your feet toasty.
Other personal gear while on the boat
It is a smart call for everyone to bring life jackets, especially if you are wearing waders while in the boat. Even if you are not planning on wearing a life jacket the whole trip at least have it within arms reach.
Some sort of lightweight pair of gloves can also help alleviate "river hands." After being on the river for a few days rowing and fishing, your hands will start to get rubbed a bit raw. Using gloves while rowing can help to save your hands, and you should carry some hand balm to treat your hands throughout the day.
Lastly, each boat (or each person) should have a paper map that is stored in a waterproof bag. Mark down the put in and take out, planned campsites, known rapids and other obstacles, and river miles. Also, make sure someone (who is not on the trip) has your itinerary in case anything happens.
Food and Water Planning for a Multi-Day Rafting Trip
For me, meal planning is always the most challenging aspect of preparing for a multi-day float trip. When planning for our most recent trip, my friend was in charge of meal planning and put together an excel file that had each meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) so we could review it as a group. Since we were doing meal planning as a group, we also had to know about any food allergies and food preferences (vegetarian, vegan, lactose intolerance, and so on).
We tried to buy food items that could be used for multiple meals. Tortillas, rice, eggs, fresh veggies, and beans were a great way to cover some breakfast and dinner meals like breakfast burritos, stir fry, chili, quesadillas, etc. We also took items out of bulky grocery containers and packed them down to save on space. A great tip for bringing eggs is to crack them open and fill up a Nalgene bottle with them.
Frozen meals are also a nice addition since they can be cooked up relatively quickly and easily. When we got into camp late on some evenings, it was nice to fire up the stove and have a hot meal ready within a few minutes. We had a bag of wontons, a stir fry mix, veggies, taquitos, and hash browns.
If you are bringing any sort of grain (rice, oatmeal, pastas, etc.), try to buy quick-cooking versions of it. This will save time and, more importantly, fuel.
Since you will be on a river, planning for water is a bit simpler. Having a large water jug (to carry several gallons of water) is nice in case the river running a bit muddy. You should also have a way to filter water. Whatever water filter you go with it should be able to treat water for the whole group in a relatively timely manner. I prefer to use a pump water filter since it can be used to filter larger amounts of water for the group. Side note: there are water filters and water purifiers. Water filters strain out bacteria and protozoan cysts while water purifiers do that and combat viruses. If you are within a developed country then a water filter is typically enough to give you clean water.
Stoves, fuel, and coolers
Do yourself a favor and pack a large enough stove that has at least two burners. The beauty of a float trip is that you can afford to pack the weight, and having a larger stove can get food and beverages going a lot quicker. I like the Camp Chef by Teton, it uses canister fuel, has two burners that have great heat adjustments, windscreens, and it is lightweight for its size. The canister fuel cans are also my preference over fillable fuel bottles that take gasoline or white gas, they are just less of a hassle to use and don't spill fuel all over the place. Also, pack a lighter because no matter how fancy the stove is those ignitor switches break.
When cooking, I like to use cast iron since they can take a beating, are easy to clean in the field, they hold heat incredibly well, and you can use them directly over a campfire or on the coals. They are heavy, but again, you are on a boat and can afford to pack the weight.
If the weather is hot, then keeping food cold can be a challenge. I did jump on the Yeti bandwagon and own a Tundra 45, it's great and I actually would now like the 65 for any trip that is over 3 days long and is during hotter weather. The other nice thing about the Yeti Tundra is that it is bear resistant and Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) certified, you just need two locks to secure the cooler.
Whichever cooler you go with, just choose a cooler that is well insulated, sturdy, and has a drain hole. Here are some tips to keeping your cooler and food colder for longer:
Pack the cooler the day before the trip with ice, this will cool it down. Then drain the water out, take out any excess ice and pack it with cold food items. The food items should also be stored in the fridge or freezer overnight as well before packing them in the cooler.
Limit the amount of time you have the cooler open when pulling food/beverages out.
Pack your cooler based off of when you think you will be using the food items. Food that won't be used until later on in the trip should be packed near the bottom next to the ice.
Drain the cooler a couple times during the day, this will help to keep the remaining ice frozen.
Camping Tips for a Multi-Day Rafting Trip
While many factors are outside of your control, having a good trip really comes down to making camping comfortable. The campsite is a place to re-charge, relax, and re-group from the day, it is a place to shelter from the elements, to have a good meal, to get a decent night's rest. If you are not able to do these things, then it is difficult to not only enjoy the rest of trip but to also participate as an effective team member for the group. Here are some camping tips to help you stay a little more comfortable:
Have a tarp for the cooking area, and maybe one for the tents. If there is a lot of rain, snow, or sunshine expected the tarp can be a great place for the group to escape the elements.
Bring a foldable table for the cooking area and camping chairs. These help to make cooking and eating a less frustrating experience and allow you to lounge and unwind.
Have some comfortable shoes and clothing for camp. While most of my clothing is non-cotton I do like to lounge and sleep in cotton.
Bring some firewood if you plan on having campfires, don't rely on chopping up deadfall because it might not be readily available (and don't go chopping down live trees). Also, check for burn notices.
Pack a patch kit for any sleeping air pads you have. It is also a good idea to bring some foam pads as well. Having a foam pad under the air pad will add additional warmth in case the nights are cold.
If your clothes do get damp, there is a trick to getting them dry. Boil some water and pour it into a Nalgene bottle (make sure the lid is secure). Place the damp clothes and Nalgene into the foot of your sleeping bag overnight, this will act as a dryer. This trick won't really work if the clothes are soaking wet. A heated Nalgene is also a good way to warm someone up, but just don't hold it directly against the skin since it could burn (I like to place it under a jacket with a couple layers of clothes between me and the Nalgene).
The bugs and mosquitos could be bad so look at bringing a large mosquito net, bug spray, and/or insect repellent candles.
Hygiene and First Aid
Camp cleaning and personal hygiene
While in camp, you can maintain a higher level of cleanliness with few considered items. The first is bringing a bucket with you that can be filled up with soapy water to wash dishes, your hands, face, feet, etc. Use biodegradable soap that is organic and easy on the environment (Dr Bronner's Organic Soap can be used for washing your skin, dishes, and clothes). Pack a sponge and towel to go along with it. You can also fill the bucket up with water and pour it over the campfire to ensure that it is properly put out.
The next is a dry bag for garbage. I like using dry bags and lining the inside with a normal trash bag. The dry bag can keep the items from getting soaked, it can be rolled up and compressed, and keeps smells down.
For the toilet, don't forget the all important hand sanitizer and baby wipes. But, if you do bring them just don't throw them down any pit toilets since they take an extended amount to break down and can fill up the pit. If there are not pit toilets, then biffy bags are the way to go to pack out your number two. They are hard to puncture, they keep smells down, and they are more environmental friendly than digging cat holes or just crapping in the woods. Always practice Leave No Trace and being a steward of the river.
For a first aid kit, the best advice I can give is to look into taking a Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder course. These courses are highly valuable and can help you to feel more prepared in case medical issues arise in the backcountry. You will also learn to build or modify your first aid kit to ensure it meets the needs of your group and what medical issues you might run into.
If you do buy a kit, open it up, pour it out, and know what's in it. Some things are just not necessary. You should pack the kit based off of the terrain, climate, and potential hazards. Re-pack the items into plastic baggies since some of the original packaging can get soaked through.
When building your first aid kit, you'll need to talk with your group about any known medical conditions (allergies, epi pen, heart conditions, medications, previous hot/cold injuries).
Finally, pinch the barbs down on your fishing hooks. It would suck to get a large hook stuck in you on day one.
Hopefully this article will get you thinking more about what you and your group plan on taking for your multi-day float trip. It is a big process, and the checklist of equipment, gear, food, and materials is extensive. But it is such a rewarding opportunity to be out on the river camping, fly fishing, and un-plugging from the world for a few days, be it on a remote river or something local to where you live.
(Also, check out this how-to article, Improve Your Skill at Reading Water for Fly Fishing: Riffles)