Category Archives: Rafting gear

Private River Trip Setup

As I stated in a previous post, my wife got a Rogue River Permit. We’ll be putting in with friends and family in mid-summer, the perfect time to be on the river. Now that the permit is taken care of and we have all the spots filled it’s time to start planning the trip.

raft on the rogue
Our 15 foot SOTAR

Trip Leader

Since my wife got the permit, she automatically becomes the trip leader, the head honcho, the HBIC (Head Bitch in Charge). It’s up to her, (or us) to put everything together logistically. By securing the permit, we assume many responsibilities:

  • Gear: figuring out the gear is the most important job we have. We have to figure out who has what river gear. I’m not talking about personal river gear like sleeping bags and tents, i’m talking about community gear like stoves, shitters, coolers, and pots and pans to name a few. We don’t want everyone to bring a portable toilet, it’s not needed.
  • Rafts: We also need to figure out where everyone will be riding on the river trip. Who has a raft, how many people can it carry? If there are more people than spots, then we need to think about renting a raft. Another option is bringing down inflatable kayaks and putting people into those.
  • Vehicles and Shuttle: Who has what kind of vehicle? Can they tow a raft? who has raft trailers? The less vehicles you have to deal with the better but you want enough space to take people and gear comfortably. You don’t want to be crammed and uncomfortable in 100 degree heat while driving the treacherous shuttle road. Also the fewer cars you have shuttled to the takeout the less money the trip will cost.
  • Food: The trip leader doesn’t need to be in charge of all the food, but a plan needs to be in place. Delegating meals to different families or couples is a great idea. For instance were in charge of the first nights’ dinner, then another couple is in charge of the next night. You can do the same thing for each meal, although we usually have people come up with their own lunches.
  • Logistics: The trip leader is in charge of setting up when and where people should meet for the trip. Where will the loading take place? Where is home base? How many days and nights will be spent on the river?

Were fortunate that all our river running friends are accomplished river veterans. Everyone knows what’s expected of them and can operate on their own. However, if you have some neophyte river runners, you may need to be more active in the planning. Be very clear on what each family is responsible for bringing to the trip.

Proper and thorough planning will pay off with a river trip that is smooth and effortless. Once you’re on the river you want to be able to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor. You’re only worry being whether or not you brought enough beer.

The Best Raft Pump

I have been on countless whitewater rafting trips and inflated rafts with many different kinds of pumps. Everything from car battery-powered pumps to foot pumps, I’ve seen them all. They all have some value, but the best raft pump I’ve come across is the K-pump.


It has many advantages over other pumps:

1. Compact- There are 4 different versions of this pump and they are all smaller than most raft pumps. The biggest is only 32 inches long, the shortest, a mere 22 inches. They are cylindrical which makes them highly stowable in your raft load. They slide easily into the little slots that inevitably occur when packing dry bags.

They also don’t come with long, hard to stow hose attachments. It’s all one compact piece of equipment.

2. They Float- If you didn’t get your K-pump stowed very well, or you had a mishap and the bottom of your boat is suddenly facing the sky, these pumps float like corks. You won’t lose it on the bottom of the river.

3. Incredibly easy to use- The most important part of any pump is how easy and how well it pumps. The K-Pumps are the easiest operating pumps I’ve ever come across. It is so easy in fact, it doesn’t feel like any air is being pushed into the raft tubes.

However, the volume of air being pumped is incredible. I have a 15 foot SOTAR raft and I can pump it up with my K200 faster than any other pump, including electric pumps; without even breaking a sweat!

4. Durable- These pumps are made of a PCV type material called ABS. It is specially made material which is durable and UV resistant. The company is so confident in their materials and craftsmanship that they back their pumps with a 2 year warranty.

To help give your pumps longevity there are some useful K-Pump care videos to watch.

K-pumps are an awesome asset for anyone needing to blow up rafts and inflatable kayaks. They are ranged in price from 70 bucks for the K100 to 170bucks for the innovative two stage K400. It aint chump change, but each pump is worth every penny.

Portable River Toilet Accessories (part 3)

This is the third installment of all you need to know about portable river toilets. Previous posts are, why you need a toilet, and what kind of portable toilet .

Now you know why you need one and which kind you should have, it’s time to discuss accessories you should consider to go along with your portable river toilet.

River toilet
Creative Commons License photo credit: batschmidt

Think about what’s in your bathroom at home. You need some basic necessities like toilet paper but you also need some products you wouldn’t ordinarily need in your home bathroom.

Here’s a list of suggested accessories for your portable river toilet.

  • A medium-sized box to carry all your accessories. You need to purchase some kind of container for all your various toiletries. It should be big enough to accommodate your toilet seat and plenty of toilet paper. It’s a bonus to have a waterproof container, but not essential. We don’t have a waterproof container, but we keep our toilet paper dry by keeping it inside a large Ziploc baggie.
  • Hand cleaner is a must. Bring along either a soap dispenser or a hand sanitizer. If you opt for the soap you’ll need to set up a washing bucket too. This is easy: simply fill a bucket with river water and place it next to the toilet. It’s useful to have a cup for scooping the water onto your hands after soaping up. If you only have hand sanitizer you can skip the hand wash station at the toilet. You should have a soap and water hand-washing station setup at the kitchen area of your camp anyway.
  • A small bottle of dry bleach. When you’re breaking camp and taking down the toilet system, take a tablespoon of bleach and sprinkle it over the poop. This will keep sanitation up and stink down. Don’t put too much bleach in though, you don’t want to create a noxious, possibly combustible concoction.
  • Reading Material. Just like at home, it’s nice to peruse a magazine or some kind of bathroom book while making your morning deposit. However, simply looking at the river flowing by may be enough.
  • Small trash can sized plastic bags and one brown paper bag. If you’re on a longer trip and you’re trying to save space in your toilet, line a paper bag with a trash bag and encourage people to put their used toilet paper in it. I know this sounds gross, but it saves a lot of space and makes cleaning the toilet at trips end much easier. When done, roll up the plastic trash bag and put it in your normal garbage, or store it in a Ziploc in the accessories box. Just don’t forget to take it out at trips end. The paper bag can be used over and over as long as it stays clean.
  • A poop tent. This is certainly not mandatory and I’ve never been on a river trip where one was employed, but some people insist on total privacy when they visit the toilet. They do sell little tents specifically made to house portable river toilets. Be careful where you set them up though, they don’t look like they’d stand up too well to a strong wind.

I’m sure there are more portable river toilet accessories I’m overlooking but this basic list will get you grooving on the river pretty well.

If anyone has any other suggestions to make their daily dump more pleasant on the river, please feel free to comment.

Portable River Toilet: Part (2) doo, Choosing the Type

So now you know why you need a portable river toilet, here are my thoughts on how to go about choosing which one is right for you.

I have used three types of portable river toilets. 2 are large toilets that are needed for multi-day river trips and are secured on our whitewater raft. The other is a small, hand-made kayakers pooper.


Jon-ny Partner Toilet Systems

When I guided on the Grand Canyon we used large, fully contained steel containers called, Jon-ny Partner Toilet systems.  We’d usually bring two or three of these downstream depending on how many people and how many days we’d be on the river.

They’re made of strong aluminum, weigh 20 lbs empty and can accommodate 6 people for 10 days (assuming everyone only dumps once a day).

These are great systems. They’re well-built and if you clamp the lid on well,  they won’t leak. It comes with handy carrying handles which are crucial when they get near full.

They also have a pressure release valve which is really nice for trips in extreme heat. Heat and methane gas can lead to some nasty accidents if it’s not purged every now and again. Be sure to plug your nose when the purge happens.

These toilets are perfect for long trips like the grand canyon, but are probably overkill for shorter river trips. At over 500 bucks a pop you’ll only want to get this set-up if you’re planning a lot of grand canyon type trips. Even then it may be more economical to rent.

Eco-Safe Toilet

The toilet I use most of the time is the Eco-Safe toilet. It is a tough polyethylene tank which is made to fit into a “rocket box.”  It comes with a toilet seat which secures to the tank once you unscrew the top lid. The screw top has the required rubber gasket which keeps it from leaking even if upside down.

The eco-toilet can take up to 50 uses, so it’s perfect for a 4 day trip with 10 or 12 people. I’ve never filled one of these on our typical 4 day Rogue river trip.

What the hell’s a “rocket box”? A rocket box is just what it sounds like a box that’s used to store rockets. Were talking army surplus here. They were used to store 20mm rockets back in the Vietnam war days.

rocket box
20mm rocket box

The eco-safe toilet is made to fit perfectly into this 20mm rocket box. The rocket box is metal and can be locked shut with strong clasps on either side. It also has the crucial carrying handles.

If you buy an eco-safe toilet system you’ll also have to purchase a 20mm rocket box. The metal box will add some weight but it’s easily tied into a whitewater raft.

The eco toilet is around 200 bucks and is well worth the price. To alleviate some of the cost, split it with your river running buddies. Don’t forget: not everyone on the trip needs their own toilet, only one per trip is required, so it makes sense to go in on the purchase together.

Wag Bags

There are also some new systems out there called, “wag bags.” They are solid human waste pouches which actually turn your stuff into some weird gel and starts bio-degrading immediately. They have been approved by the DEQ and are safe to throw the used bags into a public refuse station (aka garbage can).

I have never used these bags but they sound pretty slick. They are approved for use on the Rogue river but I would call and ask if heading to other toilet required rivers.

Basic Requirements

Portable river toilets must have these traits: be waterproof, not have bag inserts, be big enough to accommodate your group, be washable and re-usable, and have a gasket on the lid.

There are other large toilet systems that fit these criteria but I’m not familiar with them so I excluded them here.

Portable Kayakers’ Pooper

Occasionally I’ll do a river trip without raft support, which means I need to carry all my supplies in the back of my whitewater kayak. I still need to present my toilet at the put-in but I obviously can’t fit a 20mm rocket box into my kayak.

The BLM website lays out an easy method for making your own kayakers’ toilet. I’ve followed their instructions and it’s very simple and effective. So not to re-invent the wheel, simply follow the directions on the previous BLM link.

Portable River Toilets: Part 1 Why you need one

Most multi-day river trips require the use of portable river toilets. Even if you’re floating a river that has outhouses or doesn’t require a portable toilet, you should still carry one.

As a General rule: If you’re doing an overnight river trip someone in your party should bring along a portable toilet whether it’s required or not.

On most wild and scenic or government controlled rivers they’ll check to make sure at least one portable toilet is with the group. They won’t allow you to put-in without one.

Typically when you check in at the ranger station to pick up your permit (if it’s a permitted river) they’ll check to see if you have a toilet. For the Rogue river all they really care about is whether or not the lid to the toilet has a rubber gasket. I guess this assures them that it won’t leak into the river if you lose it.

I’ve even had random toilet checks once I was on the river. A BLM raft will float into camp and demand to see your toilet setup. On the Rogue river they’ll do this even if you’re camped at a place with an outhouse.

But if there are outhouses why do I need one? You need one in case you’re forced to camp somewhere other than the designated campsites with outhouses. Don’t rely on the outhouses, they could be closed for repair, closed for cleaning, too nasty to enter, whatever, bring your own and you’ll never have to worry.

Don’t be the raft trip that ends up digging a hole behind a rock and burying your poop. Sure, you won’t be affected, once your done with camp you’ll float downstream and forget all about the mess you left, however the next group will notice.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across nasty toilet paper gardens despoiling otherwise beautiful riverscapes. No matter how well you’ve covered up your deed, forest animals will dig up the hole and spread the nasty stuff all over. It’s disgusting and easily avoided, bring your own toilet.

Continue reading Portable River Toilets: Part 1 Why you need one

Winter Raft Storage: 7 Tips

Parked Rafts
Parked Rafts


Putting the raft away for the season is depressing, but it’s important to store it in a way that isn’t harmful to the life of the raft.

Here are some tips for storing your raft:

1. If possible leave it inflated. Not everyone has the space to store an inflated raft, but if you do, it is far better for the raft.

Don’t keep the raft inflated to its full capacity, deflate at least a quarter of the air from each chamber. Be sure all chambers have approximately the same pressure. You don’t need to measure the pressure, just eyeball it. If one chamber is inflated a lot more than another it can put a lot of strain on the baffles inside the raft.


2. Cover the raft. This is obvious, but even if you keep the raft inflated, cover it with a tarp. If it’s outside, use a sturdy tarp that will be able to withstand the weather. tie the tarp to the raft secure enough to withstand a windy day. You don’t want your raft absorbing all the rigors of winter without some protection.

3. Keep the raft off the ground. Try to get the raft off the floor whether it’s inflated or deflated. If you’re able to store it inflated and you have a raft trailer, leave it on the trailer.

If you don’t have a trailer or the space, consider suspending the partially inflated raft from the rafters of your garage. This is easier said than done, but it’s not too difficult to set up a nifty hanging system with ropes and pulleys.

This will hold up to 250 pounds

Racor PHL-1R Pro HeavyLift 4-by-4-Foot Cable-Lifted Storage Rack

To ease the strain of rope against rubber, string the rope through 2 inch PVC pipe. Place the raft on the pipe and hoist it up by pulling on the rope which is strung through ceiling mounted pulleys. Never hang a raft by the D-rings.

If you have no space for hanging or storing an inflated raft, then loosely roll the deflated boat with open valves and store it on some wood pallets. Cover the pallets with indoor outdoor carpeting to guard against abrasions. Even being off the ground those few inches will deter a lot of rodent activity. The last thing you want is to unroll a raft that’s been home to a couple hundred mice over the winter.

4. Storing the raft frame. If you’re able to keep the raft inflated keep the frame attached to the boat, however don’t keep the straps tight to the raft.

If you must deflate the raft, then store the frame wherever you have space. It’s okay to store the frame on edge if necessary, however be sure to pad any portions touching the ground.

If you must store it outside be sure it is covered with a good waterproof tarp. Before tarping it, pull the oarlocks out and store them indoors (be sure to keep the oarlock pins with the oarlocks).

5. Storing raft boxes and coolers. Pull the coolers and boxes from the boat and keep them indoors, or in the garage. We tend to use our coolers even in winter, however when not in use be sure you store the boxes with the clasps undone and the lids partially open. We usually shove 2 sticks under the lid at each end to keep some airflow happening. This helps with condensation and mold growth.

Don’t store anything inside the coolers unless your positive there’s no chance of the item holding moisture. In other words don’t store your strap bag full of straps in the cooler.

6. Storing Straps and ropes. Speaking of straps, it’s a good idea to sort through your straps and hang them. Not only will this keep them fresh and dry, but also you’ll know exactly how many you have and purchase what you need for the upcoming season. I don’t know how it happens but every trip I come home with one or two less straps (I blame my thieving brother).

If you’re really anal, pull all the rope from your rescue bags, coil it and hang it. This will assure dryness and you won’t be faced with a rotting rescue line come Spring.

7. What about the oars? No matter what kind of oars you own, it’s a good idea to store them upright and straight. Don’t hang them from the rafters unless they’re supported from many points. You don’t want to warp your oars.

If you have the clip-on oar blades, you should detach them from the shaft for long-term storage. Lubricate the latch to assure a rust free winter.

If you follow these tips you should pull your gear out in the Spring and not have to do any repairs due to poor raft storage techniques.

Whitewater Rafting Cargo Nets: the better way to tie down a load

For the past couple of decades I’ve been tying down my rear raft load the old-fashioned way. I’d pile dry bags in vertical positions, stuff roll-up tables and chairs along the outside, then create a web of straps spanning the tops and weaving in and out of the dry bag handles until I was sure the bags wouldn’t come out if I ever flipped the raft.

I was aware that by creating this web I was also creating a hazard. If I ever got caught under the boat and somehow got my foot wedged into the web, it could become a lethal foot entrapment. Not to mention walking onto the raft from the rear was hazardous for tripping.

I tried different tie down methods but always ended up just using the straps. I didn’t think there was another way until my in-laws bought me an NRS cargo net.

Of course, rafting cargo nets have been around for a long time but I always assumed they weren’t very reliable. However,after using the rafting nets last season I became a believer. Not only are they incredibly easy to use, they are very effective at keeping all the gear inside the raft, even if the raft is upside down.

No, I didn’t test that last statement myself, but a friend of mine did. He put in on the Illinois river a few days after we did, and actually flipped his 14 foot raft in the green wall (a notorious raft flipper).

By the time the raft was put into its normal upright position, it had been inverted for about a half hour. It had gone through whitewater, been slammed into walls and been wedged on rocks but not one bag from under the cargo net came out. I was impressed and happy to know that my new cargo net could be used on even the gnarliest rivers.

How to use the Cargo Net

Of course you can’t just throw the net over the top of the bags and hope for the best. You have to actually tie the net to the raft.

The way I do this is simple. I place the net over the bags then connect a long piece of strap or rope to the very back of the raft frame. Then I weave the line through the bottom edge of the net and through the safety rope I have strung around the raft. This secures the net to the raft without leaving any gaps. I keep weaving the rope until I’ve reached the very back of the raft, and tighten and tie off the strap.

Then I do the exact same thing on the other side. When that’s done I secure the net to the frame directly behind the rowers’ seat with some short straps.

If I’m doing a river trip on an easier river, like the Rogue, I don’t weave the line as many times through the net. This makes the process easier and makes getting to the bags at the end of the day easier too.

I’ve always thought the rafting cargo nets were kind of cheesy and actually useless, but now that I’ve used them and seen them in action, I’d never go back to my old ways. What am I gonna do with all those extra straps?

Best Gifts for Whitewater Rafting

It’s definitely the off-season in my neck of the woods for rafting, but that only means it’s time to gear up for the upcoming whitewater season.

Christmas is the perfect time to pad out your rafting gear. So what should Santa bring his whitewater rafting good girls and boys? Here are 5 essentials:

  • Dry Bags- is your dry bag on its last leg? Is the bottom covered with more duct tape than rubber? Dry bags these days are very well made, but they still wear out. I’ve owned many dry bags, in fact my first was a Navy surplus black bag that worked beautifully for over ten years. Dry bags come in all sorts of sizes these days, so even if you don’t need a full size personal bag how about a small or medium-sized one for a quick access day bag? My most recent dry bag is made by SOTAR. It is well made and is relatively inexpensive. NRS also has good dry bags.
  • Sleeping Pad- How long has it been since you upgraded your sleeping pad? For years I used a tiny Therm-a-rest pad, I had the smallest version possible to accommodate my self-support kayaking trips. I could only afford one pad back then, but now I can actually afford 2. There are some awesome therm-a-rest pads out there and the company is second to none in customer service. In fact when I was a poor starving river guide I bought the pad, and whenever it needed repairs I’d send it back to them and they’d replace the pad free of charge. I don’t know how they ever made any money, I never bought more than one therm-a-rest in over 10 years of guiding!
  • River Knife- If you’re like me you can never have too many river knives. I’ve never had to use one to save my own or anyone elses life, (I usually use them for spreading peanut butter) but when you need a knife you better hope you have one handy. My favorite river knife is the simple yet reliable spyderco knives. I have the serrated knife-edge for sawing through thick rope or even tenacious kayak plastic. I’ve had my knife attached to my life jacket for over 15 years now, and only the color has faded. It’s performance is still awesome, it cuts effortlessly and stays attached to my jacket through thick and thin.
  • Life Jacket- It may be time to update your life jacket. There are a lot of choices out there, but I choose the PFD that works for both rafting and kayaking. I’ve had my Kokotat life jacket for many years and it never seems to lose any of its functionality. It’s by far the best, most comfortable life jacket I’ve ever owned. I love the pockets, the ease of fitting and the safety features…don’t do class V without it.
  • Raft Pump- Finally a raft pump that is small enough and sturdy enough to stuff into the load but will pump up a raft in no time. Oh yeah and it’s super easy to operate. Even if you have a pump you’re happy with, I bet you’ll switch to this one after you try it.

So if you’re stumped on what to get your river person this year, these 5 ideas are a great start. Already got it? well a rafter can never have too many beer huggies!