River guides know all the secrets to staying comfortable while camping, chilling and tending to chores in canyon country. Managing temperature swings of 105-degree daytime highs to 35-degree overnight lows demands versatile apparel and an adaptable sleep system. Durability is also paramount—if it won’t withstand more than a season of heavy use, it’s not worth bringing downriver. We asked the pros for their personal packing lists, and put this gear to the test on a late-season float through 50 miles of high-desert canyons.
The Kokatat Gore-Tex Paddling Jacket does double duty—its simple, functional pullover design blocks waves and wind on the river, and performs equally well when afternoon downpours catch you at camp. Guides applaud the wearability and breathability of this jacket’s featherweight Gore-Tex Paclite construction, while we appreciate the flexible comfort of its adjustable Lycra splash cuffs, gusseted collar and drawcord waist.
Synthetic leggings with the soft feel of merino—that’s the paradox of Outdoor Research’s new Enigma base layer bottoms ($69). Woven from recycled polyester with a touch of wool, they dry rapidly and hold their shape when wet. Casual style and technical performance make OR’s stretchy, UPF 30-rated Kulshan Flannel tunic ($90) the perfect plaid for pluviophiles.
When it comes to hauling your gear, a sturdy zip closure duffel like SealLine’s Pro Zip is more user-friendly and fully submersible than standard roll-top packs, and removable shoulder straps plus four handles mean it’s more versatile as well. The full-length waterproof zipper opens easily, closes definitively and makes searching for dry socks oh-so-simple. Available in 40-, 70- and 100-liter sizes.
We’ve never met a river professional who doesn’t love Astral shoes. The amphibious Brewess 2.0 shoes have all the same coveted features of the earlier Brewess/Brewers—think quick-drying fabrics, step-down heel and gecko-like grip on greasy rocks. Astral updated these versatile sneakers with a soft insole and integrated sock-liner around your heel, making them even more barefoot friendly.
Therm-a-Rest takes snooze time seriously. The Seattle-based manufacturer employs a state-of-the-art cold room and a thermal mannequin named Hugh to ensure the best possible warmth-to-weight and hyper-accurate R-values (resistance to conductive heat loss) on all their mattresses. Our cozy crush is the revamped Trail Pro, a self-inflating sleeping pad with a soft knit top, three-inch thickness and continuous layer of thermal foam for a toasty 4.4 R-value. It also boasts Therm-a-Rest’s new, one-way WingLock valve for three times faster inflation and twice as quick deflation.
After a long, hot day on the river, slipping into breezy natural fibers feels like liberation. Patagonia’s Western Snap shirt ($79) is made from a breathable hemp/polyester blend with a hint of spandex for ease of movement. Fast drying and hardwearing, their classic Baggies shorts ($55) are ubiquitous in canyon country.
Enthusiastic quilt sleepers point to the supreme versatility and packability of these über-engineered duvets. Take the new Vesper 20F/-6C, a 900-fill goose down quilt with side baffles, an insulated footbox, snap neck closure and integrated mattress connector to eliminate drafts and maximize warmth. The Vesper weighs just 19 ounces and packs down to the size of a Nalgene, but it’s the unrestricted fit side-sleepers and sprawlers will appreciate most. The downside: no hood means quilt users need a warm hat for those really chilly nights.
My first-generation MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent has survived storms in the Southern Alps and bested blizzards in the Rockies. Six years later, it’s still going strong, and MSR is still finding ways to boost the durability of this best-selling design. The new NX tents feature MSR’s Xtreme Shield polyurethane coating, which the brand says will last up to three times longer than standard waterproof coatings. Another update is the composite Easton Syclone poles that flex 80 percent further than aluminum. Favorite Hubba Hubba features have stayed the same, including the well-protected double doors and vestibules, and airy 3.5-pound weight.
Let the adventure begin. | Photo: Virginia Marshall